Global warming and parenting, can we make a difference? By Wanda freeman.
I find stuff annoying, so much stuff everywhere all the time. In my house, I look around and I see stuff that is always on the floor because small hands move stuff around. I like useful stuff … things we use, things we eat, things that keep us warm and safe.
When I had little hands, we did not have much stuff; if we wanted to play, we played in the trees or with stones or water, soil or plants. If we were bored, we would be given a job to do and so we were seldom bored. Sometimes we fixed up old bikes or found wounded animals to look after. Now that I am grown, I know that I was raised in a different time bubble. My peers had televisions, X boxes, and cupboards full of toys. They did not have to carry water to wash their clothes or cook dinner for 15 people in a makeshift kitchen like I did. We lived off grid without mains electricity or running water, without washing machines or televisions. However, I and my siblings still enjoyed our childhoods and even though we were aware that not everybody lived as we did, it was what we were used to. You don’t miss what you never had.
Now that I have a house in a town and children of my own, I must decide what is best... Do I raise them outside with few material goods or do we embrace the 21st century and give them all the stuff that their peers have? What is right and what is wrong? We are told the world is dying and that we need to do better. The birds and the bees are disappearing, ice caps melting and seas polluting... and it is our fault, humans are to blame! With heavy hearts and guilty minds, my children look to me for answers. My son wants to save all the birds in the world! He is only six, but he tells me birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs… He says that we must replace broken owl boxes that he spots in the woods because he doesn’t want them to go extinct as the dinosaurs did. My daughters want to create wolf habitats and open animal sanctuaries and be vets and marine biologists …they change their minds regularly but there is a strong emerging theme.
It's horrible for ones so young to feel the burden of humanity. All I can do is to try and create balance within our own lives and control our small corner. And so, I don’t have a house full of plastic toys, but we have a television and a car, central heating, telephones, and blenders. We spend most of our spare time in the small garden of our council house, planting seeds and growing vegetables, making bird feeders and boxes, planting flowers for the bees and swinging on swings, walking in the woods, learning about what we can pick and eat, and its benefits.
If something breaks, we prefer to fix it than buy a new one, and if we can make the things we want or need then we do that too. The things we fix or make give us so much joy that we do not ever want to get rid of them. And as we go about our days and weeks, we learn new skills that will serve us forever, whether its woodwork, planting and growing food, or how to heal or prevent illness. The list goes on forever as everything is connected.
We can share this with others around us, my children tell me when they spot a vegetable garden near our house so that they can give away our extra seedlings, and my little son asks the neighbour who is fixing his fence for tips on using the drill. My daughter fixed up an old bike that a neighbour was throwing away and now she is helping a friend from school do the same thing.
As my kids go about their day asking me a million questions that I am supposed to know the answer to, our list of projects and things to make and do and fix and learn builds up, giving us little time to worry about what the newest toys are. And with my answers, I try and be honest about the issues but encourage them to focus on their area of influence instead of despairing about the world ending.
I always cared about our environment because I was raised so close to nature, but as a young adult I did not always make the right choices and I still do not. It is impossible to raise a family in the modern world and always make the right choices. However, thinking about our consumer actions is a decision I made. I made it because it felt right to me. Walking through the shops and seeing everything made from plastic and designed to be thrown away, I see shelves full of landfill fodder. I do not want to buy new clothes because I know there are already enough clothes in the world for more people than exist, and I do not want to create more demand. So, for the six of us, we usually buy used items which are just the same as the new ones, hardly worn! I mean kids grow out of their clothes every other day anyway! And we get more for our money, for the same price as going to Peacocks and buying brand new cheap things that will break next week. We can buy high-quality used clothes that we can pass on when are done with them.
What drives me crazy is that things are designed to break now, an eggbeater or a toaster from a supermarket will often break a few months down the line and cannot be fixed! Who is making these decisions to make things that cannot be fixed? Corporations that want us to buy new ones next week. That should be illegal. I get stupidly excited when I find a food processor in a junk shop from the 60s. Those things were made to last! And they can be fixed!
I don’t think everybody should be the same, I know everybody does not have the time to grow vegetables and build furniture, but I do think the consumer society is broken. People are encouraged to just buy new things, targeted adverts, and a pill to fix every problem, and kids are glued to phones. Christmas means going into debt. This is not an accident. This is being driven by corporations making billions and by governments selling out. And the everyday person watches David Attenborough on TV and feels sad and helpless knowing something is wrong but not knowing what they can do to help.
It is hard to make the right choices and hard to afford to buy organic vegetables to help save the bees... but it is easy to get closer to nature and your local community; to pay attention to what is growing around you, what is living in your hedge. And when people become aware of their surroundings outside of their houses it is hard not to want to feed the birds and plant a few trees.
So, my small solution is to grow a love of nature in my children, and awareness of their choices. With any luck, they will grow up to find random stuff annoys them, and plastic landfill fodder will trigger them in the same way it triggers me. Maybe if the consumers change the corporations will be forced to change too.