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Clare Patey, at the Ministry of Trying to Do Something About It

Inside, it’s more or less an empty room. Bare brick walls. No curtains at the windows. A drab patterned rug has been placed in the middle of the floor. And the only furniture to speak of is a kind of desk knocked together from three old suitcases.

Behind the desk stands a woman wearing a vintage blue woollen suit. On her head, is a matching hat,  with the words “RATION ME UP” embroidered just above the brim. This is Clare Patey, an artist whose previous work has included Feast on the Bridge – a sit-down dinner for hundreds of people on London’s Southwark Bridge.

There’s a crowd of us standing in the room now. And Clare has started handing out little books, each one a different colour. I look down at the green one which is now in my hands: Ration Me Up. Carbon Ration Book. One Month.

Flicking through the book, I find coupons for almost every activity in my life: taking a bath, running a fridge, eating vegetables, boiling a kettle, taking a bus, even buying a pair of socks. On the back of the book is a grid of forty squares.

These forty squares, I’m told, represent my carbon ration for one month. That’s based on the knowledge that in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, each person in the world must limit their yearly output of greenhouse gases to 1.15 tonnes of CO₂e. For some people, such as those in developing countries, that will be more than they currently emit, allowing them to raise their material standard of living. But for someone like me in the UK, where the average annual emission is around 11 tonnes of CO₂e, that’s going to mean a fairly hefty carbon detox.

I’m already a vegetarian who doesn’t fly and who cycles to work, but apparently it’ll take even greater levels of dedication to the cause to get me down to one-planet living. Next month I’ll be trying to stay within my carbon ration. If you picked up a ration book at The Bigger Picture on Saturday, you can join me and my much obliging other half, Belinda, on a low carbon adventure here at the nef blog. Post your comments, share your photos and let us know how you get on.

Ed, engrossed in his ration book, while Andrew addresses the crowd.

We may or may not have a high-profile guest quietly joining in too, in bizarre twist of fate blurring one fake Ministry with another genuine one. At a rally last week, nef policy director Andrew Simms managed to press one of these little ration books into the hands of the Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP, otherwise known as the Minister for Energy and Climate Change. It turned out that Ed was so taken by the idea that he was busy mentally totting up his rations and paid precious little attention to Andrew’s speech. So, who knows, maybe Ed’s out there busy trying to work out how many pairs of underpants he can afford this month, just like the rest of us.

Ration Me Up is part of a series of new work around art and the new economics, commissioned by nef, supported by Platform and funded by Arts Council England.