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The New Home Front is nigh…

Poster from the United Kingdom reading "K...

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I have become convinced that the combination of catastrophic climate change and the energy crunch initiated by peak oil are now such dire threats to the UK that personal carbon trading – as exemplified by schemes such as TEQs – is the most effective and immediate tool available to ensure that there is a rapid, but controlled, way of reducing fossil fuel carbon emissions towards the levels necessary for a quick transition to a zero-carbon economy that is resilient enough to withstand the economic shocks of a world significantly altered by the collapse of free-market globalisation. TEQs represent a fair and equitable method of energy rationing which allows the impact of reduced energy consumption to become progressively much lower upon lower-income groups than it is upon higher income groups, who generally consume much more carbon energy than lower-income groups anyway. Moreover, lower-income groups have the opportunity to trade unused energy quotas by selling them to, for example, higher-income groups, thereby standing to gain significantly from what is effectively a redistribution of wealth from the higher energy-consuming sectors of society to the lower-consuming sectors.

I am also convinced that the UK government will be compelled by the force of events spiralling out of their control to introduce energy rationing of this sort at short notice, and will mount an intense media campaign to win public support for it, no doubt invoking the spirit of wartime Britain to justify the need for such drastic state intervention. This campaign could not win on its own, but the public, too, would by then be well-educated about the need to ration carbon energy by the same force of events. For example, the periodic eruption of fuel protests by sectors of society adversely impacted by rising petrol prices, such as truck-drivers, will force the government to deal with severely disruptive blockades of crucial infrastructure, such as oil refineries (as happened with devastating effect in 2000), and probably have to reduce, or postpone increases in, the fuel duty and taxes levied on petrol in order to keep the price low enough to stop, or prevent, fuel protests. This would severely impact on government tax revenue, with a consequent impact upon government spending programmes, and such a long-running guerilla war over petrol prices would be too damaging to both government and society, as well as fail to deal with the need to reduce petrol consumption, because once the price of petrol drops again to remove the threat of fuel protests, then consumption of fuel will remain stubbornly too high whilst fuel poverty will still increase. This is one kind of scenario which I envisage could facilitate both the UK government and the public to consider a much fairer way of reducing fuel consumption whilst ensuring that sectors of society much more dependent on fuel than others, such as commercial road hauliers are not too severely impacted on the energy descent curve. I’m pretty convinced that only dire political and social unrest of the kind that ‘fuel protests’ stir up would convince most people that a ‘wartime’ scale of intervention at a national level is needed urgently. And once such energy rationing is initiated, then personal carbon trading itself stimulates economic growth through the economic activity it generates, but it will be growth that benefits the emerging green economy, not the carbon-dependent one. Furthermore, the resultant rapid decrease in carbon energy consumption helps to ensure that the UK meets its carbon emissions reduction targets, and also establishes the UK as a world leader in the task of reducing emissions globally.

Certainly there is polling evidence, from organisations such as the IPPR, that personal carbon trading would be much preferred by the public to green taxes such as those on petrol and diesel, which are naturally seen  as regressive in nature (people rich enough to afford 4×4 vehicles or SUVs are much more likely to be able to afford to keep buying petrol at high prices than motorists driving much cheaper cars). And historian Mark Roodhouse has a fascinating analysis of how rationing was successfully introduced and implemented in Britain during the Second World War, and how the history of that period provides useful lessons and ideas for ensuring the successful introduction of carbon energy rationing now. Furthermore, the UK Green Party has a very readable and interesting report that it commissioned from Andrew Simms of  nef, called The New Home Front, in which he analyses the experience of British society under the Home Front economy of the Second World War in order to show how successful that economy was in not only reducing consumption but in improving health and well-being generally despite the hardships of rationing. One of his conclusions is that:

“The New Home Front, responding to climate change, energy security, peak oil and threats to the food chain, presents the next battle line. The experience of war economies needs to inform current plans for necessary, rapid transition. The most effective policies and approaches should be re-interpreted for today and built into our programmes with an enabling regulatory environment, targets, timetables and appropriate resources”.

He also makes an additional point, which I find very compelling: there are still many people alive now, my own mother amongst them, who can vividly remember their experiences of living in the war-time Britain of their youth, and whose stories can give both invaluable advice and inspiration to the younger generations of today about how to enjoy life with less, and how to adapt quickly but happily to a less energy-intensive lifestyle of lower consumption. When it comes to surviving the next few years of tumultuous change, we are indeed “all in it together”, and we can learn from our elders in ways we never thought we would. That would be an example of the real Big Society in action!

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