Longview Power Plant

The Longview Power Plant, a coal-fired plant, is seen on August 21, 2018 in Maidsville, West Virginia. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A Carbon Tax Will Only Go So Far

"There is a lot of talk about zero-carbon-2050 but no real plan of how to get there. A Global Carbon Allowance Trading System offers a road map that involves us all."

As the world's media finally allows people to remove their sad masks - replete with frowns and pouting lips: following the burial of Queen Elizabeth II, we are being asked to replace them with masks showing raised eyebrows of fear amidst Putin's threat of nuclear war. While Russians attempt to flee a terrifying military call up, all global citizens should be equally frightened of being called up to take part in the largest experiment ever conducted on planet Earth.

On Monday, new analysis from the non-profit Global Registry of Fossil Fuels showed that we currently have 3.5 trillion tonnes of fossil fuels sitting in our known reserves. This is around seven times more than the global carbon budget (420 billion tonnes) that allows us a 50% chance of halting warming at 1.5degC (2.7degF) - compared to pre-industrial times. Alarmingly, we have almost three times more reserves of fossil fuels than can be burned to have a 50% chance of remaining within 2degC (3.6degF) of warming. According to the new publicly accessible research tool, the United States and Russia alone could push us past 1.5degC (2.7degF) just by burning their own reserves. This means we have to leave 88% of the known reserves in the ground if we are to remain within the 1.5degC (2.7degF) budget. The most frightening aspect of this is that fossil fuel companies are projected to spend $930 billion on new oil and gas developments by 2030.

Fossil Fuel Reserves vs. Projected Carbon Budgets

Why are we looking for additional supplies when we can't use 88% of the supplies we currently have?

While allowing these companies to profit massively from tipping the planet into catastrophe, our governments are surely complicit in what will become known as a genocide of the poor. Already, as a third of Pakistan is underwater, there are calls for the major emitters to pay reparations to those already suffering the brunt of the climate crisis. It has been estimated the damage in Pakistan will reach $10 billion: Pakistan has been offered $610 million in aid, but how can you put a price on human suffering and the likely starvation that will follow?

The island state of Antigua and Barbuda is further warning that the increasing sea and air temperatures in the Caribbean could lead to a superstorm that could cost the islands almost $9 billion in the next few years. Due to the increased likelihood of climate caused disasters down the road - caused by increasing greenhouse gas emissions - some of the most vulnerable countries are requesting a "climate-related and justice-based" global tax to help pay for losses and damages. This could be levied on air-travel, fossil fuel extraction or financial transactions.

Now, while it is all very good paying vulnerable countries a tax to help them mitigate against the climate crisis, it is fairly useless if rich nations continue to emit greenhouse gasses at record levels. Payments need to be made, but huge cuts in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) are necessary. As we have seen, fossil fuel companies have no plans to leave 88% of their assets in the ground. Whatever they say publicly, they plan on maximizing their profits - which means burning the lot.

At just 1.2degC (2.1degF) of global warming, we have seen London reach 40.3degC (104.5degF), Canada hit 49.6degC (121.3degF) and Iran record 53degC (127degF). Wildfires have engulfed the United States, Europe, South America and Russia, and the number of people suffering acute hunger has doubled in six years to 48 million, with 18 million now on the brink of starvation.

Biden makes great soundbites about transitioning to renewable sources of energy, as he issues drilling permits at a faster pace that Trump. In the U.K., the new representative of big business - AKA Prime Minister Liz Truss - isn't even bothering with lip service. Here, she is pushing millions into fuel poverty by refusing to place a windfall tax on energy companies making billions from the increase in energy prices. Brexit may come back to haunt the older generation who could have benefited from just such a $138 billion E.U. tax.

It is clear that business as usual is not cutting it. We will reach 1.5degC (2.7degF) of warming within a decade and perhaps much sooner, and our governments have no intention of reining in the fossil fuel companies, or animal ag which is single-handedly destroying the Amazon and turning it into a Savanah, where it can longer sequester the carbon we are emitting.

Without a concerted effort from all concerned citizens on our planet, we are doomed to live on a hostile planet with dwindling freshwater supplies, and a severe lack of food. We need people of all persuasions to take to the streets in a show of solidarity. We need civil disobedience on a scale never before witnessed. Nothing less will suffice in turning the tide.

If civil disobedience is successful, the question will then be raised: what now?

It is abundantly clear that to avoid the worst ravages of the climate crisis and to allow nature to flourish once again, we desperately need a sustainable, more equitable economic system that delivers for all. We need a system that encourages frugality over waste, we need a system that emphasizes society over the self. We need a system that tip toes around the edges of nature: rather than bulldozes right through. We need a system that gets us to zero carbon by 2030 when we still have a chance to avoid runaway climate change that tips us into a hot house Earth scenario where most of humanity perishes.

Once you have accepted the obvious glaring reality: that a system reliant on infinite growth on a planet with extremely finite resources is a physical impossibility, possibilities begin to emerge.

One such possibility is a Global Carbon Allowance Trading System (G-CATS). Presently, the more money you have, the more of the Earth's precious resources you can waste. That's why Bezos, Musk, and Branson et al are building private rockets to take them into space while tens of millions starve. G-CATS prohibits this by placing a rising price on CO2e and introducing carbon allowances for every citizen.

Imagine a price of carbon being set at $160 tCO2e (CO2 equivalent) and then rising each year until the global allowance has been depleted. Then share the planetary carbon allowance with each nation. Low emitting (LE) nations around the world would be able to trade their surplus budgets with high emitting (HE) nations, and in the process raise billions of dollars and reduce global inequality. To give you an idea of the numbers involved, Pakistan would be able to raise around $196 billion by selling its surplus, while the United States would need to spend $785 billion to continue business as usual. This would encourage LE governments to use the surplus dollars to transition to renewable sources of energy, so they could sell more surplus CO2e the next year, or in the case of HE, they would be encouraged to transition so they spend less on purchasing CO2e the following year. This would be a global race to zero emissions.

Revenue From Selling Surplus

Cost to Continue BAU

Individually, citizens would be allocated their CO2e allowance and would be able to trade CO2e with each other within borders through an app, and this would further reduce inequality domestically. The app would give citizens up to date information about products/services and each would be given a CO2e score. Being faced with purchasing a slab of red meat at a cost of 20% of the monthly allowance might just incentivize people to purchase beans instead. Likewise, people may take the train when faced with spending 80% of their allowance on a flight. Frugality would be encouraged as citizens attempt to minimize their emissions in order to stay within their allowance.

When it comes to businesses, they would be motivated to produce and provide services with the least amount of materials possible because otherwise their products/services would be outside the allowance of all but the richest. This would encourage a circular economy with the thriftiest businesses who make use of recycled materials the most efficiently becoming the new tycoons. To ensure these new captains of industry don't treat their employees with the disdain we see today, subsidies could be given to those who pay the most in taxes, hire the most employees, and treat those employees well.

Simplified Metrics for Carbon Allowance Trading System

At the end of the financial year, citizens and businesses would be able to sell any surplus CO2e back to the government who would in turn sell it back to the independently run organization who would then calculate the allowances for the following year.

There is a lot of talk about zero-carbon-2050 but no real plan of how to get there. G-CATS offers a road map that involves us all. After all, this is our problem, and as far as the climate scientists go, "Incremental linear changes to the present socioeconomic system are not enough to stabilize the Earth System. Widespread, rapid, and fundamental transformations will likely be required to reduce the risk of crossing the threshold and locking in the Hothouse Earth pathway; these include changes in behavior, technology and innovation, governance, and values."

For too long, our values have been about growth and not much else. Now, we have a chance to reverse this mantra and allow ourselves to be led by what the planet needs, and not billionaires. What the planet needs of us as 7.96 billion human beings is for us to tread lightly. The mechanization to encourage this change could be a Global Carbon Allowance Trading System. But first things first, we need millions of concerned parents, teachers, nurses, doctors, scientists, journalists and children to carry out civil disobedience in the streets - or else the largest experiment ever attempted will make our planet uninhabitable, and human civilization will be lost.