A guest post by Rachel
Because Wotts is very busy at the moment and because I’m quite keen for a post about Myles Allen’s proposal to bury carbon and because Wotts, I think, has quite different views to me about this, I thought I’d write a guest post.
Myles Allen has an article in the Guardian today, Green levies may be ‘crap’. The way to deal with carbon is to bury it. This article follows on from a similar one he wrote in June this year, Climate change: let’s bury the CO2 problem.
Myles Allen is proposing that rather than pricing carbon, we should make it compulsory for anyone who extracts or imports fossil fuels to sequester the carbon. His suggestion is to start sequestering a fraction of the total carbon emitted and to gradually increase this to 100%. His logic is that we need to reduce emissions to zero; pricing carbon is not achieving this fast enough, and the people with the best resources for sequestering carbon are those in the fossil fuel industry. Yet they have no incentive to do it unless we force them to.
I really like Allen’s idea. It solves the problem without the need for a complex tax or emissions trading scheme; it puts the responsibility squarely where it belongs: with the fossil fuel companies themselves; and if the challenges of deploying carbon capture and storage technology increase the cost of fossil fuels – as will likely happen – then it will make carbon-free energy sources much more competitive and that is surely what we want.
The other advantage I can see is that regardless of how we solve this problem, we *need* carbon capture and storage. Atmospheric CO2 is already at 400ppm and humans in the future may decide that we need to go back to 350ppm.
Allen is going to get lots of criticism for this article. One criticism will be that he has stepped over the line from science into policy. I don’t have any objections with him stepping over this line. I *want* climate scientists to take a more active role in policy decisions that are related to climate change. They are the ones who understand the problem better than anyone else and so it follows that they know better than anyone else what needs to be done to solve it. We need solutions coming from the people who understand the problem. As Allen points out, the economic solution – pricing carbon – is not going to solve climate change unless emissions are reduced to zero.
Furthermore, Universities and the people who work in them play a role in society known as critic and conscience. This means that academics have an implied duty to criticise aspects of society and they should be allowed to do this without fear of repercussions. This is recognised by law in New Zealand under the Education Act 1989 which says, they [universities] accept a role as critic and conscience of society.
A report written by the New Zealand Academic Audit Unit explains it very well:
These aspirations are based upon a number of features. The first is that universities have a responsibility towards society, to work for what they view as the good of society, even at the cost of passing judgement on aspects of that society. To function in this manner, dialogue has to occur between universities and society, dialogue that will only be possible if university staff act with integrity and if this integrity is widely respected outside universities. Implicit within this role of universities is the freedom of academic staff to critique ideas both within and beyond the universities themselves. This freedom is to be exercised by academic staff, both directly and indirectly: directly, for the good of their academic disciplines, and indirectly, for the good of society. As such, it appears to be a highly specific kind of freedom, with clearly articulated boundaries, determined by the academic expertise of the staff and the close relationship between this and their areas of responsibility within the university.