Commons Manifesto (Part 2) – How can we squeeze CARBON out of the economy?

Most of the serious commentators on climate change see us as having already gone past the point of no return. This is not because the emissions in the atmosphere and the degrees of warming we are already committed to will take us passed 1.5C, but because they do not believe we can unhook ourselves from an expansionist industrial economy fast enough to halt emissions before they overpower the climate and ecosystems ability to absorb and restore equilibrium.

In fact the situation is both much worse and much more hopeful than this.

It is worse, because emission levels are just one aspect of the destruction being wrecked on the ecosystem, and focusing on them makes it look as though the problem is in the future, whereas this economy is systematically destroying the conditions for life right now.

At the same time the situation is much more hopeful, since emissions are directly connected to industrial growth and – although the International Energy Authority has pointed out that emissions rose in 2010 to their highest level ever, 30.6 gigatonnes, up 5% from the previous highest record in 2008 and taking us close to the level of emissions we are not supposed to reach until 2020 – emissions dipped in 2009 because of the recession.

What is needed is a rapid planned reduction of industrial economic activity. Not a recession that is simply the bust side of boom, but a relinquishing of that whole cycle.

So what is the current approach to the carbon problem and what are the alternatives?

Current regressive approach: Cap and Trade

Governments, corporations and international institutions have met in Copenhagen and Cancun and failed to reach any agreement that will reduce emissions. They have promised targets for the future but take no effective action in the present. Worse than this, their so called ‘climate change solutions’ make matters worse rather than better.

For example, the ‘Cap and Trade’ system established by the EU has increased profits for the large emitters, increased fuel costs for citizens and increased emissions. It has also blocked policy makers from being willing to consider the other far more effective ways to rapidly reduce carbon ion the economy outlined below.

Meanwhile, REDD was the great success of Cancun – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in the Global South. However REDD is simply a means for those in the Global North to delay action by buying the right to continue emitting as long as they hold permits gained through being able to claim they are retaining ‘sinks’ for our carbon by protecting forests in the Global South from being destroyed. The methodologies employed to ‘prove’ that nothing is happening in the forests (and therefore that their carbon are being protected and these carbon ‘sinks’ maintained) are completely porous, but worse than this the only real way for a conservation or corporate organisation to demonstrate they are doing something on the ground is to impose paramilitary force and to exclude local people from using resources they have sustainably used for millennia, often destroying commons regimes in the process and opening up forests to destruction by outsiders as those who have lived with and protected them are forced to move away.

Meanwhile many environmentalists see nuclear power as the lesser of two evils in the context of climate change, missing the point that – whatever energy is being used – the underlying problem is an expansionary economic system. Debating which form of power is least worst in fuelling this system misses the point that the system is driving us off a cliff and we need to slow and stop it – we need to shift to human scale living rather than refuel an inhumane system with another power source.

Potential reformist approach: TEQs

In Scotland, Parliament approved a radical set of carbon reduction targets that set our ambition very high in terms of reducing our emissions. Alongside this, however, the highest priority of this administration is sustainable economic growth (’sustainable’ in the sense of sustaining that economic growth not in the sense of ensuring the economy is restrained to ensure we live sustainably). There are some admirable moves to meet these targets, but alongside this the expansion of motorways and airports, and the building of an entirely unnecessary second Forth Road bridge, continues apace.

A powerful tool exists which could help to shift us away from carbon intense consumption and resource use: Tradable Energy Quotas. TEQs cold be introduced without disturbing Scotland’s relationship with other countries economies, and in a way which would help the Scottish economy and policy to become cutting edge and enable it to export the expertise it develops to other countries that are going to have to demonstrate they are doing something.

The first stage of the TEQs approach offers a very simple system which would involve all households/ individuals using something akin to a carbon credit card so that their domestic/ individual purchases of fuels (e.g. for home heating or personal motor car use) takes into account the carbon they are using. Everyone is allocated an equal quota of carbon they are allowed to use, and anyone using above their quota has to pay to do so, anyone using below their quota can sell that portion and make money from so doing. Given that the poor use far less carbon than the rich there is a redistributive aspect to the process, and there is incentive for everyone to shift to a less carbon intense lifestyle.

The second stage of TEQs deals with the other 50% of Tradable Energy Quotas which would be auctioned to companies and organisations for all the other uses of fossil fuels (e.g. sales of fuels to power stations, sales of fuels to transport fleets carrying freight, fuel purchased by factories to power production processes or to offices for heating). Of course, ultimately, households have to pay for the rising price of electricity from the power stations, for the rising price of freight transport, for the rising carbon price of products with “embedded carbon”. In the TEQ system they get no compensation for this part of the rising carbon price. However in the more radical ‘Cap and Dividend’ system they do.

Potential radical approach: Cap and Dividend

The ‘Cap and Dividend’ approach is similar to TEQs – in that it is also aims to reduce the amount of carbon coming through the economy – but it is different in that it is an ‘upstream’ rather than ‘downstream’ approach. TEQs focuses on each transaction by each ‘consumer’. In contrast Cap and Dividend would set a cap on the amount of carbon coming into Scotland, and charge the large oil, gas and coal companies for the right to bring them into the country. The companies would pay into a fund which would redistribute the money equally to each adult in the country. This would have two effects:
(i) Firstly, companies would pass on the cost of bringing carbon into the country at the petrol pump, the plastics factory, the fertiliser company, etc, so all products and services involving carbon would rapidly increase in prices, encouraging a shift to non-carbon intensive and more local forms of production and services.
(ii) Secondly, citizens would receive a solid amount of cash every month which would enable 80% of people to be better off as a result of the situation, and only the wealthy high emitters to be penalised. [Note: there would need to be ways of addressing fuel poverty alongside this so that a poor elderly person in a remote location needing to use carbon fuel for heating and transport would not be penalised].

Potential transformational approach: Cap and Share

Like Cap and Dividend, this policy could be one of the game changers that both enables and locks in individual, community and society-wide attempts to move away from fossil fuel use and towards sustainability. The system is similar to Cap and Dividend. It is a permit system that physically limits the amount of carbon to be sold. Like a tax it does raise revenue, because the permits to sell fossil fuels must be purchased. Unlike a tax, where the revenue raised per unit sold is know the revenue raised by the share would not be known in advance – this is because the permit price may vary depending on the demand for the fixed and limited amount of fuels. In a period of high demand for fuels the price of permits would be high – in a period of contraction it might be low.

The key difference between Cap and Share and Cap and Dividend is that with Cap and Dividend the limited number of upstream permits are auctioned – whereas with Cap and Share the permits are first passed to individual citizens – and it is then down to those citizens to sell them (via intermediaries like banks or post offices). The ‘share’, the cash generated by the auction of these permits to the large companies bringing fossil fuel into the economy could then be used (or partly used) to directly support communities to relocalise the economy, and directly support communities in the Global South to cope with the impact of climate change today. Or all (or part of) the ‘share’ could go to the public as individuals on a per capita basis as with Cap and Dividend. Unlike with Cap and Dividend, however, people could choose not to put their shares forward to auction and therefore they can directly contribute to removing that amount of carbon from being allowed to enter the economy and the atmosphere.

Where, on balance, should we aim for in Scotland in terms of Carbon policy?

If we judge that the most we can aim for is TEQs, then that is at least a huge leap in the right direction compared to current regressive policies. If we judge that people would be ready to go straight to Cap and Share then rapid transition is possible. However, I suggest that Cap and Dividend is the best potential tipping point, in that it is more electorally appealing than Cap and Share (80% of people have more cash in their pockets without having to involve themselves in thinking about selling auctioning their share) but is more effective in altering the system than TEQs since it moves us from being consumers counting our carbon as well as cash credit cards to being citizens beginning to control the large fuel companies and reshape the economy.

It is crucial to remember that all these reformist, radical and transformational policies are transitional. They are intended to transform the context from one of an ever-expanding and unequalising economy to one of human-scale commons social forms.

In the next post, I will briefly sketch the other three policy areas in relation to Scotland, not because they are less important but because I hope the general approach I am suggesting is now clear. It is that we need:
(i) A shared vision of where we are going; we need
(ii) To collectively resist regressive approaches that seek to maintain us on our current ecocidal trajectory; and we need
(iii) To support each other in taking clear action, even if we disagree about what level of change is immediately necessary and/ or politically feasible.

This is the eleventh post in the series of ‘Case for the Commons: the kinder Society we want’. The twelfth will continue to propose a routemap for Scotland.

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    1. Justin Kenrick says:

      Thanks Roger – this is a really interesting study (‘Study of the effects on employment of public aid to renewable energy sources’). It suggests that for the creation of each green job in Spain (specifically, jobs in the renewables sector), 2.2 other jobs are destroyed.

      The study sees itself as sounding a note of warning to people like President Obama who – it believes – wants to quickly implement a green jobs programs. It concludes that “such schemes offer considerable employment consequences and implications for emerging from the economic crisis.” (2010: 32)

      However on the previous page, the report states just which jobs will be destroyed by the shift to renewables. It states that: “it is worth highlighting that some of the most affected industries would be producers of basic iron and steel products (in Spain, it consumed €470.77 million), basic chemical products (€382.13 million), plastics (€297.18 million), manufacture and first transformation of precious metals (€280.58 million) as well as producers of cement, lime and plaster (€202.22 million).” (2010: 31)

      In other words the shift to renewables destroys those very industries that are unsustainably consuming fossil fuels and driving emissions up fast. Contrary to its own conclusions the evidence the study presents amplifies the important role creating green jobs can play not only in shifting energy production to renewable sources but also in speedily reducing the non-renewable high emitting parts of the economy.

      There are two things that need to be borne in mind here however:
      (i) We need to prepare for a rapid transition so that workers in industries that are destroying the planet can be reemployed more usefully elsewhere (see Brian Davey’s responses below)
      (ii) We don’t need Government/ Corporate command and control solutions imposed from above, we need community employment and production to be in community-controlled local enterprises that respond to real needs and enable us to make the rapid transition from an economy based on the creation of wants to an economy based on meeting peoples real needs, including the need to live in a society where people have democratic control of the institutions that impact on them, and where people are assured that their children’s future, and the present livelihood of other people on this planet right now, is assured.

  1. Andy Maybury says:

    The Cap and Dividend scheme sounds similar to the Tax and Dividend system, which I think is the best option as it uses the market economy mechanism to drive down usage as quickly as possible without imposing artificial limits, which are likely to be used if not exceeded.

    1. Justin Kenrick says:


      The problem with Tax and Dividend is that it doesn’t set a cap and – being a tax – the proceeds could easily be kept by the Government. So it doesn’t necessarily meet the ecological need to cap emissions, and it doesn’t necessarily meet the political need to develop popular support for such a policy (as Cap and Dividend or Cap and Share can do by being clear that none of the proceeds go to – or even though – the Government).

      The case for Tax and Dividend is made very well by Jim Hansen here:

      The case for using a cap rather than a tax system is well made here (under the heading ‘Are carbon taxes a better way than setting a “hard” cap?’:

      I’d suggest Tax and Dividend is more of a ‘reformist’ proposal, like TEQs, and would be very willing to push for it if we (‘we’ meaning all of us who are concerned and willing to do something about this) judge that as being the best policy to push for at this moment. I’m hoping we’ll discuss this further this coming Saturday at the Transition Scotland camp at Falkland – see you there?!

  2. Brian Davey says:

    I would like to comment on Justin’s proposal by drawing attention to something that Bill McKibbon has written, which I think hits the nail on the head. He was written this for the situation in the USA but I think that it has a wider relevance and, in the context of what Justin
    has written, the McKibbon quote is an argument for the upstream focus.
    He writes:

    ” For the first two decades of the global-warming era, the suggested solutions to the problem had been as abstract as the science that went with it: complicated schemes like the Kyoto Protocol, or the cap-and-trade agreement that died in Congress in 2010. These were
    attempts to solve the problem of climate change via complicated backstage maneuvers and manipulations of prices or regulations. They failed in large part because the fossil-fuel industry managed, at every turn, to dilute or defang them. Clearly the current Congress is
    in no mood for real regulation, so — for the moment anyway — the complicated planning is being replaced by a simpler rallying cry. When it comes to coal, oil, and natural gas, the new mantra of activists is simple, straightforward, and hard to defang: Keep it in the ground!”

    The background context is that the current climate policy process in Scotland, the UK, the EU and in the UNFCCC is largely fictitious. All the major officials know this in their hearts and in their private conversations. For example, such climate officials frequently talk about “problems of compliance” – recognising that even what is agreed, when it is agreed, is not delivered on. However, what officials say in their private words, and actually know in their hearts, is not said in their official roles nor in the official negotiations. In the official process a “consensus trance” reigns. In the meantime they keep hoping and hoping that things will turn out for the better, effectively in a state of psychological denial about the failure of the official process.

    If the struggle to prevent climate change and the struggle to enable humanity to survive is to be real, rather than a continuance of the official sleep walk, then it has to get real and adopt no-nonsense approaches. For example, if carbon emissions through burning fossil fuels are to be reduced then their production must be reduced….and quickly and dramatically. There are no ifs and buts about this. So, following the logic indicated by Bill McKibbon, the first step must be creating an “Upstream Fossil Fuel Data Base” to identify where coal, oil and gas is coming out of the ground and into the global economy – identifying the locations and installations that will have to be rapidly closed down. If officials will not do it, because they are in the thrall of governments who are in the thrall of fossil fuel companies, then citizens around the world must do it themselves. Creating such a data base wikipedia style (or wikileaks style in some
    states) could be…indeed it would have to be…one of the first projects of the an independent process. Then we can start working towards closing these places down – bearing in mind of course that there would need to be consideration of alternative employment for the
    workers in such places. That said it would not be right to keep Belsen going to provide employment for the guards – and the fossil fuel producing industries that are climate killers, and therefore, killers of future generations must be identified and progressively closed down – with the public compensated for the rising costs via some type of share arrangement

    So, if you believe in an upstream cap – then how about starting by identifying the places in Scotland, and the companies involved, where it would have to be imposed?

  3. Arran Stibbe says:

    This is great, but if it’s expressed narrowly in terms of carbon then that excludes quite a few people who a) don’t believe climate change is anthropogenic or b) think the impact of climate change won’t be so bad or c) that there isn’t enough political will to voluntarily halt economic growth and contract the global economy in time. Perhaps it could be widened to generally reducing the throughput of energy and resources into waste, something we need to do for many reasons including peak oil, ecosystem destruction, water and food security etc. And perhaps even more persuasively we need to reduce throughput because overconsumption is damaging in itself – I’m thinking of obesity and the amount of time children spend in screen based existence. It seems that carbon has replaced traditional environmental arguments, making it easy for the industrial complex because they just have to sow doubt about one phenomenon (climate change) rather than the plethora of evils arising from overconsumption, and can sideline the benefits of downsizing (for those who over-consume) and the enormous benefits of ‘the commons’ regardless of what is happening to the climate.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I’d be more worried about excluding group c) than groups a) and b).

      1. Justin Kenrick says:

        Arran, I totally agree that focusing on just climate change can be used to derail attempts to tackle the real underlying problem of a system of exponential growth on a finite planet (climate change and peak oil being just symptoms); but my concern about widening the focus would be that we need to focus on a few key changes to tackle these huge range of problems. Making too broad a focus ends up meaning that those with power can get away with making grand promises for 25 years time and do nothing (or worse than nothing) now. Insisting on the need for a particular policy (in this case to squeeze carbon out in this straightforward way) is better than a thousand promises.

        Do we need to rethink cutting out carbon as being not just about mitigating the impacts of climate change and peak oil, but about shifting to an energy healthy society and stopping this addiction to growth?

        I don’t think we should worry about excluding people who think “that there isn’t enough political will to voluntarily halt economic growth and contract the global economy in time”. I think that group probably includes us all, and what we need is the courage and willingness to create that political will ourselves, not wait in the hope that others will do something or just shrug and say it’s impossible. We haven’t a clue what’s possible, until we try.

  4. dlgrant422 says:

    Climate change is but a symptom. A key issue is global overpopulation, which feeds into poverty levels and its symptoms of poor health and low levels of education, leading to more overpopulation and demand for cheap goods (which become waste and pollution), which continues to drive the market forces and allow for the current corporate/political environment to thrive, in addition to overconsumption by the wealthy, which has greater ecological impacts, in the form of mineral extraction, etc. The forces of media, politics, and religion colonize minds, helping the cycle maintain and continually gain momentum.
    How to alter deep-rooted habits that have been ingrained and reinforced since birth?

  5. Justin Kenrick says:

    Brian, could you also post your wonderfully straightforward ‘to do’ list of how to get off carbon?

    1. Justin Kenrick says:

      Thanks Mike,
      The SDC site is incredibly useful. The fact that it “held government to account” surely had nothing to do with it being closed down! Do you think the forthcoming Ecocide trial (30th September) could be a useful focus? The 350 ‘Moving Planet’ day of action is on Sept 24th and I wonder if there’s a way of connecting the two?

  6. Eva Schonveld says:

    Climate change and high population are both symptoms of our over-reliance on oil: gluts of energy allow for lots of progeny. Have a read of Richard Heinberg on this.

    Arguing over-population is always a bit of a dodgy one, as the eyes always wander thoughtfully round the room and we wonder who’s going to offer to dispose of themselves first – and hope no one thinks it should be us. You’re right that overconsumption is actually more of a problem for us than sheer numbers and that’s surely the better place to begin.

    People generally seem to self-organise wonderfully in a crisis and I fear that that’s what it will take to change the ingrained habits you mention. Our job is to prepare as best we can so that as much resilient infrastructure and understanding of local living is in place in time, so people can self-organise around that. Milton Friedman reputedly said that the ‘ideas that are lying around’ will be those that are picked up to deal with a crisis. So whose ideas are lying around just now?

  7. Brian Davey says:

    I would like to add some detail to my earlier post in which I suggested the need for a struggle, as Bill McKibbon puts it, “to leave the fossil fuels in the ground”. In order to do that we need, as local, national and as a global movement, to identify the places where fossil fuels are coming out of the ground and I would suggest that, to get started, we collectively create a wiki style data base. This would involve something like the following:

    Upstream Data Base Features
    Aims and Objectives

    (1) To identify the locations where climate destructive products (i.e. fossil fuels) are entering the global economy.

    (2) To identify the businesses producing the supplies of oil, gas and coal at these locations.

    (3) To quantify current flows of coal, gas and oil at these locations and likely future production.

    (4) To identify employment at such locations for which alternatives would have to be found and initiate discussions as to what might be done.

    (5) To prepare the political ground for the run down and closure of these locations by upstream policies and provide resources for campaigning organisations.

    (6) To enable global citizens to contribute information for a global resource to be used for collective response against climate change, to protect the global atmospheric commons and to begin to organise globally….

    Suggested Data Fields

    (a) Indication of whether data provisional, estimated and/or confirmed

    (b) Location (including identification on google earth) – classified by country

    (c) Indication of type of installation at named location: deep coal mine; open cast coal, mountain top removal etc; conventional gas well; primary conventional gas import terminal (onshore location for offshore wells); fracted shale gas source; onshore oil wells; primary
    oil import terminal from offshore fields etc, peat fuel source.

    (d) Fuel type – including sub classifications – e.g. brown coal, hard coal…conventional gas, fracked gas…

    (e) Annual production flow from location

    (f) Annual CO2 emissions implied in this production flow…

    (g) Ownership/operating company at location (including partnerships) – on which corporation would upstream measures be imposed?

    (h) Number employed (and as % of local employment)

    (i) Sources of information and statistics

    (j) Regulatory agency (e.g. in the UK, the DECC )

    (k) If known, markets and distribution channels and eventual use (e.g. “Baltic pipeline to German gas market” )

    (l) Details of any local/associated campaigns (eg campaign against mountain top removal USA )

    1. Justin Kenrick says:

      This is really helpful Brian. We’ve a weekend gathering of Transition Scotland this weekend, and I hope we can use that to start off this process of identifying where fossil fuels are coming into Scotland, who is responsible, what alternative employment could be possible, and to continue pushing for dramatic change in government policy so that we take the lead in showing how it is possible to push carbon out of the economy, rather than just lead the world in targets.

  8. cynicalHighlander says:

    Who Killed Economic Growth?
    ps thanks for previous link on food will reply after I have read it.

    1. Justin Kenrick says:

      Brilliant animation and analysis – thanks!

  9. vera says:

    ‘What is needed is a rapid planned reduction of industrial economic activity”
    That’s pie-in-the-sky thinking, Justin. Ain’t gonna happen. But the more the economy keeps on crashing, the lesser will be the evils connected with it. So… take heart!

    P.S. McKibben is completely unrealistic, and I don’t know why people listen to him. If he actually tried to shut down just one of those places, we would quickly stop hearing from him. But of course, it is easier to focus on building a database and leave those unpleasant details for later.

    1. rogerthesurf says:

      Justin should read the link I left above.

      “I don’t think we should worry about excluding people who think “that there isn’t enough political will to voluntarily halt economic growth and contract the global economy in time”

      Who the hell does Justin want to die first?



      1. Justin Kenrick says:

        Hi Roger,

        The reply below this was to Vera’s post, but yours arrived while I was typing it – but then again I think it responds to your points too!

        The full point I made was:
        “I don’t think we should worry about excluding people who think “that there isn’t enough political will to voluntarily halt economic growth and contract the global economy in time”. I think that group probably includes us all, and what we need is the courage and willingness to create that political will ourselves, not wait in the hope that others will do something or just shrug and say it’s impossible. We haven’t a clue what’s possible, until we try.”

        So I wasn’t meaning we exclude people themselves from consideration (otherwise I’d be taking about excluding all of us) – I was talking about not being less bold in our actions out of fear that others wont have the courage to act too.

        You write: “Who the hell does Justin want to die first?” Clearly I don’t want anyone to die first.

        We all do die, but I want a world where people can live out their full span, and I can tell you who I don’t want to die first and that is the children in Africa who are starving right now because of an obscene economic system that causes people in the Global North to become obese and people in the Global South to have nothing to eat. And no, yet more economic growth, yet more industrial technology, is not going to solve the situation it’s going to make the situation much worse. And no I don’t want us all to “go back to the stone age” I want a fair distribution of the earth’s resources so that ecosystems and people can flourish. And no this is not “pie in the sky thinking”, except in as much as votes for women, equal rights for black people, the end of apartheid in South Africa, etc, etc, were “pie in the sky thinking”.

        Thanks for caring about these issues too – even if we may profoundly disagree about the cause and solutions to our current predicament.

    2. Justin Kenrick says:

      It can only happen if we do it. It won’t happen if we think everything only happens or doesn’t happen because other people do things or don’t do things.

      I am not advocating database lists, but I am advocating not wasting our time criticising other people for trying to address the issues and get things done at a community, national and global level.

      Vera – You’ve emphasised before the importance of *doing* not just writing, and I totally agree which is why I do both, and I’ve asked you before to let us know what your experience is of *doing” so that we can learn from that.

      As for taking heart in the economy crashing, that’s fine if we’re wealthy enough to watch and not be hit in the face by the realities of what that means, but it’s not fine for those who are. Which is why ‘What is needed is a rapid planned reduction of industrial economic activity”. And here I am not talking about waiting for national governments to get on with it (that would be ‘pie in the sky thinking’) I am talking about us producing our own energy and food and working out how our -and all – communities can survive and thrive as we nosedive out of the industrial system.

    3. Justin Kenrick says:

      Vera – My reply to this is below my reply to Roger. Not sure how this happened. I think it was because Roger posted as I was replying to yours!

      1. rogerthesurf says:

        “I don’t think we should worry about excluding people who think “that there isn’t enough political will to voluntarily halt economic growth and contract the global economy in time”


        You seem to have completely missed the point.

        If you halt economic growth and contract the economy, people start dying. Usually starting from starvation etc.
        Even in your country and mine, this fact is true.

        I suggest you rethink your thinking.



  10. Brian Davey says:

    To Vera I would say if McKibbon is completely unrealistic about closing down production at the places where fossil fuel comes out the ground then it is also completely unrealistic to believe that climate change can be prevented. For climate change to be prevented less fossil fuels must be pulled out of the ground and soon – and no fossil fuels must be produced in the very near future. What else can it mean than this? How that is done is another matter – indeed it is a lot easier to produce a data base than it is to close down a coal mine or a gas import terminal. The point here is that it forces us to GET REAL. To stop dancing around with pretend solutions, to stop avoiding the point because it is too uncomfortable. You want to stop climate change then all over the world coal mines, oil wells and gas wells must be progressively closed down….

    We must also stop avoiding the truth about economic growth – although, as regards economic growth the financial markets are doing a very good job of destroying economic growth here and now. When they have wrecked the economy, millions of people will want some solution. That, in turn, gives the chance for some major economic and environmental policy transformations. In those major transformations a scheme that bans upstream producers from selling fossil fuels unless they have permits to do so, where the number of these production authorisation permits is rapidly reduced year on year…such a scheme would drive the creation of a new economy and help resolve the climate crisis at the same time.

  11. Brian Davey says:

    Roger, a managed contraction of the economy would be possible if we had a different money system operated on different principles. (eg making the priority of policy the wellbeing of the citizens rather than the abstract increase in economic activity/transactions = GDP growth). What we have at the moment is not economic growth it is uneconomic growth – a growth of activity associated, not with the production of “goods” but with the production of “bads” – more ill health and more hospital places and medications, more environmental destruction, more unhappiness because of status envy, more addiction and crime, more prison places and prison jobs, more weapons, security jobs and mercenaries.

    A debt based money system collapses if there is no growth as we are just witnessing on global markets. But there is no reason why a contracting economy should mean mass starvation. It might just mean, in the so called developed economies, rather less obesity and fitter people. Many people already have too many of the wrong kind of calories in “developed” economies.

    There is of course a problem in getting to a managed contraction – which is not the same as recession/depression – which is an unmanaged and chaotic process where governments and finance sector lose control of what is happening. That’s the political issue and task to be worked on…

    1. rogerthesurf says:

      Brian and the others here:-

      Do you guys all think democracy is a good thing then?



  12. vera says:

    Brain said: “But there is no reason why a contracting economy should mean mass starvation. It might just mean, in the so called developed economies, rather less obesity and fitter people. There is of course a problem in getting to a managed contraction – which is not the same as recession/depression – which is an unmanaged and chaotic process where governments and finance sector lose control of what is happening. That’s the political issue and task to be worked on…”

    The whole managed paradigm… that humans can manage the planet, manage global economy and so on, is high-modern thinking and this is what got us here. No, “we” cannot “manage” it. And the governments and the finance sector have already lost control. Now of course in theory, a contracting economy need not mean starvation. “They” could just cut out the wars, for example. Will they? Not a chance… not until they run out of ways to finance them. So in the real world, when the economy contracts badly, people will be running out of food rather fast, even among us rich nations. Especially among us. Personally, I really don’t care on the level of trying to save my own bacon and all that. The Earth needs the contraction, and I will be cheering it on.

    “if McKibbon is completely unrealistic about closing down production at the places where fossil fuel comes out the ground then it is also completely unrealistic to believe that climate change can be prevented.”

    Bingo. The Earth will do what the Earth will do. We had about 150 years of very stable, very clement climate. Now, that’s over. And McKibben bringing 20 people to a coal mine and making a fuss is not gonna make the slightest difference to anybody.

    “coal mines, oil wells and gas wells must be progressively closed down…. “

    You try, and you will be met by all the people who actually do not wish to hit a wall because their heat and cooking and transportation is yanked from underneath them. They will meet you there with baseball bats and guns. Joe Blow, or Fergus McBlow, does not want the mines and wells shut down, and there is a lot more of them than us. But the oil wells are running dry, and the rest of it will not last long once oil dries up. So, the system is heading that way anyways. That’s good, right? I thought Transition was about helping people cope with what’s coming, rather than plunging them into fossil descent by force?

    “When they have wrecked the economy, millions of people will want some solution. That, in turn, gives the chance for some major economic and environmental policy transformations.”

    True. People will relocalize. Getting that going now is a good thing. They will also dust off the pitchforks and torches and redistribute wealth. I don’t think there is a way to prepare for that, though. 😉

    Justin said: “And no, yet more economic growth, yet more industrial technology, is not going to solve the situation it’s going to make the situation much worse. And no I don’t want us all to “go back to the stone age” I want a fair distribution of the earth’s resources so that ecosystems and people can flourish. And no this is not “pie in the sky thinking”, except in as much as votes for women, equal rights for black people, the end of apartheid in South Africa, etc, etc, were “pie in the sky thinking”.”

    Well, when it comes to the planet, then indeed the votes for women, rights for blacks, end of apartheid and so on, was pie in the sky thinking. The Machine just kept on rolling, kept on mowing down livingness, faster and faster. But economic growth is nearly over. What we are seeing is well, inertia. They will still pretend a while longer. Plundering a bit more but getting less and less for it. Here in the States they just released “adjusted” GDP figures and guess what? Overall, we have not had any growth since 08. And if they took out the bull, all the things that are counted in the GDP that are actually destructive of real wealth, they are running things into the ground and fast. Yey! Folks, we could not do it any faster or better ourselves. Growth is over. Wile E. Coyote is poised over the canyon and treading air like mad.

    Justin, you keep asking me the same question over and over, and never looking at my replies in the past posts.

    “I am talking about us producing our own energy and food and working out how our -and all – communities can survive and thrive as we nosedive out of the industrial system.”

    There you have my support. That’s it! Don’t waste your time on McKibben style grandiose baloney.

  13. vera says:

    Sorry, Brian. You da brain. 🙂

  14. As I think you know, Justin, I’m not a fan of the ‘upstream’ approach to emissions reductions. Superficially it seems simpler and more practical to only have to regulate and involve a relatively small number of companies, rather than every individual in the country, but I don’t believe it produces a realistic solution.

    The appeal of the idea to environmentalists like us is that there is minimal public engagement with energy and climate issues in the UK, so we long for a way of dealing with the problems which doesn’t require this public engagement. Upstream approaches appear to offer this, but I believe that they are a mirage. Energy producers/suppliers alone are not going to be able to implement the societal transformation needed, no matter how they are regulated – we need the majority of citizens to see the need to change the way we live, work and play.

    If upstream approaches worked like a dream and succeeded in quickly cutting off the fossil fuel supply to modern economies, they would cause extreme suffering (as these economies do not know how to function without fossil fuels), and so would quickly be abandoned.

    The real challenge here is not devising a system to implement tight emissions caps (although that is necessary), it is transforming communities and societies so that they can thrive within such a cap. If we don’t achieve that, the cap becomes politically untenable, no matter what system is used to implement it.

    Once we realise this, the pertinent question becomes not “what is the most straightforward way of setting a cap?” (to which the answer is surely an upstream scheme), but “what is the most effective way of engaging the populace in transforming society?” (much evidence points to a downstream scheme as the answer)

    The problem with most downstream approaches though is that they require a complicated system of carbon lifecycle analyses built on all manner of arbitrary definitions, and create a difficult system for individuals to grapple with. TEQs ( is the one system I have encountered that couples the engagement benefits of a downstream system with an upstream system of carbon-ratings that make ‘carbon labelling’ and ’embodied energy’ calculations unnecessary (for more detail on this see Chapter One of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil’s report into TEQs).

    While I have respect for Brian and all the work he is putting in with the best of motivations, I have sadly concluded that upstream approaches to carbon caps are inherently flawed. There is no short cut that will allow us to transform society without society’s permission. Upstream approaches are the right answer to the wrong question.

  15. vera says:

    “There is no short cut that will allow us to transform society without society’s permission.”

    Ah. Finally, sanity dawns. I was beginning to think I was hanging with a bunch of loonies. 😉

  16. Brian Davey says:

    Well, speaking for myself, I thought Shaun would respond like that. Of course it’s true that the population must engage – and I agree that when people count things it does tend to change their behaviour. But in the cap and share/dividend arrangement they would be counting things – the return on the sale of their share on the one hand and, on the other hand, crucially, rising energy prices as the carbon price is passed through to final consumers on the other.

    Also, it would be perfectly possible for people not to count TEQs if they wanted, avoiding what many would probably regard as a paternalistic state trying to impose the faff of energy accounting, by buying their TEQs when they needed them. So if people don’t want to play ball I don’t think that TEQs will necessarily persuade them to.

    A futher point here is that although there is a claim that TEQs would create a sense of shared purpose the actual operation of the TEQ scheme involves lots of individual accounting and corresponding individual decisions. In my experience shared purpose is best created through shared projects and shared activities. Neither TEQs nor cap and share create these joint projects and activities automatically.

    Indeed in the cap and share campaign we have discussed ways in which all or part of the “the share” (revenue from the sale of upstream carbon permits) could be made available on a different basis in recognition that we are trying to manage and rescue a common resource that we all share – the earth’s atmosphere. As a common resource perhaps we should do some commoning to manage it jointly – that means joint projects. Thus there are those of us who would like a part of the share to be available for group and collective projects. At the cap and share campaign we have discussed too how cap and share has to be part of a package of measures in which communities are helped to transform their energy arrangements together. Without that additional support many people would struggle and suffer as you say and the political resistance to driving down the cap would render the whole idea of cap and share futile.

    But you can say exactly the same for TEQs – merely counting and accounting for energy consumption individualistically will not, on its own, create the community wide arrangements that will be needed for better public transport systems, new or expanded community gardens, community energy projects etc – without which any kind of cap tightening will be stalled by the inability of large number of people to cope practically because of a lack of practical options to respond and live differently. (I can use a less carbon intensive way of travel by using a tram or bus – but only if there is a tram or bus in operation and that is not a decision that an individual TEQ user can achieve on their own. However the cap is imposed – TEQs or Cap and Share – there will be a need for complementary community level responses, joint organisations creating zero carbon infrastructure of for common use….it is here, above all, in setting up this shared infrastructure, that the shared purpose will be created …..indeed will have to be created….

    I think it’s also crucial to understanding the TEQ arrangement to take in that the scheme is designed so that a proportion (say 50%) are distributed to individuals to cover individual carbon energy consumption (fuel bills in the home, personal petrol use in the family car etc). But there would be another 50% of TEQs that would be auctioned. The 50% personal allocation would not cover the energy consumption of organisations and companies who would have to buy TEQs at an auction – in this respect there would be rising prices for goods made by companies that had to bid for their TEQs and ordinary individuals would not be compensated for these rising prices. In cap and share, by contrast, the permits could cover all fossil energy use and the revenue available through selling them would, in principle, all be a part of the distribution to the community in some way.

    Another way of putting this is that roughly 50% of TEQs would be allocated according to purchasing power rather than on equity principles and this would create a lot of bad feeling. (e.g. say I’m a manager and can run a company car using petrol bought using TEQ permits which the company has bought).

    There are further issues about how robust an electronic system for the millions of transactions would have to be in a period of increasing chaos and possible power cuts – but I won’t go into that….

  17. vera says:

    More complex technocratic solutions at a time when the decreasing marginal utility of complexity has started to hit us in earnest? I wish you all well, but I am skeptical. As the system bumps down the staircase, other problems will be far higher on people’s agenda than worrying about carbon which will plummet anyways, along with toxins and pollution of all sorts. Nah?

  18. Brian Davey says:

    On Vera’s earlier post – Of course “they” (current economic and political elites) are not interested in managing contraction. And of course contraction will happen anyway because of peak oil. That means a chaotic, painful and damaging process – but it also means a policy vacuum in which “they” will be largely seen as inadequate, floundering. Large numbers of people will come to realise that “behind the imposing facade panic and confusion reigns” (Trotsky’s description of the Tsarist state just before the Bolshevik revolution) – in circumstances like that I want to be part of a movement making practical policy proposals to help build, support and nurture the local level projects that are occuring (community gardens, community supported agriculture, community energy projects etc) – in these circumstances who “they” are might change quite rapidly – in the sense of radical changes in the government system. But I want that process to be for positive things – including for cap and share.

    The danger is that peak oil will drive the use of dirtier and more damaging forms of energy use – as well as a greater use of, and therefore destruction of remaining biomass – this is already happening with the tar sands, with shale gas and biofuels. But in your world view you appear to assume that the enraged and hungry mob will only be supporters of more negative developments. There is another side of these kind of processes – there are also losers of these kind of developments – for example the users of water that is contaminated when shale gas is pumped after fracking. The publicity of the situation of losers, their films and campaigns have partly put the shale gas process in the USA on hold (in New York State). Where there are losers of these processes there is also resistance.

    So there are two sides to the problem of oil depletion with its spiralling oil prices – those spiralling prices currently go, in the jargon of economics, as “rent” to the corporations who have cornered the market in the scarce commodities like oil, water, food etc – they can charge high prices, well above the pumping price at most locations, because they control the scarce supply that everyone else is desperate for. In a world of contraction “natural capital” (oil, gas coal, the atmosphere, water, minerals, biomass etc) will become more scarce and those who buy them up are then able “to make a killing”….and almost everyone else suffers from these higher prices – while the high prices, the “rents” for use, are transferred as super incomes to the super rich who come to control the scarce resource. That is a dystopian view of increasing inequality as contraction occurs in an economy which is past the limits to economic growth. So one has to have an answer to this general problem – that, or you just accept that it will happen.

    The idea of “commons” is an idea that when natural capital becomes scarce for everyone then it must be managed by everyone for everyone….cap and share is an expression of that idea in regard to the overused earth’s atmosphere and the fossil energy sector.

    In fact, if a permit scheme is imposed which reduces the permitted amount of fuel faster than the fuel supply is depleting then the “rent” is captured by the sellers of permits – which would be the people, not the oil companies. In cap and share we partly predistribute the revenues arising through selling fossil fuels to the people. So the people would make money out of the process that would partly help them survive energy descent – money that would otherwise go to the superrich. So if it comes to pitchforks bear that in mind – the overall majority would be net gainers of a cap and share process and it would help them survive energy descent.

  19. vera says:

    I don’t view the redistribution of wealth as a bad thing. Not at all. And it would be nice to see it happen without the pitchforks. Every once in a while it does, as it did with land reform in central Europe 100 years ago.

    “That is a dystopian view of increasing inequality as contraction occurs in an economy which is past the limits to economic growth. So one has to have an answer to this general problem – that, or you just accept that it will happen.”

    It *has* been happening. And we are in total agreement that the commons must come under shared management (I hate that word!). But the PTB do not want to share. So how is it gonna get accomplished? I hate for people to do another round of trying to reform the system to share, while being perfectly aware that the system does not want to share, and will turn any cap and share idea into a cap and profit reality. I think the only truly effective stuff must rise from the grassroots. Trying to work the inside channels will likely get you coopted.

    Btw, if McKibben were for real, he and the folks he works with, would be at war with the system. They would be blowing bridges and destroying mining equipment big time. But of course he has no such intentions. He wants to have his cake and eat it too… make a career out of “activism” that talks nonsense, gathers some slogan-spewing supporters, and gets into the mainstream news.

    What I find most interesting in what you wrote is this, that people will see the system as inadequate and foundering (many already do), and that it’s a facade hiding confusion and lack of any real ideas. Right. Then you say, “in these circumstances who “they” are might change quite rapidly – in the sense of radical changes in the government system.”

    This is what absorbs me. Endless times in the past, who “they” are did change. And then the new “they” stepped into the shoes of the old “they.” This is *not* a solution! If you want radical changes in governance, you gotta start deep in the grassroots, learning how to co-govern and take care of the commons under your care. So that when the opportunity rises, you already know how to do things differently, and need not step into “their” shoes. Domination lives in us. It’s all we’ve ever known. Unless we gather within the grassroots and “undominate” together and let undomination spread throughout the social system… we’ll just keep on perpetuating it.

  20. rogerthesurf says:

    Well I guess if no one is interested to discuss democracy with me I will take it as no one has it on their agenda.

    Do you guys think that totalitarian socialism (aka communism) is a good thing and is this what you people have in mind?



    PS In case you are all wondering about the relevance of these questions, I have to say that a total communist controlled economy with 100% taxation will be what you will need if you are to ever to succeed in the ideas you are discussing.

  21. vera says:

    Roger: I don’t have in mind totalitarian anything.
    As for the economy, there’s two kinds. Hoarding, or sharing. I’ll take the sharing one, please. How about you?

    1. rogerthesurf says:


      The only economies that I know that fit your “sharing” model are exemplified by the PR China from 1953 to 1978.
      Everyone was allocated a job. Rewards were identical from manager to floor sweeper. No-one could own means of production, land, machinery etc. Commerce was forbidden. Food and clothing was allocated according to the calculated needs and taxation was 100%. Some pocket money was paid but there was nowhere to spend it. Travel was generally forbidden. Medical services, such as they were, were supplied.
      And one way or another at different times people still suffered starvation. At the best everyone was, by our standards, absolutely poverty stricken.

      But it was a “sharing” economy. Is this what you have in mind?



      PS: Right now, in most western countries at least, we have an equal opportunities economy. That is, everyone has pretty well the same opportunities, but its up to the individual as to how much they want to take advantage of the opportunities.
      For example, if one gets pregnant at 17 etc, it could be said that the opportunity is basically blown.

  22. vera says:

    Roger, let me expand your horizons, historically speaking. 😉 The sapiens species is about 200,000 yrs old, and most of that time, we lived in a sharing economy. This sharing economy was continued by most of the people we think of as tribal (more or less) until recent times. Anthropologists distinguish two kinds of sharing economies, the immediate return and the delayed return (which introduced storage and some other modifications).

    This civilization, on the other hand, is based on hoarding. There are different flavors of hoarding, of course, and the old communism had different flavors, with certain amounts of sharing. Sweden, for example, is another flavor. (No system is pure, one way or another.) But fundamentally, they are all based on hoarding. This civilization is only about 6,000 years old. I believe it’s an experiment about to run its course.

    I would like to see an alternative civilization emerge that is based on sharing, by and large. A civilized civilization, where nobody is bent over the barrel and … you know. Where everybody *truly* has more or less the same opportunities, nobody is born into vast hoarded wealth or dispossession, and nobody tolerates the enclosure of the commons for private gain. The current system, whatever you call it, socializes losses and privatizes gain. Is that what you support?

  23. Brian Davey says:

    Rogerthesurf writes: “Well I guess if no one is interested to discuss democracy with me I will take it as no one has it on their agenda. Do you guys think that totalitarian socialism (aka communism) is a good thing and is this what you people have in mind?”

    No – commons are different from a totalitarian centrally planned economy and state. They are shared management arrangements for collective resources. Here are a few references:


    Ostrom E. 1990 “Governing the Commons. The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action” Cambridge University Press
    Daly Herman E and Farley Joshua 2004 “Ecological Economics. Principles and Applications” Island Press Chapter 10

    Property Systems

    Ostrom E and Cole D. 2010 “The Variety in Property Systems and the Rights in Natural Resources 2010” Social Science Research Network Working Paper August 2010

    The Supposed Tragedy of the Commons

    Examples of long standging commons – Alpine Pastures and Irrigation Systems

    Netting, Robert McC 1976 “What Alpine Peasants have in Common: Observations on Communal Tenure in a Swiss Village” Human Ecology 4: 135-46

    Ostrom E and Gardner R 1993 “Coping with Asymmetries in the Commons: Self Governing Irrigation Systems can work. Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol 7, issue 4 pages 93-112


    Forest Livelihoods and Carbon Sequestration
    Ashwin Chhatre and Arun Agrawal 2009 “Carbon Storage through improved Governance of Forests Commons” International Forestry Resources and Institutions Programme

    Eclosed land, Land Value and Land Value Tax (or Site Value Tax)

    Global Commons

    Ostrom E et al 1999 “Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges” Science 284, 278

    Atmospheric Commons

    Peter Barnes 2003 Who Owns the Sky?: Our Common Assets And The Future Of Capitalism. Island Press. 2003. ISBN 978-1559638555.
    Online Video – Who Owns the Sky? – Peter Barnes

    Cap and Share as a commons based approach to managing the atmosphere

    Feasta Briefing on the EU ETS (First Round)

    Information Commons
    Benkler Yochai “The Political Economy of Commons” Upgrade – The European Journal for the Informatics Professional Vol 4, No.3, June 2003 pp6-10

    Politics of the Commons
    Peter Barnes “Capitalism 3.0” – free download from

    International Commons Conference Papers – Berlin 2010

    There are neo-Marxist/Leftist Approaches to the Commons – for example this book:
    Negri, Antonio and Hardt, Michael 2009 “Commonwealth” Harvard University Press.

  24. Oh, for some reason, when I first arrived at this discussion, I didn’t see the original posting. Have just discovered it now, and am a bit shocked to see Cap and Share and Cap and Dividend characterised as ‘more radical’ than TEQs!

    Firstly though, I should clear up a couple of misunderstandings that appear to have crept in – firstly, there is no two-stage process with TEQs. Companies, organisation, individuals and the government are all brought under the scheme from the outset. I wrote a detailed piece on The Oil Drum earlier this year explaining the scheme, which may be of interest:

    Secondly, the money that is raised from the auction to organisations does not simply vanish. It is placed into a ‘Transition Fund’ to be used to implement the very community infrastructure projects that Brian advocates in his comments above. This highlights one of the fundamental distinctions when discussing TEQs, Cap and Share and Cap and Dividend (as I did on my blog a few years ago: – should money be spent on the society’s transition, or returned to individuals so that they can spend it as they see fit?

    TEQs, as Brian says, takes a hybrid approach – it effectively recycles the money from individuals and families back to them, but takes the money from organisations and uses it to fund Transition projects for the benefit of the whole society. And, also as Brian says, this might be unpopular with business. Accordingly, Cap and Share and Cap and Dividend take the approach of recycling 100% of revenue back to the businesses and families that generated them, and thus do not generate funds for infrastructure projects. Kyoto2, another proposal, goes to the other extreme, taking essentially the Cap and Dividend model, but putting 100% of the money into one vast Transition fund. For myself, I find the original TEQs hybrid model to be the most appropriate, but I have long felt that there is a very valid and fertile debate to be had about the best approach.

    Hopefully this clears up that there is nothing more radical about Cap and Share – it just chooses to recycle money directly back to businesses, rather than funding infrastructure with that money. It is a misunderstanding to say (as the original article does) that households get no compensation for the rising energy price under TEQs – in fact they are better off under TEQs, as they receive a free entitlement (just as they do under C&S), but also benefit from the infrastructure development at the expense of organisations.

    Regarding Brian’s responses to my other points, as he implies, this is something we have discussed at length before, and there’s probably little point in us rehashing it all again here. The answers developed by the TEQs team to the points he raises (and many others) are on the Frequently Asked Questions page here:

    I’m rather busy on non-TEQs stuff at present, but will try to keep an eye on things here. It’s great to have more participants in the discussion! 🙂

    All the best,

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I’ve looked at your website and I still don’t know what TEQs are Shaun.
      I’m conscious that while we’re having this discussion people are
      knocking in doorways and setting fire to their communities
      to get a telly and a pair of Carharrts

      1. Did you look at the summary?

        It’s also outlined in the original article above, or in the Oil Drum article that I linked to. If you want a bit more info, look at the Parliamentary report –

        And yes, here in London things are pretty hectic. But I believe that if we only approach climate change and peak oil through the existing market-based mechanisms, then all people are going to experience is living costs rising higher and higher, more unrest, and less time to think.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          Was looking at my phone – just making a plea for no jargon : )

  25. Justin Kenrick says:

    Huge apologies for not yet being in a position to respond to some really helpful discussion. I have been working flat out on sorting out how to raise funds from our community for our proposed community owned turbine and am about to be in Kenya working to support the Ogiek of Mt Elgon regain their rights to their forest lands that were taken from them supposedly to help conservation (though it led to the elephant numbers plummeting among other things).

    I hadn’t realised posting blogs like this would generate so much discussion and require so much attention to the screen. We had a superb session down the pub last week on ‘How do we call the bankers bluff when they threaten us as they’ve threatened Greece and Iceland?”. It was a powerful discussion and face to face. I’m not sure which firm is more useful, but I’ll certainly not put up the next post in this series until I am back from Kenya and respond.

    Vera and Brian have already answered Roger’s points comprehensively. It reminds me of Ghandi’s answer to the question “What do you think of Western civilisation?” to which he replied “I think it would be a good idea!”.

    Shaun we need to discuss this further. Perhaps TEQs partly has greater appeal to the establishment because it sounds like Cap and Trade when it isn’t (the Trojan Horse strategy!) but we need to think about whether it is useful to be asking people to focus on carbon in their everyday transactions or focus on local food and energy and all the goods of life.

    Vera, I like your point about the way capitalism had made use of all the liberations I listed. I accept mine was maybe a glib way of making the point that change happens, but your response simply points to the extraordinarily transformational nature if the change required (and I accept that any belief that real change can happen is going to look like “pie in the sky” from the belly of the capitalist beast – which is where I assume you are – but that’s ok real change always happens from the margins). Your point that we are entirely shaped by domination is certainly true, but the opposite is also absolutely true: we have also always been completely free. I can’t go into this now but it’s something I explore in an article on the ‘Paradox of indigenous people’s rights’ in the Wirld Anthropologies Network e-journal.

    Right, gotta get back to work. Will post again when I am back from Kenya at the end of the month. Thanks all for the invaluable feedback.

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