ArticlePDF Available

Is the UK preparing for “war”? Military metaphors, personal carbon allowances, and consumption rationing in historical perspective


Abstract and Figures

Metaphors are essential devices for fostering collective understanding and forging political commitment across diverse constituencies. Due to the ineffectualness of prevailing linguistic representations of climate change, discursive entrepreneurs have begun to invoke over the last few years new imagery that frames the challenge as tantamount to a protracted state of armed hostility. This process of rhetorical militarization has been most prominent in the UK and it is subsequently creating opportunities for policy makers to propose greenhouse gas-reduction strategies that are reminiscent of wartime austerity programs. A particular approach that has attracted considerable interest is consumer regulation involving the imposition of annual quotas on personal carbon emissions. This idea is best understood as a variant of the comprehensive civilian rationing programs that were deployed during and after World War II. Because any eventual scheme to reduce greenhouse gas production at the individual level will require consummate public legitimacy, this historical experience can serve as a useful reference point for the design of contemporary interventions. To this end, the discussion highlights the methods that the British government used to sustain compliance with the war and postwar consumption control regimes. Of special interest is the role that black market trading and other illicit forms of commerce played during these periods. The conclusion reflects on the status of consumerism in contemporary lifestyles, considers the risks of political interference with consumer prerogatives, and draws some insights from this earlier experience with rationing
Content may be subject to copyright.
1 23
Climatic Change
An Interdisciplinary,
International Journal Devoted
to the Description, Causes and
Implications of Climatic Change
ISSN 0165-0009
Volume 104
Number 2
Climatic Change (2009)
DOI 10.1007/s10584-009-9785-
Is the UK preparing for “war”? Military
metaphors, personal carbon allowances,
and consumption rationing in historical
1 23
Your article is protected by copyright and
all rights are held exclusively by Springer
Science+Business Media B.V.. This e-offprint
is for personal use only and shall not be self-
archived in electronic repositories. If you
wish to self-archive your work, please use the
accepted author’s version for posting to your
own website or your institution’s repository.
You may further deposit the accepted author’s
version on a funder’s repository at a funder’s
request, provided it is not made publicly
available until 12 months after publication.
Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222
DOI 10.1007/s10584-009-9785-x
Is the UK preparing for “war”? Military metaphors,
personal carbon allowances, and consumption rationing
in historical perspective
Maurie J. Cohen
Received: 28 March 2009 / Accepted: 7 December 2009 / Published online: 16 January 2010
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009
Abstract Metaphors are essential devices for fostering collective understand-
ing and forging political commitment across diverse constituencies. Due to the
ineffectualness of prevailing linguistic representations of climate change, discursive
entrepreneurs have begun to invoke over the last few years new imagery that
frames the challenge as tantamount to a protracted state of armed hostility. This
process of rhetorical militarization has been most prominent in the UK and it is
subsequently creating opportunities for policy makers to propose greenhouse gas-
reduction strategies that are reminiscent of wartime austerity programs. A particular
approach that has attracted considerable interest is consumer regulation involving
the imposition of annual quotas on personal carbon emissions. This idea is best
understood as a variant of the comprehensive civilian rationing programs that were
deployed during and after World War II. Because any eventual scheme to reduce
greenhouse gas production at the individual level will require consummate public
legitimacy, this historical experience can serve as a useful reference point for the
design of contemporary interventions. To this end, the discussion highlights the
methods that the British government used to sustain compliance with the war and
postwar consumption control regimes. Of special interest is the role that black
market trading and other illicit forms of commerce played during these periods.
The conclusion reflects on the status of consumerism in contemporary lifestyles,
considers the risks of political interference with consumer prerogatives, and draws
some insights from this earlier experience with rationing.
M. J. Cohen (B)
Graduate Program in Environmental Policy Studies, New Jersey Institute of Technology,
University Heights, Newark, NJ 07102, USA
Author's personal copy
200 Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222
People that have been in Downing Street over the years have faced issues to
do with the Cold War, the Depression and the rise of fascism. Climate change
is a bit of a different type of challenge but a challenge I believe is the biggest
long-term threat facing our world.
—Former Prime Minister Tony Blair (2007)1
1 Introduction
Metaphors play an indispensible role in developing collective understanding and the
use of bellicose imagery often provides an especially expedient way to distill complex
political challenges into more readily graspable concepts (Lakoff and Johnson 2003;
Meierhenrich 2006). At different times and places, policy makers have launched
symbolic wars against a broad range of targets including alcoholism, smoking,
homelessness, illicit drug use, and, more recently, both “terror” and corruption
(Skirrow 1986; Greenberg 1995; Breakley 1997; Blendon and Young 1998;Sarbin
2003; Heineman and Heimann 2006). In what is perhaps the most famous deployment
of this strategy, President Lyndon Johnson sought during the 1960s to generate
momentum for his plan to uplift poor Americans out of indigence by characterizing
his administration’s multipronged strategy as a “war on poverty” (Duggan 2003).
Experience suggests that the use of militaristic representations can be an effective
device with which to convey seriousness of purpose, to marshal financial resources, to
disable opponents, and to mobilize diverse constituencies behind a common banner.
Martial language can also communicate a political message that success may take
time and that public sacrifice may be required as part of the struggle.
Politics is not the only arena for engaging in metaphoric warfare. Over the years,
scientists have led their own symbolic battles with the medical specialties evincing the
greatest inclination to deploy such strategies (Hodgkin 1985; Arrigo 1999). The war
against cancer has, of course, been a prominent, exhausting and, at times, contentious
campaign (Penson et al. 2004; Reisfield and Wilson 2004; Faguet 2005). Its slow
pace, though, has not discouraged researchers from opening new fronts against other
conditions such as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), severe acute
respiratory syndrome (SARS), and obesity (Rovner 1997;Friedman2003;Chiang
and Duann 2007). Even the infirmities of old age have inspired some proponents of
life-extension to call for their own military mobilization (Vincent 2007). In a related
vein, veterinarian science has instigated wars against forbidding contagions like foot-
and-mouth disease and avian flu (Nerlich 2006; Nerlich and Halliday 2007).
Although they have not enjoyed the same public visibility as the figurative
warriors fighting on the battlefields of social policy and human and animal medicine,
environmental scientists also have a long tradition of relying on bellicose imagery
to give tangible form to abstract phenomena in nature (Worster 1992; Golley 1993;
Bocking 1997; Carolan 2006). Darwinian conceptions of competitive selection have
been at the heart of the most prevalent mental models for more than a century
and continue to have pervasive influence on public discourse (Al-Zahrani 2008).
1Quoted in Churcher (2007).
Author's personal copy
Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222 201
Current debates surrounding biodiversity, in particular the threat of invasive species
to indigenous flora and fauna, are regularly constructed around notions of war
(Larson 2005;Larsonetal.2005).
This article commences with a discussion of “discursive entrepreneurship” and
the increasing use of militaristic representations to characterize the challenges of
reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This trend is most readily apparent in the UK
where a recognizable group of public figures has begun in recent years to call for a
“war against climate change” and to employ terminology that evokes the country’s
steadfastness during World War II. While some observers may be inclined to dismiss
this language as insipid political rhetoric, such a critique fails to recognize the
profound implications that conceptual reinterpretation of environmental uncertainty
can precipitate over the longer term (Aaltola 1999; Lindenbaum 2001). It is accord-
ingly useful to keep in mind that ambitious geoengineering strategies like carbon
capture and storage were dismissed a decade ago as unrealistic interventions, but are
today regarded as a pragmatic part of virtually any climate mitigation policy program
(Schrag 2007). It is moreover conceivable that these efforts to reframe climate change
as tantamount to war will gain greater political salience as unambiguous evidence of
climatic warming becomes more readily apparent in coming years.
The following section first describes how “discursive entrepreneurs” in the An-
glophone countries have been invoking martial metaphors to reframe the public
discussion on climate change and then highlights the unique prominence of this
terminological shift in the UK. The third section discusses how this conceptual con-
nection between anthropogenic greenhouse gases and armed conflict is contributing
to the creation of a political context that facilitates consideration of quintessentially
wartime-like policy proposals. The incipient debate has to date centered most
notably on consumer regulation in the form of personal carbon rationing. To
demonstrate the historical relevance of this development, the fourth section provides
a précis on consumer regulation in Britain during and after World War II. The fifth
section describes some of the perverse effects of this consumption control regime
and outlines specifically the role of black market trading. The conclusion reviews the
lessons that this experience holds for the formulation of contemporary initiatives to
devise consumer regulations to mitigate climate change.
2 Climate change as tantamount to war
Popular understanding of the complex science surrounding climate change has been
extensively shaped over the past two decades by a variety of metaphors including
hothouses, boiled frogs, coalmine canaries, heat-trapping blankets, sinks, sponges,
and conveyor belts (Schneider 1989,2010;Wiman1995; Gelbspan 1998; Brüning and
Lohmann 1999; Leggett 2001; Dessler and Parson 2006; Somerville 2006; Penning-
Rowsell et al. 2006; Judge 2007; Bostrom 2008; Egger 2008;Cojanu2008; Hamblyn
2009). One influential line of critique focuses on the generally low salience of
these symbolic images—especially in contrast to the illustrative power of an “ozone
hole”—and holds that slow progress on a substantive international agreement is
at least partly due to this weakness (Ungar 2000,2003). As the scientific case for
severe climate change-induced impacts has strengthened in recent years (IPCC 2007;
Stern 2007), “discursive entrepreneurs” have intensified their efforts to introduce
Author's personal copy
202 Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222
new linguistic models to reconceptualize the urgency of the problem. The notion of
discursive entrepreneurship refers to the capacity of publicly influential individuals
to use rhetorical means to legitimatize certain normative claims and to connect
these commitments to the larger political order (Holzscheiter 2004; Langenohl 2008;
see also Litfin 1994; Hajer 1995; Lindseth 2005). In its extreme form, competing
groups engage in adversarial politics with the singular aim of advancing their own
interests (or at least protecting previous gains). “Evidence” under such circumstances
is heavily contested and veracity is determined through the mobilization of political
resources. The deployment of metaphors with high public resonance can be a useful
way to engage in this type of claims-making (Dryzek 2005).
The news media is one channel that discursive entrepreneurs rely upon to re-
configure policy discussions, though experience demonstrates that this process can be
unpredictable at times. While there has been important improvement in recent years
at elite publications, most journalists have a hard time digesting nuanced scientific
subjects and rendering them into readily readable content. A further problem, as
has been frequently noted by scholars working in the field, stems from the fact
that scientific developments do not typically progress in accordance with daily news
cycles and only rarely provide “hooks” on which reporters can easily hang a story.
It is also certainly the case that the growth of cable and satellite news organizations,
and the concomitant demise of newspaper readership, has fundamentally altered the
journalistic landscape.
Despite these caveats, the notion of “war” is consistent with the Manichean
dramas that feature so centrally in contemporary newsmaking and this is the impulse
prompting certain discursive entrepreneurs to frame climate change in militaristic
terms. Facilitating the effective deployment of martial metaphors is the fact that the
current era is characterized by polarized politics, uncivil public debate, and multiple
preexisting armed conflicts and both news producers and consumers are primed to
think of public policy as a combative activity.
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Number of Articles
Fig. 1 International news coverage of “the war on climate change,” 2000–2007. Includes all unique
entries for each year using search strings comprising the phrasing “war on” and “war against”
in combination with “climate change” (and its various near synonyms like “global warming,”
“greenhouse effect,” and so forth). The analysis encompasses “newspapers of record” in the five
major Anglophone countries—Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the
United States. Source: Data assembled from Lexis–Nexis database
Author's personal copy
Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222 203
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Number of Articles
Fig. 2 UK news coverage of “the war on climate change,” 2000–2007*. *Includes all unique entries
for each year using search strings comprising the phrasing “war on” and “war against” in combination
with “climate change” (and its various near synonyms like “global warming,” “greenhouse effect,”
and so forth). The following newspapers are included in the analysis: The Guardian/Observer,The
Times/Sunday Times,The Independent/Independent on Sunday,The Daily/Sunday Telegraph,and
The Financial Times. Source: Data assembled from Lexis–Nexis database
Archival databases are a useful tool for making preliminary assessments of
the emergence and diffusion of new media frames. One database that has gained
particularly widespread uptake for such research purposes is Lexis–Nexis because
it offers an electronic desktop platform to review the content of numerous English-
language newspapers from around the world. A comprehensive investigation of this
resource reveals that militaristic representations—principally through the phrase
“war on (or against) climate change”—began to noticeably infiltrate news coverage
in 2005 and this trend has become more prominent over the last few years (Fig. 1).
While the magnitude of this phenomenon is partly attributable to an upwelling of
journalistic coverage of climate change during the relevant timeframe (Carvalho
and Burgess 2005; Boykoff 2008a,b), the use of this specific terminology marks
a substantive change in communication. It is too soon to know whether this new
bellicose imagery is actually supplanting prior metaphors, but it is evident that a tacit
process is currently underway to recast popular understandings of the magnitude of
the challenge.
While this putative process of reframing is underway to varying degrees in all
Anglophone nations, further investigation using the Lexis–Nexis database reveals
that the trend is most visibly apparent in the UK (Fig. 2).2This leading position
can be attributed to relatively greater public attentiveness about climate change
among the British public (and the corresponding level of media coverage engendered
by this level of awareness) than has hitherto been the case in Australia, Canada,
New Zealand, the United States, and other English-speaking countries (Grubb 2002;
Lorenzoni and Pidgeon 2006; see also Sandvik 2008). It is also important not to
2The daily readership of “tabloid” newspapers in the UK is far more extensive than the arguably
more authoritative “broadsheets.” However, content from the tabloids is not comprehensively
archived in the Lexis–Nexus database so these publications are not included in the current analysis.
This is an unfortunate deficiency as the tabloids are more likely to employ graphic language with
populist appeal. Refer to Boykoff and Mansfield (2008) for a notable study of coverage of climate
change in the British tabloid press.
Author's personal copy
204 Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222
disregard the role that different national journalistic traditions play in shaping lan-
guage usage and the extent to which discursive entrepreneurship is enabled by such
circumstances (Taylor and Nathan 2002; Antilla 2005;Smith2005; Carvalho 2007;
Boykoff 2007a,b; Boykoff 2008a,b; Boykoff and Mansfield 2008;Kenix2008;
Doulton and Brown 2009;Mazur2009). For instance, authoritative news organiza-
tions in the United States (e.g., The New York Times,The Washington Post,The
Wall Street Journal) tend to eschew the kinds of figurative embellishments that are
regarded as distinctive attributes of their British counterparts.
If we lengthen the timeframe and take a slightly longer historical perspective, it
becomes apparent that the popularization of this particular metaphoric frame for
climate change in the UK is not an entirely novel development. For more than two
decades, a growing number of discursive entrepreneurs in the country have been
invoking bellicose imagery to induce a sense of urgency about the need to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions. The following account presents a stylized review of this
deployment of militaristic representations to incrementally condition the public for
the eventual implementation of stringent policy measures.
Already in the late 1980s, a small handful of political figures began to employ
images of protracted armed conflict to stimulate popular interest in climate change.
In the years prior to the Rio Earth Summit, the British government couched its early
attempts to jumpstart negotiations on an international framework convention as the
first phase of a prolonged process of military engagement. Both Sir Crispin Tickell,
the country’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time, and former Prime
Minister Margaret Thatcher warned that efforts to get a grip on the problem would
inevitably entail a long and arduous campaign (see Bone 1989). Some members of
the British media were similarly prone to “declare war on the greenhouse effect”
and one widely distributed tabloid seized the initiative to distribute free tree seeds to
its readers (Sunday Mail 1989).3
This early burst of war-talk about mobilizing militarily against climate change
temporarily receded during the course of the 1990s. A handful of journalists and
other commentators continued to employ military terminology with some regularity,
but they tended to use such language as shorthand for the scientific controversies
surrounding the issue rather than to motivate a political program for achieving a
specific objective. It was not until after the September 11 terrorist incidents of 2001,
the invasion of Iraq of 2003, and the launch of a subsequent “war on terror” that
a more diffuse group of discursive entrepreneurs began to propound that climate
change was a combative enemy that needed to be subdued. The American climate
scientist Michael Oppenheimer (2003) suggested that the United States should
“declare war on global warming” after the situation in the Middle East had stabilized.
This recommendation sought to amplify a controversial statement by United Nations
arms inspector Hans Blix who had said a few weeks earlier, “I am more worried
about global warming than I am about any major military conflict” (quoted in
Oppenheimer 2003). Sir David King (the British government’s chief scientific advisor
3Former American president George H. W. Bush, as part of an effort to burnish his claim to be “the
environmental president,” used similarly combative exhortations in September 1988 in announcing
that he would lead the “war against global warming” (The Boston Globe 1989). His successor,
Bill Clinton, echoed these sentiments several years later when he sought to enlist volunteers in an
“international war on the greenhouse effect” (Kennedy 1996).
Author's personal copy
Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222 205
at the time) further amplified this connection between the threats of terrorism and
greenhouse gases when he wrote in Science that “climate change is the most severe
problem we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism” (King
2004). Later the same year, in an unprecedented statement delivered at a conference
in Berlin, Queen Elizabeth urged the United States to join the “war against global
warming” (Nixson 2004). Such sentiments were echoed a few months later by the
former Conservative Party leader, Michael Howard (2005), who also invoked the
need to enjoin the Americans in much the same way that Churchill had sought to
enlist Roosevelt during the early part of World War II.
Discursive entrepreneurship to link climate change with war expanded in 2006
with releases of both the film An Inconvenient Truth and the Stern Report on the
Economics of Climate Change (published as Stern 2007; see also McLean 2008).4
These efforts received further inducement during the following year as the UK gov-
ernment took up a debate on sweeping and ambitious new climate change legislation.
New conscripts from both the worlds of politics and science clambered onto the
battlements. In a speech accepting the Global Environmental Citizen Award, Prince
Charles sought to persuade the world to assume a combative footing and declared,
“We should see this as a war we simply have to win” (Clark 2007).5Even the normally
sober-minded physicist Stephen Hawking, while participating in a ceremony to move
forward the Doomsday Clock, remarked, “Terror only kills hundreds or thousands of
people. Global warming could kill millions. We should have a war on global warming
rather than a war on terror” (Associated Press 2007).6Speaking at the same event,
Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society and the Astronomer Royal, observed,
“We are transforming, even ravaging the entire biosphere. These environmentally
driven threats—threats without enemies—should loom as large as did the East–West
divide during the Cold War era” (Associated Press 2007). The editor of Newsweek
magazine captured the zeitgeist in the following terms: “A war on greenhouse gasses
does not stir the soul in quite the ways the soul is accustomed to being stirred, but it
is the challenge of our time, and we will be judged by how well, or how poorly, we
meet it” (Meacham 2007).
It is not just discursive entrepreneurs on the periphery of policy making that have
embraced a war motif when discussing climate change. Baroness Barbara Young,
the former chief executive of the UK Environment Agency, publicly proclaimed
4A separate front in the putative “war” on climate change opened up in the United States during
2005 when California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a series of ambitious initiatives
as part of his climate strategy for the state. Commentators seized upon the actor-cum-politician’s
screen persona in the film The Terminator and portrayed his policy proposals in characteristically
pugnacious terms (see, e.g., Jackson 2007). Later in the same year, the devastation caused by
Hurricane Katrina gave added impetus to this martial depiction of what the future might hold for
other vulnerable communities in the United States and elsewhere (Doward et al. 2007; see also
Törnqvist 2007).
5The Center for Health and the Global Environment (part of Harvard University’s Medical
School) annually bestows the Global Environmental Citizenship Award. See
6The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic timepiece maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
as a way of depicting the risk of catastrophic destruction due to nuclear technologies, climate change,
and biosecurity failures. A panel of experts regularly adjusts the “clock” in light of political and scien-
tific developments in these areas. See
Author's personal copy
206 Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222
that climate change needs to be fought like “World War Three” (Clover 2007). In
addition, David Cameron, the current Conservative Party leader, advocated in favor
of a proposal to limit annual air travel to 2000 miles per person (Wintour 2007)
while separately asserting that the “war against climate change must not penalise
ordinary people” (Pascoe-Watson 2007). The most outspoken British political figure
to envisage the challenge of climate change as war has though without question
been Michael Meacher, a former Environment Secretary and current Labour Party
member of Parliament.7In one of his more explicit statements on the subject,
he wrote
What we, and the government, need to get our minds round is that we are at
war: at war against climate catastrophe, presenting us with a far greater threat
towards our survival than 1939; and that the measures adopted must rise to
this unprecedented challenge...The realquestionarising fromall ofthis is: can
governments persuade their peoples that we face nothing less than a war against
climate change, with the need for the same determination and self-sacrifice as
was seen 60 years ago (Meacher 2007a; see also Meacher 2007b).
After more than a half century, World War II appropriately continues to maintain
a tight hold on the popular imagination in many parts of the world, but its cultural
resonance is arguably strongest in the UK because of the severe hardship that was
inflicted and the strictness of the resultant austerity regime (see, e.g., Smith 2000;
Connelly 2004; Hennessy 2006,2007; Kynaston 2007). Given these circumstances, it
is not surprising to see discursive entrepreneurs invoking this momentous conflict
as both the benchmark to measure the societal risks of global warming and the
rallying call to mobilize the public around the need for strenuous action.8There
is broad recognition that nostalgic sentiments about “fair shares for all” strike
a powerful chord among key parts of the electorate and, as such, constitute an
important strategic rhetorical resource (Monbiot 2006;Newman2006). Indeed,
some commentators have even compared politicians who have expressed wavering
commitments on climate change to Neville Chamberlain, the former British Prime
Minister who so egregiously misinterpreted German intentions during the prelude to
the war.9Other analysts have speculated on whether the need to pursue drastic cuts
7In the immediate aftermath of Tony Blair’s 2007 announcement to step down as Prime Minister,
Meacher evinced an intention to challenge Gordon Brown for leadership of the Labour Party, but
he quickly stood aside (Walker 2007).
8Environmental organizations in the UK have been more reticent in invoking militaristic represen-
tations to gain support for their climate change initiatives. Some groups, notably the Green Skies
Alliance and Cool Earth, have not backed away entirely from the deployment of such imagery (see
Turner 2005; Bradley 2007).
9Former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin, in an effort to deescalate tensions with Ger-
many, met with Adolf Hitler in September 1938 and concluded the so-called Munich Agreement. The
accord established a non-aggression pact between the two countries (as well as with France and Italy)
and recognized German annexation of the former Czechoslovakian territory of Sudetenland. Upon
returning to London, Chamberlin made his notorious declaration that he had achieved “peace in our
time.” In March of the following year, Germany invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia and in September
attacked Poland, thus ending Chamberlin’s “appeasement” strategy and marking the formal start of
World War II.
Author's personal copy
Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222 207
in greenhouse gas emissions has become sufficiently urgent to justify the cultivation
of a “blitz spirit” (The Economist 2006; Roodhouse 2007a; see also Calder 1995;
Hume 2008).10
3 Consumer regulation and climate change
While some observers might dismiss recent efforts by British discursive entrepre-
neurs to elevate climate change to the status of war as mere sloganeering, it is
important to recognize that the deployment of such emotional language can play
an instrumental role in reframing policy discussions in the UK and elsewhere. If
the public begins to understand global warming as tantamount to armed conflict,
interventions that have until now been deemed inappropriate or unduly risky could
come to be seen in a more acceptable light. In particular, various geoengineering
strategies like ocean-iron fertilization, stratospheric sulfur injection, and, planetary
reflective mirroring (i.e., “sunshading”) might evolve into timely and necessary
pursuits (Allenby 2007;Virgoe2008; Schneider 2008). To appreciate the pace at
which transformations in political viability can sometimes come about, it merits
recalling that less than a decade ago the prevalent sensibility was that the lay public
was resistant to carbon capture and storage (Anderson and Newell 2004). Despite
retaining certain reservations, social scientific research suggests growing popular
preparedness to consider the stepwise deployment of this technology (Gough et al.
2002;VanAlphenetal.2007; Ramírez et al. 2008).
There is moreover significant historical evidence that “war” and its associated
apprehensions can bring about sweeping social realignments and radically alter the
political landscape (see, e.g., Calder 1995; Noakes 1998). For instance, the exigencies
of World War II ushered in previously unthinkable changes in gender equality,
societal norms, and race relations in many combatant countries and prompted
sweeping changes in governmental support for science and technology (Marwick
1974; Costello 1985; Geppert 2003;Halperin2004). Although it is still early in the
nascent militarization of climate change, the progression that is currently underway
in the UK seems to suggest that the propagation of war-imbued imagery can catalyze
serious public consideration of robust coercive measures (McLean 2008; Jaeger et al.
A resolute step along this route was taken in 2006 when the former Environment
Secretary, David Miliband, made a formidable speech before the government’s
Audit Commission endorsing the creation of a rationing scheme to limit personal
carbon emissions. He began his presentation by reaching back in time for a historical
parallel and describing long-standing Parliamentary inattention to the disease and
10The use of World War II analogies when discussing climate change has not been confined to
the UK. In the United States, for instance, opponents described a 2007 proposal by a Texas-
based company to build eleven new coal-fired utility plants as the “Mein Kampf of the global
warming wars” (Carey and Arndt 2007). Separately, some American commentators have relegated
climate change skeptics into the same category as Holocaust deniers. Grist, a popular environmental
news website (, published a discussion in 2006 asserting that the government
should subject global warming dissenters to a Nuremberg-type proceeding. The author of the piece
eventually recanted his contentions (see Jacoby 2006).
Author's personal copy
208 Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222
stench that had at one time emanated from the River Thames. He related how the
situation festered for decades until the summer of 1858 when the odor became so
rancid and overpowering that it was necessary to evacuate the House of Commons.
After reviewing the challenges of constructing a comprehensive sanitary system to
manage London’s sewerage, Miliband invited his audience to consider the following
thought experiment.
Imagine a country where carbon becomes a new currency. We carry bank
cards that store both pounds and carbon points. When we buy electricity, gas,
and fuel, we use our carbon points, as well as pounds. To help reduce carbon
emissions, the Government would set limits on the amount of carbon that could
be used. Imagine your neighbourhood. Each neighbour receives the same free
entitlement to a certain number of carbon points. The family next door has an
SUV and realize they are going to have to buy more carbon points. So instead
they decide to trade in the SUV for a hybrid car. They save 2.2 tonnes of carbon
each year (Miliband 2006).
For all of its apparent novelty, Miliband’s proposition to limit individual access
to the atmosphere was not an entirely new idea and its formal genesis can be traced
to a proposal developed during the early 1990s under the auspices of the Global
Commons Institute (GCI), a London-based research and advocacy organization
(Meyer 2000; see also Barrett 1995;Fleming1996,2007).11 The GCI formulated
the concept around the notion of “contraction and convergence” and the global
distribution of annual carbon allowances (or “entitlements”). Initial allocations could
be made either to entire countries or to individual consumers on an equal-shares
basis and under ideal circumstances would be independent of preexisting emission
patterns. Consumers would pay for energy with both money (in cash or credit
form) and “carbon points.” A running tally would be stored on a computer-readable
plastic “smart” card and a proportional number of points deducted from the user’s
account each time he or she purchased gasoline, air travel, or fossil-fuel energy
for household use.12 Consumers that exceeded their annual thresholds would need
to purchase additional shares from participants who had unused rations and each
year the overall allocation would be reduced (“contraction”) and carbon emissions
eventually equalized around the world (“convergence”).13
Mainstream policy makers that have considered the issue have generally sought
to characterize personal carbon trading as a pragmatic extension of existing “cap and
trade” programs and hence little different from other tradable allowance systems
already in operation today (e.g., European Union Emissions Trading Scheme). In
contrast, some discursive entrepreneurs have sought to evoke the connections that
the idea shares with the rationing of food and other household articles during
11Further information on GCI is available at See also Meyer (2000,2004),
Hillman (2006), and Starkey and Anderson (2005). A useful bibliography on personal carbon
allowances and related ideas is available in Fleming (2007).
12Although more complicated to implement, the scheme could be expanded over time to include the
“embodied carbon” contained in a more expansive array of consumer products.
13See Ohl et al. (2008) for a similar treatment based on the use of ecological footprinting.
Author's personal copy
Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222 209
World War II. For instance, Mayer Hillman, a leading advocate of tradable carbon
allowances, asserts
[World leaders] could learn invaluable lessons from history if only they were
willing to do so. In the years leading up to the Second World War, British and
other governments spent a long period in denial of the threat of Fascism and
a further period trying to deal with it by appeasement. Both these mistakes
proved costly. Finally, leaders faced up to the dreadful truth, and the struggle
for survival could begin in earnest. So it has been with the threat of climate
change: years of denial, followed by years of kidding ourselves that it could be
dealt with painlessly. Only if we face up to the severity of the crisis can we even
begin to take appropriate action (Hillman 2005).
With partial financial support from Miliband’s ministry, the Royal Society for
the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers, and Commerce (RSA) launched a
3-year pilot project called CarbonLimited that involved more than 5,000 people
and sought to demonstrate how personal carbon trading could work in practice
(Prescott 2008). Reports also began to appear that the government was planning
to issue individual carbon cards on a countrywide basis by 2013 (Adam 2007;see
also Fawcett et al. 2007) and the UK Department of Food, Environment, and
Rural Affairs (DEFRA) commissioned a “pre-feasibility analysis” to consider the
potential impacts of an allowance scheme. Prince Charles continued to champion
militarization and, in a speech before the European Parliament, urged the world to
wage war against “the doomsday clock of climate change” (Watson 2008).
During the months that the DEFRA study was being prepared, Miliband moved
over to become Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and in
his new role ceased, at least for the time being, to discuss climate change in terms of
personal carbon trading. By the time DEFRA (2008) released its report in the spring,
the initial wave of enthusiasm had crested and the published assessment ultimately
offered a downcast view of the concept, though the Department did indicate an
interest in continuing to monitor further developments surrounding the idea. A
separate study by the Environmental Audit Committee (2008), took a more upbeat
view and noted, “[P]ersonal carbon trading could be essential in helping to reduce
our national carbon footprint.”
Despite the collapse of international financial markets during the summer of 2008
and the ensuing recessionary slide of the global economy, it seems unlikely that
this divided appraisal will be the last word on the subject. David Miliband emerged
midyear as a credible candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party and his
elevation triggered a process of public vetting that necessarily directed fresh scrutiny
toward the proposition (Hinsliff 2008; Toynbee 2008). In response to charges that he
could have worked harder to advance personal carbon trading while still Environ-
ment Secretary, Miliband observed, “[T]he whole point about good ideas is that they
don’t die” (Hinsliff and Helm 2008). Indeed, a new opportunity to reinvigorate the
debate came about with the appointment of his brother, Ed, as head of the govern-
ment’s newly established Department of Energy and Climate Change (Stratton 2008;
Wintour and Stratton 2008;Lawson2008). Meanwhile, the academic community
used the interregnum to expand its understanding of the programmatic dimensions
of managing carbon at the individual level (Druckman and Jackson 2008), to link
to other prominent issue-areas like public health and obesity (Egger 2007,2008;
Author's personal copy
210 Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222
Chatterton et al. 2009), and to identify the governance implications of personal
carbon regulation (Seyfang and Paavola 2008;Howell2009).
4 Consumer regulation in Britain during and after World War II
Champions of consumer regulation to address climate change have put forward
their plans under a variety of guises: personal carbon allowances, tradable energy
quotas, domestic tradable quotas, carbon entitlements, and tradable personal pol-
lution allowances (see, e.g., Barrett 1995; Meyer 2000; Hillman et al. 2008;Fleming
2007). Though there is a conspicuous tendency, as noted above, for policy makers
to place these closely related ideas under the conceptual umbrella of “cap and
trade” schemes, they are more appropriately viewed as rationing programs. This
understanding opens up a storehouse of relevant historical experience pertaining to
the utilization of consumer regulation under exigent conditions that could potentially
inform government strategies on eventual deployment, especially with respect to
public response (see also Roodhouse 2007b).
With the exception of the oil crises during the 1960s and 1970s and the use
of taxes and other forms of consumer regulation to control access to cigarettes,
alcohol, and illicit drugs, affluent countries have had little recent experience with
goods rationing (Musial and Stearns 1973; Pisarski and de Terra 1975; Bezdek and
Taylor 1981; Thorpe 2007).14 Indeed, prevailing neoliberal policy prerogatives over
the past several decades have actively resisted such interventions on the basis that
any infringement on or interference with consumer demand constitutes unjustified
intrusion on consumer sovereignty (Redmond 2000; Gowdy and Walton 2003;Roff
2007; Schor 2007). To find the most recent application of the extensive and rigorous
use of rationing in an affluent country, it is accordingly necessary to go back in time
to the period of the Second World War and its aftermath.
The consumption control regime that the British government began to implement
upon the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 was initially modeled on arrangements
developed during World War I and was justified by the need to ensure equitable allo-
cation of basic foodstuffs, to economize on shipping space, and to manage expected
shortages due to the military diversion of raw materials.15 Official planning during
the early phases was facilitated by the fact that relevant agencies had maintained
a high degree of administrative continuity during the interwar years through the
establishment of a series of coordinating committees under the authority of Sir
William Beveridge. These working groups had responsibility for regularly updating
and reviewing plans for the implementation of wartime controls on consumption.
Critical for the civil servants engaged in this task was an acute understanding of
the relationship between sufficient household provisions and civilian morale. In this
14The discussion here makes a distinction between managing demand for goods vs. services. There
has been in recent years vigorous debate around the use of rationing as a means of controlling access
to healthcare services.
15Social and economic historians have contributed to a sizable literature on wartime and postwar
rationing in the UK. Useful sources include Hopkins (1963), Sissions and French (1986), Addison
(1995), Brooke (1995), Harris (1997), Longmate (2002), Hennessy (2006,2007), and Kynaston (2007).
The following discussion draws heavily on the account of Zweiniger-Bargielowska (2000).
Author's personal copy
Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222 211
sense, wartime consumer regulations were primarily designed to ensure adequate
supplies at reasonable prices and these policies proved to be remarkably effective.
Food expenditures fell by 15% from the pre-war level, while money spent on clothing
declined by more than 60% and outlays on miscellaneous household goods fell
variously by between 25% and 75%. Because of a lack of fuel for civilian purchase,
personal automobile use was virtually nil during the height of the war (Zweiniger-
Bargielowska 2000).16
Two government branches were principally responsible for the regulation of
consumption. The Ministry of Food, established at the very start of the war, had
extensive influence on the lives of consumers because of its role in setting ration
levels and imposing price controls on basic agricultural commodities. The Board of
Trade came into existence in 1941 to manage access to clothing, shoes, furniture,
toys, and a variety of other consumer goods and in this capacity fulfilled a secondary
administrative function. Furthermore, the Board did not have the same expansive
powers to oversee supply and demand—it did not for instance contract with produc-
ers and take ownership of goods as was the case for the Ministry of Food—but rather
relied to a greater extent on production quotas.17
In the case of food, the primary means of consumption regulation was based on
flat-rate rationing. This system required consumers to register with a specific retailer
and to acquire each week all of their rationed provisions through this channel. Such
an arrangement was the foundation for the concept of “fair shares for all” and
everyone was entitled to the same allowance regardless of age, occupation, or other
considerations.18 To ensure adequate supplies, retailers received stock in proportion
to their number of registered customers and were then required to collect coupons in
exchange for the distributed goods. The government carefully controlled the prices
of rationed products to keep inflation in check and to ensure that consumers could
afford to purchase their weekly share.
There can be no doubt that these arrangements created considerable hardship
for people regardless of income or social class (Hollingsworth 1983; Huxley et al.
2000). Despite an endless stream of menu advice published in newspapers, broadcast
on radio programs, and distributed through public information campaigns, meals
were typically bland and assembled from a narrow and unchanging assortment
of staple ingredients. Public complaints about the sufficiency of stocks were not
uncommon during the earliest stages of implementation, but after the first several
months supplies stabilized and popular support steadied owing to this continuity.19
16Zweiniger-Bargielowska (2000) argues, “This reduction in consumption was unprecedented in
modern British history in terms of magnitude and duration.” See also Roodhouse (2007a,b).
17Notable exceptions were the rationing of clothing and shoes by the Board of Trade.
18There were, of course, deviations from this general rule. For instance, pregnant women and nursing
mothers received a supplementary ration of eggs, fruit, and milk and children under the age of five
were allocated a smaller meat ration and no tea ration.
19Evidence suggests that wartime food policies had the effect of closing the long-standing nutritional
gap across social classes in the country. Zweiniger-Bargielowska (2000) observes, “Although the
middle class continued to consume more eggs and fruit while the working class ate greater quantities
of potatoes and bread, income differentials in consumption of butter, milk, and meat declined
substantially. With regard to nutrients, the large gap in calorie consumption disappeared...Forthe
first time ever the gap in vitamin and mineral intake also disappeared.”
Author's personal copy
212 Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222
Throughout the war, manual workers in heavy industries expressed the greatest
dissatisfaction and contended that strenuous work entitled them to larger rations.20
Some critics of government policy were alarmed about the potential for malnutrition,
but the historical record offers no credible evidence that the public suffered from any
systemic nutritional deficiencies and some public health indicators actually showed
improvement in wellbeing (see, e.g., Berdanier 2006). In fact, most commentators
agree that low-income consumers were disproportionate beneficiaries of wartime
policies because the system provided a guaranteed supply of food at affordable
prices. Large families—in contrast to single individuals and smaller household
units—also derived certain advantages because more people living under a single
roof created greater flexibility in the management of rations.
Despite disaffection in some quarters, public support for the consumer regulations
remained overall quite high throughout most of the war. Civilians displayed notable
endurance in dealing with coal shortages, unappetizing food, bombing raids, evac-
uations, and the malaise of wartime uncertainty. Historical reports are especially
replete with accounts of intrepid women who had to keep up with ever-changing
rationing rules and to endure endless queues to secure hard-to-come-by items like
towels, sheets, and cooking pots (Smith 1996; Longmate 2002; Kynaston 2007). The
end of the war in 1945 brought pangs of hopefulness that the long era of austerity
would soon be over and that a period of consumer abundance would take its place.
These expectations though were soon set aside as it became increasingly apparent
that the war had exacted a heavy price on the country and its ability to satisfy the
material aspirations that had accumulated during the preceding 6 years.
It is therefore probably not surprising that the public’s willingness to countenance
stringent consumer regulations began to falter during the postwar years. A combi-
nation of patriotic fatigue, new rounds of restrictions, and onset of a succession of
unusually harsh winters led to mounting disaffection during the second half of the
1940s. Even bread was subject to rationing between 1946 and 1948 to conserve on
wheat and a severely reduced potato crop in 1947 led to the imposition of partial
controls on the distribution of this essential commodity. Throughout these years,
the Labour government continued to argue that wartime-like consumer regulations
were necessary to stimulate and maintain British exports. The socialist-leaning wing
of the Party moreover tacitly claimed that the controls helped to dampen consumer
impulses and to promote social cohesion and equality. Then, just as the most pressing
problems began to abate during the latter part of the decade, a series of financial
crises (including a devaluation in 1949) and the eruption of the Korean War in 1950
created new sources of economic volatility. Eventually many of the party’s core
supporters (including a significant number of women), emotionally and physically
exhausted by a generation of protracted austerity, abandoned the Labour Party
during the 1951 general election. The Conservatives were returned to power and
promptly began to dismantle the legacy of rationing and other postwar controls on
20The government addressed this issue to some extent by creating an extensive network of canteens
that provided off-ration meals to workers.
Author's personal copy
Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222 213
5 Taming the black market: lessons for personal carbon rationing
The success of personal carbon rationing will inevitably hinge on the extent to which
an eventual scheme is able to retain public legitimacy. Historical experience suggests
that programmatic integrity is a function of two closely related features: the capacity
to compel universal participation and the ability to cut down on illegal transactions.
Research to date has focused on operational details in terms of the functionality
of “smart” cards and the establishment of computerized linkages among financial
institutions (see DEFRA 2008).21 This focus is no doubt appropriate because a
modern rationing system will need to run on a technologically intensive platform
rather than rely on unwieldy paperwork and a welter of supervisory and enforcement
personnel as was the case in prior eras. It is at the same time important not to
overestimate the capabilities of these electronic arrangements or to dismiss the
ability of even the most fastidiously designed software to quash human propen-
sities for avarice and duplicity. Accumulated evidence ably demonstrates that the
imposition of constraints on consumer demand inevitably leads to unlawful activity
and black markets spring up whenever and wherever auspicious opportunities exist
(Smithies 1984; Schlosser 2003). The British experience during and after World War
II provides particularly instructive guidance that can inform this dimension of an
eventual personal carbon rationing scheme.
It is first necessary to acknowledge that there persists across Britain (and beyond)
the sense that the public, regardless of social circumstances, gallantly embraced
wartime consumer regulations and that illegal trading was minimal during this
period. While these gauzy recollections are understandable, historians have stren-
uously challenged the embellishment that the war years were marked by equitably
shared civilian sacrifice (see, e.g., Calder 1995). A careful review of the recorded
annals turns up widespread evidence of evasion, profiteering, forgery, and other
prohibited practices. Zweiniger-Bargielowska (2000) relates the evocative account
of one informant who reported, “[I]t makes me smile when some of these people say
they never have anything to do with the Black Market—just show me where it is and
I’ll go to it.”
Any effort to glean lessons from this earlier era of rationing therefore requires
clear-eyed consideration of the role that the black market played as an alternative
source of provisioning for many households.22 Organized rackets were unexcep-
tional, especially during the postwar period, but it was the more rampant petty skirt-
ing of administrative authority across supply chains that repeatedly threatened to
undermine the consumption control regime. Concomitantly, enforcement resources
were insufficient for the task so the Ministry of Food and the Board of Trade had to
rely on publicity and bluster to maintain satisfactory levels of compliance. Though
21Cost-effectiveness has also been a prominent consideration in evaluations to date of the efficacy
of personal carbon management. The apparent importance of this criterion is a departure from
historical experiences where organizational transparency and perceived fairness were the foremost
22Despite its considerable scope, the black market seems to have played a less pronounced role
during World War II in the UK than it did in other countries. For analyses of illegal wartime trading
in the United States, see Mills and Rockoff (1992), Zweiniger-Bargielowska (2000), and Cohen
(2003). Refer to Sanders (2008) for a discussion of black markets in France, Steege (2007) for the
case of Germany, and Griffiths (2002) for an evaluation of Japan.
Author's personal copy
214 Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222
the ultimate effectiveness of these activities and the full scale of the black market are
difficult to gauge owning to the paucity of data on unlawful transactions, some broad
generalizations are nonetheless possible.
With respect to the regulation of food, over-charging, under-the-counter sales by
retailers, barter, and tipping were not unknown practices, but it was “illicit slaughter”
by farmers that consistently jeopardized the authority of the system. As a practical
matter, no regulatory arrangement could have been sufficiently comprehensive to
police tens of thousands of farms and the illegal sale of meat across the farm gate (or
even to monitor irregularities carried out by the far smaller number of local retail
butchers). Restaurants and hotels were also complicit in evasive activities involving
food. Even after a maximum price of 5swas imposed on restaurant meals in 1942,
establishments routinely circumvented the regulation by reapportioning charges for
alcohol and service.
Unlawful transactions involving clothes and textiles were also prevalent during
the war and became even more widespread during the post-1945 period. Clothing, be-
cause it was not perishable and could be stored, created especially difficult regulatory
problems and challenged the fundamental ideal of “fair shares for all.” As Zweiniger-
Bargielowska (2000) observes, “[T]here was a strong incentive to steal or forge ration
books and coupons, and consumers could sell their ration book and apply for a
replacement on the grounds that they had lost it.” While it was technically against
the law to use detached coupons to buy clothing, retailers regularly overlooked this
provision and accepted them in this form. The rules required shopkeepers to channel
the coupons back up the supply chain to wholesalers, suppliers, and eventually to
the Board of Trade, but the process of counting and recounting thousands of slips
of paper at each point imposed laborious and, and ultimately unworkable, clerical
burdens. As a result, the distribution system was rife with opportunities for fraud.23
If these circumstances were not enough to discourage reliable participation, the
rules pertaining to the rationing of clothing were both exceedingly complex and
replete with loopholes.24 As soon as officials acted to shut down one set of criminal
practices, new ones would spontaneously appear. As mentioned above, the volume
of requests for coupon replacement was very likely far out of proportion with the
number of legitimately lost or stolen ration books. Some people would file repeatedly
for replacements and the overall effect was a veritable flood of surplus coupons into
the market. Eventual implementation of special protocols for issuing replacements,
burdensome application procedures, and other purposeful bureaucratic impediments
had the effect in due course of limiting the most egregious scams. However, a series
of administrative blunders by the Board of Trade at the end of the war eroded any
remaining measures of public confidence in the clothes-rationing system and it was
ultimately discontinued in its entirety in 1949.
The arrangements on petrol rationing are probably most directly relevant for
current purposes and this set of stipulations distinguished between commercial users
(comprising cargo haulers and thus under the administrative control of the Ministry
23The problem of counting and processing clothing coupons was eventually resolved in 1942 when the
Board of Trade established a program in cooperation with commercial banks that required traders
to open coupon-banking accounts.
24Cosmetics was another product category that was subject to a large amount of black market activity
due to low raw material and storage costs, high valued added, and very strong demand.
Author's personal copy
Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222 215
of Transport) and private motorists (under the aegis of the Ministry of Power and
Fuel). The category of private motorists was divided into three further subcategories
at the start of the war: essential users (e.g., doctors) had an annual allocation of
approximately 9,000 miles, semi-essential users (e.g., commercial travelers) had an
annual allocation of approximately 4,800 miles, and non-essential (or basic) users
had an annual allocation of 1,800 miles for recreational purposes. During the early
1940s, the government progressively reduced rations for essential and semi-essential
motorists, but initially preserved the non-essential ration to maintain civilian morale.
By 1942, however, protracted and severe shortages of shipping capacity led to the
elimination of the annual allocation for pleasure driving and the discontinuation of
supplies to non-essential users until the end of the war.
Violations of the gasoline regulations tended to take three forms: fraudulent
use of coupons, illegal transfers of fuel from commercial to private vehicles, and
presentation of forged or stolen coupons. These problems for the most part remained
manageable during the war, but by the postwar period contraventions of the rules
had become fairly widespread. In 1947, black market transactions accounted for
an estimated 10% of total automobile-fuel use (Zweiniger-Bargielowska 2000). The
non-coupon sale of gasoline to valued customers and outright retailing of coupons
were also common practices. In addition, because of the difficulty of precisely
calculating the needs of commercial users, truck drivers often had surpluses that they
could sell to private users. These illicit conveyances eventually led after the war to
the use of colored dye to differentiate commercial fuel (tinted red) from its private
counterpart (tinted white). Enforcement actions then came to be focused on roadside
inspections of private vehicles to check if they were running on the appropriately
colored fuel. Nonetheless, consumers deftly modified and remodified their evasive
tactics to stay a step ahead of the inspectors. For instance, private users learned that
careful dilution of red gasoline made detection of the dye difficult in roadside tests.
6 Conclusion
Political controversies are rarely static, but rather continually evolve as rivals seek
to gain traction and to shift the terms of public discussion in ways that strengthen
their own interests. Dissatisfied with the anemic metaphors that have been used to
date to capture the quintessence of global warming, a diverse group of discursive
entrepreneurs has been working to build a new conceptual frame around the prob-
lem. Evidence from recent media reports suggests that a widening circle of people
in the UK is now describing climate change as a challenge tantamount to war. This
rhetorical shift is more than an innocuous alteration in language use, but appears to
be creating conducive conditions for predisposed policy makers to advocate for more
rigorous and ambitious proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In particular,
the former Environment Secretary (currently Secretary of State for Foreign and
Commonwealth Affairs) David Miliband has been able to use this space to initiate a
public discussion on the regulation of carbon emissions at the individual level.
It is important not to underestimate the need to tread carefully when initiating
debate on a controversial proposition like the curtailment of material consumption.
Consumerism—understood as a lifestyle embedded in the acquisition of ever-greater
volumes of commercial goods—is now deeply embedded in individual identity and
Author's personal copy
216 Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222
contemporary social and cultural ideals. Political encroachment onto this terrain
requires creation of an appropriate ambiance politique. The experience of the former
American president Jimmy Carter, the last major elected political leader to instigate
a forthright debate about consumption, provides an enlightening (negative) example
of the risks of premature engagement. In a speech given in 1979, he delivered a
dose of harsh public admonishment and sought—albeit with devastating personal
repercussions—to set the stage for a cultural shift.
In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communi-
ties, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence
and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by
what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things
does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material
goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose
(Carter 1979).
Americans roundly rejected this reprimand and Carter’s strategy to ration the re-
tail sale of gasoline proved ultimately transitory and his more systematic initiatives—
such as a proposition to impose a ceiling on oil imports—never garnered much
political support (Horowitz 2005). Miliband seems to understand this lesson and
is presently not allowing himself to get ahead of the discursive entrepreneurs who
are preparing the field in front of him. Moreover, his youthfulness and generally
buoyant public persona work to his advantage and will likely enable him to avoid
being tripped up in the same way as the far more priggish Carter.
There will nonetheless still be major obstacles to overcome. The heterodox
economist Kenneth Boulding argued in a somewhat different vein some years ago
that the affluent countries of the world were unlikely to regulate consumption in
the absence of deep and pervasive human misery (see Tainter 2008). However
imperfectly it may have worked in practice, the British experience during and after
World War II demonstrates that under at least certain circumstances, coercively
imposed limitations are feasible. The dilemma though is that following a half century
of extraordinary material abundance, public commitments to consumerist lifestyles
are now more powerfully resolute. Moreover, regardless of how effectively the case
is made for climate change as war, atmospheric warming lacks the immediacy and
tangibility of aerial bombardment and the associated peril to human life.
Despite these caveats, reflection on the wartime and postwar experience in the UK
offers at least five provisional insights that are likely to be instructive in designing
consumer regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions. First, it is untenable to
expect that strict controls on consumption will work effectively on an open-ended
basis and policies must be guided by a clear, defining objective. In other words, the
public will only tolerate sacrifice if there is a satisfactory end in sight.
Second, consumer regulations cannot be predicated on static legislation. This
is a fast-paced and evolving proposition and it will be difficult to anticipate all
contingencies at the onset. Government officials responsible for ensuring effective
implementation must be empowered to adapt to continually changing circumstances
without having to go through cumbersome and time-consuming processes to obtain
legislative reauthorization.
Third, black markets are inevitable outcomes of the regulation of consumption
and the combination of scarcity and high demand will always lead to various forms
Author's personal copy
Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222 217
of innovative commerce. On one hand, policing action to completely eradicate these
activities will likely be ineffectual in the short term and counterproductive in the
long term. On the other hand, excessive tolerance for illegal trading will lead to
the erosion of public support for the consumption control regime. There is no easy
solution to this dilemma other than agile and adept management.
Fourth, consumer regulations must be built on a strong political foundation. In
the absence of such resolve, the system will lose legitimacy and rapidly break down.
Appeals to patriotism, nationalism, selflessness, or collective spirit can be helpful for
a time in creating and maintaining civic commitment, but the UK government (and
others that may in due course decide to venture down this road) must be prepared
for the eventual dissipation of solidarity founded on jingoism or altruism.
Finally, while advanced information and communication technologies will in-
variably provide the administrative backbone of an eventual demand-management
program for carbon, the ultimate effectiveness of such a system will always be partial.
It is, for instance, extremely unwarrented to expect that “high tech rationing” will
eliminate opportunities for evasion and fraud. It will, as a result, be necessary to
be prepared to use customary enforcement tools to limit the corrosive effects of
unlawful practices.
Aaltola M (1999) International relations and epidemics: a short expedition to places inhabited by
states and mad cows. Med, Confl, Surviv 15(3):235–254
Adam D (2007) Carbon credits: rationing project tests government plans to make pollution personal.
The Guardian, London, pp 15 (10 September)
Addison P (1995) Now the war is over: a social history of Britain, 1945–1951, rev. ed. Pimlico, London
Allenby B (2007) Earth systems engineering management. Environ Sci Technol 41(23):7960–7965
Al-Zahrani A (2008) Darwin’s metaphors revisited: conceptual metaphors, conceptual blends, and
idealized cognitive models in the theory of evolution. Metaphor Symb 23(1):50–82
Anderson S, Newell R (2004) Prospects for carbon capture and storage technologies. Annu Rev
Environ Resour 29:109–142
Antilla L (2005) Climate of skepticism: US newspaper coverage of the science of climate change.
Glob Environ Change 15(4):338–352
Arrigo B (1999) Martial metaphors and medical justice: implications for law, crime, and deviance.
J Polit Mil Soc 27(2):307–322
Associated Press (2007) Nuclear scientists move “Doomsday Clock” toward midnight. USA Today
(17 January)
Barrett K (1995) Personal pollution allowance proposal: an open letter to Massachusetts
Gov. William Weld. Available at
Berdanier C (2006) Food shortages during World War II: can we learn from the experience? Nutr
Today 41(4):160–163
Bezdek R, Taylor W (1981) Allocating petroleum products during oil supply disruptions. Science
Blendon R, Young J (1998) The public and the war on illicit drugs. J Am Med Assoc 279(11):827–832
Bocking S (1997) Ecologists and environmental politics: a history of contemporary ecology. Yale
University Press, New Haven
Bone J (1989) Britain takes lead in war on greenhouse effect. The Times, London (9 May)
Bostrom A (2008) Lead is like mercury: risk comparisons, analogies and mental models. J Risk Res
Boykoff M (2007a) From convergence to contention: United States mass media representations of
anthropogenic climate change science. Trans Inst Br Geogr 32(4):477–489
Boykoff M (2007b) Flogging a dead norm? Newspaper coverage of anthropogenic climate change in
the United States and the United Kingdom from 2003 to 2006. Area 39(4):470–481
Author's personal copy
218 Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222
Boykoff M (2008a) Lost in translation? United States television news coverage of anthropogenic
climate change, 1995–2004. Clim Change 86(1–2):1–11
Boykoff M (2008b) The cultural politics of climate change discourse in UK tabloids. Polit Geogr
Boykoff M, Mansfield M (2008) “Ye olde hot aire”: reporting on human contributions to climate
change in the UK tabloid press. Environ Res Lett 3(2):024002
Bradley M (2007) Air travel, the sky’s the limit: should I really give up flying? The Observer, London,
pp 14 (21 January)
Breakley W (1997) It’s time for the public health community to declare war on homelessness. Am J
Public Health 87(2):153–155
Brooke S (1995) Reform and reconstruction: Britain after the war, 1945–1951. Manchester University
Press, Manchester
Brüning R, Lohmann G (1999) Charles S. Peirce on creative metaphor: a case study on the conveyor
belt metaphor in oceanography. Found Sci 4(4):389–403
Calder A (1995) The myth of the blitz. Pimlico, London
Carey F, Arndt M (2007) Hugging the tree-huggers: why so many companies are suddenly linking up
with eco groups. Business Week, pp 66 (12 March)
Carolan M (2006) The values and vulnerabilities of metaphors within the environmental sciences.
Soc Nat Resour 19(10):921–930
Carter J (1979) Speech on energy and national goals, delivered 15 July. Available at http://www.
Carvalho A (2007) Ideological cultures and media discourses on scientific knowledge: re-reading
news on climate change. Public Underst Sci 16(2):223–243
Carvalho A, Burgess J (2005) Cultural circuits of climate change in the UK broadsheet newspapers,
1985–2003. Risk Anal 25(6):1457–1469
Chatterton T, Coulter A, Musselwhite C, Lyons G, Clegg S (2009) Understanding how transport
choices are affected by the environment and health: views expressed in a study on the use of
carbon calculators. Public Health 123(1):E45–E49
Chiang W-Y, Duann R (2007) Conceptual metaphors for SARS: “war” between whom? Discourse
Soc 18(5):579–602
Churcher J (2007) Blair insists Britain will lead world towards combating climate change. Belfast
Telegraph, pp 6 (13 March)
Clark A (2007) Planes, a train, and many automobiles as Charles picks up US green award. The
Guardian, London, pp 13 (29 January)
Clover C (2007) Too little, too late to reverse climate change. The Daily Telegraph, pp 25 (20
Cohen L (2003) A consumer’s republic: the politics of mass consumption in postwar America.
Vintage, New York
Cojanu V (2008) The “market” metaphor and climate change: an epistemological application in the
study of green economics. Int J Green Econ 2(3):284–294
Connelly M (2004) We can take it! Britain and the memory of the Second World War. Pearson
Longman, New York
Costello J (1985) Virtue under fire: how World War II changed our social and sexual attitudes. Little,
Brown, Boston
Department of Food, Environment, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) (2008) Synthesis report on
the findings from DEFRA’s pre-feasibility study into personal carbon trading. DEFRA,
Dessler A, Parson E (2006) The science and politics of global climate change: a guide to the debate.
Cambridge University Press, New York
Doulton H, Brown K (2009) Ten years to prevent catastrophe? Discourses of climate change and
international development in the UK press. Glob Environ Change 19(2):191–202
Doward J, English S, Townsend M (2007) Focus: aftermath of the hurricane. The Observer, London,
pp 15 (4 September)
Druckman A, Jackson T (2008) Household energy consumption in the UK: a highly geographically
and socio-economically disaggregated model. Energy Policy 36(8):3167–3182
Dryzek J (2005) The politics of the earth: environmental discourses, 2nd edn. Oxford University
Press, New York
Duggan E (2003) We can no longer ignore poverty in our midst. In: Cowger T, Markman S (eds)
Lyndon Johnson remembered: an intimate portrait of a presidency. Rowman and Littlefield,
Author's personal copy
Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222 219
Egger G (2007) Personal carbon trading: a potential “stealth” intervention for obesity reduction?
Med J Aust 187(3):185–187
Egger G (2008) Dousing our inflammatory environment(s): is personal carbon trading an option for
reducing obesity—and climate change? Obes Rev 9(5):456–463
Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons (2008) Personal carbon trading.
London: HMSO. Available at
Faguet G (2005) The war on cancer: an anatomy of failure, a blueprint for the future. Springer,
Fawcett T, Battrill C, Boardman B, Lye G (2007) Trialling personal carbon allowances. Oxford
University, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford. Available at
Fleming D (1996) Stopping the traffic. Ctry Life 140(19):62–65
Fleming D (2007) Energy and the common purpose: descending the energy staircase with trad-
able emission quotas. The Lean Economy Connection, London. Available at http://www.
Friedman J (2003) A war on obesity, not the obese. Science 299(5608):856–858
Gelbspan R (1998) The heat is on, rev. ed. Perseus, New York
Geppert D (2003) The postwar challenge: cultural, social and political change in Western Europe,
1945–1958. Oxford University Press, New York
Golley F (1993) A history of the ecosystem concept in ecology: more than the sum of its parts. Yale
University Press, New Haven
Gough C, Taylor I, Shackley S (2002) Burying carbon under the sea: an initial exploration of public
opinions. Energy Environ 13(6):883–900
Gowdy J, Walton M (2003) Consumer sovereignty, economic efficiency, and the trade liberalisation
debate. Int J Glob Environ Issues 3(1):1–13
Greenberg D (1995) US tobacco war rumbles on. Nature 356(8978):831–832
Griffiths O (2002) Need, greed, and protest in Japan’s black market, 1938–1949. J Soc Hist 35(4):
Grubb M (2002) Britannia waives the rules: the UK, the EU, and climate change. New Econ
Hajer M (1995) The politics of environmental discourse: ecological modernization and the policy
process. Oxford University Press, New York
Halperin S (2004) War and social change in modern Europe: the great transformation revisited.
Cambridge University Press, New York
Hamblyn R (2009) The whistleblower and the canary: rhetorical constructions of climate change.
J Hist Geogr 35(2):223–236
Harris J (1997) William Beveridge: a biography, rev. ed. Clarendon, Oxford
Heineman B, Heimann F (2006) The long war against corruption. Foreign Aff 85(3):75–86
Hennessy P (2006) Never again: Britain 1945–1951, 2nd edn. Penguin, London
Hennessy P (2007) Having it so good: Britain in the fifties. Penguin, London
Hillman M (2005) Your planet: the case for rationing. The Independent, London (19 September)
Hillman M (2006) Commentary: personal carbon allowances. Br Med J 332(7554):1387–1388
Hillman M, Fawcett T, Rajan S (2008) How we can save the planet. Penguin, London
Hinsliff G (2008) The young pretender: Miliband—has he got what it takes to be PM? The Observer,
London, pp 26 (2 August)
Hinsliff G, Helm T (2008) Labour in turmoil: Miliband woos the left as Labour’s rebels back off. The
Observer, London, pp 8 (21 September)
Hodgkin P (1985) Medicine is war, and other medical metaphors. Br Med J 291(6511):1820–1821
Hollingsworth D (1983) Rationing and economic constraints on food consumption in Britain since
the Second World War. World Rev Nutr Diet 42:191–218
Holzscheiter A (2004) Discourse as capability: non-state actors’ capital in global governance.
Millenn: J Int Stud 33(3):723–746
Hopkins H (1963) The new look: a social history of the forties and fifties in Britain. Secker and
Warburg, London
Horowitz D (2005) Jimmy Carter and the energy crisis of the 1970s. St. Martin’s, New York
Howard M (2005) And what if the sceptics are wrong. The Guardian, London, pp 22 (7 June)
Howell R (2009) The experience of carbon rationing action groups: implications for a personal car-
bon allowances policy. Oxford University, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford. Available
Author's personal copy
220 Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222
Hume M (2008) We will fight them in the recycle bins. The Times, London, pp 15 (27 May)
Huxley R, Lloyd B, Goldacre M, Neil H (2000) Nutritional research in World War 2: the Oxford
Nutrition Survey and its research potential 50 years later. Br J Nutr 84(2):247–251
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2007) Climate change 2007: synthesis re-
port. World Meteorological Association and United Nations Environment Program, Geneva.
Available at
Jackson D (2007) Warming up to Arnold. The Boston Globe, pp A13 (20 January)
Jacoby J (2006) Censoring ideas. The Boston Globe, pp A9 (18 October)
Jaeger C, Schellnhuber J, Brovkin V (2008) Stern’s review and Adam’s fallacy. Clim Change 89(3–
Judge A (2007) Misuse of the potential of the conveyor metaphor: recognition of the circular dynamic
essential to its operation. J Futures Stud 12(1):109–130
Kenix L (2008) Framing science: climate change in the mainstream and alternative news in New
Zealand. Polit Sci 60(1):117–132
Kennedy F (1996) Clinton’s trip takes toll on birdlife. The Australian, Sydney, pp 3 (29 November)
King D (2004) Climate change science: adapt, mitigate, or ignore? Science 303(5655):176–177
Kynaston D (2007) Austerity Britain, 1945–1951. Bloomsbury, London
Lakoff G, Johnson M (2003) Metaphors we live by, rev. ed. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
Langenohl A (2008) How to change other people’s institutions: discursive entrepreneurship and
the boundary object of competition/competitiveness in the German banking sector. Econ Soc
Larson B (2005) The war of the roses: demilitarizing invasion biology. Front Ecol Environ 3(9):
Larson B, Nerlich B, Wallis P (2005) Metaphors and biorisks: the war on infectious diseases and
invasive species. Sci Commun 26(3):243–268
Lawson D (2008) David Miliband. Prospect Magazine 151. Available at http://www.prospect-
Leggett J (2001) The carbon war: global warming and the end of the oil era. Routledge, New York
Lindenbaum S (2001) Kuru, prions, and human affairs: thinking about epidemics. Annu Rev An-
thropol 30:363–385
Lindseth G (2005) Local level adaptation to climate change: discursive strategies in the Norwegian
context. J Environ Policy Plan 7(1):61–83
Litfin K (1994) Ozone discourses: science and politics in global environmental cooperation.
Columbia University Press, New York
Longmate N (2002) How we lived then: a history of everyday life during the Second World War, rev.
ed. Pimlico, London
Lorenzoni I, Pidgeon N (2006) Public views on climate change: European and USA perspectives.
Clim Change 77(1-2):73–95
Marwick A (1974) War and social change in the twentieth century: a comparative study of Britain,
France, Germany, Russia, and the United States. St. Martin’s, New York
Mazur A (2009) American generation of environmental warnings: avian influenza and global warm-
ing. Hum Ecol Rev 16(1):17–26
McLean I (2008) Climate change and UK politics: from Brynle Williams to Sir Nicholas Stern. Polit
Q 79(2):184–193
Meacham J (2007) The editor’s desk. Newsweek, pp 4 (16 April)
Meacher M (2007a) Comment and debate: why we have to challenge the New Labour succession.
The Guardian, London, pp 40 (23 February)
Meacher M (2007b) I would turn the lights out. The Ecologist 37(1):22–23
Meierhenrich J (2006) Analogies at war. J Confl Secur Law 11(1):1–40
Meyer A (2000) Contraction and convergence: the global solution to climate change. Green Books,
Meyer A (2004) Briefing: contraction and convergence. Proc Inst Civ Eng (Eng Sustain) 157:189–192
Miliband D (2006) The great stink: towards an environmental contract, Audit Commission annual
lecture. Available at:
dm060719.htm (19 July)
Mills G, Rockoff H (1992) Compliance with price controls in the United States and the United
Kingdom during World War II. In: Rockoff H (ed) Price Controls. Ashgate, Brookfield,
pp 78–94
Monbiot G (2006) Drastic action on climate change is needed now. The Guardian, London, pp 31
(31 October)
Author's personal copy
Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222 221
Musial J, Stearns J (1973) Gasoline rationing as a solution to resource, environmental, and urban
problems. Int J Environ Stud 5(3):173–181
Nerlich B (2006) War on foot and mouth disease in the UK, 2001: towards a cultural understanding
of agriculture. Agric Human Values 21(1):15–25
Nerlich B, Halliday C (2007) Avian flu: the creation of expectations in the interplay between science
and the media. Soc Health and Illn 29(1):46–65
Newman R (2006) It’s capitalism or a habitable planet—you can’t have both. The Guardian, London,
pp 33 (2 February)
Nixson M (2004) America must join war against global warming, says the green Queen. Mail on
Sunday, London, pp 7 (31 October)
Noakes L (1998) War and the British: gender, memory, and national identity. Tauris, London
Ohl A, Wolf S, Anderson W (2008) A modest proposal: global rationalization of ecolog-
ical footprint to eliminate ecological debt. Sustain Sci Pract Policy 4(1). Available at
Oppenheimer M (2003) Declare war on global warming. The International Herald Tribune, Paris,
pp 6 (8 April)
Pascoe-Watson G (2007) Misson X-possible. The Sun, London, pp 1 (4 October)
Penning-Rowsell E, Johnson C, Turnstall S (2006) “Signals” from pre-crisis discourse: lessons from
UK flooding for global environmental policy change? Glob Environ Change 16(4):323–339
Penson R, Schapira L, Daniels K, Chabner B, Lynch T (2004) Cancer as metaphor. Oncologist
Pisarski A, de Terra N (1975) American and European transportation responses to the 1973–74 oil
embargo. Transportation 4(3):291–312
Prescott M (2008) A persuasive climate: personal trading and changing lifestyles. Royal Society for
the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, London. Available at http://www.
Ramírez A, Hoogwijk M, Hendriks C, Faaij A (2008) Using a participatory approach to develop
a sustainability framework for carbon capture and storage systems in The Netherlands. Int J
Greenhouse Gas Control 2(1):136–154
Redmond W (2000) Consumer rationality and consumer sovereignty. Rev Soc Econ 58(2):
Reisfield G, Wilson G (2004) Use of metaphor in the discourse on cancer. J Clin Oncol 22(19):
Roff R (2007) Shopping for change? Neoliberalizing activism and the limits to eating non-GMO.
Agric Human Values 24(4):511–522
Roodhouse M (2007a) Enlist the blitz spirit, get out the carbon ration book. Financial Times, London
(13 March)
Roodhouse M (2007b) Rationing returns: a solution to global warming? Available at http://www.
Rovner J (1997) President Clinton wages public war against AIDS. Lancet 349(9044):39
Sanders P (2008) Economic draining: German black market operations in France 1940–1944. Glob
Crime 9(1–2):136–168
Sandvik H (2008) Public concern over global warming correlates negatively with national wealth.
Clim Change 90(3):333–314
Sarbin T (2003) The metaphor-to-myth transformation with special reference to the “war on terror-
ism.” Peace and Confl 9(2):149–157
Schlosser E (2003) Reefer madness: sex, drugs, and cheap labor in the American black market.
Houghton Mifflin, Boston
Schneider S (1989) The greenhouse effect: science and policy. Science 243(4892):771–781
Schneider S (2008) Geoengineering: could we or should we make it work? Philos Trans R Soc A
(Math, Phys Eng Sci) 366(1882):3843–3862
Schneider S (2010) Science as a contact sport: inside the battle to save earth’s climate. National
Geographic, Washington, DC
Schor J (2007) In defense of consumer critique: revisiting the consumption debates of the twentieth
century. Annals Am Acad Polit Soc Sci 611(1):16–30
Schrag D (2007) Preparing to capture carbon. Science 315(5813):812–813
Seyfang G, Paavola J (2008) Inequality and sustainable consumption: bridging the gaps. Local
Environ 13(8):669–684
Sissions M, French P (eds.) (1986). Age of austerity. Oxford University Press, New York
Skirrow J (1986) Waging the war against alcohol abuse. Can Med Assoc J 135(5):434
Author's personal copy
222 Climatic Change (2011) 104:199–222
Smith H (1996) Britain in the Second World War: a social history. Manchester University Press,
Smith M (2000) Britain and 1940: history, myth, and popular memory. Routledge, New York
Smith J (2005) Dangerous news: media decision making about climate change risk. Risk Anal
Smithies E (1984) The black economy in England since 1914. Humanities, Atlantic Highlands
Somerville R (2006) Medical metaphors for climate issues: an editorial essay. Clim Change 76(1–
Starkey R, Anderson K (2005) Domestic tradable quotas: a policy instrument for reducing green-
house gas emissions from energy use. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Manchester
University, Manchester. Available at
Steege P (2007) Black market, cold war: everyday life in Berlin, 1946–1949. Cambridge University
Press, New York
Stern N (2007) The economics of climate change. Cambridge University Press, New York
Stratton A (2008) Cabinet reshuffle: debutant Miliband brings clout to new department. The
Guardian, London, pp 7 (4 October)
Sunday Mail (London) (1989) Declare war, plant a tree. London (11 June)
Tainter J (2008) Introduction. In: Polimeni J, Mayumi K, Giampietro M, Alcott B (eds) The Jevons
Paradox and the myth of resource efficiency improvements, pp ix–xvi. Earthscan, London
Taylor N, Nathan S (2002) How science contributes to environmental reporting in British news-
papers: a case study of the reporting of global warming and climate change. Environmentalist
The Boston Globe (1989) Empty words on global warming. pp 18 (8 November)
The Economist (2006) Where to start (9 September)
Thorpe K (2007) The forgotten shortage: Britain’s handling of the 1967 oil embargo. Contemp Br
Hist 21(2):201–222
Törnqvist T (2007) A Dutch geoscience perspective on the Katrina disaster. Neth J Geosci 86(3):
Toynbee P (2008) Carbon credits tick all the boxes: what’s the delay? The Guardian, London, pp 35
(16 August)
Turner D (2005) Are we at war with nature? Environ Values 14(1):21–36
Ungar S (2000) Knowledge, ignorance, and the popular culture: climate change versus the ozone
hole. Public Underst Sci 9(3):297–312
Ungar S (2003) Global warming versus ozone depletion: failure and success in North America. Clim
Res 213(3):263–274
Van Alphen K, van Voorst tot Voorst Q, Hekkert M, Smits R (2007) Societal acceptance of carbon
capture and storage technologies. Energy Policy 35(8):4368–4380
Vincent J (2007) Science and imagery in the “war on old age.” Ageing Soc 27(6):941–961
Virgoe J (2008) International governance of a possible geoengineering intervention to combat
climate change. Clim Change 95(1–2):103–119
Walker K (2007) Meacher mounts the old labour challenge to Brown. Daily Mail, London, pp 10
(23 February)
Watson R (2008) Charles urges war on climate change. The Times, London, pp 4 (15 February)
Wiman B (1995) Metaphors, analogies, and models in communicating climate-change uncertainties
and economics to policy : a note on a pre-UNCED U.S. case. Ecol Econ 15(1):21–28
Wintour P (2007) Labour to set legal limit on UK carbon emissions. The Guardian, London, pp 1
(13 March)
Wintour P, Stratton A (2008) Target to cut carbon emissions may be increased as Miliband insists
climate change is priority. The Guardian, London, pp 12 (16 October)
Worster D (1992) Nature’s economy: a history of ecological ideas, 2nd edn. Cambridge University
Press, New York
Zweiniger-Bargielowska I (2000) Austerity in Britain: rationing, controls, and consumption, 1939–
1955. Oxford University Press, New York
Author's personal copy
... This research has furthermore highlighted the diversity and ubiquity of metaphors about climate change in media, political and organizational discourses. To cite just a few examples, climate change has been framed by drawing on metaphors from the lexis of "war" (Cohen, 2011) and "(winning the) race" (Nerlich & Jaspal, 2012), as well as from the language of finance (Shaw & Nerlich, 2015) and religion (Nerlich & Koteyko, 2009). Such rhetorical repertoires offer a range of linguistic resources from which consumers, journalists, politicians and others "can construct their own arguments about climate change and which may lead to different "logical" conclusions about the need for behavior change" (Nerlich et al., 2010, p.103). ...
... (2) The war metaphor. Military metaphors are abundant in public discourses about many grand challenges (e.g., Atanasova & Koteyko, 2015;Cohen, 2011), including diseases (e.g., Sontag, 1978Sontag, , 1989Wallis & Nerlich, 2005), and the Covid-19 pandemic is no exception (Bates, 2020;Craig, 2020;Oswick et al., 2020). Leaders around the world brandished war-like rhetoric in the wake of the pandemic. ...
... This research has furthermore highlighted the diversity and ubiquity of metaphors about climate change in media, political and organizational discourses. To cite just a few examples, climate change has been framed by drawing on metaphors from the lexis of "war" (Cohen, 2011) and "(winning the) race" (Nerlich & Jaspal, 2012), as well as from the language of finance (Shaw & Nerlich, 2015) and religion (Nerlich & Koteyko, 2009). Such rhetorical repertoires offer a range of linguistic resources from which consumers, journalists, politicians and others "can construct their own arguments about climate change and which may lead to different "logical" conclusions about the need for behavior change" (Nerlich et al., 2010, p.103). ...
... (2) The war metaphor. Military metaphors are abundant in public discourses about many grand challenges (e.g., Atanasova & Koteyko, 2015;Cohen, 2011), including diseases (e.g., Sontag, 1978Sontag, , 1989Wallis & Nerlich, 2005), and the Covid-19 pandemic is no exception (Bates, 2020;Craig, 2020;Oswick et al., 2020). Leaders around the world brandished war-like rhetoric in the wake of the pandemic. ...
Full-text available
Societal grand challenges have moved from a marginal concern to a mainstream issue within organization and management theory. How diverse forms of organizing help tackle – or reinforce – grand challenges has become centrally important. In this introductory paper, we take stock of the contributions to the volume on Organizing for Societal Grand Challenges and identify three characteristics of grand challenges that require further scholarly attention: their interconnectedness, fluidity, and paradoxical nature. We also emphasize the need to expand our methodological repertoire and reflect upon our practices as a scholarly community. © 2022 Ali Aslan Gümüsay, Emilio Marti, Hannah Trittin-Ulbrich and Christopher Wickert. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited.
... This research has furthermore highlighted the diversity and ubiquity of metaphors about climate change in media, political and organizational RUNNING HEAD: Metaphors and Grand Challenges 9 discourses. To cite just a few examples, climate change has been framed by drawing on metaphors from the lexis of 'war' (Cohen, 2011) and '(winning the) race' (Nerlich & Jaspal, 2012), as well as from the language of finance (Shaw & Nerlich, 2015) and religion (Nerlich & Koteyko, 2009). Such rhetorical repertoires offer a range of linguistic resources from which consumers, journalists, politicians and others "can construct their own arguments about climate change and which may lead to different 'logical' conclusions about the need for behavior change" (Nerlich et al, 2010: 103). ...
... (2) The war metaphor. Military metaphors are abundant in public discourses about many grand challenges (e.g., Atanasova & Koteyko, 2015;Cohen, 2011), including diseases (e.g., Sontag, 1978Sontag, , 1989Wallis & Nerlich, 2005), and the Covid-19 pandemic is no exception (Bates, 2020;Craig, 2020;Oswick et al., 2020). Leaders around the world brandished war-like rhetoric in the wake of the pandemic. ...
... This metaphor has been widely used in all discussions of climate change. Many authors describe successful use of this metaphor in teaching science (e.g., Niebert & Gropengieeßer, 2014; Asplund, 2011;Cohen, 2009;Gul & Yesilyurt, 2011;Nerlich, & Hellsten,2014;& Biro, 2015). The metaphor refers to increased (temperature) of the atmosphere, where greenhouse gases are understood to act like the glass surrounding a greenhouse and thereby trapping heat (Nerlich, & Hellsten, 2014). ...
... This emphasis can be achieved through the placement, repetition or association of certain objects with culturally recognizable symbols to invoke casual interpretation and assessment of the object described (Entman 1993). The conceptual frames around topics or people are established and embodied through keywords, metaphors, concepts, symbols and visual images emphasized in news stories (Cohen 2011;Neuman et al. 1992). Framing infuses stories with a basic interpretation that is understandable and easily recognizable for the audience. ...
This study applied news framing theory with mixed quantitative and qualitative methods to analyse news items ( N = 1348) about ordinary Arabs on Al Jazeera Arabic, Al Arabiya and Nile News TV shortly before the Arab Spring. Results show that ordinary Arab citizen representation was low. Overall, there were significant differences in networks’ framing of ordinary people. Importance, negativity and conflict values dominated the news featuring ordinary citizens. Arab news networks did not provide adequate time for citizens to voice opinions, and limited representation occurred via vox pop, footage and indirect reference. Networks employed negative sentimental framing (protest and rejection, economic problems, victimization, health problems and mistrust in governments) and mainly portrayed citizens of countries undergoing crises and wars. Arab television news should prioritize sharing the opinions, concerns and successes of ordinary Arab people and engage in constructive journalism rather than concentrating on problem frames without offering solutions.
... 3. War -The first pilot study found that militarized language was prominent. Research has found that this type of discourse is often employed by politicians in a range of situations, typically to unify the public behind a common goal (Cohen, 2011;Flusberg, et al., 2018;Howe, 1988). ...
As COVID-19 took hold of the UK, and the world, the UK Government were faced with the complicated challenge of protecting society. Within a system of biopolitical governmentality, the population is controlled not simply through the implementation of explicit rules and laws (although the pandemic saw plenty of these), rather it is directed towards self-governance through mechanisms of conduct of conduct. While the UK has not yet escaped the grip of COVID-19, much literature has nonetheless emerged in its wake already. As lockdown measures were implemented, there was a growing concern that the pandemic was facilitating governmental overreach (Agamben, 2020[a]; Denisenko & Trikoz, 2020; Santis, 2020; Zinn, 2020). Equally important, however, are the implicit tactics used by the government to exert control over the population by shaping the fabric of society. This study found that the Government’s constructions of the roles of science, the Government, the people, and the virus formed an integrated discourse that worked to protect the Government’s position of power and manage the population. The construction of science was employed to protect the Government from a virus with agency outside of the reach of state power, and from the implications of prioritising the economy over the people.
... Within the large body of studies which focus separately on climate change reporting or on the reporting of global pandemics, the analysis of metaphors is a well-established strand of research. In the case of climate change, a common finding across metaphor studies is that the UK media tend to discuss climate change through War ii metaphors (Atanasova et al, 2017;Cohen, 2011). Studies of the metaphors used to conceptualise infectious diseases in the UK media similarly find that War metaphors predominate (Nerlich, 2010;Taylor & Kidgell, 2021;Washer & Joffe, 2006; but see Wallis & Nerlich, 2005 for an exception) -including in the reporting of COVID-19 (Musolff, 2020;Semino, 2021). ...
Full-text available
COVID-19 has provoked fears that the heavy reporting of pandemic developments may cause climate change to slip from public attention. Views have also converged that the focus should be on the positive lessons of COVID-19 for addressing climate change. This paper examined Guardian Online and Positive News to identify examples of good practice in reporting the synergistic effects of climate change and COVID-19, as both are committed to covering climate change and practice solutions-oriented constructive journalism that provides context by explaining relations between issues. The study sought to identify the types of synergistic effects that were reported and how they were reported through metaphors-key conceptualisation tools. Analysis of 153 news articles published in the first year of the pandemic showed that the coverage of synergistic effects was solutions-oriented and synergistic effects were discussed mainly through Movement and Colour metaphors-particularly the colour Green. War metaphors which have dominated reporting when climate change and COVID-19 have been discussed separately were rare. Reliance on Movement and Colour metaphors can be interpreted as a positive practice, as Movement metaphors are familiar, vivid and more flexible than War metaphors, while Green metaphors are closely associated with environmentalism and have positive connotations.
Full-text available
Personal Carbon Trading (PCT) is a novel policy concept for rationing greenhouse gas emissions at the individual level. In addition to the free granting of CO2 consumption rights, there is the possibility of trading those that are surplus. Since CO2 emissions increase with income, and thus high-income households would tend to purchase additional allowances from lower-income households, PCT is considered climate-just. This paper aims to examine whether this assumption also holds for Germany and which households would benefit or be burdened financially by PCT. To answer the research question , the consumer expenditure survey (EVS) of 2018 was analysed. With the help of the household-related data, CO2 emissions in the areas of residential energy and transportation could be calculated, and the amount of CO2 surpluses and deficits per household group could be determined. Multiple linear regression analyses and a household classification algorithm (CHAID) were used to identify the variables.
The meaning people attribute to climate change is closely related to the way it is formulated and presented by communicators. This, as research has widely proved, is highly influential on how citizens then take action to mitigate it. The chapter analyzes the climate change discourse in Italian newspapers. At first, it provides an overview on how it has been depicted in the last 30 years, essentially following the global discourse evolution and reflecting key international climate events. Then, the chapter introduces a more in-depth analysis of climate change metaphorical representation in one of the most popular national newspapers, La Repubblica. Through the critical analysis approach, we detected the illness, journey, and war metaphors in 1022 articles published between 2019 and 2020. A significant presence of war metaphors was observed, showing how the climate crisis—and the same happens with Covid-19 starting from 2020—tends to be described with a sense of emergency, fueling a divisive atmosphere.Finally, our research shows how the Italian climate change narrative tends to follow global trends, adopting linguistic devices and linking the crisis mainly to global and far-away events, thus failing to intercept local experiences, possibly hindering citizens' and communities' proactive response.
Analyses on news media data in Conceptual Metaphor Theory have highlighted several frequent metaphors used to understand climate change including climate change is conflict . This article analyses the frequency of that conceptual metaphor in a corpus of UK parliamentary debates on climate change. The language of political decision-makers is important to scrutinise because this group have the social and legislative power needed to deal with the issue. Our analysis shows the conceptual metaphor itself, and all three of its most frequent linguistic realisations (‘challenge,’ ‘impact,’ ‘tackle’), increased in use between 2015 and 2019. Additionally, three notable semantic and pragmatic trends were observed: first, apparently little recognition of human behaviour as a cause of climate change; second, a narrative of Us/People vs Climate Change; and third, that political decision-makers are taking climate change increasingly seriously. Some of these findings challenge existing knowledge and thus beg questions that require future research efforts.
By the time you have finished reading this book, the following 12 key points will have been covered: 1. Why the threat posed by climate change to human welfare and the environment, both in the UK and world-wide is so grave and immediate; 2. How our use of fossil fuel energy is the main source of the threat; 3. What we use energy for, and the forces that are driving its consumption ever upwards; 4. What excuses people use to avoid taking climate change seriously and why they lack validity; 5. Why our current collective response to the threat of climate change and its implications is totally inadequate; 6. Why the technological options for reducing carbon emissions, such as greater energy efficiency and far more use of renewable energy, are limited in scope; 7. Why the principle of equity must be applied in international negotiations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions; 8. How a system of carbon rationing for individuals based on this principle, and carbon caps for business and the public sector, would ensure that each country contributes its fair share in a global agreement; 9. How a relatively painless transition towards the necessary target can be achieved; 10. What the average UK personal ration must be, how it can be reduced to that level, and what we can do as individuals to audit and reduce our own carbon emissions; 11. Who the winners and losers would be under the system of carbon rationing; 12. Why complacency and procrastination on the issue of climate change must stop.
During the 1990s, the UK gradually sought to position itself as a leader on climate change - a tendency that can be traced to a number of factors. By the year 2001, the dominant consensus in the UK was that climate change was a serious problem, that Kyoto was the right way forward and that the UK could meet and indeed exceed its Kyoto target of reducing emissions by 12.5 per cent. It was believed, moreover, that the technological innovation associated with meeting this target might well prove beneficial for the UK economy in the longer term. In this sense, the UK has moved steadily towards, and indeed increasingly helped to define, the European mainstream on climate change policy. The UK has worked particularly closely with Germany in the broader context of European climate change policy - especially in the recent crisis surrounding Kyoto which has raised climate policy to new political heights. The 'Kyoto crisis' of 2001 has culminated in the UK emerging as a leading force within Europe, standing squarely up to the US position on Kyoto-not a position the UK is accustomed to.
The extent to which military metaphors are contained in medical discourse is largely unexamined. This study is an effort to provisionally address this phenomenon. It short, the author teases out some of the implicit messages and hidden assumptions embedded in the text of medicine Further, by relying on the deconstructive philosophy and methodology of Jacques Derrida, the author demonstrates how binary oppositions such as war/peace, disease/health, violence/serenity underscore militarized medical metaphors. Moreover, the author reverses these hierarchies and explains how the Derridean notions of community and hospitality, as linked to martial rhetoric in medicine, impede prospects for making peace with dis-ease and subject all manifestations of "difference" to medicine's normalizing, sanitizing, unifying power. The author concludes by offering several speculative observations on the nature of law and the control of crime/deviance in society, given the overlapping effects of the military and medical models.