Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Lifestyles of the carbon-constrained

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on October 31, 2007

The British Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, has released a report claiming that the British transport system can expand considerably without increasing carbon emissions. From the Guardian:

It argues that forcing the pace of technological change is the best way to ensure that transport helps Britain meet its goal of a 60% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050. At the moment the transport sector is responsible for 23% of CO2 emissions and its share is rising the fastest.

The report does argue that we need a price on carbon, whether via cap-and-trade or taxation. It also proposes significant expansion of congestion charges. However, the report outlines the widening of major roadways as well as an explosion in air travel. So technology is clearly going to be our savior:

The development and use of a wide range of low-carbon technologies is essential and urgent. The private sector plays a major role in R&D and technology diffusion, but closer collaboration between Government and industry would provide a further stimulus. Regulation will be necessary to force the pace of change.

Not exactly sure what that means, but it’s not like the U.S. has a more coherent energy technology policy.

I think that when we talk about carbon pricing, we often forget that, barring some amazing explosion of energy innovation, we are probably going to have to change our lifestyles. The carbon price simply gives us the financial incentive to do so (to be fair, it also encourages the aforementioned innovation). For example, the expansion of air travel forecast in the report is deemed okay because a carbon control regime would allow those carbon emissions to be offset by reductions elsewhere. Yes, those reductions do have to be made by actual people in the course of their actual lives.

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