I was listening to a thirty-something year old comedic-activist who went on a rant that if you over fifty years of age the environmental problems his generation must deal with is all your fault. While our environmental problems didn’t start yesterday I think this comment is too general and needs restated.
Being that I am one of those people over the age of fifty, I take offense to this generalized statement. In the big picture I saw both the good and bad. We had polluted waters; smog-filled cities from factories; and large-scale agriculture that used some pretty dangerous chemicals but that was industry and industry has gotten worse not better.
We fought to pass the Clean Air Act and Cleaned up our waterways. Just when we thought we were making a difference our government opened the way to globalization and our factories, feeling hampered by EPA regulations, moved their businesses overseas where they could pollute worse than ever.
If we look beyond business, and look to individual actions, then no those of us over fifty weren’t wasteful or polluting. If anything the younger generation, of which this comedic-activist is a part of, are more wasteful and causing more problems than my generation ever did.
We had our bad habits or smoking which I’m pleased to see isn’t being passed on to the next generation at the same rates, and we liked to drive our cars that used leaded gasoline. We didn’t know better at the time. We can also say it was our generation that moved to the suburbs. Regardless of where we lived, we weren’t wasteful on a large-scale.
I’d like to share a few differences between the life I grew up with, and continue to practice, and that of today.
- We didn’t have take out coffee habits. No Starbucks for us.
- We had one television in the house. It wasn’t on standby using electricity and it didn’t come with a remote control. Our television went off the air at midnight except for Friday and Saturday nights when there was a late horror movie that ran until one.
- We didn’t have entertainment systems. Our television was a stand-alone item. We didn’t have surround sound, DVD players or game systems.
- Central air didn’t exist in my part of the country and even in the southwest where people live in desert conditions they used swamp coolers for most of that time.
- We weren’t a throwaway society. Until the mid-80s we still had our shoes resoled and repaired rather than toss them out.
- Speaking of footwear, we had a mending basket and darning sock to repair socks rather than toss them when they had a hole. When is the last time you heard of someone repairing a sock? They are cheap so we toss out the old and buy new ones today. If you want to get picky, we even mended our underwear!
- We didn’t upgrade annually. My grandparents bought their last house in 1966, when my grandfather passed away in 2002 he had the same phone hanging on the wall that was installed when they moved in.
- Everyone had a small backyard garden and we shared our produce with neighbors and friends. My grandfather grew the loveliest tomatoes and his rhubarb was highly demanded. A friend of theirs grew zucchini and shared their bounty with us. An added bonus of the back yard garden was that I never had a store-bought pickle until I was an adult.
- I never saw a roll of paper towels in the family home until sometime in the early 90s. We used rags for cleaning.
- You never saw more than one can or bag of trash set out for weekly pickup at any home. Can you say the same today?
- We didn’t fly regularly. My grandfather was never on a plane, my grandmother flew just twice in her eighty-four years and I have only been on a plane twice myself.
- Our favorite pastime wasn’t heading out to shop. Instead, we had weekly get-together with friends and family.
- We didn’t redecorate our homes and never tried to copy magazine images of the perfect room. We lived with what we had if it was still serviceable, and if it could be repaired we repaired and kept it. I have a dresser in my bedroom that was purchased at a yard sale in 1977 for me to use when I entered high school. I’ve repaired it a few times and painted it to match my taste but I still have it.
- We didn’t have takeout, there was no such thing. If we wanted pizza, for instance, we made it from scratch, purchased a premade pizza from the deli section of our grocery store or went out for a sit down meal in a restaurant.
- The items in our homes from our large appliances to our clothes and everything in between was made in the USA. My grandfather worked at GE, he would only purchase items made by GE because they gave him a percentage of the purchase price back as one of his employee perks. He liked the refund but believed in buying products that would keep him in a job.
- Our grocery stores were smaller because we didn’t have as many choices. We didn’t feel the need to have hundreds of options for toothpaste, toilet paper, etc. Nor did we purchase ready-made meals. We knew how to cook and made our meals from scratch.
- We had glass bottles not plastic. Whether we bought milk, soda or juice our beverages came in glass and most were returnable and were reused. The milk in our stores was from a local dairy and the bottles were sterilized and reused over and over. Oh, and bottled water didn’t exist!
I could come up with many more examples of how we were more resourceful but I think you get the picture.
The point I wanted to make is that pointing the finger at individuals isn’t accurate. One of the biggest complaints about Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient, Truth was that it focused on things we could do as individuals to reduce our footprint when the biggest use of our resources, and the biggest waste and damage ecologically, is being done at the business level not in the family homes.
There’s a lot of work to be done, we can all agree on that. Instead of pointing fingers let’s work together and remember we can make changes by using our wallet. The organic food market was basically non-existent twenty years ago today the organic market grows exponentially year after year because consumers demand it.
Regardless of when we were born let’s do something now to leave the next generation with a healthier world.