The school strike for climate in several countries, inspired by teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, and the Extinction Rebellion originated in the UK have resonated with many. I applaud them.
The movements are a response to the deep frustration felt by many at the continuing failure of governments worldwide to successfully address climate breakdown and environmental damage.
Measures introduced have not curbed climate breakdown or the environmental damage caused by our unfettered use of fossil fuels.
This is despite concerns being raised long ago and general consensus amongst scientists often going unheard – reiterated by scientist Dr Mike Joy in a recent talk to the Whanganui Science Forum.
Mainstream media have been mainly silent on these issues. Fossil fuel industry lobbyists have waged a relentless campaign over several years casting doubt on evidence-based peer-reviewed scientific research and influenced the debate. This may finally be changing but precious time has been lost.
Years of international conferences, reports and calls for action have resulted in little effective reduction in carbon emissions.
There is a close correlation between GDP and carbon emissions with richer countries having higher levels of emissions than poorer countries.
Governments use GDP growth as a key metric of success thereby dooming to failure initiatives to limit carbon emissions. They have been unwilling to challenge our current lifestyles and propose radical alternatives.
Individuals on their own can do very little to counter the profligate energy use by our society. For example, two of NZ's major growth export sectors - dairy and tourism - contribute massively to carbon emissions.
Exhortation to voluntarily reduce carbon emitting activities has had minimal impact. Carbon emissions continue to rise as we drive our cars more – total light vehicle kilometres in NZ rose 6 per cent in 2017 to 48.2 billion, use more energy in our homes and increasingly fly to faraway places at the drop of a hat – passenger departures from Auckland airport are up by over 25 per cent in the last five years.
It is time to take radical action. The shadow boxing of the phoney war against climate breakdown has failed. I recommend introducing individual carbon rations, first proposed back in the 1990s and a long-standing policy of the UK Greens, and putting the economy on a war-like footing.
Carbon rations would be for individuals and governments only; individuals to manage their own consumption and governments for the services that they provide collectively. The carbon credits would be administered similarly to GST.
Each citizen would have a card with carbon credits and those using fewer would be able to on-sell them. Companies and businesses would have to bid for carbon credits from consumers.
For example, an individual uses his carbon credit to buy milk. The farmer and all intermediaries along the production chain would then be reimbursed in carbon credits to offset their carbon input purchases.
If the consumer chooses not to buy milk as the carbon cost is too high, farming practices would have to evolve to reduce the carbon used in production.
Over time carbon rationing would shape behaviour towards more carbon-efficient outcomes. This approach would be fair and equitable with carbon rations decreasing annually until targets are reached. Experience would enable rationing policies to be tweaked to achieve optimal behavioural outcomes in carbon use. This would need to be a global initiative.
The proposals are ambitious but no more than what is necessary to curbing human-induced climate breakdown. They merit serious consideration.
The alternative is to continue as we are and face likely anarchy as societies collapse under the impacts of climate breakdown.