Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Carbon rationing? Thanks... but no thanks

Normally whenever I think about rationing, I think about the period of instituted austerity for civilians during World War II, that didn't even end until the 1950s. The image is of people queuing up in long lines with ration books in hand to get their 'fair share' of scarce resources like food or clothing.

These days, the scarce resource seems to be energy, and environmentalists are demanding that it's time we made World War II like sacrifices for the sake of the planet. In the Newstatesman, Mark Lynas argues that it's not enough to drive less, fly less or consume less, we need to do much, much more that. Indeed, he argues that the;

"best indication of whether a person truly grasps the scale of the global climate crisis is not whether they drive a hybrid car or offset their flights, nor whether they subscribe to the Ecologist or plan to attach a wind turbine to their house. The most reliable indicator is whether they support carbon rationing".

In an era of plentiful, Lynas is openly advocating imposing harsh austerity. It hasn't even occurred to Lynas, or George Monbiot that there might be an alternative to green authoritarian carbon rationing. The author Daniel Ben-Ami points out that giant hydroelectric dams and nuclear power for example do not emit any greenhouse gas - geoengineering also offers many possibilities in the future in terms of energy. Ben-Ami also adds that carbon rationing 'would literally leave billions of people mired in poverty' - but what would environmentalists care about that? All they seemed to be bothered about is the 'war against climate change', like nothing else mattered

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At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What does Carbon rationing really means? In terms of alternate energy what about hidrogen cars?

At 5:37 PM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...

"What does Carbon rationing really means?"

A simple, but a really good question Stran.

The way I understand it, in order to reduce energy consumption, thereby reducing carbon emissions, the state will allocate us all a certain amount of carbon, in the shape of 'carbon credit'. So, let's say for argument sake, you are allocated 100 unit's of carbon per week.

So for example, you get up in the morning, have a shower with hot water (2 units), you get the bus to work (2 units). Go out and buy lunch (2 units), go home by bus (2 units), do some blogging on your computer (2 units). Watch the news and a film (4 units), then go to bed. That's 14 units you use in one day - that's fine.

If you did that 5 days a week for the rest of your life that would be fine to - however, one week you may want to fly to Spain for the weekend (and why not), except that could cost you 80 units. So, in order to go to work for the rest of the week, you would have to buy more units.

If you wanted to go to Australia the following week, that could could you 500 unit's, you would have to pay extra to offset the amount of carbon your emitting.

We normally would have to weigh up what we could afford when we do anything, except with carbon rationing there would be an extra price to pay. There would come a point were you would have to do without, because you couldn't afford to offset the amount of carbon your emitting.

But if we had nuclear power stations, it would mean the price of living would be cheaper, so rationing carbon would make no sense. Also, if we had aeroplanes that could hold 500 people per trip, rather than 150, this would mean flights would be even cheaper, and so on.

The problem with hybrid cars is that we have to make new industries, on top of the car industry we already have. Hydrogen power cars demand special parts, we would have to develop a new industry to manufacture those parts.

Of course, I'm putting everything rather simply, but this is how I understand it - if others disagree, I would surely like to hear it.

At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Ellee said...

Courtney, Can we not avoid carbon rationing by reducing our emissions? Do you really not believe there is a global warming problem? Have you not seen the glacier mountain tops melting?

At 9:28 PM, Anonymous Pete in Dunbar said...

"What does Carbon rationing really means?"

It means the government gets to spy on every single thing that you do; it gets total oversight over every aspect of your life; it tells you what you can and can't do in your own home; in the end it makes every innocent act potentially a criminal act. It's the only way such a thing could work. It's not about the planet, it's about _control_. And extra taxes, naturally.

And of course it will make damn all difference to global warming.

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Courtney Hamilton said...

Ellee, the thing is, carbon rationing and green taxes are put forward as an alternative approach to adapting to a warming climate.

To me, the argument isn't about whether the globe is warming - it's more about 'what is to be done'?

I say build more state-of-the-art nuclear power stations, or bigger and better hydroelectric dams, in this country, and throughout the world. But this solution seems to be anathema to most environmentalists.

If the globe is really warming up like environmentalists say it is, why are they constantly denying us these solutions?

Instead, we are constantly told we have to make sacrifices, when in reality, we need not do.

The alternative to nuclear power is precisely what Pete has alluded to, our lives are to be mirco-managed like never before, with the added pleasure of paying through the nose for it. I would have thought Ellee, being a conservative, you would instinctively be opposed to people paying more taxes - and besides, it's not entirely self-evident as to what all these extra taxes will actually achieve. It might make some people feel morally better about themselves that 'something' is being done - but measures like increasing the parking tax for 4x4's in Richmond for example, do nothing to reduce emissions, do they?

At 8:32 PM, Anonymous Longrider said...

Increased taxes do not change people's behaviour in the way that is proposed. If it worked, people wouldn't smoke, nor would they drink to excess. Come to that, there would be hardly any cars on the roads. People grit their teeth and cough up (sorry for the mixed metaphor).

So, knowing this, politicians being the venal, self-serving, vainglorious control freaks that they are, play the fear card for all it's worth. And boy aren't they doing a good job?

At 4:49 AM, Anonymous Ruth said...

If the greens were intellectually honest they would embrace nuclear power as the cleanest and most environmentally friendly energy source of them all.

This is just another excuse for govts to rifle through the pockets of the taxpayers.

At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Ellee said...

I aagree with you about the power stations. The new ones are so different to the old one that churned out so many toxins. In France, 80% of the country's electricity is powered from nuclear power stations. We have a terrible fear and prejudice of them in this country, I don't feel they will ever be accepted.

At 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While it is fair to say that many of energy infrastructure projects, such as hydro and nuclear are greener once they are up and running, they are very energy intensive during the construction phase. Nuclear also has the where do you put it when it is spent problem.

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...

Yes Ellee, France has been producing fossil free and carbon free electricity for over thirty years now - as you might know, their energy is so cheap that Britain is forced to buy electricity from them.

Hi Colin, thank you for you comment.

You are correct, such infrastructure is costly to begin with - but the long-term benefits make it worthwhile - don't take my word for it, take a quick look at the French nuclear power industry. It's so successful, that Britain (a small advanced country that built an empire where the Sun never set), is now in a humiliating position of buying French electricity, rather than producing our own.

30 years of developing nuclear power has meant that France can experiment with even bigger and bolder nuclear projects - whereas irrational opposition in Britain has meant that we are lagging 30 years behind the French. For our own sakes, we need to stop dragging our feet on this issue.

At 12:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a chemical engineer with a background in geochemical cycling. Having read your otherwise interesting blog I've decided to write about your understanding of the global climate change situation.

We are absolutely at a crucial time with respect to this issue. I am pro-nuclear and my work is related to carbon-capture and storage mechanisms. However, these are not quick fix solutions. In the industrial situation, time and economic boundaries mean that at a very minimum a decade would be needed to produce even a percentage of the energy requirements for the growing needs of our global consumption. Even if the desired 'patchwork' of non-carbon emitting energy generation solutions were achieved, the sheer quantity of growth in energy consumption (in the growing Eastern countries, but also in Europe and the USA) in proportion to the ability to generate is moving increasingly out of kilter. It is an unfortunate truth that there is no current easy technological solution. We are working on it! But the fact remains that emissions are growing at rates faster than currently controllable.

Levels of green house gases must be capped. This is a politically worrying fact, but the environmental, social and knock-on economic risks are beyond substantial, and in any other situation that didn't require such mass co-ordination these risks would not be tolerated. As such, a global budget must be put on carbon usage, and unfortunately the majority of the industrialised world currently uses over their quota. Carbon capping could be a powerful tool to help reduce emissions on an individual level, but more importantly the price signals for low carbon economies would be enhanced exponentially. This ideally must be agreed on a global scale. However, being part of any political process I'm sure we can all understand the 'I will if you will' social mentality, and in light of the critical situation our generation finds itself in, I believe the richer world must step forward for the 'I will'. This is of course an economic risk, but please understand that this is the far lesser risk to our tertiary economy as it stands if climate change runs away from us, as it will in all business as usual scenarios.

For further information would urge you to read from the UNFCCC http://unfcc.int/ or the IPCC http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/index.htm for much of the technological, economical and the scientifically accepted knowledge. These reports also address your queries about the potential for technological and engineering solutions in depth. There are easy to read reports for lay people in the front sections.



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