Friday, March 25, 2011

Environmentalism: The God That Failed

This article in Der Spiegel Online is a real eyeopener. It is written in calm, factual journalistic prose, but the implications of what is being said are staggering, especially for a country like Germany with its almost fanatical commitment to Environmentalism as a religion. The title is "Is Environmentalism Really Working?" and the summary says:
"Germany is among the world leaders when it comes to taking steps to save the environment. But many of the measures are not delivering the promised results. Biofuels have led to the clear-cutting of rainforests, plastics are being burned rather than recycled and new generation lightbulbs have led to a resurgence of mercury production. A SPIEGEL survey."
Here is how the article begins. Can you detect just a faint whiff of sarcasm and bitterness?

"As usual, ordinary Germans were to blame. Everything had been prepared for the green revolution: fresh supplies and new signs at the gas stations, and the refinery depots were full to the brim with the new wonderfuel. But then drivers turned their backs on the new era. They didn't want to buy E10, a blend of ethanol and gasoline, even through it cost almost 10 cents less per liter than conventional gas.

"It's annoying but there's no question of stopping the sale of E10," said Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen. E10, Röttgen said with a hint of threat in his voice, was a milestone of German climate control policy.

When it comes to the environment these days, all other interests must take a back seat, including possible engine damage from E10. After all, the United Nations has proclaimed that ensuring environmental sustainability is one of its "millennium goals," and greater importance is assigned to climate negotiations among the big industrial nations than to economic summits these days."

Having been "liberated" from that terrible old Judeo-Christian God of the Bible who is so severe and demanding, Germans are now beginning to realize that Mother Gaia is no pushover either. On the pressing political issue of the colony of great crested newts in Hesse, the writer dryly comments:
"And no price seems too high. Germany even spends tens of millions of euros on redirecting roads or building tunnels to protect animal species. Last August, for example, a four kilometer long, €50 million tunnel was approved for a highway in the state of Hesse. The reason? A colony of great crested newts had to be protected."

Is Der Spiegel questioning the importance of protecting that particular colony of great crested newts? At any cost? Is it somehow implying that 50 million euros is too high a price to pay again and again ad infinitum? This is borderline heresy.

But it gets even worse:

"Germans only rarely question environmental policies. The light bulb ban was one example. Most didn't see the need to scrap conventional bulbs when the simplest way to save electricity was just to turn off the light. And Germans have been unusually stubborn about the biofuel E10 -- the name refers to the 10 percent ethanol admixture. They would prefer to pay a few more cents fpr a liter of gas than put their car engines at risk.

Many haven't yet fully realized that E10 is an ecological swindle. People who want to help the environment shouldn't use it. Nine large European environmental associations recently conducted a joint study which concluded that the bottom line impact of the fuel on the environment is negative. Rainforests are being clear-cut in Brazil and Borneo to make room for sugarcane and oil palm cultivation. At the same time there's a shortage of arable land for food production, which is leading to the threat of famine in parts of the world. Last year, the price of grain rose sharply in the global market.

A single full tank of bio-ethanol uses up as much grain as an adult can eat in a whole year. In order to cover the German requirement for biofuel, an arable area of around one million hectares would be needed. That is four times the size of the south-western German state of Saarland, which would need to be fertilized, treated with pesticides and intensively farmed. Environmental groups say that across Europe, farming for biofuels would create up to 56 million tons of additional greenhouse gases -- an environmental crime they say must be stopped immediately.

E10 is an "ecological swindle?" Say it ain't so, Joe! I guess there are a few cocktail parties to which the writer of this article isn't going to be invited next month. Really, such language! Sounds like a redneck American Senator or something.

The article goes on for seven more pages asking such shocking questions as "Does German garbage really get recycled?" and hinting darkly at "Bottle deposits and the grim truth." My favorite part (I have this weakness for irony, you see) is the section on water conservation:
"The Germans are obsessed with saving water. You won't find many countries north of the Sahara that are as water-conscious as Germany. They save water while washing dishes (a modern dishwashing machine uses only six liters per cycle), while going to the toilet (many toilets have a setting that allows only a brief flush), and even when washing their cars.

The Environment Ministry recommends that people turn off the tap while they're brushing their teeth. Saving water, the ministry's web page strongly hints, helps poor countries to irrigate their paddy fields. EU authorities are considering setting water flow-through limits in shower heads.

Yet Germany is one of the world's most water-rich countries -- it could theoretically consume five times more water than it does now. Furthermore, it's impossible to transport tap water over thousands of kilometers, so German thrift don't help Vietnamese rice farmers on bit.

And water conservation in Germany can be harmful -- particularly when it comes to the sewage systems beneath German cities. The lack of waste water flowing through the canalization means that fat, faeces and discarded food aren't getting flushed out enough, and are corroding the walls. To compensate, utilities are forced to pump hundreds of thousands of liters of fresh water through the system to keep it operable.

The result, not surprisingly, are higher water bills. And consumers respond to those higher bills by saving even more water. Paradoxically, the vicious cycle can only be broken if consumer start using more water."
The law of unintended consequences that plagues all social engineering seems to be almost perfect in its karma-like rebound effect in this case. Wouldn't it be easier to surrender to common sense and admit that Germany has no shortage of water so conservation is not important? Just let people take long showers and use all they want washing dishes and the problem solves itself?

But no, there is the ideology and propaganda to consider. No crack in the solidarity can be permitted. This sounds suspiciously like another country that famously went bust in the late 20th century. The hint to which one I have in mind is in the title.

1 comment:

Denny said...

You can substitute the Germany for California in the article. We are doing the exact the things and getting the same results.