Streetwise Professor

November 17, 2019

Died of a Theory, Energiewende Edition

Filed under: China,Climate Change,Economics,Energy,Politics — cpirrong @ 8:49 pm

Germany, under Angela Merkel, has pursued with monomaniacal fervor an agenda of “decarbonizing” the German economy. This has been driven by a monocausal view of what constitutes “green” policies, one that begins and ends with greenhouse gasses.

In pursuit of this objective, Germany has embarked on a hugely expensive endeavor–“Energiewende“–that looks to replace virtually all fossil-fuel generation with renewables, notably wind and solar. The foolishness of this campaign was evident from the onset (as I wrote about some years ago), but Merkel and the German ruling class ignored it: but now reality is rearing its ugly head.

Where to begin?

For one thing, for those who do not have a view of environmentalism that begins and ends with carbon, many in Germany are finding wind power in particular to be visual pollution, sonic pollution, a major threat to bird and insect life, and a threat to some of the few remaining forested parts of the country. As a result, expansion of windpower is facing increased opposition on environmental grounds.

Expansion of offshore wind is sharply limited by the need for vastly expanded transmission capacity (to bring power from the windy northern coast to the central and southern regions of the country that consume the power). This is expensive, and also faces substantial local opposition on environmental grounds.

In a truly amazing fit of stupidity, Germany decided to terminate a large and reliable–and carbon free–source of electricity when Merkel ordered the shutdown of the country’s nuclear plants post-Fukushima. Let’s see: a coastal nuclear plant is hit by a tsunami, so let’s close down all nuclear plants in a seismically stable country with no zero risk of a tsunami. Yeah, that makes sense.

Now Germany is planning to decommission all its coal plants, because global warming. It is not intending to replace them with gas-fueled ones, despite their lower carbon emissions. Because global warming.

So . . . no nukes, no coal, no gas to replace them, severe constraints on increased renewables output. Which leads to . . . looming shortages of power. Which means that Germany’s already incredibly expensive power will become even more expensive. Hardly great for German consumers, or German industry.

But no worries, Germany will just export less!

Germany is counting on its status as a net exporter of power to help it brace it for potential shortfalls as nuclear and coal power wind down in stages. It transmitted about 53 terawatt-hours of power to its European partners in the nine months through September, compared with 31 terrawatt-hours of imports, monitoring group AG Energiebilanzen reported Monday.

Screw the neighbors! How German of them! La plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Er, that’s not very “European” of them, is it? “European partners.” Ha!

How any European can listen to Merkel’s lectures about “more Europe” without vomiting is beyond my comprehension.

It also demonstrates the failure to think through the effects of their actions. If the Germans export less, will those who currently import from them say: “Well OK then! We’ll just sit in the dark and freeze!”? As if. They will build generating capacity. And it won’t be largely renewable. Meaning that Germany closing coal plants will not lead to an equivalent reduction in the number of coal plants, but a displacement of those plants to other countries, or the building of gas plants outside Germany. So the amount of global emissions reduction will be a fraction of the amount of German emissions reduction.

The virtue signaling aspect of this is also absurd. For all of the contortions and coercion that Merkel will employ to reach her decarbonization goal, the reduction in CO2 emissions will be a drop in the bucket, given that China is opening a coal plant per week, and Chinese and Indian emissions already dwarf those of the US, let alone Germany. So the impact of this on CO2 emissions, and on temperature, will be de minimis.

Germany is a great example of the fallacy of composition. It has an incredibly intelligent and well-educated population. Arguably the most intelligent and well-educated population in the world. Yet, Germans collectively have a history of making the worst decisions of any nation on earth.

Perhaps this reflects their obsession with grand theories (as opposed to say, the more practically minded British and Americans). As a result, they tend to embark on grandiose missions that end in disaster. (Adam Smith’s remark about “the man of system” comes to mind. So does Adenauer’s remark about Prussians being Belgians with megalomania.)

In the past, tens of millions have died of German theories–most of them non-Germans. Not many will likely die of Energiewende, so in that way it is not comparable to the great debacles of German history. But it is a debacle nonetheless, and one with its roots in a grand theory, and which will produce virtually no environmental gain despite imposing a massive cost on Germans (and other Europeans who consume German electricity).

How very German.

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  1. In line with the theme of global warming, let me call to your attention my recently peer-reviewed and published paper showing that climate models have no predictive value.

    Here it is: Open access, and over 92,000 views in 10 weeks.

    There isn’t a bat’s chance in a wind turbine that it’s wrong.

    Climate models are the sole causal truth-machine about CO2 emissions and global warming. And climate models can’t predict the climate. They can’t resolve the effect of CO2 emissions.

    No one knows what our CO2 emissions will do, if anything at all, to the climate.

    The IPCC literally doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

    Neither do climate modelers, Al Gore, or Angela Merkel, or anyone else including the National Academy and, incredibly, David Mercer. The entire field of global warming studies is hardly more than artful pseudo-science.

    All the climate crisis hysteria has been for nothing. All the excess winter fuel-poverty deaths, all the acrimony, all the trillions transferred to wealthy subsidy-farmers, all the blighted landscapes, all the hand-wringing, all the shouting, all the terrifying of children. All for nothing.

    Any way to calculate up the economics of all that, prof?

    Comment by Pat Frank — November 17, 2019 @ 9:59 pm

  2. Pat, so true. The deeper question is, why have the Western elites been so captured by this hysteria? The Asians pay lip service (e.g. Paris Agreement) but I’m sure they look on us with puzzlement & contempt. The conspiracy theory is it’s a convenient vehicle for a socialist/communist plot to destroy capitalism but that seems just too pat an answer.

    Comment by Tractor Gent — November 18, 2019 @ 5:02 am

  3. The whole Green debacle reminds me of historical snippets about various loony religious groups in the past – for example those early Christians who castrated themselves, or the chaps who lived atop columns beside the desert, or those who provoked the Roman authorities in hopes of being martyred, or the Americans who fannied about with snakes and talking in tongues. I dare say that there are plenty of non-Christian examples too. Mad as hatters, but without the excuse of the mercury pollution.

    It is wise to assume, though, that there are also some cold, calculating crooks behind much of this, unscrupulously advancing their own interests at the cost of their fellow citizens. The technical term for such people is Climate Scientists.

    Comment by dearieme — November 18, 2019 @ 5:12 am

  4. “But no worries, Germany will just export less!”

    It actually gets better. The instability of generation means that there are times when Germany has to dump power onto other regional grids. Which is a lot of what those energy exports are. Emergency shedding.

    The imports of course are of nice reliable power when the wind isn’t blowing.

    Comment by Tim Worstall — November 18, 2019 @ 5:20 am

  5. @Tractor Gent. IMO, there are two main factors. The first is related to @dearieme’s analogy of the Green debacle to religious frenzies. The decline of organized religions, organized Christianity in particular, has not eliminated the religious impulse. The modern green movement fills the psychic and social voids left by the decline of traditional religions. The second is also pertinent to @dearieme’s other point, and yours: this is largely about power, and by that I don’t mean electrical power. I mean political and social power. In moments of candor, Green New Dealers admit this. (I’ve written a few posts about this.) It’s not too pat an answer at all. Note that all of the legal and regulatory measures motivated by alleged concerns over CO2 tend to concentrate power in the state, and in super-state bodies (e.g., the EU).

    @dearieme–One particularly perverse aspect of the present looniness is at least the self-castraters and snake handlers harmed themselves, almost exclusively. The new lot are more sadists than masochists. They will be largely immune from the adverse effects of their bizarre rituals.

    Comment by cpirrong — November 18, 2019 @ 1:04 pm

  6. @Tim. Yup. Which also means that increased German reliance on wind will increase the demand for gas, coal, hydro, and nuke generation in Germany’s neighbors. Which will be another reason why Energiewende will relocate, rather than eliminate, non-renewable generation.

    Comment by cpirrong — November 18, 2019 @ 1:07 pm

  7. @SWP…Europe is doomed, and has been on the path to doom for 20-30 years. They are dying out anyway, so suicidal policies don’t change the direction.
    Merkel is an Ostie hack. I don’t believe she considers longterm, abstract policies. She is not a ‘theoretical’ anything.
    ‘Decarbonizing’ is the label it gets, but it is the unconscious lust for extinction that drives her and the Euros. Their immigration policies are another large example of that.
    @dearieme: the difference between the Green Zero-loonies and those Americans handling snakes is that the Zeropeans have their hands on central political power, and the snake handlers in America – exercising their freedom of religion – are harmless to others, out on the fringe beyond the fringe.

    Comment by Richard Whitney — November 18, 2019 @ 4:44 pm

  8. Green theology was started by the elite: professors, millionaires, and people who’ve read The Theory of the Leisure Class.
    But just as the middle classes want to emulate the posh (Hey it’s only a Mercedes A class, but it’s a Mercedes) the theology gets adopted by the masses.
    Or so the greenmongers hope. When we al share their views on unreality they won’t need anything as vulgar as democracy.

    Comment by philip — November 18, 2019 @ 5:52 pm

  9. Hey Prof, would you please write about the state of the US clearinghouses, their stocks have done better than the bank stocks since 2008 and margins seem to be at all time lows.

    Are there any clearinghouse problems on the horizon or am I smoking crack?

    Comment by Joe Walker — November 18, 2019 @ 7:59 pm

  10. Michael Crichton (pbuh) nailed this first, in 2003 as I recall:

    “Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths. There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment.”

    He might also have added that there is dogma, a clergy, the sale of indulgences and the crime (and punishment) of heresy.

    Comment by Green as Grass — November 19, 2019 @ 10:54 am

  11. In the 1980s, I remember reading about the inception of the Green Party in Germany. There was one aspect that always stood out: at the initial convocation, the members were actually divided as to where to place themselves in the political spectrum. While most of them were inclined to left-of-center politics, there were some who argued that in order to have any effect in implementing Green policies, they had to have the cooperation of capitalist industry, and that meant that the right should not be alienated.

    Well, cooler heads did not prevail. Lefties generally being unreasonable hotheads, the Party hewed to the left thereafter.

    However, there is one aspect that completely puzzles me about European Greens, and maybe our European friends could explain: why does the Green Party endorse immigration, which in Europe will always mean Muslim immigration? Muslims don’t care about Green policies — they want to see more oil pumped, not less. Moreover, Muslims don’t give a hoot about population control, which by now is becoming more of a platform for the Greens, in a never-ending Malthusian regurgitation.

    The Muslim solution to their burgeoning populations is not birth control, but the exportation of their boys to the West. It would follow that the Green Party should focus on this by blocking immigration, and by persuading Muslim countries to adopt domestic policies that include birth control and abortion.

    Of course, opening Planned Parenthood clinics in Muslim countries would be quite a challenge, but hey, isn’t the Green Party all about noble causes, and the courage of one’s convictions? Or are Westerners the only ones qualified to fight those kinds of moral battles?

    Comment by I.M. Pembroke — November 19, 2019 @ 2:26 pm

  12. Regarding the peculiar allure of AGW among the elit…er, scratch that…credentialed classes, others have mentioned its cultic [1] appeal filling the void left by the ejection of Christianity, and rent…er…graft-seeking opportunities that perpetuate it. All true, but I have another angle that I think explains how professional scientists lost their obeisance to the authority of empirical data on this topic.

    It will take a while here to set up some background.

    As a parallel, I’ll start with the careers of the ambitious grad students who, in the late 70’s, toiled through years of grad school to get advanced theoretical degrees in the then-imminently burgeoning field of artificial intelligence. Conventional wisdom of the period pretty much took for granted that rapid advancement in computer technology would bring a revolution in thinking machines in the 80’s and these top-notch researchers were ready with symbolic models of human intelligence to blaze a pioneering path into…well…nowhere. By 1985 it was obvious [2] that human intelligence was nothing like these symbolic models. Businesses lost interest funding research that didn’t deliver anything practical, and the students from their classes tossed their AI course material in the trash and went on to revolutionize the world by inventing GUI’s, the internet, and modern cryptography, leaving behind a bitter remnant of those who had invested 12 years getting a PhD in what was now useless esoterica. Too committed the sunk cost of their academic pedigree, all they could do was carp when, in the 90’s, a new generation of “scruffies” started to get results on simpler practical problems, like getting a machine to walk or machine vision for quality control, without even attempting to understand any underlying symbolism so enamored by their “neat” predecessors. Those pitiful neats are now dying out, consigned to having merely watched as their peers reveled in glorious technical success.

    As a counterpoint to AGW, I’ll mention that other scientific scare that came out of the 90’s, cellphones causing brain cancer. The whole ball got rolling on this when a Swedish oncologist found some imperfect [3] evidence for a peculiar sort of brain tumor, and a Tiawanese researcher did an experiment, imperfect albeit in different ways [4], on laboratory mice. A study on people living near power lines also turned out to be wrong [5]. After several years (and 2.76 bajillion dollars in research grants) chasing this phantom, the hysteria died out, and industry safety standards were set to the lowest level that RF heating can cause observable biological effects (nothing at all to do with cancer), divided by 100, because heating was the only thing that really existed, 100 is a nice round number, the result was high enough to make a passable radio, and golly, you have to set the standard somewhere. All of us with training in EM fields (and presumably, the all the oncologists except one in Sweden) went on to do other things.

    Looking at AGW, it had its early ambiguous-but-alarming result, the Keeling graph [6], which played a role similar to the early studies on EM-induced cancer and the 70’s-era assumptions that computers will evolve into the HAL9000. Like the AI field, a whole generation of top-ranked students ambitiously rushed into the field, and by the time they completed advanced degrees, were committed to the narrow specialty. Unlike those trained in solving electromagnetics who could move on, the weather forecasting business cannot possibly absorb their numbers. They *need* a crisis to stay professionally relevant. The conscientiously scientific among them have self-selected out, much like the talented programmers who got canned in the AI business crash of the 80’s, leaving a doctrinaire remnant who will be annoying the rest of us (or worse) until, like the AI neats, they die out.

    [1] not necessarily the pejorative sense of the term, but “cultic” meaning merely the outward rituals expressed by a religious sect
    [2] The early skeptics, you might guess, sounded like a voice in the wilderness. I can paraphrase one dissenter at the time making the point, “We don’t know the first thing about what human intelligence *is*. How can we expect to build it in a machine?”
    [3] The Lenhardt study found statistically significant correlation between the side that the brain tumor was on, and which ear they use for the mobile phone. Besides being subject to memory recall bias, statistical significance to 95% can happen, well, 1 out of 20 times, by chance. If you are screening against more than 20 diseases, you will get a hit, and 19 other diseases don’t get published.
    [4] The Xia experiment put mice in an RF shielded chamber, and a control group with the radio waves turned off. A comparison of DNA PCR results seemed to look different between the groups…when I looked at those squiggles they kinda looked different, I suppose…but that criterion is very subjective and the link between the shape of the squiggles and any sort of cancer is left unaddressed. What is a cancerous PCR supposed to look like, anyhow?
    [5] Power lines, being ugly, lower property values, and those living near them are in lower income groups, who therefore have poorer health. Adjusting for that (which did have to wait for bigger budgets to get bigger sample sizes) took out all the alleged effect of EM fields. Also, like the Lenhardt study, different studies on power lines found correlations with different diseases, a hallmark of statistical clustering.
    [6] This is a graph of CO2 levels starting in 1958. Both temperature and CO2 rise, though which causes which, or if both are caused by something else, or whether the trend is just a coincidence (we don’t have comparable measurements of a statistically significant group of both parallel and “control Earths” where CO2 didn’t rise) can’t be answered by the graph alone.

    Comment by M. Rad. — November 20, 2019 @ 12:22 am

  13. Great quote, @Green. Yes, he is missed.

    Comment by cpirrong — November 20, 2019 @ 9:33 am

  14. @I.M. Pembroke–The Greens are leftists first and foremost, and view capitalism, traditional Western culture, and (for the lack of a better term) the bourgeoisie as their primary enemies. In this battle, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and mass immigration is a useful battering ram to use against their enemies.

    Comment by cpirrong — November 20, 2019 @ 9:37 am

  15. @M. Rad something I’ve also found after long and careful examination of consensus climatology, is that these folks assume away all the hard parts of doing experimental science.

    All error is random, and averages away. All thermometers and PRTs are treated as though they have perfect accuracy and infinite precision.

    All simulations of the climate are made perfectly accurate by subtracting the year 1 simulation from years 2 through N. Subtraction removes all the error. One can see the effect of tiny perturbations (CO2 forcing). Climate modeling is the only field that asserts such nonsense, and gets away with it.

    Proxy paleo-temperature reconstructions have no known connection to physics.

    I have extensive experience debating these people. No one in the consensus field seems to have the slightest idea how to evaluate the physical reliability their own data or models.

    It’s not just group-think. It’s group incompetence. The whole enterprise has descended into artful pseudo-science.

    I’ve discussed all this in, “Negligence, Non-Science, and Consensus Climatology”

    Comment by Pat Frank — November 20, 2019 @ 1:29 pm

  16. @Pat – re your abstract, why just the three lines of evidence? What about sea/glacial ice cover, atmospheric CO2 levels etc etc? There are a raft of datasets all pointing in the same direction. Also, are the likes of NASA in on this too??

    I’ll download the full paper when I’m next in the Bodleian.

    Comment by David Mercer — November 20, 2019 @ 4:48 pm

  17. @Pat, it was the mid 90’s, I think, when I decided to do my deep dive into the global warming literature, motivated by conflicting predictions of how much, and how rapid the onset, that called for vastly different public policy on the issue. I wasn’t on a mission to de-bunk the whole theory. Fresh out of grad school, I was ready to attack any math they had in their models…bring it on!

    The level of schlock I found was shocking to my youthful sensibilities. I am less shocked in hindsight, having seen such groupthink elsewhere and having arrived at an understanding of the human and social factors that make science go bad like that. But yeah, paper “Y” cites paper “X” for conclusion “A”. Paper “X” never claimed “A” but rather something 10x weaker, 0.1*A. Paper “Z” cites paper “Y” to conclusion 10*A, and so on, so the public is presented with a conclusion 100x more than the evidence supports. You don’t need to know any science to see through this, just critical reading and thinking. The whole endeavor is the Keeling graph with multiple layers of confirmation bias laid on top.

    Comment by M. Rad. — November 20, 2019 @ 6:15 pm

  18. @M. Rad–your mention of schlock and code (in a previous comment) made me think of the stunningly schlocky code, and stunningly schlocky data handling practices, revealed by the Climategate emails. Maybe the quality of coding is better in the climate models than in the empirical work. But I can say that the latter was beyond embarrassing.

    Another example: Mann et al’s complete misapplication of principal components analysis. FFS. It’s not complicated, but they still screwed it up.

    But maybe they screwed it up on purpose, because it gave them the results they wanted.

    Comment by cpirrong — November 20, 2019 @ 6:57 pm

  19. @16 David Mercer the three lines of evidence are the main legs of the climate scare.

    Sea level rise and glacial retreat have been going on for millennia.

    Over geological time, CO2 has no apparent impact on air temperature and over all seven ice ages CO2 lags temperature, rather than leads.

    Apart from that, those three areas, models, air temp, and proxy reconstructions lend themselves to a definitive error analysis.

    Here’s a more thorough investigation of the proxy temps claim:

    Proxies have no known physical relation to temperature. The whole thing is pseudo-science.

    Comment by Pat Frank — November 20, 2019 @ 10:36 pm

  20. @18 cpirrong, Steve McIntyre retrieved the “back to 1400 CENSORED” folder from Mann’s early anonymous ftp site. I think a grad student had left there inadvertently.

    Its contents showed that the 1400 verification step had failed during Mann’s proxy construction. But Mann covered that up with obscure language in his 1998 MBH Nature paper.

    Steve McI discussed that in detail at the time, on his climateaudit blog. Steve also discovered that Mann used a non-standard short centering method with his PC’s that mined hockey sticks from even red-noise random data.

    There’s no room for doubt that Mann knew all that and published anyway. My own view follows your last clause.

    Comment by Pat Frank — November 20, 2019 @ 10:46 pm

  21. @Pat And NASA? I realise answering this question may cause you some professional difficulties.

    Comment by David Mercer — November 21, 2019 @ 1:37 am

  22. 21 @David, what about NASA? Judgement concerns the strength of the case, not the source of it.

    No professional difficulties at all.

    Comment by Pat Frank — November 21, 2019 @ 2:04 pm

  23. @Pat I assume you knew full well what I was asking and are reluctant to answer for obvious reasons. On the off-chance you didn’t get my gist, my question was how come NASA devote so much resource to investigate this ‘pseudo-science’, and so much effort in discussing and publicising the case as you call it (sheesh – take a look at their multiple websites on climate change)? If they, like you, question its scientific merits, why bother to continue down this path, especially given the political climate in the US where its now more than acceptable to doubt the science?

    Final comment, I do find it grimly amusing that you’re content to employ your professional, evidence-based prowess in this debate (still haven’t read your paper BTW, but I’m assuming the reviewers were broadly happy), yet you’re happy to drop all this and believe some half-remembered news story on the basis of faith or possibly prejudice.

    Comment by David Mercer — November 22, 2019 @ 4:33 am

  24. @David Mercer — argument from authority. You have no idea whether NASA is correct when they make claims about CO2 impacting air temperature. I do.

    Unlike you, I’ve done the work. I know for a fact that such claims are groundless.

    I actually didn’t know what you were referring to, with your “And NASA?” Had I, I’d have replied as above.

    Let’s put your question this way: ‘how come NASA devote so much resource to investigate this ‘pseudo-science’, and so much effort in discussing and publicising the case‘ when competent analysis shows there is no case?

    The no case position has been in full view since at least 2001, with publication of Soon, W., Baliunas, S., Idso, S.B., Kondratyev, K.Y. and Posmentier, E.S., Modeling
    climatic effects of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions: unknowns and uncertainties, Climate Res., 2001, 18 259-275.

    NASA knowing that paper as they must have done, and NASA knowing thereby that climate models cannot predict the climate, how is it possible that NASA pushed a false narrative for the following 20 years?

    There’s the Pulitzer investigative reporting project for you, David: the studied incompetence of NASA. When politics rule, science goes out the window. See Lysenkoism.

    And what “half-remembered news story”? You mean the business about Steve McIntyre and his analysis of Michael Mann’s “back to 1400 CENSORED” folder? That wasn’t half remembered. I followed that story in detail at Steve McIntyre’s climateaudit site. It’s true right down to the bedrock.

    And let me add once again, that the entire AGW thing is false precision. There is no science in it. To doubt the evidence of AGW is not to doubt science, it’s to doubt pseudo-science. There is no evidence of AGW. None whatever.

    Comment by Pat Frank — November 22, 2019 @ 12:44 pm

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