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Learn from our mistakes

POSTED: February 24, 2010 4:00 a.m.

I have forgotten the name of the sage who wrote: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.”


All of us, I am sure, have experienced the desire to turn back the clock or the calendar and have an opportunity to do or undo some action.


This can be true of a tiger or an individual who insisted on driving a vehicle after imbibing or one who has made a sharp retort without considering the consequences. As someone commented recently: “God may forgive, but the law or those who were hurt may not.”


I was considering the idea of consequences when my friend Bette Holland discussed the unsustainability of our present day lifestyles — “our” meaning not only we Americans, but the entire planet.


Many of the points she made concerning our overuse or abuse of non-renewable resources were exactly the same as those which were discussed three decades ago when I worked with an Environmental Education Program in Atlanta Public Schools. And I wish we had made the impact for which we aimed and hoped.


Those who know me as a retired language arts teacher may be surprised to learn that for three years I was part of that more science-oriented program. Some of you may recall that I have previously written of that experience several times. It made a definite impact on my general philosophy and lifestyle.


True, there have been a number of environmental changes in laws, policies, and behaviors. Recycling, for instance, is now politically and socially accepted, even encouraged. We now operate all our vehicles on unleaded gas and look for those with higher MPG’s — for financial if not environmental reasons. We insist on clean water; however, we usually buy it in plastic bottles, which don’t biodegrade.


And we have made our American lifestyles so attractive that China, India, and many undeveloped countries, demand that they have the same opportunities.


Despite hard economic times, our consumption of resources does not diminish.


We are certainly not going to sacrifice; in fact, we will hardly be inconvenienced.


The nation laughed when Jimmy and Roselyn Carter walked (instead of rode) down Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day and at the President when he did a “fireside chat” wearing a sweater in order to set White House thermostats lower. His predictions of future shortages were ridiculed as “misery indexes.”


I can’t help wondering if things would be different had we taken some of those 1970s and early 80s recommendations more seriously.


Although I now hear many of the same types of statistics and warnings and suggestions, I see little evidence that the general public is even listening, much less heeding them.


So I end this critique with another quotation whose author I don’t recall:  “Those who do not learn from mistakes are bound to repeat them.”


Helen Taylor’s column appears periodically in the Dawson Community News.



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