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

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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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-222
Number of pages24
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science


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