“ It’s the responsibility of politicians and world leaders, not me. What difference can I make ?
Let’s imagine: a parent and child are watering their garden. Father controls the tap while daughter holds the hose. When they’ve finished the job he says, “That’s enough now, stop all the holes in the spray head with matchsticks”. “Dad”, she replies, “are you mad? Turn the tap off !”
The father’s stupid approach is rather like present policies where we are urged to use low-energy light bulbs and travel less while politicians and world leaders allow, even encourage, the extraction of as much fossil fuel as possible. Can’t they understand that, once out of the ground, these fuels will be burned and the carbon dioxide they release will reach the atmosphere? If politicians are serious about greenhouse gas emissions they must find a way to reduce, not increase, the amount of coal, gas and oil that is extracted within, or imported into, a country. Unless they control the tap all our attempts to reduce emissions in a hundred little ways will be useless.
But how will politicians be persuaded? Unless the public puts pressure on them corporate interests will rule. Corporate lobbyists will twist any complicated legislation to their own advantage. Politicians pretend to the electorate that they are concerned when they introduce targets, taxes and incentives, but these blunt instruments cannot guarantee that their commitments will be met.
A new wave of thinking suggests that the solution must involve individuals. The atmosphere does not belong to corporations – not even to countries or governments. We all, as individuals, have an equal right to its life-maintaining properties. This new thinking led to the suggestion that everyone should have personal carbon allocation managed with the help of a smart-card. Points would be deducted every time you filled your car or paid your heating bill. And you could sell any surplus points so that the gas-guzzler would subsidise those with a low carbon footprint. This approach would have a huge psychological impact since it would make us all aware of our responsibility for carbon emissions. But it would be very difficult to administer even in an industrialised country.
For a policy to be adopted it must be simple, and for it to be politically sustainable it must be popular with the electorate. So the approach has been modified as CAP-and-Share – in America a very similar policy is called the Sky Trust – which would be easy to introduce. Under Cap-and-Share much of the astronomical income enjoyed at present by fuel producers would go to individuals. The Irish government may be the first to adopt it. This is how it could work for Ireland’s transport sector:
- A cap, which reduces each year, sets the maximum emissions allowed from all road transport.
- All adults receive equal emission-permits that, together, add up to the amount of this cap.
- People can then sell their emission-permits through brokers to whichever fuel-importing company offers the best price.
- Importers would not be allowed to sell fuel unless they had enough permits to cover its emissions.
With less fossil fuel coming into the economy, its price would rise and push up the cost of living but, instead of the oil companies making ever-larger profits, people would receive an income from the sale of their permits to compensate for the higher prices, and local economies would flourish because of this injection of money at grass-roots level. The government would use its normal powers to ensure that essential users, like ambulances, received their necessary share, and that biofuels were not allowed to compete with food production.
The Irish application of Cap-and-Share to an individual sector of the economy demonstrates that it could run alongside the European Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) – until the ETS collapses. IF CAP-and-Share were introduced on a global scale, or even within a large country like China or India that is struggling with discontent as world food prices rise, much of the money that at present pours into oil-rich countries would stay and automatically relieve their rural poverty.
What difference can you make? Urge your politicians to put a cap on the use of fossil fuels and share the right to benefits from the use of those fuels equally among all citizens. And join the transition movement where communities work together to find a post-carbon way of living. ”
Alastair Sawday (2008: 14-16) What About China?