Dieter Helm Wrong: Renewable Can Eliminate CO2 Emissions

Dieter Helm’s recent New York Times op-ed article proposing carbon taxes is wrong on so many accounts that a whole series of posts is necessary to address his many errors.

This post will discuss the following misguided observation by Helm, which is anti-renewable propaganda as well as completely wrong:

Europe’s “answer” to global warming is wind farms and other current renewables. But the numbers won’t ever add up. It just isn’t possible to reduce carbon emissions much with small-scale disaggregated wind turbines. There isn’t enough land for biofuels, even if corn-based ethanol were a good idea (a questionable proposition). Current renewable-energy sources cannot bridge the gap if we are to move away from carbon-intensive energy production. So we will need new technologies while in the meantime slowing the coal juggernaut.

It is surprising and disappointing to see such a statement coming from this author. He has been involved in the Commission 2050 Energy Roadmap effort. So he should know that in every scenario the Commission assumes, renewable energy will provide for at the very least 55% of energy, and 75% in the most ambitious one.

That would, of course, be “reducing carbon emissions much”.

The motivation for this statement may be to attract support for his carbon tax proposal. His assertion is wrong. Renewable energy can easily provide for 100% CO2 reduction with existing technology, if people are willing to invest the necessary effort. But he may think that if he can persuade readers of his wrong view, he might get more support for his carbon tax proposal.

If so, that will backfire. I for one regard anyone opposing renewable energy as part of the problem. That’s the same dynamic as with the Fossil Nukes. The moment you oppose renewable energy, you become part of the problem, and people are not going to listen to you.

And it makes even less sense than with the Fossil Nukes. They perceive, correctly, that no one will be ready to put up with their stinking nuclear power plants if renewable is enough to solve climate warming, and that renewable in the mix ruins the economics of nuclear. They propose a competing solution not compatible with renewable, so of course they need to try (without success) to slow down renewable energy.

But proposing a carbon tax is in no way competing with the renewable energy solution. If anything, having a carbon tax in place will help speed up deployment of renewable energy, since it raises the prices of the competing fossil fuel power plants.

So opposing renewable energy from a carbon tax proposal point of view doesn’t make sense as a political strategy.

And, once we have that carbon tax of $500 per ton of CO2 enacted world wide, energy would need to come from somewhere else than fossil fuel. The carbon tax can only help getting rid of fossil fuel faster. It can, by definition, not provide for any replacement.

Related posts:

Dieter Helm Wrong: There is Progress Since 1990

Dieter Helm Wrong: Europe Beating the United States on Emissions

Dieter Helm New York Times Op-Ed

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003,

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