SPIEGEL Wrong: Renewable Is Great News For the Environment

Anybody paying attention to renewable energy issues in Germany knows that SPIEGEL magazine is the enemy. They publish one anti-renewable propaganda piece after the next.

Their latest talking point comes in this article published on Tuesday. Since I happen to have read Joe Romm’s book on language intelligence, I am not going to repeat their talking point. Instead I will just confirm the common sense knowledge that renewable energy is necessary to protect the environment.

You would not know it from reading that SPIEGEL article, but we have an environmental crisis of historic proportions at our hands. Global warming needs to be stopped, and it needs to be stopped quickly. This is not the time to put the brakes on renewable energy deployment by publishing this kind of article.

As I know from a source I can’t tell you about right now, if CO2 emissions don’t peak until July 17th, 2023, the planet will pass the final tipping point and be doomed to a runaway global meltdown feedback loop.

If you use wood pellets for heating, that reduces CO2 emissions in comparison to burning oil or coal. That of course has the effect that wood prices go up, and more trees are coming down to provide the wood. That is something that can’t be avoided if you use wood pellets in the first place.

If one builds a lot of solar and wind, that needs area. Some of the area will come from forests or other environmentally valuable places. That can’t be helped. Those solar panels and wind turbines need to go somewhere. If you object to some project because it might be inconvenient for some bird or other, keep in mind that without going ahead full speed with deployment those birds probably will go extinct anyway.

This reminds me of environmentalists in the United States who object to desert solar projects because they are concerned for desert turtles. And Mark Lynas’ strange idea that protection of biodiversity should take priority over stopping global warming.

It would be nice if one could displace fossil fuel without changing the environment at all. That is impossible. Wind and solar do have a large footprint. If you object to nuclear energy, like just about anybody in Germany, you just don’t have the luxury any more to object in any way to renewable energy, and you certainly won’t be able to displace fossil fuel by putting the brakes on because you want priority for birds or turtles.

Published by kflenz

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

14 thoughts on “SPIEGEL Wrong: Renewable Is Great News For the Environment

  1. Hi Karl,

    If I thought we had to wipe out tortoises to prevent climate change, I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute. But the problem is that renewables have a dismal track record and nuclear power has a proven track record. Have a look at the history … page 111,

    Click to access co2highlights.pdf

    France has been generating electricity for 80 gm-co2/kwh for about twenty years. Germany, for all its renewable hype is still stuck at 468 gm-co2/kwh. Switzerland and Sweden with a mix of about 50/50 nuclear and hydro are also fine. If the world hadn’t stopped the nuclear roll out which began in the 70s, then our climate emergency now would be greatly reduced. The anti-nuclear movement has cost us 2 decades.

    The really big problem as I see it as that most of the anti-nuclear movement is utterly and completely ignorant about cancer. Consider Ukraine/Russia/Belarus. In the decades since Chernobyl how many cancers have these countries had? About 14 million. About 6,000 of these were thyroid cancers due to Chernobyl … with very few deaths. If you are going to get cancer, thyroid is the one to get. If these countries had Australian cancer rates, how many cancers would they have had? About 20 million. This stuff is easy to work out roughly from globocan.iarc.fr. And if they had German cancer rates? A little less than 20 million.

    Radiation can certainly cause cancer just like aeroplanes can certainly crash. What matters isn’t the qualitative but the quantitative. How dangerous is radiation quantitatively, and the answer is, it’s much less of a problem than sausages, alcohol, diesel fumes and so on. Note, I’m NOT proposing any kind of hormesis theory, just stating the facts.

    Here’s a bit more information on the issue:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/05/02/would-sir-like-a-caesium-salad-with-his-steak/

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    1. Thanks for that link to the IEA report, it is most useful, and I was not aware of it.

      It shows that Iceland, one of the 100% renewable countries, is about zero, beating France.

      It also shows that Australia has nothing to brag about right now.

      It does not show anything about the “track record” of renewable, which it could not in the first place. If you are talking about wind and solar, any numbers ending at 2010 are not really relevant to the discussion. The transition to solar and wind is starting now, so there is not much information to be gained by looking at the rear mirror.

      On radiation, anybody opposing nuclear for that reason needs not only to show that there are health risks, they also need to show that these are more serious than those from other, accepted sources (like food, your blog post on cesium salad), and more serious than risks from global warming. I am neutral on nuclear not because I fear radiation, but because I think a large part of the pro-nuclear camp is trying to stand in the way of renewable energy. Your last post on transport costs for solar has reinforced that impression again.

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    2. > “the anti-nuclear movement is utterly and completely ignorant about cancer.”

      It’s quite the opposite. The nuke fan club are in denial of science when it comes to radiation and its effects, especially Chernobyl:

      * Union of Concerned Scientists – 53,000 excess cancer cases; 27,000 excess cancer deaths – excluding thyroid cancers. The 95% confidence levels are 27,000 to 108,000 cancers and 12,000 to 57,000 deaths. http://allthingsnuclear.org/post/4704112149/how-many-cancers-did-chernobyl-really-cause-updated

      > “it’s much less of a problem than sausages, alcohol, diesel fumes and so on.”

      None of those things are used to generate commercial-scale energy, so it’s a nonsense comparison.

      Denial of science and fallacious comparisons with other causes of death do nothing to alter the failed economics of nuclear. It’s in long-term global decline and that decline is most likely going to accelerate as renewables continue falling in cost.

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  2. Ah, here it is. The link in the email was broken. No matter.

    You praised iceland as renewable. Fine. Iceland has no solar or wind. I’m not anti-hydro, not anti-geothermal. I’ve had a solar hot water system for 30 years. So I’m not anti-renewable, I’m not even anti-solar, just anti-silly. Covering 1% of any country in solar panels is worse than silly, its destructive and will eat into food production, just as biofuel production is doing. But sticking a solar panel on a hut in an Indian village may get them a little power before anything else can. That’s good. But eating into food production land for solar farms is silly. My 81,000 truckers for solar piece shows exactly why the first land that will be used for panels/mirror will always be farmland … its closer and more convenient and you don’t need as much work on infrastructure.

    Why bring up plutonium? Fast reactors can burn plutonium and use decommissioned weapons as fuel. Nobody else can make the material in these weapons safe. Hitachi want to build just such a reactor in the UK to get rid of plutonium. The Russians are looking at mass producing smaller versions by 2019. These can run on current nuclear waste, will not require vast habitat destruction and be much safer than solar power. If Bill Clinton hadn’t closed the IFR project in the US in 1994, we’d have these reactors by now.

    Why withdraw your support for nuclear because some nuclear people are anti-solar or anti-wind? That’s irrational. Some nuclear power companies are working to support the shale oil industry. This is horrific. Should I withdraw support on that basis? That’s like saying you shouldn’t put money in any bank because you don’t like some of them.

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    1. Your comment suggests that you don’t know that you can put solar PV on roofs, so you don’t need to “cover” a country with solar PV. And the land on solar farms can still be used for e.g. grazing sheep. Therefore your claims are nothing but FUD.

      Similarly, your beliefs about IFRs are really just fantasy. IFRs have been researched, developed, and failed to deliver for almost as long as nuke energy has existed.

      * Despite the fact that fast breeder development began in 1944, now some 65 year later, of the 438 operational nuclear power reactors worldwide, only one of these, the BN-600 in Russia, is a commercial-size fast reactor and it hardly qualifies as a successful breeder. The Soviet Union/Russia never closed the fuel cycle and has yet to fuel BN-600 with plutonium. http://www.fissilematerials.org/blog/2010/02/history_and_status_of_fas.html

      More generally, you need to take notice of reality. The World Nuclear Industry Status Report shows that nukes are in deep trouble while renewables are growing at a phenomenal rate. http://www.worldnuclearreport.org/spip.php?article54

      Once you accept that reality you can start understanding why it is happening.

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      1. Roofs? You didn’t read my article did you? As I said in the article, give a 3 kw system to all 7.6 million households in Australia (many of whom don’t have roofs) and you have decarbonised just 3 percent of Australian energy usage. 3% isn’t enough.

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      2. I can’t be bothered to analyse every assumption, piece of data, and mathematics you have used, but I don’t pay attention to random bloggers who make ridiculous statements like “solar is silly”.

        However, there are obvious flaws in your argument.

        One is that you assume solar can only go on houses. It can cover factories, schools, community centres, car parks, etc. Here’s an example in Germany – http://en.avaaz.org/784/this-is-what-every-car-park-should-look-like . And Australia has vast areas of uninhabited scrub and desert that could be used to power Australia many times over.

        Another is that you ‘hide’ solar PV in total energy rather than electricity production. We know we have to end ICE vehicles and fossil power plants, and massively improve energy efficiency to combat climate collapse. In that scenario solar is capable of providing 100% of energy needs.

        * A Solar Transition is Possible. “We find that we can replace the entire existing energy infrastructure with renewables in 25 years or less… to provide energy consumption per person levels sufficient for every one on the planet to live at high human development requirements…” http://iprd.org.uk/?p=6877

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    2. I think it is pretty obvious that writing anti-renewable propaganda can only increase opposition to nuclear. But if you don’t get that point, you will continue to come up with anti-solar talking points like “81.000 trucks” and bring support for nuclear down even more. Doesn’t matter, since nuclear is hopeless anyway.

      More here: Barry Brook right about something

      http://k.lenz.name/LB/?p=7365

      And: Nuclear advocates lacking enthusiasm about renewable energy

      http://k.lenz.name/LB/?p=6541

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  3. About cancer: Did you read my comparison of Australian cancer rates with those of Ukraine/Belarus and Russia? With the exception of 6000 thyroid cancers, Chernobyl didn’t make a blip on the cancer landscape … exactly like Fukushima. Calculated impacts aren’t the same as a solid body count. I’ve explained the difference here: http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/stop-using-fukushima-for-scare-mongering

    As for German solar … 468 gm-co2/kwh 12 years after the FIT. 33 GW of solar in 12 years in a country of 80 million? That’s equal to about 3×1 GW nuclear reactors. 33*24*365*0.1=29 TWh/yr. The French with far fewer people added 200 TWh/yr of nuclear during the 80s.

    Cost isn’t the whole story. Bicycles are way cheaper than cars or trucks, but try shifting a grain harvest with them.

    Anyway, we seem destined to disagree. All the best.

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    1. More obvious fallacious logic in each of your arguments.

      Cancer deaths due to smoking, drinking, poor diet choices, etc. have nothing to do with energy production. You are doing the equivalent of the gun nuts in the USA who excuse the non-stop gun carnage by comparing the numbers to people killed in car crashes. That kind of ‘logic’ wouldn’t fool a child.

      Your attempt to diminish the value of solar by comparing it to nukes that run day and night ignores the fact that society does not require the same energy production at 2 in the morning as it does 2 in the afternoon. Solar production almost perfectly matches electricity consumption in Germany and most countries on the planet. It also perfectly compliments wind production by season with wind being more productive in winter months. See http://i.imgur.com/BNNyz9S.png – and that highlights the dishonesty of those who try to attack solar or wind in isolation.

      Solar, wind, biogas, etc. is avoiding millions of tons of CO2 and billions of Euros in avoided fossil fuel costs in Germany each year. As more is deployed, more dirty, expensive fossil fuels are pushed off the grid.

      I find it amusing that you first tried “France achieved X in the 1970s” and now you switch to “France achieved X in the 1980s”. Both claims are nonsense. France developed their nuke energy over the course of many decades. But the economics and technology of the 21st century is not the same as the technology of the 1950s, 60s, 70s. Obviously. That’s why France is now investing in renewables and pulling away from nukes. The abject failure of the EPR projects in France, Finland, and China are partly to thank for that.

      Yet more illogical nonsense in comparing bicycles to trucks. They are different things for different purposes, and have nothing to do with renewables vs. nukes. Your constant need to use false analogies just exposes that you cannot argue based on relevant facts.

      Our host has made an excellent point:

      “I think it is pretty obvious that writing anti-renewable propaganda can only increase opposition to nuclear.”

      And that is mainly what the pro-nuke gang spend most of their time doing. They don’t have any strong arguments to promote nukes, so they try to attack what threatens them. But it is counter-productive. The majority of people (see any poll on support for energy sources) strongly support renewables but only a minority think more nukes are a good idea. It’s common knowledge that the nuke lobby has a history of corruption and cover-ups, and people don’t like being lied to.

      Reality: nukes are in global decline as renewables grow exponentially. Unfortunately, that is not happening fast enough in most countries because the fossil-nuke cartel has corrupted democracy by ‘buying’ politicians and pumping the rightwing media full of lies and propaganda.

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      1. Comparing gun deaths with road deaths? Perhaps a gun nut might do this, but it wouldn’t be much use because 2010 US gun deaths are pretty close to 2010 US motor vehicle deaths. If gun deaths really were tiny compared to road deaths … say 1%, then the gun nuts wouldn’t be nuts. In Australia gun deaths are about 18% of road deaths. It’s perfectly reasonable to compare different modalities of risk … e.g., I can compare taking a shower with riding my bicycle in peak hour traffic and worry more about the latter than the former. We call a person who worries more about getting cancer from their shampoo than smoking a pack a day of cigarettes sick and recommend some kind of therapy. We don’t suggest that only various modes of hair washing can be compared. And this is close to a real and tragic example, Fukushima workers with serious smoking habits were traumatised by what they thought were huge risks of cancer from radiation.

        Which is the bigger risk … nuclear electricity or climate change? Or do you not think this comparison proper? I do.

        In any event, your views on appropriate comparisons matter little because nuclear is easily the safest form of energy production … http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html

        As for switching my French examples. The French added 100 TWh/yr during the 1970s and another 200 TWh/yr during the 1980s … the increase being because a bunch of reactors begun in the 70s came on-line in the 80s.

        EPR? Finland is so upset about those problems, that she’s ordered a second reactor. China? She will have more nuclear by 2020 than wind+solar combined. What do you want China to do? Close down the nukes and keep burning coal … like Germany? France has been at 80 gm-co2/kwh for 20 years. My pathetic country is at 870 gm-co2/kwh and Germany is 468 gm-co2/kwh. QED.

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      2. I think it’s rather revealing how nuke apologists like you are distracted by any analogy or tangent. It suggests you are eager to avoid the inconvenient facts that reveal nukes are in big trouble while renewables are in the ascendant.

        You’re certainly running through a Gish Gallop of all the old favourite, fallacious nuke talking points. The choice is not nukes or unmitigated climate change. In fact, nukes can do little or nothing to avert catastrophic climate collapse.

        * Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change. “In combination with renewables supplying up to 40% of supply in 2050, it would require more than a doubling of nuclear reactors to stabilise CO2 at 2000 levels. That would mean a new nuke coming online every 15 days on average between 2010 and 2050.” http://ieer.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2006/05/InsurmountableRisksSummary.pdf

        And only nukes can render vast areas of land uninhabitable at massive human, environmental and economic cost for decades or centuries or millenia. The latest evidence coming out of Fukushima shows the true costs of the nuke experiment:

        * “…the fact that 47% of disaster-related deaths were recognised in Fukushima prefecture alone indicates that the earthquake-triggered nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power plant caused extreme hardship for local residents.” http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2813%2960091-4/fulltext

        Nukes are too slow and unreliable to build, too expensive, they cannot scale. None of this is true of renewables which is why reality is as it is today. You need to stop living in the past. It’s not 1950s France any more – which is when their civilian nuke program began. The first nuke was opened in 1962, so once again we see you operating from false claims.

        Finland agreed to a second EPR before the first project turned in to a farce. It’s turning in to a disaster for everyone involved, and it’s looking like the first one will not be completed so why would you think the second is likely?

        * Finland rejection deals blow to Areva’s nuclear export ambitions. Finland’s Fennovoima drops Areva, Czechs confirm exclusion. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/25/areva-nuclear-idUSL6N0BPK4820130225

        China already generates more energy from wind than nukes, and the wind development plan is massive. They also just announced a 500% increase in solar in the next 3 years – expect that to snowball as solar costs continue to fall. China plans 500 GW of new renewable capacity by 2020 – far exceeding any vague and unreliable claims from nuke apologists.

        Finally, you try to confuse the unwary by using GHG energy intensity, rather than CO2 per capita. Germany is @ 9 tons CO2 per capita and falling; USA, Canada, Australia are all about double that number with no coherent plan to do anything to solve that. France is lower at 6 tons, but that is irrelevant to the economics and technical considerations of 2013 – which is why France is pulling away from nukes and investing in renewables.

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  4. I have moved a comment by a reader doubting global warming to the trash; global warming denial comments are not welcome on this blog.

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