What a week – Tuesday’s launch of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil’s report into TEQs was a tremendous success, with excellent media coverage, including Time magazine, The Sunday Times, Bloomberg News, the BBC, the Financial Times and many others (linked article list). The only problem has been that the degree of interest has been such that I haven’t found a moment to write anything here – although I have been Tweeting, I feel as though I’m the last to cover it!
So here I am. I fully intended to be giving the England match my full attention right now, but I’ve been left distinctly restive by this afternoon’s long session by Stoneleigh of The Automatic Earth, and feel the need to put some thoughts down.
Including the extensive Q&A session her talk lasted virtually three hours and covered a lot of ground, starting from a good runthrough of the ‘peak energy’ situation, but quickly focusing in on finance, as she believes that this is the factor that will most dramatically shape our immediate future. Notably, the talk attracted almost half the attendees of the Transition Conference, despite the numerous other Open Space sessions taking place at the same time.
I heartily endorse his perspective, but disagree when he argues in support of carbon taxation at around fifteen minutes in, saying that “we need to make fossil fuels more expensive”. In my opinion, we do not – we need to guarantee a fair entitlement to the available energy, not ration it by the depth of people’s pockets.
As Richard says, “if you’re taxing everybody on their use of fossil fuels – raising their cost of living – it’s pretty hard to get their buy-in to that”, but once you guarantee people a fair entitlement, in line with a declining cap, society can then collectively focus on keeping the price of energy as low as possible, which is a simply-understood task that everyone can buy into with enthusiasm.
Richard is touching on a widely-unrecognised contradiction at the heart of present energy/climate policy discussions – the desire to raise carbon prices while keeping energy prices low. Market-based approaches struggle to see past this, but TEQs would resolve it at a stroke, through the recognition that reducing the quantity of carbon emissions can be best achieved by means other than a high price.
In the climate policy community there is a growing debate between advocates of ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ carbon caps (dams?). The terms draw an analogy between the flow of water in a stream and the flow of energy through an economy. ‘Upstream’ advocates want to regulate the few dozen fuel and energy companies that bring carbon into the economy, arguing that this is cheaper and simpler than addressing the behaviour of tens of millions of ‘downstream’ consumers.
At first glance this seems a convincing argument, but there is one important regard in which an upstream scheme fails – it does not engage the general populace in the changes required. Read more »