Thursday, 31 January 2013

A modest proposal

If you're environmentally minded, you'll know that the emissions trading scheme, particularly in regard to travel, has been a massive failure. Worse than that, the airlines have made a fortune while increasing the CO2 they pump into the atmosphere. Far too many 'carbon credits' were made available, so the price has slumped and there's no incentive to increase it or reduce the supply.

Various international bodies are meeting, supposedly to fix the problem, but as usual the lobbyists and industry have subverted them. In the meantime, we can help. Individuals can buy carbon permits but more importantly, we should pressure our companies and institutions to do so automatically. For instance, academics quite often travel long distances to speak at conferences. It's not free: the atmosphere and anyone who breathes pays an environmental price. So let's include carbon permit retirement into every grant and travel application. There'll be a box on the form for explaining how far you're going and how you're getting there. The university will calculate the damage and destroy a number of its carbon credits to make up for it, making them unavailable for the market. Crucially, the institution should double the carbon credits retired, so that your own pollution is not just admitted but mitigated.

It will add to the cost of what we do, but it means taking responsibility for the damage we wreak. It will drive up the cost of the credits so we'll have to think carefully about what we do, and it will cost the serious polluters more to do business.

If an institution is capitalistically minded (and they pretty much are), it will buy a large pile of carbon credits and use some of them as investments for the institution, though my preference is to 'retire' them so that pollution is actually reduced rather than just acknowledged.

All this should be a legal requirement for corporate bodies and individuals. I look forward to the day when your tank of petrol costs you £s and deducts carbon credits from your account so that if you run out in November, you take the bus. Or walk.

But for the meantime, universities should take the lead. While solo efforts don't make a meaningful contribution to political or environmental causes, setting an example does. We're far from being the worst offenders, but we have assumed that jetting off to agreeable places is a perk of the job. With me?

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