Individual carbon credits

Ex-editor of the Daily Telegraph Max Hastings (he also, according to Wikipedia, accidentally invaded Port Stanley for the British during the Falklands War) has a column in the Guardian lamenting the grievous environmental impact of dirt-cheap flights, particularly in Europe. It’s keyed to the ironic conversion of Mark Ellingham, the baron of the Rough Guides guidebook series, and lately author of the Rough Guide to Climate Change.

He readily admits the irony that he, of all people, should articulate such a warning. He appeals for moderation, for setting some limits on our insatiable appetite for travel: “We now live in a society where, if people have nothing to do on a Saturday night, they go to Budapest for 48 hours. We fly anywhere at the slightest opportunity, 10 times and upwards a year. This needs to be addressed with the greatest urgency.”

Environmentalists would say that Ellingham is stating the obvious, adding of course that it is pretty rich coming from him. I am full of admiration for his frankness, however. Almost all of us are hypocrites about climate change. We know that it is real, and desperately serious. Yet we are in a shocking muddle about how to relate our personal behaviour to the phenomenon.

Ellingham, with what I take to be Hastings’ concurrence, proposes a “green tax” of 100 pounds on air tickets to Europe and Africa (for Europeans, I assume he means). Hastings acknowledges the problem of restricting air travel once again to the rich, but doesn’t know what to do about it.

A commenter on Hastings’ piece, “AndyV,” has a suggestion.

I favour everyone getting an allocation of carbon credits to spend how they wish. It will then be up to individuals to decide how they want to ‘spend’ their carbon, flying, driving or heating their home. Those who exceed their quota will then have to purchase from those who are in surplus, the elderly perhaps giving them a useful source of income.

This is the logical extension of a cap-and-trade system for heavy greenhouse-gas emitters — if it makes sense for them, presumably the same principle should apply to individuals, too.

I can’t imagine administering this system in a way that didn’t cost a hell of a lot more than the good it was hoping to, though.


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