Carbon Copies?

As we come to terms with the lifestyle changes that will be forced on us by impending climate change, Mark Roodhouse of Rescue!History, an informal network concerned with historical issues related to the climate change agenda, looks at how a previous generation coped with limited supplies of fuel.

Rationing has made an unexpected return to the political agenda as politicians grapple with the problem of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Along with taxes on aviation and motoring, changes in building regulations, and road pricing, carbon rationing is receiving serious consideration as a policy instrument to cap and then cut consumption of energy from non-renewable sources. In July 2006 the Environment Secretary David Miliband floated the idea of individual carbon allowances. Every adult would receive an annual allowance of carbon points to spend on motor fuel, gas and electricity for personal transport and household energy. Every unit of energy would have a points value, and consumers would pay for each unit in cash and points. The government would fix the size of individual allocations and set the points value of units of motor fuel and household fuel. Although the parallels with the austerity policies of 1940s Britain are not lost on political commentators, contemporary discussion of carbon rationing is not informed by this experience. Though they would be well advised to dust off the internal histories of clothes rationing and petrol rationing as they contemplate schemes for carbon rationing, today’s policymakers have not read the internal histories of rationing in which officials recorded the lessons of the war economy.

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