Material circulates on the internet, often without attribution. The following piece landed in my inbox and I thought it worth repeating. Of course, being an old guy, I’m aware we did things the old lady talks about. But that is because more convenient alternatives were unavailable.
A young store cashier suggested to an older lady that she should bring her own grocery bags, because plastic bags are not good for the environment. The woman apologized to the young girl and said, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my earlier days.”
She explained further:
Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to be washed, sterilized and refilled. Used over and over, they really were recycled.
Stores put our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Besides using them for household garbage, we used paper bags as covers for school books. We personalized our books using the brown paper bags.
We walked up stairs because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.
Back then we washed baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.
Back then we had one TV in the house — not one in every room. The TV had a small screen, not a screen the size of Montana. We didn’t have multiple remotes to control devices, we simply got our butts off the couch and changed the channel.
Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline 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 with electric motors.
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 in the family’s SUV or van, which cost more than a whole house did before the”green thing.” 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 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.
But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the “green thing” back then?
Indeed, the old lady was accurate. But we didn’t have many choices. In those days, we assumed nature offered endless resources and had capacity to absorb all human acts. Given the chance, we’d have adopted the throw-away culture, burned more and larger engines, watched big-screen TVs with multichannel audio, and happily kept two or three remote controls by our sides.
Given a choice, would my parents have driven four unrestrained kids in their 4-seater 37 horsepower Hillman Minx, with the youngest one (me) parked on the rear parcel shelf, or a three-row minivan with comfortable seating for all?
Would we have behaved differently if we understood that “solution to pollution is dilution” was a dangerous falsehood, or that arsenic in wallpaper and lead in paint endangered our loved ones?
The BC pulp and paper mill where I was a student-worker polluted air and ocean. Few people knew enough to express concern when Kraft pulp mills filled the air with hydrogen sulfide, a flammable, colorless gas with the odor of rotten eggs. When asked about it, BC cabinet minister “Flying Phil” Gaglardi laughed and said, “That’s not pollution, that’s the smell of money.”
At work one night, I listened to a cheerless conversation between two older papermakers. They talked about attending funerals of recently retired colleagues and noted that few millworkers survived more than a couple of years after retirement. My in-laws worked for years in the mill. He died at age 64 and she suffered COPD throughout her final years.
There were no epidemiologic studies connecting chronic disease and early death to industrial pollution in company towns like Powell River. There was plenty of anecdotal evidence but people accepted that life was harsh. They understood the now overused phrase “It is what it is.”
BC politicians today are worse than Flying Phil when he made his comment about money being more important than risks to human life. Today, they are not ignorant.
Liberal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson knows the threat posed by climate change and knows that burning fossil fuels anywhere in the world accelerates danger. But Wilkinson says that Canada should sell more oil and gas to “raise the revenues” needed to fight climate change.
The minister’s statement is illogical by itself but also ignores the fact that, having largely abandoned royalties, governments in Canada provide more in subsidies to oil and gas companies than received in direct revenues from the industry.
But at least Wilkinson said what he did in public and felt heat generated by his foolishness. In this summer of highly destructive wildfires, good luck finding a single BC NDP MLA willing to talk about climate change and their government’s increasing fossil fuel subsidies.
Sixty years ago, Flying Phil Gaglardi had no chauffeur and no crew of minders ensuring he spoke only approved talking points. Ignorance of cause and effect was common in matters of the environment. Today, that is not the case.
When John Horgan’s government refuses to deal appropriately with climate change in 2021, it is because they made cold-blooded decisions based on the business of politics. If people of BC are harmed, if the Earth is harmed, they don’t care. They have joyfully experienced the smell of money, and the smell of power.