By Susan Healy
Mary is 90 years old. She lives in her own home and still drives. She has 13 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren. Unlike some of her mokopuna, Mary would never have a “Save the Planet” sticker on her car or letterbox. To her that would be distasteful. On the other hand, she carefully gathers up all the vegetable scraps and puts them in her compost; she uses organic sprays, showers briefly and in the summer collects her shower water to sprinkle on her plants.
None of Mary’s mokopuna are quite so careful. While some of them might have quite a bit to say about greenhouse emissions and global warming, they have little problem with taking up to 15 minutes to shower. As for composting, only one family ever had a go at that – and that came to an end when they moved into a more upmarket home. I suspect that what is true of Mary’s family is not unlike that of many others. The younger generation has grown up in an era of affluence.
Exhortations like “Waste not, want not” have not been part of their upbringing. What is happening with Mary’s family could be seen as a cameo of what is happening at a national and global level. It is doubtful that in the history of our world there has been so much high-sounding talk, writing and theorising about environmental matters and sustainability. To be sustainable – or at least to talk about being sustainable – is to be “in”. Our country promotes itself with endless images of, and statements about, our “Clean, Green” status.
But what is the reality on the ground, or maybe we should ask: What is the reality in the water? When Mary was growing up, she and her family knew they could swim in the river near their home and drink its water; there was no question about it. Now, the Minister for the Environment is assuring them he will do all in his power to keep their water: “wadeable”.
What has gone wrong? There is much that could be spelled out here: on the pervading influence of the god called “progress”; of polluting industries and ever-expanding dairy farms; of an economy built on speculation and the generation of debt …
How can we possibly start to turn these things around? I have my own theories but I will mention only one. I’m suggesting we adopt a new piece of wisdom and it is this: “Live within our limits”. Yes, live and enjoy life. Let’s have lots of fun, especially together fun, at low cost. And let’s not be striving to be the perfect person or have the perfect world. Let us accept our personal limits, the limits of others around us, and most especially – at this time – let us respect the limits of our planet earth.
She is an old lady. She has sustained us for a long time; she can sustain us for a long time to come. But she, too, has her limits.