What the IPCC delivered on Monday was the most massive warning. We have twelve years to save the planet from global warming. And Shell’s response is to avoid discussion of oil and instead suggest we plant trees without providing the slightest indication of where, who would fund it and why countries will be persuaded that they should do this when deforestation has been the trend throughout human history.
What he did not do is discuss the only obvious solution to this crisis. That is to leave oil in the ground. Of course, he can’t do that. His company is valued on the basis that it can burn all the oil reserves that it claims to have. The only slight problem with that plan is that it burns the planet as well. It is simply not possible for him to admit that controlling climate change and the continued existence of his oil company in anything like its current form are incompatible goals.
But there is a solution to this issue. It comes in three parts.
The first part is to ration oil. It can be done directly, or it can be done indirectly, but either way it needs to be done. So, we can ration flights. And car usage. We could even ration some food stuffs – like meat, in particular. We have, of course, done such things before, and I’m well aware that the immediate response will be that there will be a black market. And I agree, there will be. Which is precisely why each person’s ration could be traded. The person who wants to fly a lot could buy the ration of the person who does not want to fly at all. The person who does not have a car should be able to sell their right to have one. And so on. A meat ration might be tradeable as well. The goal is achieved, and virtue would be rewarded. Indeed, the whole policy could be progressive: the sale of rations could redistribute income to those less well off. Externalities could literally be priced.
The second point to note is that rationing would also increase the price of oil: that is what happens when a product is in short supply, which would have to be the case if fixed quotas for production were imposed, as would have to be the case. In other words, oil company values need not be imperilled by this. But they would be required to invest in clearing up their own past messes.
And third, government revenues need not be imperilled. If the oil price increases, so might government revenue.
Oil companies are not valued on the basis of their reserves. Rather, on their likely level of profits over a forseeable time span. Also, they don’t burn oil, we do. They sell it to us so we can burn it.
Rationing the price of oil will reduce its price, not increase. Oil is notably inelastic to price in its demand over the short and medium terms.
The Tuber manages to get one thing right, the solution is indeed rationing. Which is why William Nordhaus has just been awarded the Nobel for suggesting we ration it with a carbon tax. Something he’s been saying for at least two decades now. But then Nordhaus knows something about economics….