In the 1940s, Americans simultaneously battled fascism overseas and waste at home. My parents, their neighbors, and millions of others left cars at home to ride bikes to work, tore up their front yards to plant cabbage, recycled toothpaste tubes and cooking grease, volunteered at daycare centers and USOs, shared their houses and dinners with strangers, and conscientiously attempted to reduce unnecessary consumption and waste.I've always thought those posters that read, "When you ride ALONE, you ride with Hitler!" were faintly ridiculous. But apparently they worked—in a number of cities, the average occupancy per trip went up dramatically, as car pools became widespread, and oil consumption went down. The point, I guess, is that if the United States wanted to embark on a mass conservation effort today—say, to try to avert global warming—it probably could. It would just be a question of national will. Let's call this the Green Lantern Theory of, um, the green movement.
The World War II home front was the most important and broadly participatory green experiment in U.S. history. Lessing Rosenwald, the chief of the Bureau of Industrial Conservation, called on Americans "to change from an economy of waste--and this country has been notorious for waste--to an economy of conservation." A majority of civilians, some reluctantly but many others enthusiastically, answered the call.