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Would you pay a voluntary fine based on your monthly energy consumption? Well, not a fine exactly, but a membership subscription to a climate change charity? In Hungary, the members of an organisation called Carbonarium keep track of their own CO2 emissions, compare them with one another, implement mitigation measures and pay membership fees based on their calculated CO2 emissions. The more carbon you use, the more you pay to the charity.

The more carbon you use, the more you pay to the charity.

It’s an ambitious strategy to encourage individuals to take seriously their role in cutting consumption, and is built on its members’ sense of commitment and personal responsibility. It is an entirely voluntary commitment, and presumably, one could default on payment of the membership fee, or leave the organisation at any time, but nevertheless, it’s quite a remarkable commitment to make.

The payment of fees seems quite extreme, and for most people, the idea of having to pay extra precisely because your gas bill has been higher is presumably not terribly tempting. For me, the payment of the fees seems like it might be a peripheral element to what makes this approach particularly compelling.

I for one have no idea what my personal carbon emissions might be in any given month. I would probably estimate that I’m better than average – I cycle to work, don’t eat much meat, and prefer to wear a jumper than have the heating on – but in concrete terms, I have no idea how I’m doing. Maybe all my cycling to work is cancelled out by several annual flights.

If I was armed with hard facts about my own consumption, I’m sure I’d get quite fired up about making more changes and improving my performance. Even more so if my stats were up for comparison with the people in my various social networks, and an element of competition and social pressure came into play.

I don’t burn coal, but if I did, I think I’d struggle to know how many tonnes I used

However, calculating carbon footprints is a fairly slippery and inaccurate process.  Although there are online tools available, they tend to be offputtingly laborious to complete, and some fields are pretty mysterious – I don’t burn coal, but if I did, I think I’d struggle to know how many tonnes I used.

So while I like the idea of having the data about my own carbon use in order to track it and try to reduce it, for me to actually keep regular records I’d need a really user friendly and effortless tool to help me do it. There must be a smartphone app somewhere that does the job. Imagine if keeping track was commonplace, and stats were freely available to view on social network platforms. It wouldn’t take long before we were all doing more than we are now to cut our carbon ratings and I reckon that social pressure would rival those fines in Hungary in terms of getting us to stick to it.


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