This article is Monbiot's response to Bellamy in a debate regarding global warming. For the entire debate, visit http://www.zmag.org/MonbiotBellamyDebate.htm . For more debates, visit http://www.zmag.org/znet_debates.htm
23rd September 2004
Thank you for taking the time to reply. I'm glad we are able to keep the channel open.
I have to say, though, that I am disappointed by your response. For the second time, I challenged you on climate change, and for the second time you have replied with a letter about wind power. Now I am sure there is a debate to be had on wind power, and I will pick up one or two of the points you made in a moment, but I had hoped I would not have to point out for a second time that climate change and wind power are not the same issue.
In my article I criticised the statements you made in the Daily Mail and elsewhere, for example:
- "The link between the burning of fossil fuels and global warming is a myth."
- Global warming is "a problem that actually doesn't exist".
- "climate change is an entirely natural phenomenon, nothing to do with the burning of fossil fuels."
- it "has been with us for 13,000 years and probably isn't causing us any harm anyway".
- "Increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, double it even, and this would produce a rise in plant productivity."
- "increases in temperature are responsible for increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, not the other way around."
- "remove all the carbon dioxide and the temperature might fall by just 0.3 per cent."
I tested such statements with climate scientists and they informed me that you hadn't the faintest idea what you were talking about.
You replied, in your letter to the Guardian (you have not, as far as I can discover, raised this issue in the Telegraph) that if I could disprove your contention that wind power could "neither provide us with a sustainable source of future energy nor have any measurable effect reducing the amount of carbon dioxide", you would "fall into line over global warming".
In my letter to you, I told you that I could not understand what the performance of wind farms has to do with whether or not global warming is taking place. You have not, so far, attempted to explain this mystery. So I would like to ask you, in your next response, to put wind power aside for long enough to address the issue I raised: your contention that anthropogenic climate change is a myth.
You question the notion that your public statements dismissing climate change are being used by corporations with a financial interest in the consumption of fossil fuels. As it happens, I was prompted to challenge your position because, in the course of my research for an earlier article (War x 4, 6th July 2004), I spoke to Nigel Wonnacott, the press officer at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Wasn't it grossly irresponsible, I asked him, for his members to be promoting sports utility vehicles when climate change threatened the lives of so many of the world's people?
"I would question your idea that climate change is threatening people's lives", he replied.
"Are you saying that climate change isn't happening?"
"Well as you know George, there's a lot of doubt about the issue."
"A lot of doubt? There's an almost unanimous scientific consensus."
"As you know, David Bellamy has said it's not happening."
"But he's a botanist, not a climatologist."
"He's an environmentalist. A very prominent environmentalist."
And of course, I didn't know what to say to that. You ARE a very prominent environmentalist, and your name can be used, as a result, as a stick with which to beat the rest of us.
And why shouldn't they use it? You've given them the richest gift they could ask for. Just as the corporate lobbyists trying to deny the science had pretty well given up, just as even Bjorn Lomborg had announced that those who deny that manmade climate change is happening are "fools", just as, in other words, the corporations finally had to face up to their global responsibilities, you step in, in the nick of time, and offer them an escape route.
Indeed, it has to be asked why on earth you chose to publicise your views so widely if you did not expect them to influence the debate. You surely cannot write a major article for the Daily Mail, then deny that anyone might seek to make use of it.
I'm sorry to find that you see my correspondence as "ill-informed vitriol". Whether or not it is ill-informed I'll leave others to decide. But I was not prompted to challenge your position by any animus towards you. Far from it. Until you began your campaign to debunk the science of climate change, I had great respect for you. So did all the environmentalists I know. I am sorry to report that this is no longer the case. One of my hopes in continuing this correspondence is that you take the chance to seek to restore your reputation. Not by "falling into line" - no one is asking you to say anything you don't believe to be true - but by undertaking to study the science before making any more pronouncements on it. And that means all the science, not just the highly selective studies which support your point of view.
You go on to write that "none of the many ngo's i support have even contacted me on the matter." Well, it's about time they did. And if they don't, it's about time you got some advisers who stop flattering you and start questioning you.
Now onto wind power. I'm no expert on this subject, and don't have particularly strong views about it, but I would like, if I may, to pass on some comments from the people who have read your letter and do have expertise.
1. Your statement: "AT THE MOMENT BRITAIN HAS SOME 1100 WIND TURBINES DOING THEIR INTERMITTENT BEST PRODUCING MEANINGFUL AMOUNTS OF ELECTRICITY FOR ONLY 24.1 % OF THE YEAR"
Response: "David has made this comment before - it is wrong, but it is an easy trap for people to fall into. Firstly, a capacity factor (the thing he refers to) of 24.1% has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of time the turbines are generating electricity - it is simply a measure of how much electricity they generated over the year compared to if they had been operating at full speed all year (a thing that they never do, so in a sense a little bit meaningless to compare to). Secondly, ALL generators have a capacity factor less than 100% - nuclear is 76%, gas is 60%, coal is 50% - however I doubt if David would argue that nuclear "only" produces electricity for 9 months of the year, or that coal "only" produces electricity for 6 months of the year. And a good thing too, because to argue such a thing would just be silly. Thirdly, the 24.1% figure is an anomolously low figure - taking an average of the last 6 years, the figure is around 28%, and this is without any meaningful capacity in higher wind areas such as offshore or northern Scotland. (reference: DUKES 2003, 2004)"
2. Your statement: "THEY PRODUCED LESS THAN FOUR ONE THOUSANDTH OF THE POWER USED IN THE UK"
Response: "The figure of "four one thousandth" is pretty meaningless when taken out of context - UK electricity demand in 2003 was 337TWh, of which wind supplied 1.3TWh. Of course what isn't mentioned here is that UK conventional generating capacity is almost 79,000MW, while wind generating capacity is 740MW. Exactly how much electricity demand does David think wind will satisfy when it makes up around 0.9% of generating capacity in the country? (refernce: DUKES 2004)
3. Your statement: "HOWEVER MANY TURBINES ARE ERECTED THERE IS NEED FOR FOSSIL FUEL BACKUP"
Response 1: "Backup is a reality of every electricity generating system, with or without wind. Backup is needed because conventional generators experience breakdowns, systems go offline, the interconnector to France is interrupted, plant maintenance takes longer than expected, or simply because the estimate of future demand (around which plant is scheduled) is inaccurate. In short, the UK electricity system has NEVER operated without fossil fuel backup, and this situation is going to continue indefinitely. The only relevant question here is how much additional backup is required because of wind - there is plenty of peer review research on this, and it all says about the same thing...at current level nothing, at 10% it starts to be noticeable, by 20% and above the costs are becoming significant (cf Dale et al, 2003). This of course assumes that it is only wind that is providing renewable energy, but we'll come to that below."
Response 2: "This sentence is technically accurate but completely erroneous and deliberately misleading. Fluctuations in wind output is managed in exactly the same way as fluctuations in demand. This includes the use of spinning reserve - which is a less efficient mode of operation (hence the sentence is technically accurate) At current levels of wind capacity, the levels of spinning reserve are EXACTLY the same as would be used if there was no wind generation. At very high levels of wind capacity, then the amount of spinning reserve will increase but at low amounts. 26GW of wind will need an additional 0.5GW of spinning reserve. The small increase in CO2 emissions from the spinning reserve will be tiny compared to the CO2 savings of the wind generation."
4. Your statement: "AT THE SAME TIME TONY BLAIR HAS NOW NAMED THREE P0SSIBLE LOCATIONS FOR THE SITING OF A NEW NUCLEAR POWER STATION, ALL IN SCOTLAND"
Response: "This is nonsense (and just shows how sloppy he is with his facts). Blair did little more than re-iterate current government policy, (ie keeping the option open) at the House of Commons Liaison Committee on 6th July."
5. Your Statement: "Even with our target of 25 to 30 times as much wind electricity..."
Response: I know of no such target, but I think this comment is tied up in the usual way this debate runs in the UK: renewables = wind = intermittency : an ill-informed line of arguement. The Government's target is 10% renewable electricity by 2010, and potentially 20% by 2020. Note that this is renewable energy, not wind power. Looking at the data (DUKES 2003), you'll find that wind currently accounts for one fifth of renewable electricity production in the UK, with around 2% of total electricity demand is supplied by renewables other than wind. Wind is likely to become a bigger share of this sector, but to have wind as the sole supplier of renewable electricity...I don't think so, and I wouldn't support it. I think the more interesting question here is why some people pretend that wind only renewables is somehow inevitable, or government policy."
6. Your statement: "... HELPED DENMARK TO LEAD THE RUSH TO WIND. A COUNTRY THAT NOW PRODUCES MORE CARBON DIOXIDE THAN THEY DID BEFORE BUILDING THEIR FIRST TURBINE."
Response: "Here are the numbers for Denmark's CO2 emission 2002 and 2003 from the latest Danish Energy Agency statistics:
Table 5. CO2 Emissions Unit: Million tonnes 1990 1996 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003* Observed Emissions 52,7 73,1 59,4 56,5 52,5 54,0 53,0 57,9 Adjusted Emissions *) 60,9 58,5 56,2 55,5 54,5 53,9 52,4 51,6 *) Adjusted for climate variations and net electricity exports (from www.ens.dk, english version)
The observed CO2 emission was 9,2% higher in 2003 than in 2002 because of a net export of electricity to especially Norway and Sweden (that use respectively 4 times and 2.5 times as much electricity per capita than Denmark because of heavy use of electric heating - and had low water level in their hydro power dams (dry year)). As you can see from the adjusted figures (adjusted for electricity export and climate variations) the emission from "at home electricity use" was 1,5% LOWER in 2003 than in 2002.
The year 2003 was a rather bad wind year (15% of the Danish electricity use coming form wind) - in a normal wind year the Danish installed wind capacity would have produced around 20% of the Danish electricity use. See: http://www.windpower.dk/composite-108.htm."
Now whether or not these responses serve to "disprove" your contention that "the proportion of global carbon dioxide emission displaced [by windpower] will not be enough to measurably alter the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, let alone alter climate change" you'll have to judge for yourself. But surely the underlying point is this: that if climate change is happening, we have to find a means of doing something about it. On the one hand we must plainly reduce our consumption of energy; on the other we must find non-polluting means of producing the energy we do consume. I can see that it is convenient for you to contend that there is no problem, and therefore no need for a solution. But your contention relies on discounting the science of climatology. Those of us who believe that science is a more accurate guide to the world than supposition recognise that there is an urgent need for action, and that this action requires difficult choices, none of which are without cost. Your denial of climate change relieves you of the need to engage in these dilemmas. The rest of us cannot afford this luxury.
Finally, you say that you appended an article from New Scientist. This did not come through.
I hope very much you are able to respond to these points, and in particular to address the issue of climate change independently of the issue of wind power. I look forward to your reply.
Yours Sincerely, George Monbiot