Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise has been watching the climate world since 2009. What she sees isn't pretty.

Kevin Anderson: The Ration Card Man

A news article in yesterday’s Telegraph newspaper has sparked a mini firestorm in the climate blogosphere. That article was titled: Cancun climate change summit: scientists call for rationing in developed world.

Note the use of the plural. If one reads the article closely, though, only one person discusses rationing – Kevin Anderson, a UK professor of energy and climate change who also serves as director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

The article implies that rationing is being advocated by a collection of journal articles published by the Royal Society, but this is not the case. I electronically searched all 14 of those articles. None of them contain the word “ration” – or appear to discuss the concept – not even the paper for which Anderson is the lead author.

I waded through all 26 pages of the PDF version of Anderson’s paper. It discusses the lack of progress on emissions cuts – and the disconnect between what governments say they’ll do and what they seem capable of delivering. Referring to highly contested sources such as the Stern Review, in its conclusion this paper says:

…the logic of such studies suggest (extremely) dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily, for a period of planned austerity within [rich] nations…

That is as strong – and as specific – as the language in this paper gets. Yet this is how Louise Gray, the Telegraph‘s Environment Correspondent, describes matters:

In one paper Professor Kevin Anderson, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said the only way to reduce global emissions enough, while allowing the poor nations to continue to grow, is to halt economic growth in the rich world over the next twenty years. This would mean a drastic change in lifestyles for many people in countries like Britain as everyone will have to buy less ‘carbon intensive’ goods and services such as long haul flights and fuel hungry cars.

Prof Anderson admitted it “would not be easy” to persuade people to reduce their consumption of goods. He said politicians should consider a rationing system similar to the one introduced during the last “time of crisis” in the 1930s and 40s. This could mean a limit on electricity so people are forced to turn the heating down, turn off the lights and replace old electrical goods like huge fridges with more efficient models. Food that has travelled from abroad may be limited and goods that require a lot of energy to manufacture.

“The Second World War and the concept of rationing is something we need to seriously consider if we are to address the scale of the problem we face,” he said. [bold added]

Gray, who appears to have interviewed Anderson, fails to make it clear that the bit about rationing represents Anderson’s personal opinion. It is highly misleading to suggest, as her article does, that this measure enjoys the support of “physicists and chemists from some of world’s most respected scientific institutions.” Oh, and the remarks about heating, lighting, replacing appliances, restricting food choices and travel – none of those ideas are discussed in the paper, either.

It is, in fact, old news that Anderson believes in rationing. He’s been advocating it for years. In late 2009, the BBC reported that Anderson supported “carbon rationing like food rationing in wartime.”

In a December 2005 technical report [PDF here], Anderson and co-author Richard Starkey devoted 57 pages to exploring the concept of “domestic tradable quotas.” The idea is that a certain number of emissions units get issued to all persons aged 18 and over residing within a particular country. Those who wish to use more energy are required to purchase the right to do so. And here’s the really grim part: the total number of available units is limited by the government. This is, of course, rationing – as well as an extra tax – by another name. Anderson and Starkey have been advocating this approach since at least April 2004 (see this article they wrote for the Guardian).

But there’s something else about Anderson worth knowing. In January 2006, the Guardian reported that he opposes the expansion of nuclear power as a means of combating climate change. The article doesn’t explain the root of his hostility. One would think that someone as worried as he evidently is about dangerous climate change would be embracing this non-CO2-emitting form of energy with open arms. Instead, he told the reporter:

We can easily deal with climate change without nuclear power.

So Kevin Anderson thinks nuclear power is unnecessary because climate change can be easily dealt with. Instead, his plan is to establish a new, costly, intrusive, liberty-restricting bureaucracy. His plan is to issue every adult an identity card linked to an emissions allowance. His plan is to leave it up to faceless bureaucrats and elaborate regulations to decide whether you will or will not be permitted to travel to another community to visit a sick relative.

Wow. Just wow.

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