Environment

Those Were the Days

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorDec 28, 2010 12:51 PM

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One of my favorite geographers, David Lowenthal, has written two great books that touch on the power of nostalgia: The Past is a foreign Country, and Possessed by the Past. In environmentalism, the notion of an idealized past has long manifested itself in various ways. For example an early strain of contemporary environmentalism--known as the Back to the Land movement in the early 1970s--was propelled, in part, by a healthy dose of nature romanticism. Ecology, too, has similarly been in thrall to a false ideal, argues Greg Breining:

Even modern ecologists and conservation biologists, though they would deny it, have internalized a sense of Eden. They don't call it that, of course. Their Eden is a vision of the New World as it existed before the arrival of European settlers. So they restore prairie and rip out exotic species in an effort to restore nature to a pre-Columbian ideal. Modern restoration ecology becomes an effort, as Joni Mitchell sang of Woodstock, "to get ourselves back to the garden."

So it makes sense that some British greens worried sick today over global warming would hark back to the halcyon days of...1972. No, I'm not talking about the life of Austin Powers, just the average bloke, according to George Marshall:

The early 1970s marked the first time in Britain when people's basic needs were largely met. Yes, there were still pockets of absolute poverty, but by and large, people were housed, fed, clothed, and in work. They had weekends off, annual holidays and spare cash for entertainment and leisure. It was not a time of great plenty "“ but of ample sufficiency.

What does that mean? Thursday was meat day? School kids had ring dings with their pp & J (okay that was my typical American lunch)? The little urchins had enough quarters for pinball (yeah, me again). Cause I gotta tell ya, I'm not pining for my mother's Oldsmobile Cutlass, though I'm sure all the leaded gasoline fumes I inhaled from the every other day trip to the gas station to fill up the tank did wonders for my growing brain. Well, whatever your lovely life was like (if you were around then), Marshall's point is this:

For every sector, the figures tell the same story "“ had we chosen to keep that standard of living and applied our ingenuity to making it better, fairer and more efficient, we would not now be facing catastrophic climate change.

Wait, I thought that 2010 was infinitely better, fairer, and more efficient than the early 1970s? (Then again, it seems like a week didn't go by in the 1980s when I didn't hear my my grandfather lament, "They don't make things the way they used to.") But don't take my word for it. Read this poignant reminisce from Shaun about those good old days. It was her post that triggered my own trip down memory lane. What's your fond remembrances of that quaint, contented era?

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