Fighting climate change: Is rationing the way forward?
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March 7, 2023
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Fighting climate change: Is rationing the way forward?

Read our latest blog post on how rationing can be an effective tool in the fight against climate change. Visit our page.

Rations: Lessons From The Past

Fighting climate change

A new paper published in the journal, Ethics, Policy and Environment, argues that rationing can help reduce carbon emissions much faster than our current trajectory. The importance of rationing is that it won’t allow rich individuals to buy their right to pollute more and each person would get an equitable portion of resources depending on their need.

Coming to these conclusions, they’ve drawn from historical examples, such as rationing during WW2 in the UK, a compulsive policy which held high public approval precisely because the burden was shared equally, despite personal wealth. They also mention the importance of price control which kept prices within reach of normal citizens, brining the rates of malnutrition down despite scarcity.

The difference now is that there’s no actual scarcity and everything is accessible to us with a click of a button. This creates the illusion that we’re not under dire circumstances where rationing is needed. However, they argue that scarcity in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide we can release in the atmosphere is nonetheless real. They use the recent energy crisis as an example of what can happen when prices run out of control and energy consumption isn’t rationed. The lead researcher, DR Nathan Wood says that:

“The cost-of-living crisis has shown what happens when scarcity drives up prices, with energy prices rising steeply and leaving vulnerable groups unable to pay their bills. Currently, those living in energy poverty cannot use anywhere near their fair share of energy supply, whereas the richest in society are free to use as much energy as they can afford.”

Rationing as a realistic possibility

Fighting climate change

The researchers understand that rationing as a first step would be far too drastic. They propose that governments should first regulate the big polluters and then, gradually, introduce rationing into the conversation. People could get carbon allowances with carbon cards which aren’t tradable but are only to be used per person.

The problem here might be obvious. Climate change isn’t experienced as a war for most of the population. This perception will have ramifications on the public approval of the rationing policy later on. Part of the reason why the public approved their rationing during WW2 was because they knew that the war wouldn’t last forever, that they’d be back to living their lives as usual within a few years. This rationing policy on the other hand, would be permanent and realistically, it would keep getting worse as we move towards the necessary 0 emission goal. Another problem which might affect public approval of the policy is the fact that the war and its consequences were directly felt by the population. There was an immediate impact, urgency and solidarity which formed. The same can not be said about climate change. A lot of people do not feel the consequences of climate change directly. There’s also many which doubt that it is happening in the first place or that it is that serious as to justify the rationing measures. These two elements can create resistance in public approval of the policy even if the policy as such is reasonable. The research still remains realistic and provides a solid path towards our fight against climate change.