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Marjorie Lamb

It's Only a Matter of Time

By Joe Shepstone

Volume 18 Number 5
1990 September

"Waste not, want not" has become "waste not, pollute not," and Marjorie Lamb, author of 2 Minutes a Day for a Greener Planet, tells how common sense tips resurrected as "green" tips can make a difference to the environment today's children inherit and pass on to their children.

Majorie Lamb wants us to help save the earth. She wants us to spend little time and save a lot of money by following her common sense prescription for a greener planet. 2 Minutes a Day for a Greener Planet is a well-written, anecdotal book that presents many practical household hints from the days of the Depression when our parents were forced to do without. After the explosion of consumer products in the 1960s and 1970s, we are once again learning how to do without, but this time it's to help control the growth of landfill sites, conserve energy, and decrease the amount of chemicals released into the environment. In the book we meet Marjorie Lamb and her daughter Caroline as they go about their normal lives taking a few minutes here and there to be more efficient.. We are also introduced to the many federal agencies out there needing our support.

Marjorie Lamb is an environmental commentator for CBC Radio and Chatelaine, and she brings to her work a conversational style of writing much like the following interview held at the Canadian Library Association offices earlier this year.

CM: How did you become interested in the environment?

Lamb: I was raised in Saskatchewan in a very small town called Tisdale, population about 2,500, and it's close to that today. My parents were from the depression generation, so they lived a life that did not appreciate wastefulness. They raised us with the idea that you should always save things, you should always repair things, you should pass things on to the next person, and you should do your best to be kind to the planet in general.

Their motivations were perhaps not as strong environmentally as ours are today. They were probably more motivated by financial matters, but, in fact, much of the environmental movement today is working on the same principle as the depression generation worked on--"waste not, want not." The other thing that influenced me was that I have a daughter who is eight years old. Having a child really brings home how important it is to look after the planet, because it is one thing to say, "Well, I can muck up the planet as much as I like because I'm not going to be here much longer," but my daughter is going to live past me and maybe have children of her own. It starts to get pretty scary, what we are doing to the planet. It becomes a very personal responsibility to look after the earth.

CM: Where did you get your material?

Lamb: A great deal of the stuff is just common sense. It really is. For example, turning off the tap when you brush your teeth. It's straight habit that people turn on the tap to brush their teeth, and they don't think about it, they let it run. If you wet your tooth brush and turn off the tap you are going to save about two gallons every time you brush your teeth. If all the people in Canada saved two gallons every time they brushed their teeth we would save a phenomenal amount of water. People may not be familiar with this way of thinking, so I'm trying to say, "Let's use our brains and use a little common sense."

Other information I gleaned from various environmental groups and other stuff I got from people who listen to a regular weekly spot I do on the radio in Toronto about things people can do to help the environment.

People have heard all the bad news. They've heard about the greenhouse effect, they've heard about the ozone layer, they've heard about the garbage crisis. They all know the bad news and now they are saying, "OK, I believe you. Now give me something to do. I want to help." That's what I'm trying to do.

CM: You call your book 2 Minutes a Day for a Greener Planet. Why?

Lamb: I call it that so that people will not be intimidated by what they have to do to make the planet better. There are many, many things that you can do that will take literally two minutes or less, things you do every day anyway. Why not just try to do them a little differently? Some things take no extra time, things like using laundry soap instead of laundry detergent. It takes the same amount of time to do your laundry. It takes the same amount of time to do your shopping but it makes a difference [to the environment].

I don't want people to think, "I can't go out and climb a smoke stack and put a banner on it. I don't have the time and I'm not that kind of person. I can't go out and sail on the Rainbow Warrior" [the Greenpeace ship]. They don't have to do those things. They can to something that takes very, very little time in their own home, and the nice thing about it is that these things are addictive. Once you start doing one or two nice things, then suddenly you think, "That wasn't so bad. What else can I do?" You'll find there are lots of things you'll want to do. Two minutes a day: it's a good start.

CM: Will these "common sense tips," as you call them in the introduction to your book, lead to a greener planet?

Lamb: Yes, they will. There's no question. All the things that are wrong with the planet are things we have done as individuals. You might think it's industries, it's corporations that are doing all the polluting. Why are they doing it? They are doing it to provide us with consumer goods that we buy. They are doing it to provide us with services that we require. It's individuals who made those things possible. I think it's individuals who can undo it. Yes, [these tips] definitely lead to a greener planet.

CM: Can your book be used by young people?

Lamb: It's a bit dense for pre-teens, but we are looking into a kids' version.

I wrote it to be read by families. It's wonderful to get to the kids when they are young. There is a lot of stuff in the book about schools. I am very much involved in my daughter Caroline's school. I stood up at a parent-teacher meeting and said, "I think we need an environmental committee," and they said, "Great, you're it!"

I tell another story in the book about garbageless lunches. One of the grade 2 teachers took the concept back to her class and told them the reason why we shouldn't bring disposable drinks and plastic wrapped sandwiches to school. They should bring instead a thermos for drinks and a hard plastic sandwich container. She got almost 100 per cent participation. That was only from talking to the kids! They took hold of the idea and ran with it and made it a success. The book addresses things you can do at home, at work, and at school.

CM: Do you have a vision of the world you would like Caroline to grow up?

Lamb: I would like Caroline to have clean air to breathe. I would like her to be able to swim in Lake Ontario. I'd like her to be able to eat the food she buys from the supermarket without worrying about her food being contaminated. I'd like her to be able to enjoy the country we live in without worrying whether or not what she is doing is killing her, or shortening her life, or making her unhealthy. I'd like her to be able to have a planet full of a rich diversity of living things that will enrich her life. That may sound like a pretty tall order, but I think it is achievable. We all have to work together and do something to achieve that goal.

Lamb, Marjorie. 2 Minutes a Day for a Greener Planet: Quick and Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. Toronto, Harper & Collins, 1990. $14.95 Reviewed vol. XVIII/4 July 1990, p. 187.

Joe Shepstone is a writer with the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. He has a B.A. in Biology and has experience working with children and the public as a nature interpreter with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

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