Thursday, May 05, 2011


This didn't make the headlines, not in bin Laden week--not that it would have anyway.  But since it's a report to be delivered at a big international conference, maybe it still will.  The report by Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program says that the ice in the Arctic and Greenland is melting much faster than previously predicted, and is likely to result in a much greater rise in sea level this century: five feet.  Some believe this is even too conservative an estimate, as it doesn't factor in other contributing causes to sea level rise.  But it's a very significant rise.

There were a couple of thousand comments to this AP story.  One said something to the effect that old age is looking better all the time.  That's a common enough response.  Another response was posted as a comment, but it has the look of  an often-emailed piece that's made the rounds.  Still, early boomers may be the last who recognize most of this from at least their childhood's:

" In the line at the store, the cashier told the older woman  that plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized to her and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

That’s right, they didn’t have the green thing in her day. Back then, they returned their milk bottles, Coke bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, using the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But they didn’t have the green thing back her day.

In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks.  But she’s right. They didn’t have the green thing in her day.

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

Back then, they 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 pizza dish, not a screen the size of the state of Montana . In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn’t have electric machines to do everything for you. When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used wadded up newspaper to cushion it, not styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, they didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power. They exercised by working so they didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right, they didn’t have the green thing back then.

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

Back then, people took the streetcar and kids rode their bikes to school or rode the school bus, instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And they 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.

It’s a crying shame that we didn’t have “the green thing” back then! " 
All of that is familiar to me.  And while I remember that push mowers were no picnic, it does speak to a few things some of us have noticed: with greater prosperity and larger populations came greater complexity and much greater waste.  Things were in some sense simpler and slower and less cluttered, though our choices were also fewer.  English muffins were foreign food in the 50s, and you'd be considered weird if you wanted one.  
So I think we know that losing a certain amount of "choice" however false and artificial is likely to be part of the price of survival in the future.  The costs that have been ignored, and the costs that are unsustainably low (transportation of goods certainly) are going to be exacted on the future.  But we're still here to say that a life that's more modest, more thoughtful and more sustainable, is possible.  We had one.