Fritz Vahrenholt, head of the renewable energy arm of RWE and a former hero of the German environmental movement, has been derided in Germany as a lobbyist for the fossil fuel sector after he published a book highly critical of the global warming consensus. But Vahrenholt’s message is far from simplistic.
He supports the idea of an “Energy Transformation”, but argues that the current German approach is too costly and even counterproductive. Germany’s renewable energy policies are undermining the country’s biodiversity and destroying its forests, he says in an interview with EER. He is convinced that the contribution of CO2 to global warming is being exaggerated and that there is more time to come to genuinely sustainable solutions. “We run the risk of destroying the foundations of our prosperity.”
For decades he was a hero of the German environmental movement, but with the recent publication of his book Die Kalte Sonne (The Forgotten Sun) Fritz Vahrenholt (62) has become something of a public enemy to the climate-minded Germans. The subtitle of the book is: “Why the climate catastrophe is not taking place” (Warum die Klimakatastrophe nicht statt findet). The title and subtitle together sum up the main message of the book: there is climate change due to anthropogenic greenhouse gases, but the influence of the sun has so far been underestimated. As the sun is heading towards a more inactive phase we will not get a climate catastrophe in the next century.
Although this can be viewed as a positive message, many people in Germany don’t see it that way. The book has been severely criticized in German quality newspapers although a more popular newspaper like Bild shouted ‘The CO2 Lie’ in a headline. Die Zeit called him ‘Störenfritz’, troublemaker Fritz. A planned lecture at the University of Osnabrück was cancelled because the university found the topic too provocative. Meanwhile the book is selling very well (22,000 so far) and for this reason some newspapers are already comparing him with Thilo Sarrazin, the controversial politician who published the book Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Abolishes Itself) in which Sarrazin criticized German immigration politics. Sarrazin had to give up his job at the Deutsche Bundesbank but he sold a spectacular 1.2 million copies of his book.
What makes it all the more spicy is that Vahrenholt is not just anyone. Since five years he has been CEO of RWE Innogy, the part of RWE responsible for the production of renewable energy. RWE Innogy “aims to vigorously grow renewable energies in Europe”, it says on its website, and the company has 3.7 GW of renewables assets in its portfolio (2.6 GW in operation and 1.1 GW under construction). RWE, however, is also the biggest German producer of coal- and lignite-based electricity. Critics therefore see a direct conflict of interest. Vahrenholt’s coauthor Sebastian Lüningworks for RWE DEA, the oil productionarm of RWE. In the interview that EER had with Vahrenholt in Essen, he says their connection with RWE makes it even harder to have a constructive public debate about the book and about climate change. “People are saying ‘we don’t have to read that book because it is influenced by the company’. I can tell you that’s not true. Lots of people inside RWE do not support this book,because it is politically incorrect”.
In 1978 Vahrenholt, who is a chemical scientist by education, wrote the book Seveso ist überall. Die tödlichen Risiken der Chemie (Seveso is everywhere. The deadly risks of chemistry). The book was a bestseller and Vahrenholt became a friend of the environmental movement. “The book was critical about the chemical industry. I was the good guy.” In the eighties he went into politics and became ‘Umweltsenator’ (senator for the environment) in Hamburg. In 1998 he moved to Shell where his task was to improve the image of the oil company after the controversy around the Brent Spar. In 2001 he became CEO of REpower Systems, a wind energy company, before he switched to RWE Innogy in 2007.