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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Why the COP #21 will fail - among other reasons.

In a few days’ time the COP #21 climate change talks will start and in a few weeks’ time they will fail again.

They will fail not because of lack of ambition or lack of technology or anything else that we are told that is all that is needed to make them a success.  Instead they will fail because none of our global leaders want to tackle the underlying problems and no one wants to vote for leaders that might.

Firstly, as I have argued for many years, the cooperation needed on climate change is impossible when nations are on a permanent war footing with each other. This is exemplified with the nuclear weapons standoffs and the enormous military industrial complexes and expanding economies that these need.

Secondly, and closely allied to this is the extraordinary transfer of wealth to the elites which is squandered on lavish lifestyles

None of the global leaders, who are representing their voters at the COP, seem to have cottoned onto the idea that the nations with nuclear weapons are generally the ones with the highest disparities been rich and poor.

There are basic reasons these two issues go hand in hand. To maintain a military industrial complex, fuel must be available. To ensure it is available, it is subsidised by the tax payers.  This leads to the unintended consequence that those who consume to excess have their energy subsidised and those who struggle to make ends meet are pushed deeper into debt to pay for this.  The other reason is that nations must maintain an economic and technological competitive advantage over their rivals. This forces the implementation of policies that favour industrialisation rather than environmental and human protection.  This also has the unintended consequence of benefiting the elites of society and penalising the poorest.

This competitive dynamic creates its own trends which will always drive the total income available to the poorest down and the total income available to the richest up.  In the zero sum world that we find ourselves in today, this means life become intolerably harder for the bottom quartile.

The following graph is calculated from the US Census data (table A1) and illustrates the consistency of these trends. Its basis is a conservative estimate that the maximum household income back in 1967 when the data collection started was $600k per annum and it has increased to $10,000k today.  A quick reading from the Forbes Rich list shows how conservative this is, but it serves for our illustration.

It shows the share of income to the poorest 40% has gone down consistently and is now about 5% of the total national income. By contrast,  the richest 5% of society have seen their share of the national income rise to about 65% of the total. Almost nothing affects this; certainly not the choice of government the masses make. This transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest simply transcends everything else.

While this is based on US data, simply because US data is the most available, the same dynamic will apply to every other major industrial nation. By inference, it also extends to the wider global economy. 

This enormous concentration of wealth in the hands of the wealth is simply squandered on luxury toys such as ships, planes and houses. It quickly negates every bit of effort from the rest of the world to cut emissions.  It can only be stopped by strict personal limits being imposed on individual consumption, something that no political party has ever campaigned for. 

Without tackling the powerful high polluting elites, meaningful climate change agreements cannot happen. Given that we still can’t even get rid of their tax exiles, there is not much hope of this. It is highly dispiriting for those that try so hard to cut their own emissions and hope against the odds for something positive to come out of these talks. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Combating Terrorism

It's great to see Russia, France and US standing together against ISIS and jointly bombing them. It even looks like Britain is getting ready to step off its high moral soap box and join in the fray against this international scourge.

I hope  this new found co-operation will now extend to tackling that other class of far more dangerous terrorist - the uber-rich individuals. Their outrageously high carbon footprints that are the inevitable result of their excess consumption undoes in minutes the efforts and sacrifices millions of others are made to suffer. 

This small group is pushing billions over the climate change cliff making the few thousand that ISIS kills appear like small fry.  The uber-rich will of course use their wealth to ensure that they will be the last to go over, in the same way that ISIS leaders will be the last of their suicidal organisation to go.

But there are many other similarities between these two groups. 

Just as ISIS numbers have increased in recent years, then so have the numbers of uber-rich. Not only are there more uber-rich, but individually they also are massively wealthier. The huge proportion of global resources that this small elite lavish on luxury means that in our zero sum world the poverty stricken are deprived of the basics for survival and the resulting chaos is the perfect breeding ground for ISIS.

Just as ISIS have found sanctuary in the myriad of failed states around the world that climate change and resources wars have caused, then the uber-rich find sanctuary in the myriad of tax havens that the richest governments provide protection for.

Just as ISIS derives its wealth from the illegal sale of oil and through donations  from various Middle Eastern oil producers, then the uber-rich  survive on the illegal trillion dollar global annual subsidy for the fossil fuel industries that the world's tax payers must endure.  Without this, their energy intensive lifestyles would be impossible to sustain and they would be unable to relax in their tax exiles. 

So while we wait in vain to see the black and white images on our television screens of a precision bomb's cross hairs blasting apart a luxury pad in Monte Carlo or sinking a mega yacht in the Mediterranean that was belching thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, then we should at least start naming some names. 

A banker who did so well out of the financial crash by lying and cheating such as Bradley Wickens of Spinnaker Capital might be a good start, followed by some oil sheiks such as the House of Saud who have worked to stop climate change agreements. 

The economic imbalance these people cause is fundamental to the success of ISIS and other terror groups and fundamental to stopping climate change agreements. Unfortunately, changing government will not do any good, irrespective of doing this through the ballot box or through bullets. The only thing that will help is getting rid of the uber-rich.  So, feel free to add more names in the comments section below. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Able Archer and the near accidental destruction of planet Earth

This recently declassified report on the 1983 Able Archer military exercise is a must read for anyone with an interest in nuclear weapons or in staying alive.

If it were not so deadly serious, much of the report could have come from a comedy show. 

It concerns the near destruction of planet Earth in 1983 through an accidental nuclear war being caused by the Soviet's misinterpreting the annual announced Able Archer military exercise as a cover for the real thing.

The exercise was conducted against a background of escalating military tension between the US and the Soviet Union. In 1980 Ronald Reagan had come to power on a policy that the best way to ensure US security was to build military dominance rather than accept treaty restrictions such as d├ętente (by the way he was also warned that the Earth had only 40 years to go before imploding from climate change but decided the need to be able to destroy it first was more important - but that's another story).
Reagan's strategy built up on the first strike capability that the US had started to amass in the 1970s. A principle component of this was the new Trident missile system. Unlike its Polaris predecessor, it could rain down thousands of mega tonne nuclear warheads precisely on Russian military installations in little more than five minutes, rather than just a couple of hundred on Russian cities over 10 minutes. Make no mistake, first strike was what Trident was about then and what Trident is about today. Though it is also a second strike weapon of last resort, that is not its principle purpose, despite what the politicians might like to say.

Bob Aldridge - ex-Trident Missile Designer, responsible for re-entry vehicles.

The Soviets responded to Trident with a first strike weapon of their own, the SS20 missile system. Its 10 minute flight time meant it could destroy NATO forces in Europe and the rest of Europe within 10 minutes.

So the Americans responded to the SS20 by deploying the Pershing II missile system in Germany with a flight time of 5 minutes. This terrified the Soviets. They had a much stricter chain of nuclear command requiring the President and the Minister to Defense to jointly issue the command to fire. Given that Soviet presidents at this time were continually bed ridden, there was little chance the command to fire could be made within the warning time of a Pershing missile being fired from West Germany and hitting Moscow. Pershing and Trident together gave the US the ability to destroy much of the Soviet nuclear forces in a pre-emptive attack. This became an issue of indescribable panic to the Soviets, especially when Reagan had just branded them as the evil empire and made his famous joke that he was about to start bombing within an hour, thinking his microphone was switched off. 

Now for a funny bit - Footnote 15, page 39 of the report says the Pershing missiles did not have the range to reach Moscow. Moscow need not have panicked after all.

To try and get a measure of the risk they faced, the Soviets built a massive computer system (VRYAN) requiring a team of 200 people to operate. Despite its immense cost, it probably used at best a bunch of nebulous measurements and algorithms. Like many computer models, it took garbage in, mixed it around and what came out was considered gospel. Its output was a quantitative measurement of the US military and economic advantage over the Soviet Union. The US was given a benchmark score of 100 and if the Soviet Union's comparison measurement fell below 40, they would conclude that the situation they faced was untenable and so would automatically launch a first strike against the US and Europe.

Now for a not so funny bit; when it was first run it scored the Soviets at 45, just 5 points above the threshold to strike pre-emptively. Almost without doubt, one of the things that would have factored into these calculations was their false perceptions of the Pershing II missiles and their general first strike disadvantage against Trident. Pershing and Trident together, were creating exactly the environment they were supposed to prevent.

So when the Able Archer exercise came along and assisted by the VRYAN programme, the Soviets made all the logical assumptions that in hindsight the US military should have expected.  The result of those apparently logical assumptions was that the US was about to instigate a first strike, and consequently the Soviets should get theirs in first. 

As for those assumptions that so nearly tipped the world in nuclear Armageddon; the Soviets had been preparing their own first strike strategy for years, despite claiming at the time that they weren't, so they expected the US to be doing the same. The US had after all had developed a massive lead in first strike capability and with the introduction of Trident were about to leave the Soviet Union even further behind, so why would Soviets not come to the conclusion of an imminent attack? The Soviets war plan had always been that they would prepare for a first strike under the cover of a military exercise,  so when NATO organised a mass exercise from the Arctic Circle to Turkey, involving  B52 bombers and the roll out of dummy nuclear warheads, what were they supposed to think?

The Soviets did the only thing that was logical to them. They loaded their nuclear weapons and forward deployed their fighters, bombers and submarines and prepared to make a first strike. Their leaders having convinced themselves that war was inevitable decided to get the first strike in.  
News of the strange (and highly dangerous) Soviet behaviour started to reach US commanders. Fortunately they were so badly trained they did not understand what was happening and missed the significance. Purely as a result of their shear incompetence they did not respond. Their unintentional delay gave the Soviets time to pause and step back from launching a first strike nuclear attack on an unprepared NATO and Western Europe.

I guess you can call this one of the funny bits.

Probably what is not so funny is that all the issues this report covers still exist today. Yet, there are more nuclear armed states and all operate first strike attack strategies supported by various stealth technologies. They all face a common mode threat of climate change, yet it does not seem that any of the lessons have been learnt.