Deluded Top Belgian Professor Pushes Climate BS
Written by Paul Cobbaert
LOUVAIN-LA-NEUVE – “We should keep a few nuclear power stations open longer, provided that safety is guaranteed.” Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele makes that remarkable statement on the eve of the international climate summit.
We have an exclusive conversation with this world-renowned scientist about the state of the climate and the (non-) policy of Flemish and Belgian politics.
His family, van Ypersele de Strihou, is among the most valued nobility in the Netherlands. His great-grandfather was the lawyer of the Aalst priest Daens, who fought for more workers’ rights at the end of the nineteenth century. His uncle was the omniscient cabinet minister of King Baudouin and King Albert II.
Jean-Pascal chose a different path, that of academician and climate scientist. His daily habitat is the Mercator building of the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve, where we also have an appointment on an incredibly early Monday morning.
Van Ypersele, who speaks Dutch flawlessly, has a normal office there, averse to noble ornamental. On his vest a pin shows off with the inscription ‘ never give up ‘, very appropriate for the fight he is conducting.
One year ago this professor was prominent in the news through a letter he wrote to his great-grandchildren about global warming and the dawdling of the political elite to take action. That was not a coincidence on the eve of the annual United Nations climate conference. “In that letter I wanted to express my hope that the policy of my generation would not cause too much damage to the future generation. Their lives are largely determined by what we do today. Or don’t. ”
” I must confess that tears are in my eyes,” you wrote. That is unusually emotional for a scientist.
That’s right. But that was the truth. ( silent ) I have been researching global warming for more than 40 years. My colleagues and I have been ringing the alarm bells for as many years, but without listening to us. CO2 emissions continue to rise year after year. We are not being heard. That is very frustrating. Then you can get emotional. Climate warming leads to major disasters. See the floods in Venice. See the many heat waves this summer. Or the bad weather at Pukkelpop a few years ago. There were fatalities, right? And that’s just the beginning. Who will really suffer from global warming? Your grandchildren. My great grandchildren.
Are these disasters all the result of greenhouse gas emissions, such as CO2?
When the earth warms up, there are more heat waves. That makes sense. Last summer, 716 people died in three small heat waves in our country. Too often that link is forgotten. On the other hand, the extreme rainfall is also a consequence. The increase in temperature leads to more water vapor in the atmosphere. Global warming, on the other hand, is clearly the result of greenhouse gas emissions. The answer to your question is yes. The emissions lead to more and more intense heat waves and to more extreme rainfall.
Is that man’s fault? Some doubt that.
Anyone who doubts this will be thirty years late. The great influence of humans on global warming was already scientifically demonstrated at that time. Humans are responsible for deforestation and for burning fossil fuels, which leads to more greenhouse gases.
“THE CHOICE IS CLEAR: EITHER RAISE THE DIKES OR MOVE PEOPLE TO THE INTERIOR.”
We are now one year after the publication of your letter and are again on the eve of a climate conference (from 2 to 13 December in Spain). Has anything changed?
I think so. The citizens have started to move. Especially the youth then. The day my letter was published, almost a hundred thousand people came to the streets in Brussels. Then tens of thousands of young people came out on the streets every week. That was a strong signal of the growing awareness among the population.
The world got to know Greta Thunberg, and Flanders Anuna De Wever.
( nods ) And Kyra Gantois. And Adélaïde Charlier, the face of the movement in French-speaking Belgium. I admire those young people. What they do is extremely important. Politics may ignore a scientific report, but it cannot do so with a widely supported protest movement.
Is that so widely supported? Does the election result of 26 May not say anything else?
If you look at it superficially, you might think so. But if you analyze that well, you will see that many young people voted for parties that make climate a priority. That makes me hopeful. But I’m not a political scientist, so I’m not going to make any big statements about that.
The young people do create resistance. You can’t deny that?
That is indeed the case. I have written a free gallery about it in the French newspaper Le Monde . The title was ‘ Greta dérange, comme la vérité ‘. That was a nod to Al Gore’s climate film, An Inconvenient Truth . Greta and the other young people bring an uncomfortable truth. I think that is the main reason why they generate resistance.
“I DON’T UNDERSTAND THE FLEMISH GOVERNMENT. THE CONSEQUENCES OF GLOBAL WARMING WILL BE DRAMATIC FOR FLANDERS, MORE THAN FOR WALLONIA. “
But not the only reason?
Maybe not, no. I see that older men in particular are critical. These are the so-called climate skeptics. Although I don’t like to use that word. A skeptical attitude is healthy and must even be at the basis of any scientific method. I prefer to call those people the confusion mongers. They like to put those young people away as naive and ignorant. They feel threatened, right? But their criticism is incorrect. I know Greta personally. She’s not crazy. I can assure you that she knows more about the climate than many politicians. That of course does not apply to every young person. But can we expect that? No, right? They come on the street to give a signal.
If we want to save the planet, we must live radically differently. That is the uncomfortable truth of Greta and Anuna. Agreement?
We are going to have to produce and consume in a different way, yes.
That means no more flying.
Or as little as possible. Flying to the Costa del Sol for a weekend away would not be allowed anymore.
That also means no longer eating meat.
Or less meat. You see: I try to be nuanced. ( laughs ) We’re going to have to eat less meat, that’s for sure. And the meat that we eat must be produced sustainably. But that doesn’t have to be a problem? Any doctor will tell you that too much red meat is not good for your health. That can therefore be a win-win. ( thinks ) Look: we are indeed going to have to live differently. That means, in particular, using less and cleaner energy. But that doesn’t mean we have to go back into the cave. Whoever claims that, does scare.
“I KNOW GRETA THUNBERG. SHE’S NOT CRAZY. I CAN ASSURE YOU THAT SHE KNOWS MORE ABOUT THE CLIMATE THAN MANY POLITICIANS. “
The 2015 Paris agreement states that global warming must be limited to one and a half degrees. Can that actually be achieved?
That is a good question. The warming up is already in full swing. We have now risen more than one degree compared to the pre-industrial era ( mid-nineteenth century, ed. ). In theory, that goal is still achievable, but in practice it becomes difficult. If global warming is not limited to one and a half degrees, the consequences will be even worse than initially thought. Even half a degree more would make a big difference, according to an alarming report from last year’s IPCC ( the United Nations Climate Panel, ed. ).
What would that mean for our country?
Like I said: more heat waves and more extreme rainfall. Flanders will also be confronted with rising sea levels.
If I live on the coast now, do I think about moving?
That will be a bit early for you. But if you want to pass on that apartment to your grandchildren, then you should think about it. If the policy does not change, then the sea level can rise by 60 to 110 centimeters by 2100. ( silent for a moment ) Maybe even more.
What must happen then? Build the dikes?
( nods ) The Netherlands is raising its dikes by two to three meters. However, Flanders does not seem to be working on that. However, the choice is clear: either the dikes up or the people moving inland.
What do you think of the Flemish government’s climate ambition?
Much too little. ( sigh ) They want eighty percent less emissions by 2050. I can be clear about that: that is not enough. The coalition agreement is frustrating to read. ( says his words ) I do not understand the government. The consequences of global warming will be dramatic for Flanders, more than for Wallonia. And yet so little is done. I know: Flanders alone will not prevent global warming. But it is a pity that a prosperous region is not that ambitious. What can people expect from countries with less technology, resources and conscience?
On the other hand, is it realistic to say? You wrote in a note to the federal negotiators that Belgium should aim for zero emissions by 2040.
That is certainly realistic. But then a widely supported plan must finally be drawn up. All stakeholders must be involved. Politics, the economy, you name it. Clear objectives must be written down for each sector. For energy, home construction, transport, agriculture and so on. Only then can this country take a step forward.
“WE SHOULD KEEP A FEW NUCLEAR POWER STATIONS OPEN FOR LONGER, PROVIDED THAT SAFETY IS GUARANTEED.”
Saving the planet will also cost money. That is also part of the uncomfortable truth.
That’s right. But not saving the planet will cost much more. Politicians and also citizens must realize that. All governments of this country should give priority to the price of pollution. The polluter has to pay more. This is possible with the introduction of road pricing. I think it’s a shame that Flanders and Wallonia don’t do that. This is also possible with the introduction of a CO2 tax. The proceeds must be used in two ways. On the one hand for financing alternatives, for example public transport, and on the other for social policy, so that even the lowest incomes can participate.
What should happen to the nuclear power stations? Should that debate be repeated?
That debate is being conducted. That is not closed. Thirteen years ago, in a report for the then Energy Minister Marc Verwilghen (Open VLD), I wrote that I am against the construction of new nuclear power stations. My vision has not changed. That costs too much money, according to foreign examples.
But we are not equipped to accommodate a closure in 2025. We have insufficient alternatives.
That’s right. We have wasted a lot of time. We therefore prefer to keep a few exchanges open longer, provided that safety is guaranteed. I am not in favor of nuclear energy, but the existing power stations are simply the cheapest sources. I see others arguing for gas plants in the transition phase, but gas is a fossil fuel and therefore polluting. If the nuclear power plants remain open longer, then the operator must be charged a higher nuclear interest rate. This must then be invested in alternative energy sources.
A final question. Is it true that you want to take a new shot at the IPCC Presidency?
Yes. That will probably be in 2022. In all those years I have gained a lot of experience on the interface of science and politics. For example, I am a member of the Federal Council for Sustainable Development. I am also an advisory member of the Belgian team at the climate conference in Spain. I know politics, I know the difficulties that politics are struggling with. Moreover, I do not think the current chairman ( South Korean professor Hoesung Lee, ed. ) Does a good job. I think I can do better. ( laughs )
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