The Good Old Days

Being a Kid in Days Past


Growing up in the 1950s seems so long ago. OK, it was so long ago, yet a mere blip in the span of time that is human existence. It was a time when being a kid was about as carefree as could be imagined. It helped that we were insulated from the daily stress of just getting by that our parents experienced, paying bills, dealing with sick kids, searching for the promised American Dream. But for us, and presumably most white kids in our particular Midwest small-town environment, whatever dark side of life that existed was hidden from view, packaged neatly in the sound bites of the evening news that took up only about a half-hour of our day. After-school TV programming was a collection of cowboy heroes, cartoon hijinks, and morally appropriate adventures, many under the broad umbrella of Walt Disney. Winters could be harsh, but the resilience of youth allowed snow-based festivities on many weekends, careening down local hills or ice skating on frozen ponds. When summer came, virtually all destinations were outside, in the neighborhood, the forest down the street, or the pond that hosted the pursuit of fish, frogs, snakes, and the occasional rash from poison ivy. 

Those experiences are repeated in every generation, even as the environment within which they occur is ever changing. In our blissful kid-state we weren’t privy to the global forces that were rolling along toward fundamentally altering the ability of Mother Earth to sustain the natural systems that had been so generously laid before us. Immersed in a culture of growth and prosperity, the unimaginable fortune of our very existence was not contemplated. To be fair, we were kids, so the likelihood of such awareness was slim, particularly in the aforementioned culture. Perhaps if we had grown up on a farm we would have had a deeper appreciation for our interdependence with the land, for the gift of a summer rain, for the joy of the harvest. That appreciation wasn’t fostered beyond the familiar “eat your food because kids are going hungry in parts of the world,” which was certainly true, but an insufficient call to recognize our human interdependence. 

There is sadness in knowing that those experiences won’t be those of my grandkids, but they will have their own memories and reflections on their “good old days.” The difference lies in the state of the planet, a concern of the very few in the 1950s but nonetheless well on its way to where we are today. Rachael Carson’s book Silent Spring was arguably the beginning of a broader awareness of what we were being handed along with the “benefits and wonder” of plastics and chemical breakthroughs, and was the beginning of a movement that took seriously the ability of future generations to thrive on a planet under siege. We find ourselves in the unenviable position of repairing in short order the damage to this fragile Blue Marble that has built up over centuries of neglect.

We still recycle; we added solar to our home; composting our organic waste is still fruitful (sorry). We also know that we are well beyond the point when these individual acts are going to solve the crisis we face. What is required to head off the worst of the consequences requires global scale action by countries who have contributed the most to the problem and have the most to gain from changing our trajectory. At the top of that list is reducing reliance on fossil fuels. But there are also things we can do as individuals and as a committed community that can help achieve critical mass in the global effort. 

  • Upgrade the efficiency of your home to reduce consumption; if you’re looking for a new home, make sure your builder is living in the twenty-first century and is offering efficiency and renewable energy as options (or, better, as standard features).
  • Add solar to your home. Incentives are still there, and getting in the game is pretty painless, in our experience. 
  • Consider electric vehicles. Note that virtually every car manufacturer is fast-tracking the production of electric cars and trucks. They might know something.
  • Most important, vote. As long as we have a democracy, we have the power to put serious candidates in a position to help, not hinder the advancement of solutions. Look for those who think beyond short-term profits and the next election.

A summary of the latest IPCC report paints a preview of a planet that, frankly, we’re already witnessing. On this, the fifty-second anniversary of Earth Day, we have a lot of work to do, so our grandchildren and generations beyond can have their own pleasant version of the Good Old Days.