Thursday, September 20, 2012

This 'smartarse' has a thing or two to say about 'responsibility'.

This past September 13th was my birthday. I’m 32 years old.

I state this here because I have something to write about today that has to do with age. I’m currently in that odd spot: not a child, not a teen, not a ‘young person’ (that vague term for the world’s twenty-somethings). I haven’t popped out any kids yet, so I’m not considered by most people to be a proper adult, either, somehow. So where do I fit in the little narrative I’m about to recount? I fit firmly on this side of the year 1980. And it is to all of you who were considered ‘adults’ BEFORE the year 1980 that I’m speaking tonight.

I was poking about in the Facebook wasteland a few days ago, and I came across a post in my newsfeed that…upset me.
Actually, it made me stunningly furious.  

After looking around a bit online, I came across this post on
It doesn't seem to be the origin, but it'll do. I'm going to copy the text here, for your reading pleasure. And then, I shall discuss.

Checking out at Wal-Mart, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologised and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.” 
The assistant responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.” She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.
Back then, we returned milk bottles, soft drink bottles and beer bottles to the shop. The shop sent them back to the plant to be washed, 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 elevator or escalator in every store and office building.  We walked to the grocers and didn’t climb into a 200-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 2000 watts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back then.  Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.  But that young 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 not a screen the  size of Texas.  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 post, we used wadded up old newspapers 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.
When we were thirsty we drank from a tap instead of drinking from a plastic bottle of water shipped from the other side of the world.  We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor when the blade got dull.  But we didn’t have the green thing back then.
Back then, people took the 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 socket 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 fish and chip shop.
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? Please forward this on to another selfish, grumpy old git who needs a lesson in conservation from a smartarse young person. Remember:  Don’t make old people angry. We don’t like being old in the first place, so it doesn’t take much to piss us off!!!

There we go. Charming.
Of course, quite possibly fiction. And Indeed, the salesperson here has something to learn about customer service and what's appropriate conversation to have with a customer, buuuuut...

Smartarse. Huh.
How's this for 'smartarse'?

How do I know this? BECAUSE when I was born in 1980, we the world already had a hole eaten into the ozone layer.

There were alteady enough CFCs in the atmosphere that, by 1990, if every human being had stopped using any and all ozone-damaging chemicals cold turkey, they still would have kept rising into the atmosphere for the NEXT HUNDRED YEARS.

In 1980, when I was born, we were already entrenched in the wasteful, consumerist culture of convenience that has lead us to the place we are today. Do I need to explain this to you? At what point did that charming old-timey Green Movement just GIVE UP? I KNOW YOU GAVE UP BECAUSE MY GENERATION WAS BORN INTO A WORLD THAT BEARS NO RESEMBLANCE TO THE ONE DESCRIBED ABOVE.

Oh, indeed, it wasn't all sweetness and bluebirds, back in those days. How about we discuss...oh, lets see, Thomas Midgley, Jr. The man who introduced the world to (fantastically toxic) leaded gasoline AND chlorofluorocarbons. Yup, two things that have had a nightmareish impact on our environment, brought to you by the early 1900's. Oh, he knew the gas was toxic, by the way. He knew, and he lied. He happily touted his product while his factory workers dropped dead of lead poisoning. 

Don't fool yourself. Everyone post-industrial revolution was mad for innovation. We've all seen the old film strips, yes? THE HOUSE OF TOMORROW!! Why, with all this new technology at her disposal, your wife won't know what to do with herself!!! You'll have to think of all new ways to keep her busy!!
Let's watch!!
That was fun. What about this one?
Naw, they wouldn't have wanted any of that fun stuff. No interest or thirst for new technology and convenience there...It might lead to *gasp* POLLUTION AND GLOBAL WARMING! (Whatever that is...)

Too bad my generation were all born with iphones and disposable plastic bags in our hands, and the world all went straight to pot.

I want to use cloth diapers, but I've been told by many women of my mother's genertion, "Oh, that's so icky and gross. And its so INCONVIENIENT. That's what disposable diapers were invented for." (I also get this when I mention that I want to breast feed.)

I've only had two razors in my life. I replace the blades when they wear out. I only bought the second one because they stopped making replacements that fit the first one. AND on that topic...I've heard women older than myself scoff, "You know, we didn't have those nice disposable maxi pads when we were young. We had to use this big uncomfortable thing with a belt and straps!" To which I reply, "But I don't use disposable maxi pads. I use cotton reusable pads. Hand-made. They're just little ovals of cotton flannel sewn together. You can toss them in the wash or rinse them in the sink. They're totally comfortable. You mean you all really never thought of that....?" And they look at me like I've just announced that I wear shoes made out of dead kittens.

I drink out of the tap, and I'm told by people older than myself (my own grandparents, often), "Don't drink that! There's bottled water in the fridge!"

I did often walk to the grocery store when I lived close enough to one to do so. but I've never figured out how to get an entire family's worth of groceries home without a car...seeing as how the city zoning laws wont allow me to have a horse to pull my buggy,  and I currently can't afford enough land to grow all my own food. We did, however, just make an omelet from eggs laid by chickens in a friend's backyard. I mentioned this in a conversation with someone at my job (a woman a bit older than my mother) and she looked at me in horror. "She keeps CHICKENS?" she said. "That's going a little far, isn't it?"

Sinfully (how dare they!!?) my parents only had one child, so I never had hand-me-downs (though I do, somewhat, now that my mother and I wear the same size...) My mother made me quite a lot of clothing by hand. These days, I shop at thrift shops.

I wrap things in old newspaper, gifts and the artwork and crafts that I sell, when they need to be shipped. I reuse bags and wrapping paper.

My mother and grandmother love their food processors....I'm not sure what kind of lesson I should be learning there.

I became very worried about the world at a very young age. I've always should I say it...'crunchy'. Saving The Earth was my thing, as far back as I can remember having a 'thing'. I remember the videos they'd show us in elementary school- Whoopie Goldberg And Friends urging us to conserve water and explaining that, if the ozone layer failed, we'd never be able to leave our houses without a space suit, or we'd be fried to a crisp.I remember reading that the Fresh Kills Landfill, (opened as a "temporary landfill" in 1947) could be seen from space. 2200 acres of garbage taller then the Statue of Liberty. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Ever heard of the North Pacific Gyre, aka the Great Trash Vortex? Probably not. That's AWFUL far away, and who really cares about the middle of the ocean anyway, right?

The thing is, Whoopie Goldberg And Friends aside, even as a child i could tell that my Wise Elders didn't care much about my concern for the planet. In 1980, most of America was still trying to convince itself that global warming was a myth. I don't know how many times I've been mocked by those older than myself for being one of those 'crazy environmentalists'. Luckily, my parents were okay with the fact that they'd somehow birthed a granola girl. I went to environmental sleep-away camp, where they taught us about  control burns, water Ph, conservation and local endangered species. We planted hundreds of baby pines on land that had been cleared by logging. I went to beach cleanups. I joined the Environmental Club at school. I tried to do what I could in my limited kid way. And I worried. because it was clear that there were a lot of other people who WEREN'T worried. The more I learned, and read, the more frightened I became. Monsanto and genetically modified crops, factory farming, oil spills, unused nuclear warheads leaking radiation into ground water...sinkholes in North Florida where the aquifer had dried up. Species vanishing. Ice melting.

I remember one morning, sitting on a bench in the park waiting for some friends to meet me, during a rare Florida cold snap. A man was sitting one picnic table over. Sixty-something, graying hair. He saw me blowing clouds with my breath (I love the cold, LOVE IT) and laughed, said, "Yeah, so where's the global warming, huh?" Not realizing that he'd just opened a can of rageful worms.

What did I tell him? The usual. (It should be common knowledge by now, I cannot believe I still have to explain this to people.) "Climate change doesn't mean that we'll never feel cold air again. Changes in temperature that we may not notice are enough to disrupt crop growth, cause unpredictable weather patterns, all sorts of things. It may not be obvious now, but the next generation will probably have a lot of issues to deal with that you don't."
He said, "I don't got any kids, what the fuck do I care?"
Thanks for those words of wisdom, Smartarse Old Person.

And then, one day not so long ago, minutes after reading about the record ice melts in Greenland, and how apparently , no one gives a damn, I come across a funny little story about young people, old people, and blame.

Yes, you.
You who are reading this.
Yeah, and everyone in the room with you.
NO I DO NOT CARE HOW OLD YOU ARE.  I don't care how angelic and elderly you think you are, or how young and blameless. EVERYONE IS RESPONSIBLE. THERE IS NO SHIRKING RESPONSIBILITY. And all of you who were alive and functioning as adults before 1980, I don't want to hear one more word about it. There is nothing to you can say. History is as it is. And here I am, trying to figure out how to clean things up, and being mocked for my worry and frustration. AND DISAPPOINTMENT. Yes, that too.

I will not let you off the hook when my children ask why the world is the way it is. I will tell them history as it actually happened. My children will not hear me say, "Well, the world was like paradise, honey, but then your Mommy was born, and she messed it all up." No. As Anne Lamott so delightfully said, "If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better."

My children will know why we have a "Green Movement", what led us to that point, and lets all hope to any deities that may be listening that there's something left for them to fix, should they feel so inclined to try. I will tell them, "Humans have so much knowledge, but we're easily distracted by new, exciting things. Once, people had the chance to use all their knowledge to change the world in a responsible way. But they let themselves be distracted, and they took the easy way out of everything. So by time I came along, everyone was so addicted to convenience, it was hard for anyone to remember how to do things any other way. Now we have to work and use our knowledge to clean up the mess that all those 'convienient' inventions created. And I'm sorry that you have to deal with mess, too."

Now go to your rooms, and think about what you've done.
And what there is left to do.

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