When the Department of Climate Change decided to change the name of the national Emissions Trading Scheme to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, they really hit on a winner. Yes, it’s a bit harder to say – the CPRS doesn’t roll off the tongue like the NETS. In fact, it sounds a bit like a medical procedure, but it’s a brilliant name change because now the scheme is being referred to in terms of its goals, rather than its mechanism. The new name puts all the focus on what the scheme wants to achieve. The emissions trading scheme is simply the way in which it’s going to be done.
So how will it work? Well first I have to point out that there’s a long time, politically, between now and 2010 so the scheme may evolve slightly. However, the basics, as outlined in the Green Paper released last July, probably won’t change too much.
Imagine you live in a block of flats and each flat can currently have as many rubbish bins as they like and there is no financial cost to throwing out as much plastic, paper and those Styrofoam base-plates that supermarkets like to layout their meat on as you like. Let’s just say you have a neighbour, Joe Consumptive, his darling lady wife Jane Consumptive, and their charming kids Lolcat and Sparky. They shop at supermarkets for home-baked ready meals in a bag and eat a lot of Chinese takeaway. They have no worm-farm. They throw out a lot of crap. Three whole wheelie bins full per week, in fact. Your house has less people and you don’t tend to eat so much takeaway, so you have less crap to toss out. But still, on bin night, you have to trundle two full wheelie bins to the kerb.
Now imagine the council, as part of their domestic waste reduction scheme, decides to place a limit on the amount of rubbish you can throw out. Let’s say that each household can only throw out one bin-full. So you and your neighbours put your heads together and work out that by shopping at the local farmers’ market, and taking your own plastic bags (left over from previous shopping trips), and installing a worm-farm, you can each cut the amount of rubbish being tossed. Your flat is especially thrifty and you manage to get your rubbish down to half a bin. Your consumptive neighbours on the other hand still can’t resist the flavour of plastic in their meat and, despite cutting their trash in half, still have a bin and a half of waste. The council, in their wisdom, allows what is known as a ‘flexibility mechanism’; they are happy to let you sell some of your bin space to your neighbour. So now between you there’s only one full bin per household and, what’s more, you are making money because you’ve been so thrifty and clever. The Consumptives next door can go over their limit but only by paying you for your unused bin space.
Easy eh? The net result is a reduction in total waste output of three bins – two from your neighbour and one from you – along with a redistribution of wealth towards places that make a serious reduction above and beyond their mandated thresholds. To extend the analogy, now imagine you take the money that the Consumptives pay you for your unused bin space and invest it into technology that further reduces your waste. You might then sell that technology to other households, enabling them to reduce their own waste, too, and thus profit from their more profligate neighbours. It’s a kind of Robin-Hoodery in that wealth is being redistributed according to merit.
Now of course Joe Consumptive is likely to resist the legislative changes because they require that his family make changes to their domestic lives. However, on the whole, those changes are better for their health and save them money in the medium-to-long-term – and mean less landfill, which benefits the whole community. But in the short term, all that matters to the Consumptives is that they have to make a change and their lifestyle is under threat. A strong council will stand firm and make them reduce their waste. A weak council will offer the Consumptives various kick-backs, special buckets for specific wastes to help them transition to this new garbage-constrained economy.
The Consumptives will blame external forces; “It’s all the supermarket’s fault! Why should we go first and show leadership when Coles is filling a new skip every week?” But all their bleating will be for naught – the landfills are bursting at the seams and the whole neighbourhood is in danger of being inundated unless everyone takes action. The cost of cleaning up a mountain of exploded crap next week is far higher than the cost to the community of dealing with the problem now.
Dave Sag is the co-founder of Carbon Planet, an Australian-based global carbon management company, and the first such company to be awarded Greenhouse FriendlyTM status for its range of products and services, including Carbon Audits, Carbon Trading, Ethical matchingTM and consumer retail of certified Carbon Credits.