My last diary I got some pushback when I mentioned in the comments that often elderly people don't get it when it comes to zero waste and being green. There were responding comments listing how green life used to be, when those elderly people were young.
My response to that is hell yes, and let's go back to those times. Because something happened in the 70's, 80's and 90's to make most of those people totally forget the way they had grown up and lived their early lives. And we desperately need that spirit to come back to our communities.
So this diary will be not so strictly focused on zero waste, but on the frugal, green, and non-wasteful ways of living before the 1970's came along and started us on our current bloated lifestyle. I've been kicking it old school for quite a while now, and will share my tips, along with the larger back to the future energy taking over the green movement.
First I'd like to post a comment by sailmaker from my last diary. I'm sure it was posted kindly, but the language does seem to encourage elderly people to resent the green movement. I'd be very curious to know who started this viral meme, since it seems to encourage treehugger prejudice.
Almost makes one wish for the good old days...
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?
So I'd like to take back this meme and say that generally the old ways are the best ways, particularly if someone is trying to save money and be green at the same time, the way I am now being partially unemployed. If we all lived like we did in the Thirties, Forties and Fifties, the world would be in much better shape, environmentally speaking, particularly if we also had the environmental regulations of the Sixties and Seventies reining in corporate pollution (individual waste and pollution got worse during that time).
Unfortunately the target audience of that cleverly written email have generally collectively forgotten the lessons they learned in green, frugal living when they were young. Of course there are many exceptions to this, and I'm sure I will be hearing in the comments that the old ways have not been forgotten! And certainly we have a strong DFH contingent here at dailykos who have also stayed green.
The thing that irks me the most about the email was the bafflement of the elderly lady about the concept of reusable bags. Exhibit A:
Not only did women in the Forties use reusable bags, they crocheted them themselves! And they are the very same bags that are frequently being used today by greenies. So the writer of that meme was being disingenuous, or implying that old people couldn't remember very well.
The other thing that yanks my chain about the email was how it insinuates these green practices are locked in the past. Some still are, due to infrastructure changes. We currently do not have a robust public transportation system, systemically bought up and dismantled by the automotive industry decades ago, that would allow most of us to take public transportation to work and to run errands. I am fortunate in that I live in a town (and a house) built in the Forties and Fifties, so if I do find the right job I could take the commuter rail to work, and there is still a walkable town center with shops. However, with my obsession with buying bulk organic food, driving to Whole Foods is still a necessity with me. My local grocer does have organic, but it's ridiculously expensive.
It would take minor changes for someone like me to follow "walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks." Get rid of non-organic and GMO farming practices and I could do that, particularly if the buses ran more frequently to make it convenient to take them. But many of us trapped in suburbia do not have that option. The wealthy suburb my ex-husband lives in only has homes. The "downtown" area of the town has a tiny boutique grocery store, a gas station and a deli/diner. There are no buses, and the center of town is miles away from most of the homes. Worst of all, there aren't even any sidewalks. Walking is a very dangerous option. So while "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," would be possible where I live, if the public schools weren't so horrible and the buses ran more often, it's an impossibility where my children go to school. The denizens of that suburb go double the speed limit in their SUV's on those narrow, narrow roads with no sidewalks, and everything is miles apart. I had to drive an hour each way to get my daughter to her soccer game yesterday. That suburb needs to be given back to the deer and rabbits and wild turkeys that still roam the place, and be remade as the farmland and woodland that it was forty years ago.
So those particular pieces of the meme are very doable with some tweaks in some places like mine, but other farflung overbuilt "modern" suburbs will simply have to be abandoned once Peak Oil hits.
Most of the rest of the meme is doable now, and I am doing those things, and I encourage those reading to try some of them, both to save money and avoid waste.
I buy milk in reusable bottles with a hefty deposit and I return them. Anyone who drinks soda is nuts, with all the science about how bad it is for you. Wine and beer I would definitely also return bottles if we had a winery or brewery nearby that accepted them.
As for stairs and escalators, I disagree with the meme. I think skyscrapers are a rather green thing if it allows more people to take public transportation to get to their jobs, by having condensed office buildings. And you do need elevators for very tall buildings. Mall escalators and the malls they are in, on the other hand, I would be glad to see go, and I think with this recession their days are numbered. The only time I go to the mall is to purchase Origins makeup (they recycle all makeup containers so my makeup is zero waste).
When my kids were younger it was very handy having a washing machine in the basement. But since it broke and with me only having my kids on the weekend, I take our clothes to the laundromat once a week. Usually I get by with one load in a triple-load machine, cold water wash using a spoonful of Cold Water Tide and a Wonder Ball. I bring the wet clothes home and hang up on the line on my back porch and on the three drying racks down in my basement. Sometimes in the middle of winter I will use the laundromat dryers.
My children get many hand-me-downs, particularly my younger daughter, and I shop at thrift stores for children's clothes and my clothes too.
I have one television that is twenty years old and one radio. My TV screen isn't the size of a handkerchief, but it's not much bigger than the ones from the Sixties.
I do not own an electric mixer. I mix and stir by hand, although I do have a hand blender for things that need to be pureed. When I mail a fragile item, I use some of the styrofoam peanuts my mom has used to send me things over the years.
I have a manual push mower.
I do belong to a health club, and I think that's an improvement over the old days. Many of us have desk jobs and don't have the opportunity to get exercise during the day, and I don't think that will change back. On the other hand, it's only ten dollars a month, and I try to shower there to save on hot water back home. So while it may not be green, it certainly is frugal.
Alas, public drinking fountains and public amenities in general are under threat. It is truly a shame that we have lost the collective spirit of the Fifties and Sixties where money was more freely spent on parks, playgrounds, libraries, public pools, campgrounds and other communal benefits that rich and poor could both enjoy.
I have three steel Kleen Kanteens that I refill with filtered tap water, one each for my girls and me in different colors. I have pens with disposable inserts rather than disposable pens. I also do have a fountain pen and bottled ink, but it is impractical to carry around as it leaks, so I only use it to write letters. I highly recommend switching back to a safety razor that takes razor blades, and using a badger bristle brush and soap to make a lather. Cartridge razors, or even worse disposable razors give a much worse shave and cost so much more money. You just need to do research on quality double-edged razor blades. I believe the big razor companies deliberately make their razor blades substandard to encourage consumers to buy the much more expensive cartridge blades. I do know that the steel Merkur razor I use will last me for the rest of my life.
The last part of the meme, "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." I live in an old house built in the Fifties so I am living the dream. :) Still, while I think the Internet and computers are truly valuable and help people to be more green (finding the nearest pizza joint saves gas driving around) and my girls love our Playstation2, I don't have a cellphone (just one landline telephone) and I don't have a microwave oven. I have one window air conditioner and one very large fan. I do have a dishwasher, toaster oven, slow cooker, bread machine and a George Foreman grill that I use in the summer out on my back porch, but all of those appliances end up saving energy. Sometimes modernity is a good thing when it comes to being green. However, I will say that the best cooking tool I have for being green is definitely old school--I use my Fagor pressure cooker all the time. When you eat a lot of fresh vegetables, a good pressure cooker is indispensable. It is even more handy with making soup stock, a zero waste staple. Modern pressure cookers like Fagor make pressure cooking much less scary, no risk of exploding food.
There are other old school practices I've adopted. I keep the heat down and bundle up in the winter and I dress for the weather in summer and use fans as much as possible rather than air conditioning. I have insulated curtains that I open and close with the sun. I take my shoes to the cobbler when they are worn instead of throwing them away and buying new. In general I repair whenever I can, rather than replace.
I've written about this before--I've tried as much as possible to get rid of disposable goods. I use microfiber cloths and dish towels instead of paper towels, dish cloths and a wooden dish brush instead of plastic sponges, a steel waterproof tiffin instead of disposable plastic lunch containers, handkerchiefs instead of tissues, washable makeup pads instead of cotton (except for nail polish remover), a mooncup (okay, that's a Seventies hippy thing) and French canning jars, Pyrex containers, and old Corningware for food storage. I make my own cleaning products from vinegar, vegetable oil, liquid Castile soap and other natural ingredients.
The biggest change has been with food. And this is definitely old school. The cookbooks I use the most are from the Forties, because they have recipes for the food I have, and the recipes are frugal and nourishing. I used to buy food every week just to last me until the next week, and I bought lots of processed and pre-prepared foods. Now my shopping and cooking are completely different, the way people used to shop and cook. I get my meat from my butcher (from local, grass-fed cows and chickens). I get my produce delivered to my home from my local organic CSA. When I shop at the grocery store, I bring my own containers and shop in the bulk sections. I pretty much only buy food with one ingredient now. Instead of bread I buy flour and yeast. Instead of pasta sauce I buy canned tomatoes (Muir Glen--no BPA). I do have a couple processed food vices--I get organic boxed mac and cheese for my kids, they prefer it over homemade, and I do buy non-organic ramen (I throw out the flavoring package and make it with my homemade chicken broth). But generally I buy things like dried beans, sugar, butter, olive oil, tahini, salt, chocolate, tuna, oatmeal, rice, coconut oil, wine--items where the name of the food is the ingredient list. Instead of buying week to week, I have enough of everything on hand to last for a month, and then I have the freedom to shop the sales.
That's an important green thing we have lost in the last eighty years--the importance of the housewife. Cooking like this is a lot of work, and it's valuable work contributing both to better health and a healthier pocketbook. Being poor may have forced this on me, but I am finding that even though I can't afford to go out and do the recreational things I could do five years ago, that I am enjoying spending my free time cooking and spending time cooking with my daughters. And while I may not have the disposable income anymore for recreational shopping, I am finding more satisfaction in owning durable things I use every day, like my pressure cooker and my pretty dish towels. I am even finding I enjoy the process of composting! I do have some modern tweaks--I use coconut oil instead of hydrogenated vegetable shortening. I use my bread machine instead of heating up my oven. But most of what I do is identical to a housewife in the Forties, and I'm proud to say that.
I'm not the only one who appreciates the old ways for their money savings and environmental soundness. Environmentalists are waking up to the fact that post-Peak-Oil will have the same challenges that people cleverly dealt with for the millenia before people discovered they could burn petroleum. Building design, city design, transportation--so many modern green innovations are inferior to the old ways. The undisputed champion of the old is green is Prince Charles. He has spent his life bringing back the old ways like traditional organic farming, and has recently written a book and participated in a documentary outlining his views.
Another environmentalist who is a more recent convert to the old is green, is Lloyd Alter at Treehugger. He has written a recent fascinating article outlining how valuable traditional ways of living are for the green movement.
But the penny finally really dropped when I was reviewing Peter Calthorpe's new book, Urbanism in the age of climate change. He wrote:urbanism is, in fact, our single most potent weapon against climate change, rising energy costs, and environmental degradation.
But I do not think he goes far enough. He describes his Green Urbanism, a sort of solar powered New Urbanism.
Here a more urban life is matched with efficient clean energy sources, less driving in more efficient cars, better building technology and green utilities. But I think there is yet another form of urbanism: Heritage Urbanism, where we restore the urban fabric and rebuild our communities to work the way they used to. Where we learn from those who designed them before there was oil, about how to live after oil. I suspect that I will be writing a lot more about this in the future.