The Corner

Is We Is or Is We Ain’t Having a Climate Crisis?

Travel day for me, returning from the beach in California and my annual clowning around with my oldest pals from high school and college — something we’ve done every year for 22 years now. We’ve even entered the t-shirt phase.*

So it’s going to take a day or two to gather and run the numbers, but the German decision to phase out all its nuclear power plants over the next decade or so is astounding for one simple reason: It will make it nearly impossible for Germany to reach the ambitious greenhouse-gas-emissions reduction targets that every environmentally-correct public official there says is Priority #1.

Three years ago I was a guest of the German government on a week-long junket to learn about their energy policy, which emphasized all the usual green pieties in a rather unconvincing way. They’ve got all the most expensive stuff you can get in the way of geothermal, biomass, wind, and solar. My conclusion to my hosts was that two of the most magical words in the English language are “German engineering,” but although it was all very impressive from a geeky-gadgety point of view, their approach was obviously not scalable to the poorer developing world, and may not be scalable even for Germany. (Germany claims to get about 16 percent of its electricity from renewables, but much of this figure is hydro — the solar and wind share is much much less.) We’ll find out over the next decade.

One notable thing that every official told us was that the decision to phase out nuclear power — made by the first Merkel government, then in coalition with the anti-nuke Green party — would have to be reversed, that Germany needed to keep its nuclear power if it was to have any chance of making its greenhouse-gas-emissions reduction targets. Merkel looked to be on course to undo this improvident phaseout, until Fukushima. If Germany replaces their no-emission nukes with natural gas- or (heavens!) coal-fired electricity, its emissions will go up rather noticeably. It’s doubtful that they can replace all their nukes with wind and solar.

But as soon as I have some detailed numbers, I’ll file a follow-up with some estimates. It is likely to be yet another nail in the coffin of Kyoto-style climate policy.

*If you’re really brave, this short video has me grilling an enormous piece of beef, and maximizing my carbon footprint while I’m at it.  (And now Jonah can also see a little of what he missed.)

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