No time to be going it alone

Third “enter the future” event: “Climate protection – the difference between well meant and well done”


17.11.2021



On Thursday, November 11, the Wittenstein Foundation hosted the third event in the “enter the future” series at the TauberPhilharmonie in Weikersheim. More than 80 in-person guests, plus another 125 taking part via a live stream, witnessed a debate between Professors Hans Joachim Schellnhuber and Hans-Werner Sinn, the event’s two high-profile and highly regarded speakers, on “Climate protection – the difference between well meant and well done” – and were subsequently invited to engage in an interactive dialog.


Benedikt Hofmann (the moderator for the evening and Editor-in-Chief of MM MaschinenMarkt) could hardly have chosen more apt words to open the event: “Climate protection is more relevant and more topical today than ever”. Dr. Manfred Wittenstein, Chairman of the Wittenstein Foundation Board of Trustees – which took over the “enter the future” event series from WITTENSTEIN SE in September 2021 – was quick to agree. “Climate protection is the 21st century’s biggest challenge, and one we can only overcome together. Unfortunately, ideologies and make-believe certainties are gaining the upper hand. The aim of our event series is to strongly refute such arguments and get different sections of society talking to one another again by showing a variety of perspectives and encouraging participation”, he commented. These various perspectives were then debated by Professors Hans Joachim Schellnhuber and Hans-Werner Sinn – two eminent and sought-after personalities in their respective fields.


How do we want to live and work in the future?


This question was the opener to the presentation by Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder and former Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and for many years a member of the World Climate Council. “After two centuries of breathtaking growth, nature is now sending out a very serious reminder that we cannot carry on living our lives this way. Schellnhuber, a pioneer in climate impact research, chose bold and simple examples to illustrate the threat to our planet Earth if mankind continues to overexploit its resources to such a massive degree and fails to stop global warming. He especially referred to the tilting moments in the Earth system, which are being strained beyond the critical limit as a result of human activity, leading to irreversible changes. The numerous instances cited by Schellnhuber to demonstrate how global warming could possibly be kept below the two degrees Celsius mark after all underlined his view that it is still not too late to start the ball rolling for the “great transformation”. Carbon dioxide sources will need to be permanently removed from circulation through deep decarbonization efforts, forests replanted, and steel and concrete banished from the construction industry as far as possible. Schellnhuber, Holder of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Cross), described the latter as “the elephant in the climate change room”. He claimed that it will be possible to achieve a huge reduction in carbon emissions simply by transforming cities bit by bit into human-constructed forests, i.e. by going over completely to renewable building materials such as wood, bamboo or hemp. According to Schellnhuber, solar and wind power will likewise play a fundamental role in the essential redistribution of energy supplies. In particular, comprehensive photovoltaic systems, which as floating or flying platforms could generate even higher output in the future, are an inescapable alternative for green electricity production. The digital circular economy will be equally elementary: as digitalization, artificial intelligence and quantum technology become more and more prevalent, industry too will be increasingly able to make a significant contribution towards resource conservation.

How can we persuade people to do the right thing?

Professor Schellnhuber concurred on the most urgent climate protection measures with Professor Hans-Werner Sinn, former President of the ifo Institute for Economic Research and a member of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy’s Board of Academic Advisors. However, the market incentives which need to be put in place to implement them gave rise to a lively controversy between the two speakers. “This debate is not about the goals per se; it’s about how to get there.” As an economist, Sinn is convinced that “as long as policy makers continue to intervene and regulate as they do at present, the market won’t create any new incentives or new opportunities to add value”. Sinn also spelled out “the 7 big mistakes of German climate policy”, which he regards as just one example of how “climate protection won’t work without binding global agreements that are actually monitored”. For instance, Germany is the only country still intent on withdrawing from nuclear power while elsewhere around the world new nuclear plants are under construction, or at least in the pipeline, and countries like Sweden or Japan have reversed their original decision to phase out. In Sinn’s opinion, “when it comes to nuclear power, Germany risks becoming a wrong-way driver on the energy freeway”. Furthermore, in the European automotive sector, the market is currently neglected as a catalyst for discovering new, low-carbon technologies because the key arguments for car makers are directives rather than long-term efficiency and effectiveness considerations. And on the subject of oil production, Sinn criticized that “We’re cutting our oil consumption but we’re still producing just as much oil as ever. The upshot is that any oil we don’t use ourselves is being bought up by Asia or the US and burned there instead. The effect of German abstention isn’t simply small; it’s nil!”. Sinn purports that the construction of new, safer nuclear power plants, sequestration and reforestation – including the purchase and protection of forests – a withholding tax on financial investments and secure ownership of terrestrial resources are effective strategies available to policy makers along with global emissions trading and a multinational trade agreement on climate policy.


Dr. Manfred Wittenstein, the event’s host, wound up with a summary of the main points made during the two keynote speeches and the various interesting – and occasionally critical – comments from the audience: “I think this evening has shown us that, where climate protection is concerned, only a truly holistic approach is likely to promise any real success. Together we can set things in motion. Alone it’s a losing battle.”


For a recording of the complete event, including the discussion with the audience, see www.wittenstein-stiftung.com/enter-the-future.

Next “enter the future” event

Preparations are already under way for the next Wittenstein Foundation event early in 2022, which will center on a comparison of Asian and Western attitudes towards people and society: once again, the aim will be to engage in a critical and constructive dialog and promote understanding across cultural divides by embracing new perspectives, leaving us better equipped to master the challenges of essential transformation processes in a globalized world.


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The speakers (from left to right): Dr. Manfred Wittenstein (Chairman of the Wittenstein Foundation Board of Trustees), Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber (founder and former Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research), Professor Hans-Werner Sinn (former President of the ifo Institute for Economic Research) and moderator Benedikt Hofmann (Editor-in-Chief of MM MaschinenMarkt).

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Professor Schellnhuber chose bold and simple examples to illustrate the threat to our planet Earth if mankind continues to overexploit its resources to such a massive degree and fails to stop global warming.

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In Sinn’s opinion, when it comes to nuclear power, Germany is a “wrong-way driver on the energy freeway”.

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The market incentives which need to be put in place in order to implement climate protection measures gave rise to a lively controversy between the two speakers.


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More than 80 guests attended the third “enter the future” event in person while another 125 took part via a live stream.

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The audience took the opportunity to engage in a fruitful dialog with the speakers.


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