Sunday, January 25, 2015

Climate MADness - Can MAD help us understand a strategy to prevent climate change?

Can the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) as an unofficial international doctrine be  a useful tool in understanding and producing a collective international approach to prevent climate change? Jonathan Roper,

This essay is written at a time where several climate conferences have failed to produce solutions close to preventing the imminent reality of climate change. The primary premise of this essay is to suggest a rhetorical solution which could precipitate systemic change leading to action in international and domestic spheres. This essay will outline what MAD was, it's strengths and weaknesses, then assess it's suitability to be used in expressing humankind's potential approach to climate change.

What is, or was MAD?

Mutually assured destruction (MAD) was an unofficial, sometimes denied, but overall attributable systemic interaction through which two sides, the USA and the USSR, subsequently Russia, avoided direct military confrontation for the latter half of the 20th Century and into the 21st. This strategy was never a codified strategy for either side throughout this period. It wasn't an ideal circumstance and had no solution. It was in effect, an end game, or solution in itself.

The circumstances arose in 1949, where both sides had conducted successful nuclear weapon tests. Initially this was a major psychological blow and security worry for the USA and its allies, for the USSR had developed a nuclear capability in advance of their best estimations. For the USSR this was a propaganda success, its military, spy network and scientific community all had collaborated successfully to develop their nuclear capability. After a subsequent arms race to deploy larger and larger nuclear arsenals and weapons, each capable of striking each other's reciprocally growing nuclear arsenals, an impasse was reached on 30th October 1961. On this day, Nikita Khruschev announced the successful detonation of a 50mT weapon, catching up with the USA, by having a usable hydrogen bomb. Now both sides had the ability to destroy each other and cause a global nuclear winter, MAD had commenced. (Medvedev, 1979)

Characteristics of MAD doctrine

As a strategy MAD developed from 1949 onwards initially by bluff, and subsequently through deployed military capability. It has a number of distinct characteristics.

MAD depends on both the fear of first strike and second strike. Both sides naturally maintain a deep suspicion over the other's actions,  constant vigilance is a necessity. Neither side can act first in fear of reprisals from the other. Both sides maintain a vast network of detecting stations with ground bases, aircraft and ships, all constantly alert to a surprise attack from the other.

MAD only works with the assurance of an early warning system and the subsequent capability of second strike, i.e. the guarantee of extinction of the other side and vice-versa. When detection technology of radar and satellite lagged behind the deployment technology of rocketry this became a real issue. In these instances, both the USA and the USSR caused panic in the other's command. The intensity of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 was partially caused by the USA's fear of the USSR's deployment of missiles so close to them on the island of Cuba, America's front garden. It's overall resolution involved the secret removal of missiles from Turkey, the USSR's “backyard” in a reciprocal unofficial action (White, 1997).

MAD developed in the climate of two ideologies which were directly opposed to each other. There have been endless arguments about these ideological differences. Suffice to say that a synthesis of the two discourses was seen as untenable by both sides. There had to be an ideological winner and there had to be ideological loser, instead of a consensus. Both sides were willing to pay for their survival or face loss in a zero-sum game.

Both sides maintained a surprise element, so neither could quantify with certainty the other's asset readiness. With mobile launchers, be that on trains, planes, trucks or latterly submarines, a constant estimation of the other's strengths was required. This lead to escalation of arsenals and increased paranoia of perceived threat.

Both sides, despite their altruistic rhetoric of singular protection, maintained a priority of state assets over civilian defence. For the given threat of nuclear attack, both sides were forced to maintain a carefully defended handful of sites, leaving the vast majority of their general populations, and indeed the rest of the world, exposed to annihilation or nuclear winter. It was the first time that mankind could exterminate itself totally, a dark day in the epoch of the anthropocene.

Both sides also assumed they would be able to identify the attacking party, despite the global consequences. Throughout the initial stages of the Cold War, this was easily achieved. Only two countries had nuclear weaponry, there could only be only one perpetrator. However as China developed nuclear capability on 16th October 1964 and nuclear proliferation spread to 14 countries in 2014 (peaking at a much higher number following the break up of the USSR and voluntary disarmament of South Africa), slowly this attributable nature was eroded, forcing more technological solutions.

The system under MAD had it's fail safes. Not all could be guaranteed and the strategy of deterrence could not be sustained without dangerous levels of brinkmanship. A globally apocalyptic accident was narrowly avoided on several occasions. The Palomeres incident in 1966 was caused by a plane crash after a failed inflight refuelling manoeuvre. The atomic detonation over Spain was prevented by the final fail-safe mechanism after three others had failed to operate. At RAF Lakenheath in 1957, a B47 air crash ignited a warehouse containing three atomic devices, which, if they had detonated, could have flattened East Anglia. By requiring constant alertness MAD therefore had dangerous deployment issues.

Through false alarms and accidents, MAD put global security at risk, threatening the global population with extinction. A bear climbing over a fence at Duluth air force base, Minnesota, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, precipitated the launch of a squadron of nuclear bombers, solely prevented by the base commander's quick thinking as he drove his car down the runway flashing his headlights. In 1983, the NATO exercise Able Archer, which simulated a coordinated nuclear attack in Western Europe, causing a high state of alert in the USSR. This coincided with the USSR's detection of five ICBM launches in the USA. The reasoning of Stanislav Petrov a Soviet Air Defence Force officer, that a nuclear attack would consist of hundreds of missiles in a massive first strike, prevented the USSR from launching it's retaliatory strike. These five false positive detections of ICBM launches in the USA by Russian satellites, were latterly diagnosed as sunlight reflecting off high altitude clouds.

The doctrine of MAD seeped into popular culture in many media. Especially the fear of a rogue individual setting the agenda and the inevitable first strike, second strike consequences of a global nuclear apocalypse. The was played out in the popular imagination in the Stanley Kubrick film “Dr Strangelove” after the Cuban Missle Crisis of 1962. More subversively, the threat of a false alarm causing a nuclear apocalypse was imagined in the cheery 99 Red Balloons No.1 UK single by Nena. (Nena, 1983) after the near miss of the Able Archer incident.

So given its attributes and foibles, was MAD useful?

“I begin to believe in only one civilising influence, the discovery, one of these days, of a destructive agent so terrible that war shall mean annihilation and men's fears will force them to keep the peace” (Collins, 1870)

To some extent it was, Wilkie Collins' dream was realised, we are still here and a major war between superpowers with the expected consequences of mass death and nuclear winter has been avoided. This impasse was achieved within national budgets. MAD was a strategy which continued for over 70 years as a sustained state of affairs in an uneasy peace. The drive for technically delivering this destructive capability spawned many beneficial technologies and improvements which might have taken much longer to discover. The space race was as a direct result of improving ballistic missile technology,  quickened by the requirements of nuclear deployment and ideological rivalry. Nuclear power stations were supported by governments as a means to provide electricity and also help refine uranium. The internet originated in a military computer network which would distribute information to many places at once, to avoid destruction in case of a nuclear strike on a particularly valuable target.

“What is the only provocation that could bring about the use of nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the priority target for nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the only established defence against nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. How do we prevent the use of nuclear weapons? By threatening the use of nuclear weapons. And we can't get rid of nuclear weapons, because of nuclear weapons. The intransigence, it seems, is a function of the weapons themselves.” (Amis, 1987)

Conversely MAD was a negative force, that put both superpowers in a very expensive deadlock. Although some argument is made that the cost of a nuclear weapons program was comparatively cheap when compared to standing armies with similar capabilities to annihilate the enemy, the money could have been better spent elsewhere. As President Kennedy pointed out, budgets “...could be better devoted to combat injustice, poverty and disease.” (Kennedy, 1963). The remainder of the ideological and economic capital of this system of belief was used to fund proxy wars and rebellions in other countries, leading to more global instability. The potential as ever for a human created system to go wrong is very costly. So, although MAD prevented direct conflict between the superpowers it didn't prevent conflict globally. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, interstate conflict decreased substantially. (Human Security Report Project, 2013)

Imagine this, in 1945 an alien lands on earth and meets with the United Nations Security Council. The alien lays out a plan which involves her handing out highly destructive devices to the richest 14 countries (comparable to the 14 nuclear capable nations at present), these will guarantee peace on earth, but the price of that peace is almost imminent global destruction at any second. No one in the post war ravaged world would agree to this system voluntarily and would see it as insanity. However, this is exactly what MAD was and is.

After 70 years, if the same alien returned to earth. It would put away its destructive boxes after analysing the atmosphere, noting the declining species numbers, ocean acidification and question our collective desire to destroy ourselves through climate change. The alien would point out that the same 14 nations that owned nuclear weapons, were responsible for 65% of the global emissions. Mutually, they were destroying themselves. The 15 largest economies on earth in 2013 were responsible for 77% of all carbon emissions, pushing humanity toward destruction. (Boden, Marland and Andres, 2014).

Is viewing the issue of human endeavours which cause climate change as MAD, and therefore adopting a similar systemic outcome, a useful approach?

By viewing climate change and emitting global warming gases as MAD, a rather simple understanding of the problem can be realised, look after the planet for the good of all. This premise gives justification for emissions targets to be met, all individual countries to participate easily in a common goal and create and follow a really effective system of GHG emission reduction. As a rhetorical solution it can be deployed and set in a much faster manner than for example, complex economic mechanisms, such as setting a carbon price floor or putting prices on natural resources.

Hopefully MAD is a simpler framing of the problem and equally as useful as the 'Tragedy of the Commons' theory of resource depletion. The rhetoric of MAD, if implemented, could provide impetus for participants to self regulate their actions without the need for a centralised treaty or the appointment of a central owner of the commons. This overall goal is analogous to that of the 'comedy of the commons' outcome, whereby all participants regulate their own behaviours to maintain the benefits of the commons for all, resulting in a sum of benefit, greater than the sum of it's parts. In climate change's case, sharing the planet by self-imposed reduced consumption, is more beneficial than destruction. The act of not burning a litre of petrol in a car, has a small short term cost for that actor, however long term benefit for all as that CO2 emission is not lingering in the atmosphere. For economic theorists, the unused resources, could be seen as having optimal value, as if the resources are utilised, this would result in the loss of the game by all players.

By framing the the problem as mutual, the onus is on everyone to participate in this enterprise.  Equating climate change to the doomsday nuclear winter imagined in the 20th Century could help reduce the prevalence of responses to climate change such as individual resilience and denial. In the same way as nuclear MAD would cause destruction for the many, with only a few randomly surviving in bunkers. Countries and institutions with large carbon footprints, who chose to sidestep this effort would need to be positively brought on side. The US senate has a language of 'doves' and 'hawks' to paraphrase a senator's stance on foreign intervention. A new shorthand will need to be arrived at with the ostriches, dodos and eagles suggested. The ostriches, with their heads stuck in the sand, are those who think continuation of pursing climate damaging actions due to the resilience they think they possess to changing climatic conditions. This policy should be seen as futile as thinking that having one's head in the sand offers protection from the elements. The dodos are those who wish to continue on as normal, to protect their own agendas in short term prioritisation of goals, which will ultimately lead to their and our extinction. The eagles are those who wish to conquer the imminent threat to the globe, by protecting their nest from all threats.

In the same way that a nuclear arms race was driven by the fear and paranoia of the destructive capability of another country, this same fear and concern could accelerate the development and deployment of low carbon technologies. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, Western governments realised that MAD could be troublesome with the electorate. MAD was hidden behind the cloak of 'flexible response', a reasonable sounding strategy of proportionate response to each threat, with little notion on how to prevent escalation back to the highest level response. In the context of our collective economic actions causing MAD, this requires a population to understand the general concepts of wanting to do the 'green thing', promoted by artists, film makers and speakers, much as Kubrick and Nena neatly summed up the weaknesses of the system of nuclear MAD. Simultaneously it  requires economists, scientists and law makers to guide best practice and the most effective methods to transition to a sustainable, low carbon economy, for example, the work done by Zero Carbon Britain (2013)

MAD is a solution and endgame in itself, a mutual 'mate' in chess, but not a stalemate. With the ideological, adversarial, zero-sum game approach to the assured destruction focussed on anthropogenic actions, a mutually assistive multilateral approach is now possible in the global political world. Not every country can pursue goals to decarbonise their economies and indeed many countries are not emitting sufficient green house gasses to warrant affecting their development rate in the near future. However, technological changes and improvements can help developing country's development trajectories to head towards mature low carbon economies.

As another evolved end game to the supposed stalemate, a more reciprocally positive approach to mutually assured destruction has been posited as Mutually Assured Stability (MAS) or MAD with less paranoia (ISAB, 2012). This US government report involves a recommendation of several components; an understanding of each other's goals, a mutual appreciation to make each nation feel safer, agreements on responding to threats from other countries, a strategy to limit proliferation and improve nuclear disposal security. Interestingly it also examines standardization of nuclear classification and early warning of each side's accumulation of nuclear stocks. Other aspirations  involved collaboration over limiting drugs trafficking and scientific research for public health advances. These are more symptomatic of two countries with a close international relationship, forged in the goals of a strategy to improve upon MAD. Instead of expanding nuclear stockpiles and warnings about expansions of nuclear arsenals, a non binding MAS doctrine for sustainable limitation of green house gases could be created and operated along these lines. Those countries which need help developing on a lower carbon intensive trajectory can receive help through international collaboration. Overall it could be seen as MAD but with a written agreement.

By seeing climate change as MAD and having initial proportionate responses on a national level would be adequate. A preferred response is an international agreement along the lines of MAS, or even the much restricted 'New Start' treaty, the most recent bilateral treaty between the USA and Russia in 2010, commenced in 2011 (Woolf, 2014), however until now, a multilateral agreement substantial enough to address the climate problem has yet to be reached. If key nations agreed on carbon emission reduction and helped others to reduce carbon emissions, then the world would be able to enact an effective response to climate change.

The issue of geo-engineering could become a problem in the future, should more developed countries seek to offset some of their carbon emitting practices by pursuing purpose-built carbon sequestering projects. For example these could include iron fertilization of the oceans or cloud seeding, as opposed to projects which indirectly sequester carbon, like replanting destroyed forests, or using lime mortar instead of cement in buildings. In the rhetoric of MAD, this is the equivalent of the planned Strategic Defence Initiative, giving one side a distinctly unfair advantage, rendering impotent the second strike of the other. This could destroy the delicate natural balance of all nations. The nations who pursue these strategies would have the ability to claim a moral right to release more CO2 into the atmosphere, as they would be able to sequester more CO2. In this light it would be better to prevent geo-engineering from happening, except for small scale scientific research to fully understand the problems and capabilities of these processes. If, in the future, a catastrophic natural event occurs, which pushes excessive levels of CO2 into the atmosphere above safe levels, such as super-volcano eruption, or a solar storm causing radiation to increase substantially, humanity will have the preparedness and capability to protect itself under an international universal agreement. Geo-engineering should therefore remain a carefully controlled practice and be patrolled globally under international agreements, firmly disapproved of for short term political gains.

The difficulty of seeing Climate Change as MAD

From the 1960s MAD worked as a system or solution as there was an intense ideological rivalry, a zero-sum game for nation states, knowing their very existence was threatened. This could be formed into easy rhetoric, 'fighting for freedom', 'fighting for the people' against a devious, heavily armed, untrustworthy, 'other'. With climate change, there is no 'other' there is only ourselves. We are consuming, burning fossil fuels, emitting invisible gases into the atmosphere. Only careful and well thought out representation can illicit the same response to illustrate the 'other' as irresponsible consumption and to inform individuals in governments and policy makers to view their decisions as either helping to advance MAD, or prevent it, even if initially the decision appears nothing to do with environmental matters.

Some would criticise this response as too negative, MAD was a system formed in a climate of fear and mutual distrust, it led to wars and proxy conflicts throughout the world. We should look at more positive ways of thinking about the climate change problem and use the rhetoric of environmental care and community to define strategies to prevent global warming. We shouldn't look at a system based on the rhetoric of conflict and fear, or we would look everyday into the abyss of despondency and risk paralysis at the scale of the task. This criticism is very valid for the general population and businesses, those who make lots of little decisions every day in what they buy, how they work, costing priorities and making profits. However, for governments making long term strategic decisions, (or even 5 year short-term party-based decisions) in competition with other large economic actors, MAD is a perfectly valid rhetoric to follow. Governments currently seen as legitimate have followed far more extreme domestic policies in the past, in the name of other rhetorical ideals, for example; China's 'One-child' policy (Greenhalgh, 2003) or California's eugenics program (Hornblum, 1998). Without mentioning countless international wars fought for much less altruistic or even scientific goals. Climate MAD should be a spur on finding and implementing alternative ways of pursuing development goals or social problems, not an excuse to inflict damage on a society.

MAD falls down when one major polluting country sees it's priorities as more important or decides to ignore economic and political actions to prevent climate change for short term internal gains. A decision like this will not result in an instantaneous decrease in national security or loss of dominance on the global stage for that actor, or even instant annihilation as with a nuclear threat. A non-state actor like a company or political party might and will ignore environmental paths to further their own aims. Initially this will be a problem as the legal political and social structures are not in existence to punish or prevent such actions, save at the margins. However, as the effects of global warming become more prevalent and more extreme events occur, moves towards prevention will come. The rhetoric of MAD could ease and precipitate this move. In the interconnected, globalised society the major polluting countries operate in, there is scope for sanctions, trade embargoes, negative market speculation all backed up by multinational coalitions. In the future this can and will make a difference to a state or company's strategy and ethics. By attempting to implement a binding structure of targets and reciprocal penalties at the start of such a system has just delayed any attempts of involving counties in such a dialogue.


It is hoped that the rhetoric of MAD shows a useful tool in understanding the threat of human induced climate change. That through realising the threat to each other by emitting greenhouse gases, the major polluting nations and corporations could see their own actions in this light and seek to change their behaviours, much as MAD created a workable systemic competition between the nuclear powers.  This essay has tried to balance some of the problems of this rhetorical device that overall could induce international action without initial need for ratifying treaties or coalitions. As Collins posited, we are now facing a force so terrible that we have no choice than but to 'keep the peace'. However it wasn't war that has caused this situation, as Collins envisaged, it has been the billions of industrial and economic decisions of the many, inadvertently building up over the centuries. MAD or MAS is not the ideal response for a nation or the international community to have, however it has been shown to work in the past and it is hoped, could work in the present to precipitate policy and action.


Amis, M (1987) Einstein's Monsters, Vintage; New Ed  (3 Jun 1999)

Centre for Alternative Technology (2013) Zero Carbon Britain, rethinking the future. Available online at: (Accessed on  17/09/2014)

Collins W, (1870) The Short Stories Of Wilkie Collins, Miniature Masterpieces (2012)

Greenhalgh, Susan (2003)."Science, Modernity, and the Making of China's One-Child Policy". Population and Development Review 29 (June): 163–196.doi:10.1111/j.1728-4457.2003.00163.x.

Hornblum, AM. (1998). Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison: a True Story of Abuse and Exploitation in the Name of Medical Science. Psychology Press.ISBN 9780415919906.

Human Security Report Project (2013) Human Security Report: The Decline in Global Violence: Evidence, Explanation, and Contestation, (Vancouver: Human Security Press, 2013).

Isaacs. J, Downing. T (1998) Cold War: For 45 years the world held its breath. Bantam Press, Germany.

ISAB (2012) Report on Mutual Assured Stability: Essential Components and Near Term Actions, Available online at:, (Accessed on 13/11/14)

Kennedy JF (1963) American University Speech, June 10th 1963.

Medvedev, ZA (1979) Nuclear Disaster in the Urals (trans. George Saunders) Angus and Robertson.

Nena, (1983), 99 Luftballons, by Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen, music, Carlo Karges , German lyrics, Kevin McAlea, English lyrics (released in 1984), CBS Schallplatten, 1983.

Sagan, SD, (1993) The limits of safety: Organisations, accidents and nuclear weapons. Princeton University Press.

White, MJ (1997) Missiles in Cuba; Kennedy, Khruschev, Castro and the 1962 Crisis, Chicago: Ivan R Dee

Woolf, AF, (2014) The New START Treaty: Central Limits and Key Provisions. Congressional Research Service, Available online at (Retrieved on 16th November 2014)

Monday, December 09, 2013

Does a Christmas Tree make a room warmer

On Radio 1 there was a discussion on whether a christmas tree would make a room warmer, or whether this effect was negligible. Here are my thoughts:

There are a number of thermal effects that the tree will have on the room,

1. The Christmas tree is a fresh tree so will be predominantly water ( I hope that the tree will be fed with water regularly to help it's needle retention) Water has a higher heat capacity (the amount of energy that it needs to heat it up) than the air it has displaced in the room. To calculate the difference in energy in joules needed to heat up the room do the following equation. Mass (weight) of tree in grams * thermal heat capacity of tree (approx 3.68 J/g.K) assuming it is 80% water and 20% wood) then subtract the mass of air it displaces, or mass of air it displaces x 1.0035 (J/g.k). This will end up with a very small number, as the effect is negligible. This number will be useful as it will tell you how much extra energy you would use to heat up the tree, per degree Kelvin the temperature raised. Basically you will spend more on your heating bill to heat up the water in the tree.

2. You will also increase the internal relative humidity of the environment as the tree loses water to the room through it's leaves and through evaporation from the pot that you should keep topping up. Humid air also takes more energy to heat up as it contains more water. The calculation is much the same as above.

3. As the thermal mass in the room will increase and the relative humidity of the room is higher, your heating will take longer to heat the room and conversely the room will take longer to cool down.

4. There is also the negligible effect that there is less air in the room, as the air will be displaced by the tree. This will lessen ventilation heat losses from the house, as there is proportionally less heated air in the house. Air will escape at an identical rate, but the overall warmed air in the house will be less.

In total the water in the tree will make your house warmer, but only as it will force the heating on a thermostat to work longer. This is because heat is not introduced instantaneously by magic into the house by the tree. If left for two years to season, you could say that it is energy as you could then burn the tree inside the house, but that's not very christmassy is it? The tree will slightly reduce the thermal losses from the house through reducing air mass that can lose heat.

Now the lights, have we considered the lights. Well although not actually the tree, the lights are a big part of the tree and could potentially introduce warmth into the room by their inefficient operation. Most of the energy an incandescant light bulb (Edison bulb) uses is turned into heat, making it a very good heat emitter. So if you had 100, 10W bulbs on your tree, roughly 90% of that power would be turned into heat or 900W, a good sized radiator. If the lights on the tree were LEDs, however, 99% of the energy going into the room would be light energy and 1% would be heat energy. So again if you had 100 10W LED bulbs, it would be much brighter and the LED's would emit 1W of heat, which is almost not worth bothering about in the average sitting room.

Now thermal comfort is not an objective thing and is also based on human perception, so,

1. Having the tree in the room might make the room feel nicer, so you perceive it to be warmer as nicer environments generally are perceived to be warmer, even though they are not warmer.
2. The overall radiative heat balance might be more equal, if the tree is in a corner, then that might be on an external wall and the tree has blocked lesser radiated heat. This is the opposite of the phenomenon of the warmth that you feel on your skin when the sun shines on it. It is not irradiating coolth, just radiating less heat. If your body feels the same irradiation all around it, it feels more comfortable.

3. With more water in the air, and the increased humidity, this can make you feel things are warmer, even though they are not.

Not very Christmassy I know, but a Christmas Article non the less.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

EU tariffs for Chinese PV panels: Haven't we been there before?

The European Commission is addressing complaints from European solar manufacturers alleging that Chinese rivals are benefiting from unfair subsidies. But are import tariffs the answer?

The world has just gone into a major economic depression, Europe is considering raising trade boundaries, a major power is seeking to boost its domestic industrial output to encourage economic growth, trading blocs are disintegrating and there is trouble in the Middle East. Does all that sound familiar to you?

I know what you’re thinking: 1930s Europe, the post 1929 Wall Street crash... or perhaps you were thinking of 2010’s financial crisis and the post sub prime mortgage crash?
In reality the issue about market dumping and trade wars, encouraged by governments’ nationalistic agendas is nothing new. All has been played out before on the world stage, recently in the 2004 "Bra Wars" with China, but I think it would be helpful and informative to look back to the 1930's, just 10 years after Einstein's pioneering paper on the photovoltaic effect.
Back in the 1930s, the nations looking to boost their economies were Germany, Russia and Italy. All had different motives but their primary focus was to challenge the hegemonic system run by the British, French and Americans of free trade and the Gold Standard. All had general motives in wanting to increase their independence from this hegemonic trading block to allow them to pursue different political goals at the time; Germany was controlled by the Nazi’s who wanted to restore German pride and build a 1000 year Reich. The Stalinist Russians were building the communist world order and the Italians were trying to create the new Rome led by Mussolini.
The subsequent tit for tat, trade treaties and embargoes, political duplicity and sabre rattling that eventually led to war are well documented, but the carefully understood policies of these countries in this time is known by an anachronistic political term. Today we talk about globalization, interconnectivity and free trade as great political neo liberal buzz words with many and varied meanings, but in the 1930s, political commentators were using terms like autarky, economic nationalism, and national socialism to refer to the economic and political maneuverings.
Economic nationalism is very simply the strategic nurturing of domestic industries, to allow greater political maneuver on the world stage. In the 1930s, aviation, automobiles, shipbuilding and railways were key strategic industries to protect and nurture, all key to the challenges on the world stage of trade maximization, preparedness for security and support of population. Today the global challenges are different, as are the industries, so today we are looking at energy production, computing and biomedical science.
Autarky is another term which I have seen popping up from time to time recently, especially regarding energy independence. Literally it means self reliance. On one hand this is a good thing, that countries and groups take responsibilities for their own energy use and therefore are more careful with consumption, leading to less climate damaging activities. On the other hand it can be seen as a means to an end, to allow greater political capital for the countries involved, allowing them to get away with worse international misdemeanors and be a bit naughty. This is because it helps eliminate some of the hold that other countries can hold over a nation.

For example Russia’s recent cutting of oil and gas supply lines to Ukraine in 2009. It could be argued that if Ukraine were energy independent it would be less vulnerable to the whims of Russia. How it would get to that position, however, could lead to some very bad decisions in terms of effective use of resources. For example in the 1930’s Germany manufactured petrol out of coal in a very wasteful manner at low efficiencies, known as the Bergius Process.

There are pros and cons to autarky but the challenge that we have of reducing global carbon emissions should be approached internationally. Some countries simply don't have vast supplies of fossil fuels or limited national resources to turn into a sustainable energy strategy, because simply they aren't very big, or that they are in inconvenient positions geographically. The interconnected web of the global energy supply is too tangled, so I hope for now that autarky is left on the shelf as a policy.

So what should we do now?

As China’s government directs great resources and effort into boosting its PV industry, and indeed many other strategic industries, what should the EU and US do to maintain stability in their markets? What they shouldn’t do is erect trade barriers based on cost and subsidy, as this will only lead to increased Chinese costs and reciprocal blocking of markets in China for European goods. A country with the economic might of the US, second only to China, might manage this successfully, but the European Union, weakened by the Euro crisis, large levels of debt, domino effect bankruptcies and political fracturing would need a great deal of concerted effort that it cannot afford to put in place.
In some ways the Chinese government’s strategic bankrolling of PV companies has had positive influences. It has driven a race to the top of tier one modules and a drive for product innovation to gain the edge in the solar market can only be a good thing. Chinese manufacturers have striven to match the manufacturing quality and warranties offered by European and American manufacturers (who are often themselves using Chinese components and only assembling them in Europe, or using Asian located factories).
As the solar market moves forward globally and European manufacturers wish to have some protection, a rise in the quality required by manufacturers of imports would aid established European manufacturers and give customers greater confidence; bolstering the market and creating a barrier to trade to those who do not meet the new required standards. This will still lead to some ‘dumping’ of Chinese modules into the European trade area, but at least they will be of good quality. Eventually this will stop as the substandard modules won’t get into the market and go elsewhere. Eventually the high quality modules will find their way into other global markets in Asia, Africa and South America as consumers become more selective in their module choice and aren't prepared to invest in lower quality products.
Pollution and accountability of production should be countenanced and recorded too. There are some very light attempts at accountability currently, like the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, but, if the European Union is careful, they could craft a robust approach to ensuring that both its own manufacturers and foreign imports will work to the highest standards in both their manufacturing processes, wastage, and disposal. This will ensure that PV manufacturers will not leave a deceitful environmental legacy and guarantee that they will make material, genuine contributions to decarbonising electricity production and addressing climate change.

Another barrier to entry that the EU could look at is the instance of good labor standards and transparency of production. The EU has some of the most forward looking countries in the world that pioneered labour law, union rights, health and safety and social responsibility. If the EU is to erect barriers to entry for Chinese, or indeed any manufacturers, then let the barriers be demanding social responsibility, workers rights and fair pay, not tit for tat trade wars.
The EU's previous attempts at trade barriers and economic incentives at a large scale have had some success, but also large failures. Under the current uncertainty over the presence of some EU countries liquidity, the urgent need for the reduction of CO2 emissions and China's determined, strategic goals of subsidizing of their PV markets, let’s not push against the tide. Lets try to divert it towards something that the EU is built upon, liberal support of domestic markets. If we fail to stop subsidized Chinese modules entering Europe currently and the tide still comes and PV is installed at a growing rate. But those panels are made slightly more environmentally friendly, with better workers' rights and conditions, to a better standard, as matched in Europe, then, the policy can only be seen as a success. History shows that a tit for tat trade war is unproductive and wasteful, when strategic goals of large nations are at stake. In a capitalist, globalized, neo liberal economy we should utilize the liberal socialism that European markets operate on, excel at and can control internally at will.

This was published on the and the original can be seen here: