Make Good Use of Bad Rubbish

One of the best parts of spending time with families is hanging out with the kids. This is how I had my first introduction to The Wombles the other day. In addition to being ahead of its time as a high-quality stop motion animation series, this mid-1970s TV show promoted a strong reuse and recycling message. (Although, that said, one of Val’s friends remarked that she thought the show might have also encouraged an entire generation of children to leave ostensibly useful bits of trash behind in the real-life Wimbledon Common burrows- a.k.a. Womble-land–in an attempt to help this fuzzy underclass in their efforts at creative reuse.)

Flash-forward to last night, when every few minutes a government-sponsored advertisement would appear on television asking all families in the UK to reduce both energy consumption and waste by 20%. I couldn’t imagine something like this playing in the red states of America. As a socialist country, the UK (and most of Europe) is used to taking lifestyle cues from government. And as a nation ravaged by World War II, Britons are used to getting behind rationing and other forms of conservation. Their survival depended on it. In fact, even as rationing was seen as a heroic war effort, a greener-than-thou attitude has sprung up as a seemingly ubiquitous attitude in the UK, with green services galore, not to mention this two-seat electric car.

Can you imagine it speeding around the freeways of L.A.? This is all in sharp contrast to the U.S., where environmentalism is seen as a markedly liberal concept, trendy but impractical; a nice idea–not an impending need. I have noticed smaller, older nations–and especially island countries, like the UK, New Zealand, and even the enormous island of Australia, seem to be way ahead of larger, younger Western countries in not only their environmental measures but the attitudes behind them. My theory is that living on an island (literally or figuratively) accelerates one’s awareness of the closed, self-contained nature of life on Earth.

In a country like New Zealand, overflowing with fresh water and natural beauty, low-flush toilets were standard (as they are in Oz and the UK). Not a single soap bubble could be found in the freshwater streams. Yet hundred-foot water fountains shoot into the desert air in Las Vegas. In Southern California, where so much of our water is imported, the biggest pro-green attitude is toward one’s lawn. Although litter is common all over London (after all, Wombles can use it!) there is an overwhelming sense of pride (albeit equally tamped down by modesty) among Britons in their efforts to preserve and conserve. After all, they have an entire generation who, if they’re anything like me after just two episodes, can’t get the Wombling Song out of their heads.