By Andrew McKillop
16 May 2012 – Ambassador Richard H. Jones, deputy director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), opened the IEA’s April conference by-lined Clean Energy Progress, by saying global temperatures are "probably" going to rise by "six degrees Celsius" by about 2050. The main problem, apart from this being totally impossible − barring massive meteorite attack or massive volcanic eruptions − is that fewer and fewer persons believe this story.
Fritz Vahrenholt, head of RWE Innogy and a former leading figure of the German environmental movement with Joshka Fischer (former vice chancellor of Germany) has been derided as a lobbyist for fossil fuels after he published his unbeliever’s book: ‘Die Kalte Sonne’ (The Cold or cooling Sun).
Like a straight majority of public opinion, and a rising number of scientists Vahrenholt is highly critical of the so-called consensus on global warming. Also however, Vahrenholt supports the idea of’Energiewende or Energy Transformation, but like myself and many others he says the current German approach is too costly, technologically uncertain, running much too fast and could wind up counterproductive. Germany’s renewable energy action plan (its REAP, and similar plans in other EU27 states) are already having unplanned and unwanted effects, including undermining national biodiversity and according to Vahrenholt destroying German forests in the stampede to develop all and any kinds of renewable energy, including biomass, and hacking forests apart to site wind farms.
This rush to develop renewable energy, since 2009 an official European plan in the shape of member state REAPs, is treated as so urgent, even imperious for only two reasons. First there is global warming; second there is the high cost of oil and gas imports. Coal imports, for unknown reasons, are not described as expensive or alarming – but European imports of rare earth elements, coal, uranium, tropical foods, or Chinese and Indian manufactured products and increasing volumes and values of services can easily be described as bad for European trade balances, expensive and alarming. The role of global warming, ritually described as "catastrophic", takes the high ground in the forced march to energy transition but as Vehrenholt says, he is convinced that CO2 and global warming are being exaggerated; we have a lot more time, and more options for developing genuinely sustainable solutions.
Real climate change
Vahrenholt was a hero of the German environmental movement for decades, so his critical book took centre-stage in German reviews and media, and quickly percolated into the national debate on Energiewende. For so-called "climate-minded" Germans he is now a bête noire, especially for saying out loud that climate catastrophe is not taking place, at least climate change due to anthropogenic greenhouse gases. For him, the influence of the sun’s energy cycles has been underestimated, but on this score he has to venture out into the very complex field of trying to forecast solar sunspot cycles, and deciding if, or not, we are moving into a longer-term period of low activity sunspot cycles, such as the Dalton minimum of the early 19th century or much more powerful and longer Maunder minimum starting in the late 17th century.
In both cases, global temperatures dropped significantly, and if the sun is heading towards a more inactive phase now, we have another reason to not fear global warming catastrophe this century.
Ignoring the other and real causes – anthropogenic – of climate change, especially deforestation and monocrop agriculture over dozens of millions of square kilometres of the Earth’s land surface (of 148 million square kilometres total), Vahrenholt’s message is already sufficiently ‘controversial’ to stir the hornet’s nest. His book has been severely criticized in German newspapers like Bild, or Die Zeit which called him ‘Störenfritz’, or ‘Troublemaker Fritz’. A planned lecture at the University of Osnabrück was cancelled because the university found the topic too provocative. The book has also become highly political, with other German papers comparing him to Bundesbank executive Thilo Sarrazin, who claims that mass immigration has destroyed German identity (book title: ‘Germany Abolishes Itself’), and was forced to resign after penning this book.
Vahrenholt is not just anybody. He has been CEO of RWE Innogy, its renewable energy subsidiary for five years with an aggressive expansion strategy across Europe, but RWE was also a major user of nuclear power and is also the biggest German producer of coal – and lignite –based electricity. Critics therefore jump to the conclusion that Vahrenholt and his co-author Sebastian Lüningworks, who works for RWE DEA, the oil production arm of RWE, are simply furthering their corporate interests. For Vahrenholt the real reason is simple: ‘climate crazies’ cannot take criticism and want a stampede into renewable energy, whether or not it is economically and technologically feasible.
Vahrenholt, who is a chemical scientist by education, is hard to fault on his knowledge of where the breakpoints in Germany’s Energiewende are likely. Before moving to RWE Innogy in 2007, and from 2001 he was CEO of REpower Systems, a wind energy company with a fast-growing portfolio of wind power assets across Europe, but like a growing number of renewable energy based companies, starting with the biggest (such as Vestas in wind power and QCells in solar power) times are becoming rapidly very challenging. QCells, once German and world leader in solar PV production is now in receivership and the Vestas share price is down about 75% in 12 months. The most basic reason for this was going too fast, in a casino capitalist market system with no safety nets and where only expansion succeeds.
Vehrenholt argues that global warming and carbon release are almost certainly not the climate killers they were made out to be, but his book only dabbles in the real and dangerous anthropogenic climate change generated by human-induced modifications of a huge proportion of the Earth’s surface; his preoccupation is now centred on biodiversity loss (after quitting RWE Innogy later this year he will become president of the German Wild Animals Foundation (Deutsche Wildtier Stiftung)).
Faking the data
A host of telltale indicators show that climate change is real but global warming is not. These even include global wind patterns and their intensity, which Vehrenholt, with a long track record in wind energy knows plenty about. As he says in his book, both 2010 and 2011 were not very windy, but the climate models of the UN IPCC predict that wind regimes in mid-latitude areas will only and can only become more powerful, due to the rise of CO2 concentrations. In fact even the main driver of all equatorial and lower latitude circulation of air and humidity, called the Hadley Cell, and the Walker-Hadley climate system, are weakened by wind speed and frequency reduction due to massive ongoing deforestation and agriculture development, causing radical changes of albedo and average humidity, and directly reducing wind speeds. This concerns Earth-sized chunks of the planet – all the tropical forest areas and is known for at least 25 years – but the UN IPCC brushes it aside because of its CO2 obsession.
As Vehrenholt says, the scientific literature shows that weakening wind regimes have nothing at all to do with CO2. Simply this factor, weakening and more variable wind regimes, overturns longstanding cycles of the global climate system, which feature in UN IPCC models, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). This is a natural cycle with a period of about 60 years, split into two 30-year subcycles of more wind in winter, for 30 years, and then less − with much colder winters when there is less wind.
This is an inconvenient fact for the UN IPCC, because it wants to find reasons for a lockstep relation between rising levels of CO2, and a warming climate. The same applies to how it treats rising cloud cover − but decreasing rainfall − in large regions of the planet; this reality does not fit the one-only official model. When climate becomes radically more variable with higher peaks and lower troughs of key parameters like wind speed, humidity, rainfall, temperatures, which is the reality, the UN IPCC brushes this aside as "random walk variation".
In the EU27 states applying their REAPs which in the case of Germany’s Energiewende are radical, the main explanation and rationale for these plans is fear of climate change. To be sure, oil and gas imports are expensive and politically unsure − but the REAPs have very low targets for either replacing oil or reducing dependence on oil, despite the rhetoric. Their main goal is shifting electric power production from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and the extreme urgency of this, we are told, is because global warming is the most intense environmental crisis "ever faced by humanity".
It is not necessary to list the UN IPCC’s dubious claims for the so-called runaway track of global warming, for example claiming that current global temperatures are by far the highest in the last 1,000 years, backed by its famous "hockey stick" graph, well analysed and explained as devoid of any scientific meaning by the book ‘The Hockey Stick Illusion’ by Andrew Montford. Just as absurd, and well covered by Vehrenholt, the UN IPCC needs to pretend there is no such thing as natural climatic variation, starting with its clumsy attempt to magic away the so-called ‘Medieval Warm Period’, a warm period around the year 1,000 when the Vikings settled in Greenland and were able to live there for a couple of centuries, followed after a 300 year interval by the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’, at the time of the Maunder minimum of sunspot cycles, starting about 1695. Many papers have been published showing the Little Ice Age was not a local European phenomena, but the IPCC pretends it was.
All this is to bolster the argument that CO2 has a one-way upward impact on temperatures. Any and all other causes of climatic variation and change, including anthropogenic, are sidelined. For Vehrenholt, the main ignored factor is sunspot cycle change, but deforestation and agricultural development on a planetary cycle are impossible to exclude. As the UN IPCC and its huge network of scientists has no problem arguing, however, and at least in its vast mass of publications, small but persistent trigger factors can have region-wide, or even global reach in their effects. When these climate change triggers are massive − tropical forest deforestation has already eliminated eight million square kilometres of forest on the 16 million total that the Earth had for at least 50 000 years until 100 years ago − the refusal of the IPCC to take any account is a lot more than only surprising.
One reason is the IPCC is first of all a political organisation. Most of the 31 members of the IPCC Secretary come from developing countries like Sudan, Madagascar, Iran or Cuba and are interested in anything that can help inward investment − including the energy sector. Other emerging economies, especially India, are not interested in so-called black carbon emissions, from burning wood and animal dung, should be given prominence as climate change triggers or factors, but there is solid growing evidence that the effect of black carbon on global climate is much bigger than we thought, with at least fifty per cent of the imputed or claimed effect of CO2.
Ignoring the real problem
Vahrenholt is alarmed that the push for biomass energy development, in Germany, could expand so fast that twenty per cent of all agricultural land will be used to grow energy crops, mainly rapeseed and maize. To be sure this will be monocrop agribusiness farming, using at least three to four barrels of oil per hectare each year, then processing these food crops, using more oil, to produce oil substitute fuel at almost zero (or even negative) net energy yield.
Pushing the IQ further (the Idiocy Quotient), Germany and some other EU states with high population densities and restricted farmland areas − especially the UK − claim they will or may import wheat and maize, as well as palm oil from cutover tropical forest land in Indonesia, to produce oil saving biofuels and achieve their REAP targets.
The CO2 obsession, and linked obsession with producing any and all kinds of renewable energy − whatever their EROI, whatever their environmental impact − is rightly criticised by Vahrenholt’s book. Only Europe, Australia and New Zealand remain ‘Kyoto compliant’, with host country Japan and Canada both effectively abandoning the farce, in December 2011. The remaining players emit only 14 per cent of the world’s total CO2 from anthropogenic sources, mostly fossil fuels. China alone is now responsible for 25 per cent of global CO2 emissions and its share will grow rapidly. Carbon correct and running a trade surplus is becoming difficult − as Germany will likely soon find out, and as the straight majority of other EU states already know.
Vahrenholt focuses the stampede factor in Energiewende by a host of real world facts, for example that while Germany gets the same amount of sunlight as Alaska, it has installed 50 per cent of the world’s solar PV capacity to date. Increasingly China, by brute industrial force will rule global PV production, and possibly wind power, meaning that importing solar or wind power equipment will start as a trade deficit item. For energy system management and planning, also, Energiewende and the other REAPs are a nightmare. As Vehrenholt says, on an average non-winter Sunday, Germany will need about 35,000 MW only, but in winter that can jump to 80,000 MW. However, with already 27,000 MW of wind and 28,000 MW of solar capacity, what does Germany do on a non-winter Sunday when it is windy and sunny? Right now, it is forced to give it away to neighbouring countries, at negative prices.
To be sure there is chapter and verse from Vahrenholt on the other, so easily forecast diseconomies of EU crash programs for alternate and renewable energy − notably the smart grid/super grid default solution and no alternative. More important however, even his powerful book skates around the real crisis of anthropogenic climate change. Running through the obsessionally detailed reports of the UN IPCC, and likely the only benefit of this organisation, the massive growth of climatic instability, or declining predictability shines through the desperate and constant attempt of the IPCC to bend the figures to suit its CO2 theory. Climate is above all real, is anthropogenic, and is dangerous.