learning environmental lessons from the past
Climate Change Collective,  family,  Science

Looking to the past for climate change solutions

The latest post from the Climate Change Collective takes inspiration from times gone by, as @AndSmelly from Smelly Socks and Garden Peas reflects on the practices of our forefathers and the little things they did that can provide us all with climate change solutions today.

Last month, I wrote how proud I was to have joined the ranks of the Climate Change Collective, a group of bloggers from across the world who take it in turns to shine a spotlight on climate change issues, offering personal perspectives, as well as practical advice and support to help us make our own, planet-saving choices.

Climate Change Collective

In this month’s post – Returning to Past Habits (Climate Change Collective Post 9) – Smell reminds us of the little things many of our grandparents used to do. Like making home made draft excluders, growing copious vegetables (I remember my grandfather storing excess tomatoes in almost every drawer in the house), wearing multiple jumpers and spending most of the summer and autumn filling jars with various jams and pickles.

Indeed, I read the post with a deep sense of nostalgia, as each of Smell’s suggestions for past-inspired life hacks reminded me of people and moments from my own past.

I grew up in a 300-year-old, always cold farm house and my paternal grandfather lived with us, in an adjoining, equally cold annex. As a result, one of my abiding memories of him is of the multiple layers of clothes he would wear to keep warm. There were cardigans aplenty, heavy cotton shirts and string vests – all of which would still be worn throughout August heatwaves. This, coupled with door excluders to keep gale force drafts at bay throughout the annex, was his preferred method of central heating during the winter months.

Using clothes until they are worn out was another of Smell’s suggestions and my grandfather lived by this mantra, deeming holes, threadbare knees and assorted rips and tears as part and parcel of a specific item’s character, rather than reasons to do away with it. Should he be gifted new clothes at Christmas, these would inevitably sit in a drawer ‘for best,’ with the raggedy regular clothes remaining first choice.

As I reflect on my childhood and on those happy times I spent with my grandparents, there are several other things I recall that, with a modern day awareness of climate change and the issues affecting our planet, make much more sense today.

First and foremost, picnics.

My maternal grandparents were ardent picnickers, always preferring to pack their own sandwiches and a thermos, rather than eating out or venturing to Costa.

They would picnic in all weathers, staying within the car on rainy days or whipping out the picnic rug when the sun broke through. All the food was homemade – usually home grown – and our rubbish was either taken with us or properly disposed of.

Now, I hear you say, a picnic isn’t going to save the planet. And you’re right. But the principles involved in them just might.

My grandparents were loving and generous, but they were never frivolous. They were of the Second World War ‘make do and mend’ generation and, consequently, were masters at both. My Nan repaired countless holes in school trousers for my brothers and I, while my grandad was able to take apart and repair complex electronics, attempting to explain what he was doing to me in the process. I didn’t understand any of it, but was always fascinated.

This mentality seeped into every element of their lives. They cared deeply for the community they lived in and actively did what they could to keep it safe, clean and green, for their children and grandchildren. They always shopped local, supported local businesses and made friends with the people who ran them. They staycationed, returning year after year to the same spots in North Wales, where we shared magical childhood holidays with them, picnicking on windswept beaches, climbing mountains and playing endless board games.

At home, my Nan would make optimal use of the seasonal fruit and vegetables from her garden. Stewed apple and rhubarb was seemingly always on the menu whenever we visited, whatever the season, and endless jars of jam and chutney were gifted to anyone who happened to be walking past the house at the right time.

It is these simple principles and practices that are arguably missing from so much of society today. Ours is still a throwaway culture, despite so much heightened awareness of the damage it is doing to our world. Rather than repairing, we so often choose to throw away and replace, and rather than making do with the clothes we have, we look to change and upgrade, driven by new trends that are thrust upon us through mainstream and social media.

So, my family and I try to live our lives – or at least part of them – by our grandparents’ principles. We hold on to clothes, we shop in charity shops, we use places like Facebook Marketplace and eBay to find second hand bargains, instead of buying new. We also try to repair where we can, although my skills at reverse engineering are nowhere near as good as my grandfather’s.

And we picnic.

But it’s not always easy. My wife and I simply aren’t gardeners, so we don’t grow our own fruit and vegetables. However, being environmentally responsible doesn’t require everyone to be perfect, it just requires everyone to do something. So, while we may buy our tomatoes in a supermarket – complete with the infuriating amount of plastic packaging – we are, I like to think, making up for it by doing what we can to live like our grandparents taught us.

My advice to you, dear reader, is therefore entirely inline with Smell’s great post; make do and mend where you can, and picnic whenever you get the opportunity to do so.


  • Molly | Transatlantic Notes

    I’m all for the idea of more picnics; now that the weather is cheering up I think my husband and I will have do some again! I spent a long time living with my grandparents and am using this to share some cleaning tips in my own response post as they really did live in an entirely different way. My grandmother was very much a ‘make do and mend’ person; the embodiment of it and I learned so much. Great post — thanks for sharing!

  • JamieAdStories

    I like the picnic analogy. Multiple layers reminds me of my nan. My grandad used to fix everything or repurpose. Great post! Welcome to the Climate Change Collective!

  • A Sustainably Simple Life

    I find it interesting how different people approach their communities and how that “throw away culture” mentality affects that. I grew up in a small town and my connection to there versus the city I now live in is vastly different. I think you’re really into something there and how it relates to our care for the planet. You’ve got me thinking! Thanks for the great post 🙂

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