As we have learned from Jeroen van der Sluijs and others, certain numbers such as those for climate sensitivity (1.5 - 4.5 degrees etc) or, as in these days, the 2 degree limit serve as boundary objects (or anchoring devices). Boundary objects means that those numbers are part science, part politics - indeed, they serve exactly to give politics scientific credibility and science political relevance. Whatever we think about this kind of mutual bonding: the new numbers are out, and we (as scientists, scholars, citizens, human beings) have to handle (and to live with) those news. Whether we are shocked, bewildered or amused - those numbers make their rounds and develop a life of their own. Here's a short stroll through the news with a special eye on Germany's nuclear phase out.
While the German advisory committee WBGU promotes measures to reach the 2 degree goal (see our discussion here and here), the British Guardian sees this goal already out of reach. According to Mr. Bristol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, the 2 degree goal is just a "nice utopia":
"I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions," Birol told the Guardian. "It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say."And here the numbers:
Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.Lord Stern of the London School of Economics warns:
"These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a 'business as usual' path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] projections, such a path ... would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100,"But if governments (or "we") act immediately, there is according to both Birol and Stern still a slight chance to avoid the worst. And, coincidentally, there is a chance to act in near future: next week, there is the next round of UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany:
"This should be a wake-up call. A chance [of staying below 2 degrees] would be if we had a legally binding international agreement or major moves on clean energy technologies, energy efficiency and other technologies."Andrew Revkin has a comment on his dotearth blog, where he also displays a new (and spectacular) video to illustrate the growth of CO2 emissions. He makes the link to the German "Atomausstieg" (nuclear phase out):
In recent days agency officials have noted that other factors besides economic recovery are likely to amplify the challenge of reining in emissions, among them a retreat on nuclear power in the wake of the ongoing crisis at Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex. A recent Wall Street Journal piece focused on the emissions impact of Germany’s retreat on nuclear power.And this is what James Herron writes in the Wall Street Journal, quoting another member of the IAE:
LONDON—Germany's moratorium on nuclear-power generation will add around 25 million metric tons a year to the country's carbon-dioxide emissions, which will have to be offset elsewhere by replacing coal-fired power with cleaner gas-burning plants, the International Energy Agency said Friday.The German spiegel-online takes up both ends of Germany's "energy revolution":
The shutdown of Germany's nuclear plants will take out about 50 terawatt hours of low-carbon electricity a year, Laszlo Varro, the head of the IEA's gas, coal and power markets division, said in a telephone briefing.
Angela Merkel's government has decided to phase out nuclear power by 2022, in a reversal of its previous policy. German commentators are split over the wisdom of the decision, with one newspaper comparing the move to the fall of the Berlin Wall and another saying it will harm future generations.It takes just another turn of the pages of the newspaper (okay, another click on google) to find out more about nuclear energy: Georg Blume reports on zeit-online (and here BBC news) TEPCO officials confirm that there was a meltdown of indeed nuclear rods in three reactors (something, as we were confirmed again and again by nuclear scientists, is impossible to happen). spiegel-online has another "nice" piece about the reliability of the nuclear science - politics complex (or cartel, as they call it):
After the oil crisis of the 1970s, Japan embraced atomic power with a vengeance. Since then, the ties between the government and the nuclear industry have become so intertwined that public safety is at threat. Inspections are too lax, and anyone who criticizes the status quo can find themselves out of a job.Ain't that funny how adaptable nuclear energy is: once it was implemented to save us from the oil crisis, today it is supposed to save us from climate change.
This is the end of my journey through the press. This is how greenhouse gas emission estimates make their round and connect energy consumption and production, national and global politics, NGOs, media, scientists and people all over the world. Energy is more than just another factor in the games that we play; instead, our games or very existence is fueled by energy. This makes things so complicated. It looks like a straight line from the 2 degree boundary object to nuclear power and greenhouse gas emissions - is this straight line based on science, or is it just another trick of the nuclear lobby or political interest groups? At every crossroad we have to find out and to make decisions. There are decisions. To make the right ones, we rely as much on our democratic instincts as we rely on science. We should develop both; I think, everybody can agree at least on this basic assumption of postnormal science.