Ryeview – November 2007

Democracy must deliver the right solution

John Clark writes…

First published: November 2007 – Gazette & Herald

Appleton-le-Moors has voted against wind turbines on Appleton Common. Reasons given are ‘ugly’, ‘will spoil the scenery’, ‘will make a noise’. That is one of the joys of democracy; it often doesn’t give the result that one wants. Appleton opponents have suggested alternatives including a reduction of coal fired power stations in China to wind turbines in the North Sea. What are the possible solutions ?

  • Technological fix. Efficient energy use or storing greenhouse gases in spent oil fields.
  • Individuals reduce their own carbon footprint. Potentially a massive reduction in the use of oil and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • A carbon tax to force people to use less. In the case of petrol this was called the fuel price escalator.
  • Ration car fuel, energy use or carbon emissions, so as to achieve a fair distribution.

Each of these ‘solutions’ has advantages. None of them is ‘wrong’. The decisions to be made revolve around which solutions will contribute how much and which are fair.

Clearly the technological solutions must be used. If a car does a 100 mpg compared with 50mpg then half the fuel will be used. However many people with a vehicle using only half the petrol will then travel further. The second is despite energy efficiency in the past the amount of fuel used still increases. Personal reduction of carbon is clearly of benefit to everyone. Many people have stopped flying – yet air miles increase. Many people eat only local food – yet food miles continue to increase. The individual approach is vital but is not in itself enough.

Taxing fuel would reduce the carbon used. If the use of carbon does not decrease enough then the taxes would be further increased. At first glance this would achieve the required result – a reduction in greenhouse gases etc. This is the policy of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – so called Green Taxes – the ‘polluter pays’ principal. There are two massive objections. One, the polluter should not pollute. Two, it is totally wrong that the well off can carry on as at present while cost prevents the poor from travel or other use of carbon.

In the 40’s and 50’s the UK was short of food We used the technological fix of growing more; we did not rely on individuals ‘sharing’ food; we did not tax food so that its use was reduced and only available to the well off. The fairest solution was to ration it. Many of us need the motor car – to use in moderation. If petrol is rationed then everyone could get a fair share. Those who wish to travel greater distances would have to save up their coupons or trade coupons with someone else.

How do we get to a system of rationing? At present the lower carbon users are in the Third World; Zimbabwe, The Sudan, Ethiopia etc. Let us hope that the democratic west; the USA, Europe, can use their democratic voice to achieve rationing. If not, once again democracy will have failed to give us the decision to try and save the planet – once again the unwanted result.

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