Climate Policy Environment 10 October, 2019 9:00 am   
Józef Sobolewski. Fot. Autora
COMMENTS: Józef Sobolewski

Sobolewski: Climate change is a norm on Earth, not an exception

Europe is fighting climate change. But is the Old Continent surely prepared for losing in this fight? – asks Dr Józef Sobolewski.

Over the last millennium, climate change happen twice in Europe. The warm period (medieval climatic optimum) lasted until the end of the 14th century, then for about 400 years it was a cold period (Little Ice Age), and for about 200 years is again a warm period. In the cold period, average temperatures in Europe decreased by 1˚C compared to the previous warm period. In the warm period, the Vikings settled in Greenland, and the chronicle records say that during the cold period, sometimes in the winter the Baltic Sea froze and it was possible to go on ice from Sweden to Poland, and it certainly froze the River Thames in England.

Currently, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) convinces us that the current climate change will be global (although the previous ones probably could have been) and that we, the people, are now guilty of it. There is interesting question, was the man guilty of previous changes too? It is worth to note that there are also other teams of scientists denying the guilt of a man, I will also remind you that a dozen or so years ago the IPCC claimed that the climate would cool down and now it claims that there will be a warming. I have limited trust in the results of the IPCC simulations, but we can all be sure that climate change will sooner or later occur, out of our fault or not, the question is only when it will happen (if it does not last?) And what will be the consequences of the changes.

Previous climate changes have not prevented the development of European civilization and somehow we have survived to our times. We survived because our predecessors did not fight climate changes, but simply adapted to these changes. Will it be the same this time?

We should take into account that now we are much more dependent on technology and energy than five centuries ago. Only the elders remember the times without ubiquitous cell phones and the Internet, and that was only few dozen years ago. Technology creates our environment and if it fail, we can go back in development for centuries. It is enough that we run out of electricity and our civilization will stop. Literally. On the other hand, modern technology also gives us opportunities to influence the climate, for his change, and also the speed of these changes. We have technologies that effectively allow this, we should only use it, so as any other technology that gives us the opportunity to live in a comfortable and natural environment.

Recently, the Polish government has blocked the adoption of climate neutrality targets for the EU by 2050. I am satisfied that we finally have a government that is able to say NO to some of the European Commission’s ideas. Brussels considers itself to be the main advocate in the fight against climate change in the world by putting high reduction targets on CO2 emissions, a gas considered by the IPCC as the cause of climate change. Whether or not CO2 is the main cause of climate change is not obvious, there are also other well-documented theories. However, if you are not even sure, it is worth to reduce our impact on the surrounding environment, also by reducing CO2 emissions. But, you have to do it in a right way.

The EU’s share in global CO2 emissions is small (just over 10%), so the impact of EU emission reductions will be meaningless if others do not go that way. Speaking openly, current global CO2 emissions are increasing by 2% each year, it is easy to count that if Europe would stop emission today, when global emissions would offset this sacrifice.

And here comes the problem of this sacrifice, or rather the discrepancy between words and actions, because for the Union the only acceptable way to reduce emissions in energy production are investments in unstable, weather-dependent and above all ineffective in reducing CO2 emissions energy sources, called renewable. The definition of a renewable source is interesting because it considers acceptable burning of wood (biomass) that absorbed CO2 a few years ago and does not accept the burning of peat (also biomass) formed a few hundred years ago, not mentioning coal. It may be a slight malice, but if nature itself “cleans” the atmosphere by accumulating CO2, why should it be releasing back into the atmosphere by burning biomass?

At the end of last year on the pages of the monthly Wszystko Co Najważniejsze (8/2018) I published an article in which, on very basic official data, I showed low efficiency of renewable sources in reducing CO2 emissions, compared to nuclear energy. A few months later, I published in the Polish industry portal an article that was a technical version of the previous article, containing a lot of numbers and graphs. The wave of hate, which affected me after this article, convinced me that I came across a very sensitive point of renewable energy apologists. Although I am not an opponent of this type of production, I am opposed to significant support provided at the expense of energy recipients, to this ineffective in terms of emission reduction and non dispatchable energy sources.

Recent reports from international energy organizations, including the IPCC already mentioned, clearly show that without a significant share of the only effective emission reduction tool in electricity production, which is undoubtedly nuclear energy, plans to reduce CO2 emissions into the atmosphere will not succeed.

If all of the funds Europe spent on renewable energy were invested in zero-emission nuclear energy, emissions from the power industry would decline many times. Even if, according to recently pushed political goals, the Union will approach magical 100% of renewable sources (which is unrealistic for experts), ruining our economy (in producing energy, the Union will become uncompetitive to the rest of the world), it will not give up, because the rest of the world so far does not really care about the IPCC warnings and is willing to take over the industries pushed out of Europe. The renewable energy targets imposed on EU countries have nothing to do with climate protection, they are pure for business. Wonderful business, with state guarantee for profit.

The rapidly growing energy needs of Asia, and in the near future Africa will not be met by expensive and non dispatchable renewable sources, only through conventional sources, the CO2 level is growing and will grow so that if the IPCC is right, the climate will change anyway due to emissions. It is worth to note that many third world countries are more reasonable about emission-free generation of electricity, hence a kind of boom on nuclear energy in third world countries, negated by renewable energy apologists in Europe.

It is worth asking the question whether if climate change is not stopped, are we prepared for this change in Europe? At the beginning it should be recalled that climate change can occur quite quickly, that the cooling of the climate at the end of the 14th century took place in about 20 years. In general, the experts agree that the change will not only mean that it will be warmer or colder on average, but above all it will mean, sometimes very extreme changes in various weather phenomena, such as; wind, sun, cloudiness, rainfall, etc. It will also bring far-reaching changes in the surrounding natural environment. If the EU’s climate policy goes in this direction now, then not only will the Union have problems with unity, but individual European countries may have big problems with their economies and their security. Apart from all the other dangers associated with climate change, Europe will not be prepared primarily for the secured generation of electricity, unless the energy policy changes.
If the power industry is 100% based on wind and sun with the addition of biomass, hence sources dependent 100% on weather conditions, then who will ensure that it will function in an environment related to violent weather phenomena.

This will mean, for example, that where it currently blows favorably, it may not blow at all, or where, due to weather conditions, sun exposure is good, in the future clouds will hang for weeks in the sky. And drought alternately with floods? And what with very strong winds destroying forests, whether they can do the same with wind farms, or with sand destroying PV panels. An example of this is the harsh winters in the USA, winters with heavy snow, cloudy sky and severe frost. Only conventional and nuclear power plants operating at the limit of endurance saved the energy situation in the eastern states of the USA. The recent heat waves in Europe caused serious perturbations in Europe’s energy systems, mainly due to the German system and its dependence on renewable sources (there was a lot of sun, but almost no wind).

The conclusions are obvious, we need to build a disposable source of energy, independent of weather conditions. These can be sources based on fossil fuels, but we also have available sources based on nuclear technology that additionally meet the zero-emission condition. Not only that, they are not only stable and independent, they are very long-lived and, considering the entire life cycle and the way the power system functions, it is also relatively cheap.

We now have a whole range of different technological solutions for reactors based on nuclear fission and unlimited fuel resources (U and Th depending only on mining costs), and in the future it is possible that the continuation in the form of reactors based on the nuclear fusion process.

The facts seem obvious, but for the advocates of renewable energy, especially in Europe, facts do not really count. This is because the fight against CO2 emissions is above all an excellent business, especially for related industries and financial markets. There is no better business than the collection of goods guaranteed by governments and its price. It is a marriage of ideology with business, which results in the actions of the European Union, which in energy policy constitute a series of failures. Very expensive failures that we pay off each day as electricity consumers. And it will probably be so long. A dozen years ago, “unbundling” was to give lower energy prices to households, but did not give. An energy market based on ideological principles has been created, on which goods can be obtained for free with a surcharge, while the price of energy for the end user has aby connection to the energy price on the wholesale market. Large financial resources have been spent on subsidies for inefficient energy sources. And prices are still growing. Now they are giving us the principles of the Energy Union, which due to its size cannot be grasped and it is not known why we need it. In fact, it is known why, to force those who do not really want, or cannot, using the “green” energy that others generate and everything will produce in the name of a mixture of ideological principles and significant particular interests of some states and companies.

If the European Union really wanted to reduce CO2 emissions, it would use all the most effective tools we have at our disposal, especially at the current stage, the nuclear energy.

But it is not so. Non dispatchable renewable sources are not able to work independently and require support of fossil fuels, preferably natural gas generation. Germany, with largest CO2 emission in Europe, plays a negative role in emission reduction in Europe. The SPD-CDU coalition agreement signed over two years ago contained arrangements related to the support from European funds for the development of nuclear energy and obliged the federal government to block such an opportunity. And now, quite recently, a European investment bank has inscribed in its rules not only not granting credits based on coal, which can be understood, but also nuclear energy. However, one can support energy generation based on natural gas (emissivity is about half of the carbon emissivity). It is no accident that this is the result of the actions of the German government. However, the bank’s funds, which all EU members consist of, can support the development of gas generation in Germany. In the end, someone has to compensate Germany for their expenses on Energiewende, so everyone in Europe will be dropping on it, also through so-called RES goals. If Germany, instead of developing Energiewende, invested all the funds in the construction of nuclear generation, then today they could belong to countries producing electricity in a completely emission-free manner. But today despite these huge expenses, they are still the largest CO2 emitter in Europe.

The only chance for the development and competitiveness of Europe in relation to the rest of the world is the rejection of RES goals and the fight against climate change, means the reduction of CO2 emissions with the most effective methods that each country has at its disposal.

For some, it will be, for example, hydropower, and for others, nuclear energy. The European Union requires reforms, a kind of return to the roots, removal of all ideological accretions, including also for example RES goals, focusing on real activities accepted by all its members, such as, for example, CO2 reduction in a manner adequate for each country, then maybe he will have a future.

* Former Director of the Nuclear Energy Department at the Ministry of Energy in Poland. Previously he worked at the Institute for Nuclear Research/Poland and the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Chemistry in Mainz/Germany and then in big US IT corporations. A graduate of the Faculty of Physics of the University of Warsaw and received a PhD on the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz.

** The views presented in this article are private opinions of dr Józef Sobolewski and do not represent the position of any institution.