George Monbiot Spreading False Information About Germany

George Monbiot, in the Guardian:

Germany also decided to shut down its nuclear power plants after the Fukushima crisis, due to the imminent risk of tsunamis in Bavaria. Last year, as a result, its burning of “clean coal” – otherwise known as coal – rose by 5%. That was despite a massive cut in its exports of electricity to other European countries. One estimate suggests that by 2020, Germany will have produced an extra 300 million tonnes of CO2 as a result of its nuclear closure: equivalent to almost all the savings that will be made in the 27 member states as a result of the EU’s energy efficiency directive.

Let’s refute the errors in that paragraph one by one. All numbers sourced from Arbeitsgemeinschaft Energiebilanzen.

For one, what “massive cut in exports”? Germany has exported more electricity than ever in 2012. That would be 23 TWh, as opposed to 17.7 in 2010, the last year before the nuclear phase out.

Monbiot doesn’t give a reference for this statement, even on the version of the article at his personal website, which does include some references. So I don’t know how he could get to that conclusion. Anyway, he really should learn to look at primary sources like Arbeitsgemeinschaft Energiebilanzen before commenting on Germany.

Next, it actually is true that coal (including lignite) is up around 5%, or 13.6 TWh compared to 2011. However, gas is down 12.5 TWh, around the same. The reason for that is of course that America is shipping cheap coal to Europe because of their vile and evil shale gas boom, and that carbon prices in Europe are far too low. Both developments lead to coal replacing gas, and both have nothing to do with nuclear in Germany.

The big picture in Germany is that fossil fuel use (all flavors added) is essentially unchanged in 2012 compared to 2010, that nuclear is in decline, and that renewable has replaced most of that nuclear phaseout exactly as intended.

Monbiot’s reference for this statement is a short article at Yale’s E360 digest. It’s from last August, so it is not suited for backing up any statement about “last year” in the first place.

The last “estimate” of “300 million tons” until 2020 is taken from this 2011 article at New Scientist, where it is backed up with a reference to “calculations by Trevor Sikorski”, which are not linked to or referenced. It is anybody’s guess how those “calculations” were made.

But it is of course true that shutting down a source of low carbon electricity will delay replacing fossil fuel by exactly the amount of electricity that would have been generated from nuclear if Germany had shut down its reactors a decade later (as was the plan before Fukushima).

Germany will phase out nuclear, since just about everybody wants it that way. At some point, people who dislike that fact because of concern for the climate need to accept reality and move on.


Published by kflenz

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

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