When green was just a colour

What is it?

Susan Warren Utley, on her Creative Procrastination blog, wrote this interesting and insightful post on the transformation of environmental sustainability in the daily lives of average people.

Once upon a time, green was not a socio-political movement, it was just a colour. Living sustainably was not a much-publicised marketing campaign, it was simply the way things were done. Without the clutter of technological distractions, children grew up playing outside and developed a close connection to the outdoors. Utley discusses being raised in a world before plasma televisions and Playstations and raising her own children with the same values of a modest existence.

What do we think?

There is no doubt that until very recently the attitudes and habits of most people were inherently sustainable: socks were darned; clothes were handed down; play happened up trees and on bikes; diapers were re-usable; and milk was delivered in bottles. These things didn’t happen because people were worried about the environmental impact of waste, they happened because people still knew how to darn, because clothing was relatively more expensive than it is today, and because being frugal just made good common sense.

The emergence of globalisation and the contemporary consumerist ideology have opened up global markets to cheap production, meaning wastefulness is easy. Socks and old clothes are thrown away and replaced; play happens on PCs and Nintendo Wiis; diapers are disposable; and milk not only comes in disposable containers but costs AU$2 for 2L from large supermarket chains determined to undercut competitors and entice ever more consumers to their outlets.

It would be naive to suggest however that “the good old days” can be somehow reclaimed. The healthy attitude towards living humbly went hand in hand with a small-picture view of the world. Opportunities in other countries and issues faced by them were just not relevant to the daily lives most of us lived.

What should we learn?

Today there is a greater responsibility shared by every human being: to protect our planet for future generations by doing more than living simply. We cannot do this by ignoring what’s happening in other parts of the world or even in other parts of our own cities, rather we must acknowledge that many of our actions have larger repercussions for the currents of sustainable change: using fabric shopping bags is not only a great way to reduce the amount of plastic we put into the local landfill, it also encourages the international corporations that run large supermarkets to clean up their acts.

As attractive as the idea sounds, the simple life we knew as children can no longer survive. With rapid changes to the standard of living taking place in many parts of the world, we must step up and be proactive in our sustainable decisions. And if that means green has become more than just a colour, then that’s the price of looking after our planet.

Author: Warwick Mihaly

I am an architect, writer, teacher and father.

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