Britons form clubs to cut carbon, pay for overuse
'Carbon rationing action groups' – where members swap tips and set targets – are cropping up across the country.
It's the time of year when many Britons might be thinking of hopping on a plane to get some sun. But Andy Ross won't be joining them.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
It's not that Mr. Ross is scared of flying. Instead, he is trying to make the world a cooler place. By cutting out leisure flights and adopting a host of other measures, he has reduced his own carbon emissions by more than 80 percent in two years.
More important, Ross has not been acting alone. Determined to make a difference, he has pioneered a movement of scores of Britons who are voluntarily rationing their energy usage to limit their carbon footprint.
Carbon rationing action groups, or CRAGs, are proliferating across the country (www.carbonrationing.org.uk) and have recently spread to the United States and Canada. Ross reckons there are about 16 up and running in Britain and a similar number in formation. Each has up to a dozen members who meet regularly to swap tips, set targets, and agree to rules on how to shrink their carbon footprints.
"It's empowering," says Ross, "because it makes you feel like you're doing something rather than sitting on the side carping about it."
So how do CRAGs work? The idea is that everyone in the group voluntarily adheres to a carbon ration. Members supply the group's "carbon accountant" with details of their car mileage, household bills, and any personal air travel. This is then converted into CO2 emitted using simple online conversion tools.
Most of the British groups are taking, as a point of reference, an average CO2 emission for 2005 of about 5 metric tons (or 5.5 tons – roughly comprising 2.5 metric tons on home energy use, 1.5 metric tons on flying, and 1 metric ton on driving). Some are reducing their emissions by 10 percent each year. And some have set up a system of fines such that "overemitters" must pay about 4 pence (8 cents) for every kilo over ration that they emit.
Cheap? Not at all. In the Islington CRAG in North London, Doug Angus flew to South America and had to pay around £200 (about $400) as a result. The same thing happened in Ross's group. The money is either divided up among other members or donated to green causes.
Skeptics point out that there are too few craggers currently to make a difference. But craggers themselves say their action is an important demonstration of public will. Scientists are calling for an 80-percent cut in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 to stop the world from overheating, but many governments are lagging behind the curve, fearful that the public is not ready for austerity measures.
CRAGs "make it much harder for governments to say people would never accept carbon rationing," says George Monbiot, a prominent British environmental campaigner whose 2005 speech calling for a "riot of austerity" inspired Ross to pursue the idea.
"If people are doing it voluntarily, then it really puts the government on the defensive," Mr. Monbiot adds.