Press review: Echo of the Leopoldina's bioenergy study in the press

Earth spaceThe press plays a very important role in managing a long-term and abstract project such as the energy transition. Without media coverage, it is difficult to grasp the complexities of this major national project and to follow the progress in solving problems. Of course, this also means that the media with the highest circulation has a great responsibility when writing reports on the energy transition. The interpretations of events by the journalists play a decisive role in how the energy transition is perceived and which way we think is right. This responsibility is often taken lightly, especially in the development of bioenergy. To make this clear, there is a small press review with a selection of articles and statements that echo the Bioenergy study by the Leopoldina have appeared.

Overview of the response to the Leopoldina's bioenergy study

To begin with, an overview of articles and reports that responded to the publication of the Leopoldina study:

  • Mirror online: "Researchers give clear rejection to bioenergy" "
  • The time: "Stop the organic madness"
  • Tagesschau
  • Southern Germans: "No more biogas and wood pellets | Refraining from meat brings more ”
  • PHASE: "Overshot the target?"
  • EUWID New Energy "With the exception of waste, biomass is not an option for energy generation in Germany" "Statements by the Leopoldina are out of date or wrong"
  • Statement by the German Biomass Research Center (DBFZ) "Leopoldina study shows limits to growth, but provides incomplete and partially outdated options for bioenergy. ”
  • Statement by the Association of the German Biofuel Industry (VDB): "Study fails to recognize the advantages of biofuels in the transport sector and existing sustainability rules"
  • Biogas Council statement: "Clever questions that already have answers"

In the following I will briefly introduce the articles and draw a conclusion on the presentation of the bioenergy study in the media.

My comments on the individual reactions in the media are sometimes very critical, because I believe that some aspects are undifferentiated or far too pessimistic and thus the reputation of bioenergy is "sustainably" and wrongly burdened.

Nevertheless, I would like to ask you to read the original texts of the authors for your own opinion on the study or the articles. The complete original texts and contributions are always linked. 

Spiegel Online: "Researchers give clear rejection to bioenergy"

Spiegel Online, article on the bioenergy study by Julia Merlot from 26.07.2012/XNUMX/XNUMX

Unfortunately, the Spiegel article on the Leopoldina's bioenergy study is rather undifferentiated. I would like to criticize the author mainly because of the unbalanced compilation of facts and the generalizing heading ("researcher"). In addition, the article mixes many areas of bioenergy and, in some cases, generalizes exceptions to the entire industry.

Otherwise, Ms. Merlot mainly quotes statements that can already be found in the Leopoldina's bioenergy study and largely refrains from making her own interpretations or conclusions. However, the following statements in the article can very easily lead to misunderstandings and wrong conclusions.

  • "Fuels such as bioethanol, biodiesel or biogas have been criticized for years: Rainforests are being cleared in emerging countries such as Brazilto create acreage for oil crops. "

Here one could at least mention that biofuels (oil crops = biodiesel) only make up a very small percentage when it comes to the use of oil crops. This does not make rainforest deforestation better, but for a balanced presentation the reader should know that the majority of the deforestation (95 percent) is due to the cultivation of food and feed, as well as for the extraction of vegetable oil for cosmetic products etc.

  • "The researchers also point out that the production of biofuels produces gases that are harmful to the climate and that the cultivation of plants promotes nutrient pollution in the soil and water."

Of course, gases that are harmful to the climate are also produced in the production of biofuels, but this ultimately applies to every industrial production process that requires energy and the overall climate impact of a production process is more important. Furthermore, the fertilization of every agriculturally used area bears the risk that nutrient pollution for soils and water occurs. But there are other voices that assume that the cultivation of Energy crops even for water protection contributes.

Finally, a general criticism of the bioenergy articles at Spiegel Online. In several Spiegel articles on the E10 introduction, the same photo was always used with a tank truck in front of a blooming rapeseed field. However, no bioethanol (E10) can be produced from rapeseed at all, only biodiesel. That may sound petty, but it shows how undifferentiated "biofuels" are sometimes shorn together at Spiegel Online. If a one-sided positive report on the potential and progress of bioenergy would appear in the mirror for a change, then I would not react so critically or pettyly to undifferentiated negative reports.

Die Zeit: Stop the organic madness

Zeit Online, article on the bioenergy study by Hans Schuh (editor in the knowledge department) from 26.07.2012/XNUMX/XNUMX

The article also summarizes some statements from the study and describes a negative picture of the potential of bioenergy corresponding to the study. The recommendations of the study are largely accepted without criticism and the most drastic statements of the study are adopted without mentioning the requirements and restrictions that the Leopoldina researchers have made.

Like the Spiegel article, this short article also selects a drastic heading ("Stop the bioenergy madness") and a very unfavorable compilation of all the darkest fears surrounding the use of bioenergy, without even compensating for the bioenergy benefits that already exist today To refer opinions of advocates.

Anyone who only reads this article gets nothing to read about the fact that bioenergy secures many jobs, strengthens regional agriculture or that Germany is a leader in the use of sustainably produced biofuels and is considered the world market leader in biogas technology. All points that also show the great advances of the bioenergy industry and their efforts to constantly improve and adapt to the wishes of the population.

“Biomass” as a catchphrase is generalized and biodiesel, bioethanol and biogas are presented as problematic regardless of the production path. In addition, terms such as "milk maid calculation" or "C02-eating conversion processes" are used to choose a very light-footed expression, which in my view does not do justice to the seriousness of the situation for the industry. A relaxed style of writing is refreshing and adds to the liveliness of a text, but should not underestimate it.

Strictly speaking, of course, bioenergy is not carbon neutral. However, this is not a renewable energy source because systems naturally have to be built and maintained, which costs energy and removes the carbon footprint of renewables from the CO02-neutral ideal. But one should not only compare with the zero-emissions ideal, but also with the previous fossil fuels.

I'm sorry to have to say this so clearly, but I don't think anyone who writes on such a broad area ("knowledge section") as the author of the article Hans Schuh, can also spend the research time to write a really differentiated article on a topic as complex as bioenergy. I do not want to discredit the often impressive work of trained journalists here, but I would not like to hear a professional bioenergy value judgment and, in addition, such a provocative and not very careful one, someone who deals with bioenergy today and tomorrow with animal protection and busy with the life of the stag beetle.

Hopefully, it is not arrogant to ask that someone who does not work as a specialist journalist in a field should rather hold back with hard assessments of an industry or plan the corresponding time required to publish a factually researched article.

Report in the Tagesschau

In a 90-second contribution, the Tagesschau reports more carefully and more carefully on the results and recommendations of the bioenergy study than the two articles in Spiegel Online and Die Zeit.

The daily show contribution is also more balanced because the managing director of the Association of the German Biofuel Industry (VBD), Elmar Baumann, has a say in this. Supporters and opponents with equal speaking rights distinguish the report on the bioenergy study in the ARD.

ARD contribution to the Leopoldina's bioenergy study starts at minute 11:18.

Süddeutsche: “No more biogas and wood pellets | Refraining from meat brings more ”

Southern Germans, article on the Leopoldina's bioenergy study by Christopher Schrader from 26.07.2012/XNUMX/XNUMX

Mr. Schrader's article begins with the following statement.

“The biomass in Germany is not enough to cover the energy requirement. The further expansion of bioenergy should therefore be stopped, the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina recommends. The Germans must now choose. what is more important to them: food or energy. "

Covering the entire energy requirement with biomass is not the goal, because we are talking about the family of renewable energy sources. The conclusion that the expansion of bioenergy should therefore be stopped is not only undifferentiated, but in my opinion even wrong. The “decision” between food or energy is also a claim by the author that I cannot find in the study.

Furthermore, the following quote on bioenergy from the article in the Süddeutsche is unsuitably dramatic for my taste and has very frightening features.

  • "All stems, leaves, roots, tubers, grains and fruits would then be used, no one fed, no animal fed, no table built, no stalk plowed under."

In fairness, however, it must also be said that the article by Christopher Schrader is the only one to clearly indicate that the opinion of the scientists does not completely reject the use of bioenergy and supports some uses (waste, use in aircraft and ships, etc.).

FAZ: "overshot the target?"

Article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the Leopoldina's bioenergy study 28.07.2012 

In my opinion, the best article on the Leopoldina's bioenergy study in the high-circulation media, which, however, was only published 2 days later than the previously presented articles.

Fortunately, the article also contains pro-bioenergy statements and, in addition to other politicians, quotes the Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier, whom the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung had asked for a statement, for a balanced presentation.

  • "Biomass is a very versatile and reliable energy source that plays an important role in the future energy supply of our country as part of the energy transition"

EUWID New Energies

"With the exception of waste, biomass is not an option for energy generation in Germany | Statements by the Leopoldina are out of date or wrong ”

Article in the EUWID New Energy by 01.08.2012

The EUWID article on the Leopoldina's bioenergy study is unfortunately only readable by subscribers to the EUWID New Energies Magazine. "Unfortunately" because the article takes into account both the statements of the bioenergy study, but also the statements of the biogas council and the VDB (see below) and therefore contains a very balanced presentation of pros and cons arguments.

DBFZ statement

"Leopoldina study shows limits to growth, but provides incomplete and partially outdated options for bioenergy."

Statement of the DBFZ from 08.08.2012

As a bioenergy enthusiast, I see the opinion of the DBFZ also as a very successful criticism of the Leopoldina study. The opinion of the largest research institute on the material and energetic use of biomass in Germany takes the recommendations of the bioenergy study seriously, but also shows the limits and weaknesses of the study in a very differentiated and concrete manner.

About the Statement by the DBFZ has already been reported on BiomassMuse and you can also read the full text on the DBFZ website .

VDB: "Study fails to recognize the advantages of biofuels in the transport sector and existing sustainability rules"

Press release from German Biofuels Association (VDB) on the Leopoldina's bioenergy study by 26.07.2012

In its criticism of the bioenergy study, the Association of the German Biofuels Industry (VDB) focuses primarily on hiding the essential advantages of biofuels such as bioethanol and Biodiesel. These are currently the only viable alternatives to fossil fuels and e-mobility still requires a lot of time to mature with only 4.600 electric vehicles in Germany.

The association also criticizes that the high sustainability criteria that exist for biofuels are not adequately recognized.

The consequence of the recommendations of the Leopoldina's bioenergy study is ultimately adherence to fossil fuels based on petroleum.

Biogasrat: "Clever questions to which there are already answers"

Press release from Biogas council for the Leopoldina's bioenergy study by 27.07.2012

The Biogasrat also criticizes, even more sharply than the VDB, the poor quality of the bioenergy study, which "Was apparently cobbled together without a thread".

Many questions raised by the bioenergy study have long been answered by various institutions (BioÖkonomieRat, IPPC), which were far less pessimistic than the newly published study. The study contradicts many previous studies, such as a study by the German Ministry of Agriculture. The criticism raised by the Leopoldina's bioenergy study is already largely taken into account by German and European politics and appropriate countermeasures have been implemented or started.

There are also many generalizations in the study regarding liquid, solid and gaseous bioenergy or when comparing completely different regions worldwide.

Conclusion and criticism of the articles on the bioenergy study in the media landscape

I don't really want to reproach the journalists for the sometimes very one-sided articles, because they often only refer to the statements of the Leopoldina study. However, the recommendations of the very critical bioenergy study are then largely unreflected and uncritical. Here I would have liked the 4th violence in the country to deal more responsibly, instead of almost listening to the academy's opinion and presenting presented theses as facts.

In my opinion, bioenergy and even more so are the energy transition so complex that nobody can really understand their current developments and interrelationships, which makes simplification in the discussion unavoidable. Not every article in a daily updated medium can go deep into a topic, which means that generalizations and resulting misunderstandings have to be accepted.

But I think it is a task of the informative press that it either takes a neutral look at current developments or, with its own interpretation, juxtaposes the existing pros and cons arguments or at least draws more cautious conclusions. The destructive one-sided bioenergy headlines of the past years around rainforest deforestation, hunger, maize, motos damage etc. I can hardly accept as balanced reporting. In this specific case, it is difficult to accept that in journalistic articles with such a wide reach, the recommendations of a study are almost rendered factual.

I cannot judge whether the partially very negative articles were written in this way out of the authors' genuine conviction. Perhaps the dramatic and less factual expression is often simply a necessary means if you want to write an emotionally moving article that reaches the reader on a deeper level.

I do not want to speculate about the causes for the sometimes very unreflected rendering of pessimistic statements of the bioenergy study: time pressure, wishes of advertising partners or a personal aversion to bioenergy or the combustion technology of the authors can be influencing factors. One can ask whether the media mentioned above in particular are consciously taking a hard line against bioenergy.

For all journalists who want to give bioenergy a real chance, I still have a few topics that would certainly be very grateful for a little more media attention.

Certainly these topics are not as emotional as hunger and rainforest deforestation, but they show what promising bioenergy projects we have already built in Germany and how seriously the criticism from the population is taken by this industry. In my opinion, such topics are also interesting for critical or even investigative journalism.

Criticism of bioenergy is important, but it is only useful if it is formulated in an appropriate tone and with differentiated arguments!

What is your opinion on bioenergy and how can we use it sustainably from an ecological, social and economic point of view? I look forward to your comment.

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