Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I read the news today, oh boy

Obviously, there is a kind of ritual collaboration between climate sciences, NGOs, climate politics and the media: before each round of global climate negotiations, new and alarming emission estimates are published. In June, the next  UN Climate Conference will take place in Bonn, Germany; the International Energy Agency (IAE) published yesterday new alarming numbers about greenhouse gas emissions.
As we have learned from Jeroen van der Sluijs and others, certain numbers such as those for climate sensitivity (1.5 - 4.5 degrees etc) or, as in these days, the 2 degree limit serve as boundary objects (or anchoring devices). Boundary objects means that those numbers are part science, part politics - indeed, they serve exactly to give politics scientific credibility and science political relevance. Whatever we think about this kind of mutual bonding: the new numbers are out, and we (as scientists, scholars, citizens, human beings) have to handle (and to live with) those news. Whether we are shocked, bewildered or amused - those numbers make their rounds and develop a life of their own. Here's a short stroll through the news with a special eye on Germany's nuclear phase out.
While the German advisory committee WBGU promotes measures to reach the 2 degree goal (see our discussion here and here), the British Guardian sees this goal already out of reach. According to Mr. Bristol, chief economist of the  International Energy Agency, the 2 degree goal is just a "nice utopia":
"I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions," Birol told the Guardian. "It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say."
And here the numbers:
Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.
 Lord Stern of the London School of Economics warns:
"These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a 'business as usual' path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] projections, such a path ... would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100,"
But if governments (or "we") act immediately, there is according to both Birol and Stern still a slight chance to avoid the worst. And, coincidentally, there is a chance to act in near future: next week, there is the next round of UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany:
"This should be a wake-up call. A chance [of staying below 2 degrees] would be if we had a legally binding international agreement or major moves on clean energy technologies, energy efficiency and other technologies."
Andrew Revkin has a comment on his dotearth blog, where he also displays a new (and spectacular) video to illustrate the growth of CO2 emissions. He makes the link to the German "Atomausstieg" (nuclear phase out):
In recent days agency officials have noted that other factors besides economic recovery are likely to amplify the challenge of reining in emissions, among them a retreat on nuclear power in the wake of the ongoing crisis at Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex. A recent Wall Street Journal piece focused on the emissions impact of Germany’s retreat on nuclear power.
And this is what James Herron writes in the Wall Street Journal, quoting another member of the IAE:

LONDON—Germany's moratorium on nuclear-power generation will add around 25 million metric tons a year to the country's carbon-dioxide emissions, which will have to be offset elsewhere by replacing coal-fired power with cleaner gas-burning plants, the International Energy Agency said Friday.
The shutdown of Germany's nuclear plants will take out about 50 terawatt hours of low-carbon electricity a year, Laszlo Varro, the head of the IEA's gas, coal and power markets division, said in a telephone briefing.
The German spiegel-online  takes up both ends of Germany's "energy revolution":
 Angela Merkel's government has decided to phase out nuclear power by 2022, in a reversal of its previous policy. German commentators are split over the wisdom of the decision, with one newspaper comparing the move to the fall of the Berlin Wall and another saying it will harm future generations.
It takes just another turn of the pages of the newspaper (okay, another click on google) to find out more about nuclear energy: Georg Blume reports on zeit-online (and here  BBC news)  TEPCO officials confirm that there was a meltdown of indeed nuclear rods in three reactors (something, as we were confirmed again and again by nuclear scientists, is impossible to happen). spiegel-online has another  "nice" piece about the reliability of the nuclear science - politics complex (or cartel, as they call it):
After the oil crisis of the 1970s, Japan embraced atomic power with a vengeance. Since then, the ties between the government and the nuclear industry have become so intertwined that public safety is at threat. Inspections are too lax, and anyone who criticizes the status quo can find themselves out of a job.
Ain't that funny how adaptable nuclear energy is: once it was implemented to save us from the oil crisis, today it is supposed to save us from climate change.
This is the end of my journey through the press. This is how greenhouse gas emission estimates make their round and connect energy consumption and production, national and global politics, NGOs, media, scientists and people all over the world. Energy is more than just another factor in the games that we play; instead, our games or very existence is fueled by energy. This makes things so complicated. It looks like a straight line from the 2 degree boundary object to nuclear power and greenhouse gas emissions - is this straight line based on science, or is it just another trick of the nuclear lobby or political interest groups? At every crossroad we have to find out and to make decisions. There are decisions. To make the right ones, we rely as much on our democratic instincts as we rely on science. We should develop both; I think, everybody can agree at least on this basic assumption of postnormal science.

10 comments:

Belette said...

> TEPCO officials say that there was a meltdown of indeed nuclear rods in three reactors (something, as we were confirmed again and again by nuclear scientists, is impossible to happen

I notice you don't provide a reference for that. It doesn't sound particularly true. Do you really believe it?

Vinny Burgoo said...

B: 'I notice you don't provide a reference for that. It doesn't sound particularly true.'

Follow the link. The 'Latest news from Japan' turns out to be 10-week-old speculation.

Werner Krauss said...

@ belette #1 and vinny #2: sorry for the old link. I replaced it with the link where I originally had read these news (in German language: http://www.zeit.de/2011/22/P-Fukushima). A BBC link confirms the news. Georg Blume on zeit-online says, that outside of Germany nobody really was interested in the news of the meltdown of nuclear rods in three reactors.

Georg said...

@Werner
Quite a melt down here.
1)"TEPCO officials confirm that there was a meltdown of indeed nuclear rods in three reactors (something, as we were confirmed again and again by nuclear scientists, is impossible to happen)." The japanese nuclear safety agency declared the partial meltdown on March 15
http://sciences.blogs.liberation.fr/home/2011/05/fukushima-dai-ichi-vaste-chantier-la-centrale-nucl%C3%A9aire-japonaise-lest-aux-sens-propre-et-figur%C3%A9-un-chantier-car.html

2)"something, as we were confirmed again and again by nuclear scientists, is impossible to happen"
Are you joking?
Here are at least three who tells us it was possible, is and will be.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3cdf51zbLU&feature=player_embedded

3)"Ain't that funny how adaptable nuclear energy is: once it was implemented to save us from the oil crisis, today it is supposed to save us from climate change."

Hardly surprising (funny is of course a question of the sense of humour). In both cases it works by replacing oil combustion by something else. Solar panels were also first developped to replace nuclear energy and now they save the climate.

Freddy Schenk said...

Not only a meltdown of nuclear rods was confirmed by TEPCO. Even worse, they also confirmed that the meltdown already happened before the tsunami hit the power station. Hence, the cooling system already faileddue to the earth quake only.

Source: Tagesschau (ARD) some days ago, directly translated from a Tepco official.

However, I could not find another source for that??

NikFromNYC said...

I present The Quick Glance Guide to Global Warming:
Denial
Oceans
Thermometers
Ice
Earth
Authority
Prophecy
Psychopathy
Thinker

Vinny Burgoo said...

'...outside of Germany nobody really was interested in the news of the meltdown of nuclear rods in three reactors.'

That seems to be true of Britain. Fukushima dropped right out of the news and I didn't read or see anything about TEPCO confirming that fuels rods had melted.

Anonymous said...

I read news today. Oh boy!

Although I am - given the current state of research – no fan of nuclear power, I am appalled:

Who tells our politicians, especially for example

Norbert Röttgen (CDU; Federal Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (Focus (30.05.2011), "Spätestens 2022 ist Schluss")), Kurt Beck (SPD, Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate (Stern (31.05.2011), "Es gibt ein Zurück vom Atomausstieg")), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD, leader of the opposition in the Bundestag (dpa (31.05.2011), "Steinmeier: SPD-Zustimmung zu Atomplänen möglich")), Hermann Gröhe (CDU Secretary General (Nibelungen-Kurier (28.05.2011), "Gröhe nennt Energiewende "unumkehrbar")), Horst Seehofer (chairman of the CSU and Minister-President of Bavaria (Zeit (30.05.2011), "Ein Kompromiss – aber alle wollen Sieger sein")), Winfried Kretschmann (Green Party, Minister-President of the state of Baden-Württemberg (Stern (31.05.2011), "Kretschmann auf Merkels Spur")), Franz Untersteller (Green Party, environment minister of the state of Baden-Württemberg (Neues Deutschland (01.06.2011), "Mehr Geld für Erneuerbare")), Claudia Roth (Green Party; one of the two current party chairs (Tagesschau (31.05.2011), “Regierung sucht Schulterschluss mit SPD und Grünen”)), Matthias Machnig (SPD; “Minister of Commerce” of Thuringia (Die Presse (30.05.2011), “Matthias Machnig: 'Gibt es wieder Hintertürchen?'”)), Klaus Töpfer (CDU; ex executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (Der Tagesspiegel (30.05.2011), “Atom – in elf Jahren ist Schluss”)), Kurt Herzog (The Left; member of the Lower House of German Parliament (Europaticker (31.05.2011), "Die Linke zu McAllisters Vorschlägen zur Energiepolitik")), Martin Zeil (FDP; minister of state (bavaria) (Augsburger Allgemeine (25.05.2011), “Atomstreit in der Staatsregierung”)), Eva Bulling-Schröter (The Left; Environmental Spokesperson (Stern (31.05.2011), “Es gibt ein Zurück vom Atomausstieg”)

again, that - if their unsupportable/ineligible drivel is not just meant political-populist – we are threatened by an eco-dictatorship (cf. also http://klimazwiebel.blogspot.com/2011/05/schwabische-okodiktatur-nur-noch.html and http://klimazwiebel.blogspot.com/2011/05/okodiktatur-teil-ii.html) when irreversible decisions are called for? (Cf. especially Claus Leggewie's obvious inconsistencies here.)

“No Return will never exist.” ("Kein Zurück gibt es nie"), says Joachim Wieland, professor of constitutional law (Stern, 31.05.2011).

The concepts of irreversibility and democracy are mutually exclusive.

namenlos

Steve McIntyre said...

"Ain't that funny how adaptable nuclear energy is: once it was implemented to save us from the oil crisis, today it is supposed to save us from climate change."

Many of the prominent names in climate change were funded by U.S. nuclear agencies in the early 1980s after Three Mile Island. The Carbon Dioxide Information Center was housed in the Oak Ridges National Lab, a nuclear institition. Among others, they funded Tom Wigley, Phil Jones, Mike MacCracken. Even Michael Mann's funding for Mann et al 1998 arose from a fellowship funded from Oak Ridges.

Whatever spin one may put on the interest of the nuclear industry in climate change, it is not a new interest.

Werner Krauss said...

@Steve McIntyre #9

I guess also in Germany / Europe there are many links between nuclear science and climate science. This is true institutionally, but also in terms of habitus. While nuclear science literally held the key (the bomb) to blow up planet earth, now climate science sometimes acts as if holding the key to save it. Thus, there is not only an institutional genealogy which links nuclear and climate science, there is also a symbolic one (even though inversed, from destruction to protection).
Whatever that means.