A Stroke of a Genius.

By P. Leister, Vice president of Swiss Nuclear Society and Vice President of ENS

Peter Leister

When Germany took over the six monthly presidency of the EU-Council at the beginning of 2007, the start of this period fell right in the middle of in the so-called “fifth season.” This phenomenon is unique to Germany and manifests itself by a part of the population going crazy for a couple of weeks. It is more commonly known as the carnival season.

One of the first important tasks facing the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her

team was to organise the European Energy Summit, during which EU Member States were supposed to establish reference points for the EU’s future environment policy in response to the global climate change challenge. The circumstances surrounding it sometimes assumed carnevalesque proportions.

First, Germany announced that it sees itself as the pace-setter in environmental matters and wants to establish itself as an exemplary paragon of virtue as far as environmental technologies and politics are concerned – a paragon whose lead other nations (not only European) should follow.

When asked by the European Commission’s Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, whether the attempts of German car manufacturers to reduce their vehicles’ CO2 emissions had proven successful and could be frozen from 2008 onwards at 140 g CO2/km (as they had voluntarily declared to do nine years ago) Ms. Merkel was put on the spot. The German automobile industry warned of drastic losses of employment should this choice become reality to respond and urged Mrs. Merkel to respond accordingly. She was forced to admit to Brussels that German automobile engine development will take a couple more years to achieve this goal than it originally foresaw. Other European car manufacturers, however, are not far from achieving thet target. After a tough round of negotiations Commissioner Dimas set a new European target at 120 g CO2/km, which is applicable from 2012 onwards.

Soon, a showdown of theatrical proportions started between the German Environment Minister, Mr. Gabriel and his fellow minister responsible for traffic and transportation, Mr. Tiefensee. Mr. Gabriel claimed that he would reduce the maximum speed on German motorways to 120 km/h in order to enhance car drivers’ safety (Hear, hear!). Mr. Tiefensee then counter-claimed that he would introduce a law obliging car producers to declare the CO2 emissions of any new car as an indication of the car’s quality and energy performance. This would enable customers to choose cars based on their environmental characteristics (Hear, hear!).

Mr. Gabriel then turned his attention to the subject of Germany's phasing-out of nuclear power. He stressed that Germany can only influence global warming by modernising its coal fired plants – as well as by boosting its renewable energy output and by encouraging drastic energy savings. His argument can be summarised for the benefit of the layman as follows: CO2 and radioactivity are both “toxic”, but Germany cannot phase out both nuclear and coal-fired plants simultaneously! So, the latter stays and the former goes! He then took the opportunity to participate in a ceremony of laying the foundation stone for a new, modern lignite plant.

Mr. Beck, President of German Social Democrats, then topped this argument, explaining to the astonished German nation that nuclear power plants would emit more CO2 than lignite plants! It was that well-known anti-nuclear scientific institution, the Oeko-Institute Darmstadt that was embarrassingly forced to clarify the confusion he had caused.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered Mrs. Merkel somehow managed to make a success of the European Energy Summit. Clever as she is, the day before the conference she met with France's President Chirac. The result was that at the summit, states generating nuclear power received the political “permission” to continue producing CO2- free electricity - except, yes you’ve guessed it - Germany!

Incidentally, Mrs. Merkel is a physicist who received her “politically education” from former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, for whom she served as Environment Protection and Energy Minister. She is continuously showing her skill and ability to lead the Germany’s “grand coalition” in what she, as the person in charge of driving through Germany’s presidency of the EU, feels is the right direction.

The Energy Summit came out with an easy play on the figure of five times 20: the first two of which stand for the year 2020, the next figure 20 means 20 % CO2-reduction, the fourth means 20 % reduction of energy consumption and the 5th means 20 % enhancement of renewable energy. This is the new earth-shattering world formula…. Sorry Mr. Einstein.

Shortly after the Summit, the second UNFCCC report on global climate change was published, shocking the world. Expressis verbis, the use of nuclear power as an important contributor to CO2 reduction was mentioned amongst others, but Mr. Gabriel’s messianic message to the world was now “BIOMASS.”

Biomass, an apparently promising alternative energy source, is now the shining star in Germany and held up, in his view at least, as THE solution for the world’s global climate problems. Rape seen and maize should become the main ingredients for new greener car fuels and electricity production. Maize and rape seed sound like a simple recipe – an open sesame. To meet Germany’s fuel demand, German agricultural land will be used in the future to produce diesel, gasoline – not to mention food too. Now we have to learn how clever and global the strategy for promoting green renewable energy technology has become. Very impressive! Biomass-based district heating plants used as cogeneration plants are under construction. And they will be fed by.... wait for it… palm oil!

Palm oil? Why? Well, according to German environmentalists, the total CO2 balance of rape seed is negative. Instead of rape seed, palm oil has to be imported from tropical countries. Thank goodness this was found out so early! Well, as far as producing palm oil in special tropical farms is produced, tropical rain forests first have to be destroyed to make room for palm tree farming to be developed. By burning down the tropical forests a huge part of the CO2 that they are supposed to be reducing is actually produced instead. Perhaps they should have stuck to rape seed-driven power plants after. What a stroke of a genius.

But wait a minute! What more do we know about maize and rape seed? Well, for example, if Germany were to replace all its present diesel consumption by rape seed produced energy, the land area that Germany currently has set aside for agricultural production wouldn’t even be large enough to cover the needs of the environmentalists’ strategy.

I say it again…what a stroke of genius!

German farmers will become monopolists and play around with citizens’ lives: It’s a simple choice, what do you want, diesel or food?

A lot of problems could be solved with a step-by-step approach.

Step 1: the unemployed will be sent to work in the countryside. Throughout the year they can be kept busy with light work that is easy to understand, doesn’t require expert knowledge or training; harvesting rape seed and maize does not require much intellectual insight or ability – which, incidentally, the Polish asparagus harvesters who annually flooding over Germany's fields in the early summer certainly do have. Farmers will be the main employers, no trade unions are necessary and the car manufacturers can sell their old-fashioned harvesting machines once again - such classic models as Daimler’s Unimog ® or Porsche’s Diesel-Bulldog ®. BMW, however, has no agricultural heritage….

Step 2: The health and care system could be revolutionised and drastically simplified. Air in the country is clean per definition. Working in the fields is, per se, healthy. The numbers of hospitals can be reduced. Cities will be emptied. Since people will live in the country, doctors will not be so important. What would we need pharmacists for, once ill health is reduced to a few standard illnesses?
OK then. Why not also reduce the numbers of schools and universities. Children will first be sent to kindergartens, then to plant nurseries and, finally, out to work in the fields. What a healthy, idyllic and productive life;

Step 3: Germany changes. It will revert back to being an agricultural state. Why not? The obvious advantages of such a scenario are clear for all to see: the numbers of cars per family can be reduced. Motorways and highways will no longer be clogged up with traffic. What would anyone need an off-road vehicle for? People would be working all the year off-road! Even politics would become easier because only two political parties would be required; one representing Diesel harvesting interests and the representing the giant food production sector. What an ingenious simplification of the democratic process! What a logical and effective strategy for reducing CO2 emissions to a new German world record level (something that already claimed by Mrs. Merkel).

Yes indeed, an unprecedented stroke of a genius!

All other nations will admire Germany and learn from it. Fortunately, we in Switzerland are looking again, sensibly and thoughtfully, at the "bigger canton".

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