Figuring in the Social Cost of Carbon

Let’s assume I want to plan a return journey from London to Edinburgh (city center to city center), going up on the Friday and coming back on the Monday. I’ve got 3 choices – to drive, fly or take the train – and the journey is in about 10 day’s times, so the cost of the train and flying are reasonable. I do some basic research in terms of journey times and cost on the internet.

CostTime (one way)CO2Cost with CO2
Car (small, petrol)£1307 h 25 min147 Kg£181
Train £1365 h70 Kg£150
Flight£1504 h202 Kg * 1.9£283

The costs aren’t very different, but the flight is slightly more expensive. Even allowing for travelling between the city center and the airport, it is slightly faster. It’s not obvious which method is best – e.g. my choice might depend on whether having my car in Edinburgh is helpful or a hassle.

I don’t need to consider the carbon footprint of my choice because I don’t have to pay the cost of my pollution. If I had to pay the social cost of carbon on top of what I’m charged, then I’m forced to consider my pollution. I’ve done this using a figure of £347 per tonne of CO2 and I factored in the extra high altitude pollution of planes ( they ‘pollute’ more than their CO2 footprint by a factor of 1.9.). This makes the train clearly the cheapest option and flying clearly the most expensive option. 

I’m not sure how I would choose in the ‘with CO2’ and ‘without CO2’ cases, but adding in the social cost of CO2 certainly increases the chance I’ll make a good ecological choice. Enterprises are very sensitive to profit margins and their decisions are likely to be influenced by how pollution is taxed – e.g. whether to generate electricity via renewables or via fossil fuels.

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