Proud, patriotic & green
As war with Iraq edges closer, conserving oil and resources has become the new mantra of flag-waving Americans, who argue that true security will come only when the US stanches the flow of foreign oil.
The nation's green movement is taking on shades of red, white, and blue.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In ads, articles, and websites, environmentalists have pulled a page from President Bush's patriotic playbook, selling their cause of energy conservation against a backdrop of national security.
One online video, created for Greenpeace by cartoonist Mark Fiore, plays the Marines' Hymn while flashing scratchy images of US government posters from World War II. "When you drive alone, you drive with Hitler," admonishes one. The video then cuts to a modern cartoon character slapping a flag on his SUV before driving away from home, water running, lights blazing.
Another website, launched by an 80-year-old Colorado woman, asks readers to "make history" by pushing for energy-efficiency legislation. A headline on her Smart Energy site, comparing the effort to the race to develop the atom bomb during World War II, calls it "a Manhattan Project for our times."
And the "Patriot's Energy Pledge" promises signers of this online petition that they can serve their nation by keeping their car tires filled, riding the subway, or buying a Toyota Prius.
Energy security "is an issue that has percolated very quickly to the top over the course of the past 15 months," says Jon Coifman, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group in Washington. "People are saying, 'We want to meet our needs for mobility and transportation and hauling the soccer team around, but we don't need to make ourselves dangerously dependent on foreign oil to do that.' "
In some ways, this message is old hat. During World War II, citizens eagerly answered the government's pleas to use less gasoline and other household items. In 1973, Americans sat endlessly in lines at the pump during the Arab oil embargo. And a few years later, President Carter spoke somberly to the American people, calling the battle for energy independence "the moral equivalent of war."
What is different this time, however, is that the calls for conservation are more bottom-up: Many come from ordinary citizens, hoping that if they speak loudly enough, their leaders will listen. And their disparate voices seem to be tapping into a very real - and unmet - need for some Americans to be asked to do their part in the war on terrorism.
"People are sensing that there are threats to this country, and they want to respond with something beyond going shopping - which was what we were asked to do after Sept. 11," says iconoclast columnist Arianna Huffington.
Ms. Huffington should know. When she wrote a column last month for Salon, somewhat whimsically calling for an ad campaign linking energy waste to terrorism, more than 5,000 e-mails poured in. Many asked how they could support the ads, which Huffington suggested might follow the lines of this one, designed by "Got Milk?" adman Scott Burns.
Opening: Camera zooms in on a man at a gas pump.
"This is George," a kid's voice-over begins.
Camera shifts to pump: "This is the gas George buys for his car."
The ad follows the oil money's path - from gas station to oil company, from oil company to Saudi Arabia, and eventually to Al Qaeda and 9/11.It closes with a wide shot of bumper-to-bumper traffic: "The biggest weapon of mass destruction is parked in your driveway."
Huffington finished her column with a rhetorical question: "Anyone willing to pay for a people's ad campaign to jolt our leaders into reality?" And offers poured in. She says she heard from Republicans and Democrats, from students and businessmen, even from the unemployed. Wrote one reader: "If you're serious, although I'm just a working guy driving a truck, I'd gladly donate a thousand dollars to support the ad campaign you suggest."
Within two weeks Huffington had deposited $30,000 in a nonprofit account and accepted the pro bono services of a director and producer. The hypothetical ad campaign is poised to become a reality.
"I think [the column] touched a chord because of that link between patriotism and what are we really being asked to do," Huffington says. "The fact is, we're not being asked to do anything. We're at war. During the Second World War, people were asked to conserve. People truly do want to do something."
Don't tell that to Jerry Taylor, director of natural-resource studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "People who think the American people want to be told to do things got their butts kicked in the last election," he says.
Recent history lends some credence to his argument. Many political analysts date Mr. Carter's slide in popularity to the famous 1977 speech in which he dressed in a sweater to symbolize the virtue of lowering the thermostat.