Just a Thought – Is it a “Green” thing?

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ThinkTHUNDER BAY – I like getting surprised when an idea comes for an article. Recently I received an e-mail from a friend from Britain, a retired police officer who my wife and I met on vacation three years ago. She had a number of interesting stories, one I will share with you at some future point but right now, Jan and her husband Graham are enjoying retirement travelling the world.

The e-mail was about the environment and while I have written about that topic before, it was never from a position of humility. I prided myself on being environmentally aware. I have always hated wasting water, heat or power. I cautioned others through articles that we need to be better. I did this thinking I was better than some, likely as good as many but not quite as good as those few who excel at having an environmental conscious. How wrong I was.

You never know how accurate stories are in e-mails, something I spoke of two weeks ago but even if made up, it was so interesting that I will write assuming it was true. This email has been around for a while but unfortunately, I was unable to determine who created it.

An elderly lady arrives at the check out stand of her local supermarket and is being chastised because she does not have a canvas bag for her groceries. The clerk felt that the use of plastic bags was damaging to the environment and was giving the woman a hard time for being so inconsiderate towards future generations. The woman apologized saying they did not have plastic bags in her day and the clerk chastised her again saying that is the problem with your generation: you didn’t care enough about the future.

Now it was the woman’s turn to educate the clerk. The woman said that in her day, disposable milk cartons were not the norm, they returned milk bottles and pop 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. She explained that they didn’t have the “Green” thing back in her day where everything was in cans and plastic bottles.

Many of us pat ourselves on the back when we put out our recycles but think nothing of the constant movement of an escalator in every store and office building. Why walk to a grocery store when we can climb into our car to go two blocks. According to the woman, before there were two cars in every driveway, she didn’t think about the “green thing” because she was too busy walking everywhere.

I have two sons and like most of you I have experienced the reality of changing diapers on a regular basis. Back in the day, disposable diapers had not been invented: the diapers were washed and dried on a line, not thrown away in our landfills. That elderly woman was right; they did not have the green thing back in her day.

She told the clerk that back in her day there was only one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of our current computer monitors. Today they seem to be as large as the state of Montana. Did the clerk understand that having a movie screen television in every room, personal t.v. recorders and surround sound may be increasing the power usage of that home? How green is that exactly?

Before the green thing became popular, woman blended and stirred by hand because they did not have electric machines to do everything for them. Today men and woman have every electronic device for the kitchen, shaving, yard work, almost everything is made easier by power. Gas or electric lawnmowers, trimmers, power washers are the norm. Even going to the gym to get healthy often involves the use of power for our treadmills, electricity for the air conditioning, massive water tanks for the hot showers, and most facilities have sauna’s. Some fitness clubs provide individual t.v.’s for their bikes, treadmills and elliptical machines all in the name of getting healthy. What is the consequence of that to our environment? Back then getting healthy meant walking, chopping wood by hand, mowing by hand and sweeping the driveway not washing it. Are we really better than they were fifty years ago?

Back then they used to drink from fountains but today, millions upon millions of plastic bottles are used instead. They were so archaic years ago, they would refill writing pens with ink instead of buying a throw away pen, and they replaced razor blades instead of throwing away the whole unit just because the blade got dull. They didn’t have the “green thing”.

People took the streetcar or a bus and most rooms in a home had one or two electrical outlets 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 wonder how many of the current generation laments how wasteful those old folks were just because they didn’t have the “Green” thing?

Did any of you see yourself in this email. I know I did, prejudging the past generation for their role in not protecting the environment. Past generations made many mistakes but I believe in our quest to be superior protectors of the land, we fail to recognize that our “conveniences” may be having a much larger impact than forty years ago.

I also find it incredibly difficult to know who is telling the truth and who is not. We keep hearing about green solutions from all corners of our society but it must be difficult for government policy makers and even ourselves to know what works and what does not. Styrofoam cups were a horrible waste but a One Man’s opinion commentary by Rick Smith years ago spoke of a study that suggested one ceramic mug takes far more energy to produce than thousands of cups. Who to believe?

Electric automobiles: are they the answer to the smog and other problems associated with accessing ground oil to feed our insatiable appetite for fuel. Others suggest that the creation of batteries has a huge environmental impact that may be worse. Could that be true? The push for ethanol has slowed dramatically because it seems the power required to create this fuel source had a greater impact than the current process. What is plain to me is that our current system is likely unsustainable. The line about the television set seems to set the bar for the discussion.

How many sets are in your house. We have four and while no more than two are ever on at the same time, one used to be the norm. The demand on our power supply and the negative impact on the environment can only be a natural result of this demand. Are we aware of what we are doing and are we ready to move to a better way. We have created far more efficient appliances but is that offset because we have far more appliances? Has anyone looked at that issue?

Is it possible to gather the best and brightest, to provide an overall report, the good and bad of what is going on in society. Can we hear in clear concise language if we should turn left or right so that we all know what works and what does not? Just for discussion purposes, would David Suzuki take the job for a dollar, would others volunteer their time to provide society in general with strong, independent and scientifically supported ideas that work for us and for the environment. Are we prepared to pay a little more to make it work? Do we need too? Is this a good idea for our Federal government to consider or is it too fast too soon?

I do not know if returning milk bottles used more or less energy. When you consider the fuel used to collect the bottles, the power and water used to sterilize them, is it possible that the power used was higher than the current carton style, perhaps. I would like to know. What I do know is that this issue is too important to simply be a “Green thing”. It is about the future, perhaps not ours but certainly our children’s. I have a concern about what we are leaving behind. Every decision should not only be decided upon the economics of it, but also on what damage if any takes place.

We need to be better stewards of this planet. What we leave behind will say more about who we were as a generation than anything else. Some officials are trying to move society forward, others are saying it is unaffordable but these decisions cannot simply be made only on dollars and cents. Sometimes doing the right thing is a bit more important.

At the end of the day all generations have failed in protecting this planet we call home. If all of us cut down our showers by one minute a day, throw out one pound less of garbage a week, burn one less light an hour, and heat our homes properly, we will have already made a giant leap forward in combating this issue and in the process, saved a little cash. Just think what we could accomplish if we really set our minds to it. Being protectors of the environment may just be the one thing we can all unite behind.

Just a thought.

James Mauro