Quotas and other Outrageous Ideas

Fuel consumption quotas. 500 gallons of fuel per driving license per year. Outrageous?

Do you have the right to consume as much fuel as you want?

The question may seem preposterous, but, is it really so? Let’s put it in a different way; do you have the right to dump into the atmosphere as much CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHG) as you please?

Residents of medieval towns customarily threw their waste from their windows onto the streets. All sorts of garbage and the contents of their bedpans were thrown for the nourishment of pigs, dogs and rats. Streets were filthy back then; as a result, flea-infested people lived very short and miserable lives.

People grew smarter. Things have changed since then. Sewage systems, water treatment plants, and municipal urban collection systems are implemented everywhere to ensure cities are livable. Nowadays we cannot dump our garbage onto the street anymore. We cannot litter the beaches with empty plastic bottles. An industry cannot dump its toxic waste into a nearby river. We cannot even have a pee wherever we feel like.

How come we can dump as much CO2 as we please into the atmosphere?

GHG emissions still follow medieval thinking.

GHG emissions are out of control. Something must be done. A smart fuel pricing policy could be the way. By comparison with the US, fuel consumption in Europe is lower due to, among other factors, fuel taxes. But this is not enough. I would suggest a more daring step. The urgency and the depth of the problem require it. While the electrical vehicle and the necessary carbon-free electricity production infrastructure are being developed, I would propose implementing fuel consumption quotas.

For example, we could assign a maximum(1) of 500 gallons (1,900 liters) of fuel per driving license per year for private transportation.

This measure, or any other geared to restrain freedom of consumption, may seem outrageous, unreasonable, absurd, utopian, impractical, anti-business, fundamentally wrong and much more. This is the kind of government intervention that is loathed by many, me included. But we have no choice. Who could have predicted at the end of the XIX century that fishing quotas would be implemented years later in order to restore declining fisheries? 

Ensuring commitment of all governments in this global enterprise would be an almost impossible task. I admit it. Nevertheless it would not be by any means the hardest. It would be indisputably beyond impossible, by far, to convince congressmen in Washington to pass laws with enforcement powers that would compel the elite to make do with 500 gallons of fuel per year for their daily transportation. Many power boats, jet-skis, quads, private jets and much more would have to be scrapped.

In the meanwhile, let’s keep dumping. Medieval thinking is still on.
(1)    A positive outcome could be the possibility for bike riders or public transit riders to trade their allocated quotas in a second hand market. That would be a payoff for the eco-minded willing to sacrifice on a daily basis in the name of the environment.


  1. I would argue that, if I am quota limited and want to go shopping...the collateral is the economy will suffer. I am not making a correlation between shopping and pollution. This is just an example. Quotas are fine for a well known and controlled group. If it's across the board, no matter how good the end objective it's always going to impact someone in adverse ways

    1. Thanks Pedro. Quotas always impact someone somewhere. Fuel quotas may affect the economy as we know it. I am sure a new economy would grow somewhere else. A controlled transition would be necessary. Think of fishing quotas. Restricting fishing in the high seas should lead to fish farming. New jobs should replace the old ones.

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