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Britons form clubs to cut carbon, pay for overuse

'Carbon rationing action groups' – where members swap tips and set targets – are cropping up across the country.

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CRAGs also provide a forum for members to swap tips about carbon-reduction measures. Aside from the obvious (turning down the thermostat, switching off appliances at the wall, and fitting energy-saving light bulbs), craggers swear by insulation, new efficient boilers, and solar panels for heating water. Many have given up flying, and some have sold their cars.

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"I'm getting my windows replaced, I've replaced the fridge because it was a major consumer of electricity, and I'm switching to a laptop because it saves 80 percent of the energy" used for a desktop, says John Ackers of the Islington CRAG. "I'm putting on more clothes during the winter as well."

Shannon Moore, who set up one of the first American CRAGs in Maryland, says that her craggers have taken to public transport, car-sharing, drying racks, insulation, reduced driving, and properly inflated tires. "The group is coming up with new ideas all the time about how the average person can cut their carbon emissions," she says.

Significantly, the 40 Maryland craggers have a target this year of just under 11,000 kilograms (about 12 tons) – more than double that of their British counterparts.

Ross is now considering taking things one step further by moving from his one-bedroom Glasgow flat to sharing with friends. Cohabitants get a full carbon ration, so emissions are divided up.

Everyone, it seems, is pulling on extra layers. "We wear more jumpers," says Angela Raffle of the Bristol CRAG. "It's not a hardship compared to what will happen if we don't do something." Anna Plodowski, from south London, doesn't even have central heating. Not that it seems to bother her daughter. "She can play for hours wearing next to nothing, and I'm wearing all these jumpers [sweaters]. She feels it much less than I do."

The impression one gets, even after a mild winter, is of hardy types huddling in their sweaters while the vast majority just turn up the thermostat a few notches. And herein lurks a problem with CRAGs. The danger of such voluntarism can be that the selfless merely create ecological space for others to fill.

As Monbiot puts it, "you can give up your car, but unless there's a government policy to make sense of that decision, all you might be doing is creating space on the road for someone to drive a less efficient car than you were."

Ms. Plodowski sees it slightly differently. She believes that because CRAGs ensure that everyone is treated fairly, they deal with a problem at the heart of the climate crisis: that people are reluctant to act because they think others will spoil their efforts by not joining in.

"CRAGs can go mainstream," she says, "because ideas of fairness are important to human behavior."

Already, CRAG leaders say their groups are reaching out well beyond the core constituency of the "green ghetto." Ms. Raffle says her group consists of engineers, teachers, doctors, and retirees. "We are the opposite of your stereotypical environmentalists," she says.

But Ross, the cragger pioneer, is unsure whether CRAGs will appeal to everyone. "It's very difficult to expect people to do something voluntarily which is so countercultural," he says regretfully.