While being a good steward of the environment should never be seen as a bad thing, many people are turned off by the politics surrounding the global warming debate. Man-made v. natural forces is a tired argument where opinion and fact mingle to the point it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. And most people probably are not going to be swayed from their beliefs.
But you don’t have to be a card-carrying tree hugger to get onboard with the “green” movement. Take global warming out of the picture and many aspects of going green make both environmental and economic sense.
In today’s climate, being thrifty with your resources harkens back to another era in which Americans were forced to be frugal and resourceful. The Great Depression taught hard lessons to our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents about scarcity of resources. They learned to take care of their possessions, recycle and reuse.
It would be easy to label my late great-grandmother as a packrat, but the many common household items she horded around her home were the product of the lean years she went through during the Great Depression. Disposable was not part of her vocabulary. She kept scrap pieces of wood, bent nails, cardboard boxes – it was ingrained in her that these materials were important for survival. They might be needed to patch a hole in the house or could be burned for warmth on a cold night.
In spite of the fact that her economic status improved greatly over the years, she still kept things and often found a use for them. She’d say, “I knew that (insert item) would come in handy one day.” (I still don’t understand why she kept old light bulbs and rusty razor blades, but I’m sure it made sense to her.)
Today, we are a gluttonous, disposable society. We buy far more stuff than we need and end up throwing much of it away long before its life cycle is complete. I’m convinced that we, myself included, waste more materials in a decade than our great-grandparents acquired in a lifetime. Packaging alone is out of control. Next time you go to the grocery store, look at the packing materials you throw away in a week. You can fill up a trash can in wasted material. At our house, we reuse the plastic grocery bags for many purposes including as lining for bathroom trash cans, packing material for breakables and wrapping used paint brushes.
If we are honest, most of us are driven more by economics than anything else. We’re more likely to be green if it helps us save the other kind of green. And many ideas from the green movement (whether they are new or rediscovered) can be rewarding to our bottom lines.
Example: Paying bills online saves not only the cost of the check and envelope, but the postage. Others include purchasing rechargeable batteries and a charger, catching rainwater to water plants and freezing water in plastic bottles for use instead of ice in your cooler (you can also drink the water when it thaws).
The emphasis on green will continue to generate debate as to cause and effect on some issues, but its great contribution has been getting us to think about how we each can be more resourceful. Outside of technological advances – many of which we have spotlighted in this issue – the thrifty aspect of being green is nothing new, just unfortunately forgotten during the good times.
Now, as we face another period of economic uncertainty, our past is reminding us that there is a price to pay for overindulgence. The good news is the past also can serve as a model for our future.