Can we get serious now?

Since everybody has gotten used to bad news about the climate and the state of the environment, it is nice to be able to bring some really terrifying news for a change. Sorry, but sarcasm and dark humor is the only way to cope with the situation.

The latest BP Statistical Review of World Energy is titled “Energy in 2018: an unsustainable path”. You know you should be worried when the chief economist of a major oil company is concerned about the rise in energy consumption.

The report concludes that energy demand rose by 2.9% last year, resulting in a 2.0% increase in CO2 emissions. Obviously, this is not in line with any emission paths compatible with the survival of humanity.

The truly horrifying part of the story is that the increase was largely driven by climate change. In order to cope with extreme heat and extreme cold, people used more energy. If anyone wanted to know what a tipping point looks like, you can look now. This is a perfect example of a positive feedback loop.

We need to reduce global CO2-emissions by at least 6% per year, starting right now. No conceivable international political process will make this happen. Just think about it: international treaties take years to negotiate and formulate and need to be ratified by national governments.

As I have stated for some years now, we have passed the political point of no return. So, stop buying and stop flying. It is the only chance we have.

Das Gespenst der Fakten

Galileo Galilei vor der Inquisition (Quelle)

Keep your facts. I’m going with the truth

Stephen Colbert

Als Physiker ist es sehr ärgerlich festzustellen, dass die naturwissenschaftliche und technische Forschung nicht in der Lage sein wird, das Nachhaltigkeitsproblem der Menschheit zu lösen. Vielmehr sind Verhaltensänderungen der Bevölkerung und eine komplette Transformation des Wirtschaftssystems erforderlich.

Es gibt zwei Möglichkeiten darauf zu reagieren. Da auch technische Lösungen für den Umbau der Gesellschaft erforderlich sein werden, ist es durchaus legitim, sich weiterhin mit technischer Forschung zu beschäftigen. Das Problem dabei ist nur, dass diese Forschung wertlos sein wird, wenn die erforderlichen Veränderungen der Gesellschaft nicht passieren.

Die andere Möglichkeit ist, sich politisch für die notwendige Transformation zu engagieren. Man stellt schnell fest, dass es sich um ein sehr komplexes Kommunikationsproblem handelt. Veränderungen passieren nur dann, wenn hinreichend viele Menschen von der Notwendigkeit einer Veränderung überzeugt sind. Zu diesem Zweck habe ich einige wichtige Fakten in einem Dokument zusammengefasst.

Das Gespenst der Fakten (PDF)

Hoffentlich regt der Text zum Nachdenken an. Ich freue mich auf Rückmeldungen.

European Energy Independence

A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity. In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defined as the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?

Tuchman, Barbara W., The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam.
Global Energy System based on 100% Renewable Energy – Power, Heat, Transport and Desalination
Sectors. (Full study here)

The questions posed by the American Historian Barbara W. Tuchman are indeed puzzling and very relevant. Humanity has been almost unimaginably successful in eradicating disease, improving food security, and raising quality of life through agricultural, technical and medical advances. Almost all this progress was based on science. With the internet, everybody on the planet has access to this science and knowledge. Nonetheless, our species now seems intent on committing ecological suicide through climate change in the near future. Why?

Consider the situation from the European perspective:

  1. Climate change represents a clear and present danger, which will have disastrous consequences for anyone younger than 30 years of age. If you want a good update on the seriousness of the situation, I recommend the video Climate Change – The Facts with David Attenborough. It takes an hour to watch, but it is an hour well spent. The video is also available on Youtube.
  2. Simultaneously, a recent study from the Energy Watch Group and the LUT University in Finland points out that decarbonizing the economy would not only save humanity but also lower energy costs. After an initial investment, which requires a lot of capital, operational expenses of wind and solar power plants are very low. I am not saying that I believe all the conclusions of this report, but it is possible to argue that renewable energy is a lot cheaper than fossil fuel.
  3. At the moment, capital is available. However, many economists warn that the next financial crisis is just around the corner and that it will be worse than 2008. If we invest in renewable energy today, the money will be safe. A stock market crash changes many things, but it does not stop wind turbines from turning.
  4. We also know that Europe is currently extremely dependent on imported fossil fuel, spending roughly EUR 266 billion annually to import pollution and support various undemocratic regimes. Clearly, this dependence on imported energy represents a huge geopolitical risk. A renewable energy system would be decentralized and therefore less vulnerable.
  5. A significant part of the money not spent on buying fossil fuel, would be spent on creating local jobs in European countries. This money would reduce social tensions.

In other words, it would be possible for the European Union to launch a massive Energy Independence Initiative, which would cut CO2 emissions, cut energy costs, create a lot of jobs, and make Europe less dependent on foreign powers. For some reason, this does not happen.

I am willing to team up with anyone – researchers, companies, inventors – to start such an initiative. Any takers?

Concerns of young protesters are justified

This makes me feel somewhat more optimistic about the state of the world. The letter organized by scientists for future was just published in Science:

Science 12 Apr 2019: Vol. 364, Issue 6436, pp. 139-140 DOI: 10.1126/science.aax3807

My brother and 8 colleagues from the HSR signed too. A complete list of the signatories is available.

We see it as our social, ethical, and scholarly responsibility to state in no uncertain terms: Only if humanity acts quickly and resolutely can we limit global warming, halt the ongoing mass extinction of animal and plant species, and preserve the natural basis for the food supply and well-being of present and future generations. This is what the young people want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.


GDP und CO2

Während des Nachhaltigkeitswoche an der HSR hatte ich wieder das Vergnügen, einen Klimavortrag zu halten. Eine PDF-Version befindet sich hier: Sein oder Nichtsein?

Wie immer sorgte folgender Vergleich zwischen der globalen Wirtschaftsleistung (GDP) und den globalen CO2-Emissionen für Kopfschütteln:

Spätestens hier stellt sich die Frage des Systemwechsels und des Klimanotstandes. Während den letzten 50 Jahren (seit 1970) waren die beiden Grössen fast perfekt korreliert, mit einem Korrelationskoeffizienten von +0.991. Gemäss heutiger Politik (Klimaziele von Paris, Wachstumsziele der G20), müssen Sie für die nächsten 30 Jahre fast perfekt antikorreliert sein (Korrelationskoeffizient -0.935). Wer dies für möglich hält, glaubt offensichtlich an Wunder. Wer dies nicht tut, müsste sich dafür einsetzen, dass wir möglichst schnell die wirtschaftliche Notbremse ziehen.

Damit jeder die Zahlen und die Berechnungen überprüfen kann, stelle ich das Excel-Sheet zur Verfügung.