Friday, March 18, 2011

The heat of the moment

The German government displays a striking capability of taking rapid and apparently important decisions, at least when it feels a sense of urgency from the electorate. That was the case after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and it is the case again after the Japan earthquake and the threatening ensuing nuclear mayhem. When voters are clearly more sensitive to milisieverts than to Libyan gas, it is advisable to move rapidly in some fronts and more slowly in others. Some would argue that this is the very sense of democracy - the government by people's prod - although others may think that at leat some times a little bit of leadership would not very damaging and could even have some positive effects. This is what Michael Levi seems to suggest in this interesting short interview in Tea with the Economist. By the way, was Desert Tec the project meant to secure the electricity supply to Europe produced by solar energy in North Africa ?


Anonymous said...

Hallo Eduardo,

Sie wurden in einem (online) Artikel der Stuttgarter-Zeitung erwähnt.

Ich zitiere:
"Eduardo Zorita weist immerhin auf eine neue Studie hin. Sie stammt von einem Forscher der Uni Stockholm und wurde vor kurzem in einer etwas entlegenen Zeitschrift publiziert, den "Geografiska Annaler". Darin präsentiert Fredrik Ljungqvist eine Rekonstruktion der Temperaturen für die vergangenen 2000 Jahre. Die Studie beschränkt sich auf den Bereich der Nordhalbkugel nördlich der Tropen, da in Äquatornähe zu wenig gute Proxys zu finden sind. Die Arbeit zeuge von viel Sorgfalt und sei klar nachvollziehbar, meint Zorita.

Ljungqvist hat ausgeprägte Schwankungen der Temperatur gefunden, wie sie noch nicht oft belegt wurden: Seiner Rekonstruktion zufolge war die sogenannte Kleine Eiszeit, die von 1400 bis 1850 dauerte, um bis zu 0,8 Grad Celsius kälter als das Klimamittel der Jahre 1961 bis 1990. Dieses Temperaturniveau aus dem vergangenen Jahrhundert wurde zuvor im Mittelalter um das Jahr 1000 herum und zu römischen Zeiten erreicht. Höher hinaus stieg die Temperatur erst gegen Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts." (Quelle:

Es ist nicht klar ersichtlich, zumindest nicht für mich, ob diese Aussagen nun gänzlich von Ihnen stammen. Jedenfalls ist die Conclusio so nicht richtig. Die Proxydaten alleine zeigen nämlich nicht, dass die Temperatur gegen Ende des 20. Jh "höher hinaus" stieg; dazu benötigt es der instrumentell gemessenen Temperaturwerte.

Es mag nebensächlich erscheinen, implementiert jedoch den Nimbus, dass die Temperaturmessungen einheitlich und richtig wären - was in dieser Weise nicht zu generalisieren ist. Zumal man bei einer Schwankungsbreite von 0,5 bis 1 Grad C für die Werte im Mittelalter bei Schlussfolgerungen generell zurückhaltend sein sollte.


eduardo said...

Hallo Martin,

Danke fuer den link, den ich nicht kannte. Dieser Bericht ist offensichtlich eine Bearbeitung von einem Anderen aus der Neuen Zürcher Zeitung. D.H. ich habe mit einem Journalisten der NZZ per email Kontakt gehabt, nicht aber zu der Stuttgarter Zeitung. Das Zitat, die sie ansprechen, stammt auch nicht von mir - es ist auch nicht als meins aufgeführt

Anonymous said...

"A little bit of leadership ..."

The german constitution divides the legislative power between the parliament (Bundestag) and the the representative body of the regional states (Bundesrat).

The idea of this construction is to keep check and balances and to prevent one of the two representing forces from becoming supreme, to defend the minority from being dominated by the majority and to insure cooperation between the the two houses.
You will find similar constructions in almost all parliamentary systems and representative democracies.

But it is just bad design when a few months after the parliamentary elections (Bundestag) the first elections in the regional states (Landtagswahlen) are held.
In reality this isn't about reasonable check and balances any more. It's a travesty, keeping the political system in a permanent election campaign, paralyzing the legislative decisions of the national parliament and the government.

Both, government and parliament are hostages of a system that could be described as a form of ostracism, giving a minority of regional voters large influence on national politics and to remove what or whom ever they dislike shortly after decisions have been taken.

There will be not even "a little bit of leadership" as long as the interval between regional and national elections is shorter than two years.

To avoid strong leadership in the future formed a central intention of the "founding fathers". Under conditions of narrow political majorities it leads to a paralyzed political system and to short-term populist decisions.


Reiner Grundmann said...

have a look at the political system of the UK which does not have the checks and balances you mention. Here we have a majority system which means that a 51/49 split among voters can easily translate into a 70/30 majority in parliament. The consequence is that government has near dictatorial powers (but still uses populist tactics). The difference is that in Germany there is a deep political split about nuclear power. And the current government wanted to leave the consensus about the exit strategy, engineered by a previous red-green government. Because of a permanent election atmosphere in Germany this could easily challenge Merkel's government in a crisis moment like the current Japanese.

I would be hesitant to describe Merkel's move as pure populism: she clearly has an acute sense of the basis of her power in the country (and how quickly this might be eroded). And I would not see the danger of paralysis but the virtues of democratic representation of different attitudes in the electorate. This is the current state of affairs.

Chances are that it will not last and that Merkel is simply trying to buy time and make another u-turn after this one when the circumstances permit. It is difficult to see how Germany could achieve her ambitious carbon reduction targets without nuclear.

Anonymous said...

@ Reiner

It is difficult to see how any western country could achieve ambitious carbon reduction targets without nuclear power in the next 20 or 30 years.

I'm not a cynic and I admit that the consequences of a nuclear accident are terrible and could be beyond our imagination in a worst case scenario. But shouldn't we wait to learn what happened exactely in Japan, what went wrong and why, before we take decisions in "the heat of the moment"?

Neither the energy question nor the problems with nuclear power (or what remains of it) are simply going to disappear when we bury our heads in the sand.

France doesn't show a lot of sensitivity for the german "Angst" about nuclear power.

The UK runs into its own homemade problems.

Meanwhile China ...

Besides other problems to think about ...

Many people just ignore that a major energy crisis would not only affect their personal lifestyle (which they believe to be changeable maybe) but the social, economical and political security on a large scale.

All these aspects make "the climate question" so important. We need better answers - and we need them soon. To make it clear: "better" doesn't necessarily mean more sceptical - but more reliable or trustworthy at least.