The New Home Front

Most people are concerned about the climate change threat and know that not enough is being done enough to avert it. And yet our politicians dither and fail to act.

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/

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One Response to The New Home Front

  1. m says:

    This is interesting but I’m not sure WW2 is the right analogy.
    I think a lot of people were with Chamberlain in his efforts to avoid a war. People didn’t want a return to the slaughter of the First World War and the very real (they thought) possibility of poison gas. After the war started and before the fall of France there were lots of calls for peace negotiations for local Labour parties.
    It was only after the bombs starting raining down and invasion was imminent that there was a real change in public opinion. Churchill was a war leader in the way that Chamberlain wasn’t. But in lots of ways public opinion was way ahead of Churchill in 1940-42. No return to mass unemployment, bad housing, health services you couldn’t afford. If you read George Orwell’s diaries, such was the change, he really thought there would be a revolution. You could argue that the whole mixed economy/welfare state approach of British govt up until Thatcher, was created by that change of public opinion in 1940-42.
    But that change was brought about by war being right in front of your eyes, or coming down from above. I don’t think climate change has reached anything like the same impact at the moment. It’s still mainly about what will happen in the future, which can be ignored.

    There is a different analogy relevant to today – the Geat Depression. Take the USA. Roosevelt said in 1933 that if the private sector couldn’t provide jobs (unemployment was 25 per cent), the state would. And in 1934 he created the Civilian Conservation Corps, which created the US national parks and the WPA. The WPA involved giving a job to every poet, singer, painter and organising them into troupes that went around the US takiing art to cities, towns, and villages around the country. The relevance here is that there were so many things that needed doing, that the private sector couldn’t or wouldn’t do, that these agencies started doing. And people involved were paid a wage, they WEREN’T VOLUNTEERS.

    You can see an American economist, Richard Wolff, talking about them here (from 1h 27 mins): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6DLT9MHO4M&feature=relmfu

    It is however, worth being in mind, that these programmes didn’t end the Depression. That was ended by the Second World War

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