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Modern Rationing: A Wartime Solution to Combat Climate Change

Shaun Britton explores past solutions to dwindling resources and how similar steps could offer a much needed societal wide impact to safeguard our future.

Photo by Duncan Kidd


In 1940, the drastic shortages caused by the pressures of the Second World War led to the introduction of rationing in Britain. Various goods and produce such as petrol, sugar, lemons, meat and dairy, were either in scarcity due to limited importing, needed for the war effort, or both.


Rationing sought to meet the issues of waning resources in 1940, but could it be an effective, and potentially course changing way to remedy the climate crisis of today, to support the sustainable needs of the future?


Not a Drop to Drink


According to a PWC report, in the year 2000, 508 million people across 38 countries experienced 'water stress' – a term used to describe a lack of availability and supply to water, or the possibility of that lack in the near future. By 2025, the report predicts that over 3 billion people in 48 countries could be in the same situation.


The report also shows that much of our water is stored in inaccessible places, with 75% of freshwater in glaciers, and just under 25% underground. Imminent rising temperatures bring with them many threats to water supplies, including melting glaciers, so practical solutions are more vital than ever before. Particularly when approximately 70% of the world’s freshwater is used in food production.

Decreasing Resources


Today, we find ourselves in a world where demand for resources is outstripping the availability of the resources themselves. An infographic from science writer Tim De Chant measures how many resources would be needed if we continued to maintain the typical consumption of different countries. The infographic shows that if the whole world consumed resources like the US does, we would need a planet 4.1 times the size of the Earth to manage. For the UK, it would need to be twice the size.


The production of beef uses 15,415 litre/kg of water. Soya, although using much less water than its meat counterpart (296 litres per litre/kg), is still in high demand, with the USDA stating that in 2017/18, world soybean production would be at 346.92 million metric tons, though it is worth noting that three quarters of soya production is for animal feed.


The answer is of course, to adopt the suggestions offered from leading organisations – follow a plant-based diet, reduce emissions, stop using single-use plastics, buy local, and of course, reduce our consumption. But if people refrain from or even refuse to reduce consumption by their own will, might rationing be our only option?


Change or Change

It seems unlikely, given the consumption habits of the western world, and the levels of food in wartime rationing, that people would be all up for its return, and many further may see no issue in our consumption at all.


Glib comments on the ‘Nanny State’ however, may have no jurisdiction here. If a government has any job to do, then it should be the protection and well-being of its populace, not just of those in the privileged position of frequent access to food, but of those who haven't.


If we as a collective are unwilling to change our consumption at a personal level, then there may be only one conclusion: that a responsible government may have to, out of necessity, control our consumption levels for us, whether we like it or not.


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