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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Letter to Princess Anne - following her trip to Greece

Dear Anne,

I watched with little interest your trip to Greece to bring back the “Olympic” flame. Unfortunately, there was not much I could do at the time to avoid it. It was covered in all the newspapers, all the television stations and most of the standard web sites such as Yahoo. All the well-paid editors of these organisations told us what a great and important job you were doing and how we should all be so grateful for your efforts.

I ask you to consider the absurdity of your actions and in future to show sensitivity to the minority of people in this nation that have pressing concerns about climate change. Not everyone is bowled over by consumerist propaganda, and some are quite distressed by it. Unfortunately, I can only assume that the privilege you enjoy prevents you understanding we have exceeded all the worst-case predictions on climate change. As a direct consequence, we face the inevitability of our civilisation collapsing by the end of this century, or worse the extinction of all virtually all life on our beautiful planet.

It is therefore totally unacceptable to see you flying all the way to Greece to pick up the tiniest little flame. Your flight would have contributed about 50 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere. There is the certain irony of the flames in the jet engines sustaining your flight dwarfing the pathetically flickering ember you brought back with you.

Like it or not, you and David Beckham, are amongst the top excess consumers in our society. Relatively simple maths shows that the top 5% of our society are responsible for about 30% of the global CO2 emissions. This group of top consumers are antisocial and destructive. As a key member of this group, you maintain your position in it through a symbiotic relationship with the same big corporations that are threatening us with further unsustainable growth. In case you did not notice, the airline that flew you was BA. While it tries to demonstrate egalitarianism with your outing, it simultaneously subverts the government’s attempts to cut the aviation industry’s carbon emissions. Its sponsorship of the Olympics is merely another element of an ongoing propaganda onslaught to make us believe that ignoring environmental responsibilities is the normality we should all accept.

As well as your own reckless excess consumption, there is also the question of your parenting ability and the morality that you instil in your children. Unfortunately, I could not avoid the reports of your daughter parading the Olympic torch around Cheltenham on her pet horse. Did you suggest at any time to your daughter that perhaps supporting one of the biggest propaganda exercises since the 1936 Nazi Olympics is not the best thing that someone in her position should be doing? I put it to you that encouraging your daughter to support consumption to excess just because the privilege of her birth allows her to do so is no better than someone at the bottom of society joining the riots in the city centres last year to enjoy the same pleasures of unbridled consumption. 

What further irony that as you flew all the way to Greece to get your little spark, and rubbed your privilege into the wounds of Europe’s first failed state, the Home Secretary was putting in place plans to stop waves of Greek economic migrants flooding our country. Her plans will be supported by force if necessary. The sad fact is that your actions support the absurdity of our country happily waving nationalistic Union Jacks as we firmly shut our borders to the desperate and disposed, while allowing the privileged and powerful of the Olympics to indulge themselves at our expense.

In these increasingly troubled times, we should not be surprised if we see a resurgence of extreme right wing nationalism. Nationalism is after all, what the institutions of this country put above everything else and what they are there to support. It seems that with Royal Weddings, Golden Jubilees and Olympics, they have never been so busy getting the masses ready for the forthcoming crises.

I am sure that you must be delighted to be playing your part.

From a citizen of the world, and a subject to no one,
Kevin Lister

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Why Gloucestershire should not welcome the Olympic Torch

Sent to all editors of Gloucestershire news papers

Dear Editor,

We are approaching the big day when the Olympic torch will be paraded through Gloucestershire.  It will, no doubt, be accompanied by headlines of how the people of Gloucestershire welcome its arrival and how we are all so grateful to support such an event. Hopefully, before the good people of Gloucestershire jump on the bandwagon, many will at least stop, pause and think what this has come to represent.

It is useful to recall the tradition of the Olympic torch. Adolf Hitler started it for the 1936 games. He also is famous for going on to start the Second World War, gassing the Jews and trying to implement a scorched earth policy. Since 1936, the Olympics and politics are inseparable. It gives odious nations and destructive corporations the opportunity cleanse their image to the world.  The Olympic movement has shown that it is not too bothered which organisation capitalises on this opportunity, so long as the money rolls in.

In a clear demonstration of Olympic amorality, this year they have seen fit to award BP the title of its “sustainability partner.” This is greenwashing on a monumental scale. BP is the company that virtually destroyed the Gulf of Mexico, is destroying the Canadian Forests through their tar sands projects and now threatens to destroy the Arctic with deep sea drilling. They are one of the most polluting and destructive organisations on the planet. Their actions are leading us to disastrous runaway climate change. They are joined by fellow sponsors such as BAA which is arm twisting the government to expand the carbon intensive aviation industry and Dow Chemicals who are yet to adequately compensate the victims the Bophal disaster.
We should be under no illusions how bad the environmental catastrophe is that these large corporations are seducing us towards. Every single measurement of climate change is either at or exceeding the worst-case scenario of the 2007 IPCC report. We have been put firmly on the path to extinction.

To put it in perspective, today’s corporate sponsors of the Olympics are succeeding where their predecessor Adolf Hitler failed. They are successfully implementing a scorched earth policy by maximising carbon emissions and triggering runaway climate change. They are knowingly gassing the planet for today’s young people with critically dangerous levels of greenhouse gasses. By comparison Hitler limited his gassing mainly to the Jews. The directors of these corporations know what they are doing is wrong and immoral, but they choose to continue and hide behind propaganda.  They should take note that the defence of only carrying out orders and pleading ignorance failed at Nuremberg.

As well as the corporate sponsors, we should also be looking at the countries that come to play at the Olympics. Why do we let Bahrain and Saudi Arabia come when they are abusing human rights so violently at home? Why do we let India, Pakistan and Israel come when they have refused to abide by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and are leading the world closer than ever to nuclear war? Why do we let Russian and China come when they concern us so much we are about to impoverish our country by spending £100billion on replacing Trident? Why do we let America come when its corporations have lobbied so hard to stop climate change agreements?

We do this because it is more important the interests of the corporations and governments who profiteer from the Olympic movement are protected than the people they endanger.

The real problem is that our survival relies on us collectively facing up to enormous challenges. It has been said many times that we cannot continue with business as usual. Unfortunately, the message from the Olympics is that we should carry on with business as usual; we should look the other way when we know we should not and we should believe the unsustainable can be sustained.

The sad reality is that the Olympics are an anachronism from another time that we cannot return to.  The people of Gloucestershire should not welcome the Olympic torch.


Copenhagen Diagnosis report

Indian violation of the NPT

Monday, May 07, 2012

Open Letter to Theresa Villiers MP, Aviation Minister

Subject: Is the B787 Dreamliner the end of the road for aviation?

Dear Theresa,

Boeing’s B787 Dreamliner world tour has just finished its stop over in the UK. The media presented it as the next generation plane that would sweep aside the challenges of climate change with the latest new technology.  Nothing is further from the truth. The reality is that the B787 is a high risk and desperate last throw of the dice by an industry whose survival is inherently incompatible with the combined crises of climate change and peak oil.

As you wrestle with the concept of making aviation sustainable, it is important you fully understand how the limitations of aero-engineering drive the commercial risk exposure to unacceptable levels.

Publicly available information on the Boeing 787 show the typical number of seats is 280, the fuel capacity is 138,700 litres and a range of 15,700 km.  Crudely, this gives a fuel consumption of 0.0316 litres/passenger km.

Similar data for the long range Boeing 777 is 350 seats, a fuel capacity of 181,283 litres, and a range of 17,000 km giving a fuel consumption of 0.0304 litres/passenger km. Using the same data for the A380 gives 0.032 litres/passenger km. Thus there is little if any measurable improvement between the B787 and previous generation planes such as the B777 and the A380 when taken on this basis.

The immediate question this raises is what has happened to the much-hyped efficiency improvements of the B787? The answer is simple. The B787 is smaller than the B777 and A380. As such, it loses economies of scale.  So the new technology simply allows a smaller plane to fly with the same seat efficiency of a larger one and with a more comfortable interior.

But this was the business strategy. Boeing wanted to get the efficiency and range of a larger plane on a smaller plane to exploit the potential of the point-to-point transport model. This would enable the aviation industry to circumvent the restrictions of the major hubs such as Heathrow and continue to grow through exploitation of regional airports.

This business model is hubris on a grand scale. It flies in the face of all the platitudes of the aviation industry about their newfound concern for the environment.  Flying thousands of B787s around the world in a point-to-point network is the most effective way to maximise carbon emissions and it ignores the economic realities of escalating fuel prices.

If the aviation industry were genuinely concerned about carbon emissions, it would have used the technology in the B787 to design slower planes.  By way of comparison, the Lockheed Constellation of the 1940’s had an efficiency of 0.0334 litres/passenger km. This is well within the margin for error for the Boeing 787. Its equivalent efficiency to today’s super modern planes was delivered by basic physics. This tells us that drag is proportional to the square of speed, power is proportional the cube of speed and if you want to fly further you have to use energy to carry the extra fuel.  So doubling the speed increases drag by a factor of four and the power consumption of the engines by a factor of eight, making an efficient plane one that flies slowly over short distances.

So the claims of Boeing and the aviation industry to have produced a revolutionary fuel-efficient plane are wrong. Their technology simply allows smaller planes to continue to fly fast and cover the long distances that only larger planes could previously manage.

More critically the development costs of the B787 are an industry record of $10billion. This gives the B787 the dubious distinction of having the lowest ever ratio between improvements over its predecessors to developments costs. It is another first associated with this plane, but one that Boeing’s marketing department keeps quiet. As such, the B787 brings aviation’s unsustainable trend of increasing development costs and diminishing returns to a critical apex.

The recent history of the A340 puts this risk into perspective. The A340 served long haul routes, but being larger than the 787 its fuel consumption of 0.031 litres/passenger km was comparable.  When oil prices rose in 2008 operators could not run it profitably as its breakeven load factor increased to 120%. This led to the plane being taken out of service and the A340 production line was shut down in 2010.

Similar developments are now being witnessed with other airlines. Qantas recently announced a delay to its A380 programme. This is largely driven by diminishing margins in the face of rising fuel costs and carbon taxes. The same economics will inevitably apply to other airlines and they will come to similar conclusions. Policy makers must realise that these events taken together are cause for serious alarm, especially as the A380 was billed as the world’s most efficient plane on its recent debut into commercial service.

The danger for Boeing is as the economics of the B787 are not significantly better than the A340 on a per seat basis the whole project is highly exposed to increases in fuel prices.  It will take only a modest increase in the price of oil to render the whole project none viable, and with it much of the aviation industry.

If this sounds implausible, then it is worth remembering that the B787 concept was developed in 2004 to allow growth in aviation to continue. It was not designed to help the industry consolidate in the face of rising fuel costs and environmental danger. The idea of whole classes of modern planes such as the A340 becoming redundant overnight was not even on the horizon.

These are fundamental issues no aviation minister can ignore. They determine future policy. Aviation growth cannot continue in the face of rising fuel costs, rising development costs and rising production costs. As such, the role of the aviation minister must be to chart the decline of the aviation industry in a way that can be done with the minimal amount of pain for those that are in the industry and those that depend on it.  The alternative is to ignore the evidence and wait for the industry to collapse suddenly and painfully and to take everyone else with it. 

Yours sincerely,

Kevin Lister Bsc (aero Eng), MBA