May 7, 2016

A History Lesson on Being Green

First posted 5 years, not much has changed. I have left the original comments because several good points were made. Please, add your thoughts.

Simple living, voluntary simplicity, and looking for ways to live a less wasteful life are important topics to readers of Satisfying Retirement. In the past, posts that dealt with these subjects have generated lost of traffic and comments.

This time let's have a little history lesson, a reminder that simple living and "being green"  existed well before now. A few days ago a good friend sent me the following story pulled from somewhere on the Internet. Read it and I'll have a few questions for you at the end.

In the line at the grocery store, the young 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......

But that old lady is right. They didn't have the green thing back in her day.......

Makes you think doesn't it? What used to be the way we lived now has a name. Today it takes effort and sacrifice to simplify and be aware of our environmental impact. What used to be commonplace could now be considered somewhat extreme if we followed these practices.

We've made tremendous strides in learning how to minimize damage to the planet. But, as I read this story I realized how many of the examples given could easily be replicated today. It isn't that we can't take many of the steps, we just have to be reminded of our past.

Is there anything in this story that might prompt you to make a change in your lifestyle? Did this remind you of something you miss and would like to recapture?


  1. Outstanding blog here, Bob. This is the most effective treatise on the fabled "good old days" that I've yet encountered. Though most of the "good old GREEN days" was done because there was no alternative, it still was more eco-effective. Nowadays, we need a package to hold something that is already thrice wrapped......

    And I don't worry about "saving the planet". This old Earth will continue long after we have been flushed down it's proverbial toilet (we're just hi-tech dinosaurs). What we need to do is keep ourselves from "fouling the nest" so that future generations will have an environment in which they can still survive.

  2. Hi Steve,

    I'm very grateful a friend of mine forwarded this little story to me. As you note, it is a clear, unvarnished reminder of how far we have gone in the wrong direction. More convenient, sure, but better?

    I hope you're right about earth withstanding our assault. I like the "hi-tech dinosaurs" label.

  3. Bob,
    That's a very good reminder that 'green' is a pile of crap dreamed up by statist do gooders who want us all to be mindless automatons and propagated by teachers in our worthless schools to prevent our kids from thinking for themselves. My whole career was in the energy business. You wouldn't believe how much tax and other money is wasted forcing you to be green at any cost. It is criminal.

  4. Good morning, Ralph.

    Obviously this is a passionate subject to you! A fad that becomes a movement is a powerful force. Your experience with it all was not good.

    Sometimes we are better off looking back at how things used to be and deciding if progress has been worth the cost.

    I will argue with anyone until the cows come home about the negative effect of man on the environment. But, this post is really more about returning to simpler and more economical ways of living our daily lives, with the net effect that we waste less, and without the need to label it.

  5. (sent via e-mail)

    I try not to go overboard with the 'green thing' but I do love my outside umbrella clothes drying line and use it instead of the dryer during the Canadian spring/summer/fall for most of the laundry.

  6. Hi Jeanette,

    Using a clothes line does save a tremendous amount of electricity. In addition, the clothes simply smell better after a few hours in the sun and wind. It is a choice that makes all sorts of sense (and cents).

    In many parts of the U.S. clothes lines are actually prohibited by homeowners' associations because they are deemed visual pollution. That is really unfortunate.

  7. (edited slightly by me)

    Wow! I read Ralph's comment above. What is astonishingly worthless is his sweeping generalizations about the green movement, worthless schools, teachers preventing kids from thinking for themselves, etc.

    My respect for Ralph has plummeted (even after having given him points for usually clever curmudgeon-ness). The green movement certainly has its short-comings, but to trash the whole concept in such a way is, IMO, equally "criminal". It denies the possibility of any rational discussion and provides no light on a serious and critical topic.

    After 40 years as a grade 5 teacher, I am fully aware that there are schools and teachers that are woefully lacking, but I am also aware that there are a whole lot of schools and teachers that are doing great and meaningful stuff, especially in light of the enormously increased velocity of change that society is experiencing.

    Ralph's comment is just the kind of blanket remark that makes too many people to (sweepingly?) label senior citizens as just cranky old fuddy-duddies.... and dinosaurs - only it is said without a gracious, kindly chuckle.

    One can always find the clay feet in any individual or movement, and then claim that the whole package is foul..... Or you can focus on the good stuff - current and potential. Ranting is not the same as sharing wisdom. But then, the pursuit/sharing of wisdom among too many older people too often takes a back seat to pointing fingers and calling names.

    Bob, I admire and appreciate your clear and clarifying response. Would that all bloggers show such thoughtfulness and reason.

  8. Steve,

    I really appreciate you taking the time to respond to Ralph's comment. I always hope that something I have written, and then a response from someone triggers a debate or discussion about an issue.

    There are at least two sides to every issue. We all benefit when reasonable people express well-thought out arguments and disagreements, thus forcing us all to re-examine our conclusions.

  9. My feeling is that the best ways to make an environmental impact need not be legislated.

    Not getting into the climate-change issue/can of worms, perhaps we can agree that we certainly can live with greater energy efficiency and environmental soundness:

    1. I try to drive my car with more gas-economy (no quick starts, carpool, go 65 mph instead of 70+, walk/bike when I can, plan an efficient route/agenda for my chores, proper tire pressure, etc.), I like to think that I am doing my part NOT to support middle eastern terrorists' $ support, thus (hopefully) making it less likely to have to send our sons/daughters/grandchildren overseas. Yes, we have domestic oil available, but why not also learn to use less, anyway?

    2. The earlier suggestion about using clotheslines is a great one. My wife and I LOVE doing that and thus saving $ in electricity and gas, while also getting clothes that smell and feel better.

    3. In most cases, bottled water is an expensive joke. When i go to the gym, golf, or do my puppeteer shows, for example, I bring a jug filled with water (nothing stronger, alas). Saves money and less trash (both feel-good things).

    4. We have re-usable bags all over the place - cars, pocketbooks, etc. Even a trip to the pharmacy, I bring a bag. Just makes sense ... and continues the feel-good sessions.

    5. This winter we've kept the thermostat WAY lower (60 degrees) and worn some wonderful fleece sweatshirts. We usually are only in two or three rooms, so we rely on space heaters to bolster up the temperature w/o raising the thermostat. I estimate that we've saved close to a thousand dollars in gas and electric costs this winter (even though the prices have gone up).

    6. And, of course, light bulbs. We CHOOSE to use the energy saving bulbs (seems to work for us), though we could also CHOOSE to use the old kind, if we wanted ( BTW. the big hooha about the present government interference in "telling" us what we can use" is bogus.It was signed by Bush in 2007 simply making sure that we indeed had a choice - all kinds of bulbs and more must be available. More like the Government looking out for us, like it should....).

    And there's more ways to save energy, of course. Not to "Save the Planet", but to save money, more wisely use our natural resources, keep our environment more livable, etc. I remember when Los Angeles was a major smog city. I don't know the details, but the air is sure a lot cleaner now (despite the many other problems, for sure). Quality of Life stuff here.....

    If we all individually - and corporately - took more responsibility for intelligent energy usage, then perhaps there would be much less need for the Government (which is the collective "us") to step in. I think of it as actively being Patriotic instead of just waving the flag and criticizing.

    Sorry for the length, but I am passionate about our world, our country, and our children. I know I'm not dead-on correct about everything, but I sure try to leave everyplace I've been better than when I found it - be it a street corner, park, building, river, or conversation.

  10. Ow Ralph-
    That teacher comment really hurt! Who spent more time nurturing children---- you in the energy brokerage business or me in the classroom?

    I don't use energy saving bulbs- because of the mercury. Instead we use little produced light during the day.

    I hang my clothes like my grandmother did in Phoenix when I was growing up. Unfortunately, one of our many military moves ago I left her clothes pin holder on a line.

    I still drink out of drinking fountains.

    I do drive- in fact I drove to see my mom last week- 1200 miles. I stopped along the way at small diners to eat and chatted with people. It was as if I were in the 1970's. I actually think I used much less gas than if I flew.

    I do not drive very much when I am home. We work hard to be self sufficient. When I go out to volunteer- I plan where to shop on the way home. That isn't much different than my grandmother as well.

    I appreciate Banjo Steve's comment since I feel that the only reason our son's friends are injured in war is to secure oil.

    My husband push mows the back yard- but the tractor takes the front one. We keep the wild grass down so the animals can venture into our yard. Being responsible for our environment costs us a pretty penny in property taxes. We pay the higher price in order to keep our twenty acres open.

    I think we live in a great time.
    Our health is better. Instead of knowing how to stall or cure cancer in the past- we just died "young" or of "old age". Considering mine is the FIRST generation in six to have both parents survive to see their children marry and grandchildren arrive- that is important to me.
    We don't use 100 paper bags to get our groceries home- in fact many of us use reusable bags.
    There is an awareness of alcoholism and child abuse- causing even the "best of neighborhoods" to be safe for children after they go home. We put on a seat belt - causing a great drop in car deaths-even when there are far more cars on the road.
    My husband and I can talk to our children and grandchild daily- even though they live on either coast and we live in the middle. When our son deploys - we can see his face in early mornings when he gets off patrol.

    It is a great country.
    We have to care for it.
    I would rather raise my children today.
    It is a wonderful time in the universe. Believe me- I would have never made it through the depression or continual TV dinners.

  11. Good evening, Janette,

    Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and approaches to living a good life. I certainly agree with you that I'm very happy to be living now. That doesn't mean we haven't made some serious mistakes in managing and using our resources and opportunities. But, overall, I am an optimist and believe in our ability to make a difference.

  12. This is for Janette. I love your positive attitude! There were a lot of things that weren't so good about the good old days. We need to keep what was good from them, but embrace what is newer and better.

    And for Ralph, a big Bronx cheer. I spent 20+ years in the classroom, much of it trying to provide a counterpoint for science teachers who didn't believe in evolution or global warming, government teachers who believed everything they heard on talk radio and economics teachers who failed in an entire semester to even mention the Federal Reserve system.

  13. Good Sunday morning, Susan,

    You have said it well. My Mom was a school teacher for almost 45 years. She constantly battled stupid policies and disinterested parents to make a difference for her students. It is hard, often thankless, underpaid work.

    A look at "public discourse" in our society today shows what happens when people aren't taught to think, only to feel.

  14. What a well-written and excellent post. How arrogant to think we are so green conscious now. We are especially guilty of this in the Northwest. There really were some good things in the good old days! And there are currently in other parts of the world where throw away things are rare and gas prices reflect true market value (thus discouraging wasteful use and encouraging althernate energy). Very thought provoking. Thank you.

  15. Thanks, Galen,

    Sometimes we just need a reminder to help us see a better path. Then, it is up to us to do something about it.

    Have a great Sunday.

  16. Ah the good old days - when you just lived a life that made sense without becoming extreme in all matters. We are trying so hard these days to do the things that are common sense if you stop for a minute and think about it. Reuse reduces garbage and waste and just makes sense. Ah the good old days...

  17. Hi Dave,

    "Without becoming extreme" would serve us well in most areas of life. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the way things are evolving.

    By the way, will the Sharks and the Coyotes tangle in the playoffs?

  18. The earth has been here for 4.6 billion years. We have been through 11 ice ages with one that covered the earth and killed off most of what lives here so the earth is going to survive. What may not survive is the know it all people who think it is stupid to be good stewards of the planet.

    I don know about you but I am on a fixed income so what is wrong with being green and frugal to save a few dollars

    1. Peter, You make a good point. I think when I was growing up I was taught not to waste and also to be frugal, not tight fisted necessarily, but just not be profligate. We didn't call it "green," just common practical and monetary sense. I've kept the lessons all my life (my friend once jokingly told me that I'd die with the only roll of aluminum foil I ever bought!). Now in retirement, on a fixed income as well, the lessons serve me well.

    2. Being frugal naturally leads to being more environmentally responsible, just because we have less stuff. Good point, B.E.