Be like a war child -- our house is on fire!

In the ‘80s, I used to laugh at my mum because she allocated a whole kitchen drawer to scraps of paper and card, lengths of second-hand string, and pencils of various lengths. A couple of sharpeners lived in one corner of the drawer and, used judiciously, these rendered the pencil collection immortal. What a complete waste of space when you could buy all these things new.

Mum worked in a charity shop. She sorted and stored donated goods in her house and brought broken toys home for Dad to fix. Dad had an under-stairs cupboard full of screwdrivers, soldering irons, and glue. He also had Alzheimer’s. But he hadn’t forgotten how to fix things and, between them, all the goods went back to the shop, ‘good as a bought one’.

After Dad passed away, faced with the gargantuan task of packing up her home of 45 years, Mum spent a whole day tying her pencils into sets of equal length ready to pack. Nothing was wasted.

Mum learnt the value of scarce resources as a child in WWII. With no certainty of replenished supply, her family protected, cherished, stored, used, reused, and repurposed everything. It wasn’t just pencils, paper, and string. Her father is famous in our family for converting Manchester busses to run on steam. And, though I haven’t found any documentary evidence to prove this innovation, it’s entirely consistent with his skills and other contributions to the war effort.

Fast forward to 2019. As people increasingly refer to the climate crisis as a war [1] to combat the relentless decline of our planet’s natural resources, it’s time to take a lesson from history. More than ever, we must protect, cherish, store, use, re-use, and re-purpose the resources we have. More than ever, we must pool our skills, talents, and strength to innovate new ways of being that will be equitable for all and sustainable for life on our irreplaceable planet.

Of course mother’s pencils won't save the planet. My refillable glass bottles won’t do it either. But together, when we all do what we can, where we are, with what we have (thank you, Teddy Roosevelt) we have the best hope of winning this war for our kids, and their kids, and their future.


[1] A World at War, Bill McKibben, The New Republic Magazine, August 2016


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