The most effective things you can do about the three most important win-win-win measures

In a previous article I described the three most important win-win-win measures: veganism (avoiding animal products), family planning (avoiding unwanted pregnancies) and a green tax shift with a basic income.

In this article I focus on the most important things an individual can do about those three issues. Each individual has first of all a strong duty not to cause harm and secondly a (weaker) opportunity to help.


Duty: be vegan in order to avoid animal rights violations, unnecessary welfare loss and unnecessary biodiversity loss.

Opportunity: be a vegan advocate and donate money to the most effective animal charities doing vegan outreach, such as Mercy for Animals, the Humane League and Animal Equality.

Family planning

Duty: abstain from unsafe or coerced sex in order to avoid women rights violations and unwanted pregnancies.

Opportunity: donate money to effective family planning charities such as Marie Stopes International, or the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

Green tax shift and basic income

Duty: save resources (e.g. food, energy, water) and donate the saved money (minimum 700 euro per year for an average European person) to effective organizations such as GiveDirectly, giving unconditional basic income to the poorest people.

Opportunity: promote a green tax shift by political lobbying and supporting organizations such as the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy. Save more on resources and donate extra money to other effective charities.

Why do we have a duty to save resources and donate the saved money to e.g. GiveDirectly? Ideally, we would have an international system of green taxation (taxing the use of natural resources and the emission of pollutants) that finances a universal, unconditional basic income. This system is necessary to respect everyone’s equal right to natural resources. However, as long as such a system is not in place, voluntary measures (individual duties) are necessary.

One example of a natural resource is the Earth’s capacity to assimilate CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Everyone has an equal right to this finite capacity. But the current economic system involves a market failure: property rights are not properly distributed. This property right to the Earth’s atmosphere and assimilation capacity corresponds with an emission permit, the right to emit an amount of greenhouse gases.

To restore the market of emission permits, we can introduce a global cap-auction-dividend-trade system. First we place a cap on the global emissions based on biophysical limits. This cap reflects the maximum amount of emission permits for greenhouse gases that we can emit in order to avoid e.g. a 1,5°C global warming. Then an international governmental body auctions the emission permits. Those revenues can be distributed as a global dividend: a universal basic income. Under this cap-auction-dividend system, the revenues of the auction do not go to governments or private companies but to citizens in the form of dividends, distributed equally among everyone. Finally, people buying emission permits can also trade those permits, to allow for an efficient carbon market.

In an efficient market and with sufficient knowledge of an efficient carbon price, this system is equivalent to a carbon tax system where greenhouse gas emissions are taxed at a tax rate that corresponds with the cap, and the tax revenues are equitably distributed as a basic income.

An average person in a rich Western country emits roughly 15 ton CO2-equivalents per year. The current (2016) price of an efficient carbon tax (or emission permit) would be about 80 €/ton CO2, increasing yearly with 5 €/ton CO2 (hence reaching e.g. 100 €/ton CO2 in 2020) in order to linearly decrease emissions to zero before 2060.[1] That means an average person in a rich country has to pay 1200 € for emission permits in 2016. By 2020 s/he has to pay more than 1500 € if s/he still emits 15 ton CO2.

In an international cap-auction-dividend-trade system, those revenues are equally distributed. This results in a basic income of 500€/year for everyone. Hence, the net payment of an average person in a rich country will be 700 € in 2016. What does this mean? It actually means that in the current situation, that person is stealing emission permits worth 700 € from the poorest people (the people who have the lowest levels of CO2 emissions). The rich person acquires a part of the global assimilation capacity without having to pay for it and excludes the poorest persons from this global natural resource. The 700 € corresponds with a fee to the poorest people. That is why even in a current system without carbon taxation or cap-auction-trade, the rich persons have a duty to pay 700 € in 2016. If the rich person does not decrease its emissions and emits 15 tons of CO2 every year and if we want to limit global emissions such that the global temperature increase will be below 1,5°C, then each year the rich person has to pay 100 € more. In 2017 s/he has to pay 800 €, in 2018 s/he has to pay 900 €, and so on (leveling off at 4500 € by 2060).

This money should be distributed as a basic income. One organization that effectively gives money from donations as an unconditional basic income to the poorest people, is GiveDirectly. And as a bonus, randomized controlled trials have shown that GiveDirectly is very cost-efficient in terms of economic development and poverty reduction. It is one of the top charities according to charity evaluator GiveWell.

Donating money is a duty, because it is a matter of justice: rich people are stealing emission permits from poor people. Rich people exclude poor people from the Earth’s supply of natural resources, without paying compensation for the exclusive ownership that one acquires. The donation is a remuneration for this involuntary exclusion. The 700 € corresponds with only the carbon emissions. We also use other natural resources (fuels, minerals, land…), excluding the poorest people to their right of usage, without paying the poorest people a remuneration fee. So in reality rich persons have to pay more than 700 €.

For an average person in the rich countries, it is feasible to donate 700 € by saving resources: reduce energy use (electricity, heating energy, car fuel), reduce food waste, reduce water consumption and avoid buying too much new products (buy more second hand, repair goods, borrow products). These measures save lots of money and reduce the carbon footprint of a person. The average economic carbon intensity is about 1 kg CO2/euro in 2016, which means that if a household buys products and services for 1000 €, its carbon footprint increases on average with 1 ton CO2. Conversely, saving 700 € will also save on average 0,7 ton CO2. The carbon intensities of energy (fuels, electricity) and food (especially animal products) are much higher than 1 kg CO2/euro, so a saving of 700 € on fossil fuels and animal products will result in an emission reduction of more than 1 ton CO2.

By donating this saved money to charities like GiveDirectly, the rebound effect is avoided: the money is not used by the rich people for extra consumptions that have a high carbon footprint, such as air travel. It is a very efficient win-win measure to decrease the carbon footprint of rich persons and increase the economic welfare of the poor persons. Save resources to save lives.

[1] These values are very rough estimates of an efficient carbon price, based on the high damage scenario under random estimated climate sensitivity in: Simon Dietz & Nicholas Stern (2014). Endogenous growth, convexity of damages and climate risk: how Nordhaus’ framework supports deep cuts in carbon emissions. Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, Working Paper No. 180

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Een reactie op The most effective things you can do about the three most important win-win-win measures

  1. Pingback: On GMOs and effective environmentalism | Stijn Bruers, the rational ethicist

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