Wisdom of Our Elders
December 19, 2023
The holiday memories of my childhood were nothing short of a winter wonderland. I am from the northeastern part of the US, a region often draped in snow and a whipping breeze — the perfect environment for the warmth of family gatherings, one might argue.
Unfortunately, with the impact of climate change, the picturesque white holidays I enjoyed most frequently during childhood are diminishing each year. October 2023 faced a 440,000 square kilometer decrease in snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere compared to the 19.17 million square kilometer 1991-2020 average. And it’s expected to only get worse.
Yet, as we grapple with these changes, there exists a reservoir of timeless wisdom from our grandparents. Preserving our environment is no easy task, but reviving our Earth by adopting greener habits inspired by familial traditions from the generations preceding us, could be a key factor in creating a more sustainable future.
The idea of sustainable living gained significant momentum back in the 1960s. Environmental issues became a tangible, public concern in response to escalating environmental concerns regarding air and water pollution, largely resulting from careless industrial activities.
In response, this era saw the establishment of essential agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Crucial legislative acts were also passed during this time, including the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. Each of them aimed at managing the adverse impact of human activity on the environment.
Our grandparents not only bore witness to monumental acts of progress, but also actively engaged in daily sustainable habits. This was the era when soda was sold in glass bottles and each bottle could earn you a few cents, if you returned it empty to be used again. Our grandparents didn’t expect to change their wardrobe weekly but if they wanted fast fashion –
it was made of paper not plastic. The concept of make do and mend was still widespread as”stuff” from TVs to furniture to clothes got fixed, not trashed. And if they wanted to dry their laundry, they probably put it on a washing line, not an electricity guzzling dryer. They didn’t expect strawberries in the winter and they ate seasonally.
Through their lived experiences, they naturally embraced eco-friendly values so it just became part of their collective, organic green muscle memory — the same green muscle memory which younger generations are now re-learning.
Carrying on Green Habits
During the holidays, the US experiences a 25 percent surge in waste, as a result of the frantic rush to purchase groceries for the holiday feast and gifts for the family. In general, waste has jumped from 88.11 million tons in the 1960s to 292.4 million tons in 2018, and it gets further exacerbated by our over-the-top holiday waste. Emulating our grandparents is a way of being mindful of our environmental footprint this holiday season.
So this holiday season think, like your granny and your grandad: reduce your impact by thinking sustainably when grocery shopping for the festive family dinner. Opt for locally available, seasonally appropriate produce with a lower carbon footprint. Avoid over-purchasing to prevent contributing to the 24% increase in food waste during holidays. Cutting down on unnecessary purchases is the perfect way to reduce your environmental footprint.
Even consider going the extra mile, if you are able, by creating a food garden and consuming home-grown produce which can further contribute to sustainable living. Working on a garden can help to cultivate pollinator friendly plants and also act as carbon sinks. Eating the fruits and vegetables of your labor will help to reduce your personal carbon footprint. Even creating your own herb box is a great way to start!
The surge in plastic production and usage over the last two decades can feel overwhelming but the simplest thing you can do is reject single-use plastic shopping bags in favor of reusable cloth bags. Opt for loose produce over plastic-packaged items to reduce your waste further.
Reject fast fashion, use public transport where you can, and learn new skills like sewing. Every act sounds small but if we collectively adopt some of the habits previous generations, the impact could be huge!
Reflecting and adopting green traditions passed down by our grandparents during holiday gatherings is important for a sustainable future — and it’s a great way to bond with your family over the holidays too! What they tell you might make you laugh a bit in admiration but it might make you think about what each of us can do to waste less too! Happy plastic free holidays.