If future people had a time machine through which they could buy things from us and send us money for it, what would they buy?
One option would be: coal, petroleum and natural gas. By burning fossil fuels, we are damaging the planet, putting future people into trouble. So if they could, people of the future would have every reason to buy up the stuff to stop us from using it. As a result, the prices for fossil fuels would rise until burning them would become uneconomic.
So, let’s just do it and sell them our fossil fuels (including the mining rights and drilling rights for those fuels that are still underground. Our bad luck is that our planet has so much of the stuff. If we sell it away and thus make it artificially scarce, our energy production systems would automatically be developed into a more sustainable direction. So what are we waiting for?
Wait a minute, you may think, how could we do that? Such a time machine cannot be built. Or can it?
In fact, getting money from the future is fairly easy. Most of us have done it. Get a credit and withdraw money. If you put money into a current account, the account balance is positive. That means the money is flowing into the future. You put it in at one time and then withdraw it at a later time. In a credit account, it is the other way around: you first withdraw the money and then pay it in later. The account balance is negative, and this is indicating that money is flowing from the future to an earlier time.
So the monetary part of the transaction is possible. What about sending the fossil fuels into the future? Well, actually, everything you see around you is “moving” from the past to the future, so sending those things into the future is as easy as putting them into some storage, or simply not digging them out of the ground in the first place, and making sure nobody else does. This has worked very well in the past. For example, the coal we are burning today was deposited in the earth’s crust in the Carboniferous, a time that lasted from about 359 million years ago to about 299 million years ago.
So here is what has to be done:
- An organization has to be founded. You can think of it as a kind of a foundation that is governed by some statutes. Let’s call it the “Carbon Foundation“.
- This organization is allowed by law to take unlimited credit to fulfill its purpose. I am going to talk about this in a moment.
- The organization uses this money to buy large amounts of coal, oil, natural gas, methane hydrate, tar sands etc. as well as the mining and drilling rights for such fuels. It also spends the necessary money to put out underground fires in coal deposits and to pay for guards to guard the materials it has bought, to make sure they are not used.
- By its statutes, the organization is not allowed to sell any of the fossil fuels again and has the obligation to prevent them from being burned, forever. They would stop being fuels.
In order to make the necessary large credits available, some laws have to be changed. For example, laws could be passed to oblige central banks to open credit accounts for the Carbon Foundation and to provide any amount of money necessary for this purpose. The bottom line of this arrangement would be that a very large amount of money would be newly generated.
Would this not cause inflation? Well, yes, of course, that is the purpose of it! Fossil fuels would become very expensive and the Carbon Foundation would only stop buying them when they become so expensive that nobody wants to use them again. Everything depending on burning fossil fuels would become expensive as well, exacting a fast and total change in the energy economy and other aspects of economy. To make the transition less abrupt, the raising of the prices for fossil fuels could be spread over some time to give the economy time to adapt, but it must be raised as quickly as that adaption can possibly be made.
When would those credits have to be paid back? Well, actually not at all. The money comes from future generations and each generation that has to pay the credits back can get the money from the next generation, so effectively we would have a constant stream of money from the indefinite future to that point in the past when the Carbon Foundation took the money out. It would just be an account at the central bank that we could actually forget.
However, the credit taken by the Carbon Foundation need not and must not be counted as part of the public debt of any particular state. We can look at it as capital provided by future generations. What we are doing here is not increasing our debts. Instead, it is foreign commerce, but we are not trading with another country, we are trading with the future. In the case of debts, we take money out that we have to pay back in the future. In the case of trade with the future, people from the distant future send money to us and can always shift this on to the next generation, so we should conceptually separate this idea from the idea of a credit or debt. We should stop thinking of it as a credit.
A large balance on such an account means that there is a wide stream of money from the future to the past. In return something valuable moves in the other direction (like a planet earth that has been saved from destruction). So if the balance on such an account is large, that does not mean that we have a problem (like in the case of debt). Instead it means that we have very large values that are being passed on to future generations, instead of exploiting them by passing on a destroyed planet.
Real economic growth is not the growth in the speed of using up the resources (as we have it now) but the growth of that value that we pass to the next generation (and that is negative at the moment). What I am proposing here is breaking the rules of our current economy but this economy is breaking our planet, so new views, new ideas and a new way of looking at things are necessary.
What is practically required here is only that some of the rich states actually pass the necessary laws to implement such a scheme.
It is necessary, it is possible. What are we waiting for?
(The image, showing a piece of coal, is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coal.jpg)