The Green Thing

My mom doesn’t get on Facebook, she doesn’t read blogs (mine included), she searches on Google… maybe once a month? (just doesn’t occur to her to use it when she has a question about something- like the number to the post office), and she will NOT buy anything online with her credit card (fear of identity theft, not to mention she just started using a debit card a few years ago).  You might wonder what does she do on the internet?

Can’t answer that, but this I know:  she sends email… in two categories.  She is the care that holds the family together- so category one is: family happenings (a million thanks mom!).  And category #2- “pass it along” emails- the kind that always end in:  “if this made you smile, please pass it on to twenty friends” or “make sure this gets heard and hearts are touched”.    

And most of them do make me smile and often warm my heart.  The interesting thing, is there’s a certain trend to them- a generational trend.  I like to see what she sends as opposed to friends my age- there really is a difference, especially if the topic isn’t cute pets or inspiring landscapes.

I think her favorite emails to pass-a-long are about the good ‘ole days.  My mom is a postwar baby, who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in Ogden, UT.  She absolutely thinks that her childhood was ideal and misses those days of Sunday drives, buying delicious hamburgers for a dime and sitting on the porch as the sun sets, chatting with neighbors and family out on walks.  She sends us emails that talk about fond memories of the way things used to be and most of them seem to be a slight affront to the current generation.  Though I think that is more out of the fear of being over-looked and underappreciated, then truly wanting to bash.

A week or two ago, she sent me this email:

In the line at the  store, the cashier told the older woman that she should
bring her own grocery  bag because plastic bags weren’t good for the
environment.
The woman apologized to him and explained,
“We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”
The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today.
The former  generation did not care enough to save our environment.”
He was right,  that generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.
Back then, they  returned their 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 they didn’t have the green thing back in that customer’s 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 was 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 handkerchief,
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 a wadded up old 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 their writing 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 or a bus
and kids rode their bikes to school or walked
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.
But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful the old folks
were just because they didn’t have the green thing back then?
WOW!!!!!!!!!!!

And my thoughts in response?:

All those energy saving actions performed in the past, were done out of economic necessity, not out of thought or design for the environment.   People returned soda and milk bottles to the store because it saved them money, not because they cared about over production.   They walked up stairs, not from choice, but because there were no elevators.  They walked to the stores because they wanted to save gas money or simply didn’t have a car- not because they wanted to get in some exercise or burn less gas into the environment.  They used cloth diapers because they didn’t have the amazing gel diapers available today, not because they were trying to save the landfills.

I could go on, but you get my point.  All these energy saving actions performed in the past were great, but were not done out of concern for the environment.  Most people didn’t even know what environmentalism was- in fact, using less energy wasn’t about reducing greenhouse gases, but about reducing the electric bill.  It was about saving money$$.  And certainly, you can see how history shapes the path.  My parents grew up in a home that had been through the Depression and WW2.  Their issues of the day were about survival.  Their hard work, frugality and sacrifices during those difficult days have led to our current comfort of living, so that we can even begin to think about environmentalism on a local and world wide scale.

In the email, the author acknowledges that many of these “green things” were done out of simple necessity.  I think the author really just wants us to understand that even though they weren’t environmentally aware, they were not as wasteful and consumptive as the people of today and should be given respect.  I give them great respect, but the people that really blow me away and have my “awe” are those who throughout the decades, have purposely lived the Green Thing, despite the trend.

I guess this just got me thinking of how environmentalism has become more mainstream.  I find these processes very interesting.  I never thought about recycling, until someone else did.  I didn’t worry about air pollution, until someone else read the research and shared their findings.  I’m racking my memory, trying to think of an environmental idea that was before someone else showed me the way.

Good news- I can think of one!

Todd and I were about to buy a Family Car.  We wanted at least 7 seats.  We researched our favorites on consumer reports and narrowed it down.  At the time, we lived in Dallas and I was still in my 20’s.  A mini-van was soooooooooo considered FRUMPY.  I thought to myself:  “Nobody will look at me if I’m riding in a mini-van.  I’ll be a soccer mom (?&*).  Minivans are boring.  Minivans are for people without style.”  I didn’t want one- I preferred the more sleek and upscale Toyota Sequoia OR the super swank, all HotMommaTexans were driving them:  Black Suburban.

Minivan:  not cool.  Blah.

Black Suburban:  Go girl!

Welllll, Todd didn’t seem to have the same hang-ups.  He pointed out that the minivan was the safest and had the best gas mileage.  I was thinking that maybe I’d pay a little more to drive my image.

We continued weighing the pros and cons, and seeing how 9/11 had just happened, we talked about oil, gas and how it fuels all those corrupt regimes across the Middle East and Africa.  We thought about how cars pollute the environment with their low gas mileage ratios.  Finally, I realized that the minivan really was the best choice for the environment (not to mention world peace).

I like this image

Ohhhh it was hard to come to that decision.  Nobody I knew bought a car based on it’s environmental footprint.  I know there were people out there, but nobody I knew.  And so we bought the Toyota Sienna.  And Lordy!  It drives like a dream!

But back to the post.  The author forgot to praise our generation for actually being aware of the environment and making conscious choices to protect our beautiful planet (unlike their generation).  We are amazing (and terrible), and it is just the beginning.  And mom, lest you forget, be proud of the current generation:  you raised us!

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5 Responses to The Green Thing

  1. Jaclyn says:

    The environmentalist in me digs this post. I do have one question though- why is it that when peers from my generation learn that I cloth diaper they look at me like I’m absolutely crazy? Most of our generation (or really any generation for that matter) is still only willing to do what they can for the environment as long as it falls into their comfort/ don’t make me go too far out of my way zone. We are all guilty of this, myself included. How many times do I find myself annoyed to have to wash out a plastic yogurt container so I can recycle it rather than just chucking it in the garbage? But at least I do it because I recognize that it is a privilege to have individual sized yogurt containers for my ease a convience and the least I can do is recylce it.

    • lynnley says:

      I’m sure I was one of those aghast lookers, when you mentioned you were going with cloth diapers. One of those things I was going to pass on- so all the more impressed I am of you.

  2. Todd says:

    I love this post of course (and you give me too much credit for the mini-van purchase 😉 ), however, what I think even more about is not just the environmentally aware consumer but the fully aware consumer (of which I am not but strive to be more and more). That is the consumer who purchases with responsibility – responsible to the environment, to the manufacturing process and who or who may not have been taken advantage of in the production process, aware of the global nature of commerce, and so on.

    The give and takes are complex – which is better: globally sourced commerce where that Vietnamese worker gets a job OR local production where we enable small goegraphically customized production to prevail: I don’t think there is a single right answer there.

    But awareness, thinking about these things, is medicine. And awareness of the pros and cons of generational approaches to consumption is a good step on the path. This post reminds me to be more aware – as always great job Love.

    And why didn’t we use cloth diapers? Yikes, Jaclyn, power to you.

    • lynnley says:

      But my goodness that would be difficult researching the entire production line of every product you purchased. But it’s true- as soon as manufacturers are “discovered” for their poor choices and consumers start to reflect their knowledge with their buying power, the producers miraculously find a better solution.

  3. Carrie says:

    I loved this whole post, but especially the last line about being proud of this generation too. Your thoughts about the email echoed my own. I think when It comes to being green, there needs to be a happy medium. For example, washing yogurt containers to recycle, slightly inconvient, but reasonable. Completly banning plastic bags as in San Francisco…a bit too much IMHO.

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