activism climate change sustainability

The New Home Front project

What can WW2 teach us about climate change?

Last year I wrote about the New Home Front, a project to look again at the history of how Britain responded to the Nazi threat, and see what lessons could be learned for today. During the war, Britain was isolated in a deliberate strategy to starve the country into submission. The Home Front was the coordinated effort to build resilience, increase home-grown food supplies and defend the borders.

Caroline Lucas, Britain’s only Green Party MP, believes that climate change needs a similar society-wide response. She explains the parallels between that crisis and our own.

“In wartime, government engaged the brightest and the best minds, and the most practical of people in meeting the pressing challenges that faced the nation. Today we are told that there is no alternative to the path that the coalition government is currently following. The reality, I believe, couldn’t be further from the truth. There are a myriad of innovative, practical policy proposals waiting to be put to work.”

After last year’s pamphlet introducing the idea, the second one, out this week, explores some of those alternatives. It is not a plan or a routemap, but a collection of ideas that we could try “if the courage of government matched the will and imagination of the people of Britain.”

Andrew Simms outlines the challenge. How do we thrive on a finite planet? What might a “contemporary effort of bold, vigorous and creative mobilisation” look like?

Bill McKibben writes about individualism and the need to rebuild community. Mike Davis writes about the need to learn from older generations, learning the skills that they took for granted that we find ourselves without. Anna Coote asks how we will make the time for all this activity, while tax campaigner Richard Murphy outlines plans for paying for it.

There are lots of ideas here that I’ve written about before, from shorter working hours to the Post Office bank, and plenty of things I haven’t thought about too. I like Ed Mayo’s idea for a National Business Rescue Service that would transition businesses into employee ownership.

There are a couple of problems with the pamphlet. The first is that the essays are very short. If you’re already sold on the idea, that’s fine, but if you’re not there’s nowhere near enough space to make a case. Essays like ‘Bring back British Rail’ risk sounding simplistic and populist without the time to answer the questions raised.

A second problem is that all the topics get the same amount of space, but some clearly deserve more than others. Sian Berry gets just two pages to outline an entire sustainable transport system, while PLATFORM get the same wordcount to argue that oil companies shouldn’t sponsor the arts.

Overall it’s a great collection of alternative politics, new economics and ‘what if? thinking’, though the comparison to the Home Front aren’t really all that obvious. An invasion force poised on the other side of the channel focused the collective mind in ways that climate change can’t, the latter being a faceless, slow-motion process.

Still, it’s well worth browsing. “The voices in this pamphlet invite us to do the most important thing of all if change is to come” says Andrew Simms. “They ask us to break free of the conditioning that says the world cannot be meaningfully different from what we already see around us.”


  1. I suspect that the world can be meaningfully different from what we already see around us. But I suspect too, that this can only be when we collectively learn from our fundamental mistake, that being our individual fear for security over the common good. I wonder if this is ever possible?

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