Friday, October 24, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Letter sent to David Cameron prior to the New York Climate Change summit

Dear Prime Minister,
On the 23rd Sept you will be in New York to attend the climate change conference.
The future of the world now hangs in the balance. The emerging science and evidence on the ground makes this unambiguous. However, the prospects for the meeting are not good. Already reports are being prepared by Lord Stern amongst others claiming climate change can be tackled and in so doing economic growth can either be maintained or improved. This is delusional.
It takes no account of how the politics of a zero carbon global economy must be significantly different from the fossil fuel based economy of today. It takes no account of the under-estimations that the IPCC models have consistently delivered. It takes no account of the critical warming already in the pipeline due to the 30 year time lag between carbon injection into the atmosphere and the subsequent heating. It takes no account of the wars that are breaking out around the planet driven by the combination of climate change and energy shortages, nor the intensive preparations that are being made for war by the all the main industrial nations.  It takes no account that during the last 30 years the same amount of fossil fuel has been burnt as had ever been burnt up to that point. The unavoidable truth is that far greater disruption is to come than that which we are experiencing today. This is irrespective of even the best actions that you may agree to on the 23rd Sept. To continue deluding ourselves that despite all this evidence we can actually improve economic growth is a recipe for under achieving on climate change efforts and ensuring that the worst case scenarios materialise.
As these crises unfold the main economic blocks will be forced to compete harder against each other for food, energy and other critical resources. It will make achieving the type of co-operation that we need to tackle the coming crisis increasingly difficult, but without this co-operation our fate will be sealed. Instead, nations will be tempted to make every effort to protect self-interest by developing fossil fuel economies thus exacerbating the risks that they are trying to avoid. This path leads to a dangerous downward spiral.
Your government has already taken the first inadvertent steps down this spiral. In contrast to extending out the hand of co-operation to the rest of the world, you have committed to pursuing the Trident replacement. Your party has justified this by the increasing instability in the world, much of which has its origins in climate change. To support this decision, the country requires a massive, energy intensive military industrial complex and expanding economy to raise the taxes. This is the antithesis of what is needed to tackle climate change.
There is no comfort in the decision that Trident only constitutes a couple of percent of GDP. The costs of maintaining the huge industrial complexes it needs must be amortised across civilian markets. It forces these to be sustained, irrespective of the ecological damage they cause.
As a measure of this, DECC has already proved unable to provide a comprehensive carbon budget for Trident. This is despite the commitments that the Conservative Party agreed to in the last parliament to provide carbon budgets for all major decisions.
It is therefore imperative that you consider far bolder actions on climate change than are normally accepted within the current discourse. You must advocate for nuclear disarmament and climate change talks to be integrated. These are the flip sides of the same coin, industrial competition. Doing this forces the question of the rationality of maintaining high carbon industries and a competitive environment that drives international relationships at this time of planetary risk.  Failure to do this guarantees failure in the fight on climate change.

Yours sincerely, 

Kevin Lister

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Putin threatening nuclear war in Ukraine?? Letter to the Russian Ambassador

Dear Ambassador,

I would like your help if that is possible, because unfortunately I don't speak Russian and have to rely on the translations of news organisations such as the BBC and others.

Can you confirm that the reports of President Putin addressing young people in Russia today are correct?  In particular, when he told his audience in the discussion on the Ukraine crisis that Russia was a strong military and anyone opposing it should not forget that it is nuclear armed.

Further, can you confirm if this implies Russia's intent to use a first strike nuclear option against either Ukraine or the rest of the world.

As an ex-professor of law would you be able to give your professional opinion of the legality of a threat of this nature which involves the indiscriminate use of mass destruction against all the norms of the Geneva Convention.

By threatening nuclear war in this manner in violation of the NPT, does this give the green light for Ukraine to start building its own nuclear weapons using the vast amount of nuclear material its power stations?

As you are aware, a general election is due in the UK in 2015. Trident should hopefully be on the agenda for discussion. However, with a rising right wing presence from UKIP and the Conservative party that is resolutely behind the replacement of Trident, then can you accept that these kinds of first use threats play into the hands of the pro-nuclear weapons lobby at this critical juncture.

Hopefully you are also be aware that we face runaway climate change. The science is so serious that within 10 years we will be at CO2 levels beyond which the worst scenarios will be impossible to stop. Our civilisation will collapse into the worst nightmare scenarios. We have already asked our government for the carbon foot print of our Trident submarines system and they have been unable to provide figures. Perhaps Russia might have auditable figures for their nuclear triad that you could supply which fully cover the carbon associated with building, operating, defending and decommissioning along with the carbon budget for the economic activity needed to raise the taxes. 

Perhaps then we could have a joint discussion about what we need to do to survive together on this planet.

Thanks in advance for your co-operation

Kevin Lister

Monday, August 18, 2014

Gloucestershire Airport again - it gives no pleasure to be proven correct

Email sent to all councilors in Gloucester and Cheltenham after the announcement of the Airports losses:

Dear Councillors, 

I read the recent article in the Gloucester Echo "Leaked report shows Gloucestershire Airport is in need of substantial reform" with a certain sadness. 

It caused me to reflect on the actions that were taken by myself and hundreds of local residents to stop this appalling waste of public money and the arguments that we presented in vain to penetrate the fabrications that were being used by the supporters of this initiative:

 The primary objective of the development was to increase the length of the runway and install instrument landing. The estimated cost of this was £2million. The business plan that backed this up was based on expanding private jet use, as well as some scheduled service. This was its first lie, it was presented to the public as a runway safety project. It was no such thing. The result of the project was that fully laden private jets would be taking off over residential areas, which is the most dangerous aviation operations possible. We asked for a quantified safety case but rather unsurprisingly they did not have one, did not intend to do one, and probably had no idea how to do one anyway.

As well as safety, I protested against it on the basis of the increased CO2 emissions especially when it was going to be so much from so few and at a time when everyone else was about to be burdened with increased energy costs to keep CO2 down.  It quickly became apparent that the budget was massively under estimated nor could the airport make enough money to cover the cost of the loan.  

The money was to come from the public works board. This was quite possibly illegal. The public works funds are specifically for public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and roads. The council argued that the because the airport was owned by them they could use this without violating either the regulations around these or EU regulations on state support. They were on extremely tenuous grounds. 

The result was that the airport got the loan at a very preferential rate and the risk of default would be borne by the tax payer. If they were to go to a commercial bank, interest rates at the time were initially too high, and then in light of the banking crisis of 2008 when interest rates fell, the business case was so weak that no bank would ever have lent on its basis. From the accounts I had calculated that the payback period on a best case scenario would be 25 years, with the most likely taking 45 years. 

We also held a protest camp at the end of the airport one weekend. Over one hundred local residents came through the course of the weekend to register their concerns and learn about climate change, aviation expansion amongst other issues at workshops. David Drew MP of Stroud came to support it. Only one councilor from Gloucester and Cheltenham came. 

We had also made the point at many council meetings about the weakness of the accounts and the already near bankruptcy of the airport. So the airport and council got in York Aviation to review the business case, who said that the business case was good and everything was in order. Strange now that York criticizes the strategic management, but it just goes to show that give a management consultant some money and they will say what ever you need. 

To counter the thrust of my climate change arguments that I was pushing, the airport's management demonstrated their total lack of strategic planning that they are now being criticised for by  producing a report saying that climate change was a fabrication that scientists were making to gain research funds. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!!

Fortunately for the airport, virtually everybody on both councils were either inept or mired in vested interests. At a Cheltenham council meeting one of the Conservative Councillors who had not even bothered to read the airports accounts displayed her ignorance of almost everything when she said that the profits from the airport would allow council taxes to go down. She was totally unable to understand that if the airport could not pay the loan then the council taxes would have to go up at the worst possible time. 

Eventually after much protesting the airport conceded that climate change was a reality and they produced a green management plan which set a "ceiling on carbon emissions" and this was to be part of the planning consent to Tewksbury. At the same time they produced their business plan, which outlined all the new services that they were expecting. Simple arithmetic showed that the flights planned in the business plan would exceed by far the carbon ceiling in the green management plan and to comply all existing operations would need to cease. So either the green plan or the business case was deliberately flawed.

I prepared a report regarding this and sent it to the Gloucestershire Echo, the editor said that he would not publish it because he did not want to rock the boat. My report concluded that either the airport would exceed by far the number of flights needed or the tax payer would have to bail the project out.  Instead a the Echo reported Mark Ryan, the Managing Director of the Airport, saying that not one penny of tax payer's money would go to the airport. The reporter that did the article resigned and I complained to the press complaints commission, who did nothing.

When it finally came to the council for approval, I asked what happens if the carbon ceiling is exceeded and if the airport could confirm it would ground planes in accordance with the ceiling.  I was told that "it was not that kind of ceiling and good management would ensure that the ceiling was not breached." What kind of idiot do they take us for? I was then shouted down by the rest of the councilors and the police who were on standby to evict me from the council chambers started doing all their police things. It had become heated by this stage!

To sooth the passage of the business case, the airport management told that the council they had taken climate change seriously and had installed solar panels to keep their carbon footprint down. These were the garden lighting systems that you can buy from hardware stores to light your paths and the airport was using these to illuminate the welcome sign! We took them, held them to ransom, making it clear they could have them back when they confirmed that planes would be grounded if the ceiling was breached. (see here). For this,  my house was raided by the police at 4:oo am and I was arrested on theft and conspiracy to steal. It was probably something to do with the chair of the Gloucester Police Authority being a rabid supporter of the airport, (see here)

So I responded, and pressed charges against the airport and council for fraud, which the police refused to uphold.

I could go on, and on, and on about this saga. But you probably get the idea. In summary, the  business case was a joke, the press did not hold the councilors to account, the airport should never be in council ownership where the council tax payer is bled to keep afloat a business that only serves the richest people in this area and while the council tax payers are being bled they have low flying jets going over them degrading their environment and placing them at increased risk of accident. 

So the upshot now is that the council must decide whenever to continue bailing out the airport knowing that this is probably going to be even less likely to yield a return on investment than the first one given that climate change is now moving faster than almost everyone's worst nightmares, or they must accept the loss of the first investment. The only other alternative to these losses is to open up a criminal prosecution against those that deliberately mislead the council with the fraudulent business case to see if anything can be recovered that way.

It gives no pleasure to be proven correct and to have it once again demonstrated that the lunatics are running the asylum. 


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gaza and an extract from my book, The Vortex of Violence and Why we are losing the war on climate change

Watching the attack on the power station in Gaza today and the seeing the city in total darkness is a statement of such profound and unsettling violence it is hard to cope with its emotional trauma. It a manifestation of new forms of warfare sweeping the world. This makes it worse. 

The following is a brief extract from my forthcoming book talking about the ability of the military industrial complex to fire "precision" strikes into cities and the implications:-

Nuclear weapons were such a paradigm shift in warfare that they made the industrial wars such as the First and Second World Wars impossible. However, wars that are fought today using conventional munitions are able to deliver total destruction in a matter of hours, rather than the months of bombing required in the past, as demonstrated in the Iraq wars amongst others. Although these did not have the massed bomber squadrons that blackened the skies in the Second World War, the destructive capability of B52s combined with waves of precision missile attacks is in many way as destructive as the massed bomber raids on Dresden and Tokyo. This has been demonstrated on repeated occasions were the essential services that any modern city depends on such as water, electricity and telecoms have been surgically removed leaving it as disabled as any of the hollowed out shells of cities in the Second World War. In conjunction with improved targeting ability, the cities of today are larger, more complex and more interconnected than those of the Second World War era amplifying the damage done and causing the recovery to take far longer, despite the initial appearance of the damage not being so great. The intensity of the destruction is further enhanced by the trend towards increased urbanisation that all nations around the world have been swept up in since the beginning of the industrial revolution, thus targeting the cities of modern nations targets much bigger proportions of a nation's total population and increases the intensity of the trauma when compared to past events.

Our strategy in attacking cities today has also become analogous to the training that we give to our infantry men. They are taught that on the battlefield it is best not to kill the opponent but to critically wound him. His screams of pain and distress traumatise his colleagues who are also diverted from fighting to supporting him. To not kill a city, but to keep it critically injured and traumatised stops a whole country from fighting back.

What is left behind is the ideal breeding ground for wars amongst the people as the effects of climate change and resource shortages within shattered infrastructures force everyone to take sides and engage in localised wars with no end. These, rather than wars against the people have already become the dominant form of conflict, undermining the integrity of the nation state as the premier structure of governance.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Super exponential growth of atmospheric CO2

Graphs taken from forthcoming book -  The Vortex of Violence, and why we are loosing the battle against climate change.

Take atmospheric CO2 data from Manua Loa, and plot a straight line through it and you can see more clearly that the rate of increase increases with time:

To simplify the graph further we remove the monthly cyclic data by plotting a 12 month moving average. Rather than drawing a line of best fit through the data, we simply draw a line from the first point to the last. 

This graph shows the highly defined convex nature of the graph and the rate at which the gradient has has changed over the this time period. 

As all the things driving the graph are exponential such as economic growth, fossil fuel consumption, population growth, etc and given the graph above it stands to reason that an exponential function should be able to model it which will be of the general form CO2=Aekt, however:

The blue line, shows the 12 month moving average and the red line is the best fit exponential data.  The red line looks straight-ish, simply because of the values used in the best fit exponential function, but these values represent the best approximation that an exponential function can give to the data over this range. It is clearly unable to provide a decent fit, with an increasing underestimate with recent data. It leads to the proposition that k in the equation above is over time.

So we plot k against time. To calculate k for any date, we need just two data points on the curve. One of these we fix as of today and the other starts at 1959 and slides towards today's data point. From these two points we can easily calculate k for each specific date. If the data was a perfect exponential curve, then the value of k would not be affected by our choice of points, and that is largely what we see until 2009. However, after 2009 then k starts growing explosively. This lays out the nightmare of super exponential growth; exponential growth on exponential growth. 

Finally given the changing value of k, we can plot how the date at which we expect atmospheric CO2 to go through 450 ppm for any date and we see this coming forwards. So based on the data back in 1960 we would have expected to go through 450 ppm around about 2042, which was bad enough. But recalculating this using data over the last couple of years suggests that we could be going through 450 ppm by 2030.

After 450 ppm, the worst nightmares of runaway climate change are impossible to avoid. Given these graphs, any talk about getting emissions down to 350ppm to give us long term hope of avoiding runaway climate change is pie in the sky. It means that we must contemplate a much more drastic change to business as usual.

These graphs will be updated as new data comes from the Manua Loa observatory.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

To Paul Schulte - following his defence of Trident at the WMD awareness debate

Dear Paul,

It was fascinating listening to your talk at the WMDAwareness debate on Wednesday. There is much that I can agree on. You are right to say that China and North Korea are embarking on nuclear blackmail. You are right to question the emphasis on getting young people to solve a problem that will kill us all and which the old people have caused. You are equally right to advise that we should  relieve ourselves of the dangerously folly of thinking if we should do good, then those around who are incentivised to do harm will also do good.

However, as I reflect on the experience that you brought to the debate, especially your first hand experience of arms control negotiations and working with the MOD, I cannot help but think that the intensity of thought that you have had to pursue down these avenues has blinded you from exploring other options and even recognising the  inherent dilemmas and contradictions that exist with the current government policy of pursuing a Trident replacement.

The most serious of these is the dilemma of climate change. I pointed out to you that we are on track to exceed 450 ppm sometime between 2020 and 2030. Atmospheric CO2 has continuously increased since accurate measurements were first started in 1957 and the recent investments in renewables have had no impact on this. When we get to 450ppm it is game over. At this level the worst nightmares of runaway climate change become impossible to avoid. Even today, if no further CO2 emissions are made, the situation is critical with key tipping points such as the Arctic Ice cap collapse and the subsequent methane releases upon us. When I  pointed this out, you responded with a shrug of your shoulders as if it was someone else's problem.

It is extraordinary that you can take this position. At a minimum, the resulting sea levels rises mean that Faslane will be under water along with the US submarine bases in Georgia and Washington. More seriously, many of the cities of the US, the UK and rest of world will be similarly submerged. Climate change also means that the global economy will collapse within the operating lifetimes of the next generation of submarines that you are supporting. When this was pointed out, you again shrugged your shoulders.

To have any chance of avoiding the worse case apocalyptical nightmares of climate change we have to transform our political systems, find ways to safely de-industrialise and eliminate as best as we can those pieces of today's infrastructure such as nuclear weapons that will become an eternal liability for the survivors. This needs policies such as carbon taxation or carbon rationing that are the antithesis of the growth based policies of today. To do this, we must co-operate with our economic and military  competitors. It will be impossible to do this when we are locked in nuclear weapon standoffs. The flip side of this, like it or not, is that Trident is dependent on the taxation that can only be delivered from a growing economy dependent on fossil fuel. Our decision to pursue Trident forces our competitors to replicate our growth based policies. The result is that all sides must force growth against strict ecological limits and in so doing create a race to the bottom. 

You suggested in your talk that a transformative event such as a limited nuclear war or accidental detonation would perhaps bring nations to the negotiating table prepared for a different discourse. Historical evidence would suggest this is optimistic nonsense. The nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not drive the world in fear to negotiated positions on nuclear weapons; instead within a year the US forced the Marshal Islanders from their topical paradise at Bikini Atoll and then destroyed it with atomic bomb tests and Russia upped their efforts to get the bomb. Since then, the world has become littered with the detritus of nuclear weapons.  Mayak blew up in 1957; Chernobyl, whose safety was compromised by having to produce plutonium,  irradiated the Ukraine and Belarus; depleted uranium has left an eternal legacy in Iraq and nuclear weapons tests have left millions of victims suffering from cancer and birth defects. Not one of these events caused any reflection by the world's leaders on the rationality of holding nuclear weapons and threatening nuclear war. Likewise destructive climate change events such as Hurricane Sandy have not resolved the world's leaders to create a zero carbon economy.

Instead of the rational response to these issues, the irrational response takes hold which is to increase competitive strength in the face of adversity, irrespective of the impossibility of all sides being able to do this. It forces a situation where the sides that will weaken first, must strike prematurely before they become too weak.

This is exactly what we did in the 2nd Gulf War where we had to strike Iraq before our economy had become too weakened by rising oil prices. The same dynamic drove Germany's entrance into the First World War with their pre-emptive attack on France and execution of the Schlifen plan because its economy was being weakened in relation to Russia by the race it found itself in with Britain to build the Dreadnaughts.  If we follow your prescription of  maintaining the status quo of increasing our military competitive advantage in a time of weakening economic circumstances, then either we or our competitors will be forced into a set of circumstances conducive to a first nuclear strike.

The nuclear trap that we are in makes the legally binding agreement the UK made to an 80% cut in CO2 emissions pious nonsense. To be clear, nuclear submarines do not just materialise at the end of  slip ways. They are the apex of a country's military industrial complex that encompasses everything from the manufacture of steel to satellites. Once we decide to build Trident we must keep this infrastructure in place and create an environment that keeps it growing. The subsequent carbon footprint is so big that DECC did not even know where to start when we asked that they quantify it in accordance the low carbon transition plan agreed in the last parliament. We also asked that they extend this analysis to cover the economic activity necessary to raise the taxes. Your response to the morality of the carbon foot print of Trident when I raised it, was again to shrug your shoulders and dismiss it.

The brutal reality is that once we sign the purchase order for Trident, we will be forced to violate international agreements on climate change and become another pariah state in the eyes of the world. The history of climate change has already demonstrated this. The US would not sign the first Kyoto agreement because the carbon cut backs would have constrained its military too much. The same conclusion was evident to the other nuclear weapon states who were as proactive as the US in their own ways to mendaciously undermine this agreement.  The same dynamic pertains today.

The alternative that we are left with is to link climate change agreements with nuclear non proliferation agreements.  The argument now becomes that nations must collectively create the security environment necessary to cut back greenhouse gases or else face destruction through climate change. As the weakest member of the P-5 with all our nuclear eggs in a single Trident basket while being simultaneously exposed to the greenhouse emissions of other larger economic blocks, it is in our advantage to advocate this position. In fact, the circumstances dictate, that it is the only rational position that we can take.

If we do not do this, we will continue the pursuit of nuclear weapons against all logic and reason. This requires a level of dictatorial arrogance and cognitive dissonance that can only come about through the possession of great power. This is were we are today. The electorate of this country have never had any say in the decision to pursue nuclear weapons as all the  main political parties have supported its replacement in the past and continue to do so today. Instead of a clear choice being given to the people and subjected to a thorough public debate, the nuclear decisions is made by a small group of appointed experts such as yourself who must myopically distort the reality around them to justify the need to maintain the ability to destroy the planet through nuclear weapons even though the industrial races that we are trapped in means we will destroy it first through climate change.

Kevin Lister