Britain’s first ever Green MP, Caroline Lucas, has called for a revival of the Second World War spirit to help meet carbon emissions targets, saying “we need to mobilise as a nation in a way we haven’t seen since 1945”.
Ms Lucas said that what she liked so much about the idea of reviving wartime spirit in the fight against carbon was that people were willing to put up with so much deprivation “because they knew there was no alternative”:
What struck me most about the report was how many positive – and at times inspiring – lessons we could learn from the wartime generation. People put up with so much disruption and deprivation because they knew there was no alternative, and because they believed society would emerge stronger at the end of the war.
So what might this spirit of deprivation and disruption in the new “War on Carbon” actually look like in practice?
One possible future can be glimpsed from the efforts of people that have voluntarily reduced their “carbon footprints” to a level they see as appropriate. Let’s take a look, and see what it involves.
The BBC reports on one family voluntarily rationing their carbon emissions:
Most families get up in the morning, switch on the lights and start their ablutions. The Robinsons do not.
The Robinsons get up, leave the lights off and open the curtains a crack so some light gets in but little heat escapes.
This is the world of “carbon rationing”.
As the BBC report notes, the Robinsons got the inspiration for their lifestyle when Mr Robinson visited a prison, and was impressed with how the routine meant that habits became deeply ingrained there. When they started to reduce their carbon emissions at home, they simply applied the same psychology. The children do get some leeway, though, for the moment. They can watch DVDs at the weekend on the laptop (the family have no TV anymore) but they have to turn the brightness down to save electricity:
It is easy to see the Robinsons as driven. They do not watch television, but for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment. Their children are allowed to watch DVDs at the weekend but the brightness control has to come down.
As pleased as the Robinsons are with their austere new regime, they realise that their personal carbon emissions, at about ten tons per year, are over twice the allowed level set by their local Carbon Reduction Action Group (CRAG).
With more money to spare, Kelly Neville and his wife have redesigned their house and garden to be more “eco-friendly” and now their toilet empties straight out onto their vegetable patch, as The Times reports:
Emptying the earth closet onto the veg patch was common until the 20th century, and on Wednesday, on Grand Designs, I visit Kelly Neville and his wife, Masako, who have installed a reed-bed sewerage system by the oak-framed hexagonal house they have built on their six-acre smallholding in the Cambridgeshire fens. The garden is fed by roof-harvested rainwater and the enriched “grey” and “brown” water is filtered and cleaned by the reed bed. An underground microbiotic “digester” feeds on the waste solids, and the accumulated sludge makes great fertiliser. This isn’t “fork to fork” gardening, it’s “pan to pan”.
A wind turbine generates some electricity, and Kelly, 48, harvests the coppice willow that they grow and burns it in a low-tech furnace. This provides hot water and underfloor heating for their superinsulated house.
The Times. Waste Not, Want Not.
Laugh all you want. For now, this sort of thing is done on a voluntary basis. But it might pay to get used to the idea of using a chamber pot instead of a toilet, and forget about that quilted toilet paper. In fact, maybe just get used to life without toilet paper altogether –
As The Guardian observes, a campaign to ban quilted toilet paper as “unsustainable” is already well underway in America, and now campaigners in the UK are demanding the end of toilet paper altogether.
In fact, demands for toilets to be banned, and “humanure” to be spread on back-yard vegetable patches were made in the Guardian in 2006, and again in 2011. Banning the flush toilet was demanded as a necessary ‘first step’ towards the sort of life we need to get used to in the “War on Carbon”
This requires a lot of things, from rejecting plastic bags and packaging to radically abandoning the flush toilet – one of the world’s most destructive habits, absorbing 40% of water available for domestic consumption and contaminating everything in its way. And instead of overusing polluting vehicles, let’s reclaim auto-mobility, on foot or bikes. Just as we strive to eat and drink sensibly, let us live our whole lives in a different way.
The Guardian. The Arrogance of Cancun.
Instead, we should be emptying our waste on to the (organic) food we are growing in our gardens:
Jenkins wants to make people realise that flushing our poo down the toilet is like flushing away money: if composted and used as a fertiliser, he calculates that the entire world’s excrement in 2000 would have been worth $18 billion (based on 1975 prices!). He shows that at present we are operating in a broken nutrient cycle: instead of eating, excreting, composting and returning those nutrients to the soil in a healthy and perfect circle, we apply chemical fertiliser, grow, eat, excrete, and then landfill the excrement which is produced.
The Guardian. Should I Flush the Toilet?
Welcome to the war on carbon.