Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Old Green

This just arrived by email.  You could argue that this is attacking a strawman argument, but it does make a good point about how recently some of the practices that Greens consider wasteful became part of our culture.  (I am old enough to remember collecting soda pop bottles that had been discarded to trade them in at the market for money: two cents for the small bottles, and three cents for the big ones.)

 The Green Thing
 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?


  1. "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."

    But the TV had a huge cabinet full of power-sucking vacuum tubes.

    There's a lot of misguided retrotech nostalgia out there. In fact a lot of that old tech was inefficient or unreliable. (I saw a comment recently that many '60s classic "muscle cars" have less speed and acceleration than standard cars made today.)

  2. Much of the nostalgia for 60s muscle cars was from the late 1970s and 1980s--when there was actually room for such. Many ordinary sedans today are as quick as all but the fastest muscle cars back then, and the quickest equivalents today are superior in acceleration and top speed, and FAR superior in cornering, braking, and efficiency.

    It is the case, however, that Americans considered normal lifestyles that today would be considered shocking poverty.

  3. "But the TV had a huge cabinet full of power-sucking vacuum tubes."

    I remember reading about this effect in econ-increase in efficiency can sometimes paradoxically lead to more use not less-because it's so much cheaper to use the resource so it gets used in more applications. I should probably research the name of it, but the Watt steam engine was the first example. Even though it was much more efficient than predecessors, coal usage went up because it now made sense to use steam engines for many more applications.

  4. A similar example was the Whitney's cotton gin. A slave using a cotton gin could separate far more short-staple cotton than a slave working manually, so you would expect it to reduce demand for slaves. The problem was that it so reduced the cost of cotton fiber that it increased effective demand for short-staple cotton--and thus created a huge demand for more slaves to work what had been previously a not very useful plant.