Where is the tipping point that demands serious action?
The most urgent issue in this time and place is climate change. If we do not fix it, there is an excellent chance that our entire species will go extinct. While people are coming around to acknowledge that climate change is real, most people deny the dire consequences.
Only when humanity comes to terms with the possibility of their own extinction will we reach the tipping point where people are willing to sacrifice their current lifestyles.
Presently, people are only giving lip service to climate change if they are willing to acknowledge it at all. People are eager to say the right words but are unwilling to make meaningful sacrifices to bring about change. I don't know when we will reach the tipping point to action or if we ever will, humans may choose to face their demise in denial.
People point to past prophecies of doom, but never have so many of the world's scientists agreed on the same major points.
- Earth's climate has warmed significantly since the late 1800s.
- Human activities (primarily greenhouse gas emissions) are the primary cause.
- Continuing emissions will increase the likelihood and severity of global effects.
Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the US has produced more greenhouse emissions than any other country. The US is also the largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gasses, so it would make sense for the US to set an example for the world. This was once my expectation, but instead of leading, we are dragging our feet.
If we ever find the will to take serious action to fight climate change, we need to make serious lifestyle changes. Change will never be accomplished by voluntary effort. As a telling example, California Governor Gavin Newsom requested a voluntary 15 percent reduction in water use. California faces a dire, long-running drought. Water wells are drying up. Some areas have to truck in water — a voluntary effort got a 1.5 percent reduction, ten times less than the governor requested.
If we want to make a difference, it can't be voluntary, and for that matter, it can't be a percentage or value reduction. If we reduce usage across the board by a percentage, the poor and the thrifty bear the brunt of the reduction. Those are not the users we want to target—the extravagant abusers, the superuser. We can't reduce consumption by a dollar amount because the wealthy would continue to overuse our resources regardless of the price.
Let's examine how rationing could work in three key areas that would help the most to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions — electricity, fossil fuels, and beef.
Let's use fuel consumption as an example. Perhaps the national goal is to reduce gasoline and diesel consumption for transportation by 30 percent. After allocating a portion for business use, the remainder would be available for consumer transportation.
Ration coupons should be based on household size, determined by tax return data. A taxpayer filing as single would receive the baseline distribution, and a taxpayer with one dependent would receive slightly more.
A household unit might decide to embrace conservation, choose to walk, bike, or make use of public transportation. A frugal household could sell their unused coupons for extra money. A low-income family of four may not even own a car, but now they would have a resource to sell or trade.
The energy-conscious conservationists would finally be rewarded for their efforts. They could sell their unused coupons fully assured that the nation's conservation goals have been met. It would become a challenge to use less fuel.
Some people will expend extra income to buy more fuel coupons, but such purchases would be limited to the unused coupons available. No matter how the coupons were used, the net fuel reduction for the country would be 30 percent.
Electricity would be treated in much the same manner. Congress would establish a national goal to reduce the nation's electricity consumption. A portion would be set aside for business use. The remainder would be allotted for consumer use. Once again a baseline would be established for single living alone. A bit more would be allocated to a single with a dependent, more yet to a family of three.
When your quota runs out, electricity is cut off. People will soon learn to live within their energy budget. Some users will excel at frugality and have excess energy to sell. A homeless person would have a new resource to sell or trade. Overconsumers would be forced to cut back. Some people may decide it's only practical to heat or cool one room of their home. Many people will eventually opt for smaller homes energy-efficient homes or choose to divide up their 3,500 square foot mansions into multiple dwellings.
Based on household size, families would receive ration cards for beef. The ration card could be divided into quarter-pound increments. If you purchased a pound of beef at the store, you would first produce your ration card. Then the cashier would punch out four quarter-pound slots in the card. If you stopped for a burger on the way home, a corresponding number of unused slots would have to be available on your card before you could place your order, then your card would be punched, indicating your purchase. Use up your allotment in one day or one week. The national goal is met however you use it.
The ration cards have no value. They simply represent the right to make a purchase or to use a given resource. The value of the ration card comes from your ability to transfer your right to purchase to another household.
I don't think anyone would like rationing. But I think people would quickly adapt to it. Some people would even see the ration cards as a challenge to conserve more, taking their reward in the trade value of the card. Rationing would be the fairest way to allocate basic resources that are important to everyone.
First, we have to reach the tipping point. Nobody will willingly accept rationing unless they are scared to death of the alternative.