What can we do to stop global warming?

In 2009 the world’s leaders came together in Copenhagen and decided to do nothing about climate change. Since then carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have gone on rising, as they have done since the 1970s, and will do for decades unless we change the way we live. Our climate shows ever more extremes, of floods, droughts, heatwaves and cold, our strange winter an effect of the highest ever recorded ice melt in the Arctic with its effects on the jet stream. Over the whole planet the average temperature rise goes on, ever closer towards the 2 degrees at which the scientific community forecasts thresholds are crossed, feedback kicks in and the change becomes unstoppable. And yet, bizarrely, in the face of near certain ruin of our children’s and grandchildren’s lives, society acts as if there is no emergency. We wouldn’t fly on a plane that has a 1 per cent risk of crashing, so it’s surprising that we seem content to accept much higher risks with the planet.


In the UK we have an impressive Climate Change Act, agreed by the last government, that in theory commits to an 80 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 and a 50 per cent cut by 2023-27. But our coalition ‘greenest government ever’ seems intent on finding a way round that, and even designs well intentioned policies, such as the Green Deal, in such a way that they are bound to fail, while withdrawing previous schemes that were working well. The coalition is also squeezing local government so hard that it no longer has any resources to take positive action on climate change. As a result, West Somerset Council, doing so many good things until 2011, has now dropped climate change as a priority. Exmoor National Park struggles on, in spite of austerity.


Local communities achieving remarkable change

So, is despair inevitable? If governments won’t act, perhaps people will. Locally there are stirrings of community-owned renewable energy. In some developing countries local communities are achieving remarkable change. In the US many cities and states are ignoring the federal Republican block on sensible action and going ahead with innovation anyway.


And there is one new policy that could, if introduced, just do it. It’s called Cap and Dividend. Not Cap and Trade, which relies on politicians doing backroom deals with corporations, often ending in shareholders getting richer for the company doing nothing. Cap and Dividend is backed by author James Hansen of NASA, one of the world’s leading climate scientists. The Cap is an annual auction of carbon emission permits to firms which first sell fossil carbon into the economy, with the total permits reduced each year. The Dividend is the proceeds of this auction, divided up and handed out equally to every citizen. The fund is handled by a not-for-profit independent trust (www.capanddividend.org/files/CarbonCapping_CitizensGuide.pdf).


Incentives for business

The beauty of it is that there are immediate incentives on businesses to reduce their carbon emissions; carbon emissions prices will rise as the cap declines, spurring private capital to flow into clean alternatives such as renewable energies. Dividends will rise along with the carbon prices, easing the impact on consumers.


Cap and Dividend creates a virtuous circle, in which how people fare depends on what they do. The more carbon any company or individual burns, the more that company or individual pays. Because everybody gets the same amount back, people gain if they conserve and lose if they guzzle. This is fair to all, with the 99 per cent getting as much dividend each as the 1 per cent, a little different from business as usual, while the poor actually come out ahead because they burn less carbon than other people do.


The ever reducing emissions cap means that emissions must come down. It works. Consultation in the USA shows that most people love the idea when they understand it. Who’s up for discussing these ideas here?


Want to get involved?

Forum 21 is leading several projects to promote sustainable energy policies here in West Somerset. If you want to get involved, contact Lorna Scott, tel. 01984 634242 email:mail@forum21.org.uk