Is WW2 rationing the answer to the energy and climate crisis?

Researchers claim it could curb emissions and protect those most in need

Big Zero Report 2023

Rationing similar to that during World War Two could be the answer to slashing carbon emissions.

That’s the claim of researchers from the University of Leeds, who state that other options such as carbon taxes or offsets are not the answer – allowing the wealthy to continue to pollute by paying the cost.

Carbon rationing is the answer they put forward, which would give people a certain portion of emissions allowed based on their needs.

Dr Nathan Wood, joint lead author of the study, said: “The concept of rationing could help, not only in the mitigation of climate change but also in reference to a variety of other social and political issues – such as the current energy crisis.”

During the Second World War, rationing was implemented, as resources became scarce – with goods and burdens being shared more equally with the British public.

The researchers point to the fact that price controls were put on goods to ensure key resources were affordable for most of the public, meaning that although shortages were rife, malnutrition rates actually went down.

Dr Wood explained how this somewhat translates to the current situation: “The cost-of-living crisis has shown what happens when scarcity drives up prices, with energy prices rising steeply and leaving vulnerable groups unable to pay their bills.

“Currently, those living in energy poverty cannot use anywhere near their fair share of energy supply, whereas the richest in society are free to use as much energy as they can afford.”

In revealing how this equilibrium of emissions would be implemented, he added: “It seems feasible to reduce emissions overall even while the lowest emitters, often the worst off, may be able to increase their emissions because of rationing and price controls.”

Dr Rob Lawlor, the other lead author, explained why the World War II style of rationing appealed to them: “Many have proposed carbon allowances and carbon cards before. What is new – or old, taking inspiration from World War II – is the idea that the allowances should not be tradable.

“Another feature of World War II style rationing is that price controls on rationed goods would prevent prices from rising with increased demand, benefitting those with the least money.”

Make sure you check out the latest Net Hero Podcast episode: