Greens At A Fork In The Road; Evidence-Based Decisions Or Mob Rule?


The Australian Greens can be as anti-science as any of the major parties when the politics suit, writes Geoff Russell.

As world leaders gather in Germany for yet another historic we-can-save-the-climate hand waving conference, the Germans are desperately trying to form a Government. There was an election in Germany at the end of September and the electricity system is a key issue in the negotiations to form a new coalition Government. One of the big sticking points is coal.

The German Greens, of course, like the Australian Greens, are dead against coal. Just like anybody else with a concern for the future of us and many of the other species with which we share the planet.

Can we treat ‘The Greens as one global entity? Where they have similar policies, I guess it’s a reasonable approximation to reality. But the German Greens have only recently shifted their focus to coal. For the last 30 years that focus has been primarily aimed at the old enemy, nuclear power.

Inside the abandoned Satsop Nuclear Power Plant in Elma, Washington. (IMAGE: Dave Sizer, Flickr)
Inside the abandoned Satsop Nuclear Power Plant in Elma, Washington. (IMAGE: Dave Sizer, Flickr)

It’s of no consequence that 30 years of discoveries in DNA and cancer biology have entirely smashed the basis of that opposition. But that’s what old enemy means. It’s like Capulets and Montagues, or the real life Clan Chattan and Clan Kay in Scotland.

Shop-Sparkke_Banner_300x250Old foes remain foes, regardless of the facts.

So the German Greens have been actively and successfully campaigning to shut down nuclear power in Germany. In so doing, not only have they forgone all the greenhouse gas emissions savings they could have got from the biggest solar and wind deployment in Europe, they’ve also crushed any chance of getting rid of coal in the next 20 years.

You can see the first impact in the data on German carbon dioxide emissions from primary energy over the past 30 years. In 1990 they produced 63.9 tonnes of CO2 per terajoule of primary energy. By 2000, due to the nuclear roll out of the 1980s, that had dropped to 57.7. But now, after 17 years of their Energiewende, their so called Renewable Energy Revolution, carbon dioxide emissions have dropped to just 56.6 tonnes per terajoule.

The second impact of going after the old enemy before the real one is seen in the current German electricity mix. The problem sticks out like the proverbial Right Wing nutter in a yoga room.

Here’s the electricity system that two decades of old-enemy anti-nuclear ideology has created. This is for week 44, which was “last week” as I was writing.


Read it and weep. The biggest component is brown coal, the dirtiest fuel on the planet. But we also have some gas. The inappropriately coloured green band at the bottom is labelled biomass, of which a significant part is generated by the logging and burning of forests.

How green is that? It isn’t. German forests have been expanding for 200 years thanks to coal, but now thanks to the self-styled Greens, the Germans are back burning them with a vengeance for electricity.

The media likes to run headlines about particular days when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing and the pair are producing bucket loads of power at midday. But the above graph is of an entire week during winter. You have to design an electricity system for the worst case, not the occasional lucky weather event.

As you can see, the biggest supplier of electricity in Germany last week, after 17 years of EnergieWende, is brown coal. The French largely decarbonised their electricity system in about 15 years with nuclear and have been largely carbon free for decades.

The Eurodif Nuclear Power Plant, Tricastin, France. (IMAGE: Dean Calma/IAEA, Flickr)
The Eurodif Nuclear Power Plant, Tricastin, France.
(IMAGE: Dean Calma/IAEA, Flickr)

It’s like the German Greens think climate change is some weird conspiracy, or perhaps they see it as being of little consequence, or perhaps they accept some of the science but not the urgency and they obviously believe that dealing with the climate can certainly wait until after they’ve dealt with the old enemy; and shut down the cleanest, most environmentally benign source of electricity on the planet; nuclear power.

Shop-Sparkke_Banner_300x250Can anybody look at this graph and see a way to rapidly phase out coal in 20 years, given that 17 years of one of the biggest wind and solar roll outs on the planet has produced so little?

Did I perhaps cherry pick week 44? Not at all. Week 42 was an even better week for coal, as was week 39.

The coal industry will certainly understand that its enemy’s enemy is its friend. And German Greens have been a terrific friend. Nuclear power is the only real competitor to coal in providing robust base load power and by fighting to close it, the Greens have done a stunning job in ensuring that coal will prosper in Germany for at least the next 20 years, or until somebody injects a dose of rationality and evidence based decision making into the nut-house.


And what of the Australian Greens?

The Australian Greens don’t understand climate science at all. If you grok the science, you understand that a country with more cattle than people might be a little different from somewhere like Germany, with more than 6 people per cow. But they don’t.

I went through the numbers in a recent NM article and showed that ruminants (sheep and cattle) were a bigger cause of warming than all the coal we burn in our power stations.

So the Australian Greens are doubly Brown. They also have ignored 30 years of DNA and cancer research and are obsessed with the destruction of the most environmentally benign source of electricity on the planet.

But there is a glimmer of hope. Back in 2016, Richard Di Natale made some rumblings about the Greens anti-GM policy. That policy is like so many other old-enemy anti-science policies of The Greens. Perhaps there is a GM argument still raging behind the scenes in The Greens, I don’t know. But the basic problem is that the Greens don’t have rationality as a core value.

new matilda, greens
Richard Di Natale at a press event, flanked by NSW Greens members and MPs (IMAGE: Thom Mitchell).

For them, democracy rules. And I don’t mean a reasonably sensible representative democracy, but grassroots democracy which extends to voting on facts.

The Indiana Pi Bill famously tried to legislate on the value of Pi… and that’s precisely the way the Greens operate. If they voted to deny the climate science, then that would become policy. In a real sense, they have already done precisely that… voted against facts and excluded mention of animal agriculture in their climate policy.

Voting against facts is also what has caused them to deny 30 years of DNA and cancer science and remain anti-nuclear. In Germany the fruits of that stupidity are ripening slowly in their cold winters. In Australia, we have 30 years of anti-nuclear stupidity to thank for the dominance of our coal industry.

So it’s time for Di Natale to see if he can reform the Greens; starting with his own anti-science on animal agriculture.

He has to dump participatory democracy in policy-making and elevate facts, science and evidence. In short The Greens have to operate like a scientifically literate group of educated people instead of a mob of sheep.

Geoff Russell is a regular contributor to New Matilda. He has qualifications in mathematics and has written software all of his working life, but in the past decade has devoted increasing time to writing non-fiction with a simple goal... make the world a better place. A three-decade vegan and member of the Animal Justice Party, his first book in 2009 was 'CSIRO Perfidy', a critique of the high-red-meat CSIRO 'Total Wellbeing diet'; the most environmentally destructive diet on the planet. His concerns about climate change and the ineffectiveness of renewables led to a re-examination of his lifelong opposition to nuclear power. After considerable research he realised that the reasons people fear nuclear are built on obsolete knowledge about DNA and cancer. Geoff's second book 'GreenJacked! Derailing environmental action on climate change' is an e-book available on Amazon. He has been a regular contributor to since 2008 and has had pieces published in The Monthly, Australasian Science and a number of Australian newspapers.