Azara Blog: Individual carbon quotas

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Date published: 2005/07/02

The BBC says:

Plans to limit energy use by giving everyone an individual carbon allowance are being considered by the government.

The "domestic tradable quotas" scheme could help the UK comply with the Kyoto Protocol, think tank the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research suggested.

The plan would see people issued carbon units - each equivalent to 1kg of greenhouse gases - to use when buying products such as flights and petrol.

A government spokesman said plans were at the earliest stage of consideration.

Environment minister Elliot Morley told the Daily Telegraph the government could "think the unthinkable".

The scheme would see people and businesses able to buy or sell extra rations.

This idea has been around for some time already and is hardly "unthinkable". Economists in particular love this idea because it will keep them permanently employed into the forseeable future calculating the tax rate on individual items.

And tax on petrol and VAT are already crude carbon taxes. (To a first approximation, the more something costs, the more energy was used producing it, so the more environmental damage it has caused. This is only a first approximation since, for example, the current belief is that non-carbon energy causes less environmental damage than carbon energy, although that could be wrong. And unfortunately most products and services have a long and complicated energy history, so to calculate the carbon versus non-carbon use properly is tricky.)

The throw-away comment in the article, that these carbon units are to be used "when buying products such as flights and petrol" is unfortunate. We should have a carbon tax on all products, not just ones considered politically incorrect by the current ruling elite. Train and bus passengers should pay a carbon tax. People heating their homes should pay a carbon tax. People buying food should pay a carbon tax. Otherwise this proposal is just middle class stupidity (i.e. par for the course).

And not only businesses but all organisations should be covered. For example, academics do not get paid much in direct salary, but they spend much of their time swanning around the world going to conferences, and the environmental damage this causes should be accounted for by their organisation. Unfortunately some organisations (such as the civil service and universities) are paid for by the State, so any additional tax would ultimately not be paid for by the people responsible but by the taxpayer. One way to make this explicit would be to allocate organisation taxes down to the individuals in the organisation (say in proportion to one's salary and benfits, but you also need to take into account shareholders). It is one's total carbon use, as both a consumer and a worker, that really matters.

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