The Green Thing
I recently received a joke in my email and felt strongly enough that I should respond. It’s called “The Green Thing,” and it’s based on the age-old argument of who’s to blame for the destruction of our environment and who’s left to clean it up. It’s a generational dispute sort of thing. First, I’ll put the joke here and then you can read my response.
The Green Thing:
“In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags 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. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment.” He was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.
Back then, we returned 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 we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.
But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.
Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We 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; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
Back then, we 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 (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.
In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us.
When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just 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 that operate on electricity.
But she’s right; we didn’t have the green thing back then.
We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.
But we 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. 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 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 we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?”
Actually, this is really very misleading. My response to who’s to blame for the pollution of our environment:
What has really happened is that pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have always existed, since the time the first organism took a poop or the first plant died. But the planet’s pollution level was easily controlled by natural processes of scrubbing the air (trees breath in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen).
However, in the Industrial Revolution, humans began to produce more and more carbon dioxide and this soon began to outpace the planet’s ability to scrub the air. Pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have grown exponentially ever since.
Following the Second World War, in the late ’40s and the ’50s, there was a second huge expansion of industry, manufacturing, mining and so on. While humans did wash diapers, ride bicycles to school, wash milk bottles and use push mowers, don’t forget that it took energy to make the sewing machine to make the diapers, make the steel for the bicycle and the push mower, and make the glass for the bottles. Also, they also began acquiring TVs, cars, escalators, washing machines and many more consumer items in ever increasing numbers, all of which took more energy to produce and used more natural resources. As an example, by the mid-’60s, almost every North American family had a TV.
A third huge expansion of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions began in the ’70s and ’80s as populations boomed in China and India. Like North Americans and Europeans, they too needed and wanted consumer goods.
This is not to say that there has been no progress in reducing energy use and natural resources. California’s electricity consumption growth has decreased by about a third since the ’80s, even though the population has grown by more than a third (from 24 million to 38 million). The state also produces more than double its total income since 1980. California is the world’s leader in energy efficiency (mpg requirements, energy standards for appliances, etc).
Nevertheless, we now have a situation where we have polluted everything from air to water to soil (think of landfills) far beyond the capacity of the planet to cleanse itself.
That’s why we have to reduce, recycle and re-use.
So believe it or not, it is now up to the young people on behalf of their children to be more environmental – along with all the older people – to stop the growth of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Now we really need the Green Thing.
A middle-aged guy.