The biggest pigs on the block

America is No. 1 even in things it shouldn't be

Since the late 19th century, Americans have been blessed with a whole series of domestic conveniences, from central heating to electric lighting to hot and cold water at the turn of a tap. Yet, in a way, these marvels are also the worst thing that could’ve happened to our longstanding national trait of Yankee thrift — for at the same time they’ve made our lives immeasurably easier, they’ve also made us immeasurably more wasteful.

Take the simple case of hot water. As long as Americans were obliged to chop wood, stoke a fire and lug buckets of scalding water around just to prepare a warm bath, we still appreciated what a luxury hot water is, and how difficult it is to obtain. Yet as soon as that same warm bath involved nothing more than opening a tap, we fell haplessly into the pattern of oblivious and wasteful use that’s still with us. Even in this increasingly green-centered era, many of us still treat hot water as if it were a gift from heaven.