Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sunday Soapbox: Was Chicken Little Right?

As a person of a certain age, I am well-versed in Chicken Little philosophy, from the cradle. Chicken Little didn't know what he was talking about, and he ran around shrieking that the sky was falling when in fact it was a simple little acorn that had bopped him on the noggin. The moral of the story was something like this little cliche: don't make a mountain out of a molehill. Check your facts before thinking the sky is falling. Look around you to see if, in fact, any of the sky is on the ground at your feet.

But what if Chicken Little was right?

For years now, since Rachel Carson published her masterpiece Silent Spring, environmentalists have been calling for action. For the better part of the decades since then, we (I use the universal we, not literally me) have scoffed at them. It takes years and much red tape to make one little change that could greatly benefit the world as we know it. Why? Because we think the environmentalist, the tree-huggers, the granolas of the world are Chicken Little incarnate. We think they are scared of their own shadow. We think they are creating much ado about nothing.

Today the "green" movement is changing all of that. Suddenly you don't hide the 60% post-consumer product toilet paper under the heavily bleached paper towels. You don't stuff the tofu under a pack of hamburger meat. And you certainly don't buy poison for the yard. As my best friend said to me last night, "People are buying up all this organic stuff, and in fact that's how we used to eat!"

Yes, grandma used cloths in the kitchen and when cleaning her house. No disposable wipes, no paper towels, no heavily perfumed or antibacterial goo. Maybe vinegar and water or some plain bleach water. Sometimes just soapy water from the kitchen sink where she washed the dishes by hand (rinsing them in a dishpan to save water...because it came from her well...waste not, want not!). Grandma grew her own vegetables without a lot of chemicals. She knew what to grow with each plant to give the best pest control, and she was out there daily, picking off the bugs or shooing away the crows. She often bathed several kids in the same bathwater to conserve that precious resource. She didn't use hairspray or any other aerosol. She made her own soap, her own butter (for a time), and got milk from her own cows. Gradually, that all changed. Everything came from a can or bag or freezer. It traveled miles to get to her. She had to learn a whole new way of cooking and cleaning. Everything became disposable and available at the local grocery, which turned into a supermarket.

And the landfills grew. And the air became more polluted. And the water became more polluted and sometimes carried killing bacteria through the pipes. Grandma couldn't assess her own well water because she didn't know where the well was.

Now where are we? Martha and Paula are having to teach us to cook (along with a million other chefs that dot the cable line-up). People with dreadlocks are ringing up our purchases at the organic market where we go to find safe food and to feel good about ourselves. There isn't enough legislation to keep the world safe forever, and we've been lulled into such a sense of futility that most of us (I'm including myself here) wouldn't know where to begin to fight the system which has allowed for this poisoning of the atmosphere. Big businesses have far, far more power than we do, and the government wants to do everything in their power to protect those CEOs and their multi-million dollar bonuses. They, we are told, are the backbone of our economy.

I disagree.

I think my grandparents were the backbone of our economy. They were self-sufficient. They pitched in to help their neighbors when they needed it. They used their money and their energy locally. They took care of their own well and tended their own garden, but they also were closely-knit with the rest of the community. In our era of globalization and lead-laden toys from China, are we better off?

Maybe Chicken Little had it right all along. He was a little premature in his assessment, but the sky is falling, folks. As hubby said to me while we were walking our dogs yesterday, "A change is coming." I couldn't agree more. Four dollar gasoline is only the beginning. We knew we'd have to pay the piper someday.

The piper is here.

Peace - D


Jay said...

I loved hearing about the things my grandparents used to do - Grandad was a market gardener, but also used to rear and kill his own pigs, keep chickens, and shoot rabbits for the pot. He gave haircuts to half the village and repaired their shoes in return for jobs he could not do, or produce he couldn't grow. Grandma used to preserve and bottle and deal with the pig carcases (sharing them round the neighbours in return for goods later in the season) and make clothes etc. But they had a hard life. A very hard life. And I don't know that it would be practical to live like that now. One thing which is very different is that we don't have the community or the family living close by to share the children with - Mum was sent to live with an aunt when times got hard, as was her sister. Boys were sent to help family members out and live with them for a while. Many of that generation died young.

But I think you're right, we need to recapture at least some of that philosophy.

Daryl said...

I have heard that the germ goo doesnt nothing except dry out your skin .. hand washing is far more effective and hygenic AND green!

Thank you for the compliment, and I would and will say 'right back at you'


Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

Amen to that. My grandparents also worked the land and were (mostly) self sufficient. My ancestors were farmers and shepherds and they lived into their 90's. They ate simply, lived simply, and probably had much more peaceful lives. Entertainment was each other---no tv, movies, radio, etc. Their music was their own song. They left a light footprint on the earth and never in their lives touched anything made in China.

We are so far removed from that...your chicken little analogy is a good one. So is Pandora's box. The box has been opened and will anything ever be able to close it again?

That remains to be seen.

Jennifer H said...

You've said it all so well. We used to grow so much of our food (canning and freezing for use over the winter). I share your sense of futility in getting big business and government to step in and force the changes that we need.

Momma said...

Jay - Yes, you captured exactly what I was trying to say. We can't completely go back, because the world isn't that way anymore. But we can begin to simplify. In doing so, we can help both ourselves and the planet.

Daryl - That's true. In face we do more harm than good with the antibacterial stuff. I have a small bottle in my car for when I need to wash my hands but can't. Otherwise I try to buy Seventh Generation or Method hand soap. It's just mild cleanser.

Lavinia - Oh how I wish we could put that genie back into the bottle, but now we just have to find ways to integrate their philosophies into our reality.

Jennifer - I wish I had room to can and freeze food. We have some great farmers markets around here, and if I could do that, I could certainly stock up on what someone else has grown locally during the season. If we EVER make some room in the garage (that is, if we ever stop storing stuff for the adult children!), I want to get a small freezer to store things in. It would be cheaper to do that and it would be healthier for us and for the environment.

Peace - D

Josie said...

Momma, when I was a teenager, my father handed my a copy of "Silent Spring" and said, "Here - make this your Bible."

Why has no one listened? Bees are disappearing, frogs are disappearing. Here in the Pacific Northwest the salmon is disappearing. In the North Atlantic the cod has disappeared.

It was discovered recently that the coral reefs are bleaching from people using too much sunscreen!

We are teetering on the brink of a disaster, and no one seems to be paying attention.