Rationing carbon

Conference Motion F12, Tackling the Climate Emergency

Our remaining carbon budget will probably be used up in less than 10 years at the current rate of consumption. If that carbon budget is squandered, our children will face a double problem. They will need to fight rising sea levels, desertification, violent storms, and unprecedented heat waves without the use of convenient and powerful fossil fuels.

Yet we continue to squander fossil fuel. The most important decision ever taken by humanity is how to control fossil fuel use.  Our precious carbon budget may need to last for hundreds of years until the CO2 levels in the atmosphere decline again.

Given the gravity of the situation, I can see no alternative now but to ration carbon. Each person’s total carbon emission must be added up using a smartphone app whenever they make a purchase, and further purchases should not be possible if their ration is exceeded.

Rationing is a simple tried and tested way of distributing scarce resources. In World War 2 this country had limited supplies of food, so food was rationed – rich or poor – the ration was the same. The result was that the poor stayed healthy and were motivated to win the war.

Rationing is painful, but this is an emergency, and whatever is needed must be done. The response to Covid was a ‘Stay Home’ order. The pain was incredible, but it was done.

If a few countries could make rationing work, others should follow, because there is concern about climate change in all countries.

The consequences of this approach will be a complete shift in global priorities: Fossil carbon consumption will be seriously considered in every aspect of life.

People will be free to decide how they will live within the ration, and will therefore be personally engaged in the carbon reduction programme. Significant carbon reduction will be made quite quickly, because so much carbon is squandered on trivia.

Everyone will, for the first time, see a realistic hope of controlling global warming. People are far more likely to accept sacrifices if they feel they will achieve something.

Every company will strive to reduce carbon emissions, because that will make their products more affordable to consumers within the ration. Recording the true carbon cost of each product will be a pain, but it is essential. It is a well known principle that nothing can be controlled unless it is first measured. Products must only be sold if they have an audited carbon cost.

Rations must not be tradeable. The rich must have no escape from the ration except to use sustainable fuels. The demand for sustainable fuels will accelerate. Energy giants will race to produce them. This will bring down the price until they are affordable.

So – the question in conference is whether motion F12 is adequately robust, faced with this global life and death situation. If, like me, you think that far more radical action is both possible and necessary, please vote against F12.

* Cllr John Shoesmith has been a party member for five years. He was elected onto Duffield Parish Council in 2019, when the Liberal Democrats went from zero to six members, displacing the Conservatives.

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20 Comments

  • William Francis 16th Sep '21 - 7:42pm

    There are a number of glaring issues with this policy.

    Putting a value on the carbon used to produce goods and services in the complex economy of millions of businesses connected to global markets would require an unprecedented level of government surveillance and control over the economy, which would make late 1970s corporatism look laissez-faire.

    In democratic societies, large-scale economic changes can only be implemented via the consent of producer and consumer groups, who in turn have the ability to marshal consent from their constituents. Attlee’s post-war stringent rationing to keep the balance of trade under control was brought to an end via a public and a Conservative party that did not consent to these measures. The last time something close to this scale was attempted was the “social contract”; the wage restraints during the Callaghan years. Businesses ignored the policy, and the TUC and failed to keep rank and file shop stewards (who had amassed considerable power during several decades of full employment) from rebelling. The relatively short-term sacrifices made during the pandemic are no clear guide for a project like this. The harshest restrictions weren’t implemented for very long ( the rationing in supermarkets lasted for a few weeks at most) and the relatively mild long-term restrictions are weakening (like masks on trains) or facing backlash (anti-lockdown and anti-vax protests). Whilst climate change and its consequences are increasingly a prescient issue, voters don’t appear to take it seriously enough for them to adopt carbon rationing. If they did, the man who didn’t even turn up for the 2019 climate change debates wouldn’t have won over 40% of the vote in that year’s general election.

  • William Francis 16th Sep '21 - 7:42pm

    The development of a black/grey market separate from the carbon rationing is a distinct possibility, as it was a reality during wartime and post-war rationing. Many small firms aren’t even VAT registered, and unless the republic of Ireland imposes this system a glaring hole in the plan exists.

    Besides not all carbon consumption is alike. Some of it, the jargon of finance, is self-liquidating (such as solar panels, housing insulation, and wind farm construction). A rationing system would need to be able to account for this.

    Ultimately, whilst a novel and interesting proposal, sharing the remains of the carbon budget are not for me as important (or cost-effective in terms of political capital) actively decarbonizing the economy. Through active state investment (and to a lesser extent carbon pricing and regulation) we must cut fossil fuels out of our electricity grid and electrify as much as we can (i.e no more gas boilers and petrol cars).

  • I look at the science and to me it is clear that your recommendations are not required. You have clearly given the matter serious thought and that should be respected, even if few may agree with it. I doubt if anyone would welcome having a Taliban Government on Carbon usage.

    There is no emergency. Our climate is extremely stable and there is no chance of a furure emergency.

  • I agree, the climate emergency is real, and the early impacts are already painful, so a bit of planned pain to avert far worse disaster is fair.

    The issue of a carbon budget is interesting and IMO helpful, but a problem is that some people say we are already in trouble, so the idea of a remaining budget is wrong. That’s not very helpful, because we aren’t able to live net zero lives, but having an idea of what we have to work with, rather than cutting what we feel like and hoping for the best, is more useful.

    That said, the sheer faff involved in setting up any true carbon budget or rationing scheme would be tough. I also fear it would prove too unpopular to implement.

    On the other hand, I do think we could have a kind of carbon rationing, that targets key industries, such as aviation, and I’d love it if we could better account for the emissions we’re responsible for via imported goods.

  • William Francis 16th Sep '21 - 9:10pm

    @Peter

    The climate isn’t stable in the terms of a human lifetime.

    Pumping billions of tonnes of Co2 into the atmosphere over many decades has resulted in higher average temperatures, and it will wreck human civilization if we ignore it.

  • @William – To put your billions of tonnes into perspective, it is a mere 0.04% of the atmosphere. Water vapour is a much more powerful greenhouse gas and that comprises about 5% of the atmosphere, particularly in the Tropics.

    The greenhouse gas effect is real and has warmed our planet by about 33 degrees Celsius, much of that many millions of years ago. But the effect is near logarithmic, with the warming due to an increase in gas concentration becoming ever smaller with each concentration increase.

    The IPCC is not a scientific organisation. It supports the UN in its political objective which is to use climate change alarmism to force redistribution of wealth. As we approach COP26 the alarmist rhetoric becomes ever more ridiculous. It is highly irresponsible of the UN to frighten the public with false claims.

  • Peter Martin 17th Sep '21 - 8:38am

    “Rationing is a simple tried and tested way of distributing scarce resources. In World War 2 this country had limited supplies……”

    Not quite so simple. Rationing was essentially a counter inflation measure. The idea was that it wasn’t only money that was going to be needed to buy goods. The consequence was that the population wasn’t particularly short of money. The Govt could borrow the excess back partly by compulsory saving schemes such as selling war bonds and partly by borrowing the excess voluntary savings that were accumulating in the economy.

    The expectation was that these would be repaid in a matter of some years after the war was over.

    The reduction in private consumption was more than matched by an increase in public consumption which was necessary for the war effort. Therefore the economy ran along at a high level with jobs for all and as much paid work as anyone was able to perform.

    The situation we have now is quite different. There can’t be an assumption that the Govt will borrow the excess savings generated and spend them on something else to keep the economy going. There can’t be an assumption that the savings will ever again be accessible.

    So if you want to reduce consumption you’ll have to do it with taxation rather than rationing. Then there’s the problem of keeping the economy going at the same time. I’m just not sure how we’re ever going to do that!

  • Peter Martin 17th Sep '21 - 12:57pm

    @ Peter,

    “But the effect is near logarithmic, with the warming due to an increase in gas concentration becoming ever smaller with each concentration increase.”

    This doesn’t mean it is insignificant.

    You’ve also mentioned water vapour as a GH gas, which is quite correct. It a secondary or condensing GH gas. Therefore it doesn’t matter if you hang out your washing in your back garden. If you add some water vapour to the atmosphere in one place it will condense out in another. So directly adding water vapour won’t cause any overall warming.

    You may have noticed that your washing dries better on a warm day. This is because a warmer atmosphere will hold more water vapour than a cooler one. So if we warm up the atmosphere even a little by adding some extra CO2 or other non condensing gas, like CH4, the warmer air will hold more water vapour than it did previously and cause even more warming. This is known as a positive feedback amplification.

    So if we do calculations on the amount of warming we might expect from an increase in CO2 alone the warming looks to be within acceptable limits. However, when we include the positive feedbacks, 1 degree of warming becomes about 4-6 degrees of warming which is not going to be at all good for anyone’s health!

  • William Francis 17th Sep '21 - 3:33pm

    @Peter

    Co2 concentration is the highest it has been in 800,000 years and more than double what it was at the dawn of the agricultural revolution and its rising.

    Since 1963 annual global carbon dioxide emissions (excluding land-use change) have increased from 10 billion to over 36 billion tonnes ( that’s over one trillion tonnes in the span of about 50 years), it is no coincidence, that average global temperatures have surged by over one degree above the pre-industrial average.

  • @William – Don’t forget that the 500 year Little Ice Age ended about 1850.

  • The IPCC feedback predictions are the output of failed models. We know they are failed because they exaggerate the rate of warming by about seven times as well, compared with reality.

    It matters not whether the greenhouse gas is water vapour, CO2 or even methane. Individually they do perform differently, but in the presence of water vapour in a shared absorbance band, the reality is that the band is essentially saturated. Adding as many trillions of tonnes as you like will make a miniscule difference.

    There are now a number of papers confirming this. The first was about this time last year. The IPCC is clearly going to ignore the science in the hope that they can bluff their way through COP26.

  • Peter Martin 17th Sep '21 - 9:17pm

    @ Peter

    I’m not sure why you persist with this claptrap.

    If “adding as many trillions of tonnes as you like will make a miniscule difference”, can you explain why Venus, with a high concentration CO2 atmosphere, has a hotter surface temperature than Mercury even though it is further from the sun?

    Can you also explain when the Earth’s atmosphere did have a much higher CO2 concentration than now it was also a lot warmer than it is now and sea levels far higher?

  • To be honest, I don’t know about Venus or Mercury. I give way to your superior knowledge on the other planets.

    Why was the Medieval Warm Period and Roman Warm Period warmer than today? I don’t know the answer to that either, but of more concern, is that no climate scientists know the answer to that either, but they claim to know the future temperatures of our planet.
    I can explain why saturation of the H20 and CO2 absorption band means that increasing greenhouse gas emissions will make little difference to global temperature. This fact has been confirmed by spectroscopic measurement in a joint project conducted by the Russians and Americans.

  • Nonconformistradical 17th Sep '21 - 10:16pm

    @Peter
    “Why was the Medieval Warm Period and Roman Warm Period warmer than today? I don’t know the answer to that either, but of more concern, is that no climate scientists know the answer to that either, but they claim to know the future temperatures of our planet.”

    Perhaps climate scientists might know rather more about potential future temperatures on the grounds that in modern times scientists have actually been taking proper measurements of factors such as greenhouse gas concentrations, temperature and precipitation changes in many places on Planet Earth etc. whereas all we think we know about the Medieval Warm Period and Roman Warm Period is based on very patchy, incomplete and imprecise geological records (proxies such as carbon isotope and oxygen isotope ratios, dendrochronology), crude measurements and a few imprecise written records?

  • Peter Martin 17th Sep ’21 – 9:17pm:
    …can you explain why Venus, with a high concentration CO2 atmosphere, has a hotter surface temperature than Mercury even though it is further from the sun?

    Mercury has no substantive atmosphere. By contrast, Venus has a 250km thick dense atmosphere of 96.5% carbon dioxide and 3.5% nitrogen with a surface pressure of 93 bar (1,350psi).

  • Peter Martin 18th Sep '21 - 3:44am

    @ Peter,

    You’re saying you don’t understand why Venus, with lots of CO2 in its atmosphere, is much hotter that Mercury, with virtually no atmosphere at all, but you do understand why the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere can be safely modified by adding more CO2. You’re saying this won’t cause any significant warming.

    You are telling us that its due to the spectral lines being saturated. If so how does any heat escape from the Earth at all? They aren’t even saturated on Venus. If they were heat would arrive from the sun and it wouldn’t ever escape. It obviously does. The temperature of Venus might seem hot to us but its not quite so hot as it would be if no heat escaped at all and the atmosphere really was ‘saturated’ with CO2.

    Can I suggest you STFU until you know what you are talking about.

  • Jenny Barnes 18th Sep '21 - 10:55am

    Don’t feed the troll.

    Thinking about the carbon rationing idea. I heat our house with firewood, which I grow sustainably in woodland. I probably use around 10litres of petrol each year for cutting, hedge trimming etc. I assume my use of firewood would count as net zero, as trees are absorbing CO2 that I’m creating when it’s burnt. To offset the petrol this year I bought 10 kilos of biochar (pure carbon made from trees) which will be used as soil improver. 10 kg biochar is slightly more than the carbon in the petrol so that should be carbon neutral. It led me to think about planting trees to offset CO2 emissions. It’s all very well, but trees don’t last for ever, and we need the CO2 to stay locked up for 1000 years plus. So the tree planting offset process needs an end use for it to really count, I think. Biochar lasts 1000 years +, so that’s a possibility, using the wood as a building material replacing steel or brick or blocks might work.
    Most of the rest of my domestic energy use is zero carbon, on a renewable electric tariff + solar PV; some DHW from solar thermal. I have yet to work out how to get DHW on overcast days any other way than gas. Heat pump tech doesn’t go hot enough (55 c max) although I suppose some complicated arrangement using a heat pump + the solar thermal to store water at 55 c+ (on a sunny day) and boost it up to 60 with electric heating if needed. I’m not going to try to do that till some more general solution occurs.

    So how much of my potential carbon ration would I be using? Do we count electricity? While I’m on a renewable tariff, for the UK the marginal unit of electricity is gas fired, so for every KW of electricity I don’t use (even though it’s renewable) 1KW of gas fired electricity (and therefore 2KW of gas) is not needed.

  • Peter Martin 18th Sep ’21 – 3:44am:
    The temperature of Venus might seem hot to us but its not quite so hot as it would be if no heat escaped at all and the atmosphere really was ‘saturated’ with CO2.

    At 96.5% the atmosphere of Venus is effectively ‘saturated’ with CO2. Such a comparison of heat retention on Earth with Venus is like comparing someone sleeping under a single cotton sheet to someone under 93 thick woollen blankets and concluding that the reason the latter overheated had nothing to do with the number of blankets, but was entirely due to the material they were made from.

  • Nonconformistradical 17th Sep ’21 – 10:16pm:
    Perhaps climate scientists might know rather more about potential future temperatures…

    They can only speculate based on computer models which have been shown to be incorrect. Any climate model which doesn’t accurately predict previous warming periods when fed prior data is clearly flawed. Computerised models of climate change are analogous to the algorithmic models used for trading stocks or commodities based on Technical Analysis. To have any credibility such models must be able to accurately predict previous movements, when presented with prior data.

    …whereas all we think we know about the Medieval Warm Period and Roman Warm Period is based on very patchy, incomplete and imprecise geological records (proxies such as carbon isotope and oxygen isotope ratios, dendrochronology), crude measurements and a few imprecise written records?

    There is an abundance of reliable evidence, such as the altitude of former tree lines and medieval artefacts exposed by retreating ice sheets, that show temperatures in those periods were at least 1.5 degrees warmer than today. We also know that such temperatures occurred worldwide; contemporary evidence has been found under glaciers in Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Patagonia, Switzerland, etc..

    ‘Tree-ring and glacial evidence for the medieval warm epoch and the little ice age in southern South America’ [March 1994]:
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01092413

    ‘’Spectacular’ artefacts found as Norway ice patch melts’ [April 2020]:
    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/apr/16/spectacular-artefacts-found-as-norway-ice-patch-melts

  • Peter Martin 19th Sep '21 - 6:58am

    @ Jeff,

    Yes you’re right about the number of blankets. We tend to think that insulation stops heat from leaving any system. So we are warmer because less heat is leaving. This is incorrect. The heat leaving your house is exactly the same as the heat you generate within it plus the heat naturally coming in from sunlight, regardless of the amount of insulation you have in your walls, windows and loft space. The more insulation that you have the warmer it has to be for the same amount of heat to leave.

    There’s also a time lag. So you won’t see an immediate rise in temperature the moment you switch on your central heating or increase the insulation by closing your curtains. Climate sceptics tend to ignore this when claiming that we haven’t warmed as much as some models have predicted.

    If you have more blankets you’ll be warmer in bed than if you have fewer blankets. There is the slight complication that the human body might tend to react to too high a temperature by producing less heat but assuming the heat generated is constant the amount of heat lost will still be the same as the amount generated. The amount of heat passing through the outer blanket will always be the same.

    Adding greenhouse gases is pushing the ‘outer blanket’ in our atmosphere to a higher level than previously which means that it is going to be warmer lower down too. It is what happens in the upper atmosphere where all gases are much thinner and so much less likely to be anywhere near saturated for CO2 absorption that decides the temperature in the lower layers.

    There isn’t much heat actually generated on earth. Most of it is what comes in from the sun and this is largely unaffected by GH gases in the atmosphere. There may be some change in the cloud cover which may cause more or less heat to be reflected back into space. But one obvious problem is that the loss of snow cover which will cause less heat to be reflected. There could be a significant positive feedback effect at work there.

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