In the UK the cost of fuel is to increase, yet again, as more duty is imposed by the Government. This will be further increased in April by another 1p rise, and no doubt more to come in the future. We are all very aware that this is just cynical opprtunism to generate more cash for the Treasury on a population that has little choice in its consumption behaviour. In much the same way that additional taxes on cigarattes are a guaranteed cash generator, albeit argued on the back of health grounds.
In economic terms, fuel consumption and smoking exhibit low elasticity of demand, in other words, demand drops disproprionately slower than any rises in the cost of buying the product. The cost of a litre if petrol has increased nearly 60% in the last 5 years but demand has stayed largely stable. There are, no doubt, certain aspects of people’s driving behaviours which can be controlled but, for the majority ofpeople, this is determined by work, and family arrangements, and the quality and flexibility of public transport options.
The other “moral highground” rationale for increasing the cost of fuel is the “green” argument. It would seem, at the moment, that a politician will never be criticised for having quality green credentials, and trying to “save the planet”. Many will go out of their way to demonstrate that they are reducing their carbon footprint by cycling to work, or using solar powered heating, or placing a small wind turbine on their roof. We all know that this is bare-faced publicity seeking and will make not one jot of a difference to the planet, global warming or any other environmental scare that happens to be upon us.
It is fair to say that we need to be wise in the use of our scarce and finite resources, and avoid unnecessary waste, and this is driven by consumption, and the population drives that. In the last 20 years the world population has increased from 5.3 billion to nearly 7 billion, a good proportion of which is being driven by the developing world particularly China and India ( contributed 0.5 billion of the increase) whose consumption over the next 50 years will overtake that of Europe and the US. In the UK the population has increased by about 5 million in that period (0.3% of the total increase). Whilst it is important that everyone plays their part we need to keep in perspective how significant we are in the equation.
A report from the North West MEP Chris Davies states that the carbon footprint of 1 person in the UK is 744 tonnes, which is equivalent to 620 return flights from Manchester to New York. How accurate this figure is, is difficult to judge, but as an indication of direction it makes an interesting point.
Curiously, Friends of the Earth (UK) are ambivalent, and slightly illogical, on their position on Population control. In their briefing paper March 2010:
Friends of the Earth recognises that population growth is one of the drivers of environmental degradation. However, in our view it is not the major driver. Rather, it is consumption issues which present a much greater and more urgent threat to the environment
True, but surely consumption is a function of population, and whilst 1 extra person in sub-Saharan Africa is not the same as 1 in the UK in terms of resource consumption, there are plenty of people in the emerging nations who will be consuming at rates similar to the developed nations, in years to come. Needless to say this is not a short term issue and if they are exponents of the man-made global warming theory then surely this should feature highly?
In the meantime, one of the major taboos of today is not being discussed – controlling the population – the primary factor in consumption. It never will be a vote winner, politically very sensitive, and challenges the long held view that people/couples have the right to bear children and as many as they like – with one exception, China.
We will continue to tax people inexorably to placate the influential, and somewhat naive, green and environmental lobby. We will fund the building of pointless, costly and ugly wind farms whose contribution to the National Grid is negligible, and at the same time the entire population will be wracked with guilt for enjoying itself.
We need to strive to have an open and sensible debate about these subjects based on facts and proportionality, and not be deluded by a pressure group, supported by cynical political and commercial organisations that are motivated to perpetuate a sensationalised half-truth to meet their own personal ends.