Image credit: midorisyu, used under Creative Commons license.
With secret government talks suggesting peak oil may be nearer than we think and IEA insiders claiming world oil stats have been inflated, it makes sense to start planning for a world where energy is much scarcer than we have gotten used to. I doubt this will please those who believe environmentalism is just an excuse for big government meddling in every aspect of our lives, but a group of parliamentarians in Britain is seriously looking at the prospect of fuel rationing in the not-too-distant future. Whether you believe that peak oil means the end of consumer society, or simply that higher energy prices will create economic turbulence as we move to alternatives, it's clear that if and when we reach a peak in oil production capacity, the fallout will most likely hit the poor hardest—unless we manage that process to allow for an equitable and orderly transition.
That's where tradable energy quotas (TEQs) come in. According to a new report commissioned by Britain's All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil (why doesn't every country have one of these!?), TEQs provide a measurable, fair and practical way of both motivating a shift to greener, more efficient use of energy—and also ensuring that fuel poverty doesn't leave anyone out in the cold.
Personal carbon rationing has, of course, been proposed before—but there is much to be said for tying such schemes specifically to energy use. While evidence that man-made global warming exists remains overwhelmingly strong, carbon dioxide emissions are still an abstract notion to most of us. Availability of fuel, on the other hand, is an immediate need—and the fact that easily available fossil fuels will one day run out seems almost undeniable. Shaun Chamberlain, Director of the Lean Economy Connection and co-author of the report,:
"Tradable Energy Quotas are the only way we can reduce carbon emissions and at the same time guarantee that everyone gets fair access to limited energy supplies. This is also an alternative to carbon taxation; we are in difficult times, and we should not take money away from people when they need it the most. TEQs is about motivating people to cooperate in the common challenge of drastically reducing our dependence on fossil fuels."
I have no doubt that any such scheme would face considerable opposition from folks suspicious of government interference in their lives—so much so that it is hard to see it as politically feasible in the near term. Nevertheless, if the worst predictions about peak oil prove true, we will at some point need to have a frank and realistic conversation as a culture on what to do about it. Laying the groundwork for how fuel rationing might work seems like a sensible precaution—even if we never have to use it.
More on Peak Oil, Economics and Sustainability
Richard Heinberg on Life After Growth
What Would a No Growth Economy Look Like?
Living Simply: An Alternative American Dream?