Can Oxygen-Pricing Help Save the Environment?

First version published by Truthout in 2013,
This updated version published here in 2020.
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Author: Kathleen McCroskey 8520 192 ST Surrey B.C. Canada V4N 5W4

Key words: Oxygen pricing, carbon pricing, privileged consumption, fossil oxygen, eco-justice

A study published (2012) in Science, the most comprehensive Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years ever done, shows that recent warming has been "amazing and atypical" and will destabilize the climatic conditions which have allowed civilization to develop, unless there are dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. As if the emissions situation isn't bad enough in exposing large areas of the planet to excessive heat and drought, the recent bought of "land-grabbing" ( across the middle of the planet in all the equatorial regions, in order to increase both the human food supply and "biofuels", will further help to destroy these sensitive ecosystems. Even without global warming, the "belly-band" of the planet can become a desert in the same way that North Africa did during Roman times. Therefore there is a double urgency to reign in our over-consumption.

Developed countries continue to move forward in their relentless and destructive reach for more of everything - more crop land, more rivers, more fuel supply, more minerals, more fish, etc. and employ whatever means necessary, from financial to military, to maintain their position of privileged consumption (Noam Chomsky at Truthout). Yet, we somehow have to figure out how to reduce emissions by at least 50% by 2020, as pointed out in a new study published February 20 (2013) in Energy Policy

Dr. Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research said recently (2015) in an interview on the "Democracy Now!" program: " terms of what we need to do in terms of policy, this is not about everyone in the world making big reductions in their energy consumption. It's about those of us who are responsible for the lion's share of the emissions making those big changes." Dr. Anderson link via Truthout.

If the developed countries are not willing to bring their consumption down towards world-average levels, it is imperial thinking to assume that the rest of the world is going to ignore our gluttony.

In a January 12 (2013) editorial, the Washington Post recommended a carbon tax. However, a much more drastic action is needed to control consumption of energy and resources which would have to include, given that we have gone so far beyond the time when simpler remedies might have sufficed, both energy rationing and an oxygen tax. The developed countries have at every UN climate conference agreed to provide assistance to the developing countries for climate mitigation and adaptation, but the developed countries have yet to find a way to fund these initiatives. An oxygen tax would provide the funds to make good on those pledges by helping to preserve the remaining living parts of this planet, and is thus a better system for eco-justice than carbon schemes.

Energy Quotas

How might an energy quota be calculated? To determine an energy quota based on 1990 levels, look at 1990 tax records: everyone who filed a 1990 tax return gets the equivalent energy allocation equal to the energy in 200 gallons (or pick some other value and unit) of gasoline. They can then decide whether to use that energy quota to heat their homes (or convert to Passifhaus® standards) or to drive. If they choose to operate a business, they can try to ask their employees to contribute a portion of their energy quota to the business. If they reproduce, if two people have two children, then their two quotas are now divided into four parts, each person now gets a 50 gallon equivalent. If those children reproduce, they again divide their small quota even farther. That is how it has to now play out - there cannot be an ever-expanding per-person allocation of resources. People rarely mention the twin elephants in the room, increasing population and over-consumption. This paragraph provides the first step in dealing with those elephants. Yes, an energy ration cuts into your assumed "privileged consumption", but how is it going to look to people in developing countries, who are already suffering from being forced off ancestral lands in Congo, Indonesia, Burma and many other lands to make way for industrial plantations of "biofuels" and export crops?

Oxygen Pricing

An oxygen price should be equivalent to what you pay now per weight unit of carbon fuel, times two, since the by-product from burning the fuel is CO2 - which is TWO oxygens for every carbon! Take your present price for gasoline/petrol and add to that slightly more than double that amount for the oxygen price, and you have a total amount which will definitely reduce energy consumption. Recent articles claim that British Columbia's carbon tax has reduced consumption, but since the tax is so well hidden, never appearing on your fuel purchase receipts, people do not get the market signal that this tax is costing them anything.

Failures of Carbon Pricing

Regarding various proposals for carbon pricing, there are all kinds of failures inherent in putting an artificial price (taxes) on carbon. The usual idea of a carbon tax (such as here in B.C.) simply hands over money from the general population to those who created the emissions problem - the government itself, by promoting everlasting growth on a finite planet. The main problem with carbon taxes is that you can't balance that set of books. In normal economics, with the funds collected from a price on carbon, you pay others to produce more carbon. If you divert that money elsewhere, you can't balance the books. But with an oxygen price, you collect money from those who destroy oxygen, and pay it to those who produce oxygen, thus that set of books can be balanced. Perhaps forcing the price of carbon to zero would finally convey the message to the fossil fuel producers. What we really need to encourage more of, is more production (and less destruction) of oxygen.

Most forms of carbon taxes or "tax and dividend" schemes such as proposed by conservatives such as Dr. James Hansen collect the tax at source and distribute supposedly 100% of the funds to the general population, a clever political trick to con the public into accepting carbon taxation. The tax-and-dividend scheme is also a short-circuit, since what are consumers all about except for consumption, and the money stays within the same destructive empire - there is no eco-justice. Any funds collected need to accrue to the UN Green Fund as our contribution to mitigation and adaptation in the developing countries. The Trudeau carbon tax scheme which is supposedly "revenue neutral" (by reducing other taxes) is not a "climate action plan" because there are no firm caps on either emissions or consumption, just wishful thinking that the financial burden of the tax will reduce burning of fossil fuels. Talking about being "revenue neutral" while continuing subsides for the fossil fuel industry is severely deceitful.

Other schemes such as cap-and-trade merely establish complex market schemes which end up handing a handsome income to Wall Street brokers, or like the cap-and-trade scheme in California, the indigenous peoples of México are being forced off their land to make way for the government to sell carbon offsets to California.

Carbon "offsets" are merely indulgences to sooth the conscience of the marginally-climate-aware. If any of these upper-middle-class carbon notions ever succeeded in raising the costs of fuels to a level that would actually reduce consumption, people would simply burn everything they can get their hands on to heat their homes, therefore, goodbye trees, a repeat of the scenario in Africa where complete forests disappear to be made into charcoal for cooking fires.

Various schemes are proposed for "carbon sequestration" which most often involves capturing CO2 at source or (more pie-in-the-sky) extracting it from the atmosphere (and some studies and U.N. documents show that we cannot meet global temperature rise limits without doing this) and forcing it deep underground where hopefully it stays and does not leak back out to the surface. Besides all those "iffy" issues as well as promoting earthquakes, the big issue should be the problem of the loss of all that oxygen - the oxygen should be stripped off the CO2 and returned to the atmosphere, leaving behind black carbon powder. But a quick review of the laws of thermodynamics shows that such a process would consume more energy than was obtained in the original oxidation of the fuels. Thus it becomes more imperative that all burning must stop, regardless of whether or not the carbon-fuel source is fossil or bio-fuel origin.

The big problem is this - People are stealing 2/3 of their fuel from the commons. Everyone knows that they already pay a price for their (carbon) fuels, albeit a price not sufficient to cover the social and environmental costs, since of course, all business is set up to privatize the profits while socializing the expenses. The real monkey on our backs is that we steal just over 2/3 of our fuels from the commons by not paying for the oxygen. Nobody accounts for the oxygen which gets tied to the carbon when we burn fuel for "energy". We simply steal that oxygen from the commons, and worst of all, that oxygen is fossil oxygen, since we are now consuming more oxygen than is being produced on this planet. On one hand we tie oxygen to carbon at ever increasing rates and on the other hand, we destroy entire ecosystems on land and poison the oceans by acidification, thereby killing off the planet's mechanisms to produce more oxygen. Soon we will discover that the apparent "surplus" of oxygen in the atmosphere was required to promote the ozone layer, as we begin to fry under unstoppable UV radiation. [See also Under a Green Sky by Peter D. Ward PhD, 2007, Smithsonian Books, Harper Collins Publishers Inc., N.Y.]

Thus we should have been working toward developing a price for oxygen, to be paid to an international body such as the UN Green Fund, which would distribute the funds from those who consume oxygen to those who produce it. These funds would then be available to assist countries in maintaining their intact tropical forests and other areas of natural soils and ecosystems. This would be the best form of "eco-justice" and help fund re-wilding programs and help fund people who help protect natural areas from the onslaught of "development". But big business would do everything possible to prevent that from happening, which is part of the reason that they have co-opted governments world-wide. The business model has all wealth flowing "upwards", never downwards.

So here we are in the worst of all possible worlds - paying a useless carbon tax, stealing fossil oxygen from the commons, being lead by a developer government intent on building yet a bigger and bigger glorified version of the past with their "energy" (read fossil fuel) developments and national governments which fail time after time to get a grip on solving human environmental degradation. What can we do? We are apparently locked in to the present system of "business-as-usual" by a governance system consisting of antiquated laws - present law throws climate activists in jail, while new laws for the 21st Century would throw anyone proposing a pipeline or oil well into jail. We are further locked in by being represented by self-appointed wanna-be environmentalists, locked-in to their own unscientific mental state, who refuse to even acknowledge let alone seriously consider this proposal for oxygen pricing. These people know who they are - they continue to fly in airplanes and/or are shills for the nuclear industry.

Many carbon offset programs use tree planting schemes in developing countries, but it must be noted that a tree does not properly "sequester" carbon until the tree falls into the swamp and is pressed into soft or hard coal. Until then, it is subject to logging or fire or aerobic decomposition any of which can send the carbon back into the atmosphere. Yes, that takes thousands of years to properly sequester the carbon in a tree. Given that difficulty, we should absolutely STOP mining properly sequestered carbon in the form of oil, methane and coal and sending that up into the atmosphere and into our oceans. What fools these mortals be!

If carbon pricing was ever going to be meaningful, each product at the store would have to show its carbon input on the label, so that you could compare two similar products and if you wish, choose the lower-carbon product. Your total shopping receipt would show your total carbon cost for that purchase, allowing you to total up your carbon expense for the year. This would be a carry-through accounting system similar (but more complicated) than the value-added tax system. The economic burden of this system on businesses would be too great to implement.

A further complication is that there are at least two breaks in the economy, one at the farm gate and one at importation. The break at the farm gate occurs because farmers produce but are not allowed to price. When they buy supplies, they are given a price to pay; when they sell their product, they are again given the price for that commodity by others. They are wedged between two economic slabs, they are forced to swallow their entire production costs; they are in a special economic zone in which there are no wages paid and no costs can be passed forward. So for example, in a bad crop season like 2019, when the farmers have to pay extra for grain drying, they just have to eat that fuel cost along with any carbon tax; it is impossible for them to carry forward the carbon content of their product.

Similarly with imports, it would be impossible to force foreigners to provide you with the carbon content of the goods you are importing, and could you trust their accounting standards? For these and other reasons, a functioning carry-forward assessment of carbon inputs for goods for sale will probably never happen.

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