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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)