On July 29, 1940, when Britain’s Minister of Supply, Herbert Morrison made radio appeal opening with, “WE MUST LEARN TO BE MISERS”, he was not addressing the “sustainability” issue caused by climate change but a crisis caused by war. Britain was facing a shortage of food, and other resources. Global trade routes, manufacturing, labour force, and food production were all negatively impacted by war.
In 1939, Britain only grew enough food to feed one in three; war threatened to starve the country to defeat. Resources were limited while materials and production were directed to war efforts. Surviving war meant creating unified change in habits and behaviours, as well as, effective action to combat shortages of food, metal, paper, rubber, and fuel.
The change in attitudes and actions had to take immediate effect because every day made a difference. The British Government realized the need to be a catalyst to change. There was a clear goal, and an intensive plan to rally every citizen, every business, and every organization to do their part to achieve the goal.
Material shortages, food security, waste, production shut-downs, educating and inspiring change were all issues that had to be addressed by countries around the world experiencing the impact of war, with immediate actions
In 1940, Britain launched THE NATIONAL SALVAGE CAMPAIGN, a program to collect and recycle materials such as metals, papers, textiles, cooking oil and fat, and bones. Germany, Canada, Australia, and the United States also had similar programs.
Salvage drives operated across countries using the volunteer labour of Boy Scouts, church groups, communities while government corporations paid for transportation and factories changed production to utilize these salvaged materials. Everyone participated – children in Germany collected scrap metal in wheelbarrows, a theatre in Nova Scotia collected 1,500 worn out aluminum pots and pans from patrons exchanging them for free admittance to a movie matinee, ladies in California salvaging straps from corsets saved enough metal to build two war ships, and radios and newspapers promoted contests for highest collection rates of materials. Laws were passed to enforce “reduction”. It was illegal to retain more than 500 lbs. of unused steel. Production and consumption of unnecessary items were eliminated.
Food rationing became a way of life. Health and agricultural authorities devised rationing systems to ensure everyone including citizens at home and soldiers abroad had basic nutritional requirements. Scarce products such as sugar, eggs, flour, and meat were rationed. Registration and ration books were used to control consumption and supply.
Growing food was promoted. Public properties became allotment gardens planted with food crops. Composting and raising chickens and pigs were both urban and rural activities. Monetary fines were handed out for wasting food.
Shopping was restricted to necessary items. In Britain vouchers were also given for clothing. People were instructed to “make due with what they had”.
Newspapers, posters and magazines bombarded the public with messages about “WHAT THEY WERE EXPECTED TO DO”. Campaigns on radio, newspapers and posters educated people “ HOW TO DO WHAT WAS EXPECTED OF THEM”. Examples of both good and bad behaviours were reported on. The lady in Kenningston fined for wasting bread by feeding the birds had her name in the paper for her neighbours to read. The ladies of The Eastern Star in Vancouver B.C., also made the news donating the brass plagues off the walls of their meeting hall for the salvage effort. Advertising was about, “EVERYONE DOING THEIR PART”. Kraft Dinners gained market share because as everyone did their part to have one meatless dinner (consumers could purchase two boxes for one ration voucher). Posters in shops, schools, hospitals, cafes and train stations told the nation that driving for amusement was not permissible; to conserve coal by using only 6 inches of water in bath, to mend clothes, and six newspapers could be recycled into four boxes for rifle bullets. There was no escaping being part of the solution for anyone living at this time. There was a constant and insistent push towards the “common” goal. Motivation was inspired by giving reasons for action and highlighting achievements. All mediums of communication were used with no concern of over- saturation. Community leaders came forward to organize, advertising caught the public’s attention, propaganda created feelings, newspapers informed, pamphlets educated on how-to live a thrifty life and nations of people joined together to overcome crisis. Nations of people heard the appeal “WE MUST LEARN TO LIVE AS MISERS….YOU HAVE GOT TO BE SHOCKED AT THE IDEA OF THROWING AWAY OLD BONES OR DIRTYING A GOOD PIECE OF PAPER AS A MISER WOULD BE IF SOMEONE THREW A GOLD SOVEREIGN INTO A RUBBISH BIN” and they united in action.