Earlier this year I was watching a video of Jordan Peterson speaking at an event where the audience was able to ask questions afterwards. One woman stood up and asked him a very interesting question, which went something like this: "If you (Peterson) believe that we should be focusing on our individual responsibility, rather than focusing on social movements or the government to enforce change in society, how do you solve big issues like climate change? Sure, it's all good and well to tell someone to clean their room and get their life in order before trying to tell others how to live, but how will this narrow line of thinking stop glaciers from melting, or plastics from polluting our oceans, or stave off the depletion of our natural resources?
When I heard these questions I immediately thought of my grandparents. Here were two people who had grown up during The Depression and knew nothing about environmentalism. They probably never thought, let alone talked, about "saving the planet". No one told them how to live, and they never bragged about their way of life. And yet, if you were to measure their environmental footprint, I'd be willing to bet they were in the negative. They never received recognition for it. The government didn't give them any tax breaks for being energy efficient. They were motivated by nothing other than personal responsibility and the desire to take care of themselves and their family.
My grandparents liked their things and were even a bit materialistic; but they took care of everything they owned as if it could never be replaced. They never bought new things. My grandmother washed and re-used every kind of plastic bag or container over and over for years before throwing it away. Glass jars were re-purposed for canning the vegetables she grew in the garden. She would also patch and repair all their clothes until they were unwearable. Nonetheless both of them always looked presentable and put-together. Old threadbare clothes were cut apart and sewn into quilts. I received one of these quilts for my seventh birthday. It was made out of old jeans and contrasting red fabrics. What a wonderfully heavy and cozy quilt that was! I used it for nearly two decades before it wore out.
I remember thinking it was so strange that their trash can in the kitchen was just a small bucket with a grocery bag lining it. My grandmother would inspect the trash whenever we came over. Many a time I got chastised for throwing something away that could either be re-used or composted. A week's worth of my grandparent's garbage probably filled only one small plastic grocery bag. Now, my husband and I fill up an entire big trash bin every week for the garbage man to pick up and throw in the landfill. My grandparent's didn't like to waste anything that could be re-used, but they also liked to save money wherever they could. I don't know this for a fact, but I bet they arranged with the waste department to pick up their trash every other week, rather than every week, therefore cutting their bill in half. This wasn't about saving the planet or living a zero-waste lifestyle; this was about saving money so they could take care of themselves and their family.
They recycled, picked up trash alongside the road, grew, canned and preserved every sort of food they could. They walked instead of drove, never flew on airplanes, composted, and wore second-hand or home made clothing. And they NEVER turned on lights during the day (even in the dark bathroom, which only had a small window). My grandfather also planted and maintained all the trees on their city block. As far as environmental virtue points go, they were saints.
But you see, they didn't do any of these things to save the planet or collect virtue points. Their reasons were more "self-centered". They wanted to save money and take care of themselves. And in the case of picking up trash alongside the road and planting trees, this also had a more "selfish" reason behind it. They didn't pick up trash and plant trees along just any old road, but on the roads they frequented, and in their own neighborhood. Not only did this make everything look more beautiful and clean, but it also increased the monetary value of their home by creating an area that was desirable to live in. And for an extra bonus any cans they happened to pick up could also be collected and brought to the recycling facility for a few dollars.
Somewhere out there is an old car that is still running because they took care of it, walked almost everywhere they could, and didn't buy a new shiny one every few years. Factories didn't need to use energy to keep up with their consumerism.
Somewhere out there is an old quilt or two made from fabrics from fifty-year-old clothes that could no longer be worn. Factories didn't need to use energy to produce new fabrics for them.
Somewhere out there in a backyard in Montana is a pile of rich and fertile soil, made from years of their compost which didn't go to waste and rot in a landfill.
Somewhere out there is a little stack of old and worn out ziploc bags. Enough for their entire lifetime; and the same amount most of us go through in a week or a month.
I don't think the earth is going to burn up in fifteen years. But humans do have an impact and perhaps if everyone minded their own business rather than striving to collect virtue points we might be in a better place. The government can enforce laws, and society can judge us for our actions, but is that how we want to live? Constantly being told how to live our lives? Living in guilt? It's difficult for most of us to have any emotional connection to something like the planet. We might say the words, but deep down most of us only really care about ourselves, our families, and where we live. Perhaps if we were encouraged to take care of these things first, the impact would be greater than any law the government could ever pass.
Carol P says...
This was the world of my childhood and I was raised with the concept of personal responsibility -incidentally Jordan Peterson and I were born the same year-1962. I have spent my adulthood trying to live in much the same way. My mother frequently said "all good habits begin at home- charity, kindness, thrift." and “take care of home first”. If everyone in the world lived like that our planet would be in a much better shape than it is now. Beautiful writing.
February 22, 2020
Your blog touches on something I a have been thinking about for awhile. I’m a bit older than you- so for me it was my parents who grew up in the Great Depression, survived WW2 and immigrated to a new country with very little. I ask myself lately how did do things and I feel their frugal ways are the answer to making a change that can effect change- even in small ways.
November 11, 2019
Karen J says...
I loved this post, I so agree. In response to Sally B.‘s comment about leaf blowers, I am reminded of a meme my husband spotted, which says, "Nothing says ’Not my problem!’ like a leaf blower."
Your fashion speaks to your love of old things, which I relate to, and your fond memories of grandparents, quilts, etc. I have been working on implementing the concept of being a good neighbor, i.e. the Golden Rule, and the Good Samaritan. If we all behaved like we wish everyone else would, we could accomplish so much more than spending time and money trying to convince others.
The SJWs freed at least you, and hopefully more of us, from fence-sitting. You’re making good use of it!
October 30, 2019
My mother grew up in the depression and it left an indelible mark. She sewed all our clothes, even hacking my dad’s clothing to make matching outfits for my brothers. When McD’s came to town, we begged to go. But it was less expensive to buy a pound of hamburger, frozen shoestring fries and a bag of buns than it was to take is three kids there. In order to find out what the fuss was about, McD’s had a contest giving away free Big Macs if you could say their jingle ‘Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun, in less than 5 seconds you won a free one. I practiced and got my free Big Mac. My parents owned a bar in Helena and mom recycled enough cans to take the family of five to Hawaii. We stayed in Motel 6’s all over Hawaii. It was a big deal to fly from
Montana to Hawaii in November and come back tan! Needless to say, I inherited all of her thriftiness. I buy a almost everything from the thrift. Clothing, household goods, furniture and bikes/toys for my grandkids. I have a garden, can a lot of it and I made 5 gallons of jam this summer from blackberries we picked here in WA for free. The majority of the jam is given as Christmas presents to neighbors and friends. I live simply, on 1/3 of an acre in a 24×60 ft 1984 mobile home we remodeled and paid cash for. No mortgage. I challenge anyone who shoves this big government Green New Deal on everyone to walk the talk. But they don’t. Our Governor, Jay Inslee, flies around the world screaming about climate change, yet lives on elite Bainbridge Island where everyone has a septic system and the runoff seeps into the Sound. Then he wonders why the orcas leave or die. It’s the hypocrisy that burns my hide.
I still have guilt when I throw away a margarine tub or any reusable food container. My Nana would carry a brown paper bag for her lunch —the same one—for a week or more before using a newer one.
I recycle, have downsized, and am trying to be a good steward of what has been given. Thank you for the reminder that people are what is impor rant, not stuff.
Happy Fall season to you—it finally feels like it where I am. Happy Knitting and reflecting for us all.
October 25, 2019