Prof Fritz Vahrenholt criticises the “exorbitant and hysterical climate debate” and warns against hasty policies.
The chemist Fritz Vahrenholt is a pioneer of Germany’s environmental movement. His book “Seveso is everywhere” (1978) shaped the environmental debate for years. His environmental atlas “The State of the Nation” (1982) is considered a milestone. In 1984, at the age of 35 years, Vahrenholt was appointed State Council of the Environment Agency and in between 1991 and 1997 he the Environmental Senator of the Hanseatic City.
In 1997, after he lost to Ortwin Runde in the battle to succeed Henning Voscherau as Mayor of Hamburg, he switched to the economy. He went to Shell as environmental officer and then set up the wind energy company Repower. In 2008 he was a founding board member of Innogy. Today he is chairman of the supervisory board of Aurubis AG. He is a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and one of the signatories of the declaration “Listen to the scientists: 500 researchers protest against the fomenting of climate alarm.”
Among other issues, the declaration states that it is “atrocious and unwise to waste trillions” on the basis of the results of inadequate climate models.
Mr Vahrenholt, why did you sign this declaration?
Fritz Vahrenholt: The climate debate has become so hysterical that it is driving politics into a cul-de-sac. But there is no climate emergency. If Greta Thunberg’s demands were to be implemented, development and prosperity would be at risk worldwide. Thunberg accuses politicians of killing people – but she ignores the successes of policy making: The global number of starving people has halved, life expectancy has doubled, child mortality has declined by 90%. These achievements have been significantly to do with improved energy supply, better heating and transportation and better food supply.
How did the scientists come together?
The Dutch climate researcher and geophysicist Professor Guus Berkhout took the initiative and wrote to critics of climate models in various countries, including me. We then promoted the text among colleagues. It’s interesting to note that there are about 150 Italian researchers on the lists, about 100 Americans and 70 Dutch, but only 14 Germans. In Germany, the mainstream is particularly dominant – one no longer dares to go against the party line.
The last report of the IPCC was devastating …
Anyone today who claims that life on Earth is endangered within a few years is driving people into fear and politics into mistakes. That is irresponsible. It’s time to stop terrorising children – they are already at risk of insanity.
How much time do we have to change direction?
We have time until the end of this century – that’s what all the signatories of ours declaration say. We do not deny climate change, of course there is a greenhouse effect. But the warming of the last 100 years also has natural causes: after all, we emerged from the Little ice Age. Many climate models demonstrably show that they are running too hot while they cannot reproduce historical climate variability because they only acknowledge one factor: CO2.
What makes you so confident?
The greening effect of CO2 is overlooked – or concealed. We should take note of the fact that the emission of greenhouse gases stimulates photosynthesis and, as a result the Sahel zone is getting greener, for example. In recent years, global photosynthesis has increased by 20 percent. Leaves are getting bigger, but also fruit and wheat grains. You cannot conceal these facts forever. Incidentally, without CO2 life on earth would literally suffocate.
So is everything alright then?
No, we’re not claiming that. But we want to counter and remove the hysteria. A lot has already been achieved: The growth of CO2 emissions is mainly coming from emerging countries. Emissions in Europe and the US have been falling while Chinese now emit more CO2 per capita than Europeans. A Chinese study recently concluded that a cold period may be imminent, but that such a threat will be dampened by the greenhouse effect. Why is this not discussed? The so-called consensus isn’t a consensus at all.
Well, 97 percent of researchers are certain that climate change is real…
I also belong to the 97 percent. This number derived from a dodgy survey. Only a small minority of scientists believe that climate change is entirely man-made; the vast majority believes in a multitude of causes: 97 Percent of researchers surveyed said that CO2 accounts for 50-99 percent of global warming. Only a small number completely excludes the influence of man – they are fools. I’m annoyed that not a single German climate scientist is speaking up and explains that our youth is being driven crazy, with horror stories that we only have twelve years left – and nobody is sober enough to correct it. We have to reduce CO2 emissions, but not by committing economic suicide.
“Fridays for Future” would reply: ‘A murderous climate change would be a lot worse.’
That is what some models say – but with high uncertainties. Yet the same models cannot reproduce the Little Ice Age or the Medieval Warm Period – when it was about as warm as today. I already mentioned the study by the Max Planck Institute which shows that plants absorb much more CO2 than models assume. This newly discovered effect is as big as the CO2 output of the whole of Europe – every year! Nature and its fluctuations must not be ignored. It also gives us more time. We do not have to throw our economy over the cliff. Our society cannot afford an all-out brake – and it doesn’t have to. Deceleration is enough.
This thesis could be misinterpreted as an invitation to do “business as usual”.
I’m not saying that. But we have to be prudent when changing direction. During the last five generations we have developed a carbon-based energy system. It could take two generations to convert it worldwide. In that time we should consider carbon capture and storage, develop fusion research and, make renewable energy competitive. The Chinese are trying that too. They’ll do anything to keep coal going. According to the Paris Climate Agreement, they are allowed to increase their CO2 emissions as much as that which Europe emits. This shows how disproportionate the climate debate has become. If it continues this way it will inevitably lead to poverty: if we exit coal by 2030 and ban the combustion engine, what will become of Germany?
Have you turned from Saul to Paul on the environmental debate?
I have spent my whole life developing renewable energy and fighting for environmental protection. Now I have arrived in wildlife and nature conservation. That’s why my detractors feel especially embarrassed by my criticism. I am not and never was Saul, I have remained faithful. The Christian Democrats (CDU) are now demanding a climate protection law – I have brought this on its way 23 years ago as Environment Senator.
But you must feel uncomfortable in the camp of climate change deniers …
I do not deny climate change. CO2 is a problem. The IPCC predicts global warming in the range of 1.5 to 4.5 degrees by 2100. I assume it will be 1.5 degrees. Where is the scandal in that prediction? If you like Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber’s prediction of six degrees you are applauded, then you belong to the good guys. That’s absurd.
Who googles your name gets automatically added to AfD …
Well, then. That’s a wicked game of lumping people together in a box. I can’t prevent that the AfD is quoting me. It’s bad enough that this issue is left to populists. We in the middle of society have to argue about rights and wrongs of climate policy. Unfortunately, our ability of debate and discourse is declining. The only thing that could and would help would improving it would be cooling, After all, global temperature has declined since the peak of 2016.