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COMMENTARY · 3rd January 2012
Merv Ritchie
If you are twelve years old today, you can be forgiven; all the rest of us should lower our heads in shame. In earnest it began in the early seventies, maybe for some in the sixties, but recycling began with pop bottles long, long ago. Then it exploded with a consciousness of community. Awareness of the world and the environment began right here in British Columbia. In fact it comes right to the Northwest. The Greenpeace movement began in Vancouver but it was Kitimat with the proposed pipeline tanker route through to Douglas Channel in 1976, which galvanized support along with the nuclear bomb test at Kamchatka, Alaska. Read about it here.

But this is about lawnmowers, juice boxes and lightbulbs, not nuclear testing.

Following the hippie dippie free love era of the sixties into the seventies when parents began swapping keys with the neighbours husbands and wives, the children were becoming socially responsible. They saw the waste in almost everything. The excessive packaging was a common concern. It was the era when supermarkets began putting in "Bulk Bins" (Yup that is when they began). Composting came back into common use as did push lawnmowers, bicycles and smaller fuel efficient cars.

The common phrase of the day was "Think Globally, Act Locally". Awareness of pollution in the atmosphere became suddenly urgent after James Lovelock, a British born scientist, discovered a link between CFC production and what he called a hole in the ozone layer. This was the mid seventies. It was then, almost 40 years ago, the mainstream public and the scientific community became aware of the connection. At the time it was described how in twenty-five to thirty years we would be feeling the impacts of everything we were emitting then. Imagine if we had listened to ourselves.

Something strange began to happen almost immediately. Smaller packaging and mass production became a fervour. It coincided with the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 after the Americans ousted the Shah of Iran and thought the Ayatollah Khomeini, (who was living in exile Iraq), would be their new pal. They thought wrong. The Iranians demanded billions of dollars held in American Banks be returned, America immediately faced a fuel shortage and interest rates charged by the banks hit an unbelievable 20%. Many people lost their homes.

The eighties became the era of "who gives a damn" and the nineties became the era of "what the hell was that we just lived through." Packaging became smaller and smaller but the prices stayed the same. Unions were attacked for all the ills of society and no one had time to pay attention to all the mis-information. Every time a political leader was elected they did the opposite of what they promised. Moms could no longer stay at home because the family needed two wages to survive. Cooking and sewing became an art or a hobby, not a life skill. For thirty years logic and reason became less and less important as nothing observed was logical and all government actions were unreasonable.

Today parents numbly walk down the supermarket isles picking out small packages of cheese whiz with crackers and tiny juice boxes for their childrenís school lunches while stopping by the frozen dinnerís section, which has become the major feature of every supermarket. A Jar of Cheese whiz and a box of crackers is extraordinarily, ridiculously, more cost effective, but who cares.

Every conceivable contraption that can be run on gas and oil can be heard summer and winter all through the City. Electric lawn mowers are quiet, cheap and just as effective but smelling the fumes is as addictive as the roar of a heated up 327 supercharged Chevy rocket. People even use leaf blowers when a wide bamboo rake is usually far more effective. Tiny roto tillers are used rather than a tilling fork, snowblowers rather than shovels (even when heavy wet snow is not moved properly by the machine and takes much longer), gas powered scooters over electric. The population has become hypnotically stuck in the past while professing the future.

Governments of the past enacted laws to protect citizens; now they pass them to put citizens in harms way. Lead paint and mercury were identified as hazards and inspectors were in place to ensure foreign products containing these elements were not put on the open market. Now governments are demanding we use mercury vapour filled light bulbs (CFL`s). If one breaks in a childís bedroom they are in serious danger of suffering a brain impairment. Why do we not just start allowing lead paint again? The light bulb will break!

Forty years later and we are once again at the beginning, full circle. In Terrace the last municipal election featured demands for social responsibility, recycling, a voice against Enbridge and oil consumption and environmental awareness. I feel like Michael J Fox, not in the future but back in 1975 in school in Vancouver looking at the same scene only I am now an old man wondering what happened.

This Christmas my father in law received a new coffee maker. You put little pre-packaged single serving tiny tubs into a slot and press a button to get a cuppa joe. Shaking my head I walked outside and grabbed my shovel to clear the snow from my sidewalk and driveway. My neighbours were out with their snowblowers. They were still out when I came in. No noise, no fuel. My driveway is clear to the bone. Even with the rain theirs are covered in a slushy mess. I imagine they then got in their truck and drove to the gym to get exercise.

No wonder I donít want to look like everyone else. Oh, and dad threw the coffee satchels away. Making coffee the old fashioned way is an art we intend to maintain.

So if you are twelve years old remember this. You must talk to everyone you see who is not being socially responsible. Never let up. Make the use of gas power implements socially unacceptable. When you see someone with a leaf blower, go grab your rake and help him or her do the job properly. Donít buy the small pre- packaged snacks and when you see someone else buying them attempt to explain how much money they could save buying differently. Donít let another forty years pass us by. Act Locally, Think Globally. No one is not responsible. Blaming a politician is a cop out.
Comment by Jill Dean on 8th January 2012
True. I grew up in Terrace and I have found that is was harder to recycle in the smaller centres. I hear that the city has taken over the recyling and wonder why the person who worked so hard to get it going is being bypassed. (I may not have my facts right about that) Anyway, there is much you can do to be "green" but I too wonder, when I go to the store, why things are packaged to death and why after the 70's that I grew up in we have throw away cleaning cloths. My family grew up without paper towels, disposable diapers as much as possible etc. but they seem to be victims of...commercialism? They buy fast food, frozen food, paper towels, etc. I live in hope that when they settle down a bit more, they will try to care for our earth a bit more. We need to keep the awareness out there. Thanks for your opinion.
Da 'Fam is finally on board!
Comment by MaggieJo Johnson on 3rd January 2012
I've worked hard for years to "convert" my family to recycling. It's finally paid off to the point my husband is driving me crazy with questions..."Is THIS acceptable in the recycling bin? How about THIS?" OH! And let's not forget how he now goes thru the kitchen trash challenging me ..."WHY did you put this in the GARBAGE??!" (Oh oh. I've been hypocritically BUSTED!)

He's quite the convert now that even one time I left some trash in the back of the truck and he took off in the vehicle; only to see in his horror via review mirror that some bags and trash were being blown outta the truck onto the roadway. He was truly pressed for time, but begrudingly pulled over to pick up every last bit of garbage that blew out on that highway!

After all, the current Pope DID declare the 7 new sins - one of which is failing to tend to the Environment within the means we have set before us. Apparently it's a sin that needs to be confessed. AND HIGH TIME!
Right On!
Comment by Pat on 3rd January 2012
Happy New Year!

Once again, you are to the point and correct. I too will continue to ride my bike (hey attention), take transit, recycle everything possible, keep on shovelling and supporting local goods/services.