11 August 2021

Considering

The  IPCC report that I blogged about on Monday has left me feeling rather solemn and helpless. Here are some random personal reflections upon where we are with climate change and how we got here.

When I was born in 1953, this planet's population was way short of three billion but now in 2021 we are up to 7.8 billion closing in rapidly on 8 billion. The world's  population has more than doubled in my lifetime. By a long way.

When I was a child there were no plastic bags in shops. There were no supermarkets and most people shopped locally - taking their own bags and baskets with them. Fine green beans were not imported from Egypt and the only rice anybody consumed was in the form of rice puddings. Buying vegetables was a much more seasonal affair. You only ate salads in the summertime.

Hardly anybody owned cars and there were no motorways. Public transport was far more comprehensive, regular and far-reaching. Ordinary people did not travel on aeroplanes to enjoy holidays in foreign lands. In fact they rarely travelled far.

Ordinary homes were not centrally heated. You relied upon open fires to keep your home warm in the wintertime. Most families had just one fire. Nobody had showers in their homes and unless you were in a particularly dirty occupation, you had just one bath a week.

If you had siblings, clothes were passed down through the family. Laundering clothes and bedding was not as regular and energy-sapping as it is today. Nobody had tumble driers. Washing Day was a once in a week event - typically Mondays.

Things were made to last. My mother had a Hoover vacuum cleaner that lasted for twenty five years and even then it was not done. She passed it on to us when we bought our first house in 1981. 

Electric lighting in the average home was a simple business - normally just one light fitting per room. Side lights and suchlike were a rarity.

I am pleased to say that we always had a flush toilet but my mother and father grew up in homes where human excrement was collected to feed vegetable plots. They called it "night soil" and there were special galvanised buckets in which to carry it or let it mature. People who grew vegetables did not do so as a hobby. They grew them to save money and supplement the family diet.

Nobody bought ready meals because they did not exist. At the pub you could ask for bitter or mild from its parent brewery and there was little else to choose from - just some bottles, optics for spirits and soft drinks too. There was only one flavour when it came to potato crisps - plain. Cheese and onion came later.

Milk was delivered to the doorstep in glass bottles which were later collected and washed ready to be used again and again. There were no plastic bottles containing spring water from The Alps, The Scottish Highlands or Buxton in Derbyshire.

I am not listing these things for the sake of nostalgia but to say that back then the way that people lived tended to put less strain upon the planet's resources. Though coal was vital to us, our carbon footprints were nonetheless much smaller than they are today. I am sure that you can also recall other aspects of the way we lived that just happened to be friendlier to our world.  

47 comments:

  1. Yes, the simplicity of this kept our use of resources down. Now we are horribly dependent on electricity and fuel. We get our food from far away which is a treat, but a strain on the planet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the past we just did not care - we were blind to the damage we were causing.

      Delete
  2. Yes, I recognise that life too. We are supposed to be living in a better world now with more choices and greater comfort, but look what it has cost the planet. The next generation will be paying for all our little luxuries and the bill is due sooner than expected.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The bill is due but the only tip we shall leave is to conserve and protect what is left.

      Delete
  3. Please can you tell me where that place is?

    The past is a different country. They do things different there.

    Smashing post. It would make a great book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That place now resides somewhere over the rainbow.

      Delete
  4. I'm not sure what to say. It's all scary and one feels helpless to do anything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. At the moment, I just cannot push this to the back of my mind.

      Delete
  5. I'm just popping down to the pub for a jug of ale before closing time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here in Sheffield we have pint glasses - not jugs.

      Delete
    2. One jug = 3 or 4 pints. You took your empty jug to the Buchanan and brought it home full. No glass bottles. Self-limiting. Once you were incapable of walking there for more you couldn't have any. Unless you sent your grandson.

      Delete
  6. I googled *Is over population less of a problem than we think?*
    There are challenges to the narrative of Paul Ehrlich's book, *The Population Bomb*.
    See also: Wikipedia, Human overpopulation.

    *Noam Chomsky : In a couple of generations, organized human society may not survive.*
    Canadian National Observer. Rob Hackett. 12 February 2019.

    Haggerty

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yes. This is all true but cars were gas hogs, getting only a few miles per gallon. And there WAS the coal. That was the reason that London and so many other places had constant smog. But you're right- people didn't expect as much out of life in the way of material things and ease. Now we have no idea how to live without single-use plastics and central heat and air. Not to mention our phones and our internet, our computers. All of these things take their due from our planet. Giant cruise ships destroy precious reefs and dump their waste in the ocean. Old growth forests have become almost non-existent and the Amazon jungle is being destroyed. There's a saying that if we know better, we do better but in this case, I do not think we do. We just continue to hurtle down the highway of destruction.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hurtling down the highway of destruction with nowhere to pull over and now we are going downhill and the brakes don't work. Let's wave goodbye. Sorry Levon. Sorrry Magnolia. Sorry Phoebe.

      Delete
    2. I don't think that back then our small European cars were the gas hogs that those huge American cars were, Ms Moon.

      Delete
    3. America blossomed after WWII. This was not the case in western Europe. In my village hardly any households had a car and if they did it was generally small and economical.

      Delete
  8. One must be the ability to repair things, even by a non professional repairer or someone with a little nous for such things. I hope our e-waste is properly dealt with because there is an awful lot of it. Did you know 'water from the Scottish Highlands' is a code phrase.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No. I did not know that Andrew. What is it code for?

      Delete
  9. Your description is pretty comprehensive, in my opinion.

    With the massive increase in the world's population, I wonder how much difference it would make even if we were still doing all those things today? It goes back to overpopulation as you highlighted the other day. How do we address that when there are religions and cultures for whom a huge family is seen as a desirable goal, or even as a necessity for survival in old age given the mortality rate of children? I don't know. The only thing I can think of is to support Planned Parenthood.

    But really, it just feels like any solutions are too little, too late. I hope I can recover my optimism at some point but I don't know if that's going to happen this time around.

    Also, paper bags and glass bottles were replaced by plastic to reduce the number of trees cut and to reduce transportation costs of items made from paper and glass - and transportation emissions have been pegged at about 40% of CO2 emissions according to a study I saw some years ago. (I don't remember if that was worldwide or some other parameter.) So plastic was felt to be an improvement in many ways ... before we found that it gets into the ocean and the water table. I believe science is working on a plastic substitute that will have the benefits of being both lightweight and compostable, but it seems like such a drop in the bucket.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is hard to be optimistic about the plight of Earth. There is too much disparity. Too much self-interest.

      Delete
    2. I think this is spot-on. It all comes back to population and the fact that there are just too many people using the available resources. How we police that, I'm not sure -- but if we don't do it, nature is going to do it for us.

      Delete
  10. I was pondering a piece along the same lines and you have done it brilliantly. It is simply astonishing the increase in population and consequent unbearable strain on resources.

    XO
    WWW

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do that piece WWW. The more people that raise these issues, the more the concerns and the arguments spread - perhaps forcing change.

      Delete
  11. You describe a much simpler time but it was the correct way to do things. You and I will not see the disaster which is coming. There is suffering and there will be much more. What will happen when there are major water and food shortages?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the end it is all so fragile and could break very easily.

      Delete
  12. Mother Nature is going to hit us hard and it will be horrible. Many people will die and life will never be the same, which might be a good thing. The rich will try to outrun mother nature of course, the poor will die in greater numbers. It makes me sick to think about and I don't know what to do about it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe we should join Extinction Rebellion.

      Delete
  13. My parents' first refrigerator lasted them until I was in my 30s. Tim and I have been married for 23 years now, and we've had two refrigerators and 3 washing machines. Planned obsolescence. As long as someone is making money, that's all that matters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have hit upon one of the key drivers for global warming.

      Delete
  14. Like jenny_o says (and you know, of course), it all comes down to overpopulation. There are simply too many of us here. And who am I to say who should have less children? The fact that I do not have any was a personal decision I made decades ago and have never regretted. Similarly, the fact that I do not have a car, or a tumble drier or air conditioning in my house - all three can be very useful but are not really necessary for my way of life.
    And yes, my hunger for energy is still big enough, what with all the computers and mobile devices I use for both work and play, and I like my hot showers, central heating and good lighting as much as I enjoy the choice of fruit and vegetables at my local supermarket (although trying to buy seasonal & regional).

    Like the rest of us, I do not have a solution. What I do to keep my carbon footprint low is all still well within my comfort zone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You do seem to live a simpler, less environmentally challenging life than the majority of people in the western world.

      Delete
  15. I was born 3 years before you so I can agree with all of what you've said there. I can even recall that when we had our once-a-week bath, I would go first, my mum would then go next into the dirty water after me and then my dad would take his bath last in the same water! On his one day off my dad would mend our shoes and put on new heels or soles for us - not that that was his job. It was certainly a different life then.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Make do and mend - everybody was that way inclined.

      Delete
  16. I remember a similar childhood, being born in 1952, but we did not save our "night soil" for the veggie garden. Instead we had horse drawn vans delivering bread daily and the mothers with gardens would scoop up the horse droppings and mix them into the garden compost along with chicken poop, and a few weeks later that was forked into the ground, left for a week or so then the veggies were planted. The horse droppings were collected all year round and saved in a big pile to which veggie scraps and egg shells etc were added. Hard rubbish, like newspapers and cardboard boxes etc were used to start the kitchen fire.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Intuitively, people were less wasteful. After all, they had just come through a war.

      Delete
  17. I was going to write as well but despair overcomes one in thinking of what will disappear. Greenpeace email this morning 'I told you so' but it was the last thing they wanted to say.
    It is not just the human population but everything else as well, life will be extinguished on the planet. That beautiful blue planet, the astronauts turned round to see on their way to the Moon. We have learnt nothing along the way...
    https://www.resurgence.org/magazine/article5762-the-overview-effect.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We seem to be on the very same wavelength Thelma.

      Delete
  18. Interesting though your reminiscences are YP, the majority of younger folk today will just find it a quaint story and laugh...or roll their eyes and demand to know why they should be expected to live so frugally!
    When are we all going to make a start on doing something, no matter how small, to help? We are all happy to discuss our horror of the future, but what are we actively doing to try to slow the process? Perhaps we should all set ourselves a personal goal?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am an ardent recycler. I never used to be. We eat less meat. We don't have a gas guzzling car. We live in a small house. We bought a new boiler for improved efficiency. We have LED lights. I know these are small things but we are trying.

      Delete
    2. I, too, prefer to recycle whenever I can, but it's still something of a novelty in much of Spain. Apart from household/kitchen waste which is collected daily, nothing else is collected very often, and I've ended up driving round neighbourhoods (wasting petrol) to deposit my waste paper or plastic in the required recycling bins, which are the size of a medium sized family car! We don't have "personal" dustbins - everything has to be taken to a collection point. Normally I do this when I walk the dog.
      I'm investigating installing solar panels - something that was not well received by the local electricity provider when we first enquired, about 15 years ago. We would have had to pay the electricity company quite a hefty amount, to compensate for the money they would be losing when we went off grid. Recently I read that Spanish electricity is the most expensive in Europe.

      Delete
  19. Actually our per capita carbon footprints are smaller today than they were back in 1980 according to wikipedia.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions_per_capita

    It is simply like you said, our population is increasing the overall amounts. But I think a lot of the things you mentioned are cherry picked examples. How about all the giant redwood trees our country had that were gone by the early 1900's? How about all the coal that was burnt over the last 200 years that is now replaced by renewable resources like solar and wind? How about rivers that were damned in the early 1900's that killed off entire fishing industries?

    I suppose if I thought, I could come up with countless examples of things that we do better now than we did back then just because we now no better. But as you pointed out, we still make mistakes and have a lot to learn yet. Sure it would be nice to live like people did a hundred years ago but I don't think I would want to give up my 20+ years of life expectancy we have gained with the knowledge learned since then.

    My 2 cents worth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was just illustrating that in everyday life, ordinary people were less demanding of the planet and I still maintain that that is true. I am not advocating that we live as we used to do. Just reflecting on how it was.

      Delete
    2. That is very interesting data, Ed -- thanks for the link!

      Delete
  20. There's no question that the way people lived decades ago was gentler to the planet. I certainly agree that seasonal eating, re-using clothing and that kind of thing would be healthier for the environment. (I'll pass on "night soil" fertilizer and bathing once a week.)

    But those were not halcyon days either. Back in the '50s people were pouring DDT into the environment and detonating nuclear weapons over the Pacific Ocean. And of course the post-war years in Britain were a notoriously difficult and sparse time. I don't think that's the model for ideal living conditions.

    Many of the sources of today's climate change actually go all the way back to the Victorians and before -- industrialization and burning fossil fuels, for example. I'm sure all those home fireplaces didn't do the atmosphere any good!

    I think it all comes down to population. We have got to reduce the birthrate to lower than replacement levels, and then someday we'd have wiggle room to use resources without inflicting so much damage. (Coupled, of course, with continued efforts to develop more efficient and cleaner methods of energy use.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Turning the tide back with regard to population is an issue that leaders seem to shy away from.

      Delete
  21. By 'eck, it wor tough up north! I'm a war baby, a decade older than you but I did manage to have a bath most nights, perhaps because I 'played out' with my friends and elder brother after school and always ended up rather grubby. I think people then were ignorant rather than uncaring. I don't know whether it's my Yorkshire/Scottish parentage or a childhood in war-torn and postwar Britain but I still operate on waste not want not and digging for Britain principles! We are doing what we can with solar panels and an air source heat pump to power our home. My main grouse is against the power of large companies and stupid, short-sighted governments and hopeless architects who continue to design inefficient buildings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for calling by Share my Garden and for leaving your tuppenceworth. Appreciated.

      Delete

Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.

Most Visits