How our grandparents lived more sustainably than us

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Emergency years in Ireland, 1939-1945, were a time of significant shortages across the country. Even though Ireland was, of course ‘neutral’ the Irish people endured the same rationing as England. America and Canada too had some austerity measures in place but in no way as austere as in Britain and Eire and rationing in Britain did not stop until well into the 1950s.

Those of you who have grandparents and great-grandparents who endured that time could do well to ask them how things were then. They would probably tell you about the lack of gasoline for cars, the lack of wheat, oats and barley. They might also have told you about the lack of meat, oranges and bananas. Truth be told most families, Irish and British, of the time would also not have been able to afford some of these items anyway. But those same people who went through those times could teach us some interesting lessons, and those that went through the Great Depression in the USA.

For instance people sourced, not that they would have used that word, their food more locally, the idea of the supermarket didn’t come into Ireland and England until much later. The scraps/offal bucket usually went to the hens or ducks if such animals were kept, thereby reducing landfill waste. In the event that there wasn’t any domestic animals then a local would usually go from door to door with a horse and cart to collect scraps for pigs and such. The end destination would eventually complete the cycle of cradle to grave.

Electricity was another source of rationing with intermittent or zero supply. Arts and culture thrived as there were no televisions, and it is still, it would appear, the same in places where people do not have TV or little of it.

People remained healthy by walking to work, if they could get the work in the first place and it is generally thought that the health of the population in certain respects was much better than it is today, even when taking into account advances in medicines.

Because Ireland was mostly an agrarian nation then and the people's connection to the land was so much greater than it is today and most people grew their own vegetables in their backyards.

There is great deal more stuff like repairing worn out shoes and clothes, making your own bread, telling a story, playing or inventing games to occupy the time, supporting the local team that all come under the umbrella of a more sustainable society.

It is given that times were tough then and people were less efficient in the way things got done, but the people who came through it appreciated even the smallest things in life.

As for efficiency: we have today become a lot more efficient, efficient at using the resources that are finite, and that is not so good and efficiency, I think.

So if you want to really learn about living more sustainably perhaps you could ask the experts, your grandparents.

There are also enough books about on the subject from those times; books that really told you how to make ends meet, how to make do and mend, and so on. We'd all do well to dig them out and read them.

The economy was different then too and no company seemed to have folded because of lack of national economic and world economic growth due to the products lasting a lifetime and more.

The wireless, still in the 1950s and 1960s could be repaired, as could shoes and boots, and they were. Some people's radios, aka wireless sets, were already 20 years of so old then and still worked and were being repaired again and again when something went wrong with them. The same was true for other things.

Shoes and boots, bicycles, you name it. Everything was repaired and thus made to last as long as at all possible and still everyone's businesses seem to be working quite well.

The more I look at things the more I come to the conclusion that on many levels we do not seem to have advanced at all but gone backwards in our wastefulness and such.

A total rethink is required and it is required now, this very moment; not tomorrow or next week.

© 2011