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Monday, December 29, 2014

Festive greeting to MPs in the lead to the General election

Dear MP,  
Wishing you all a happy new year.  
The festivities and consumerism of this time of year make it difficult to appreciate the destruction we face from runway climate change and easy to forget the increasing danger posed by nuclear weapons. I guess this is why it is increasingly encouraged year after year.
You will already have had two emails from me which link our inability to address climate change with our decision to proceed with Trident. The first explained the super exponential growth of atmospheric CO2 means we are left with only a couple of years to move to the zero carbon economy needed to avoid the worst nightmares of climate change and that when we hit the critical tipping points the rapidly accelerating trend will drive us deep into the danger zone. The second, as an open email to Ed Davies, explained that the pursuit of Trident locks us into an industrial race that makes climate change agreements impossible.
I have received many replies to which I am grateful. A common point made in these was that  strict parliamentary protocol prevents MPs other than my own from taking action on my behalf.  However, emails on this matter to my MP (Geoffrey Clifton Brown) remain unanswered.  This is hardly surprising from a man who said in a hustings debate, with the dismissive arrogance that only an Etonian millionaire can mange, that there is nothing wrong with having more millionaires in the cabinet than women.
My inability to get representation contrasts sharply to the access that corporations committed to ecological destruction have to the levers of power. It illustrates a fundamental limitation to our democratic system and an inversion of processes - those of us that vote have no influence on critical policy and those corporations that don't vote do. 
The many replies reflected a range of views to which I am grateful. At one extreme David Davies (Monmouth) from the Conservatives claimed that the climate has not changed for the last 17 years. Perhaps as a keen amateur boxer, his brains have been too bashed out to see the obvious, or perhaps he is just more honest in his denial than those who pretend to do something, yet do nothing  At the other extreme where receptive MPs from all parties.
In my previous emails, I advocated that nuclear weapons and climate change talks must be integrated. In my book I have demonstrated that unless this is done, then the chance of success in either is less than finding a single atom at random from all the atoms that make our planet. The extraordinary collapse in the price of oil driven by the economic warfare Saudi Arabia is waging on Iran as a result of the nuclear weapons stand off and abetted by American actions to do the same to Russia has validated this more brutally than all the detractors could have imagined. It makes the failure of the Lima COP talks even more stark and keeps the chance of a worthwhile agreement in Paris at absolute zero. The result being a world about to embark on a last binge of cheap fossil fuel consumption as the ice cap collapses and methane belches from the Arctic.
The unavoidable reality is that the nuclear weapons standoffs around the world are making any chance of controlling the decent into the chaos of runaway climate change impossible. The extraordinary events of the last weeks make it more important than ever for us to recongnise the linkage between the decision we make on nuclear weapons and our failure to address climate change. Instead, we are increasingly being left with the question of how many more festive seasons there will be left to enjoy. 
Perhaps in the spirit of direct democracy that the independence vote in Scotland demonstrated and the EU referendum that the Conservatives promise, the decision to proceed with nuclear weapon deployments in the face of runaway climate change can be put to the people if the election result does not cause its abandonment. The nature of the UK political environment uniquely allows this debate and politicians should not squander the opportunity it provides.
Kevin Lister

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The cost of the illusion and can we avoid a slide to a totalitarian state.

Talk given on 12th Dec at Swindon, click here or here

As the cost of climate change mounts can we avoid a totalitarian state?

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

2nd email to all MPs linking climate change and nuclear weapons

The following email has been send to Ed Davey, climate change secretary and copied to all other MPs. At the time of writing, Ed Davey is attending the COP talks in Lima as the prognosis for climate change continues to exceed the worst case scenarios by increasingly severe margins:

Attn: Mr Edward Davey MP Climate Change secretary 

Dear Mr Davey,  

I recently circulated an email to all MPs questioning the logic of pursuing a nuclear deterrent when the overwhelming evidence is that a complete and devastating economic collapse will occur during its operational life time due to the combined effects of climate change and energy shortages. In fact, the financial constraints that the government is now having to manage and which are evident in the Autumn Spending  statement are indicative that the economic collapse has already started.

My email highlighted that by pursuing Trident, it makes agreement on climate change impossible due to the massive military industrial complex that must be kept operational and which can only be funded by an expanding economy. Both of these reinforce competitive engagement between nations at a time when co-operation is desperately needed. It therefore extinguishes any slight hope we may have.

MPs from all parties responded. However, with the exception of the smaller parties, few responses demonstrated any acknowledgment of the extreme danger that climate change is likely to cause in the very near future (i.e. within 10 years).  Indeed, the Labour Party front bench said in its response that climate change and nuclear weapons were separate issues and back benchers from from the governing coalition continued to virtually dismiss climate change as a serious issue. This is demonstrating the old adage that if it is easier to avoid taking hard action than facing it, this is what will be done, irrespective of the evidence.

In your interview in the Telegraph, you have admitted that any agreement in the Lima COP talks is unlikely to be adequate to stop the global temperature rising above 2 deg C and that we have only one year to take action to save the planet. In this case, if you stay silent you are contributing to the writing of our suicide note.

You have no choice. If you are serious about climate change and Britain playing a full role in developing a global agreement to give life on this planet just the slightest hope of survival, then you must link climate change and nuclear weapons talks together at the highest level.

This email will be copied to all MPs

Kevin Lister

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Talk in Swindon, 12th December

This Friday, 12th December, from 7.40pm at the Friends Meeting House, Kevin Lister will be speaking on “The Cost of the Illusion” and positing the further question - can we avoid a decent into a totalitarian state.
The talk comes at an apposite time. It is shortly after the government’s autumn spending statement and the climate change talks in Peru.

In the spending statement, the government has revealed the many stark conflicting messages that it must manage.  The Chancellor claims that GDP has increased, yet tax receipts are down, wages are down and the budget deficit is worse than expected. But, we are told not to worry because it will be okay be 2018.

The talk will explain why these contradictions in financial policy exist and that things will definitely not be okay in 2018. In fact, the opposite is true; things will be an awful lot worse driven by the economic impacts from climate change. However just as the Chancellor does not want to acknowledge these drivers, nor do the organisers of the UN climate change conference.

The result is that an illusion of affordability is created, which is masking a dangerous drift towards a new form of totalitarianism. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Response from the Labour Party Front Bench on climate change & Trident

Dear Mr Lister,

Thank you for your email regarding the threat of climate change, and Labour’s policy on Trident.

Labour is committed ensuring that, domestically and globally, Britain plays a leading role in fighting climate change. The next Labour government will pursue an ambitious a ten year plan to make Britain a world-leader in green technology.

Climate change is real, man-made and happening, and tackling it is one of the greatest challenges facing Britain and the world today. All of the forecasts say that over the coming years and decades, we are looking at more extreme weather, with more severe droughts, and more severe flooding.

The last Labour government led the world with our Climate Change Act, committing the UK to legally binding emissions reduction targets, building consensus around action at home and abroad. Britain’s new technology and energy industries put us at the cutting edge of innovation in exciting new technologies like carbon capture and storage, offshore wind and tidal energy. But our competitive edge is being eroded under David Cameron’s Government. Since 2010, investment in large clean energy projects has fallen and we are investing less than half the amount we need to each year to meet our emissions targets.

Despite David Cameron’s promise that his would be the ‘greenest government ever’, he has prioritised shale gas while deterring investment in low-carbon energy; shackled the Green Investment Bank by denying it borrowing powers; weakened the Energy Companies Obligation (ECO) on energy efficiency; and appointed a climate change sceptic as Environment Secretary.

The Tories believe there is a trade-off between protecting British jobs and tackling climate change, but they are wrong. The global market for green technology is currently worth £3.4 trillion a year and growing, and countries that move first will become world leaders.

Labour is committed to ensuring the UK wins the race to create and sell solutions which enable the transition to a low carbon global economy, creating one million additional high technology jobs by 2025. That means making Britain the most attractive place in the world to invest in low-carbon technologies, by setting a legal target to remove the carbon from our electricity supply by 2030 and developing an active industrial strategy for the green economy. We will unshackle the Green Investment Bank and give it borrowing powers so it can invest in the technologies and industries of the future.

Our plan is to adapt our homes, businesses and infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions and build resilience to the effects of climate change. So we will insulate 5 million homes over the next ten years, reducing households’ energy bills, making homes warmer and cutting carbon emissions. To do this, we will devolve the delivery of energy efficiency to city-regions, local authorities and communities. And to improve our resilience, we are looking at how we can prioritise upfront investment such as flood protection.

Climate change is a global issue that requires global action. By providing international leadership, through the EU and globally, the UK can help to ensure an effective and enforceable agreement to cut global carbon emissions is in effect by 2020. So Labour will support an ambitious, legally-binding international agreement on climate change at the Paris Conference in 2015.

If you would like to share your ideas to reduce carbon emissions, build our resilience to climate change and seize the opportunities that green technologies present, please make a submission to our Living Standards and Sustainability Policy Commission.

Regarding the separate issue of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent, the Labour Party believes in working toward a world free of nuclear weapons. That’s why, in government, we reduced the number of deployed missiles and warheads on British Vanguard submarines, and took a lead internationally on global anti-proliferation. A Labour government would work with the United States and other allies for multilateral disarmament, and to advance the objective of ‘Global Zero’. The non-proliferation conference in 2015 will be a key moment to make progress on global disarmament and anti-proliferation, and we want to make the most of this opportunity.

The nuclear deterrent is an issue which evokes passionate views on all sides, but we believe that now is not the time for unilateralism. As long as we live in an uncertain world in which other nations possess nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation remains a deep concern, it is right that the UK retains its own deterrent, while seeking multilateral commitments to disarmament and anti-proliferation.

Labour has said that we are committed to the minimum credible independent nuclear deterrent, which we believe is best delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent. It would require a substantial body of evidence for us to change that belief, and the Government’s recent Trident Alternatives Review does not appear to offer such evidence. We will continue to look at ways in which that minimal credible deterrent can be delivered most efficiently and with the greatest cost effectiveness.

The nuclear deterrent was discussed by Labour’s National Policy Forum last year, and also by our Britain’s Global Role Policy Commission. It is an important issue which will continue to be discussed through the Labour Party's policy making structures.

With kind regards,

On behalf of the Labour Party

Thursday, October 30, 2014

1st Letter sent to all MPs in the lead up to the General Election

The dangerous link between climate change and Trident

Dear MP,

In six months the country will be going to the polls facing the two most contentious decisions in human history -  what to do about climate change and what to do about nuclear weapons.  The decisions made will affect the rest of the planet forever. However, these will probably hardly feature in the debates because discussion of these topics is too awful.

The consensus of scientific opinion is that levels of CO2 have reached such dangerous levels that feedback loops are being activated which are leading to additional CO2 and other greenhouses gases such as methane being added to the atmosphere. This is now well know and supported by overwhelming evidence.

The Keeling Curve is the best measure of our failure to deal with the crisis.

The following graph shows the 12 month moving average of the Keeling data. By drawing a line from the first to last point the convexity of the curve is evident. It shows the rate of growth steadily increasing over the measurement period and continuing to do so today.

With this trend, simple maths shows we will reach the 450 ppm level in about 10 years. It gives us far less time to take the urgent actions than we are generally led to believe. The curve also warns that when we hit 450 ppm we will be on an accelerating curve and CO2 will explosively burst through this limit.  After this, the worst nightmares of runaway climate change are impossible to avoid.

Already the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse is underway and the Greenland Ice sheet is melting far faster than models suggest. Paleontological records suggest a rapid catastrophic collapse is most likely. This will flood many of our major cities, nuclear power stations, ports and oil refineries in tens of years, not in hundreds. These crises will have to be faced against a background of other climate change driven catastrophes such as droughts and food shortages.

It is into this maelstrom of ecological disaster that the next parliament must make the decision on the Trident replacement. Trident is the ultimate statement in preserving  the business as usual status that is destroying the planet. Its planned operational life extends to 2060, yet the exponential explosion in atmospheric CO2 means society will collapse long before then.

It creates the ultimate illogicality of stretching collapsing societies to the limit by building hugely expensive weapons that will have the capability to destroy the planet long after it has been destroyed through climate change. 

It drives three questions that must be answered before you give your support to Trident, or any other nuclear weapons system, in the next parliament:

  1. Will the intensifying international competition that climate change drives make agreeing on nuclear disarmament impossible in the future?
  2.  Will the ensuing economic collapse make it impossible to guarantee that Trident submarines will be remain safe from accidents or premature launches.
  3.  Will Trident submarines and their missiles become an eternal liability for the survivors of climate change struggling in a dystopian environment?

The motivation to replace Trident is a response to the global instability that the forces of climate change and unconstrained industrialisation are driving. However, this requires a high carbon military industrial complex to be kept permanently operational along with an expanding economy to raise the taxes. This is the antithesis to the responses that we need to tackle climate change.

Trident is thus a stick through the spokes in the wheels of the climate change negotiations. In this context and at this dangerous time, Trident and the nuclear arms race it supports, are far more dangerous than we ever first thought.

I would therefore urge you to be clear in hustings and in your campaign literature leading up to the election, that while the above questions remain unanswered, you will not support the replacement of Trident and in the light of the explosive increase in atmospheric CO2 you will make clear that there can never be a tenable case for Trident.

Kevin Lister

Further References:

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

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 decision 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

Monday, July 07, 2014

Response to BASIC (British American Security Information Council)

Dear Sirs,

The concluding report on Trident has already met with much justified criticism (here and here) so the intent of this email is not to duplicate that which has already been made, but to extend the argument against Trident along an important direction which is avoided by politicians of all political parties in all nuclear weapon states. This relates to the nexus of nuclear weapons and climate change and there is a global silence on this.

To put this in the context of the commissioners report, climate change is only mentioned twice. Their discussion is limited to the statement,  "the effects of climate change and major damage to fragile ecosystems upon which we depend could all exacerbate pressures towards conflict and insecurity." As such the uncertainties of climate change are then used as justification for a Trident replacement. However, this highly superficial consideration of it avoids recognition of the timescales and the impacts that we face as a society, both nationally and globally.

The following three indisputable facts are absent from your consideration, yet they must form the framework for any decision on nuclear weapon deployments.
  1. There is compelling evidence that atmospheric CO2 started increasing super exponentially from 2009. Given this increased rate, we will exceed 450 ppm some time between 2020 and 2030. At this level the worst nightmares of runaway climate change will be impossible to avoid. 
  2. The resulting global heating will be so severe that a total economic collapse will occur long before 2050.
  3. New evidence on the instability of the Antarctic and Greenland Ice sheets suggests that sea level rises well in excess of 20 feet will be experienced before the end of this century. This will wipe out the global economic base that has not already collapsed from severe global heating.  It is a statement of the obvious to say that along with this will go the submarines bases at Faslane and elsewhere in the world.
It is against this background of certain ecological and economic collapse by 2050, that the commissioners report attempts to justify the decision to procure Trident so we can maintain the ability to destroy the planet with nuclear weapons long after we have destroyed it through climate change.

In this context there are three fundamental questions that any democracy should be forced to collectively consider before proceeding with nuclear weapons deployment of any kind, these are:

  1. Will climate change make nuclear disarmament more difficult?
  2. As economies collapse from climate change will nuclear weapon states be able to afford to maintain their weapons systems safe from attack and accident?
  3. On the assumption that nuclear weapons are not used, will they become an eternal liability for the survivors struggling to make ends meet in the new hostile and dystopian environment that climate change will bring?
To some extent your commissioners have answered the first question with their conclusion that the insecurity inherent with climate change makes the case for Trident. However, what they have not acknowledged is that climate change will continue to get much worse as time progress and will do so with increasing rapidity.  By their logic, it means that if  we do not have the courage to seize the slender opportunity in front of us today to rid ourselves of nuclear weapons it will not return in the future.  Time will expose their strategy of  a "glide path towards disarmament" to be little more than a set of complex words designed to sound plausible.

In respect to the second question, all the main economic blocks are already struggling with maintaining energy supplies. This is driving recognition of the fundamental impossibility of maintaining exponential growth in a constrained world. The banking crisis of 2008 warned the global economy was inherently fragile.  

Another similar collapse is inevitable within the lifetime of the next generation of nuclear submarines and there is far less prospect that an economic recovery will be engineered through  increased taxation and quantitative easing. In its aftermath, the things that we take for granted will disappear such as the conventional defence forces necessary to protect the only submarine we will have on patrol and a political system free of extreme right wing tendencies. The confluence of these could lead to an unpredictable set of events that may lead to a premature launch.

To answer the third question above, we need to consider the strategy that the world's nuclear weapons states are collectively, but silently, working towards. This is that the possession of nuclear weapons prevents war, but the planet is destroyed through the collective failure to make climate change agreements.  This "best case" of avoiding nuclear war is the Easter Island scenario where the few survivors of today's civilisation are left to wonder at the scale of the nuclear weapons systems left behind, especially the ballistic submarines, and the inherent madness of the building these in the face of the overwhelming evidence of economic and ecological collapse. The ballistic submarines thus replicate the history of Easter Island, where huge statues were built as statements of hubris and vanity in the face of collapse.  Those that are struggling to survive in a future roasting environment with little food, water or energy will also have to decommission nuclear submarines; a feat that today all the nuclear weapon states are struggling with in much kinder circumstances.

In a circular argument, where climate change forces difficult questions that make it impossible to pursue nuclear weapons, then nuclear weapons also make it impossible to achieve the climate change agreements that we need to avoid the worst nightmares of the future.

The fundamental dilemma all nuclear weapons states face is that to maintain a credible nuclear force, be it a force of one or one thousand nuclear warheads on deployment, a massive military industrial complex must be maintained. As well as building the actual nuclear weapon systems, it must also provide the conventional defence screen consisting of fighter jets, patrols planes, anti-submarine warfare technology etc. In an ultimate irony, the purpose of these becomes to defend the nuclear forces to ensure a second strike can be launched rather than to defend people, because there is no defence against a determined nuclear attack. The military industrial complex that delivers this equipment must be continually feed with new streams of contracts at increasing values otherwise the industrial complex collapses. Thus a key objective in the initial gate document which justified to parliament  the early procurement of material for Trident was that, "We must retain the capability to design, build and support nuclear submarines and meet the commitment for a successor to the Vanguard Class submarines." In other words, we build Tridents to continue building Tridents.

The enormous cost of this needs to be covered by taxes, and for this some £500 billion of additional excess economic activity is needed which requires energy from fossil fuels and is the antithesis of making the urgent cut backs we need to tackle the soaring greenhouse gas overburden.  Thus once the decision is made to proceed with Trident, it becomes impossible to make the climate change agreements to save the planet. In this context Trident is more dangerous than we ever first thought and it is the ultimate Faustian bargain.

Your commissioners have also failed to acknowledge in their report that the public spending that will be needed on Trident must be made at the same times as scarce public funds must be diverted to building a low carbon economy and mitigating the effects of climate change such as flooding and storm damage. This conflict will arise as tax receipts simultaneously drop through energy price rises.

The impossibility of meeting these conflicting challenges is the reason that much of the negotiations at climate change conferences takes place around the positions of the nuclear weapons states and their need to maintain large military industrial complexes and competitive and expanding economies to fund these.

The commissioners report has also failed to recognise the democratic deficit associated with the nuclear weapons. Virtually every opinion poll in the country shows an overwhelming majority is against the decision to replace Trident, yet all the main political parties support replacement, giving the people of this country about as much say in the decision as those in North Korea.  In these circumstances, it is not acceptable that small bands of experts cast judgement on the decision to proceed or not.

On a fundamental issue such as this, where the electorate is denied a say at the ballot box, then in the interests of democracy, it should be made by a referendum subject to public debate where the three main questions above can are debated in the open.

Ultimately our best defence against nuclear attack and nuclear blackmail is to demonstrate the total irrationality of pursuing these weapon systems in the face of economic and ecological collapse and to ensure that the subsequent debate is heard throughout the world. Instead, we have done the opposite and kept quiet on this painful issue, thus giving the green light for other nations to develop their nuclear arsenals in response.
As part of this new dialogue, we should be prepared to call the bluff of potential enemies. The government of Russia are as aware as us that the use nuclear weapons on any significant scale would be suicidal through either radioactive fall out, nuclear winter or economic collapse.

The alternative is to what we are doing. It is to build at huge expense a nuclear force whilst the nation is effectively bankrupt that will never provide secure protection from nuclear attack and merely encourage our competitors to reciprocate. It drives a race to the bottom where rational decisions on climate change can never taken.

This is of such importance, that a full public debate must be held, instead of the silence that is largely surrounding this issue today. I would challenge any member of BASIC's commission who has concluded we must pursue the Trident replacement to a public debate, and I am sure many people better than me would also be willing.

Yours sincerely,
Kevin Lister BSc, MBA, MSc

(Contributing author to "The World in Chains"  ISBN number:978-1-910021-03-3, Luath Press)