Bjørn Lomborg: Wind Power ‘Tree’ Symbolises Futility of Paris Climate Jamboree
As a baggage train of some 40,000 climate-cultists get set to jet their way home from Paris – burning up a gazillion gallons of (what they normally rail about as being atmosphere incinerating) kerosene – the fair question has to be asked: ‘and all for what?’
The belief that China and India were going to sign up to terms guaranteed to keep more than a billion people (between them) locked in permanent Stone Age poverty was pure infantile nonsense.
Pragmatist, Narendra Modi is quite right to care a whole lot less about Western anti-humanity, eco-zealots, and a whole lot more about the 300 million or so of his constituents who subsist in world of dirt-floored shanties, without so much as the hope of enjoying an affordable supply of around-the-clock electricity.
The cultists fumed in Paris, as India and China put the needs of their people ahead of demands from selfish lunatics; equipped with little more than ideology, Macbook Airs and Twitter, as an outlet for their self-possessed rantings. So much easier to pontificate about how the poorest in the world should live (now and forever) with a belly full of Veuve Clicquot and Foie Gras while sitting in 5 star, centrally-heated comfort.
China and India aren’t about to deprive their people of an opportunity to have light at the flick of a switch; and they aren’t about to entertain the insane costs of solar and wind power to get there (save at the symbolic margins): between them, India and China are building, and planning to build, hundreds of new coal and nuclear power plants; designed to drag their people out of the darkness and into well-lit homes and bustling new factories (see this article).
Back in reality land, the childish symbolism that is wind power, copped a spray from the wind industry’s loudest critic, Bjørn Lomborg.
STT takes a different view to Bjørn about the ‘connection’ made between wind power and CO2 emissions:
He also falls for the lazy-language trap of referring to CO2 gas (a naturally occurring trace gas essential for life on Earth) as ‘carbon’: the black sooty stuff that makes a mess of white linen.
But Lomborg is right on the money where he points out the ludicrous costs and pointlessness of a wholly weather dependent power source.
Blowing a chance to help the planet
5 December 2015
‘Wind tree’ sums up the futility of the Paris climate talks
Outside the Paris climate conference centre, organisers have erected a “wind tree” (arbre a vent), which produces electricity using the power of the breeze. In doing so, they have summed up exactly what is wrong with the conference.
The tree will only produce 3500 kWh a year and it costs about $37,100. So, at a production price of about 11c a year, it will take 89 years to make up just the capital cost. Or, put differently, the cost is 300 per cent more expensive than even traditional wind power, which still struggles without subsidies.
The Conference of Parties (COP21) is about feeling good: spending a lot of money to do very little good, and not about making the choices that will make any difference.
This summit is “the last chance” to avert dangerous temperature rises, if we listen to the Earth League or a bunch of others. It’s going to be “too late” if a meaningful treaty isn’t negotiated here in the next few days, says the French President. It’s a familiar script. Doom-laden warnings about the “last chance to save the planet” date as far back as the earliest climate summits 20 years ago. Time magazine declared 2001 “a global warming treaty’s last chance”, and in 1989 the UN Environment Programme’s executive director warned that the planet faced an ecological disaster “as final as nuclear war” by the turn of the century.
Amid this alarmism, for 20 years well-intentioned climate negotiators have tried to do the same thing over and over and over again: negotiate a treaty that makes an impact on temperature rises. The result? Twenty years of failure with no significant effect on climate change.
These summits have failed for a pretty simple reason. Solar and wind power are still too expensive and inefficient to replace fossil fuels. The Copenhagen-Paris approach requires us to force immature green technologies on the world even though they are not ready or competitive. That’s hugely expensive and inefficient.
Thanks to campaigning non-governmental organisations, politicians and self-interested green energy companies that benefit from huge subsidies, many people believe that solar and wind energy are already major sources of energy.
The reality is that even after two decades of climate talks, they account for a meagre 0.5 per cent of total global energy consumption, according to the International Energy Agency.
And 25 years from now, even envisioning everyone doing all that they promise in Paris, the IEA expects we will get just 2.4 per cent from solar and wind. That tells us that the innovation that’s required to wean the planet off reliance on fossil fuels is not taking place.
That’s why the one glimmer of hope in Paris has been the announcement by Bill Gates, along with Australia, China, India and the US, of a multi-billion-dollar fund for green R&D.
The $27 billion fund is just a first step, but it’s a vitally important one. Just as massive support for research and development got us to the moon, the aim is for a massive focus on green research and development to make climate-friendly forms of energy competitive. This is precisely what the Copenhagen Consensus Centre and I have been arguing for more than eight years.
In a recent peer-reviewed research paper, I looked at all the carbon-cutting promises countries committed to ahead of Paris (their so-called intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs) for the years 2016-30.
These are what the Paris global treaty will be based on (along with a lot of claims about what might happen outside those dates — something that’s easy for politicians of today to talk about, but that we just can’t take seriously).
What I found when I looked at the national promises was that they would cut global temperatures by just 0.05C by 2100.
And even if every government on the planet not only keeps every Paris promise, reduces all emissions by 2030 and shifts no emissions to other countries, but also keeps these emission reductions throughout the rest of the century, temperatures will be reduced by just 0.17C by the year 2100.
And let’s be clear, that is incredibly — probably even ridiculously — optimistic. Consider the Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997, never ratified by the US, and eventually abandoned by Canada and Russia and Japan. After several renegotiations, the Kyoto Protocol had been weakened to the point that the hot air left from the collapse of the Soviet Union exceeded the entire promised reductions, leaving the treaty essentially toothless.
The cost of these policies? Extraordinarily, UN officials provide no official estimated costs for the likely treaty. So we are left to make an unofficial tally, which we can do easily enough by adding up the costs of Paris promises submitted by the US, European Union, Mexico and China, which together account for about 80 per cent of the globe’s pledged emissions reductions.
In total, the Paris promises of these four countries/groupings will diminish the global economy by at least $1 trillion a year by 2030 — and that is in an ideal world, where politicians consistently reduce emissions in the most effective, smartest possible ways.
But that won’t happen. It never has in history.
Politicians have a habit of wasting money on phenomenally inefficient subsidies for solar and biofuels. And based on the EU experience, such waste can double the costs of carbon-cutting policies to $2 trillion. That’s $1 to $2 trillion that won’t be spent on global challenges such as malnutrition, poverty and communicable diseases.
We are spending a fortune to make ourselves feel like we are saving the planet. The “wind tree” is an excellent symbol of what’s wrong with Paris.
Bjorn Lomborg is an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School and directs the Copenhagen Consensus Centre.
Earlier in the week, The Australian’s Editor had the following take on Lomborg’s message on energy innovation; a message that makes it fairly clear: wind power is an abject failure – for fairly obvious reasons – here’s the output from all wind farms connected to the Eastern Grid (installed capacity of 3,669MW – spread over NSW, VIC, TAS & SA) during June:
And, if there is to be a true alternative to fossil fuel power generation sources, then we should stop praying to the Wind Gods, and find something that’s recognizable as a ‘system’, rather than a lesson in total ‘chaos’.
Climate change demands innovation, not subsidy
2 December 2015
Faith in clean energy technology has a long pedigree
No need to get hot under the collar — Malcolm Turnbull’s climate policy is fundamentally the same as Tony Abbott’s. The targets that the Prime Minister took to Paris — emission reductions of 26-28 per cent by 2030 — are those adopted by Mr Abbott in August.
These targets are proportionate to Australia’s economic weight and our small contribution to the world’s greenhouse gases. They are consistent with the precautionary principle that Australia should not get ahead of the northern hemisphere’s big polluters. It’s true that Mr Turnbull has left open the possibility in the future that Australia would concur in a collective agreement to pursue deeper cuts. By definition, this would not involve Australia going it alone.
There is a pseudo controversy over climate mitigation and foreign aid. In Paris, Mr Turnbull announced a five-year diversion of at least $1 billion from the foreign aid budget to climate mitigation projects in the Pacific. Labor’s complaints ring hollow. Only last month Bill Shorten toured the Pacific (remember the prophesied climate refugees?) to talk up the threat of climate change.
Now, in consultation with Pacific nations, Australia is dedicating funds to climate mitigation projects in the region. As for the effect on foreign aid spending more generally, it was Labor that inflated the budget to win a seat on the UN Security Council.
On climate change Mr Turnbull’s point of difference with Mr Abbott is his emphasis on innovation as a tool for mitigation and adaptation. Innovation is a theme of the Turnbull government but it takes on special significance at the Paris climate meeting. Australia has promised to double its clean energy research and development as part of the 20-nation project known as Mission Innovation.
In his Paris speech, Mr Turnbull said: “We firmly believe that it is innovation and technology which will enable us both to drive stronger economic growth and a cleaner environment. We are a highly social and innovative species and so the more we share innovative technologies, the better they will become.” This commitment coincides with the unveiling in Paris of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition spearheaded by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and other entrepreneurs. They will invest in clean energy projects in sectors such as electricity generation and storage.
As Macquarie University’s Jonathan Symons says, the impetus to innovate sometimes has been misrepresented by environmentalists as a manifesto for inaction. “It is true that the cost of wind and solar are falling rapidly and both can now be competitive at low levels of grid penetration,” Dr Symons says. “However, associated system costs and technical challenges increase with the market share of intermittent energy. Without accelerated innovation, it is clear that existing renewable technologies will not support deep decarbonisation of the global economy.”
He also points out that notwithstanding Mr Turnbull’s timely gospel of climate innovation, this has been a faith subscribed to by figures as diverse as John Howard, Barack Obama, British economist Nicholas Stern and commentator Bjorn Lomborg.
In 2005 Mr Howard joined the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. Known as AP6, this was an initiative of George W. Bush and one that emphasised voluntary climate mitigation through the sharing of clean energy technology. It shows that the conservative side of politics has long recognised the need for climate mitigation by innovation.
Dr Lomborg’s championing of innovation is central to his view that the Paris meeting, like the meetings before it, is likely to generate alarmist rhetoric (anyone like another last chance to save the planet?) but fail to advance the cause of climate mitigation.
“For twenty years, we have insisted on trying to solve climate change by supporting production of mainly solar and wind power,” he says in a blog for this newspaper. “The problem with this approach is that it puts the cart in front of the horse.
Green technologies are not yet mature and not yet competitive, but we insist on pushing them out to the world. Instead of production subsidies, governments should focus on making renewable energy cheaper and competitive through research and development. Once the price of green energy has been innovated down below the price of fossil fuels, everyone will switch.”
Dr Lomborg greeted the Mr Gates-led coalition as a positive sign confirming innovation as the key to climate mitigation. But he points out that today’s favoured subsidies do not encourage innovation, instead making companies stick to inefficient but subsidised technologies such as solar and wind power.
After two decades of climate talks, solar and wind account for just 0.5 per cent of global energy. “And 25 years from now, even with a very optimistic scenario, envisioning everyone doing all that they promise in Paris, the International Energy Agency expects that we will get just 2.4 per cent from solar and wind,” Dr Lomborg says.