"World leaders hail Paris climate deal as ‘major leap for mankind’: Almost 200 countries sign historic pledge to hold global temperatures to a maximum rise of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels".
The same article concluded on p9, with a quiet mention that: "there will be no legal obligation for countries to cut emissions". In truth, the good news is found elsewhere, with the ever-swelling numbers of ordinary people realising that our future is being destroyed in our name. In the print edition of the paper though, one tiny voice of sanity did sneak in to a sidebox, as climate scientist James Hansen commented on the agreement: “It’s a fraud really, a fake”. But if we are so dismissive of what global politics is producing, then it is perhaps fair to ask what we wish to see instead. Hansen, a long-time hero of mine, argues for Fee & Dividend - a tax on carbon whose revenue is paid out to the population of the nation implementing it. And the recent peer-reviewed paper that I lead-authored on this topic (now the most read in the history of Carbon Management) instead advocates TEQs - a carbon rationing system with free rations for the population of the nation implementing it. Jim and I have in fact been discussing these alternatives via very occasional emails since I first wrote to him on it in 2008 (and Citizen's Climate Lobby UK opened the same discussion on Facebook earlier this year), but it feels the right time to broaden out the conversation. My hope is that we can either agree that one approach or the other is preferable or - perhaps more realistically - at least identify the circumstances/aims for which one or the other is preferable, so that we know when to reach for one tool, and when to use the other. So, below are the similarities and differences between the two approaches, for your delectation and deliberation. I will again be sending the link to Hansen and the Citizen's Climate Lobby for comments, and may edit it based on comments received, especially if any inaccuracies come to light.
So how are they similar?
Let's start with why both TEQs and F&D are excellent ideas that would represent a radical break from the status quo. Both are ways of ensuring that society finally gets serious about addressing our climate challenge, neither is open to the extensive corporate windfalls that characterise existing 'Cap and Trade' schemes (which have no effective cap, and thus are really just 'Trade' schemes), and both look to protect the poorest in society as energy prices rise to take account of the impact of the carbon therein (although I have a concern that dividends - delivered after energy purchases - may come too late for folk priced out of the fuel they need. TEQs, by contrast, delivers entitlements to energy up front, ahead of time). Both are also grassroots alternatives to the UN process of which the Paris COP21 summit is the latest expression. Instead of seeking global agreement on a global deal, both TEQs and F&D allow adoption by individual countries or groups of countries. Any countries doing so will necessarily introduce import tariffs alongside, to ensure that their manufacturers are not disadvantaged relative to international competitors (discussed here). And since these tariffs will generate revenue for the 'adopter countries' when they import goods, this will in turn provide a strong incentive for the exporting countries to themselves implement similar policies, so that they can collect this revenue, instead of letting it flow overseas. In this way, effective climate policy could spread around the world, without the necessity for the apparent impossibility of global agreement. Importantly though, both are also vulnerable to a lack of political ambition. Both require adoption at government level, and thus require defence against being corrupted and compromised by lobbying interests as they move towards implementation. And if F&D was adopted with too low a carbon price, or TEQs was adopted with too high an emissions cap, either could provide merely a useful means to inadequate ends.
And what are the essential differences?
Now let's look at where they differ. There are two fundamental design decisions here - the choice between a price-based framework and a quantity-based one, and the choice between an 'upstream' framework and a 'downstream' one. The essential difference between price-based frameworks and quantity-based frameworks, then, is which of two variables is adjusted. Price-based policy frameworks (e.g. F&D) act to raise the price of carbon-rich purchases in the belief/hope that consequent emissions reductions will be sufficient to avoid climate catastrophe, while quantity-based frameworks (e.g. TEQs) act to place a cap on emissions in the belief/hope that the price rises this is likely to cause will not cause economic catastrophe. The second difference is between ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ approaches. These widely-used terms draw an analogy between the flow of water in a stream and the flow of energy/carbon through an economy. ‘Upstream’ advocates (e.g. F&D) 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. 'Downstream' advocates argue that such engagement with the general populace is essential if we are to meet the climate challenge, with TEQs providing a way to deliver that without the need for downstream monitoring.
It is undoubtedly true that current politics favours the price-based and upstream approaches, which present far less of a challenge to today's dominant thinking. Certainly in the U.S. political context, Jim Hansen has argued that TEQs are just too radical an option for the American public to swallow. I am not an expert on the U.S. political scene, so he may well be right. However, I do worry that a more radical shift in society *is* needed here. There is a rift between political reality and scientific reality, and they must be reconciled. To my mind, upstream price signals are not going to be enough, though a scheme like F&D would certainly be a step closer to sanity than current policy. To really achieve the change required, we will need TEQs. And since I believe that the economy is fully dependent on a functioning ecology, for me a hard cap on emissions must be primary, and the price of goods and services has to be secondary, which is why I favour a quantity-based approach. I also don’t believe a long-term emissions trajectory can be set effectively through a tax/fee alone. I do think that Fee & Dividend would be far cheaper and more effective than current carbon policy, but while upstream frameworks are clearly cheaper (and politically easier) to implement, I believe that this is partly because they don't bring about the fundamental changes that are needed in society. Of course it is more straightforward to pass laws that only affect energy suppliers, but Big Energy Companies alone are not going to be able to resolve climate change, even if they wholeheartedly wanted to. They supply what we demand, and this challenge requires that we all engage with the need to change the way we live, work and play. TEQs, accordingly, is built on the latest work in social psychology, and provides visibility to the intrinsic incentives that exist for businesses, government, communities and individuals to collaborate in working towards the shared long-term desires to retain both a benign climate and secure access to essential energy services. Upstream schemes can only provide an extrinsic (price) signal to encourage low-carbon behaviour. In the words of the UK Environmental Audit Committee (the UK government’s oversight body on the environment):
“We remain to be convinced that price signals alone, especially when offset by the [additional income from the dividend], would encourage significant behavioural change comparable with that resulting from a carbon allowance … A meaningful reduction in emissions will only be achieved, and maintained, with significant and urgent behavioural change.”
As ever, it comes down to that rift between scientific reality and political reality. To my eyes, Fee & Dividend represents the less challenging political path to policy change, and that is certainly attractive. However, while it is tempting to think of adoption of a carbon fee or cap as a solution in itself, the true political challenge is quickly getting and keeping the fee high enough (or cap low enough) to avoid destabilising our climate. Which in turn means the transformation of our society so that it can thrive within such a limit. Without such a fundamental transition to low-carbon living, society (and particularly the poorest) will hurt badly as any effective policy makes high-carbon energy less accessible. Such suffering is both inherently distressing and likely to lead to irresistible political pressure to loosen or abandon any such policy. Why then does that point me towards TEQs? Well, the full arguments and evidence are set out in the peer-reviewed paper I recently lead-authored. I believe it's worth a look - it has proved popular, perhaps due to the extensive efforts I made to keep it more readable than academia usually manages! But in short, I believe that TEQs is far better placed to support and facilitate the depth of decarbonisation required - and thus defend its long-term political feasibility - than an increase in the price of carbon ever could. This is because it has been shown to be more popular with the public (due to its fairness and effectiveness); because it most effectively protects the most vulnerable; because it destroys at a stroke the impossible political tension between needing to keep energy prices low and carbon prices high; and because it does not treat all emissions as equal (in recognition that while some are within people's discretion, others are not, and that these decisions should be left with the people in question), nor require the inherently uncertain and faintly absurd estimation of an 'appropriate carbon price'. Of course, with the current direction of politics, the catastrophic destabilisation of our climate looks far more likely than either alternative, but if we are to fight, it is important that we clearly identify the alternative course or courses worth fighting for.
Lately we've seen the president of the World Bank and 'business leaders from the very carbon-intensive industries' pushing for carbon pricing (taxes or 'carbon trading' schemes). This is intended to demonstrate their deep change of heart and determination to start seriously addressing climate change, but to my eyes it is a deeply cynical, pernicious attempt to channel the passion of those deeply-committed to action on climate change into mechanisms that will only maintain the suicidal status quo. Which is why I poured all my experience of ten years' work on the topic into this peer-reviewed academic paper, which I believe demolishes the case for carbon taxes or carbon trading schemes as the way forward, and shows a clear, well-researched alternative (though it took almost as much effort as writing my book!). The paper, co-authored with Drs. Larch Maxey and Victoria Hurth, focuses on the TEQs scheme devised by the late David Fleming, the radical economist whose work was a core inspiration for the Transition Towns movement. Since meeting David in 2006 I have been rather inspired by his design for a policy framework for a society that really wanted to decarbonise. We may not live in that society yet, but it's nonetheless a rather important tool to have in the box. Over the years that inspiration has led me to write and speak widely on TEQs (to audiences ranging from community groups, Climate Camps and Occupations to the UK Committee on Climate Change, the London School of Economics, the UK and Scottish Parliaments and the European Commission), as well as advising the UK government on their feasibility study into the scheme. After David Fleming's sudden death in 2010, it fell to me to keep the fruits of his genius on the table, and so I created The Fleming Policy Centre to continue advocacy in light of the extensive media interest the scheme was attracting. This new piece in the Carbon Management journal has emerged from all of that as the definitive paper on TEQs, covering its design, history and importance, and directly contrasting its hard cap on emissions with the ‘carbon pricing’ approach that has undermined public engagement with, and support for, climate policy. I have written before about the shortcomings of global-scale action on global-scale problems, but local-scale action has its inherent problems too. Without a supportive economic/political framework in place, it is always swimming against the tide, and this can be exhausting and disheartening. As explained in the paper, TEQs provides the key framework to join up local and global scale efforts into an effective solution, making it clear to everyone - across all sectors - how to act on our intrinsic shared desires to sustain affordable access to energy and preserve a benign climate (see section on "Integration – cross-sector engagement, motivation and collaboration", pp. 8-10). Not to mention leading to support and investment for human-scale, community-level initiatives and enterprises and local economies, making for more integrated, happier, resilient communities and a stronger sense of common purpose across society. I really believe that TEQs could catalyse a turning point towards a happier world and, more importantly, the extensive research done to date backs that up. Also, as discussed in the paper, unlike many other beautiful ideas, it actually has a hope of being implemented! Rather than seeing our most committed people channelled into building inherently flawed 'carbon pricing' mechanisms, let's focus our energies on something genuinely radical that creates a fairer, more equitable world, and which enjoys greater public support. I look forward to hearing what you make of our work, in the comments below or elsewhere. ~ UPDATE - This was my first venture into scientific academic writing (and likely last, after such an arduous process!), but I strove to ensure that academic-speak was kept to a minimum, and that the message is clear. So it is gratifying to see that only a month after publication it is already in the Top 10 most-read pieces that have been published in the Carbon Management journal and, according to Altmetric, in the top 5% most discussed articles among the 4 million or so that they track! That said, it will have to have one hell of an impact to tempt me into academia ever again ;) ~ ~ SECOND UPDATE - 23rd Sept 2015 - Tom Burke has published an exceptional blog post giving far more insight into the devious motivations of Big Oil in promoting carbon pricing. And in the meantime, our paper has become the most read in the history of the Carbon Management journal, and in the top 3% most discussed on Altmetric. Despite Big Oil's best efforts, word's getting out... ~ In the meantime, I have been 'offsetting' the pain of academic writing by indulging in some deeply nourishing artivist agnosticism with Reverend Billy and his glorious Stop Shopping Choir (spot me flyering around the 1m30 mark). A little analysis and deep thinking is important - after all “action for action's sake is the last resort of mentally and morally exhausted men” - but too much makes Jack a dull boy... I must confess, I'm rather tempted to run away and join the church. My mother would be truly horrified! I'll have to content myself with heading to the Reclaim The Power direct action camp this weekend :) See you there?
This is an excerpt from a longer video interview Rhonda Fabian conducted with Shaun Chamberlin at the opening of the New Story Summit in Findhorn, Scotland. Part of a Findhorn Foundation documentary initiative. Transcript originally published in the Kosmos Journal.
-- Rhonda Fabian: Shaun, please tell me what Dark Optimism means to you. Dark Optimism is a widely misunderstood term. I get a lot of people coming up to me saying, “Are you feeling dark today, or optimistic?” That’s not quite what I mean. Dark Optimism means being unashamedly positive about the kind of world we could create, but unashamedly realistic about how far we are from doing that right now. So it’s not that sort of bright shiny optimism, which I can find quite frustrating. It’s more like, “Well everything isn’t fine actually", you know? It’s an ability to look at the more difficult aspects of where we are and what we’re doing, whilst also retaining a sort of deep faith in human potential. And also drawing on the deeper questions of why we’re really here. And does the state of the world in any way challenge our purpose in being here, or make that impossible? I don’t think it does.
Even if we are into a world of unstoppable, runaway climate change, for example. There’s still love to do, there’s still positive change to make in the world.
Fabian: How does it compare with the Dark Mountain movement? Well, obviously they stole my darkness! (laughs) Actually, their name comes from a Robinson Jeffers poem. But Dark Mountain plays an incredibly important part enabling us to ask the questions that we’re often not allowed to ask. You know, maybe it is all too late. And if it is, what does that mean? There’s a logical flaw at the heart of a lot of arguments that we make in “the movement” – whichever movement label you want to put on it – which is that we tend to look at things and say, “Well that won’t work, so we need this.” An example might be people saying, “Well renewable energy can’t ramp up fast enough to solve our energy crisis, so we need nuclear.” Or, “The mainstream parties aren’t going to give us what we need, so we need the Green Party." Or to not vote…or whatever. The premise isn’t the conclusion – they don’t join up! You might just as well say, “Renewable energy can’t ramp up fast enough to deal with our energy crisis, so we need sardines.” You’ve not said anything about the alternative. You’ve just said, “This doesn’t work, so that.” And I think Dark Mountain addresses that to an extent. The argument we hear again and again in environmentalism is, “Should we be working for radical change, or should we be working within the existing paradigms?” So, people will say, “Well, you know, we don’t have time to wait for a revolution. Everything has to happen now, so we’ve got to work within the existing paradigms.” And then other people say, “Well, you know, if we don’t have a radical, fundamental revolution, then what’s the point, because we’re just addressing symptoms.” And both of those arguments, I think, are completely valid. Yet, you hear people arguing back and forth and back and forth about this and never finding resolution. They can’t admit that they’re actually both right. There isn’t time for radical change, AND we need radical change. And so, if you can never accept that actually maybe they’re both right, and that we have to ask some really deeper questions about what that means, then you just end up with people over here having a nice career saying this, and people over there having a nice career saying that. And you never actually get to the deeper truth. For me, Dark Mountain is a venue where we can ask those kinds of questions. Well, what if this doesn’t work AND that doesn’t work? And what if we don’t actually know of an alternative. Can we sit with that? Can we actually sit with that together? And can we have a conversation about what that means? To me that’s a really potent and fertile space. Fabian: It says to me that there’s a place for sorrow in optimism? Yes. Part of my journey over the last few years is that David Fleming, who was my mentor and very close friend passed away very suddenly at the end of 2010. And actually, we were just a few weeks away from launching a big project that we’d co-authored. So it was a very difficult and busy time. To try and hold that – deal with the work and bring it to the fruition we were both hoping for, whilst also trying to process the grief of the sudden loss of my – my good friend. And then just three weeks after he passed, my fiancée passed away very suddenly as well. That was a profoundly challenging time. And I’m quite happy with how I moved through that. Yet, I don’t think grief is a process that ends. I think it’s a relationship that continues throughout your life. I sort of found over the past few years that when I reflect on and write about my personal grief, there’s a very strong correlation between that and the grief that many of us carry, maybe all of us carry, for the state of the world and the state of nature and the state of our society.
I think grieving, as opposed to loss, is a process of opening ourselves. When we suffer a loss that’s overwhelming, we shut down. Your body just says, “That’s too much”, right? “I’m gonna shut it down.” We shut down part of ourselves and that keeps us from being completely overwhelmed, but it also keeps us from being fully alive.
And so the process of grieving is the process of – of coming back to life. On a societal level, on a collective level, that’s true as well. Part of the reason we fail collectively right now to face up to the kind of damage that we’re doing in the world, is because the grief of it is so overwhelming, that the process of opening those doors again is incredibly difficult. Because behind them is a huge, overwhelming bunch of pain. So every time you open one of them again, there it is waiting for you. And so you have to have the space to do that – to work through that pain. And it’s only by doing that that you come back to life and you start to be able to respond to these problems in a way that is more open, to look at it all in the round and say, “Okay. What is the most appropriate way of acting here?” Rather than, “Oh god, I can’t look at that. I’m just gonna keep my head down and work really hard at this thing, because I can’t look at the bigger questions.” Because the grief is still there. Fabian: So if grief is a process, what about despair? Well there’s a really interesting thing about despair, I think. It has a spark in it of deep motivation. I think despair can be described as looking at every possible scenario and seeing no hopeful one. But what that means is, if you can present someone in despair with one scenario that looks hopeful - that looks like a real possibility - then there’s this immense wealth of motivation to drive toward it, because despair is not a nice place to be.
If you can actually present someone with a possibility, even if it’s just a narrow possibility, then despair becomes this huge driver, this huge motivation that can achieve incredible things.
Fabian: Is this despair at the heart of Dark Optimism? Does that drive your activism? For me, becoming whatever I am, whether that’s an activist, or whatever, was about selfishness really. It was about the perspective I hold that in a very real and important sense – we’re all one. And our well-being is completely interdependent. From that sort of spiritual perspective, the suffering of others and the suffering of the world is my suffering. Consequently, you know, sitting on the sofa, watching TV, selfishly consuming, wasn’t very selfish because it – it didn’t satisfy me. It left me with this – this sort of pain about what was happening. And it was really uncomfortable for me as an individual. And the only thing that could make me more comfortable, was to feel like I was facing up to these challenges, trying to engage with them in some impactful, positive way. That was the only way I as an individual could feel happier, more content, and more whole. And so, yes, that process of opening to the pain that we feel at the state of the world; the anger, or dissatisfaction, or sense of injustice, or whatever it might be that we feel when we look at how things are;
if we don’t try and face what we feel, and hear the call that it might give to us, then we’re shutting ourselves down. Then we’re becoming less alive.
The one piece of advice I would give to young people is to remember that you cannot NOT change the world. Whatever you do will change the world. If you take the most default option, you follow the most mainstream, down the line, ‘just keep your head down and get on with what they’re telling you to do’, approach, then that’s the world that you’re helping to create. There is no way that you can not change the world. And so open yourself to everything that you feel about the state of the world. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do. But just ask yourself, “How do I want to respond to this in a way that isn’t shutting me down; that is opening me up; that is helping me be fully who I am.” And that will lead you for the rest of your life. -- This is an excerpt from a longer video interview conducted on the 27th September 2014, at the beginning of the New Story Summit in Findhorn, Scotland.EDIT - 12th Jan 2017 - The video footage of this 14 min interview excerpt added above. The footage of the full 43 min interview is also available, here.
A couple of nice videos from my wanderings in August. I started with a few days at the ever-wonderful Transition Heathrow, to support them through their threatened eviction. You can see how that went in the short video above. And then a coach was arranged from Grow Heathrow up to the Reclaim The Power anti-fracking camp in Blackpool, where I gave a couple of workshops, on TEQs and the Grow Heathrow eviction resistance, as well as doing my first Legal Observer training. The video below tells the story of that camp, and I certainly learned a lot there, as well as having a great time. It reminded me in many ways of the Climate Camps - it's amazing what a group of committed people can build and achieve when nobody's telling them what to do... Oh, and those with keen eyes might spot me in both vids! :) Now time for an overdue month of reading, writing and generally catching up with myself before October's adventures in Scotland with Findhorn and Trees for Life.
When environmentalists argue amongst themselves, whether at some formal debate or late at night over a few drinks, I confidently predict that the argument will go like this. One will say (in one form or another): “There’s no time to wait for radical change...
Let me tell you a story. It’s a story about our land – our home – and our ability to live peaceful, harmonious, respectful lives upon it and in partnership with it. And it’s a story about the big bad political structures and corporate institutions that conspire to stop us doing so, using the unspeakable, impenetrable black magic of bureaucracy and backhanders to bind our best efforts with frustration and fatigue. Oh, you already know that one?
Ok, then maybe you’re ready for the next chapter, about what comes after? Fine. Sit down, make yourselves comfortable. But you should know that this isn’t a Hollywood story, about a heroic individual battling the faceless hordes of bureaucratic ennui and struggling towards an inevitable triumph. No, this is a collective adventure, and a story I have to try to tell from the inside, as it occurs. Although perhaps it could be all the more powerful, for that? This story really matters to me. To us. It is the story of our lives. It seems you know the early chapters. The ones where the twisted power of the demons seems unstoppable, where calling the future uncertain sounds recklessly optimistic, where our humble efforts seem insignificant, and where our all-powerful superhero is nowhere to be seen. And you know too that, as in the most gripping stories of our childhood, the stakes are higher even than death. Though death is at stake; for us, for our loved ones. Higher than the destruction of our entire communities. Though their destruction is ongoing. Maybe higher, even, than extinction: that death of birth itself. Though that too hangs in the balance, for us and for others.
Here I sense some of your eyes widen. What could be worse than that? But some of you nod sadly, knowing that I speak of ‘undeath’. That living death that hollows all joy, pleasure and meaning from our souls even as our bodies continue to feast on all around us. The realm of zombies, of vampires. This is our story, so we all know it is no fiction. Rather, it is the true story that some of us don’t dare to tell our children, because we know they will be scared, and that we may have no honest way to reassure them.
You should know that I do not speak of death lightly. Two years ago I lost both my closest partner and mentor, and my fiancée, both suddenly, and within a few weeks of each other. Shortly afterwards, my father suffered a double heart attack and barely survived. I am coming to know a little of death, of its causes, and of what it leaves behind. And I am learning a great deal. Eventually, painfully, I am beginning to learn what Nature tells us so clearly, and what our culture fights so hard to ignore. That death is not evil. That death has its rightful place, as the partner of life, and it always will. But that undeath does not. Undeath is the enemy of nature and of life. The enemy of art and of love. It is the hollow-eyed, insatiable hunger that works to consume all that we hold dear, and takes no pleasure in that work. But I am getting ahead of myself...
Instead, let me speak a little to those who feel their unity with their lover, Earth. Those who step into the wild from which we came and can feel the terrible grief that she herself carries. Unending, as all grief is. As all relationships are. But who also feel something more from our wise, wise, deep lover.
That grief too has its place.
That feeling the loss of life, aching over it, is, truly, a triumph for life.
Grief cannot – stubbornly will not – overcome death, but it vanquishes life’s true enemy. This is the gift we can eventually bring back from our time in the underworld, clutched tight against those from whose realm we return. The gift of the tingling intensity of full life – the simple joys of a path untainted by despair, corruption or surrender. The exquisite tastes of food, the truth and beauty ringing in the music and, for me, always the dancing; my wild, beloved dancing. The aliveness that grief works to return us to - in its agonising, unhurried way - in the aftermath of beloved death.
And, possibly, the gift for which environmentalism hungers. So often, when I hear the learnéd speak of environmental collapse, ongoing or long done, all I can hear is their pain - sometimes articulated, often not - lurking among the figures and statistics. Unresolved.. I hear a zombie speaking. It is no great wonder that when a man seeks a podium to speak of his pain, the audience is limited. Most flinch before this uninvited onslaught, are put out, offended, impinged upon.
Yet we can - I can - learn to speak from the place beyond agony. Joy. The place that faces down death, even the death of birth, and finds life beyond that. In this world. In that place I find the other voices, the non-human and the no longer human. The others who share in the life of this planet, and those who no longer do. All speak in this place. And those dread, tender voices speak of death. Shatter undeath. Bring life.
There is a time for everything – a time for grieving, a time for reflection, a time for action, a time for silence. I feel that the time for storytelling, and for sitting comfortably, is drawing to a close. On Dark Optimism I sometimes speak of the paths I am choosing to walk, and if they seem a little inadequate in the face of the big bad, well it is because they are. But they bring me life – true life – and a little voice whispers to me that that is enough. That that is everything. I know that voice, and I love her.