If all the collective pledges made the Copenhagen Accord to cut carbon were actually carried out, the result would still be 4 degrees of warming, recent analysis shows. (The vast majority of scientists agree that we must stay below a 2 degrees threshold to avoid uncontrollable climate change. )
These facts can feel hopeless and worrying for many people. So I hope they are somewhat heartened, as I was, by a new report and campaign showing how the UK has encountered terrifying challenges and profound reluctance to tackle them before – and turned things round.
The New Home Front, launched recently at the Imperial War Museum, and commissioned by Green MP Caroline Lucas, draws parallels between where we are now and the late 1930s. Read it here: Then, as now, politician of all parties ignored an imminent threat (then: war in Europe now: climate change) and used the excuses that there was not enough money to pay for proper defences, and that the British public would not support a government that took tough measures. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
By the end of the 30’s, says the report, ‘public opinion was far ahead of [the] government in demanding tough measures’ and in the end it took a different kind of leader, Churchill, to take the necessary action.
There are other parallels too, the report shows. People were called upon to become self-sufficient – and they did so, in a big way. In just six years from 1938, British homes cut their coal use by 11 million tonnes, a reduction of 25 per cent. Meanwhile, food consumption fell 11 per cent by 1944 from before the war, ‘but thanks to a scientifically planned national food policy’, the population’s health got better. Use of household electrical appliances dropped 82 per cent. And the nation got behind rationing because they knew it was a fairer way to deal with food scarcity than relying on prices.
The public has and will support tough measures, so long as they’re fair, argues the report: ‘rationing and conscription were introduced as much in response to popular pressure from below as it was to a desire for national controls from above.’ And it wasn’t all sacrifice: state intervention during those years meant that infant mortality dropped, the nation’s health improved, and more people enjoyed art and culture for the first time with attendance on theatre and cinemas all increasing.
Today, many groups across the UK are leading the way to a new Home Front, not least the Transition Town movement, the report acknowledges. One under-publicised group is The Women’s Environmental Movement, through its network of local groups and its innovative Three Tonne Club, which helps people shed the tonnes of carbon necessary to secure a stable future. Just as slimming clubs help thousands of people to achieve and maintain their target weight, the Three Tonne Club helps people slim down their carbon footprint. You weigh yourself in at the first session, and follow-up monthly meetings focus on individual topics such as home energy, air travel or food, so that members can share problems and solutions. You can start your own group and download a copy of the Three Tonne Handbook here for free: 3TC-Handbook. Go to WEN’s website for more: http://www.wen.org.uk/resources/ They can also put you in touch with local groups in your area.
Some local authorities and enlightened companies are also planning ahead. Together all of these elements need to become a force that convinces the political classes that genuine action is possible, says the report, and its publication is the kickstart to that process. Over the next six months the New Home Front initiative will gather experiences of those who lived through the war to find practical ways to reduce waste and end our dependence on scarce resources. They’re also running a design competition to re-imagine some of the wartime poster and public education campaigns to help today’s society understand the dangers of climate change, and what they can do to help. Go to the website here: http://www.newhomefront.org/