ConsumerismEconomicsFood ShortagesGlobal Warming/Climate Change

Global Warming, Hitler and World War II Rationing

Peer pressure, national pride, and
legal mandates worked together
against the common evil

It’s an unusual title, I know – but bear with me.

If you were to personify global warming, to literally morph it into some kind of effigy – something you could tie to a stake in the town square, and throw cabbages, or rocks at – what would the guy look like?

I guess the degree of grotesquery in your visualisation would largely depend on where in the world you live, and to what extent this ‘person’ has adversely influenced your life, although in some ways it could be easy to conjure an image of one of last century’s most notorious, infamous villains – Adolf Hitler. Couldn’t it?

If you think back over the last few hundred years, when was the last time the world was really united against a universal and common enemy? There have been dozens of major wars, and hundreds of ‘spats’, but WWII stands out as a conspicuous juncture in history when even the most contrary elements, like the capitalist, democratic USA and communist, totalitarian USSR, put their differences aside and worked to a common end.

A quote from Winston Churchill captures the moment well:

I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby. – Winston Churchill, The Grand Alliance

This was the focal point of attention, and the driving ambition of a large proportion of the planet’s citizenry.

Similar questions were asked about Hitler as they have been about our global warming ‘fellow’. Did society shape, or create this person – did we bring this upon ourselves – or was the person himself the source of our problems? Did he shape society? Or, as is most likely, has it worked both ways?

I don’t want to dwell on the influences that brought about the Nazi regime, but instead want to focus a little on the teamwork involved in its defeat. The allied nations had to mobilise their armies, and their public, to defeat the mighty German war machine, and one aspect of that was the pooling and rationing of resources.

Rationing, regulating the apportionment of items in short supply in order to achieve their equitable distribution. Rationing is usually undertaken by a government only in response to a severe emergency such as war. It is generally cumbersome and unpopular.

Techniques used in rationing include restricting the uses of an item—for example, restricting the use of petrol; limiting the quantity of goods available to any consumer; curtailing the hours when an item may be sold; setting a maximum amount a person can spend for an item; and employing a point system, which assigns a point value to a number of articles and permits customers to “spend” a certain number of total points. The mechanics of rationing involve coupon books, stamps, or certificates; all three were used during World War II. – Microsoft Encarta

Rationing began in the United Kingdom at the outset of 1940 – four months after the war started, and America followed suit a year later. After the war ended, rebuilding began, but, for some items at least, rationing continued until long after war’s end – even up until 1953.

Over the rationing period, the availability of many items fluctuated. German aircraft destroyed merchant ships as well as naval – stopping the importation of consumer goods. Those that didn’t already were encouraged to grow and preserve at least some of their own food. A lot of the burden was placed on women, as able-bodied men were drafted.

Before the outbreak of war Britain imported around 55 million tons of food per year from other countries, such as the U.S.A. and Canada. But it wasn’t just food that was brought in from abroad; many other things were imported too. Things such as tea, sugar, fruit, oil (used for petrol), wood and rubber. All of which had to be shipped across the Atlantic in large cargo vessels. Inevitably once war broke out Germany did everything in its power to cut off these much needed supplies, by hunting down and destroying the convoys that carried them with their battleships and U-boats. – The Battle of the Atlantic

We can see striking similarities here. Global Warming also threatens the fulfillment of our basic needs, our supplies. Natural disasters, disease, soil infertility and water shortage problems, are all on the increase. Today, however, we are arguably more vulnerable than we were six decades ago. Our more specialised society with its enormous monocrop systems of farming, and our dependence on global trade, means it’s not as easy as before to transform into a self-sufficient society. How many have a garden to grow food in today, and of those that do – how many would have to pull up the ‘astroturf’, or remove the decorative tiles, before a seed could even be sown?

Rationing involved many aspects of life, not just food commodities. In regards to petrol, besides the rationing itself, in some places there was even a government approved ‘war speed’ to ensure the most economic use of vehicles.

Rationing brought some unintended beneficial side effects. The most commonly rationed foods were sugar, meat, oils and other fats. In fact, herds of livestock were slaughtered so the land could be put to use feeding people rather than animals. Locally grown fruit and vegetables, and whole grain bread were the staples. WWII brought the US, and the UK in particular, the closest to vegetarianism than ever before, or since, and the effects were generally noted.

Potatoes new, potatoes old
Potato (in a salad) cold
Potatoes baked or mashed or fried
Potatoes whole, potato pied
Enjoy them all, including chips
Remembering spuds don’t come in ships!

Even with stricter rationing regulations than the United States, the citizens of Great Britain experienced improved health during the war. Despite the strict regulations, according to Marguerite Patten, who worked for the Ministry of Food in Great Britain during the war, the health of the nation was “surprisingly good,” infant mortality decreased, and the average age of death from natural causes increased. “For many of the poorer sections of the community, rationing introduced more protein and vitamins, while for others it involved a reduction in the consumption of meat, fats, eggs, and sugar.” – World War II Cookbooks: Rationing, Nutrition, Patriotism, and the Citizen Consumer in the United States and Great Britain

But, rationing could not work if the people were not behind it.

Because voluntary compliance is crucial to the success of rationing, concerted propaganda campaigns, even in openly democratic countries, are designed to urge people to feel personally invested in complying with rationing. Food is politicized, whether consumed in public or in private spaces. With wartime rationing, the grocery store, the kitchen, and the family meal—where food is purchased, prepared, and consumed—become public spheres as rhetorically important as the battlefield. Farmers with pitchforks and gardeners with trowels are likened to soldiers bearing rifles. Women, as traditional food procurers and preparers, become akin to soldiers at the battlefront. Wasting or hoarding food is characterized as aiding the enemy. Sacrificing food in order to send more to the military, or growing one’s own food so that commercially prepared food is more available to distribute to citizens under enemy rule, is seen as performing one’s patriotic duty. –

Just as rationing was dependent on voluntary and concerted action, it was vulnerable to inaction. Any perceptions of unjust manipulation and greed could bring the whole thing tumbling down:

The success of rationing in any country is highly dependent on efficient and effective administration and on unyielding honesty of and cooperation among government officials, farmers and food processors, wholesalers, grocers, and consumers. Rationing can break down at any level and through a variety of means: theft of ration books and favoritism in their distribution; lowering or misrepresenting the quality of products produced (shrinking the size of bread loaves; adding inferior grain); selling goods for higher prices or without collecting ration points; hoarding food; or bribery. –

It could be said that as the aeroplanes flew overhead, dropping their bombs like rain, the motivation to work together was certainly brought to a head. But, with the entire length of history as a witness, we know that corruption is inevitable and inescapable. The promise of trouble and strife, war and affliction, brings out not only the good in people – but also their baser instincts.

Even during World War II, when the U.S. was united as never before or since, gasoline rationing was marked by corruption, favoritism and loopholes. – Time

It has been said that World War II was a boon for many in positions of power – both in government, and for other organised elements, like the Mafia.

The corruption of the gas business was legendary, and many millionaires came out of evasions of this; between counterfeiting of the stamps or the stealing of them in vast caches from post offices, criminals did very well (if you read the Valachi Papers, you will recall Joe Valachi made his bundle in the gas rationing evasions and he protested that he was just a little guy. As the famed organized crime buster Ralph Salerno said, “World War Two come as a godsend to the Mafia.”) The government admitted that 5% of all gas used came out of black market transactions but the more realistic observers thought it was a least thrice that….

From my observations however it was only the most pious, timid and reverent citizens who went without anything despite this rats’ maze of controls, stamps, ‘points,’ and other hullabaloo: it was a paradise of sorts for many who ran these programs… – Anti-war Propaganda: War on the Home Front

It’s ironic that the most unlikely of the populace to start a war, are the most likely to suffer its injustices – the humble, hard-working ‘honest Joe’.

‘Making do with less’ was the rallying cry on the American Homefront. Following the example of its British cousins, America soon began the rationing of critical goods. The Office of Price Administration (OPA) was set up in 1941 to set rationing regulations. With the military getting first claim on products such as steel, aluminum, coal, wood, rubber, gasoline, items like cigarettes and foods such as coffee and sugar, American families began feeling the pinch. Within a short period of time, ration books had been issued to every family member in the country. For those who disobeyed ration rules, punishment was strict. “Punishments ranging as high as Ten Years’ Imprisonment or $10,000 Fine or Both, may be imposed under United States Statutes for violations thereof arising out of infractions of Ration Orders and Regulations.” (from United States of American, War Ration Book One). With rationing came a thriving black market for the scarcer products. –

Rationing however was not without its problems and opened up a whole new avenue for fraud and theft from the more unscrupulous trader and racketeer. Eggs which were sold for breeding purposes and exempt from rationing often found their way on to the market. Ration books were easy to forge for those who knew how and could be sold on the Black Market. Unscrupulous postmen would steal ration coupons and again sell them on. Shop keepers had to exchange the coupons they got from their customers at the post office for vouchers which were then used to buy more rationed goods to sell again. The post officers however refused the fiddly job of having to count the envelopes full of coupons received from the shop keepers and was left to the Ministry officials to do. Except these checks were only carried out on a random basis and very infrequently. As a result some of the envelopes handed in had far fewer coupons inside than the number of vouchers actually claimed. Sometimes the envelopes even contained just scraps of paper torn from a telephone book. Even the used coupons which were sent to be re-pulped were sometimes stolen to be reused again to claim rationed goods to sell again. – WWII

If, in this new war, we make the inevitable parallel comparison to the proposed ‘rationing’ system – carbon trading, and carbon offsets – what kind of results should we expect? All good? All bad? A bit of both? Is it possible that carbon quotas would pinch the little guy, but be a ‘godsend’ to those in a position to take advantage of it? Also, who stands to gain the most from such rationing? What of the large transnational corporations that pull the strings around the globe? Having had the greatest influence in bringing Global Warming upon us, could they not also benefit from our warfare against it? We have some saying we must ‘ration the future‘, and others countering that it’s a futile and corrupt mechanism:

Carbon offsets are the modern day indulgences, sold to an increasingly carbon conscious public to absolve their climate sins. Scratch the surface, however, and a disturbing picture emerges, where creative accountancy and elaborate shell games cover up the impossibility of verifying genuine climate change benefits, and where communities in the South often have little choice as offset projects are inflicted on them. – Carbon Trade Watch (Read ‘The Carbon Neutral Myth‘, 3.75mb PDF)

The truly global context of this battle means that where white collar corruption may occur with a grim smile and placards in the North, it conversely would happen with rampant bloodshed and tears in the South, where ‘honest Joe’ has even less representation.

I’ve witnessed first hand the effects of one form of an enforced rationing system – that of forty years of communism on east-bloc Europe. The stealing of people’s possessions and ambitions sucks the life, enthusiasm, and willpower out of all but a very few ardent followers of the ‘religion’. In communism, of course, all people are equal – but, as the well-known saying goes, “some people are more equal than others”. It’s this disparity, corruption and disunity of purpose – products of human nature – that pulls the whole thing down.

Another similarity between Hitler, our historical enemy, and Global Warming, our current arched foe, is that they’re both obdurate. You cannot negotiate with Global Warming. It cannot be reasoned or bargained with. You deal with it, or you deal with the consequences. This is where Churchill pegged out his immortal stand in history – with his unflinching, unyielding realisation that Hitler could not be, indeed, should not be, mollified.

But, every analogy has its weakness, and here is where my own gets toppled. Hitler could be met with force and might. If we hung on to the bitter end, meeting fire with fire, we had the hope of victory. But Global Warming is a true mission impossible. In this battle we need to realise that we are in fact the real foe, and our own worst enemies. The only way forward is to remove the impediments we’ve placed in nature’s path – and surrender to unchangeable natural laws. Healing begins when our institutionalised abuse and conquest of nature is recognised for what it is – biting the hand that feeds us. Major social and industrial changes must occur, but it yet remains to be seen whether they will come through a universal voluntary willingness to learn and adapt, and make sacrifices, or through an enforced mandate by those in power, or… both?

Global Warming’s war is waged on us as a direct consequence of our prolonged attack on our own environment. Call it retaliation. Mother Nature’s unholy child will not be placated through the continued ignoring of the conditions that brought him into this world. Just like a physical cancer, Global Warming is not the problem – it is just the symptom of our lifestyles, our plundering spirit, our greed. Through science we seek cures for cancer so we don’t have to change our way of life. This obstinate philosophy also subscribes us to the technological ‘but wait’ crowd, that rests all of our global warming hopes on scientific and inventive breakthroughs – so we can keep on living just how we are. We are determined that nature must do things our way. But, there is no cure – there can be only prevention. Remove the cause, and the effect dissipates.

You can be sure nature will, if given the chance, reward a concerted effort with increased health, equality, and prosperity. And, the word ‘prosperity’ here is meant in the truest sense of the word.

That effigy has now finally crystalised, and is fully formed in my mind. Unfortunately, he looks just like me.



  1. I was interested to find this blog. 20 years ago I had a book published on different economic concepts to point the way to a sustainable world economy. Someone who liked the book recently contacted me to suggest that I update and re-publish it as a blog. She set up the blog, and the book is now complete on the blog in a series of postings. There are now also additional pieces on global warming and other subjects. Here is the link:

    With all good wishes,
    Charles Pierce

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