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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Nostalgia for Depression Era Conservation

Air Date: Week of

The modern environmental movement is only about 30 years old, but conservation has been around as a way of life for a long time. That reminder comes from our elder commentator Ruth Page who began conserving early in this century. Commentator Ruth Page live in Burlington, Vermont, and comes to us from Vermont Public Radio.


CURWOOD: The modern environmental movement is only about 30 years old, but conservation has been around as a way of life for a long, long time. That reminder from commentator Ruth Page, who began conserving early in this century.

PAGE: I was in my teens during the Great Depression of the 1930s, so I'm an expert at conservation. We all grew up assuming: make it do, wear it out, use it up, or do without was an ironclad law older than the Golden Rule. We never thought broken, not even in school, where each piece of paper had better have words or numbers filling both sides before it hit the wastebasket. Back then, it was an unbreakable habit never to leave a room without turning off the lights. Still is. Who turns off the lights in your grown kids' houses these days? Their parents, right?

Everybody always turned off water as faithfully as they turned off lights. Water and electricity cost money. My sister and I turned off the shower while we got soaped, than back on for a quick rinse. When we washed the family car, we didn't hook up a hose. We hauled pails of water from the basement spigot so gallons of water wouldn't run off down the street. At home, we didn't flush the toilet after every use. Nowadays you'll see 2-year-olds flush with 3-and-a-half gallons of water after producing 4 ounces of liquid. Now that's waste.

During the Depression, mending socks was also standard procedure. An inevitable question, fun to toss around with friends, was: at what point are there so many mends they're really new socks? Shortly after World War II, when I wasn't looking, some idiot decided it was simpler to throw socks away than to mend them with darning cotton, so manufacturers stopped making it. That still frustrates me. I've kept my old wooden darning egg, hoping mending cotton will reappear.

Perhaps the most environment friendly different from today is that in the 30s everybody walked: 2 or 3 miles to school or to a 25-cent Tom Mix movie was nothing. We used the car, known as the machine, only for special trips. Did we worry about the ecosystem? Never entered into our heads. But with half America out of work, nobody wanted to make any holes in the family purse. And that meant we made fewer holes in the environment.

(Music up and under: swing)

CURWOOD: Commentator Ruth Page lives in Burlington, Vermont, and comes to us from Vermont Public Radio.



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