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The green boogeyman is coming.
Among the Celts of the 2nd Century B.C., none were considered to hold a higher standing in society than the druids.
Mystical leaders, lawmakers, and conduits between men and nature, druids were a high-ranking class of individuals who were relied upon for the spiritual and religious needs of the community.
The core of the druidic religion was the observance of nature—that of the earth, the environment, the cosmos, and the gods. And while this reverence of nature was open to all in the culture of the Celts, it was only the druids themselves who were allowed to convey to the people the true knowledge and traditions associated with the faith.
In the book The Gallic Wars, Roman general Julius Caesar described the druids as men and women who were called upon to settle disputes of faith, money, and property. They were the ultimate word when it came to the laws of gods, as well as the laws of men.
In the case that two parties disagreed, a druid’s ruling was final. If someone chose to disobey that ruling, the punishment was excommunication—to be expelled from society itself, which was considered the gravest of penalties.
In other words, obey the word of the druids. Otherwise, risk losing your place in society.
The power of a druid wasn’t just found in the realms of decree and devotion, however. It was also found in money, as according to Celtic tradition, they were the only members of society who were able to avoid the obligation of paying taxes.
Today, over 2200 years later, a new druidic power is rising. And like the druids of old, their religion will also be rooted in nature.
Imagine living in a world where every waking decision you make is controlled by a single app.
The app would oversee the food choices you make, and what kinds of clothing you buy. It would deduct points based on what types of transport you travel in each day, or how often you spend a weekend outside your home city.
It would control almost everything in your life. And when I say everything, I do mean everything.
The temperature your home heating is set at. How many kilometres a week you can drive a car. How often you use a treadmill at the gym. The gifts you buy for your family during the holidays, and how often you travel to visit them. Even how many children you may have.
All these decisions, and many more, may soon come under the influence of one completely life-governing app.
This sounds like a technocratic nightmare from a dystopian novel. But unfortunately for us, it could soon be much closer to reality.
Right now, our planet is obsessed with carbon.
Green initiatives are everywhere. The media incessantly espouses doom-and-gloom stories regarding the state of our world. Carbon offsets are making their way into most aspects of our lives. And multinational companies won’t shut up about the new flavour-of-the-month action they’re taking for the good of the environment.
No matter how hard you try, you can’t escape it.
Now before I go any further, I have to add a disclaimer. Especially before anyone thinks they know where this letter is going, and slaps some dismissive label like “climate denier” on me.
Our planet is suffering. To me, this is obvious.
I’ve spoken to many people of older generations here in Iceland who have all reported—so far without exception—the dwindling levels of snowfall and receding glacial tongues they’ve borne witness to during their lives.
With my own eyes, I’ve seen endless swathes of plastic washing up on beaches in Indonesia. And of course, I’ve delved into the overwhelming amount of climate data that seems to all point in the same direction.
In short, we may not all agree on how much damage we’re doing, but I think we can all agree that our species hasn’t exactly treated our planet with the utmost of care.
Anyway, my point here isn’t to argue about how much humans are contributing to the warming of the Earth.
What I do want to talk about, however, is how carbon will be used to make some of us unbelievably rich. And how in the near future, it will likely make most of us considerably poorer, as well as restrict the choices we make.
To do that, I first want to illustrate the immense size of the global carbon industry.
We all know that oil is important to the way our planet functions. It’s responsible for every product you buy being transported to you, it’s what allows us to produce the plastics we use in our daily life, and is likely the stuff you still use to refuel your car.
Now, I would bet that most people reading this have never heard of the Trafigura Group. However, this almost-unknown company is the second-largest trader of oil and metal on the planet, and generates almost $150 billion dollars a year in revenue.
It’s a company that has impacted all our lives in some way or another.
Today, the oil market exceeds $10 billion dollars in trading volume per day. And all that trade funnels insane wealth into the coffers of Trafigura.
But recently, Trafigura and other companies like them, have turned their attention to a commodity they say will become even more valuable to the global market than oil.
That thing is carbon.
According to Hannah Hauman, Trafigura’s head of carbon trading, carbon markets have the potential to become ten times larger than the global oil market. But not only that, Hauman says carbon is already the largest commodity in the world—it just hasn’t fully been capitalised on.
Now generally speaking, what tends to happen to human morality when there’s a ridiculous amount of money to be made?
Well at least with oil, history illustrates this very clearly.
Since at least 1986, Shell has suppressed reports that oil use was accelerating climate change, just so they could continue to rake in massive profits.
In the 1980’s, Mobil ran ads with titles like “Apocalypse No”, that were designed to shape the public’s opinion that oil wasn’t really harmful to the environment.
And even Barack Obama—the former president of the United States—had to “placate” the Saudis by selling them billions of dollars worth of weapons, and support their war in Yemen, just so his government could continue to rely on the Kingdom’s oil.
To summarise, think about the amount of greed, evil, and mistruth human beings have taken part in when it comes to the business of oil, and how they’ve used that industry to boost their bank accounts.
Now just imagine what humans could be capable of, when we have access to a newly-emerging industry that’s ten times the size.
And herein lies the problem I foresee with the carbon trading industry.
In nations like South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia, large companies are already required to abide by carbon limits, as well as offset their usage by purchasing credits. But what happens when these limits are placed on people as well?
There are growing calls within certain governments and the media for individual carbon credits to become a reality for all of us. And already, institutions like Oxford University have run pilot simulations to uncover what a personal carbon system may look like.
So based on the above few points, and considering the state of the world we currently live in, you really don’t have to have a wild imagination to see how individual carbon credits could become a reality very soon.
If and when they do, what could life look like?
Personally, I believe individual carbon credits will most likely be enforced via a government-mandated tracking system or app that collects data based on each person’s usage.
I imagine it working something like this:
You drive home from work, and stop in at a supermarket to grab groceries for dinner. It’s your wedding anniversary, and you have a special evening planned at home.
Your app already knows what kind of car you drive based on your registration, so it tracks how much carbon output your journey home is costing the world. Not only that, but based on the items listed within your credit card transaction, it also calculates the carbon output of dinner—which is high, because of that imported Australian steak you decided to buy.
You get home, and decide to turn on the air conditioning. After all, you live in Florida. It’s hot, and you want to be comfortable while you cook for yourself and your partner. Minute-by-minute, the app is tracking the energy usage of your household, including the TV you have on in the background while you prepare dinner.
You sit down to eat, and crack open a nice bottle of wine. But because the wine was flown in from South Africa, it adds quite a lot to your monthly carbon score.
Despite it being a special occasion however, you decided not to buy your spouse an anniversary gift. She really wanted a new iPhone, as she hasn’t replaced her old device for more than six years. Even so, you just couldn’t justify the carbon cost, which would have probably put you over the limit.
After all, you’re already so close to hitting your quota. And because of this extra anniversary spending, you’ll probably have to reconsider driving to see your parents this weekend. You know it’s your mother’s birthday, but you’re sure she will understand how important it is that you don’t generate that extra carbon.
Of course, the story above is purely hypothetical. At least for now.
If this does become a reality though, every decision, trip, purchase, or life choice you make could be collated, logged, and tracked, in order to give you a personal carbon score. A carbon score that if exceeded, could result in you being heavily penalised.
Penalties could include being put in a higher tax bracket for being a less conscious member of society. Or receiving fines for every ton of carbon you go over your monthly limit.
These types of penalties will be easy for high-income earners to deal with, as they will just be able to buy their way out of having to deal with the same rules everyone else does. And considering the top 1% of the planet already accounts for double the carbon emissions of the poorest 50%, it’ll likely be the case that the biggest polluters won’t have to change the way they live their lives at all, apart from having a slightly larger dent in their bank accounts.
In other words, it will be you who will be screwed by personal carbon limits. Not people who have three houses, a garage full of luxury cars, or a private jet.
As always, shit flows downhill.
There is a lot more I could talk about here. Like how I see the potential for a personal carbon credit system to be used in conjunction with a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), or a social credit score, to further limit your personal freedoms and buying choices. But that’s a rabbit hole for another time.
Just keep in mind that carbon is already the biggest commodity on the planet. And in a few years, the carbon trading market could become the largest industry we’ve ever seen.
Behind that market, will be bankers, companies, institutions, traders, and individuals that will collectively stand to make trillions of dollars a year. And basic human greed means they’ll likely use every trick in the book to ensure trading carbon is as profitable for them as possible.
Even if it results in you having a lower quality of life.
Yes, global carbon output is a problem. But if it’s a problem someone can profit from, do you believe they’ll approach it fairly? Or like oil, will they use it as a means to drain as much wealth from our world as possible, regardless of the truth?
I’m generally an optimist. But when there are trillions of dollars up for grab in a new industry that stands to shape how we all live our lives, I can’t help being cautious.
So the next time you read a narrative in the media about the global cost of carbon, follow the money behind who is selling that story.
Is it a well-meaning organisation that truly cares about the state of our planet?
Or is it an unbelievably powerful trading company like Trafigura, that will almost certainly make untold billions by trading the world’s carbon credits?
Many of those who stand to profit from our fixation on carbon may turn out something like modern day druids. They will set the laws, hold the power, and be exempt from many of the ways it will restrict life for the rest of us.
And those who don’t comply with their new rules on carbon will be subject to a certain kind of exile—an economic one.
I believe we should all care more about this beautiful ball of rock we all call home.
But at the same time, we shouldn’t hand the control of our new green economy over to those who only care about profit.
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