Old folks' perspective on the environment


By Bob McDonald, Quirks & Quarks


As delegates head to Durban, South Africa, for the next round of UN Climate Talks next week, the biggest obstacle that will be thrown up, by countries such as Canada, against an agreement among nations to reduce carbon emissions will be the argument that those changes will cripple the economy. 


Here's a different perspective from a senior citizen that appeared my email this week, a perspective from a time when conservation was something everyone did:


The Green Thing


Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, "We didn't have this green thing back in my earlier days."

The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations."

She was right - our generation didn't have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store.  The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So, they really were recycled ... but we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right ...we didn't have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts - wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right ... we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house - not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working, so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she's right ... we didn't have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn't it sad that the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were, just because we didn't have the green thing back then?

The irony of this perspective is that the senior citizen is likely talking about the hard times during the Depression, when the economy was in the worst shape it's ever been in. Back then, conservation was a matter of survival. Now, it's a matter of cutting back on the excesses we created for ourselves since the Depression. 

Sadly, those conveniences are hard to give up, especially when very large industries have grown up around them, industries that feed the economy.

So, should we go back to the days of the Depression? Of course not, but we could go back to the attitude that there isn't much to go around, and make every effort to get the most out of what we have before we buy more.


While the scientists and engineers develop greener technologies, there are still great strides to be made in reducing overall consumption. In fact, some, such as energy expert Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, have demonstrated in their report, "Re-inventing Fire," that reducing consumption through efficiencies alone could take care of most of the energy and climate change problems.


It's all a matter of how you look at it.


(If you want to hear more about the upcoming climate talks in Durban, tune into Quirks and Quarks this week).