Who’s Dangerous ?

Image Credit : Will Rose

Who’s Dangerous ?
by Jo Abbess
12th December 2007

This week, angry protesters have threatened to close down the whole UK economy by blockading energy supplies. And where’s the official response ? Where are the vanloads of police with dogs and legal warrants to stop these people ? These anarchists did this in 2000, and nobody stopped them then, either. Aren’t these people dangerous ?

The fuel protesters know, as we all know, somewhere deep inside, that the supply of Fossil Fuels is the lifeblood of the country’s business and trade. They intend to block distribution of fuel, and have helpfully threatened the public into panic-buying to fill up their tanks. These road hauliers, I mean, they have good reason to be annoyed, but why are they allowed to put the country to ransom ?

By contrast, a small group of people bringing the scourge of the European Biofuel obligation to the public eye have been manhandled and penned up, whilst protesting outside Tesco during the day of international action on Climate Change on 8th December. Virtually arrested for saying in public that we need to protect the world’s forests from destruction, and give up the ridiculous global trade in plant fuels, which causes more Carbon emissions than petrol, well-to-wheels.

Even the European Union are beginning to doubt the Biofuel policy is helping, as reported this week. But the protesters ? Treated like criminals. Why are these colleagues of mine so much more dangerous than fuel protesters with trucks, that they attract police attention and require state control ?

George Monbiot dressed up in a polar bear suit just the other week, and blocked the work of a coal digger, asserting later in the pages of the Guardian Newspaper that we need to keep Fossil Fuels in the ground to stand a chance of combatting Climate Change. He rightly analyses that supply-side management of Carbon Energy is crucial and critical, so in theory, the fuel protesters are helping. The net effect of a fuel protest will be less burning, but this “crude resistance” is not democratic.

I do not support the methods or the reasoning of the projected fuel blockades. The reason oil prices are rising has got nothing to do with fuel duty being too high, or Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling being too greedy, and it has everything to do with the world petroleum supply crunch. Peak Oil and sharply rising demand are chewing into refinery capacity and fuel stocks badly. Protesting by stopping delivery of fuel will not stop the inexorable rise in the cost of road fuel.

I support the opposite view : that adding to the demand-driven inflationary pressure on the price of petrol and diesel is something I can support as a means to stem demand – but it does have an evil side-effect. Those Big Oil companies that would previously be trying to put a green face on things, will give up and go back to peddling Fossil Fuels because they know they can make bigger money than ever on refined petroleum.

More dangerously, in addition, they will establish their use of tar sands and coal – as even coal can be made into a liquid fuel. There is no supply crunch on coal or tar sands, but they are the most highly Carbon-emitting fossil sources of fuel. I know Shell is running an algae Biodiesel trial as a kind of token to fling to the greenies, but this would only improve Carbon Intensity, not reduce net Carbon Emissions from the fuel chain (the AlgaeDiesel gets burned, remember), so will be effectively a tiny sideshow.

Wind power aside, Green Energy will be discarded in favour of good old dirty, oily money as its ability to make profit gets more handsome.

This is highly dangerous, as the large Fossil Fuel companies are the only organisations that have the free capital to shell out on Renewable Energy investment, and if they focus on Fossil Fuels, or even expensive nuclear power plants, we’re lost – unless Governments start state Renewable Energy investment of their own – which is unlikely given they’re all sold on the privatisation of utilities.

George Monbiot puts on a polar bear suit and climbs on the cab of a coal digger to stop Fossil Fuels being taken out of the ground. In the end, apparently insignificant, quirky protests may come to be seen as iconic and prophetic, and not a risk to national security.

The only solution to both world energy problems and the Climate crisis is supply-side quotas and demand-side rationing in order to balance the Carbon flow at both the upstream and downstream ends of the distribution pipeline. Price rises would happen initially, but eventually these would level off. The size of Big Oil companies would be constrained from growth, but that would satisfy the need to stop carving up virgin territories for coal, oil, tar sands or natural gas.

The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme is effectively a supply-side quota system that has been dressed up and labelled as a trading system – designed to look like it could operate under a globalised, liberalised framework of Carbon Credit business – palatable to the Americans as well as everybody else.

But so much is wrong with the creation and monitoring of Carbon Credits. Maybe we should just ditch the trading element and stick to the National Allocations Plans on Carbon Emissions – effectively national quotas for Carbon Energy production. That is – ration supply with a licence to sell.

Carbon Trading can probably only stop around 10% to 15% of Carbon Emissions. A Carbon Tax could in theory slow down consumption – for a while – but in the end the “cost deficit” will be adapted to and more Fossil Fuels will be burned again. Look what’s happening with the Congestion Charge in London – people are starting to drive again – adapting to the need to pay.

Environmental policymakers have debated Carbon Trading and Taxation and Rationing and concluded that only the twin strategy of reduction of supply and reduction of demand could have a large enough impact to be commensurate with the problems. The only issues are whether Fossil Fuel producers and resellers should be made to haggle over the quotas at auction.

What is so dangerous about Carbon Rationing ? It’s a tried and tested method in every application of living. All the Carbon Rationing people I know are humble, peaceloving folk. The mild-mannered David Fleming who ably designed Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs) is most gentlemanly, intelligent and considered. Mayer Hillman continues to ride a bike at an age of over 70. Tim Helweg-Larsen of CAT is a Zen-like rockclimbing proficonado. Aubrey Meyer is a ponytailed musician. The Carbon Rationing Action Groups (CRAGgers) are level-headed, hardworking engineers and social activists. Even George Monbiot is a quiet, family man. Come on into the ocean of Carbon Rationing – the Carbon Energy Quotas are lovely !

If we don’t start rationing Carbon, pretty soon we’ll have to start rationing fresh water and food. We might even have to start rationing utilities anyway – just like drought-conquered Atlanta, Georgia. The summer hosepipe ban is the tip of the melting iceberg as far as restrictions are concerned. It’s time to ration Carbon – at least it’ll give us some practice for the other privations we’ll have to deal with from Climate Change.

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