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Saturday, December 17, 2011

How to stop climate change and how to fight future war

So the Durban COP result is another fudge. The biggest surprise is that we are still surprised. What did we expect after the monumental failures of Bali, Copenhagen and Cancun – a miracle? A flawed system has left us with a failed outcome. We are told to be grateful because by 2020 we will have a legal agreement to reduce CO2 emissions.  Well, I am not grateful. How can I be? This agreement is a death sentence for my children. They have been deprived of a future and of hope. Those that agreed the legal agreement did not even think through the obvious question of who will enforce any climate change law and how it will be done.

To put this failure into perspective, atmospheric CO2 is at 392 ppm. This is far above the 350 ppm safe limit and the rate of increase is increasing. By 2030, atmospheric CO2 will exceed 450 ppm. When this happens a slide towards runaway climate change is guaranteed.  Not even bugs and bacteria will escape this planetary disaster.

By continuing to expand carbon intensive industries and infrastructure, we are setting the mechanisms in place to ensure in the next 20 years the same amount of CO2 will be added into the atmosphere as we have added since the start of the industrial revolution. As a result of our collective stupidity atmospheric CO2 will not just increase, it will explode. This is what the economic growth means that our politicians vie with each other to deliver and are egged on by the pundits in the press.

Our atmospheric CO2 levels are already far above any level that we have seen for the past 500,000 years. No past precedent exists to suggest that the planet can return to stability. What we are witnessing today is not a cycle. It is step change.

The blunt reality is that we do not have another eight years to play with. We need to reduce CO2 emissions today and get them down to zero as quickly as possible.  Even a heroic achievement of this scale may not allow us to escape dangerous climate change. We will rise to this challenge only if we understand exactly what it means. That understanding means escape from the ridiculous notion a zero carbon economy can be done entirely with renewable energy and our existing economic and philosophical systems do not need to change. Those that peddle these lies are every bit as malevolent as the big carbon companies that manipulate governments and international climate change agreements.

Like it or not, despite huge investment in renewable energy across the world, it still only accounts for a small percentage of total energy consumption. Worse, despite all this effort, dirty coal has remained the fastest growing new energy source, meeting 47% of all new electricity demand. Coal is the energy source of today and unless there are drastic policy changes, it will be the energy source of tomorrow. Its advocates in industry and government ameliorate their guilt with talk of clean coal and carbon capture and storage. A gullible population easily falls for this. They are not told basic laws of thermodynamics make the idea of carbon capture and storage a non-starter. It takes so much energy to extract the carbon, compress it and then mine and transport the additional coal needed to run the process it barely passes the basic test of viability.

Our inability to transition to a truly zero carbon economy means the economic growth our politicians demand will drive greater demand of fossil fuels. Our politicians are targeting economic growth of 3% per annum. At this rate the economy doubles in 24 years. Most seriously, in the doubling period the economy will consume the same amount of energy as it has consumed since man first crawled out the caves at the end of Stone Age. It will also produce the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions.  The energy needed for this economic growth come from increasingly dirty and dangerous sources such as Canadian Tar sands, which further accelerates the growth of CO2 emissions.

If the fantasy world did materialise were all today’s energy was created by renewables, the price of oil would go down and people would find to new ways of burning it. There would simply be more luxury cruises liners, more excess plane travel, more cars on the road and more of every other thing that can be used to wastefully burn oil.  This is a function of the market economy and its fundamental flaw. The inescapable fact is the top 5% of our society produce 30% of emissions. By contrast, the bottom 20% produce only 3% of emissions. Quite simply, lack of money restricts the pollution you create and the excess wealth we glorify can only be spent with further pollution.

Worse of all, the emissions from a few excess and irresponsible consumers negate the efforts of thousands of people who cut their emissions. The maths behind it is simple. There is a strict limit of zero below which you cannot reduce your emissions any further. The frugal and energy responsible people will have already reduced their emissions to a couple of tonnes of CO2 per year. Beyond this point further reductions are incredibly hard to achieve. Because of this, it takes hundreds of people making huge sacrifices to their lifestyle to offset the damage from a few people making regular use of private jets or taking repeated first class flights to Australia.

If we are to be serious about climate change, which need to be, we must introduce personal carbon rationing. It is the only thing that will rapidly cut destructive excess consumption and it is the one thing that we can do to bring about an immediate and significant reduction in CO2 emissions that we know will work. Without it, CO2 emissions will never reduce as those who do not care will easily consume the savings made by those that do.

However, the idea of carbon rationing is a big challenge to all. It is a challenge to aspirational people at the bottom of the income scale as it says to them that they can never be rich. It is a much bigger threat to those elites that control the power centres of our economy. They will be forced to live like the rest of society and thereby make the biggest sacrifices of all. They will do all in their power to stop this.

But let us pretend that we did not to pursue the idea of carbon rationing. Then what? We would continue with our existing system based on exploitation of planetary resources and unrestricted rights to pollute. A key aspect of the current system is the reward for success is the right to pollute further. So if someone works hard or shows ingenuity and makes money, they are allowed to take an allocation of planetary resources and pollute some time in the future at a time and place of their choosing. That allocation of future rights to pollute is essentially what money is. All financial transactions fundamentally relate to the amount of energy associated either directly or indirectly with the goods or service provided.

The additional problem is that money is introduced into our society through a debt based financial system. This means when a bank lends money, only a small percentage of the amount lent needs to be held on deposit by the bank. The rest is conjured up from thin air and lent on the basis that the borrower commits to paying the interest.

This system works so long as the economy is growing to pay the interest that compounds on loans after loan. This has been a perfectly acceptable paradigm since the industrial revolution, but it is doomed to failure as growth is no longer possible. We are have simultaneously run out of staple resources such as oil and food and we have already collapsed our environment. The very things we have destroyed are the things economic growth depends on.

The amount of money the banks hold on deposit is so small, that an economic contraction of little more than 3% is all that is needed to wipe out their collateral. This will collapse both our banks and our financial system.  A fate governments around the world are forced to do everything within their power to avoid, but the inevitable cannot be avoided.

Those who are weak and struggle at the bottom will be the first to be sacrificed. By contrast, those at the top will manipulate the laws and commerce systems to ensure they preserve their wealth and position.  The gulf between these groups will grow. The examples are endless. In the weeks prior to the UK inner city riots, the local community centres and youth clubs were closed in inner cities, yet the UK government awarded a £30m grant to Augusta Westland to develop a new a generation of executive helicopters. To cope with tightening government finances, students have to pay increased tuition fees when the city elite enjoys the benefits of expanded operations at Farnborough Airport to allow them to commute in their private jets from their European tax exiles. At the COP climate change talks, the wealthy nations subvert the process to protect their interests despite the growing death toll from climate change in poverty stricken countries.

The situation is analogous to the Titanic. When it hit the iceberg, those in the lower classes were locked below decks to drown, while those in the upper classes used the privilege of their position to get into the lifeboats.  The existing system is specifically designed to be just as unfair and our ship is going down. It is the justifiable fear within the lower income classes of being marginalised and having a future devoid of hope that is driving people into the protests movements across the world.  It is the same fear fuelling the Arab Spring, the Occupy movements and the new wave of protests in Russia and China, not some love for democracy that many pious Western politicians like to claim.  Just as the people in the steerage class of the Titanic knew immediately the ship was going down because they could see the water coming in, then those at the lower income levels know the economy is crashing. Their relative poverty attunes them to the impossibility of survival when basic costs are rising far faster than incomes.

So why don’t we all recognise the incompatibility of our existing system with the reality and embrace a rationing system? It is because we are trapped within the nation-state framework that forces nations to compete with each other. That competition is based on economic and military might and there is a symbiotic relationship between the two.

The nation state concept became a fully established concept in the 1815 Treaty of Vienna.  The concept was simple. The world would be split into blocks called nations. The nations would grow their economies and populations. Each nation would govern itself and protect itself from threat by other nations using wealth from their economies to raise armies. Each nation-state would introduce its own finance system to distribute resources and raise taxation to fund their armies.

The problem came when nations chose to industrialise. Very quickly, the nation-states grew to the point where they needed to secure resources from beyond their own borders to continue growing. When critical resources had to be secured from beyond the borders security diminished. Other growing nation states also had desires to the same critical resources. For the UK, this meant exploiting its linkages within the Empire and elsewhere in Africa. For Germany, it also meant securing resources in Africa. It also meant competing for markets abroad, in particular for lucrative arms contracts.  Economic growth laid the seeds of conflict.

The seeds of conflict sprouted. Both the UK and Germany found themselves locked into a disastrous military and economic race for control of new markets. The epitome of this was the Dreadnought race. Both sides raced each other to build the biggest fleet of super battleships. These were fighting machines far beyond anything that the world had ever seen. Their construction required vast resources and taxation. Not only did Germany and Britain have to race to build the Dreadnoughts, but also they had to race to build their economies to continue the Dreadnought race. This required more resources to be secured from abroad, further destabilising the security of both countries. The end result was a downward spiral into the First World War followed by nearly a century of industrial warfare.

The incredible paradox was that other than Jutland which was inconclusive, the Dreadnoughts played no part in the First World War. They were too valuable to risk. Instead, the war was fought with humans trapped in trenches in the fields of Europe – something far cheaper and more easily replaceable.

This is the crux of the nation state system. It is based on competition and in the long run this is expensive and destructive. In all interstate competitions, be they military or economic, one nation always loses.
As a result of this system we are obliged to secure both our borders, our access to critical resources abroad and our foreign markets.  If we do not we are no longer a viable nation state. We are therefore committed to responding to any threat at home or abroad that will impact our viability as a nation state. That threat can be economic or military. Securing our viability as a nation state in a competitive environment becomes more important than cooperating on global security threats. 

This mind set continues. In this time of economic crisis, the political and economic pundits across the media explain how we need to up the game to compete for new export markets so we can rebuild our economy and pay our debts. The competition they are advocating will be against other nations states that are in as desperate an economic state and who require the same scarce resources and access to the same markets.

This is what mathematicians call a  zero sum game, where the total wealth available   to all players is either constant, or in our case going down. This sets a fundamental problem to a powerful player who is going to be weakened – he must strike prematurely to secure resources while he is still strong enough. Failure to do so will result in his destruction. This is the reason we waged war on Iraq in 2003. In the calculus of George Bush and Tony Blair they must have been aware, even if only subconsciously, that if they delayed the war they would not have the economic strength to wage the war as their economies weakened through rising oil prices.

We are therefore forced to ignore our responsibly to collective global threats, the most pressing of which is the threat of climate change. As a measure of this, both the UK National Security review of 2008 and the Centre for Naval Intelligence in the US both concluded that the biggest security threat was climate change.

Despite this escalating existential threat, no state can act rationally and reduce CO2 emissions because of the basic requirement to compete economically and militarily with other nations. It makes the idea of introducing carbon rationing impossible because it would kill the economic growth needed for successful interstate competition.

So we are in a trap. The ultimate manifestation of this trap is the replacement of the Trident submarines, along with the equivalent submarine building programmes in China, Russia, USA, France and now India. They serve no military purpose. All they can do is to destroy the planet in an orgy of suicide. They are a statement of ego – they allow their possessors to say to the rest of the world they are a top nation state and prepared to defend the interests of their nation state by destroying everyone and everything else. It is the antithesis of cooperating on global threats.

Having determined to go down the Trident route, the UK must commit to growing its economy by using competition to secure scarce resources from elsewhere in the planet and causing pollution that will be threaten others. It will do this to the best of its ability.  It must do this because to build and operate a Trident submarine force requires two things - resources to build the submarines and resources to grow an economy across which the costs can be amortised through taxation.

To put it in perspective, the Trident programme will cost the UK government at least £100bn. This will require at least £250bn of additional economic activity across which taxes can be raised. These sums can only be raised in a debt based and expansive economy.

Resources to grow this economy are secured by force across the world. This has been done through declared wars such as with Iraq that was fought with illegal depleted uranium munitions leaving the cradle of civilisation an uninhabitable radioactive wasteland. It is also done with undeclared wars such as illegal land grabs in the developing world to secure land for food and biofuel. This has displaced millions and killed untold numbers. Other big corporations such as Shell have also waged war on our behalf through the destruction of the Niger delta and ordering the execution of anyone who stands in the way such as Ken Saro-Wiwa.

In parallel with this orgy of declared and undeclared wars the increased consumption we need to raise taxes belches CO2 into the atmosphere.  This makes it impossible to agree climate change agreements.

Our collective fear of failure within the nation state competitive arena creates an environment in which it is impossible to agree to the mutual sacrifices to tackle climate change.  It is leading us to planetary disaster.

So now we must turn our attention to how we break this cycle of destruction. If we fail the disaster of the Dreadnought races will be repeated. The resource and taxation necessary for Trident submarines systems will cause continued war but the Tridents may not be used in any war, nor be able to influence any outcomes. To break this cycle we must rethink how war is conducted.

We are accustomed to think of war as being fought between belligerent nation-states as they protect their own interests and protect their people from attack. However, this premise is outdated. The nation states now protect the interests of corporations over the interests of the people that they are meant to represent.

The aviation industry has provided us with a perfect example of this. For many years they have made bogus protestations of virtue about being concerned with climate change and how they want an international agreement. Nothing else would do for them. When an international agreement did eventually come about through the European Carbon Trading scheme, the airlines of China, India, Russia and the United States lobbied their governments to overturn the agreement, which they are currently doing. This is an extraordinary state of affairs. Every one of these countries is nuclear armed and involved in military stand-offs against each other. Every one of these countries has already suffered catastrophic consequence as a result of climate change that has killed many of their citizens. It is the in interests of the people in every one of these counties to agree a cut in carbon emissions. Yet the governments of these countries, which cannot agree on carbon reductions in the Durban COP, can work together in support of the aviation industry’s right to expand the pollution they cause.

The international arms industry is another example. In both the West and Russia, arms fairs are held which have exhibitors from competing nation states. It can be of no benefit to the people in western counties to have companies such as Sukhoi from Russia displaying their bombers and fighters at our Airshows where our enemies come to buy them. However, our government encourages these events and the Fairford Air Tattoo is even given charitable status. What is good for our arms industry is equally good for the Russian arms industry, and the interests of the arms industries superseded the interests of the people.  Our defence industry could not justify itself if Russian companies did not oblige by coming to our shows to terrify us into agreeing to continue arms spending. The Trident replacement decision works on the same balance of fear. The only beneficiaries are the submarine building companies. These companies continue their symbiotic relationship by working together across the borders of nation-states to continue building new submarines and lobbying governments for necessary funding.

What the arms industry and aviation industry have in common is that competing companies within these industries cooperate to force nation-states to operate against the long-term interests of their people. They do this using modern global communication systems and their economic power to pursue their interests at the expense of all others. The same applies to many other industries such as the oil and auto-mobile industries.  The only way that they can prosper is to ignore climate change and ensure that the nation-states secure a flow of energy and resources to enable them to continue production.  These corporate conglomerations now act as market states, which stand above the nation states and dictate what they can do. To comply with their demands the nation states are no longer able to protect their citizens and they abrogate their the most important responsibility, namely to provide security to their citizens. These corporate conglomerations can loosely be termed as pro-growth market states as the essential objective they must all support is the continuance of economic growth. With out this, they collapse.

In direct competition to the rise of the pro-growth market states with their nation state servants, are the anti-growth market-states. These states are the anti-establishment groups and are focusing around issues such as nuclear disarmament, the environment, climate change and social justice.  These have similar characterises to the pro-growth market states. They pursue their own agendas. They have global reach enabled through the communication channels of social media. These new anti-growth market states are now the main opposition to the governments of the existing nation states.

A global clash of pro-growth and anti-growth market states has already started. This is the new face of war. Warfare is no longer segmented vertically with one nation state fighting against another. It is horizontal with different layers of the global society fighting against each other to pursue their interests.  We now move from the concept of war against the people to war amongst the people.

This war amongst the people driven by the need for resources for the pro-growth market states and for them to continue to avoid their responsibilities to climate change will fundamentally change the nature of the nation-state.  Masses of people are already rising in countries across the world against their governments as they realise that the nation states will not and cannot protect their rights. Democracies and dictatorships are equally at risk. The new warfare that we are seeing is between those organisations committed to the destruction of the planet and those committed to its defence.

This global war between pro-growth and anti-growth market states is not merely a hypothetical wars of ideas. This is war in the true sense of the word were people die in the process, where many more stand to die in the future and were many of those who fight in the anti-market states forces are subject to summary arrest, torture and discrimination.

Battles that have already taken place within this war are the depleted uranium attacks in Iraq; the mass deaths from biofuel related land clearances and the Canadian government deliberately sacrificing future generations by leaving the Kyoto agreement to pursue their tar sands developments. Already an estimated 315,000 people die every year as a result of climate change disasters.

The anti growth market-states can only win this war amongst the people by combining and having a clear and common objective. It is as important for them to be clear about their objectives as it is for any force in a military campaign. 

At present they are competing and weakening themselves. The environmentalists claim runaway climate change is the biggest threat to the planet. The anti military nuclear campaigners claim the nuclear war is the biggest threat to mankind. The anti-capitalists in the occupy movements claim the banking crisis is the biggest threat. All three groups compete against each other for attention in the media and the ears of the politicians without realising how tightly intermeshed their arguments are and that one can not be won without simultaneously winning the others.

The battle against climate change cannot be won and social equity cannot be achieved in a declining economy without carbon rationing. A carbon rationing cannot be introduced while most powerful nations on the planet continue to build and operate nuclear arsenals. The nuclear arsenals prevent the mutual sacrifice needed to fight climate change. It is the destruction of this downward spiral that needs to be objective of  the forces within the anti-growth market states organisations.

The strength of the arguments of the anti-growth market states increases when they are combined. The most powerful argument against nuclear weapons is that they make climate change agreements impossible as they lock economies into growth when growth is no longer possible. In this respect, they are more dangerous that ever thought. The normal argument against Trident type systems is that they might destroy the planet through nuclear war. This is weak compared to the argument that they will destroy the planet by stopping climate change agreements. 

The proposition that climate change agreements can be achieved in the absence of discussions on security and nuclear weapon ownership would be laughably stupid if it were not so tragically destructive. Likewise the proposition that climate change agreements can be achieved without incorporating discussions on fundamental economic reform is equally stupid. This is why COP process fails. Meanwhile the nation states and the pro-growth market states co-operate with each other to oppose any move towards reducing CO2 emissions.

The final objective of the anti-market state forces is to control the nation-state's monopoly of legitimate violence.  It is this that allows the enforcement of law and introduction of new laws. In our growth-based economy, the monopoly of violence is used to support the rights of the most destructive industries and excessive consumers to continue polluting in defiance of climate change agreements.

If this is achieved it will be ultimate statement of success. Without it, it is not possible for nation-states to enforce legally binding agreements to cut CO2. Simple scenarios demonstrate the fallacy of ignoring this truth. If Canada withdraws from future climate change agreements as it has done with the Kyoto agreements, would America as the self-styled world's policeman invade and close down the Tar Sands operations? Totally improbable.  If China continues to operate its coal fired powered stations to provide the goods and capital Europe needs, would the EU take action to have them shut down? Totally improbable.

So now we come to possible scenarios for the end game. There are only three.

The first scenario is the  “current strategy.” This is the strategy the nation states are currently pursuing. It is the outcome we get if the pro-growth market states are allowed to dominate. They will lead the nation-states into protracted resource wars, climate collapse and economic collapse. The horrifying scenario emerges where the last people alive on the planet are the crews on the Trident submarines as they cruise silently through lifeless oceans pointing their missiles at vacant cities. The replacement Trident submarines will only be half way through their operational life in 2050 when the planet will no longer be habitable. Trident submarines become the modern day equivalent of the Easter Island Statues.

The second scenario is the “accidental strategy.” This is where the actions of the pro-growth market states cause full-scale industrial war to break out resulting in nuclear exchange on all sides. In the near future, with food, water and energy increasingly scarce and with critical weapons systems made vulnerable due to the technical advances of their adversaries the risk of an accident nuclear exchange massively increases. This risk increases as it becomes in each nation-states interest to launch a premature strike through the dynamics of a zero sum economy.

The third scenario is “survival strategy.” This is where the anti-growth market states dominate and implement an economic model based on survival rather than growth. Just as the First World War warns us about the danger of headlong competition and arms races, it also provides inspiration for this scenario. In the midst of battle and surrounded by the death, when it came to Christmas the most extraordinary truce occurred when the soldiers of the British and German forces put down weapons and met in the middle of no-mans land to play football and share their love for each other. The Christmas truce was the first time that the anti-growth market states co-operated internationally against the power of the pro-growth market states. Unfortunately they did not have the tools that are available today to continue their action.

There are no easy solutions to difficult problems.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Open letter to Chris Huhne on the eve of the Durban Climate change talks

Dear Chris,

In common with your predecessors and opposites in other countries you offer false hope in your Telegraph article that we can make progress towards tackling climate change in the next round of climate change talks due to start next week.

To properly tackle climate change, we must accept it is the culmination of all the problems that humanity has inflicted on this planet.  The corollary of this is that to tackle climate change we must challenge all the fundamental concepts that underpin our economic development. To challenge these problems, we must first understand them.

The trajectory of the CO2 increase is so rapid the planet will exceed 450 ppm by 2030. At this point we will be committed to runway climate change with catastrophic temperature increases that will potentially wipe out all life on the planet. To avoid this fate and because of the cumulative damage that we have already done to the planet, we must immediately move towards a zero carbon economy.

It is impossible to move to a zero carbon economy whilst maintaining the same growth based economic system we have today. Renewable energy sources will not be able to do anything more than scratch the surface of our growing energy demands.  Even a mass expansion of nuclear will be unable to meet our requirements in the time frame we have.

We therefore have no option but to implement an economic system based on contraction, not growth. To do this in a way that avoids war and mass civil unrest requires the courage to co-operate in ways that are completely counter to the competition based society we have inherited and with which we have been indoctrinated on since birth to believe is unassailable.  If we fail to rise to the challenge, war and mass civil unrest are inevitable.

The ultimate statement of our competition-based economy is the structure of the nation state. It is this that forms the basis of the forthcoming climate change negotiations. However, the nation state structure simultaneously forces all nations to compete with each other for resources and markets. Interstate competition is either economic or military and there is a symbiotic relationship between these two approaches. This competitive framework is incompatible with the objectives of the climate change agreements, which is to co-operate fully.

To make maters worse, the nation state has become subservient to the “market-state.” One example is the worldwide aviation industry. Though comprised of competing corporations, it musters a collective international voice and acts as a borderless state to protect its own interests above all others. This is evidenced by its successful efforts to stop nation states from limiting environmentally destructive growth.  In recent weeks the competing governments of the USA, Russia, China and India all collaborated together to ignore climate change following concerted lobbying by the aviation industry to support its collective demand that international aviation should not be included in the EU-ETS.

The ultimate manifestation of this combined market state and nation state competition is the possession of nuclear arms. In the UK we are sliding towards the replacement of Trident at a cost of £100billion. This decision will also require us to generate another  £300bn in economic activity to raise the necessary taxation.

This is the antithesis of what we need to do, which is to reduce economic activity in the face of climate change, peak oil and other resource shortages. These factors are already destabilizing the planet and resource wars have started. The replacement of Trident accentuates these problems.

There is no military requirement to replace Trident as it is impossible to use in anyway that can defend our nation-state without simultaneously destroying it, so we need to consider the rationales that are leading us to its replacement.  There are two.

The first rational is to jointly keep alive the submarine building capabilities of the military industrial complex in this country and in our competitors. Thus, the nation state is subservient to market state of the arms industry, in the same way as it is subservient to the aviation industry.

The second rational is to preserve our ego as a pre-eminent nation-state and a Permanent Five member of the UN.  Preservation of ego is an inevitable consequence of a competitive system of engagement. It is completely counter to the requirement to make mutual sacrifices to tackle climate change and avoid total war.

Progress can only be achieved with radically different approaches to negotiations. That radically different approach must start by nuclear weapons being placed on the climate change negotiation table.

By eliminating the threat of nuclear weapons we simultaneously allow nation states to co-operate on saving what is left our planet while making the nation state subservient to the people rather than destructive market states. Elimination of nuclear weapons also makes the clear statement that we are more concerned about collectively tackling global threats rather than the destructive preservation of national borders.

We must recognize our failure to agree to nuclear disarmament is intimately linked to our failure to achieve climate change agreements. If we do not link these crises, we will not address climate change and so we must accept that we will continue our actions until we extinguish life on the planet.

The nightmare scenario is that by 2050 when our planet is no longer habitable through climate change, and our Trident replacements submarines are only half way through their operating life, that the only survivors on the planet will be the crews of the various nuclear ballistic submarines silently cruising the depths of the polluted and lifeless oceans.  Trident is set to be the ultimate modern day Easter Island statue.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Why Trident is the biggest cause of Climate Change

I will be giving talks on why replacing Trident will be the single most effective way of ensuring we never achieve international agreements on climate change and how it will set us on an unstoppable path to war.

Northcourt Centre, Northcourt Road, Abingdon at 8.00 pm, 15th November

Friends Meeting House, Lechlade Rd, Faringdon (Opposite the Duke of Wellington) at 8.00pm 7th December

See previous blog on Trident here.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

More correspondence with Jonathon Porritt on selling out

Dear Jonathon

Thank you for your reply, (at the end of this post).

To ensure that there are no misunderstandings, I do not hold your work on population in disdain. Quite the reverse. My concern is that you do not state the seriousness of the issue. A colleague of mine asked at the end of your presentation what you considered the sustainable population to be. You said 5 billion. However, we know atmospheric CO2 was increasing in 1957 when first measured with less than 1 billion people living in industrialised communities and with lower per capita CO2 emissions than today. We know huge damage has been done to the ecosystem since then.  This simple comparison suggests that you have overestimated the sustainable population by a factor of at least five.

You finish your email with reference to my absolutist moral framework. My moral framework is irrelevant. All that is relevant is the message from the science and the underlying mathematics. It is that message that is absolutist.

As we cannot get the population down to anything like sustainable levels within the time frames available to us, then we must drastically reduce consumption and liberties. We have a very short time to do this. If we fail the consequences will be catastrophic.

I can assure you that it gives me no great pleasure to campaign on these dark and difficult issues. I do not pretend the transformation needed in our society will be easily achieved or pleasant and I fear for what I wish for.

However, to pretend the dangers we face can be ignored is more dangerous. It provides false hope to those people who have genuine concerns. It prevents debate on the necessary transformation.  It allows those people and organisations committed to the destruction of our planet a free pass. Worst of all, it guarantees an explosive increase in CO2 emissions in next 20 years that our planet will not sustain.  This is addressed in the Plane Stupid submission to the government’s sustainable aviation strategy.

The evidence suggests your strategy of partnering with companies inherently committed to the destruction of our environment in the hope that you can persuade them to act in less unsustainable ways is misguided. By definition, they will remain unsustainable and your strategy is defeatist.

At talks of yours I have heard you speak eloquently of the need to cooperate rather than compete.  It is one thing to talk about these ideas in the company of soft and receptive audiences. It is quite another thing to put these into practise against the destructive centres of power that govern our economic system through competitive advantage.

I contacted you in the past to solicit your support to help us move towards a cooperative society with a request to support us in the campaign against the Fairford Air Tattoo. This event glorifies the very worst of destructive competition, which is the ability to wage war. It rolls out the red carpet to Saudi Arabia that systematically abuses human rights and actively lobbies to stop climate change agreements. You did not reply to our request for help. Maybe you were busy on more important things.

As a statement of inadvertently supporting destructive competition, we now see the prospect of you working with TUI to validate their attempt to lead the aviation industry into exploiting the biofuels disaster.  To understand the scope of this disaster, you may want to discuss the issue with your partners in Shell. Shell is investing $12billion in sugar cane production in Brazil. Even for Shell, this is a huge investment. It involves illegal land grabs, murder, deforestation and environmental pollution. Survival Intenational reports of the impact on the local communities as being so severe that it could reasonably be considered an act of war on the indigenous people. To assist you in helping TUI become “less unsustainable” you could discuss the biofuel disaster with organisations such as ActionAid and Biofuel Watch. My colleagues in these organisations would be delighted to talk to you.

If you get involved with these debates, you will realise that the number of people on the “front line” on climate change has increased enormously in the 15 years since you vacated it. Some people like me are compelled to go there from the comfort of middle class backgrounds. Events have forced many other people there before they even realise that they are there.  These new people are of the lower income sector having being marginalized from society by increasing food and energy prices driven by climate change and resource shortages. They are rising-up in the millions in all countries of the world. Simultaneously, starvation is displacing millions in countries such as Somalia.  Contrary to your assertion, that you  “couldn’t help but notice that the number of people who shared your front line hadn’t increased much,” there have never been so many people on the climate change front line.

We therefore offer you our challenge again and we will allow you to judge yourself by your action. If you want to partner with TUI to help them become less unsustainable, then challenge them to reduce flying rather than engage in destructive greenwashing.

This email will appear on my blog


--- On Wed, 2/11/11, JP Office  wrote:

From: JP Office
Subject: RE: Selling out?
To: "Kevin Lister"
Date: Wednesday, 2 November, 2011, 14:17

Dear Kevin

Selling Out?

Thank you very much for your email.  As you can imagine, it’s a familiar critique for all of us in Forum for the Future, and one that we’ve had to deal with on a regular basis since the Forum was established in 1996.  But let me try and answer it a bit more personally than might usually be the case – especially since you do seem to hold very strong views on this, with which you are only too ready to accost me every time we bump into each other!

You may or may not be right in your assertions about the urgency in all of this, about the inherent unsustainability of biofuels, about the moral wickedness of anybody flying, about the need for sacrifice and so on.  You embrace very absolutist positions on all of these things, and have understandably come to the conclusion that our collective ability to change people’s minds and their behaviour depends on not deviating from those absolutist viewpoints.

Having spent quite a chunk of my life (15 years) “on the front line”, as you put it, I couldn’t help but notice that the number of people who shared my “front line” views in those days hadn’t increased that much over the 15 years of the duration.  I discovered for myself that people didn’t respond particularly well to a set of arguments driven by primarily guilt, fear, anger and the promise of permanent sackcloth and ashes.

So when I left Friends of the Earth in 1991, I decided to try something a bit different, and to work with (rather than against) people in positions of influence in business and government.  Hence the Forum, The Prince of Wales’ Business and Sustainability Programme, the Sustainable Development Commission and a number of other initiatives that I’ve helped establish along the way.

15 years into that journey, do I feel that I’ve made more progress by adopting that “inside track” than by continuing to campaign against those same people of influence?  I do – but not with any great elation, simply because progress has been (and still is) gut-wrenchingly slow – and wholly inadequate given the scale of the challenge.  And we are at one on that score.

But do I feel personally compromised – from an ethical position – working with the likes of Jaguar Landrover, Shell, TUI (thanks, by the way, for keeping the list so short!) and many others seen by campaigners such as yourself as being in the front line of destroying the Earth’s life-support systems?  I do not.  In a modest way, all of us in the Forum think that what we’re doing is important work, which we know results in a lot of organisations acting in less unsustainable ways in the short term even as they work out what it means to be genuinely sustainable in the long term.

But do I then feel personal discomfort in doing that work?  Yes, I do, from time to time.

And I guess the question that I keep asking myself is whether or not that discomfort might reach the point where I could no longer continue to work in this way.  It’s possible.  I’ve never ruled out returning to that “front line” at some point in the future, and since the demise of the Sustainable Development Commission, I’ve ended up doing a lot more campaigning work anyway – including my work on population about which you are so disdainful.

In short, I admire the uncompromising spirit in which you address these issues, though I do not share the non-negotiable black and white absolutism with which you present your moral universe.

Very best wishes


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Southend Airport protest

Press Release

12.20pm Saturday 29th October  for immediate use

Note:  new number for press information 07584955708

16 Protestors Arrested at Southend Airport

16 protestors, who occupied the runway at Southend Airport , have been arrested by Essex Police.  It is believed they are being held at Southend Police Station. Campaigners from Plane Stupid and Climate Rush entered the airport shortly after 9am this morning.  The protest is against the planned expansion of Southend Airport .

Plane Stupid installed solar panels on the runway.  Campaigners from Climate Rush, dressed as pilots and cabin crew, were on a nearby footpath performing a dance routine (1).

A spokeswoman for the protestors said: “Southend Council say the expansion will bring jobs.  But investment in renewable energy would create many more jobs without damaging the climate.  What we need is solar power not plane power.  The bigger runway is bad for climate change, bad for local residents under the flight path and is not needed to help the local economy.” 

Southend Airport has been bought by Stobarts, the logistics firm.  Easyjet has announced that it plans to start operating commercial flights from the airport in spring 2012.

There has been a major local campaign.  It has focused on the impact the airport would have on the thousands of people who will live under the flight paths.


Notes for Editors:

(1). Climate Rush are dressed as pilots and cabin crew with a Britney dance routine and doctored words to TOXIC:



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