How to Reduce Carbon Pollution | Prof. John McMurtry

How to Reduce Carbon Pollution

What the Press will Not Publish

Your editorial “Voters must demand action on climate change” (Oct.18) is poignantly true on the need for government action.

But is it hopeless with narrow-thinking provincial governments and a prevailing ethos of “putting more money in your pocket”.

We seem to be in a slide towards ruin of our common life support systems by a money-and-consumer culture that will not face the greatest man-made ecological crisis in human history. As the rich become obscenely richer and the majority become less secure in their livelihoods, business-led societies seem incapable of life-coherent direction.

The most directly effective public policy of longstanding test and success has not even been mentioned – rationing consumption to life need. Food demand itself has been brought down by 25% with no loss of health of citizens, and health gain by the removal of excess and waste.

War-time rations have in fact worked cross the world, and we are now in a war for planetary survival against the monumental excess and waste of fossil fuels and carbon pollution destabilizing climates and hydrological cycles. The UN’s latest scientific report you refer to sounds the alarm of a closing time-window of 12 years for remedial reduction of carbon pollution before it puts most of the world’s life into unstoppable weather destabilization, forest fires and oceanic flooding.

It would be easier to ration fossil fuel and carbon pollution than food and water. The burgeoning city of Cape Town in South Africa has already put in stringent water restrictions consistent with human health, and succeeded with them in maintaining its needed water supply for all.

Carbon pricing, in contrast, is grossly inefficient in reducing carbon pollution. It makes the price higher for even the most necessary combustion like winter heating and production and transport of life necessities. It makes no difference to the wealthy rich who go wasting as before – as in fossil-fuel gobbling leisure motors destroying environmental peace and integrity. It targets only those who can’t easily afford the higher prices. It is forgotten about altogether in ever more trans-ocean trade deals which by definition multiply carbon miles!

What can we do? Only well-planned public rations work fairly and effectively. Canada has already experienced their success in World War II, and this time the war is more important to win in long-term human and planetary life terms. The reason we never hear about this solution is money-and-market worship built into our social DNA. We have become unable to think in terms of collective policy and decisions even when the lives of our children depend on it.

On the other hand, thinking people have already rationed consumption to life need in countless individual cases. For mundane example, many do not use a car unless necessary – for me an elder on a bicycle, a few litres in a month. The mayor himself, who is a business mayor, declares “thrift” his favorite characteristic, and loves to spend his free time in “thrift stores” (for example, clothing stores where the fabrics, largely oil-derived, cannot be recycled).

Many thousands of Guelph citizens are likewise disposed to bringing their demand in line with life need. It is good for the world and better for them. Rationing to life need, however, is unspeakable in the current market culture because it reduces commodities and profits, the only ‘growth’ politicians seem ever to mention.

The municipal level may be the only scale we can ration to need as a collective action. Guelph has led such collective action with recycling of wastes. Why not lead it in reducing carbon pollution? Buying expensive new electric cars is not effective at today’s prices. We need to get past market commodities as the answer to the problems they cause.

Much has already been done at the municipal level such as carless streets, no-plastic bags, public-bicycle terminals, and urban forests and gardens. Guelph should lead in these and other forms of carbon reduction too. How about citizen and by-law pressure on all local food giants to impose costs on all the massive plastic they daily flood into the City that was not there before? This initiative by itself – as with returning alcohol cans and bottles by a refundable packaging – could lead to an immense reduction of fossil-fuel-product pollution.

At a certain point, we need to take the problem into our own lives in Guelph and solve it by individual and public action together.


John McMurtry, 11 Suffolk St. West, NIH2H9

JM is University Professor Emeritus at University of Guelph and author of the three-volume Philosophy and World Problems in UNESCO Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems.

(note: University Professor Emeritus is not Professor Emeritus, but is a special designation vetted and voted on by Senate for leading international academic reputation).