COP26: Could aspects of 70's Edinburgh lifestyle help save the planet? - Liam Rudden

Little things can mean a lot. That certainly seems to be the message coming out of COP26.

Friday, 5th November 2021, 4:45 pm
Leith

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The small adjustments to lifestyle we make as individuals, when replicated by millions, can have a massive impact on our planet.

Some of the changes being championed are obvious and, ironically, familiar to those of us brought up in the Sixties and Seventies, a simpler and, at first glance anyway, greener time.

Looking back at my own childhood growing up in a tenement, that certainly seems to be the case. Then, few had the latest electrical appliances, even a fridge was a luxury, an unnecessary expense when you could leave your milk on the window ledge to keep it fresh. Not ideal, I admit, when that ledge was three storeys up.

Butter, of course, was kept in a bowl of water to stop it melting in hotter months.

I recall the excitement when the upstairs neighbours revealed they had a GEC refrigerator, the first on the stair. Without all the white goods of today, it has to be assumed power usage was less than now, although like the fires that warmed the flat in winter, what power was used came from coal-fired power stations. Not good.

Talking of coal, so vital was it to everyday life then that, even three floors up, our converted box-room acted as a coal cellar - pity the poor coal man who had to carry sooty sacks up all those steps on his back.

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Today, it has been worked out that to stop people using plastic carrier bags they would need to be priced at 75p each, the cost at which people would resent paying.

Disposable carrier bags were unheard off when I was a kid. Everyone had at least one shopping bag, usually more, the Old Lady had bags that went inside bags when going for the big shop. For the daily messages, there was the over a the shoulder string-bag with TARDIS like properties as it stretched to accommodate a ridiculous number of items.

The groceries it held were mostly sold loose; slices of cold meat and cheese off the block wrapped in grease-proof paper and maybe a paper bag, which was then used for writing the next shopping list on.

Milk came in returnable glass bottles, as did juice, which had the added incentive of a cash refund. Tea too was loose, Brooke Bond Orange Label, I recall, had a simple paper wrapper for packaging.

Even the local chippy recycled. All our read newspapers went to old Mrs Beaton to wrap her suppers.

It wasn't until the arrival of the big supermarkets that branded carrier bags became a thing and meat and veg suddenly appeared displayed on polystyrene trays wrapped in polythene.

A time when few family’s had a car, travel too was more eco-friendly, the majority relying on public transport, although the diesel-guzzling people-shifters of the time weren’t ideal.

Whether then and now lifestyles can really be compared, I don’t know, but many of the smaller changes being called for do make sense, even if they are a case of 'back to the future'.

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