Sunday, 1 March 2009

Have you seen the light ?

The Richel gloeilamp de groene rekenkamer
Last weekend, the Flemish left wing newspaper De Morgen (DM) published an article in which they have a closer look on the European Commission’s decision to ban regular light bulbs from 2013 onwards in favor of compact fluorest lamps (CFL).

Journalist Douglas De Coninck calls this decision a victory for the lobby of lamp manufacturers.

I don’t have any knowledge on the subject, but I immediately had a ‘code orange’ feeling when I started reading his piece, as it has a strange familiar feeling because of the claim that where there aren’t any, the government fabricates problems that need to be solved.

Yet it’s only when I read the name of Theo Richel, my nonsense-detector climbed to code red. Theo Richel, a man with a diploma of high school teacher, is the man who hosts the well known double website De Groene Rekenkamer / De Klimatosoof.

The second one is a low brow skeptical website. Its claims on climate science can be paraphrased as simple as this : “if it’s on De Klimatosoof, it’s nonsense”.

De Groene Rekenkamer in the DM-article is called ‘a consumers organization’. While of course in reality their focus isn’t the consumer. It groups people who all have in common they don’t believe “environmentalism” and call almost every environmental issue non-existing.

On their website, they describe their activity as follows (My translation) :

The most important activity of DGR is presenting information via both websites en sending around an electronic newsletter. Meanwhile two climate seminars have been held (july 07 & may 08). A few years ago the groenboek (Green Book, Dutch only) was written, a summary of all governmental plans that cost enormous amounts of money while they won’t result in any improvement in health or environment.

In 2005, prof. A. Rörsch, prof. Dick Thoenes & drs De Wit made an audit of a climate-report which was presented to the Second Chamber and which was flawed according to Rörsch, but his criticical audit was completely ignored [Rörsch is an 75-year old emeritus in genetics who in August last year wrote a piece on climate which has been on my TODO list ever since as it’s far from flawless. The fact his work gets ignored is because it’s a collection of biased nonsense without any scientific relevance. Nevertheless, in December 2008 a rewritten version of his text appeared, this time co-authored by Dick Thoenes & Hans Labohm - J.]
Above that, lectures are given for organizations like Rotary-clubs, schools, university committees etc. Above that, the media do seems to be able to find DGR, as the media-archive shows.

The climate skepticism Richel expresses has to been seen in a broader picture. Again, as is the case with many climate skeptics, it seems to be the attack on climate science is a result of a paranoid vision towards the government, resulting in attacking all environmental problems.

In this text p.ex. Richel summarizes 15 things where all environmental or health problems in his opinion are non-existent :
  • Forest starvation from Acid Rain
  • Health problems caused by Overhead power lines
  • Actions taken in relation to Radon – lung cancer
  • A ban on nuclear energy
  • The scare Radiating food might be harmful
  • The rules on reusing a soil only after it’s tested on possible contamination before it can be redisposited on the land
  • The rules of testing soils for contamination by metallic slags (in Belgium, and apparently Holland too, in the past they often have been used as a foundation for roads, or a non-asphalted roads. Nowadays, only the slags that do not leach heavy metals can be used)
  • The sanitation of soils contaminated with arsenic
  • Sound pollution near Schiphol airport
  • Removing asbestos from buildings
  • The decrease in using of herbicides on roadsides in favor of more ecological ways to keep plants under control
  • The zero tolerance for chlooramfenicol in shrimps
  • The trend to prefer “biological” food which wasn’t sprayed with herbicides
  • Climate change
  • The use of Wind power.
Basically, Richel ends up in discarding every single environmental issue he could think of. And because he always claims there's no problem and there's no need for action, I have great doubts that Richel’s protest to the EC’s decision on light bulbs is anything more than continuing on the same bias.

Given his past, no matter what he says is right or wrong, to me Richel has lost every authority on any environmental subject.

It’s strange that DCC, with his strong left wing reputation cites someone like Richel. There’s one thing which might explain though : libertarians claim environmental problems are invented and the government distorts science by using false claim to strengthen its power, DCC’s bias says the government distorts science to cover up things. Both visions share a paranoid view on the government. Would this be the reason DCC wasn’t critical enough towards his source ? I wonder.

One thing strikes me : as said I do not know anything about lamps, but one still can conclude a lot of things on an article on the subject, without even addressing the fact whether the article actually is right or wrong. Or what a little bit of criticism can be good for.

To be completely fair, I do have to say that part of my criticism originates from the fact the article never mentions something most people probably never heard of : a Life Cycle Analysis.

Richel makes the claim that, if you look at the production process a regular light bulb is actually more ecological than a CFL. Typically, this is something which is investigated by a LCA-study, and such LCA studies are used frequently by governments to scientifically support their policy.

As I know LCA’s are quite common, I simply cannot believe the EC did make a decision without any scientific support. My first feeling immediately was it’s impossible there aren’t any LCA’s for the subject. And p.ex this example shows my feeling was correct.

While not knowing anything on the subject, I’m actually pretty sure the article is flawed.


  1. I have not read the article in De Morgen and it doesnt seem to be available on the link you provided. Maybe tomorrow. I have talked to Douglas DeConinck indeed and I have told him that I think that because CFL's are a lot heavier then regular lamps and also contain mercury which is supposed to be environmentally disastrous I can hardly imagine that they are more environmentally friendly than our old lamps.
    My main arguments against this policy are the fact that there is no evidence that CFL's will save energy in real life (these lamps are presented as a medicine for a sick society, so I want so see experiments like they do in medicine), and the fact that there are many reasons to think they do not save energy, despite the fact that they do on an individual comparison. I am not 'against' CFL's - I have some in my own house - but I am against their forced implementation.
    As I have told Douglas I have not been involved in this debate for some time ( see for my last piece on deforestation) so I was not aware of the LCA piece from the Rocky Mountains Institute (it appeared a year after I wrote about the subject). I'll read it, but the fact that the authors - upon a first glimpse - focus on CO2 is not very encouraging. CO2 will green the world and we'll probably increase global food production with 30 percent by doubling the atmospheric concentration and I have yet to see a global warming-problem in a cost benefit analysis that beats that.
    Meanwhile I would be pleasantly surprised if you would be more specific as to the 'nonsense' I produce according to you. You copy a list from problems that I indeed consider irrelevant, but it appears that you even partially agree with me there. So make it easy on yourself, just pick my most nonsensical position.

    I do however NOT consider everything a waste of money. I love life and I am sure many other people do and would like to live longer and better. As a result of the current green hysteria many billions are spent on 'problems' that are insignificant compared to the suffering that is caused by for instance poverty and aging. These are far more pressing problems then carcinogenic substances in food or the climate nonsense, to name a few green holy cows. And what's more: greens are opposed to the third world becoming just as rich as we are. I consider that unjust and unethical. These non-problems are sucking away public money that could be used for more worthwile causes. As a result lots of lives are lost, here and in the third world where people have every right as we do to develop and enjoy life as we do.

    Where did you read I have a diploma to teach at high schools? I do not.

  2. I have not read the article in De Morgen and it doesnt seem to be available on the link you provided. Maybe tomorrow.
    it was published Saturday 8 days ago in the weekend edition of the newspaper. And articles like usually don't appear on the website. Maybe you can mail DCC to ask for a copy.

    Meanwhile I would be pleasantly surprised if you would be more specific as to the 'nonsense' I produce according to you. You copy a list from problems that I indeed consider irrelevant, but it appears that you even partially agree with me there. So make it easy on yourself, just pick my most nonsensical position.

    I do agree there's no need to call every single little thing on this planet 'a problem'. By far though that doesn't mean there are no environmental problems.

    An example is your position on metallic slags : the metals in slags do leach, and while indeed for some types of slags the leaching is so minimal the slags can be used (yet still the use is only allowed under certain conditions, because leaching p.ex. usually is heavily pH-dependent), other types of slags have caused a terrible contamination of soils. Most notorious in Belgium probably are the zinc-ashes that in the past have been used in the Campine area.

    There's also something odd in § 11. You claim herbicides are better than the alternative versions to clear road sides by burning or brushing, because the laternatives release greenhouse gasses (while under §14 you call climate change unimportant) and the release of heavy metals (while there are several points where you think the heavy metal problematic is exagerated). I find this duality in approach rather amusing...

    Where did you read I have a diploma to teach at high schools? I do not.
    i was refering to the highest form of education you mention in your CV "1974-1975 : studie lerarenopleiding". Well, ok maybe you didn't finish this study. My mistake.