WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM Says COVID-19 Response Was ‘The Test of Social Responsibility,’ Pushes Mandatory ‘Personal Carbon Allowances’

In a new online post the World Economic Forum says that the COVID-19 pandemic was a “test of social responsibility” for people and claims now is the perfect time to push for mandatory “personal carbon allowances” that would severely limit individuals’ mobility and consumption habits.

In a new online post titled “‘My Carbon’: An approach for inclusive and sustainable cities” the World Economic Forum (WEF)—an international non-governmental and lobbying organization based in Geneva, Switzerland—outlines how it believes “COVID-19 was the test of social responsibility” for people around the globe. In the post, the organization, which has intimate ties to the highest levels of government leadership in numerous countries, says the response to the pandemic has thusly helped to prepare people to accept mandatory “tradable carbon allowances” that “would entail all adults receiving an equal, tradable carbon allowance that reduces over time in line with national targets.”

In referring to COVID-19 as “the test of social responsibility” for people the WEF notes there were “A huge number of unimaginable restrictions for public health… adopted by billions of citizens across the world,” including social distancing, wearing masks, mass vaccinations and acceptance of contact-tracing applications for public health. All of which “demonstrated the core of individual social responsibility.”

Image: World Economic Forum / Accenture

With that demonstration of mass compliance in mind the WEF calls for the introduction of personal carbon allowances (or PCAs), a mitigation policy proposal developed in the 1990s. The organization links to a December 2021 white paper published in Nature Sustainability authored by Associate Professor and Director of the KTH Climate Action Center Francesco Fuso Nerini et al. which describes possibilities for PCAs and states, in part, that:

“In [the context of a post-COVID world], the introduction of personal carbon allowances (PCAs), a mitigation policy proposal developed in the 1990s is ripe for revisitation. This policy aims to link personal action with global carbon reduction goals. A PCA scheme would entail all adults receiving an equal, tradable carbon allowance that reduces over time in line with national targets. In its original design, the allowance could cover around 40% of energy-related carbon emissions in high-income countries, encompassing individuals’ carbon emissions relating to travel, space heating, water heating and electricity. Allowances were envisioned to be deducted from the personal budget with every payment for transport fuel, home-heating fuels and electricity bills. People in shortage would be able to purchase additional units in the personal carbon market from those with excess to sell.”

The paper by Nerini et al. goes on to say that “during the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions on individuals for the sake of public health, and forms of individual accountability and responsibility that were unthinkable only one year before, have been adopted by millions of people… [which means that] People may be more prepared to accept the tracking and limitations related to PCAs to achieve a safer climate and the many other benefits (for example, reduced air pollution and improved public health) associated with addressing the climate crisis.” (Nerini et al. specifically refer to “Several variations of mandatory PCAs” in their paper.)

The WEF also highlights how the so-called “fourth industrial revolution” could help to usher in PCAs that “enable tracking personal carbon emissions, raise awareness and also provide individual advisories on lower carbon and ethical choices for consumption of product and services.” The organization notes, more specifically, that artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, smart home technologies, etc. could aid in the development of “personalized apps” that would work as PCA trackers.

Image: World Economic Forum / Svalna

The WEF notes specifically that “AI can… help strengthen circular economy business models like product as a service models, demand predictions, and smart asset management by combining real time and historical data from products and users.” It offers Svalna—a Swedish app that combines banking data with consumption data—as one example of a personalized app that utilizes AI to track an individual’s carbon footprint (i.e. how much carbon one ostensibly uses to do things like eat, drive, fly, etc.).

In this vein Nerini et al.’s white paper notes that “machine-learning algorithms could be trained to automatically gather all the available information on someone’s emissions, and to fill data gaps and accurately estimate an individual’s carbon emissions on the basis of limited data inputs such as stops at petrol stations, check-ins at venues and travel histories.” The authors also say that “Algorithms in [these kinds of] apps can intelligently understand the mode of transport on the basis of the user’s speed and trajectory, and can estimate food-related emissions on the basis of purchasing habits.”

Image: World Economic Forum

“More importantly,” the paper goes on to note, “machine learning could also support our understanding of what information and advice are most effective for promoting behavior change through PCAs” and allow for “the use of virtual agents [that] could help refine the type of information that users are shown to manage and reduce their carbon emissions.”

The WEF says that PCA apps would be interwoven with “sustainable cities” and “smart communities” to bring about this supposedly carbon-neutral world. And while the organization doesn’t define those two terms exactly in the post, presumably the WEF is talking about cities and communities that use digital technology—including the internet of things (IoT)—to generate a complete surveillance state that knows exactly what every individual is doing literally all the time.

If that idea sounds worrisome, you are not alone. A cursory search of Twitter, for example, turns up a large number of people who don’t want to be tracked by any of these apps or other so-called “smart” technologies. The idea of a personal carbon allowance seems to be especially repulsive for many people, particularly because they believe it will be coupled with central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).

Indeed, it is more than easy to conceive of that possibility, as researchers at MIT are already working on a CBDC platform for the U.S., and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has already said the novel digital currency won’t be anonymized. It is only a short leap from there to surmise that the U.S. could easily end up with the kind of “social credit score” system that has already been deployed in China.

Furthermore, neither the WEF, nor the white paper in Nature Sustainability, addresses a crucial point: What if somebody runs out of their carbon allowance and doesn’t have the funds to purchase more of them? Are they simply supposed to cease all movement and… what? Stand in place until they starve to death? Not to mention the scheme would, seemingly, allow for the wealthiest members of society to live just as lavishly as they ever have as they could just continuously buy more and more credits. And we all know how much members of the so-called “elite” love to pollute.

Feature image: Etienne Girardet

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