Targets

Politicians sometimes set target dates by which something must be accomplished. Prior to being elected, these dates will sometimes be specified as being achieved within their first term (of about 4-6 years) and sometimes within a ten-year period, meaning that they might need two terms to fully achieve them.

Sometimes they have a specific date (“within the first 100 days” or “within 2 years” or “by 2022” for example). Referendums are promised by a certain date usually again 1-5 years ahead. Budgets will be planned and delivered on within a timescale of about a year. Terrorism and national disasters must be responded to within days, or even hours.

When JFK set the goal of going to the moon the goal was to go literally more than 1,000 times further into space than anyone ever had, to launch with rockets and computers and other tech that didn’t exist even on paper, with no clear of how or even whether this could be done, and to be completed by an organization (NASA) that had barely been born. Even that lofty goal only got an 8-year target (which was met).

Since, at least in democratic countries, politicians are rarely in power for over 10 years, it is pretty much a rule that no politician will ever set a date for anything beyond that time. So, any politician in 2021 who wants to remain credible cannot set a date of 2030 or later to achieve anything. The very idea is absurd, as can be illustrated with a series of examples.

Imagine if, in response to a series of (imagined) terrorist attacks in Paris next week, Emmanuel Macron announces that he will try to set a policy that will cause terrorist attacks to peak in 2030, and then to steadily decline and he hopes to end them altogether by 2050.

Imagine if in response to mass shootings throughout the US Joe Biden announces that he will schedule a conference sometime next year with the goal of eventually making an agreement with the police to try and steadily reduce these mass shootings in the 2040s.

Imagine if next year nurses and doctors go on a mass strike in the UK and Boris Johnson announces a 4% pay rise, to be implemented in 2035.

Imagine if tomorrow the Ukrainians wake up to find Russian troops taking over the East of the country and there are reports that they might even go to Kiev. And Volodymyr Zelensky goes on TV to announce that he will reduce the number of Russian troops in Ukraine by 2035.

In all cases, such announcements would rightly be ridiculed.

As a politician you cannot ever promise to do something more than 10 years ahead.

With one exception, and that is climate change.

Climate change, like the examples above (terrorism, mass shootings, underfunding of public health care, war) is somewhat urgent, is leading to deaths, and is quite scary.

And yet all the targets tend to be decades ahead. The people pledging them will be retired or dead by the time someone else has to deliver on them. A particularly absurd case is Narendra Modi saying that India will achieve net zero emissions in 2070. What a waste of time. As if anyone in power in 2070 will care about what someone in 2021 said.

The UK’s target to phase out new fossil fuel cars by 2030 is actually world leading. A lot of countries are proposing 2035 or 2040! The below image shows countries with 2020s phase outs in dark green, 2030s phase outs in light green, 2040s phase outs in light blue, 2050s phase outs in dark blue. Many of the countries in grey have no plan at all.

The UK and the US aim to get to zero carbon electricity by 2035. Other countries, such as China, will likely be later.

Very few of the major announced targets are before 2030. While a non-climate related political target after 2030 is a rare thing, a climate related target before 2030 is also a rare thing!

Why do we tolerate targets after 2030 for climate change, that we would NEVER tolerate in ANY other area? Because the world is in denial about climate change. It’s a way to avoid the issue.

I suggest a few broad guidelines for climate activism:

—We should be demanding targets on a 1-5 year timescale.

—Any target 10 or more years ahead is a joke and should be laughed at and criticised.

—2030 targets are OK if they are bans (of petrol/diesel vehicles, gas boilers), but not OK if they are just a % reduction.

As I say, broad guidelines, because it depends on the case. For example, if China announces tomorrow it will be closing its last coal plant in 2032 I’ll be looking for the nearest bottle of champagne.

“Net zero in 2050” is just an excuse to not do anything at all. No politician would dare to announce net zero terrorism in 2050, so we shouldn’t let them get away with the same stupid nonsense for climate change.

Where are the 2022, 2023 and 2024 targets?

Targets

Chile Moves Left

This is a story about how climate action became possible in Chile because the whole country shifted a little to the political left in a matter of weeks and left wing protesters, led by Chile´s new President Gabriel Boric, achieved political power. Here´s how it happened. (For another viewpoint, if you read all the articles about Chile in both the Economist and the Guardian, the biases in each cancel out, and you get a good picture.)

Historical Context

In 1970, Chile Salvador Allende became the first communist anywhere to come to power after a democratic election but in 1973 died (either suicide or was killed) after the military, supported by the American CIA, stormed the Presidential palace and took power.  From 1973 to 1989 Chile was under a military dictatorship that killed and tortured perceived opponents. It also created a neoliberal economic system where private interests were heavily involved in education, health and pensions and the public provision of services is poor. This system persists to this day. Chile is, in its balance between public welfare and capitalism, to the right of even the US, with a small state and little welfare. It has sometimes been called the cradle of neoliberalism. Economic advisors from the US (the “Chicago boys”) helped to set it up. The system led to good economic growth and reduction of poverty, but also inequality and social decay.

Chile has also been a right-wing country in social values, with abortion only under exceptional circumstances. However this is largely because of the historical power of conservatives such as Catholics, and not the beliefs of people today. Marriage equality legislation has been recently passed and will become law in 2022.

In 2006 and 2011 there were major protests in Chile (including fights with the police), related to education debt and the lack of good quality public equation. Three of the leaders of these protests were Camila Vallejo, Giorgio Jackson and Gabriel Boric.

In an hour long video in English, Boric explains that, following the protests, they made limited progress in meetings with those in power. He began to wonder about the paradox of whether you can ask those who made the system to change it. If you want to make changes, he says, you have to go into politics and be proud of it. His left-wing political coalition, the Broad Front (Frente Amplio) grew out of the protest movement and into a political party, and himself, Jackson and Vallejo were elected to the lower chamber of congress in 2013. Vallejo is actually part of the Communist party, that has a loose alliance with the Frente Amplio.

Their Presidential candidate, Beatriz Sanchez, came third in the 2017 Presidential election with 20% of the vote, behind the two main centre left and centre right political parties that had held power since the end of the dictatorship in 1990. Far right Jose Antonio Kast trailed well behind in 4th place with 8%. The winner was Sebastian Piñera, a rich businessman, whose term expires in March 2022 and who could not run again (in Chile, you cannot be President for 2 terms in a row).

The Quiet Before the Storm

I moved from the UK to live in Chile in 2014. Unlike my experiences in Bolivia and Peru, where it seemed that you only had to sit in a plaza for a few hours to see a protest marching through, things were very quiet. I couldn´t really understand why the poor accepted the severe inequality without protest. In September 2019 I went to two climate protests, a larger march that went through the streets of the city with some thousands of us, and a small one with me and about 20 others (mostly children as it was Fridays for Future). The police were respectful and just watched. When we blocked the entrance to the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente (Environment Ministry) – but let people go in and out – one police officer came over and politely suggested that we should perhaps think about stopping that soon. Some people gave us strange looks as they walked by, almost as if they had never seen a protest before, and I remember thinking that people don´t protest much in Chile, they hardly seemed used to it…

(A photo of the author protesting outside the Presidential Palace in September 2019.)

The Spark and the Fire

At the beginning of October 2019, it was announced that the price of a metro (i.e. underground/subway) ticket would be increased by 30 pesos (about 4 cents or 3 pence) to 830 pesos (about 1 US dollar). Rather like the way that one person setting themselves on fire can cause the Arab Spring, this was the straw that broke the camel`s back. Only time will tell whether this moment marks the end of free market neoliberal capitalism in Chile. But what is beyond a doubt is that this was the spark that lit a tremendous fire.

The price rise led to protests by secondary school children in the metro. The main protests were large groups of children running into the stations all at once and going over or under the barriers without paying. This despite the fact that the fee for students remained at the same very low 230 pesos. And that many of the children did not even need to ride, and sat with the legs across the platform to block the entrance of trains. The fare dodging was therefore more of an altruistic and symbolic protest than an attempt to ride for free. There was also some vandalism and confrontations with police.

By 18th October, crowds of people in Santiago centre were being attacked by police water cannons and tear gas, metro stations were being vandalized and destroyed, chaos and vandalism and fire was everywhere, and looting began, and continued heavily the next day. The President sent the military into the streets (a decision that had a negative impact on his popularity and would later be reversed). Groups of 50 or more armed soldiers in the streets were confronted by 200 or more “protestors” marching towards them, throwing missiles at them, and goading them. Many people got eye injuries – or blindness – due to the military and many reported sexual abuse in captivity. Some abuses by the military, such as shooting at a journalist or attacking an old man walking by, both for no discernible reason, were captured on camera. By the end of 2019, about 30 people had been killed, 6 by the military and most of the rest in fires and accidents. Many of them died while looting. Some prosecutions occurred of military personally, but no Chilean organization ever conducted a thorough review of the many incidents.

At one stage large crowds were surrounding the Parliament, and trying to climb up the fences, and it looked to me from the TV pictures that there was a chance that the mob would take congress. But it didn´t.

I went to my local town on 22nd October, 2019 and saw a peaceful protest in the central plaza with children, and a few hundred yards away saw the supermarket being vandalized and heard shots being fired as the military chased criminals. This was typical of what was going on nationwide for at least several weeks. I believe most of the supermarkets in the country were probably looted. Many small business were destroyed, even at least one church was set on fire, and many other things.

For a while in October and November, more roads were being blocked every week across the country than Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion have blocked in the UK in the last three years. Sometimes, they would let people pass if you got out of the car and danced.

(The image that in my view best represents the 2019 protests.)

Demands for Change

On 25th October 2019, there was a huge, peaceful march in Santiago, with over a million people – about 5%-10% of the population in a single march. At that time, the country was more supporting a movement for change than it was opposing the violence.

In those heady, crazy, scary days of November 2019, the entire country shifted to the left. I saw this on social media, in the news, in the interviews of people in the street, in conversations with neighbours, in the results of surveys. The movement was a rejection of the political elite, and it was composed of many, many different individual protests relating to health, education, pensions and many other things. Environmental concerns grew as well, but it was not a top issue. Overall I see the protests as being against inequality and as a result a protest against the current “neoliberal” model of free market capitalism even if many of the protestors would not state it that way. The country woke up.

Chile Votes Left

In the elections of 2020 and 2021, the country voted for a new constitution and left wing and independent parties beat right wing parties in many elections including mayors, governors, and those elected to write the new constitution. However, the senate remains fairly evenly balanced between left and right.

In the first round of the Presidential election in November, the candidates of the centre left and centre right parties, after 30 years of power,  trailed behind in 4th and 5th place. The 3rd place candidate, Franco Parisi, managed to beat them even though he doesn´t really have a very established political party, has had various controversies of different types against him, fled the country to avoid paying child support to his wife and campaigned entirely online from the USA. Gabriel Boric (far left) narrowly beat Jose Antonio Kast, (far right), both of whom I mentioned earlier, in the second round.

It is too early to say whether the shift to the left is permanent, and unclear how much of it is a specific rejection of the right-wing government in power at the time of the social crisis, and how much is due to a genuine ideological shift. The elections in 2025, and what happens with the new constitution before then, may answer this.

Back to Climate

What is clear is that Chile seems to have gone as far as it is willing to go in voting left. The days at the end of 2019 where people who didn´t normally talk about politics at all were enthusiastically discussing it online and in person are long gone, and the demands for social justice are now currently more equally balanced against concerns about crime, immigration and stability.

The peaceful protests and organizing for climate action of some groups, even though never reaching the status of a top issue, did have some positive impact at a political level. And this has been given a serious boost as the political left has steadily taken more power. In September 2019, the government proposed to shut the last coal plant in 2040, and we were marching for 2030 which at the time was the hopeful, radical position. But now a law to shut down the last coal plant in 2025 has passed the lower chamber of congress, and is supported by Boric. However, it is unclear how this debate will turn out in the senate.

During the Presidential campaigns, the Chilean media failed on climate change. 5 of the 7 candidates agreed to a climate debate, but I couldn´t find it on my TV or radio, and had to watch in on Youtube. It was not talked about in the media either. It was like it never happened. In a recent survey I saw about issues relevant to the Presidencial debate, 22% of people mentioned social justice as their top issue, crime was second 12%, and environment was 15th in the list with 2%, despite the fact that Chile is already prone to droughts and fires and there is a huge difference in the position of the two candidates in climate change.

Kast is the classic right winger who is not quite an outright denier of science but won´t do anything substantial about climate. Boric is the rare climate woke politician that cheers my heart a bit by mentioning climate change in TV debates, for instance, inspite of never being asked about it, and who posts about it on social media even when it isn´t in the news.

Boric´s policies don´t so far go much beyond the electricity grid and a mention of a carbon tax, however. There is nothing new on vehicles or agriculture or industry. I hope he could be persuaded to add some other policies later though. Since he is more climate woke than the electorate, he might be someone that environmentalists can work with, rather than to have to constantly call to account and criticise.

In summary climate action became possible because the country moved to the left for other reasons, and the most important thing that could have been done in Chile in 2020 and 2021 to support climate action was to support left wing candidates.

I feel like there should be some lessons from this for other countries, but each country is different, and I´m not sure what those lessons are. I´ll leave it up to you to decide.

Chile Moves Left

COP 26: Some Progress Made, But More Failure Than Success

In absolute terms COP was closer to a failure than a success. But relative to expectation for these conferences, I’d say it was about as expected.

I checked the prices of major fossil fuel companies such as Shell, BP, Exxon Mobil and Peabody and they did fall a little during the early days of the conference around the days of the methane and coal announcements (while overall US/UK stock markets were not falling), then stayed stable. I also checked the value of the currency of some fossil fuel dependent economies – Russia, Venezuela, Canada and Australia and found that their currencies weakened during the conference. But not by much.

There were almost no promises to do anything this decade, meaning almost every leader is effectively promising to do nothing themselves, but is making a promise that they hope others will be forced to deliver on.

Few are talking about the policies I think are really needed: large carbon taxes, end dates for new oil and gas, or regulating the finance of fossil fuels, or laws that major companies have to reduce emissions.

On a positive note, instead of focusing on the final day deal between everyone, deals have been made with those who are willing to sign and hoping to get others in later. I think this will work out better in the long run.

Here is some comments on the main things that were announced that are actually worth talking about:

Forests

Forest deal https://ukcop26.org/glasgow-leaders-declaration-on-forests-and-land-use/ states that “We therefore commit to working collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”. Really? So we´re just going to keep burning and cutting until 2029? A better deal would be to promise that 2023 forest cover would be higher than 2021. The forest deal includes Brazil and it said that 90% of the world´s forest are covered in the countries that have signed, so at least that´s something. However, not much since the deal is weak.

Coal

The coal deal is https://ukcop26.org/global-coal-to-clean-power-transition-statement/ “To rapidly scale up technologies and policies in this decade to achieve a transition away from unabated coal power generation in the 2030s (or as soon as possible thereafter) for major economies and in the 2040s (or as soon as possible thereafter) globally.”

This is a very weak promise since this will likely happen anyway due to market forces alone and doesn´t require any tough government action. Also, note that “as soon as possible thereafter” is a get out clause meaning that nothing has been strictly promised at all. The top three coal producers: China (half the world´s coal) India (11%) and USA (8.5%) have not signed up to even this weak deal. If all three of them do so and if all three of them were to be defined as major economies and commit to 2030s, this would be an OK deal although not consistent with 1.5C.

It´s strange that the US hasn´t signed this deal since their government already plans to phase out coal in the 2030s. Could that be a tactical move to not do anything to annoy Joe Manchin right now? Joe Manchin is the US senator that owns millions of dollars of coal stock and may have the deciding vote in passing the Build Back Better budget reconciliation bill that contains climate measures (yes, the world is messed up). Maybe Biden and Kerry want to try to pass this bill first – which actually contains some renewable subsidies that might indirectly enable the coal phase out – and then they´ll sign the coal deal? Anyway, what really matters is to get China (and India) to commit to phasing out coal in the 2020s or 2030s.

Oil and Gas

BOGA oil and gas alliance, led by Costa Rica and Denmark, announced new members at COP and now includes includes France, Greenland, Ireland, Sweden and Wales. https://www.nationalobserver.com/2021/11/11/news/members-beyond-oil-and-gas-alliance-aim-end-fossil-fuel-dependence

This is a good start, although the fact so few countries are willing to commit to ending new oil and gas, even though this is obviously vital to respecting the Paris agreement, is a clear sign of how far we are from where we need to be.

Methane

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/18/joint-us-eu-press-release-on-the-global-methane-pledge/ includes EU, US, UK.

Parties signing the pledge agree to take national-level, voluntary actions to contribute to reducing global methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030. If you look at the carbon budget pathways, this one is probably consistent with “under 2C” but not 1.5C. 45% by 2030 would probably be consistent with a 50% chance of max 1.5C, but that would likely require properly regulating the fossil fuel industry or having a greenhouse gas tax to reduce the killing and eating of cows, but politicians don’t seem to be up for either of those. 30% by 2030 is probably mostly achievable just by plugging up the leakiest oil and gas wells, and doing some things with landfills. It doesn´t require anyone to change their eating habits, or to actually legislate a reduction in all fossil fuels, that’s probably why it´s 30%. (Side note: The New York Times, BBC and CNN all called this a pledge to “slash” methane. This type of positive aggressive language gives the wrong impression, it´s a classic example of the media´s failings on climate change.)

Cars

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cop26-declaration-zero-emission-cars-and-vans/cop26-declaration-on-accelerating-the-transition-to-100-zero-emission-cars-and-vans

The key points would seem to be “As governments, we will work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission by 2040 or earlier, or by no later than 2035 in leading markets” and “As automotive manufacturers, we will work towards reaching 100% zero emission new car and van sales in leading markets by 2035 or earlier”.

Volkswagen and Toyota did not sign. All of the top five car producing countries did not yet sign (US, China, Japan, South Korea, Germany).

Even if they had signed, it would be a fairly weak deal since market forces alone will achieve most of this, and the schedules are not consistent with 1.5C when you factor in that allowing many petrol and diesel cars to be sold in 2030 means many of them on the road until about 2045.

Heavy Vehicles

https://globaldrivetozero.org/2021/11/09/landmark-commitment-at-cop26-countries-subnational-governments-vehicle-manufacturers-and-fleets-target-100-zero-emission-new-truck-and-bus-sales-by-2040-10-nov-2021/  15 countries agree to work together toward 100% zero-emission new truck and bus sales by 2040. Under the new Global Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Zero-Emission Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles (ZE-MHDVs), Austria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Wales are setting an interim goal of 30% zero-emission new vehicle sales by 2030.

As usual, China, USA, Germany are laggards that are not present.

Given the difficulty of decarbonizing long-haul trucks and the fact that electric trucks are not at production scale yet, this is actually a decent compromise. But not many signed it.

International Finance

Countries sign up to limit government investment to new fossil fuel finance including Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, UK, US. https://ukcop26.org/statement-on-international-public-support-for-the-clean-energy-transition/

This is a good step.

China, South Korea and Japan, reported as leading financers in this area, have not signed however.

Where We´re Headed

Quite good deals don’t attract signatures, while deals that do are weak.

This year and last year, I’ve been saying we’re headed for between 2.0C and 3.0C above pre-industrial levels. At the moment it looks like we are heading for between 1.8C and 2.5C and that’s partly due to some small improvements from this conference.

The IEA says that COP pledges, if fulfilled, could bring us to 1.8C by 2100. If that´s true, we are actually on the right track but need some improvement, but not doing too badly. However, sadly, it looks wrong to me because it projects significant emissions reduction within the current decade which doesn´t look realistic under current pledges. The Carbon Action Tracker instead thinks we are disastrously headed for 2.7C under current policies, and 2.4C after allowing for pledges not yet put into practice. However, it also says all announced pledges if implemented could bring us to 1.8C which actually means it is not really that different to the IEA assessment. However it calls this an “optimistic, best-case scenario”.

Even 1.8C might be very bad news for Africa, Bangladesh, the Middle East, Pacific Islands, and many others.

If the next 2-3 COPs each make as much progress as this one, and further progress is also make outside of the COPs, then we might be headed in the right direction. This COP on its own was not great though.

COP 26: Some Progress Made, But More Failure Than Success

Going Green Made Us Richer

Over the years, especially over the last few years, I´ve been making changes to my and my family´s life and it has made us thousands of pounds wealthier. Here´s how I did it.

First, and most importantly, I only invested in funds that did not include fossil fuels. As it happens, green tech is doing well, and fossil fuel companies have been going down. Impax Environmental Markets has easily beaten both the stock market average and fossil fuel companies. We´ve made about £5000 (€6000, $7000) as a result of deciding to invest in a green and ethical way.

Secondly, since we bought an electric car the prices of cars has gone up (possibly due to COVID supply shortages as well as demand increase also from people avoiding public transport in the pandemic so needing to buy a car) meaning we currently hold an asset worth more than we paid for it. The gains have been much higher compared to if we had stayed with the old cars. We have also had zero maintenance costs in 1.5 years with an electric car (OK, I lie, there was £5 on a puncture) and the savings on fuel have been very high as well. Overall, we have saved about £2000 on fuel and maintenance while gaining about £2000 in asset value. £4000 total.

We also got solar panels. I don´t think that was an economically good decision because we are renting and may have to sell off the panels cheap or pay for them to be moved to another house. Best guess we will lose £1000 based on current saleable value second hand.

Other changes (e.g. going vegetarian) have not made much difference cost wise. Some savings have been due to doing less of things (flights, heating, hot water for showers). I have saved a few thousand pounds as well as environmental benefit by being more minimalist and less consumerist without being any less happy. So you could argue that´s a saving. But I won´t count it here since that is debatable since it involved giving up things like more new clothes and electronics.

So overall we have made about £5000 on the funds, £4000 on the car and maybe lost £1000 on the solar panels for a total gain of £8000 in wealth (€9,000, $11,000).

Green Money Sign drawing free image download

I don´t write this article however to convince you that the same will happen to you. Personally I think that green tech will continue to outperform fossil fuels on the stock market due to my prediction that society’s climate change denialism will continue to slowly reduce, but there´s no guarantee of that.

The main reason for our gains appears to have been pure luck.

For those of you that take decision to go green, you may make money, lose money or perhaps most likely stay about the same.

But the idea that it is expensive to go green is an outdated myth. It probably was true in 2010, with the prices of solar panels and electric cars at that time, and the lack of green investment options. But things are different now and things are changing fast.

So if something in your gut tells you that going green will cost you – ignore it. If you really stop to think about it you´ll realize that this is not based on any real evidence or it is an outdated idea.

Going Green Made Us Richer

Fee and Dividend: A Key Climate Solution

(3 minute read)

In a previous post, I said that to address climate change we need to make it socially unacceptable to do certain things. However, if we put a high price on carbon, those who drive petrol SUVs or fly long haul will be contributing to society through extra taxes. There’s no longer any need for guilt or shaming, something that many (I suspect most) would welcome.

To tax carbon, a government simply needs to collect money every time fossil fuels are imported into the country or taken out of the ground. Also, to be fair, they also need to tax all imported goods coming from countries that don’t have their own carbon tax. (Where rich countries are taxing imports from poor countries that have done little to cause climate change but will be hit harder then the proceeds could be used to fund clean energy projects in those countries.)

Low-carbon activities on average cost about the same as high-carbon activities in the long term, but this varies and some of the low carbon options (such as solar panels or electric cars) require most of the cost right at the start. People (and businesses) prefer to continue doing what they are used to until they have a real clear incentive to change. I suggest that incentive needs to be to make the low carbon option the cheapest by a clear margin in almost all cases.

A high carbon tax could in theory be used to fund any number of worthy social programs. However, such policies would never get support from right wing governments or people. Therefore, I think a carbon tax should probably be “revenue neutral” in places that already have high taxation (e.g. the US, UK and Europe).

There are at least two ways to achieve this. The first is that you reduce or cancel other taxes, such as income tax and VAT/sales tax. A slight downside is you’d have to be constantly tweaking the income tax and sales tax every year or two to make it balance out the carbon tax income which would rise at first as the carbon tax gradually increases, and then decline as society decarbonizes.

I’ve come to prefer a fee and dividend approach instead. Under this system, the proceeds of the carbon tax are simply sent back to the people (which arguably makes it not a tax at all). If in a country of 50 million people the fee raises £10 billion in a month then every person (whether rich or poor) gets £200/month. Getting money land in your account every month is psychologically pleasing and will create positivity around the fee.

The rich lose and the poor win on this plan but that’s fair since rich people are causing more climate change.

In simple terms, under a fee and dividend plan, you have more money, but the price of almost everything is higher. In particular, gas, petrol, diesel, concrete, steel, flights and meat would become significantly more expensive.

Some carbon taxes already exist, but are too low, only cover some countries, and typically only cover certain sectors (sometimes electricity only). Many economists and policy experts seem to favour a tax of about £100/ton of carbon dioxide (€115 or $138) because they claim this will cut emissions to keep the maximum warming to about 2C above pre-industrial levels. However, given the uncertainty, and how serious climate change is, and the fact that say 1.7C is greatly preferable to 2C, I personally would prefer between £200-£500/ton.

Surveys suggest that this policy would already have popular support. Most economists support it. Governments need to think carefully about which groups will lose out (perhaps taxi drivers and goods delivery companies for example), anticipate how they will react, and listen and negotiate with them in advance of launching the policy. In my view, the mistake made by Emmanuel Macron in France was to go ahead with carbon taxes without sufficient public debate and consultation and support, and without the benefit of the dividend.

If you decide you support this policy, please tell your local politician and vote accordingly in the next election.

Here is a good talk on fee and dividend (13 minutes).

Fee and Dividend: A Key Climate Solution

Changing the Social Contract

Social norms

Some things are not considered acceptable, for example:

Cigarette smoking a few paces outside of a school entrance as many children walk by.

Farting/belching loudly without apologising or at least commenting on it.

A mobile phone ringing during a wedding ceremony.

Urinating near to other people anywhere other than a bathroom.

Persistently interrupting in conversation.

Talking about most sexual matters in front of children.

If we consider these actions, it is beyond dispute that there are some situations where any person (not just an authority figure) can gain strong support by impinging on another´s freedom by firmly asking that person not to do something perfectly legal.

Some of the actions on the above list arguably do not even cause anyone any harm, unless that is just emotional annoyance. So can we put some new things into the “socially unacceptable” list that actually cause harm?

New social norms

When someone buys a brand-new polluting petrol or diesel SUV, I would like to live in a world where they feel embarrassed to own it, and when they meet up with their friends, park it hidden far away and don´t mention it to anyone rather than show it off. When someone comes back from their annual vacation in the Caribbean, perhaps they don´t share photos on social media and try to avoid talking about it for fear of criticism. When someone orders a steak from a factory farm, I´d like if it they did so almost apologetically and felt the need to explain to their friends at the restaurant table that they do honestly eat mostly vegetarian meals, but they just fancied steak today.

This is not a radical change but the same world we already live in, just with new socially unacceptable (climate change causing) things added to the existing list. Surely causing knowing, pointless damage to the biosphere on which civilization depends should draw more ire than a harmless, accidental mobile phone ring?

Masks and cigarettes

Social norms do change over time, for example unmarried sex. It´s even possible for them to change quickly if there is enough of an urgent need – e.g. mask wearing in a pandemic.

When the first people spoke in favour of mask wearing, and criticised their friends at a social gathering for not wearing masks (say in February 2020 in the UK or Europe) I imagine that they were told to stop “telling others what to do” when there was no law mandating masks. And yet a few months later, in many places, everyone would have supported them for saying the exact same thing, with insignificant change in scientific knowledge in the interim.

Similarly in the case of cigarette smoking. Someone criticising others publicly for smoking in a pub decades ago would have met with derision, laughter or anger and told to let each person live their live as they see fit.

To conclude

So, what we need is a minority of trend setters who are willing to speak out and be annoying and risk either arguments or moments of awkwardness. Unless and until there is a very large carbon tax, I don´t see how we can avoid catastrophic climate change without changing the social contract. This change seems to have just started but needs to happen faster.

As an aside it´s become very fashionable in environmentalist/radical/activist circles to focus only on action by governments and corporations, especially in recent years. Yes, we need to also focus on change at the level of governments. Yes, that will probably be the key part of the solution. Yes, a fairly short list of companies causes most of the emissions. Yes, the fossil fuel companies have brainwashed us and addicted us to their crack and made us fight each other rather than them. But let´s not forget about personal responsibility altogether.

Criticising people that don´t cut their carbon footprint already makes sense from a logical, rational, ethical, scientific perspective. We just need it to make sense from a social perspective.

Changing the Social Contract

2020 Climate News: A Review

Neither 2020 or climate change are topics usually associated with positivity and yet if you combine the two funnily enough you do have a good news story.

  1. Xi Jinping, the leader of China, told the UN climate assembly in September that China would peak emissions “before 2030” rather than “about 2030” and look to achieve carbon neutrality by about 2060. This is not great because we should be cutting emissions right away, but at least it´s not as bad as before. Xi is also looking to get a bigger role for China internationally, and I suspect he would go further if other countries including the US also agree to do so.
  2. In July Joe Biden announced that as President he would spend $2 trillion over four years on climate change (about $1515 per person in US per year), better than his previous policy of $1.7 trillion over ten years (about $515 per person in US per year). The plan includes green electricity by 2035 and promoting electric vehicles.
  3. Donald Trump, a climate change denier, lost the election.
  4. Boris Johnson produced a 10-point plan for climate change that has some good policies like more wind and nuclear and a 2030 ban on petrol and diesel vehicles. Not amazing, but better than expected from him and his party.
  5. The fossil fuel divestment movement made some progress and could be about to really take off in 2021.
  6. The chances of getting a carbon tax improved during the year and includes support from both sides of the political spectrum.
  7. COVID reduced the economy and therefore cut emissions, probably by about 7% in 2020 vs 2019. This will likely amount to thousands or millions of lives saved in the long run due to reduced pollution and climate change (probably not as many as those tragically killed by the pandemic itself, however).
  8. Tesla´s share price increased 7x, a sure sign that fossil fuel cars are on the way out.

Almost all of the good news related to promises made rather than actions taken, and we have gone from being in a dire state to still in a bad state, but it´s progress.

2020 Climate News: A Review