Taking decisive climate action

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On the 7th March 2020 I watched a Premier League football match at Burnley. We all knew about coronavirus, but the League continued as normal. It would have been hard to cancel the Premier League on the 7th March. We were all afraid of what was coming, but at that time only 2 people had died in the UK.

Later, as Britain recorded many deaths – deaths that were the result of infections spreading rapidly during March – we blamed the government for being indecisive. What are the lessons?

On 8th August 2021 I drove from the Midlands to a school beyond Cambridge. I was taking a family member to a course and I felt that the Sunday trains weren’t reliable. I decided to drive, despite the fossil fuel burn.

I’d known for 30 years that using fossil fuels was dangerous. Was I mad? No, I was acting logically. I knew that this one trip would make little difference to the planet. Why risk the uncertainty of Sunday trains for no reason? It is billions of decisions like that that are killing the planet.

Just as for the pandemic it is hard to propose decisive action while the damage caused by climate change is tolerable. Nevertheless it is surely obvious that we have to constrain our lifestyles. We have to turn the global emissions curve sharply downwards, whatever that takes.

We often forget who is driving the fossil fuel burn. It is us, every one of us. Most emissions come from industry, but industry simply exists to supply what we want. We are driving fossil carbon emissions by our lifestyles and by our purchasing decisions. There is fossil carbon built into almost everything we buy, though we often don’t know how much. We have to force industry to tell us that, using proper carbon accounting.

Once we know that we can add up an individual’s monthly carbon use and ration it. I use the word ration because that’s the word they used in the War. It’s the only way to fairly allocate a scarce but important resource. Then it was for food and clothing, now it is for the precious ability to discharge fossil carbon. Rationing sends a message that we are all in this together, rich or poor.

I’d probably not have taken my car to Cambridge if my carbon was rationed. If we apply the ration universally everyone will seek the lowest carbon option for every decision. If we gradually reduce it we’ll reduce global emissions.

Carbon rationing is liberal because people will be free to decide how they live within the ration. Everyone will be engaged in the struggle.

And yes, I know that there would be problems in getting international agreements and sorting out the details, but we need to get the principles right first. Rationing is the only system that can act quickly enough in this emergency.

* 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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21 Comments

  • This was looked at over a decade ago and though some research and experiments continue, was rejected as being too difficult and too costly.
    Just two questions, without introducing big brother type monitoring-:
    How would you know how was using what?
    What would happen if someone used up all their ration, would we have carbon banks in the way we now have food banks?
    Some small projects have worked for some volunteers that were willing to have intrusive monitoring of their lifestyle and purchasing but there is a reason this has not been scaled up.

  • Brad Barrows 12th Aug '21 - 3:04pm

    I can accept the logic, and fairness, of this approach so long as it is not possible to buy another person’s ration. Perhaps the Queen will become a Vegan so she can save up her ration to use on flights around the world whereas me, who lives in a rural location, will have to choose to spend my ration on driving to shops and work and thereby lose the chance of flying abroad for a holiday. But, being honest, I would not vote for a party proposing such an enforced change to my lifestyle if, by voting differently, I could continue to enjoy my current lifestyle.

  • Jenny Barnes 12th Aug '21 - 3:49pm

    CO2 emission taxes would work better. To get buy in, the money collected would need to be the beginnings of a UBI. The gilets jaune revolt in France shows what happens if you put carbon tax up without thinking about who is getting hurt most. Airline Passenger Duty is a good stand in for tax on aviation fuel.- Use it to subsidise train fares, so that travelling by train for relatively short trips London Paris/ Glasgow. Amsterdam / Berlin? is cheaper by train.Embedded CO2 tax on imports – after Brexit presumably we can do these things!
    It is really disheartening to realise that all the gains from EVs and fuel efficiencies have been squandered by people buying 3 and 4 tonne SUVs to ride around in.

  • You are correct, there is carbon in almost everything, but I’m not sure where that gets us. If you want to do without it then you could start with all plastics. That would mean no electricity or electrical goods, bye bye mobile phone, radio and TV. Most clothes contain polyesters. This list is endless. People breathe ot CO2, lots of it, 40,000 ppm. Bye Bye.

  • Barry Lofty 12th Aug '21 - 4:51pm

    My contribution to this on going climate debate is an earnest wish for some common sense to prevail regarding future legislation on this matter but I do not hold out much hope of this happening.

  • John Roffey 12th Aug '21 - 7:02pm

    This is a very difficult matter to decide, at present, because it has so many facets. Not least this article which appeared in the Guardian earlier and adds these complications:

    Greenhouse gas emissions must peak within 4 years, says leaked UN report

    Group of scientists release draft IPCC report as they fear it will be watered down by governments

    Global greenhouse gas emissions must peak in the next four years, coal and gas-fired power plants must close in the next decade and lifestyle and behavioural changes will be needed to avoid climate breakdown, according to the leaked draft of a report from the world’s leading authority on climate science.

    Rich people in every country are overwhelmingly more responsible for global heating than the poor, with SUVs and meat-eating singled out for blame, and the high-carbon basis for future economic growth is also questioned.

    The leak is from the forthcoming third part of the landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the first part of which was published on Monday, warning of unprecedented changes to the climate, some of them irreversible. The document, called the sixth assessment report, is divided into three parts: the physical science of climate change; the impacts and ways of reducing human influence on the climate.

    Read more here:

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/aug/12/greenhouse-gas-emissions-must-peak-within-4-years-says-leaked-un-report

  • @ John, The Guardian is totally committed to frightening people about the climate. Its editor even issued instructions to staff on which words should be replaced with more extreme ones.

    But then, the IPCC has abandoned science to frighten people too. It has just whitewashed the medieval warm period which was warmer than today so that they can claim that today is warmer. That isn’t science. There is another name for it which is more at home in court than in a laboratory.

  • John Roffey 12th Aug '21 - 8:08pm

    @Peter – did you read the article in full?

  • The medieval warm period is indeed an interesting blip in toglobal temperatures, most often put down as an anomaly or regional event most likely due to a variation in El Nino, but in reality we don’t actually know, which is why the great, the good and the powerful don’t like talking about it very much and when they do they’re often quite dismissive of the question…..quelle surprise.

  • Nonconformistradical 12th Aug '21 - 10:53pm

    @Justin
    The medieval warm period is part of a pattern of climate cycles which operate over different timescales – so what? The fact that it – and other warm periods e.g the Roman Climatic Optimum – occurred does not preclude our present bout of global warming being at least partly caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

    The essential difference is that while we can’t do anything about those climate-changing factors which take place without human intervention (e.g. variations in the Earth’s orbit round the Sun) we most certainly can do something about greenhouse gas emissions.

  • William Francis 13th Aug '21 - 12:30am

    Seems overly complex, and hard to administer.

    Far better to electrify our existing energy and transport infrastructure and massively expand offshore wind. This can be done through regulatory changes, and massive subsidies, in coordination with major stakeholders.

  • ‘So what’ is very close too, but not quite what the great, the good and the powerful say when faced with the medieviel warming period, except the more honest of them will accept we just don’t know.
    I am not a climate change denier clearly it is changing , however to pretend that there are not vested interests in arguing the how and the why is a bit disingenuous. Deforestation, desertification, pollution of air sea and land, this is our fault, some have wailed, wrung their hands and formed largely impotent charities, others have done nothing.
    And yet we are supposed to resist climate change? Good luck, adapt or die.

  • John Roffey 13th Aug '21 - 6:14am

    Interesting article from BBC this morning:

    Council policies often inconsistent with climate goals.

    More than a third of English councils support policies that could increase carbon emissions despite having declared a “climate emergency”, BBC research suggests.

    Road building and airport expansion are among examples provided by 45 out of 121 questionnaire respondents who say they have passed climate motions.

    Environmentalists say the findings reveal “inconsistencies” in approach.

    Local leaders insist they are taking action but need more funding.

    Read more here:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-58102578

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Aug '21 - 8:30am

    @Justin
    Obviously we don’t know for certain the causes of the medieval warming period – or any other period of climate change from the past since we don’t have any accurate data for those periods. We only have estimates based on proxy data (oxygen isotope ratios, types of pollen – which can tell us what sort of plants were growing in particular areas, albeit without necessarily accurate dates- etc.). That proxy data is obtained from a very incomplete geological record. We don’t have actual temperature records with associated actual dates from these periods.

    Now we are accumulating actual measurements of temperature, rainfall etc. in real time. From many parts of the world. We’d do well to take notice if that data.

  • David Garlick 13th Aug '21 - 10:30am

    The key is not where we start or what we start with. For Planets sake let’s flippin start!

  • Would it be such a bad thing if the human race we’re to become extinct. Apart from you own friends and family, and be aware that neurobiologist and evouloutionists would argue that your love and care for them is a genetic biochemical response to keep the species going about which you have no control or free will. So given those admittedly debatable ideas can someone convince me that over the period in which modern humans have excited we have been more of a force for good than evil, morally, socially, ecologically, I think people will struggle when looking at what we have done and how things are today, please don’t look to the young people, we were all young once, look what we have actually done with all that teenage angst.

  • Obviously that should read, over the period in which modern humans have existed!

  • I agree with Jenny Barnes that CO2 emissions taxes would work much better than rationing. Also much more consistent with liberalism and letting people live their lives how they wish. Only thing is that I think it really shouldn’t be called a tax. Much better to advertise it simply as, charging people a fair price for the environmental damage they cause when they use CO2 (or do other things that harm the environment) – which really is what it is.

  • I back a carbon tax too, thought agree with Simon it would be great if we could find a way to get the message across that it’s about paying what you should to account for the damage that comes with whatever product or service you are using.

    There will be resistance. Some of that will come in the form of not unreasonable claims that the poor will have to modify their behaviour more than the rich, or that poor people will have their access to essentials restricted.

    On the first point, yes, the super-rich are unlikely to be put off flying because the cost of flights goes up by 10 or 20% but that tax money can be redirected straight towards investment in insulation, renewables or the kind of training that’s needed to move people away from oil based jobs.

    It’s often the well off who cite concerns about how poor people will afford to heat their homes if prices increase, but so long as we get the messaging right on these increases being to include the damage caused by fossil fuel use, then we can shift that debate to being one about better wages (and insulation).

    We’d all like to see climate change stopped in its tracks, but climate change mitigation is already necessary, and it’s only fair that those who are contributing most to climate change are the ones who pay extra taxes to fund flood prevention schemes.

    The concept of a personal budget or ration is an interesting one. I don’t think it’s workable, but it could be a useful communication tool. Surveys have shown that most people think they are above average drivers, and when asked to keep a note of food/calories consumed, almost everyone underestimates. I suspect that most people underestimate our own environmental footprint and think that other people and other behaviours are the cause of most greenhouse emissions.

    I expect it would be sobering for many of us if there was a reliable tool that allowed us to estimate our own expenditure and compare that with the UK, and world averages.

  • Jenny Barnes 15th Aug '21 - 4:24pm

    “a reliable tool that allowed us to estimate our own expenditure and compare that with the UK, and world averages.”
    Try WWF footprint calculator.

  • That footprint thing is great fun, mine’s well below average😁.
    My sister’s is massive though! I’ve e-mailed her to let her know, it’s the responsible thing to do,this is excellent!

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