Money Can’t Buy You Carbon Control

In all the flurry of debate about how to control Carbon Emissions, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the goal : Carbon Control.

If we are to “keep our eyes on the prize”, we really need to check how we’re doing and where we are from time to time.

It’s no good submitting to the Uncertainty Principle.

If controlling Carbon is absolutely essential, we can’t put our efforts into policies that have fuzzy outcomes.

I think that the approaches on “how to deal with Carbon” currently being debated boil down to two basic ideas.

The first is the notion that the use of Carbon is susceptible to the mechanism of environmental taxation.

In other words, that a Carbon Tax or a Carbon Unit Price (set either by a market or regulatory calculation), will have a direct, calculable effect on the use of Carbon.

Put another way, that charging for Carbon will control its use.

It costs more to emit Carbon, so people will emit less. Or that’s the theory, anyway.

This theory has still not been proved in any way, and may never get the opportunity to be.

Maybe the Global Economy depends too much on Carbon-based Energy to be able to respond flexibly to a Carbon price.

And maybe since virtually everything is powered by Carbon Energy, pricing Carbon will just make everything more expensive, and the Carbon Emissions will remain unmodified.

Anyway, environmental taxation has strong and historical supporters, and several good precedents, although they were niche when compared to the extent of Carbon within the Economy.

Into this bag of Pricing Carbon, I put all the Cap-and-Something strategies proposed, plus Central or State Carbon Taxation, plus Kyoto 2 [ see references at the bottom ].

The second basic approach to Carbon is to treat it as a finite resource.

The news today from New Zealand is that it could really be that 400 parts per million Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere is the tipping point for the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet :-

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10562595

“The drilling found that when atmospheric CO2 reached 400 parts per
million (ppm) – around 4 million years ago – it exaggerated a
40,000-year cycle of warming and cooling caused by tilts in the Earth’s axis. That was enough to melt the Ross ice shelf and create the conditions to melt the entire West Antarctic ice sheet.”

If this measurement is the key control in Climate, then we really need to stop thinking about money or Economy as a lever on Carbon.

Instead we need to urgently commit our thinking to setting the world’s Carbon Budget, rigidly, inflexibly, firmly, in a way that does not fluctuate with flavours of government or the rollercoaster of the stockmarkets.

James Hansen and 350.org argue that 350 ppm is the key measurement, and so it may be.

If we accept that then we need to be thinking about rolling back Carbon accumulating in the air.

If we have to think in terms of a fixed Carbon Budget, the economic cost of any measure suddenly has no meaning, as it is an ephemeral value compared to the absolute value of the ppm of CO2.

Policies, both national, regional and global will have to
Contraction and Convergence is essential to setting and keeping to the Carbon Budget, as it is the only framework that stands a chance of drawing in all sectors in the United Nations talks, which is still the only community that can have any authority over Carbon.

It makes no difference either way if Carbon Trading is signed in or out at Copenhagen. The only true measure of success will be the Carbon Cap set and the policies put in place to ensure it.

Equal shares of the remaining Carbon resource is the only thing the international community could ever agree on.

References

Cap and Trade

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emissions_trading

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2008/01/capandtrade101.html

Cap and Share

http://www.capandshare.org

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cap_and_Share

Cap and Dividend

http://www.capanddividend.org

Kyoto 2

http://www.kyoto2.org

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