Sunday, 29 November 2009

Global Warming - The Solution (Part 1).

Firstly apologies for the long gap since my least blog. Unfortunately the real world occasionally intervenes and drags me away. There have been so many things to blog about too, what with Bristol City Council's capitulation to 'business-as-usual-only-more-so-and-stuff-the-environment' with their decision to pursue the football World Cup bid. That I will hopefully come back to anon, but with Copenhagen fast approaching it seems timely to launch my own modestly titled 'Solution to Global Warming'.

Obligatory smoking chimney pic

Let me say at the outset that I'm not the only person proposing this kind of approach and I'm not claiming it as some great leap in thinking. It is merely the simple application of free market principles (no, that's not an oxymoron) to the problem, an application of the 'polluter pays' principle and an example of an ecotax. It's simple in essence so easily understood by the consumer but would allow for the evolution of sophistication, entreprise and diversity in it's implementation (which I'll describe in Part 2). What's most important, in contrast to Cap-and-Trade, it would actually work.

The essence of the system is that the consumer of goods or services should pay for the environmental costs arising from the supply of those goods or services, including of course the cost of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. In the case of carbon dioxide the cost would be what it actually costs to neutralise or fully mitigate the environmental impact. So far so familiar. But then the final element is where it gets interesting. The environmental costs paid by the consumer must be used to pay for (and will be determined by) the environmental neutralisation or mitigation so that the impact really is neutralised/mitigated.

I'll describe the mechanism for doing this in some detail in Part 2 in due course but let's first consider how such a system would work in principle. Say Mr Consumer wants to travel to exotic climes. He looks at air fares, but finds that the incorporation of the environmental costs makes air travel much more expensive. He then has three choices.
  1. Pay the higher air fare and fly (in which case his environmental impact will be neutralised/mitigated so no problem).
  2. Travel by some other means and/or a shorter distance with a lower environmental impact and pay the lower environmental costs (in which case no problem)
  3. Not travel (in which case no problem).
Freedom of choice but with responsibility. The same would apply to every single item of consumption because every good or service would incorporate its environmental costs. Even a cup of coffee or a hamburger would be more expensive precisely in proportion to its total environmental impact. So we would all inevitably adjust our spending to favour options with low environmental impacts and eschew options with high environmental impacts. We would find all energy costs much higher so we would need to travel less and invest in much better home insulation, meat and dairy products would be more expensive and vegetarian options less so and so on through the whole gamut of modern consumption.



Nobody would be denied the theoretical choice of flying, or driving an inefficient car, or whatever, but since such options would become so much more expensive only the relatively wealthy will have the practical means to choose (which is already true for most of the world's population anyway). The consequence would be a big shift in consumption patterns and the demise of many contemporary business models, notably those predicated on cheap air travel like, er, the World Cup (good choice Bristol City Council). Businesses would have to adapt and quickly to survive and prosper.

So problem solved? All the world's nations have to do in Copenhagen is agree to adopt such a system in good time and we can all forget about the worst of the Global Warming scenarios (unless it's already too late, in which case we can worry about our future survival instead on how to avoid Climate Change)? But of course they won't for the very simple reason that it would actually work. That is the last thing that powerful business interests want. Better for them to carry on with failing policies like Cap-and-Trade than adopt a policy that will actually work.

55 comments:

Anonymous said...

As you note, this proposal will remove choice from the less well-off, even within 'developed' countries like the UK. Expect lots of opposition from the political left. That said, it's broadly the approach that I advocate too, because the alternatives are worse. Eliminating or reducing the impact of economic externalities is always a good thing in my book.

The other approach is some sort of egalitarian carbon rationing, which one can 'spend' how one wishes (on petrol, flying, consumer goods or whatever). The downside is that this would require a wholly intrusive monitoring system to administer.

The Bristol Blogger said...

"this proposal will remove choice from the less well-off"

No it won't. They already can't afford flights, cars etc.

It will remove choice from the aspirational middle classes (or those with above average household income).

These are also known as 'voters'.

Chris Hutt said...

"These are also known as 'voters'."

Point taken. They're also disproportionately influential and any government would have a tough time persuading those particular turkeys to vote for Christmas.

But if such a system were to be adopted it would be via binding international treaties and individual governments would just have to shrug their shoulders and say 'sorry, nothing we can do about it'.

To some extent the effects of such a system are going to come about anyway, although probably in a fudged and confused way with all sorts of anomalies and contradictions. I'd rather have something comprehensive and comprehendible.

Chris Hutt said...

Anon, the carbon rationing system sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare. In effect every good or service would come with two price tags, one in £ and one in C. The consumer would be expected to juggle those figures and take account of the market value of unused credits. Far too complicated for most people to handle sensibly.

Whereas the system described above means just the one £ price and no need to take any account of the environmental impacts since they are taken care of in the price. Of course the socialists, statists and bureaucrats will go for the bureaucratic option which is why we need to educate people about the free market option!

Anonymous said...

Isn't this the Liberal Democrats and Canadian Green Party's policy.
Both the Liberals and Canadian Greens would switch taxation to green taxes on to things like pollution and carbon emissions, the revenue raised on taxing polluters would be used to reduce income tax. The Liberals plan a cut of income tax by 2p in the pound and taking around three million low paid people out of income tax completely. The Canadian Green plan also to help the low paid, but with an added help for rural communities.

Sadly the GPEW have roundly condemned this policy, increasingly the GPEW is blinkered to environmental policies that aren’t sufficiently socialist. Something that is likely to increase now we have a Red-Green alliance with the Respect Party.

Chris Hutt said...

What I am suggesting are charges/taxes which are hypothecated to pay for the environmental costs rather than replace other taxes like income tax. Of course the 'ecotax' could both pay for environmental costs and displace other taxes but then the disruption to the economy would be even greater.

The big problem with suddenly introducing ecotaxes is that the economy would take time to adapt, so it would need to be done in stages, but still quickly enough to avert the worst of climate change. It's getting to be an ever more difficult balancing trick the longer we delay action.

I too regret that the Green Party seems to be so inclined towards socialist 'solutions' with ever increasing state intervention in our lives. Quite unecessary if one understands and then 'corrects' the free market.

Anonymous said...

"No it won't. They already can't afford flights, cars etc.

It will remove choice from the aspirational middle classes (or those with above average household income)."

If you're talking about people who are homeless and sleeping rough, or people scraping by on minimum benefits (e.g. healthy single male, no kids, no parents), sure.

However, many working class individuals and families do (somehow) afford to pay for flights. And Sky and big TVs seem popular too. Note that a big TV from Tesco branded 'Technika' probably doesn't use any less resources to manufacture and transport than a fancy Panasonic from John Lewis. In fact, arguably more, since the Panasonic will probably last longer due to better build quality and design. Many on the left will oppose this proposal on the grounds that it'll push the Technika up to the cost of a Toshiba, say.

Re. Chris' point about 'juggling two prices'; not if a) one cannot (legally) sell one's carbon ration and b) it's kept track by way of, say, a national ID card and associated database. It'll still be a bureaucratic nightmare though. Maybe I should stop giving them ideas, though.

Anonymous said...

“The big problem with suddenly introducing ecotaxes is that the economy would take time to adapt” If you had a clear timetabled ‘escalator’ for environmental hypothecated taxes, it would stimulate investment for alternative technologies, as companies sought to reduce their tax liability ahead of the introduction of the tax.

Showing how a genuine free market can tackle climate change is very important. Climate change deniers argue that AGW is a socialist conspiracy; the current Green Party’s obsession with statist, socialist big solutions only serves to feed this paranoia.

People like Andrew Cornwell, former Chair of the Green Party's National Executive are joining the Liberals, the Green Party is in real danger of being outflanked by the Liberals on environmental issues. When there is talk of leaving the European Green Party for the United Left, and electoral deals with Respect, is a real worry for environmental policies will become subordinate to socialist policies.

Chris Hutt said...

Very interesting comments, but it would be helpful if Anonymous could identify himself/themsleves as one or more people. A sign-off at the end of a comment (e.g Tom or Anon#1) would suffice.

On the question of Carbon Rations, surely these would have to be marketable otherwise (a) people who can live within their carbon limits would have no incentive to minimise their carbon emissions below the threshold and/or (b) a black market would develop anyway, for example with those with surplus credits buying petrol/diesel and then selling it on to those have reached their carbon limit.

Ecotaxes would impact most on those goods and services with the biggest environmental impacts but that doesn't necessarily mean local production will be boosted at the expense of more centralised production (e.g. in China).

Economies of scale also mean economy in transportation even if the distances travelled are much greater. For example food marketed at a local farmers' market and sourced within 40 miles probably has a higher environmental impact than food marketed through a supermarket and sourced internationally, due to the energy efficiency of bulk transportation (e.g. 40 tonne HGV) over slinging 100 kilos of produce in the back of the Rangerover. It's not 'food miles' that matter but carbon emissions per kilogram.

So with the example given of Technika vs Toshiba/Panasonic the environmental cost of transportation in container ships from the far east to Europe may not add as much to the retail price as we might expect, especially as shipping adapts to higher fuel costs by slowing down and/or supplementing conventional propulsion with say wind power (a high tech version of sails).

Bristol Dave said...

Makes perfect sense to me. If the revenue is hypothecated rather than just going into government coffers or to Air travel shareholders, that seems like a good solution.

However, how would the money mitigating the effects of the polution actually be spent? How do you mitigate the effects of air travel, for example?

And how do you decide what is a fair cost?

Anonymous said...

Why not tax breathing as well?

Adam said...

"What I am suggesting are charges/taxes which are hypothecated to pay for the environmental costs rather than replace other taxes like income tax."

It might actually function the same either way. Eg. Going to fund additional subsidies for decent, much needed public transport in cities instead of thse subsidies all coming from tax. Or adding to additional subsidies making public transport a realistic option / price... which it currently isn't for a lot of people.

dbmm said...

I was going to argue in favour of a personal carbon allowance system that avoided penalising the less well off.

But I came across this article by George Monbiot that shows clearly that the 'cheap' flights have largely benefited second home owners and people who take several holidays a year. He notes that despite promoting themselves as bringing flying to the masses, Ryan Air advertise mostly in the Telegragh, indicating that they ar fully aware of their wealthy customer base.

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/01/13/flying-over-the-cuckoos-nest/

So yeah, the carbon tax comes out looking like a good system. The real problem will be to get this past the well oiled PR machine that will jolt into action the moment any policy like this looks like becoming reality.

I'm also interested whether the budget flight phenomenon is actually a product of our shit rail system. Do people on the continent, where you can get to most places by rail in a few hours, feel the need to fly?

Anonymous said...

"[I]t would be helpful if Anonymous could identify himself/themsleves as one or more people."

I'm responsible for both comment posted at 29/11/09 17:51 and also at 29/11/09 22:12.

"On the question of Carbon Rations, surely these would have to be marketable otherwise (a) people who can live within their carbon limits would have no incentive to minimise their carbon emissions below the threshold and/or (b) a black market would develop anyway, for example with those with surplus credits buying petrol/diesel and then selling it on to those have reached their carbon limit."

Indeed. To counter point a, the rations could be ratcheted downwards year-on-year. This still wouldn't provide an incentive for individuals to reduce their consumption, but would/should when taken overall. The black market would still exist, even if linked with ID cards, but it would be quite clumsy (as you say, "buying petrol for" rather than selling electronic carbon credits on eBay or whatever). My comments shouldn't be read as endorsing carbon rations, of ID cards, or of linking carbon rations with them, but merely as pointing out the kind of linkage that we might expect from a government similar to the current incumbents.

"So with the example given of Technika vs Toshiba/Panasonic the environmental cost of transportation in container ships from the far east to Europe may not add as much to the retail price as we might expect"

The transport costs of consumer goods generally pale into insignificance compared with the resources and energy used in their manufacture ( http://fatknowledge.blogspot.com/2006/09/50-gallons-of-gasoline-in-each-pc.html http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1261718 ). Broadly speaking for two devices of equivalent function, the component manifests and their environmental impact will be roughly equal, regardless of whether they are assembled shoddily or well, and whether the firmware is well-designed and futureproofed or not.

Anon #1 (!)

Paul said...

Hi Chris,

I still think you are trying to push through a solution to a problem that the jury is still out on?

People are not going to accept being taxed more than we already are in the name of a theory (theory - in my opinion)?

Regarding the solution you have put forward though.

Yes it would most definitely work in its aim of reducing the environmental impact as less would be bought due to the increase in price. My only concern is that things like cars/flights/heating etc... would then only become available to the very rich. The roads/skies etc... would become a playground for the rich!

Surely every person should be doing something to help reduce this theory. With your solution it would seem the poor (who some would argue have contributed the least to CC) would be forced into helping while the rich simply carry on, only with slightly less money in their pocket.

Anonymous said...

"My only concern is that things like cars/flights/heating etc... would then only become available to the very rich. The roads/skies etc... would become a playground for the rich!"

That is a concern, and it would be a somewhat regressive form of taxation. On the other hand, all sorts of things are, and always have been 'a playground for the rich'; owning a yacht, international commuting, private swimming pools... where do we draw the line?

Access to good education, healthcare, sufficient healthy food, adequate secure housing and equal treatment from the police and emergency services are certainly within the minimum that a 'developed' society should be able to provide for *all* its citizens.

The rest? Not so sure.

"Surely every person should be doing something to help reduce this theory. With your solution it would seem the poor (who some would argue have contributed the least to CC) would be forced into helping while the rich simply carry on, only with slightly less money in their pocket."

Taking the other side of that argument, if the rich are paying the full cost of remediation of the environmental impact of their activities (big if, I know), why should they be expected to pay more whilst the activities favoured by the less-well off are not completely paid for by their participants?

Anon #1

Anonymous said...

Some good points here.
Bristol Dave makes the best point though - how do we mitigate the effects of continuing to burn fossils fuels?
Some say we can't.The only effective way to prevent the effects of man made C02 is by not creating it in the first place. 'Off setting' is a scam to extract money from earnest well meaning rich folk, whilst carbon capture is yet to be properly tested on a industrial scale.

The LibDem/Green issues mentioned are interesting too. I have been impressed with some aspects of the LIbDems in Bristol but it appears they are supporting the south Bristol ring road so clearly more interested in votes and staying in power than greenness. That won't help reduce our C02 emissions, for sure.
Which isn't so much a criticism of the LDs, as evidence that the onus is on all of us to make the politicans act - they will only do so when they see votes in it.
Steve Meek

Chris Hutt said...

Steve, I'm hoping to deal with the question of how carbon emissions can be neutralised or mitigated in Part 2, coming soon.

But just to give you a preview we know of at least one technology - Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) - which takes carbon back out of the atmosphere and there are potentially many others. The system I'm advocating aims to free the market to develop and market those options.

In response to several commenters, I don't think it helps to conflate social and political objectives to reduce inequality with mechanisms for tackling Global Warming. Let's keep these issues seperate, otherwise the whole debate gets bogged down in intractable arguments about rights and equality.

No society that we know of has eliminated inequality so isn't it better to acknowledge it and embrace it rather than fight it? Almost everyone I know is economically wealthier than me. So what? Would my life be better if they were all equally poor? Possibly, possibly not. But it's not going to happen so what is the point of dwelling on it?

Let's focus on dealing with the outstanding environmental crisis confronting us based on the kind of social and economic structures that actually exist, not on some fantasy world.

Chris Hutt said...

Paul, are you saying that people shouldn't pay for the environmental damage they cause? If they shouldn't then who should? The people who don't cause it?

I'm advocating that we end the subsidy of environmentally damaging activities and consumption. That means ending the 'externalisation' of the costs of environmental damage and the incorporation of these costs into the price of those goods and services so they are paid by the people who cause them.

The 'poor' will not be so much affected by this in quantitative terms as the wealthy, but where they are affected (higher food, travel and fuel bills) will hurt unless they have the chance to adapt and reduce their exposure.

In practical terms this will mean things like becoming largely vegetarian, living closer to employment opportunities, cycling and walking instead of using motorised transport and investing in high standards of home insulation and draft proofing.

I like many others have been making those sort of adaptions for most of my life. Now many more of us will have to do the same.

Anonymous said...

I am what would traditionally known as middle class. However, I am at this moment in time more skint than I have ever been in my life. I haven't set foot on a plane for years. I cycle and walk as I cannot afford public transport. I struggle with the food bills every week. I keep heating off when possible, though not to the detriment of my young family. I am vegetarian and have been since age 14. My home is insulated. I'm running out of ideas of how to lessen my carbon footprint. Ideas appreciated.

To say that creating an ecotax would make things like air travel only available to the rich seems a bit blind? It already is that way isn't it? I'd say the same about train fares. I can't remember the last time I imagined I could afford to travel by train. I have the occaisional journey using the local Bristol line as a treat instead of walking every now and then.

The idea of paying for a ticket to London or somewhere far afield seems impossible.

Anon 5?

Chris Hutt said...

Well I can't compete with that Anon 5. I even went on the train to London for the first time in 10 years last month when FGW had a special offer of £25 off-peak return for the over 55s. Now I feel guilty.

But isn't it interesting that nominally 'middle-class' people like us find ourselves doing work that is so poorly rewarded in this consumer orientated society.

Anonymous said...

Yes it may be useful to separate out technical fixes and social implications when discussing climate change on your blog chris, but they are intractably linked.
We are entering the era of declining and increasingly expensive energy (and other resources) and that will inevitably lead to worsening inequality as the rich and powerful will try to ensure they can contine to live energy-rich lives.
Dealing with climate change is totally about social, and global, equality!
Steve Meek

Chris Hutt said...

I didn't mean to say that we should ignore the social implications. Of course we must consider those too. But I believe it is a big mistake to try to resolve two intractable problems in one fell swoop. Resolving one is quite enough to be getting on with.

Does it really matter so much if the rich and powerful do continue to live enrgy rich lives? Was it not ever thus? Providing they pay for the mitigation of the damage they do, it seems a small price to pay for saving the vast bulk of humanity from catastrophe. It's not ideal I know but at least it's realisable. But insisting on perfection means that nothing gets resolved. And the rich and powerful, the ones who are most to blame, will survive anyway. You can be sure of that.

The Bristol Blogger said...

One of the effects of Chris's proposals would be to redistribute wealth anyway.

If prices rise, by say, 50% and people cannot afford food, shelter, warmth etc. history suggests there will be riots on the streets.

The usual capitalist response to this is to mitigate the problem through concessions.

Paul said...

Chris - Paul, are you saying that people shouldn't pay for the environmental damage they cause? If they shouldn't then who should? The people who don't cause it?

What I was trying to explain Chris (probably not very well) is that I don't understand why someone who earns £100,000 a year should have the ability and right to cause more environmental damage than someone who earns £20,000 a year?

Chris Hutt said...

Paul, we should in principle all have the same rights, but ability to do things is of course related to disposable income. So as you say someeone earning £100,000 a year has more 'ability' to do whatever they want than someone earning £20,000 a year.

If you object to that then what kind of economic and political system would you prefer to the one that produces such inequalities? Something like the Soviet Union or Cuba perhaps? Even there the elite enjoy(ed) privileges beyond the dreams of the masses so there seems to be no escape from the reality of inequality.

So let's not rule out the possibility of resolving the environmental crisis by insisting that we must simultaneously resolve inequality, something that people have been trying to do for hundreds of years without success.

Paul said...

I that case Chris I think you are going to have a very tough time selling this to the masses!

Chris Hutt said...

It would have to be imposed, like most aspects of reality, like cap and trade and like the EU constitution. There is no way people will vote for higher costs.

Adam said...

Isn't "Climate Change" a better decription than "Global Warming"? Warmer global temperatures could actually lead to colder weather in some parts due to a disrupted gulf stream caused by rising sea levels. In fact it's thought that it could all eventually lead to another ice age within quite a chort period of time.

Also the general public doesn't really belive in or understand the notion of Global Warming when we have cold rainy and increasingly stormy summers instead of tropical weather.

dbmm said...

Chris Hutt:

When I hear people talking about 'imposing' unpopular green policies, I immediately think 'You and whose army?' The only people I can think of are a few authoritarian refugees from the New Labour sinking ship such as Anthony Giddens and Madeleine Bunting.

You will certainly not have the corporations on your side - the carbon tax is exactly the kind of policy their climate denial media programme is created to avoid. Neither will you have the political classes who dare not displease their corporate patrons. The experience of the past 20 years bears this out. Carbon taxes are nothing new as a concept but have been rejected by the political and business establishment. The cap-and-trade scheme did get implemented but got shot to pieces by corporate lobbyists wanting concessions.

I think the solution to green policies lies outside green politics. The countries in Europe that have got the furthest with carbon reduction technologies, such as Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, are the also the most democratic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index). People accept government initiatives like this if they feel they have some influence and control over them.

The lack of trust in government in the UK and the EU means that people will not accept extra taxes because they assume, probably rightly, that corruption and unnaccountablility will result in the money going astray. So what we need is to reform politics so that we can trust our government.

I'm not saying this is easy or even possible right now, but it's better than your alternative which seems to pre-suppose a military coup.

Anon 5:
Your complaint about being middle-class and poor is one that I hear more and more these days. It is all the more surprising since the middle-class consumer was meant to be the beneficiary of the market reforms of the last 30 years. They were not meant to produce an equitable or integrated society, but the privatisations and inevitable handover of power to the corporations and banks were intended to make an greatly enlarged middle class rich. Except the middle classes aren't even rich.

I really do think that the current economic problems represent the end of the line for this kind of politics and that it's time for a new perspective.

Chris Hutt said...

Adam, I can't see that it matters that much whether one refers to Global Warming or Climate Change because they are aspects of the same process. You say the general public doesn't really believe in GW but will they more readily believe in Climate Change? It's hard not to confuse Climate Change with simple weather, which is what we actually notice.

dbmm, the need to act to contain Global Warming must override local democratic rights because there is no hope of convincing electoral majorities to vote for this sort of thing.

You cite Switzerland, Germany and Denmark, but none of these countries have made more than token adjustments so far. The per capita carbon footprints of those countries are 18.4, 15.1 and 15.2 respectively, while for comparison the per capita carbon footprint of the UK is 15.4, The US is 28.6, China is 3.1 and India 1.8.

What I am proposing here would not necessarily appear as an extra tax but merely as a change in the relative price of many goods and services, mostly but not entirely upwards. So it would appear to be what it essentially would be, the effect of market forces.

Anonymous said...

Chris,
Whilst all of the comments have understandably been about CO2, I'd like to think about your idea for other environmental issues. What about food, water and minerals? These are basic commodities where cost bears no resemblance to environmental impact or ability to access.

Its not an argument against your method, but hopefully demonstrates how difficult it would be to bring about .

Look at the recent announcement by OFWAT on water prices. People complain about paying another £5 a year for a service that includes providing them with unlimited drinking water and taking away all their crap. Imagine how much time and energy that would take you without a tap or a toilet (or just look at the wateraid website), then compare with the price you pay. Imagine the impacts on rivers, lakes and the sea of doing that job? The cost you pay is peanuts, before you even start to get to CO2.

And food. The average dinner would take you months to gather and produce yet it costs you pennies. The environmental costs of providing you with milk, bread and cereals are huge. Pesticides, soil erosion, CO2 emissions, wildlife impacts etc etc.

What about the gadgets? Where has all that plastic and metal come from? If I had to mine it and transport it to Bristol to make my computer, the environmental costs would be astronomical.

I suppose my point is that our society is underpinned by artificially low costs for almost all aspects of our lives. These low costs are suported by some poor bastard who lives in a country that we either colonised or have preferential trading rights with at the minute.

Whilst it would be good to pay the true environmental/access cost for our actions/purchases/energy use, our society would virtually cease to exist if we did. Maybe that is the eventual outcome we will arrive at for a green equitable world, but my guess just now is that its a hard sell to voters and always will be.

(ps. sorry for long post pub post)

Chris U

Anonymous said...

"I suppose my point is that our society is underpinned by artificially low costs for almost all aspects of our lives. These low costs are suported by some poor bastard who lives in a country that we either colonised or have preferential trading rights with at the minute."

In some cases, certainly.

But the majority of support for those low prices for raw materials and manufactured/refined goods comes from a) economies of scale (it's quite the pain in the arse to mine enough ore to refine to make the metal for one computer case, but it's not that much more difficult to mine enough for 10, 100, or even 1000 cases-worth) b) specialisation (by concentrating on one aspect of the process, and doing it well, you don't need to waste time and effort learning everything else to the same standard. Unless you're a subsistence farmer, though, you can't eat the fruit of your efforts, so you need to trade with others in a similar position).

Anon #1

Anonymous said...

The need to act to contain Global Warming must override local democratic rights because there is no hope of convincing electoral majorities to vote for this sort of thing – Chris Hutt

So override one of the most basic principles that our society stands for because a theory cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt?

Maybe if more effort was put into actually trying to prove Climate Change exists you wouldn’t need to try and bypass the democratic process all together?

Paul said...

Sorry, that was me previously @ 11:10. Forget to put my name in!

Anonymous said...

I increasingly think those who do not want global wariming to exist will refuse to accept any level of information that shows that it does, and will pick up on anything which casts the slightest piece of doubt on it as proof that it doesn't.

Chris Hutt said...

I thought it sounded like you Paul.

Global Warming/Climate Change is a theory (hypothesis) which has a huge amount of supporting evidence. For practical purposes it is proven but a strictly scientific approach can only claim degrees of probability for particular outcomes. That will always be the case however much more evidence is gathered.

You seem to want 100% certainty but that will never be possible because we are trying to understand what are for practical purposes infinitely complex systems and however much we know (or think we know) there will always be far more that we don't know.

There will always be Climate Change deniers and they will always sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of the public. And people will prefer to doubt because it excuses their unsustainable behaviour. So what chance for a democratic process?

The principle of democracy is overridden every day by all sorts of factors beyond democratic control. We have to accept the price of oil and gas and it's pointless to try to vote for cheaper fuel. We even find ourselves signed up to the EU constitution and all the Directives that follow from that without a vote.

So there's nothing exceptional about what I am proposing. If you agree that the price of fossil fuels should include the environmental costs (do you?) then we must accept that too.

Or are you saying we should have a vote on who should pay the price for our gross consumption? Should the consumer pay for his pollution or should the cost be imposed on the poorest people of the world as at present? Faced with such a question who in all conscience could vote to impose the costs on the poor and blameless?

Paul said...

I thought it sounded like you Paul.
-Not sure whether that is a good or bad thing! :)

Global Warming/Climate Change is a theory (hypothesis) which has a huge amount of supporting evidence.
-There is also a lot of evidence against the theory. For every article I read stating the earth’s temperature has increased there is another article claiming it is cooling down. For every article stating the world’s glaciers are retreating there is another saying the glaciers are in fact growing. Unfortunately very few of these articles provide any sort of background as to how the figures where reached or the conditions etc... the measurements were taken so it hard to reach a conclusion either way.

You seem to want 100% certainty but that will never be possible because we are trying to understand what are for practical purposes infinitely complex systems and however much we know (or think we know) there will always be far more that we don't know.
-I would like more than 50/50 which I believe it is at the moment?

There will always be Climate Change deniers and they will always sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of the public. And people will prefer to doubt because it excuses their unsustainable behaviour. So what chance for a democratic process?
-That is the beauty of the democratic process... you need to convince the majority. I remain unconvinced, not because I feel I have a right to do things that involve driving/flying etc... but because I feel I have a right to ask questions, query what people are stating, ask why/how/where/when without the fear of being labelled a “non-believer”. These proposals you are putting forward are after all going to seriously everyone. Climate change is very much becoming a religion in the way you cannot question it without fear of the usual response “Look at all the evidence”. It’s like asking a religious person if can they prove their god exists, you get the ‘You just don’t believe” response. I do try and do my bit by walking places instead of driving, recycling my waste where possible and by using low energy products for instance. But I do this because I am aware our commodities/resources are finite not because of Climate Change.

So there's nothing exceptional about what I am proposing. If you agree that the price of fossil fuels should include the environmental costs (do you?) then we must accept that too.
-If the ridiculous rate of tax on petrol/diesel (currently around 70-80%?) was replaced with a similar renewable energy tax (after all, fossil fuels will eventually run out) where ALL the proceeds went into researching/building/maintaining renewable energy sources I would find it hard to believe anyone would argue, certainly not myself. I’m unsure of the figure this would generate but I believe it would certainly be billions. Think how far that would advance renewable energy technology and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels? What I don’t agree with is the government placing another 70-80% tax on top of the current values because it has some apparent environmental impact only for that money to then be spent on anything but non-renewable energy, more likely duck houses/moats.

Or are you saying we should have a vote on who should pay the price for our gross consumption?
-I’m saying before we do anything, we should confirm whether this ‘gross consumption’ is actually having an effect. What happens if your proposals are put in place and then in 10/20 years or so it turns out there was no such thing as Climate Change and the earth was just going through one of its many blips?

Should the consumer pay for his pollution or should the cost be imposed on the poorest people of the world as at present?
-I assume you are talking about the environmental cost? Again, this needs to be confirmed/proven.

Faced with such a question who in all conscience could vote to impose the costs on the poor and blameless?
-See above.

Chris Hutt said...

Paul, it's a tactic of the Climate Change deniers to sow confusion by generating lots of apparently 'adverse evidence'. I'd do the same in their position because it's a tactic that works.

The science behind GW is quite simple in theory. We know we are adding to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and forests. We know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps heat within the atmosphere. Likewise methane.

What we aren't quite so sure of is whether the world is heating up as a consequence, although there's lots of evidence to say it is. And we aren't quite so sure about the effect that rising temperatures will have on the climate, although again there's lots of evidence to say that the effects could be severe.

So although we can't be 100% certain it looks like something near 90% to me. On that basis we'd be very foolish to gamble on the future of our climate, which is what we're doing.

Paul said...

Hi Chris,
You could also argue it’s a tactic of the Climate Change supporters to fiddle data or not release data that disproved their theory. As we saw recently with the leak of the East Anglia emails.

I agree the theory behind the science of climate change is a simple one. More CO2=Higher temperatures. However various articles, an example being, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8299079.stm state that even though CO2 output has increased recently, the warmest year was 11 years ago and that in fact oceans are cooling.

Now, as stated in my previous post there are no figures or background around this claim, and I don’t know whether the author has any alterative motives or a supporter or denier of Climate Change, but you can see why people are sceptical? I’m sure there are 100’s of articles to disprove this that you could supply but I hope you can see why I am personally not 100% convinced nor believe your 90% certain statement.

As mentioned before, I think a much better way to ask people to lower their carbon footprint would be to highlight that eventually fossil fuels are going to run out. This date is not known and probably can’t be predicted accurately, but, if people are aware of this and realise they must reduce the use of fossil fuels the amount of CO2 realised will also reduce. It will also promote renewable energy.

May just a different approach is needed?

How about a country only receiving x amount of fossil fuels per person per year*? A quota as such.

*This idea was just off the top of my head and not thought through. It may be rubbish! :)

onthelevelblog said...

Free market solutions? Neutralising our impact? Accepting inequality because- hey- 'it's always been like that'???

Holy mother of blessed Jehovah. The Green Bristol Blog has been taken over by a mysterious and potentially hostile imposter! Where is Chris Hutt? Where is he? You give him back, you bastards!!

Seriously Chris. Normally you are right on with your posts, but I've got to tell you- as your good friend this one is a total load of bollocks. Perhaps you should change your name to the Green WASH Bristol blog. You've clearly been hanging out in Clifton far too long if you're using words like 'mitigate' and 'climate change' in the same sentence.

The solution Chris is clearly to EAT THE RICH. You are far too easy on them. I mean- have you read (or seen) The Road?? Well fed thigh meat is not something to be squandered believe me- plus the meal comes complete with the bonus of reducing any further flights or car journeys and subsequent descent into climate peril. If the rich insist on lighting the torches while Rome burns, if they say you can pry my cold dead hands off the steering wheel, we may actually have to do just that- for the survival of civilisation. But we won’t wait for the flesh to cool. No we will eat you while you are still warm, your climate controlled Lexus luxury of a leather heated seat moment. A tasty meal. A potentially marketable offset product. Licking the bones of a dying order…delicious.

You’ve inspired my own blog post at http://onthelevelblog.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/carbon-offsets-car-ban-off-streets/

I’d also like to formally announce that On the Level Car Free blog is launching a “Green Bristol Blog Greenwash Watch” to ensure that in my absence the purveyors of finance, clinging to capitalism, have not captured our fearless green blogger of southwest England, or worse- infiltrated his moral compass with metal filings pointing to a melting Antarctica, our Monbiot of the Malago, our Robin Hood of Redland. Our Walter Cronkite of Whiteladies Rd. Our Paxman of Pill.

What hath thou to say for thyself Sir Hutt?

Chris Hutt said...

Hi Josh,

I'm tempted to say something about stones and glass houses. I hope you don't get what you wish for because in global carbon terms you are among the rich.

As you probably know the average global CO2 emissions per capita are around 4 tonnes a year and even that is unsustainable. If we take 1 tonne a year as a broadly sustainable level that's only going to cover 10 kWh (e.g. 1 kW running for 10 hours) of daily electricity consumption per capita (based on current UK generating technology).

One could easily blow a 1 tonne p. a. CO2 allowance just travelling by train from Bristol to London once a week for a year, or driving just 500 miles. Have you worked out your carbon footprint for your Bristol to San Francisco journey yet? I'd be very surprised if it was less than your 1 tonne annual allowance.

What I'm trying to do here is identify a mechanism that will work based on the realities of human nature and our contemporary economic and social structures. I know there is a good case for changing human nature and maybe 'eating the rich' is one way of doing it but that's outside the remit for this exercise.

onthelevelblog said...

Hi Chris,

I am willing to do my part for the planet and be eaten by hungry Africans if it actually comes to that. Though they would get more CO2/ lb. if they ventured up the hill to Clifton I'd imagine.

I don't really believe that the climate emergency is going to be solved by anything other than a global revolution, so discussing 'offsets' and 'mitigation' is simply a distraction when we should be organising toward that end.

That is the only way that the 'atmospheric commons' can be distributed in an equitable manner, and brought back under control.

Like so many things, it's a matter of perception, and only a small minority understand the climate problem as a class issue, which it is. The more people (from the have nots) who understand that the more they will taste (and seek) justice.



Josh

Chris Hutt said...

Wouldn't the logical feeding grounds would be the international airports? There the worst offenders would be targeted.

I did not say anything about 'off-setting' other than including a cartoon strip ridiculing the idea. Mitigation is something else and needs to be explored. But it is valid to compare the costs and benefits of mitigation with 'neutralisation' (which is not off-setting). I'm going to explore this in Part 2 shortly.

Josh, you should learn from history. Look at what actually comes about when you have a revolution. Orwell captures the essence of it in Animal Farm.

You might also try visiting Cuba while you're over in that hemisphere. See how life is for the ordinary people. They all depend on the capitalist black market for the little extras like milk and eggs.

By all means foment revolution as a way of bringing pressure to bear on the ruling elite to reform but hope that the revolution never actually succeeds.

onthelevelblog said...

Hi Chris,

Yes please do explain what the difference between offsetting and neutralising as you say:

"In the case of carbon dioxide the cost would be what it actually costs to neutralise or fully mitigate the environmental impact (of the emissions)"

Sounds like an offset to me. The only way to seriously deal with climate change is 1) stop destroying sinks like oceans and forests and 2) drastically slash emissions levels. You can't substitute one for the other, or trade them against each other. They both need to happen as a matter of urgency.

I'm not talking about revolution in the 'string the rich up from the lamp posts' sort of way- even though it's fun to joke, the reality of that would of course be horrible and as you say violence begets violence.

I'm talking about the mass movements that have led to significant social change, the civil rights movement being the most recent example. For the most part this was nonviolent, but was faced with state suppression and despicable violence.

I imagine that when the climate revolution comes they will use things worse than water cannons. There is so much more for the corporations to lose this time around.

I realise this is a bit of a tangent from your detailed policy debates but I get a bit sick of climate discussions that meekly start from the place of 'political palatibility' rather than what is necessary for our survival. It's also very easy to lose the basic plot and be absorbed into using their acronyms, their policy language, their economics. This ain't gonna engage with 95% of the population, and worse- using the language and systems that created the problem will never solve it.

What is being talked about at Copenhagen, and your solution as I understand it, would simply allow the Titanic to hit another part of the iceberg.

The ship will still sink, just perhaps a bit more slowly. That is why scientists like Jim Hansen are calling for the Copenhagen talks to fail.

A great film outlining the threat of carbon trading to our atmosphere can be found here.

Josh

Chris Hutt said...

There are technologies and natural processes which take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (or intercept it on it's way to the atmosphere.

One example which I've mentioned is Carbon Capture and Storage but of course tree planting is another. Potentially there are many more such processes or technologies. At present these technologies are in their infancy or even unborn.

These processes/technologies can 'neutralise' carbon dioxide by taking it out of the atmosphere. So that is what I mean by neutralisation. This may or may not be the normal meaning of the word but I certainly don't mean off-setting as currently practised.

Mitigation consists of measures that compensate for the ill-effects of global warming, for example improving sea defences against flooding. In some cases it may be more cost effective to mitigate the effects than to neutralise carbon dioxide.

Taken together neutralisation and mitigation can, in principle at least, completely undo the environmental damage done by CO2 emissions. So I am suggesting a structure that encourages and funds the realisation of that objective.

What I am suggesting is not Cap and Trade. It is a market mechanism but one more precisely targeted at the desired outcome.

Apart from that I'm inclined to agree with much of what you say. I said at the outset that I didn't think what I was suggesting would be politically palatable because it does actually deliver the radical change required. I don't imagine for one moment that it will be taken up but nevertheless I put it in the public domain to at least demonstrate that market mechanisms can deliver.

Chris Hutt said...

One important point that I missed out of the explanation above. The point of identifying the 'neutralising' technologies is not to expect them to do the job on the scale required but to give us a cost base for neutralisation.

Once the appropriate cost is applied to the goods and services that generate the CO2 the demand for htose goods and services will decline, in many cases dramatically. The effect will be in line with what you prescribe - namely 1) to stop the destruction of the carbon sinks like oceans and forests and 2) to drastically reduce emissions levels.

Anonymous said...

"Josh, you should learn from history. Look at what actually comes about when you have a revolution. Orwell captures the essence of it in Animal Farm."

I agree; based on what has resulted from the revolutions of history, there's a likelihood that what results will be worse than before, and certainly no guarantee of being better.

Revolution is like tearing up what you have, and rolling dice to see what will come. Once in motion, it generally cannot be steered by the moderate majority.

By contrast, evolution and reform give a chance to keep the best of what we have right now, and improve the things that are not so good.

Anon #1

bristolwestpaul said...

Chris

how does this deal with the biggest producer of CO2 emissions?

Power production. A new coal fired power station is opened on average every week of the year, half of them in China.

If I understand your proposals properly it would lead to a large increase in peoples' fuel bills (around the world). This will affect the poor disproportionately as heating costs are a greater proportion of their income than for rich people.

Chris Hutt said...

Hi Paul,

The idea is that every tonne of carbon put into the atmosphere is balanced by a tonne of carbon taken out, at the expence of the polluter.

In the case of coal fired power stations, the most cost effective way of doing this based on current technology is probably Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), so in effect all coal fired power stations, existing and new, would have to have CCS fitted.

That would of course make coal fired power stations much more expensive and so possibly kill the market for more. Low carbon alternatives would be a much more attractive proposition, which is what we want.

The electricity generated by either means would also be much more expensive and all consumers would be hit. This will ultimately result in technology and energy-source shifts as people seek to reduce their fuel bills. That's also what we want to happen.

The poorest people in the world actually consume very little in the way of fossil fuelled energy. But so-called poor peoople in the developed world and average income people in the developing world will probably be hit quite hard, relative to their disposable incomes, which will mean governments have to find ways of mitigating that for political reasons.

The big question is why should China for example sign up to such a deal? They won't unless they are persuaded that the alternatives are worse. That is primarily the job of the world's leading statesmen. We will see if they are up to the job (I confidently expect not).

onthelevelblog said...

Chris, I'm still feeling queasy about your claims of "neutralisation." For one, CCS is an unproven technology with many potential dangerous side effects, not the least of which is a sudden release of CO2 that was presumably stored safely underground.

Second, trees are not a way of 'neutralising' carbon dioxide emissions. That is a fiction propagated by offsetting companies and companies like Easyjet. The ecological facts are that trees and other vegatation will absorb carbon during their lives and then emit it back into the atmosphere when they burn or die and decompose. Trees only lock the carbon away for a relatively short time. With significant changes to our climate already in the pipeline, it's likely that we will see mass forest die offs in the not too distant future.

Remember that the Earth has evolved into a stable state with forest covering most of the temperate and tropical areas of the planet. Much of this has been deforested within recent history. The lack of forest cover is exacerbating the effect of our current emissions. Planting a few trees here and there will not in any way 'neutralise' the effects of our selfish and short sighted burning of the planet's fossil fuel store.

The only way we are going to address this problem is by leaving fossil fuels in the ground, safely locked away from the carbon cycle.

You need to get away from this idea that we can somehow compensate for the burning. That is the logic of addiction, and it is leading us off a precipice.

Anonymous said...

So, is it true that BEP's Mike Ford is in fact UWE Business Enterprise graduate and ex UWE Hub FM worker Rob Green? The 21 year old boy from Bracknell who has so much to say about Bristol, just because he now lives in Bedminster? I hear he makes his living pulling pints in a Bristol pub when not writing rubbish for the BEP

Woodburner said...

Just remember, guys, especially you, Chris, with your free market talk, "THE MASTER'S TOOLS WILL NEVER DISMANTLE THE MASTER'S HOUSE". We need a new tool kit for this one, the current political system, in thrall to business interests, ain't gonna do it. The outcome of Copenhagen was entirely predictable.

Chris Hutt said...

But what other political system is there? Can you give us a practical example of a functioning, viable political system that delivers better results.

I think the problem is inherent in human nature rather than political systems, which essentially do little more than reflect human nature. We have evolved to take a short term view of issues because that has served us well in the past. There have always been too many variables and too many unknowns to make longer term views worth bothering with.

But with our current scientific knowledge base we find ourselves, perhaps for the first time in history, with what appears to be a reasonably reliable prediction of the consequences of our actions 50 or more years hence. Yet all our political/social/negotiating skills have evolved to deal with relatively short term issues.

JimJ said...

How about... a benevolent dicatorship? In the same spirit as that of Plato's Republic: the most intelligent, morally pure people are chosen to rule, and the general population are taught to do the jobs that they are best at. Probably not what you're looking for...?