Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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27 Nov 2012

Kevin Anderson: Real clothes for the Emperor: Facing the challenges of climate change

A couple of weeks ago we presented an interview with Kevin Anderson of the UK Tyndall Centre and mentioned that he was soon to give a lecture at the Cabot Institute’s annual lecture in Bristol.  The film of Kevin’s talk is now available, and I would suggest that it could turn out to be one of the most important 58 minutes you ever spend sat in front of your computer.  This is powerful, and essential stuff and makes a nonsense of the idea that the most sensible thing to do at this point is to throw everything at trying to rekindle economic growth.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Chris Johnstone
27 Nov 8:43pm

Thank you Rob for posting this wake-up call to action. I feel both shaken and stirred.

What I take away is that we are heading for disaster unless we massively change our ways and that the major emitters are those living in industrialised countries – possibly ourselves and many people we know. So a real challenge we face is to get serious about behaviour change. What a challenge for us to face together, and I’m glad the Transition Movement is taking it on.

michael Dunwell
29 Nov 2:29pm

In Nature, today, there is a special issue on climate change policy (on top of PWC’s and the World Bank’s warnings) which notes an interesting and hopeful development: the proliferation of carbon trading initiatives at state or even city level. There is also a recommendation from Dieter Helm that carbon pricing should be based on consumption and not on production. This seems to be edging toward the TEQ idea, which enables us to be better off by consuming less instead of feeling helpless in a global political impasse. I would like to know what Shaun Chamberlin makes of this. Are you there, Shaun?

Shaun Chamberlin
3 Dec 4:51pm

Hi Michael, am here belatedly, after a couple of people pointed me at your thoughtful comment!

I’d love to believe that the mainstream is edging towards TEQs, which does seem to me to be the best thing a government could do to ameliorate climate change and peak oil, but sadly I’m not convinced that it’s true.

I do of course completely agree with Dieter Helm that we need to focus on consumption (i.e. demand reduction) rather than on production, but I’m not sure how much more common ground he and I have in terms of addressing climate change. For example, in the Open University’s “Living Without Oil” course, we were selected and interviewed to represent the two opposing sides of the debate on “Peak Oil theory”. You can hear his thinking on this (and mine) here.

Also, he is a firm advocate of carbon taxation, and I would point you at pp.17-18 of the Parliamentary report on TEQs for why that is really not a good idea.

So although I don’t want to rule out the possibility, I’m not sure that his coming round re: demand reduction is that fundamental a shift.

And with regard to the proliferation of carbon trading schemes, I must confess that I’m not convinced that it’s a good thing. There is a crucial but little appreciated difference between carbon trading (as practiced) and carbon rationing. (I did a quick blog highlighting this a few years back)

I am not actually a supporter of ‘carbon pricing’ at all – I see it as one more example of the trendy but flawed idea of ‘pricing up nature so that we value it’ (for more of my thoughts on this, see here).

In fact I tend to see TEQs as representing perhaps the only viable alternative to the market-based approach on which almost all existing ‘carbon trading’ is based – trying to reduce emissions by making them more expensive.

Instead of this, TEQs simply sets a firm – and declining – limit on carbon coming into the economy (and then explicitly guarantees fair entitlements to the energy that is available within that cap). Society as a whole can then collectively focus on adapting within this limit, and thus keeping the price of energy as low as possible, which is a simply-understood task that everyone can buy into with enthusiasm.

This resolves the glaring contradiction at the heart of mainstream energy/climate policy – the desire to raise carbon prices while keeping energy prices low. We live in a world where over 80% of global energy still comes from fossil fuels, and so energy and carbon prices remain stubbornly linked. Accordingly, market-based approaches simply hurt the poorest – both globally and within nations – as the deliberate raising of the price of carbon/energy makes energy unaffordable for many, effectively ‘rationing energy by wealth’.

We need to replace these so-called ‘market-based frameworks’, with a framework within which the market is constrained. TEQs provides this, utilising trading for what trading does well, but not allowing it to regulate its own appetites.

Incidentally, you may not be amazed to hear that when the UK Government conducted their pre-feasibility studies into TEQs, one key change the civil servants wanted to make was to take away the absolute cap on emissions, and allow a ‘safety valve’ in case the markets complained too much. In other words, to make the cap subsidiary to the market again. Needless to say, TEQs inventor David Fleming and I opposed this in the strongest of terms.

The heart of TEQs is a non-negotiable respect for the limits set by physical reality, alongside a framework to harness the collective genius of the populace in thriving within those limits. (for anyone reading who isn’t familiar with how TEQs would function, there’s a quick summary at:

Unfortunately, the heart of most carbon trading seems to be money making, along with the illusion of doing something about climate change. Hence Climate Camp etc very reasonably deciding to take their protests directly to the ‘European Climate Exchange’.

All that said, there are positive developments in terms of interest in moving TEQs towards implementation, such as ongoingacademic interest and spreading understanding, the work of the European Resource Cap Coalition, direct contact with the Ontario provincial government etc, and if you are not already on the mailing list to hear about them, you can sign up here.

Apologies that I seem to have written rather a lot – I hope it doesn’t put you off!

michael Dunwell
3 Dec 7:26pm

Many thanks, Shaun; I see I must temper my optimism with a bit more darkness. There’s some serious homework here. Far from put off – really grateful for such a generous reply.

Ian Smith
7 Dec 10:53am

I believe that some form of personal carbon allowance, at least from an ethical perspective, is something that we should be striving for. However, I have no illusions about the difficulties involved in implementing any such scheme nationally, let alone internationally. Leaving aside the political barriers, even with the internet, the transaction costs look like quite an impediment. Having looked at a number of these systems, including David Fleming’s TEQs, I started to think how one might run a much simpler proxy, and possibly as a precursor, for the idea. I am suggesting that people in the public eye be encouraged to publicize their footprints. This may seem like a request for them to shoot themselves in the foot (excuse the pun) as most of the people in the public eye (sports people, business people, actors/actresses, politicians and other celebrities) are likely to have higher than average footprints but, if some could be persuaded to do so, and the media encouraged to use the information then public and peer pressure for others to do so could be quite compelling.

How the idea might work:
• Set up a website where people in the public eye are invited to record their footprint every year. The inputs to the calculation would be confidential but the final footprint number would be in the public domain and available for the general public & media to access and use. The website should include a date stamp with the footprint to advise users on its currency.
• There should be a specified or dedicated calculator capable of covering international lifestyles. It should include some provision for estimating embedded emissions in goods and services consumed. Note that calculators suitable for the UK may not be suitable for other countries. For example, green electricity tariffs have little true additionality in the UK, but the case may be different elsewhere. Similarly, carbon intensity of electricity varies widely.
• There should be no provision to credit carbon offsets though these could be recorded as a separate output.
• Encourage the media to add the person’s footprint when introducing (or subtitling) them – so “XX, CEO of YY” becomes “XX, CEO of YY, 25 tonnes”.
• The combination of the website and the publicity would have a number of benefits. First, it would put pressure on such people to reduce their footprint year on year. It would, if done professionally, encourage others to publish theirs. It would raise awareness of the gap between individual emissions and sustainable levels and facilitate the understanding of the issue of personal carbon allowances.

Whilst the web site should include information the methodologies used in the calculator(s) and on what constitutes a sustainable level, it would probably detract from its role to include awards (or, indeed, naming and shaming). That should be left to the media. Indeed, this would probably be seen as an incentive by the media to cooperate. The calculator would need to be compromise between accuracy and simplicity to encourage take-up. Since the main purpose of this suggestion is to raise awareness, accuracy is not a prime concern.

Kim Hill
7 Dec 1:25pm

To advocate for reducing emissions and behaviour change is to completely miss the point. It’s all very well to set a good example, but unless you can convince Rupert Murdoch, the US military, and all corporate powers to change their behaviour, individual actions aren’t going to have any effect. Reducing demand without cutting off supply is useless, as supply creates demand via pricing. And increasing efficiency won’t help, as increased efficiency leads to increased production and consumption (Jeavons Paradox). A 2 degree temperate rise would cause positive feedbacks that lead quickly to a 6 degree rise, which would cause complete loss of oxygen on the planet, so no plants, no animals, no humans. And this is predicted to happen by mid-century. In which case all city dwellers would likely starve to death within ten years. The only way to stop this from happening is to completely stop all emissions, immediately. This requires people to take action to stand in the way of the global energy infrastructure, and dismantle it completely. This may sound drastic to those in favour of more moderate action, but it’s a lot less drastic than causing the mass extinction of everything on the planet within a few decades.
The title of the presentation sums up the mainstream attitude perfectly. Put more clothes on the already well-dressed emperor. Never acknowledge what everyone can see.

Lloyd Helferty
8 Dec 4:49am

I just watched this video and was quickly glancing through the comments, when I noticed in regard to your comments on TEQs that you indicated that you have apparently had, “direct contact with the Ontario provincial government”.
I live in Ontario, and wonder who it is you might have been in contact with about TEQs?
I would surely like to support your work in expanding [public and government policy] knowledge and dissemination with respect to any of work that you are doing in this realm.
I will also spend some time trying to learn more about how TEQs work and might be implemented here in Ontario.

Shaun Chamberlin
20 Dec 2:01pm

Hi Lloyd. Yes, I have been working with allies in the Niagara Climate Change Network, who are pursuing possibilities regarding funding for a regional trial of TEQs, supported by Sustainable Niagara.

They met with Ontario Minister of Environment Jim Bradley MPP regarding this, and arranged a Skype conference for me and John Broderick (of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research) with Gord Miller, the Ontario Environment Commissioner. It can be viewed here (second video). I believe the Department now have staff looking into the possibilities, and that last year warmest Canadian autumn and winter on record may have contributed to their interest.

Any contact you can make with them to emphasise that residents are keen and interested could be helpful, and I would suggest speaking to Anthony Barrett of the Niagara Climate Change Network about latest developments and the possibility of working together.

4 Mar 10:59pm

Hi,that was brilliant.My take on it is that we need a combination of the Transition Town model plus effective government ie the Green party.Im trying to organize an interfaith conference on climate change,i believe it is the duty of spiritual communies o ry o do somehing about climate change,i think spiritual leaders need to take this on.we all do.kind regards Sahajatara,Brighton.