What do we mean by a climate emergency?

In the light of the now widely declared climate emergency I think we all ought to watch (or re-watch) the television series Foyle’s War. Set in the town of Hastings during the Second World War, it gives a good idea of what an emergency might really look like. Britain, especially after Dunkirk, was facing a possible invasion and incorporation into the Nazi Empire. Nobody wanted that, and people were prepared to make real sacrifices to prevent it happening. To put it another way, the government was able to introduce measures that certainly would not have been acceptable in peace time because everybody wanted to win the war. Food rationing was widely accepted, and people who had never grown their own food were encouraged to do so (Dig for victory!). Petrol was also rationed as the armed forces had priority and oil was a scarce commodity. A black-out was introduced for security reasons. Large country houses were sometimes taken over by government for military use. Tracts of land, similarly, became airfields or tank-training areas. Industry and its manpower were directed to aid the war effort. There were, for example, reserved occupations such as coal-mining. This was in addition, of course, to those called up for military service. There was a great deal of government advertising (Be like Dad, keep Mum!) to cajole the population into the right attitudes and behaviour.

Most of these measures were enforced by law; they were emphatically not a matter of choice. Also, though there was much law-making, there was also a good deal of social pressure. For example, people such as black marketeers were not treated as amiable rogues doing what we all would do if we could get away with it, but as social parasites, fully deserving of any penalties that befell them.

Whatever the details, this presents us with a clear picture. When there is an emergency we have to devise and accept exceptional measures. And that is my point. Because we are now in our own emergency then there are exceptional measures that we too need to take, and we are talking here of government intervention, not just individual decisions. Many of these measures will be rather similar to the ones I have just described. We may need food and fuel rationing and will probably have to learn to grow our own food. An occasional black-out (perhaps by means of power cuts) would preserve energy and lower our carbon footprint. Land will need to be commandeered for wind and solar energy farms. Manpower may need to be directed towards essential work such as coastal or riverbank defences, or, more positively, for creating ‘green’ infrastructure. Government information will need to be more persuasive leading to the creation of new social attitudes. There is much else, I suspect, but I am just trying to draw an analogy with the Second World War. One could add rules such as only one car per family, no flying for pleasure (i.e. for holidays), restrictions on food-miles, and so on.

As things stand, most of the measures I have mentioned would be resisted by the population at large and as a result would probably be politically impossible. They may be necessary all the same. The situation is so grave that it demands this sort of action. That is what we mean by an emergency.