Just a little something I’ve been thinking about, thanks to an interesting line of comments on my post on water restrictions.
“Anonymous” got me thinking a little more broadly about making people pay more for services because of environmental concerns. As Anonymous points out, a disadvantage of charging higher prices for water is that the vulnerable in society may end up being affected adversely – retailers pass the costs on to consumers, the rich continue to use exactly the same amount of resources as they always have, and the poor suffer. It’s an important consideration. I tried to cater for it in my suggestions by saying that the most vulnerable in society should have access to concessions, but I admit that this is not perfect.
“Anonymous” also mentions carbon emissions in passing. Which got me thinking about other environmental issues. What about the increasing trend to look at impact on the environment in terms of carbon emissions? George Monbiot has suggested that resources should be allocated on the basis of carbon credits. This (sympathetic) review of his recent book Heat summarises his proposal as follows:
Monbiot recommends the per-capita carbon budgets be allocated nationally. Nations would decide how to parcel out these allocations. Ideally, these could be passed through to individuals. But Monbiot notes the administrative costs involved in having people spend their carbon allowances on tens of thousands of products and services, each one denominated in carbon credits as well as currency. To simplify the process, he recommends a strategy developed by two of his compatriots, Mayer Hillman and David Fleming. They argue that since 40 percent of the UK’s carbon emissions result from the use of fuels and electricity and it is relatively simple to develop a method by which individuals pay for these energy sources with carbon credits, 40 percent of the nation’s carbon allocations should be passed through to individuals. The remaining 60 percent would belong to the government, which might auction them off to generate revenue.
You think he’s kidding – carbon credits as the new currency? Well, there are already websites in Australia where the environmentally conscious can offset their carbon emissions by purchasing carbon credits: the company then promises to reduce pollution. And yes, of course there’s a fee involved!
What about transport? Cars, trains, airplanes and the like create a lot of greenhouse emissions. Monbiot argues that air travel is an evil which should be curtailed at all costs: a killer in the skies. But as this article in The Times points out, there’s a lot of hypocrisy by environmental leaders. Some of them have a far more massive carbon footprint that I do. Monbiot himself hasn’t travelled recently, but as Tim Blair points out, he did fly over to Australia in 2003 to promote his book. (The links in this paragraph came from Blair’s post).
Seems to me that there is a conflict here between traditional left wing values and environmentalism. If these kind of initiatives were introduced, I’m predicting market forces would operate in the usual way. The cost of carbon credits for corporations would be passed on to the consumer, which would raise the prices of everything substantially for the average person. And if carbon credits were auctioned off to raise government revenue, it would be the rich who could afford to travel and and to heat their houses during winter. In fact, knowing the way the world works, this would be the inevitable effect of such a scheme. There would be a lot of people profiting from such a scheme as well. All sounds very capitalist to me.
These thoughts just firm up the similarity in my mind between the words “conservative” and “conservationist“. It’s important to consider our impact on the environment. But I am wary of suggestions such as Monbiot’s. It seems to me that the net effect of a carbon credit economy would be to entrench a conservative world order where only the financially well resourced could afford natural resources.