Domestic capital equipment and good manners

Sharing capital equipment could be a handy way of cutting emissions. Domestic capital equipment (DCE) has very low utilisation rates and so it would make sense to share it more.

There are five houses in this terrace in Shrewsbury each with a small garden at the back. Each garden needs, at different times of the year, digging, raking, cutting, mowing, clipping, pruning, sawing, chopping, and forking. For each there is a set of tools. In fact, there are five sets of tools, pretty much the same.

One set of tools would suffice for the whole row. Why not do it? By today’s customs it would be very unusually to suggest and operate a system of sharing gardening tools.

More important and more challenging would be a single heating system for the row, potentially fired by biomass. It would be technically feasible and economically rational but it would trip over the outstretched foot of custom. All the objections (what happens when something goes wrong; how do you access the boiler when the host is away; what happens if someone doesn’t pay…) can be soundly addressed technically and financially. Yet there’s a force much stronger than technology and money at work here. It’s the way of doing things, our culture, the constraints of good manners.

One way of getting people to share DCE is to put the price of carbon up. At a very high carbon price it will be so expensive to buy a garden spade that it will make more sense to share one with your neighbour. Ditto the heating system. But you’d need a carbon price of (I guess) a couple of hundred £/$/€ per tonne to get people to think that way. An alternative is to try and make it culturally desirable to share equipment and foster sharing through marketing, example, education and using laws to clarify the status of sharing. It would be a series of “nudges”*. With these nudges you might be able to save a lot of money and avoid resorting to absurdly high carbon prices.

* “Nudges” as in Nudge by Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein.

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