Friday, December 29, 2006

Britain is Planning for Carbon Rationing

Keywords: Ellesmere Island ice; Climate Change; Gwynne Dyer; John Bacher; Derek Paul; carbon rationing; Britain; polar bears

Yesterday they announced that a 66 square km shelf of ice had broken off last year in the , in the north of . And a few weeks ago the International Panel on Climate Change announced the portion of its fourth report that deals with the Arctic — because, they said, the forecast is so alarming that they dared not wait until the full report is released next year.

I got this information from ’s column on the Internet (since it is, regrettably, no longer published in a Toronto paper). I’m astonished to have missed the news about this Arctic report. Dyer writes:

“If current trends persist, the scientists reported, the Arctic Ocean will be entirely ice-free in the summertime not in 2080, as previously forecast, but by 2040, just 33 years from now. Then the dark ocean surface absorbs much more heat than the reflective ice did, and another element of feedback kicks in, and the speed of warming increases again. . . .”

Perhaps this is why the Bush administration is making its first nod in the direction of accepting the reality of climate change by identifying the as a species at risk that needs protection.

If the United States and Canada are oozing slowly toward the inevitable recognition of reality, the Brits are zipping ahead. And, remarkably, Dyer reports that they are seriously planning a system of carbon rationing. drew my attention to this revelation, for he and have been engaged in a debate about the value of as a method of reducing greenhouse gases. Derek thinks people will not cooperate, but apparently the British government is more optimistic that it will work. According to Dyer’s column,

“Everybody in the country will get the same allowance for how much carbon dioxide they can emit each year, and every time they buy some product that involves carbon dioxide emissions - filling their car, paying their utility bills, buying an airline ticket - carbon points are deducted from their credit or debit cards. Like frequent-flier miles, only in reverse.
“So if you ride a bike everywhere, insulate your home, and don't travel much, you can sell your unused points back to the system. And if you use up your allowance before the end of the year, then you will have to buy extra points from the system.
“This is no lunatic proposal from the eco-radical fringe. It is on the verge of becoming British government policy, and environment secretary David Miliband is behind it 100 percent. In fact, he is hoping to launch a pilot scheme quite soon, with the goal of moving to a comprehensive national scheme of carbon rationing within five years.”

To me the surprising aspect is the notion that people will be able to buy and sell ration points. I wonder what the price will be. It must be quite steep if the system is to work. It may actually help create greater , since a poor person who does not emit much carbon will be able to boost his income, whereas the affluent person will have to pay for using more than his share. On the other hand, it may be that most people will want to pay rather than conserve points. Perhaps they will let the price of the ration points be determined by market forces, with the price going up as the fixed number of points gets closer and closer to being exhausted. That would make sense.

Still, I wonder whether it will be possible to monitor everything. sales and , yes. These are public acts. But heating one’s own home? Okay, if you buy heating oil or coal, someone has to deliver it. But suppose you burn wood cut from trees on your own property. Maybe that’s an unusual case, though. Most people won’t be able to find combustible material and burn it in private. I suppose fuels generally can be monitored. Maybe it will work. Let’s hope so.

I ran into the chairman of my condo’s board of directors today. He says they will be changing over eventually to a system whereby each owner will pay his own individual electric bill. That’s an excellent idea. It will make everyone in this building more cognizant of the use of power. I don’t suppose that covers heat, though. There is hot water running through the radiators, going from one apartment to the next. I don’t know whether the variations can be measured. However, the could be shifted over to cogeneration or , at least in part.


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