Saturday, December 17, 2011
How to stop climate change and how to fight future war
So the Durban COP result is another fudge. The biggest surprise is that we are still surprised. What did we expect after the monumental failures of Bali, Copenhagen and Cancun – a miracle? A flawed system has left us with a failed outcome. We are told to be grateful because by 2020 we will have a legal agreement to reduce CO2 emissions. Well, I am not grateful. How can I be? This agreement is a death sentence for my children. They have been deprived of a future and of hope. Those that agreed the legal agreement did not even think through the obvious question of who will enforce any climate change law and how it will be done.
To put this failure into perspective, atmospheric CO2 is at 392 ppm. This is far above the 350 ppm safe limit and the rate of increase is increasing. By 2030, atmospheric CO2 will exceed 450 ppm. When this happens a slide towards runaway climate change is guaranteed. Not even bugs and bacteria will escape this planetary disaster.
By continuing to expand carbon intensive industries and infrastructure, we are setting the mechanisms in place to ensure in the next 20 years the same amount of CO2 will be added into the atmosphere as we have added since the start of the industrial revolution. As a result of our collective stupidity atmospheric CO2 will not just increase, it will explode. This is what the economic growth means that our politicians vie with each other to deliver and are egged on by the pundits in the press.
Our atmospheric CO2 levels are already far above any level that we have seen for the past 500,000 years. No past precedent exists to suggest that the planet can return to stability. What we are witnessing today is not a cycle. It is step change.
The blunt reality is that we do not have another eight years to play with. We need to reduce CO2 emissions today and get them down to zero as quickly as possible. Even a heroic achievement of this scale may not allow us to escape dangerous climate change. We will rise to this challenge only if we understand exactly what it means. That understanding means escape from the ridiculous notion a zero carbon economy can be done entirely with renewable energy and our existing economic and philosophical systems do not need to change. Those that peddle these lies are every bit as malevolent as the big carbon companies that manipulate governments and international climate change agreements.
Like it or not, despite huge investment in renewable energy across the world, it still only accounts for a small percentage of total energy consumption. Worse, despite all this effort, dirty coal has remained the fastest growing new energy source, meeting 47% of all new electricity demand. Coal is the energy source of today and unless there are drastic policy changes, it will be the energy source of tomorrow. Its advocates in industry and government ameliorate their guilt with talk of clean coal and carbon capture and storage. A gullible population easily falls for this. They are not told basic laws of thermodynamics make the idea of carbon capture and storage a non-starter. It takes so much energy to extract the carbon, compress it and then mine and transport the additional coal needed to run the process it barely passes the basic test of viability.
Our inability to transition to a truly zero carbon economy means the economic growth our politicians demand will drive greater demand of fossil fuels. Our politicians are targeting economic growth of 3% per annum. At this rate the economy doubles in 24 years. Most seriously, in the doubling period the economy will consume the same amount of energy as it has consumed since man first crawled out the caves at the end of Stone Age. It will also produce the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The energy needed for this economic growth come from increasingly dirty and dangerous sources such as Canadian Tar sands, which further accelerates the growth of CO2 emissions.
If the fantasy world did materialise were all today’s energy was created by renewables, the price of oil would go down and people would find to new ways of burning it. There would simply be more luxury cruises liners, more excess plane travel, more cars on the road and more of every other thing that can be used to wastefully burn oil. This is a function of the market economy and its fundamental flaw. The inescapable fact is the top 5% of our society produce 30% of emissions. By contrast, the bottom 20% produce only 3% of emissions. Quite simply, lack of money restricts the pollution you create and the excess wealth we glorify can only be spent with further pollution.
Worse of all, the emissions from a few excess and irresponsible consumers negate the efforts of thousands of people who cut their emissions. The maths behind it is simple. There is a strict limit of zero below which you cannot reduce your emissions any further. The frugal and energy responsible people will have already reduced their emissions to a couple of tonnes of CO2 per year. Beyond this point further reductions are incredibly hard to achieve. Because of this, it takes hundreds of people making huge sacrifices to their lifestyle to offset the damage from a few people making regular use of private jets or taking repeated first class flights to Australia.
If we are to be serious about climate change, which need to be, we must introduce personal carbon rationing. It is the only thing that will rapidly cut destructive excess consumption and it is the one thing that we can do to bring about an immediate and significant reduction in CO2 emissions that we know will work. Without it, CO2 emissions will never reduce as those who do not care will easily consume the savings made by those that do.
However, the idea of carbon rationing is a big challenge to all. It is a challenge to aspirational people at the bottom of the income scale as it says to them that they can never be rich. It is a much bigger threat to those elites that control the power centres of our economy. They will be forced to live like the rest of society and thereby make the biggest sacrifices of all. They will do all in their power to stop this.
But let us pretend that we did not to pursue the idea of carbon rationing. Then what? We would continue with our existing system based on exploitation of planetary resources and unrestricted rights to pollute. A key aspect of the current system is the reward for success is the right to pollute further. So if someone works hard or shows ingenuity and makes money, they are allowed to take an allocation of planetary resources and pollute some time in the future at a time and place of their choosing. That allocation of future rights to pollute is essentially what money is. All financial transactions fundamentally relate to the amount of energy associated either directly or indirectly with the goods or service provided.
The additional problem is that money is introduced into our society through a debt based financial system. This means when a bank lends money, only a small percentage of the amount lent needs to be held on deposit by the bank. The rest is conjured up from thin air and lent on the basis that the borrower commits to paying the interest.
This system works so long as the economy is growing to pay the interest that compounds on loans after loan. This has been a perfectly acceptable paradigm since the industrial revolution, but it is doomed to failure as growth is no longer possible. We are have simultaneously run out of staple resources such as oil and food and we have already collapsed our environment. The very things we have destroyed are the things economic growth depends on.
The amount of money the banks hold on deposit is so small, that an economic contraction of little more than 3% is all that is needed to wipe out their collateral. This will collapse both our banks and our financial system. A fate governments around the world are forced to do everything within their power to avoid, but the inevitable cannot be avoided.
Those who are weak and struggle at the bottom will be the first to be sacrificed. By contrast, those at the top will manipulate the laws and commerce systems to ensure they preserve their wealth and position. The gulf between these groups will grow. The examples are endless. In the weeks prior to the UK inner city riots, the local community centres and youth clubs were closed in inner cities, yet the UK government awarded a £30m grant to Augusta Westland to develop a new a generation of executive helicopters. To cope with tightening government finances, students have to pay increased tuition fees when the city elite enjoys the benefits of expanded operations at Farnborough Airport to allow them to commute in their private jets from their European tax exiles. At the COP climate change talks, the wealthy nations subvert the process to protect their interests despite the growing death toll from climate change in poverty stricken countries.
The situation is analogous to the Titanic. When it hit the iceberg, those in the lower classes were locked below decks to drown, while those in the upper classes used the privilege of their position to get into the lifeboats. The existing system is specifically designed to be just as unfair and our ship is going down. It is the justifiable fear within the lower income classes of being marginalised and having a future devoid of hope that is driving people into the protests movements across the world. It is the same fear fuelling the Arab Spring, the Occupy movements and the new wave of protests in Russia and China, not some love for democracy that many pious Western politicians like to claim. Just as the people in the steerage class of the Titanic knew immediately the ship was going down because they could see the water coming in, then those at the lower income levels know the economy is crashing. Their relative poverty attunes them to the impossibility of survival when basic costs are rising far faster than incomes.
So why don’t we all recognise the incompatibility of our existing system with the reality and embrace a rationing system? It is because we are trapped within the nation-state framework that forces nations to compete with each other. That competition is based on economic and military might and there is a symbiotic relationship between the two.
The nation state concept became a fully established concept in the 1815 Treaty of Vienna. The concept was simple. The world would be split into blocks called nations. The nations would grow their economies and populations. Each nation would govern itself and protect itself from threat by other nations using wealth from their economies to raise armies. Each nation-state would introduce its own finance system to distribute resources and raise taxation to fund their armies.
The problem came when nations chose to industrialise. Very quickly, the nation-states grew to the point where they needed to secure resources from beyond their own borders to continue growing. When critical resources had to be secured from beyond the borders security diminished. Other growing nation states also had desires to the same critical resources. For the UK, this meant exploiting its linkages within the Empire and elsewhere in Africa. For Germany, it also meant securing resources in Africa. It also meant competing for markets abroad, in particular for lucrative arms contracts. Economic growth laid the seeds of conflict.
The seeds of conflict sprouted. Both the UK and Germany found themselves locked into a disastrous military and economic race for control of new markets. The epitome of this was the Dreadnought race. Both sides raced each other to build the biggest fleet of super battleships. These were fighting machines far beyond anything that the world had ever seen. Their construction required vast resources and taxation. Not only did Germany and Britain have to race to build the Dreadnoughts, but also they had to race to build their economies to continue the Dreadnought race. This required more resources to be secured from abroad, further destabilising the security of both countries. The end result was a downward spiral into the First World War followed by nearly a century of industrial warfare.
The incredible paradox was that other than Jutland which was inconclusive, the Dreadnoughts played no part in the First World War. They were too valuable to risk. Instead, the war was fought with humans trapped in trenches in the fields of Europe – something far cheaper and more easily replaceable.
This is the crux of the nation state system. It is based on competition and in the long run this is expensive and destructive. In all interstate competitions, be they military or economic, one nation always loses.
As a result of this system we are obliged to secure both our borders, our access to critical resources abroad and our foreign markets. If we do not we are no longer a viable nation state. We are therefore committed to responding to any threat at home or abroad that will impact our viability as a nation state. That threat can be economic or military. Securing our viability as a nation state in a competitive environment becomes more important than cooperating on global security threats.
This mind set continues. In this time of economic crisis, the political and economic pundits across the media explain how we need to up the game to compete for new export markets so we can rebuild our economy and pay our debts. The competition they are advocating will be against other nations states that are in as desperate an economic state and who require the same scarce resources and access to the same markets.
This is what mathematicians call a zero sum game, where the total wealth available to all players is either constant, or in our case going down. This sets a fundamental problem to a powerful player who is going to be weakened – he must strike prematurely to secure resources while he is still strong enough. Failure to do so will result in his destruction. This is the reason we waged war on Iraq in 2003. In the calculus of George Bush and Tony Blair they must have been aware, even if only subconsciously, that if they delayed the war they would not have the economic strength to wage the war as their economies weakened through rising oil prices.
We are therefore forced to ignore our responsibly to collective global threats, the most pressing of which is the threat of climate change. As a measure of this, both the UK National Security review of 2008 and the Centre for Naval Intelligence in the US both concluded that the biggest security threat was climate change.
Despite this escalating existential threat, no state can act rationally and reduce CO2 emissions because of the basic requirement to compete economically and militarily with other nations. It makes the idea of introducing carbon rationing impossible because it would kill the economic growth needed for successful interstate competition.
So we are in a trap. The ultimate manifestation of this trap is the replacement of the Trident submarines, along with the equivalent submarine building programmes in China, Russia, USA, France and now India. They serve no military purpose. All they can do is to destroy the planet in an orgy of suicide. They are a statement of ego – they allow their possessors to say to the rest of the world they are a top nation state and prepared to defend the interests of their nation state by destroying everyone and everything else. It is the antithesis of cooperating on global threats.
Having determined to go down the Trident route, the UK must commit to growing its economy by using competition to secure scarce resources from elsewhere in the planet and causing pollution that will be threaten others. It will do this to the best of its ability. It must do this because to build and operate a Trident submarine force requires two things - resources to build the submarines and resources to grow an economy across which the costs can be amortised through taxation.
To put it in perspective, the Trident programme will cost the UK government at least £100bn. This will require at least £250bn of additional economic activity across which taxes can be raised. These sums can only be raised in a debt based and expansive economy.
Resources to grow this economy are secured by force across the world. This has been done through declared wars such as with Iraq that was fought with illegal depleted uranium munitions leaving the cradle of civilisation an uninhabitable radioactive wasteland. It is also done with undeclared wars such as illegal land grabs in the developing world to secure land for food and biofuel. This has displaced millions and killed untold numbers. Other big corporations such as Shell have also waged war on our behalf through the destruction of the Niger delta and ordering the execution of anyone who stands in the way such as Ken Saro-Wiwa.
In parallel with this orgy of declared and undeclared wars the increased consumption we need to raise taxes belches CO2 into the atmosphere. This makes it impossible to agree climate change agreements.
Our collective fear of failure within the nation state competitive arena creates an environment in which it is impossible to agree to the mutual sacrifices to tackle climate change. It is leading us to planetary disaster.
So now we must turn our attention to how we break this cycle of destruction. If we fail the disaster of the Dreadnought races will be repeated. The resource and taxation necessary for Trident submarines systems will cause continued war but the Tridents may not be used in any war, nor be able to influence any outcomes. To break this cycle we must rethink how war is conducted.
We are accustomed to think of war as being fought between belligerent nation-states as they protect their own interests and protect their people from attack. However, this premise is outdated. The nation states now protect the interests of corporations over the interests of the people that they are meant to represent.
The aviation industry has provided us with a perfect example of this. For many years they have made bogus protestations of virtue about being concerned with climate change and how they want an international agreement. Nothing else would do for them. When an international agreement did eventually come about through the European Carbon Trading scheme, the airlines of China, India, Russia and the United States lobbied their governments to overturn the agreement, which they are currently doing. This is an extraordinary state of affairs. Every one of these countries is nuclear armed and involved in military stand-offs against each other. Every one of these countries has already suffered catastrophic consequence as a result of climate change that has killed many of their citizens. It is the in interests of the people in every one of these counties to agree a cut in carbon emissions. Yet the governments of these countries, which cannot agree on carbon reductions in the Durban COP, can work together in support of the aviation industry’s right to expand the pollution they cause.
The international arms industry is another example. In both the West and Russia, arms fairs are held which have exhibitors from competing nation states. It can be of no benefit to the people in western counties to have companies such as Sukhoi from Russia displaying their bombers and fighters at our Airshows where our enemies come to buy them. However, our government encourages these events and the Fairford Air Tattoo is even given charitable status. What is good for our arms industry is equally good for the Russian arms industry, and the interests of the arms industries superseded the interests of the people. Our defence industry could not justify itself if Russian companies did not oblige by coming to our shows to terrify us into agreeing to continue arms spending. The Trident replacement decision works on the same balance of fear. The only beneficiaries are the submarine building companies. These companies continue their symbiotic relationship by working together across the borders of nation-states to continue building new submarines and lobbying governments for necessary funding.
What the arms industry and aviation industry have in common is that competing companies within these industries cooperate to force nation-states to operate against the long-term interests of their people. They do this using modern global communication systems and their economic power to pursue their interests at the expense of all others. The same applies to many other industries such as the oil and auto-mobile industries. The only way that they can prosper is to ignore climate change and ensure that the nation-states secure a flow of energy and resources to enable them to continue production. These corporate conglomerations now act as market states, which stand above the nation states and dictate what they can do. To comply with their demands the nation states are no longer able to protect their citizens and they abrogate their the most important responsibility, namely to provide security to their citizens. These corporate conglomerations can loosely be termed as pro-growth market states as the essential objective they must all support is the continuance of economic growth. With out this, they collapse.
In direct competition to the rise of the pro-growth market states with their nation state servants, are the anti-growth market-states. These states are the anti-establishment groups and are focusing around issues such as nuclear disarmament, the environment, climate change and social justice. These have similar characterises to the pro-growth market states. They pursue their own agendas. They have global reach enabled through the communication channels of social media. These new anti-growth market states are now the main opposition to the governments of the existing nation states.
A global clash of pro-growth and anti-growth market states has already started. This is the new face of war. Warfare is no longer segmented vertically with one nation state fighting against another. It is horizontal with different layers of the global society fighting against each other to pursue their interests. We now move from the concept of war against the people to war amongst the people.
This war amongst the people driven by the need for resources for the pro-growth market states and for them to continue to avoid their responsibilities to climate change will fundamentally change the nature of the nation-state. Masses of people are already rising in countries across the world against their governments as they realise that the nation states will not and cannot protect their rights. Democracies and dictatorships are equally at risk. The new warfare that we are seeing is between those organisations committed to the destruction of the planet and those committed to its defence.
This global war between pro-growth and anti-growth market states is not merely a hypothetical wars of ideas. This is war in the true sense of the word were people die in the process, where many more stand to die in the future and were many of those who fight in the anti-market states forces are subject to summary arrest, torture and discrimination.
Battles that have already taken place within this war are the depleted uranium attacks in Iraq; the mass deaths from biofuel related land clearances and the Canadian government deliberately sacrificing future generations by leaving the Kyoto agreement to pursue their tar sands developments. Already an estimated 315,000 people die every year as a result of climate change disasters.
The anti growth market-states can only win this war amongst the people by combining and having a clear and common objective. It is as important for them to be clear about their objectives as it is for any force in a military campaign.
At present they are competing and weakening themselves. The environmentalists claim runaway climate change is the biggest threat to the planet. The anti military nuclear campaigners claim the nuclear war is the biggest threat to mankind. The anti-capitalists in the occupy movements claim the banking crisis is the biggest threat. All three groups compete against each other for attention in the media and the ears of the politicians without realising how tightly intermeshed their arguments are and that one can not be won without simultaneously winning the others.
The battle against climate change cannot be won and social equity cannot be achieved in a declining economy without carbon rationing. A carbon rationing cannot be introduced while most powerful nations on the planet continue to build and operate nuclear arsenals. The nuclear arsenals prevent the mutual sacrifice needed to fight climate change. It is the destruction of this downward spiral that needs to be objective of the forces within the anti-growth market states organisations.
The strength of the arguments of the anti-growth market states increases when they are combined. The most powerful argument against nuclear weapons is that they make climate change agreements impossible as they lock economies into growth when growth is no longer possible. In this respect, they are more dangerous that ever thought. The normal argument against Trident type systems is that they might destroy the planet through nuclear war. This is weak compared to the argument that they will destroy the planet by stopping climate change agreements.
The proposition that climate change agreements can be achieved in the absence of discussions on security and nuclear weapon ownership would be laughably stupid if it were not so tragically destructive. Likewise the proposition that climate change agreements can be achieved without incorporating discussions on fundamental economic reform is equally stupid. This is why COP process fails. Meanwhile the nation states and the pro-growth market states co-operate with each other to oppose any move towards reducing CO2 emissions.
The final objective of the anti-market state forces is to control the nation-state's monopoly of legitimate violence. It is this that allows the enforcement of law and introduction of new laws. In our growth-based economy, the monopoly of violence is used to support the rights of the most destructive industries and excessive consumers to continue polluting in defiance of climate change agreements.
If this is achieved it will be ultimate statement of success. Without it, it is not possible for nation-states to enforce legally binding agreements to cut CO2. Simple scenarios demonstrate the fallacy of ignoring this truth. If Canada withdraws from future climate change agreements as it has done with the Kyoto agreements, would America as the self-styled world's policeman invade and close down the Tar Sands operations? Totally improbable. If China continues to operate its coal fired powered stations to provide the goods and capital Europe needs, would the EU take action to have them shut down? Totally improbable.
So now we come to possible scenarios for the end game. There are only three.
The first scenario is the “current strategy.” This is the strategy the nation states are currently pursuing. It is the outcome we get if the pro-growth market states are allowed to dominate. They will lead the nation-states into protracted resource wars, climate collapse and economic collapse. The horrifying scenario emerges where the last people alive on the planet are the crews on the Trident submarines as they cruise silently through lifeless oceans pointing their missiles at vacant cities. The replacement Trident submarines will only be half way through their operational life in 2050 when the planet will no longer be habitable. Trident submarines become the modern day equivalent of the Easter Island Statues.
The second scenario is the “accidental strategy.” This is where the actions of the pro-growth market states cause full-scale industrial war to break out resulting in nuclear exchange on all sides. In the near future, with food, water and energy increasingly scarce and with critical weapons systems made vulnerable due to the technical advances of their adversaries the risk of an accident nuclear exchange massively increases. This risk increases as it becomes in each nation-states interest to launch a premature strike through the dynamics of a zero sum economy.
The third scenario is “survival strategy.” This is where the anti-growth market states dominate and implement an economic model based on survival rather than growth. Just as the First World War warns us about the danger of headlong competition and arms races, it also provides inspiration for this scenario. In the midst of battle and surrounded by the death, when it came to Christmas the most extraordinary truce occurred when the soldiers of the British and German forces put down weapons and met in the middle of no-mans land to play football and share their love for each other. The Christmas truce was the first time that the anti-growth market states co-operated internationally against the power of the pro-growth market states. Unfortunately they did not have the tools that are available today to continue their action.
There are no easy solutions to difficult problems.