The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, January 17, 2008


by Tricia Dower

It has woven its way into everyday conversations. A man at the grocery store, stuffing what he’d bought into canvas bags: “These things are gonna be illegal soon,” he says, pointing to the rack of plastic bags.

At a dinner party, couples who leave a sizeable footprint with winter and summer residences, big cars and airplane travel share tips on composting kitchen waste. One man catches me in the living room replacing a hearing aid battery and says, “You recycle them, right?”

Colin packages up our kitchen waste and bicycles it to the composting bin at the university. We’ve been using cloth napkins for a while and he dug out old handkerchiefs for a recent head cold. “I’ll have to get you a box of white ones with your initial like my father had,” I say. I learned to iron on those handkerchiefs.

“We should start going to the soap exchange,” he says. Soap exchange?

Everybody’s trying to do something, it seems. Riding a bicycle and walking say you’re environmentally responsible these days, not poor or simply health conscious. New words like bioneers, eco-warriors and greenwashing have entered the lexicon. But we still have the ability to pick and choose. I’m personally responsible for multiple tree deaths as I print off version after version of a story. We live in the city within walking distance of almost everything we need, but the car comes in handy sometimes. I don’t always remember to turn out the light when I leave a room.

I just finished a story set in an environmentally degraded future. My characters have no cars, electricity, running water, heat, paper, soap, sanitary napkins, shaving cream, condoms, makeup, perfume, deodorant, plastic bags, aluminum foil, hair dye, toothpaste, dry cleaning, tea bags and so on. Some of our ancestors didn’t have those things, either. But they had the expectation of “progress,” defined as “more” and “better.” Safeguarding our environment feels like deprivation. Promoting sustainability, not growth, seems unnatural. Surely, some say, a technological messiah will deliver us.

I bought a book by Adria Vasil called Ecoholic, a guide to “the most environmentally friendly” information, products and services in Canada. Helpful if you have the time to make your own cleaning products and toiletries or install a green roof. (There’s even “9 Naughty Ways to Green Your Sex Life.”) If everyone followed all the advice in the book, would it offset the damage done by corporations? If everyone followed all the advice in the book would they be pissed off enough at the corporations (and the governments that support them) to find a way to stop them?

Let’s keep talking.

Photo: Adria Vasil hugging a tree.


Blogger Anne C. said...

How healthy looking is that Adria!

Thu Jan 17, 07:15:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Chumplet said...

If most of us adopted at least a few of the lifestyle changes needed to save our planet, it would be better than nothing.

Our Green Recycling program allows us to put our kitchen waste into plastic shopping bags but I'm thinking of getting those biodegradable ones. The program also allows us to put our snotty tissues in the bin to be recycled. I can't imagine wiping a tender nose with those cotton hankies -- I'd look like Rudolph.

Thu Jan 17, 08:32:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger jsnider said...

I've always tried to do my part for the environment. When I was in university I used to save up all the paper and plastics and truck them down (meaning dragging everything on foot) to the bins. This involved many trips but it felt good. Now I have curbside recycling so it's easier.

I think it's important to do what you can. I wouldn't buy an SUV, for example, because though I like them they are gas guzzlers and polluters. I think we have lots of choices that can make a difference.

Remember, little changes and little choices can add up to revolutionary changes in your life, and consequently other lives as well.

Thu Jan 17, 08:56:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks for reading, Anne, Chumplet and J. I miss the green bins we had in Toronto, Chumplet. There's talk of bringing them here. We use the biodegradable bags for what Colin takes up to the university (which includes tissues and paper towels). I agree with you and jsnider that it's important to make changes in lifestyle. There's a mass consciousness that starts to work when enough people make changes and talk about them.

Thu Jan 17, 11:32:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

I'd love to read that story!

One of the big environmental problems is big companies, they still dump their crap everywhere. And what about China and India? Ugh, I'm not so optimistic...

Thu Jan 17, 12:48:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Yeah, Steve, it's hard to be optimistic. As for that story, you'll be able to read it soon!

Thu Jan 17, 02:14:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger TitaniaWrites said...

Well, I have to say that "9 Naughty Ways to Green Your Sex Life." sounds very intriguing! We compost, I rail against plastic bags wherever I go... but I seem to be only one small voice here in Israel. Ah well...

Fri Jan 18, 05:08:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Hi Tania, somehow I thought Israel would have been more heads up on this issue. Keep railing!

Fri Jan 18, 12:10:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T said...

I'm really good at feeling guilty about all these things. There's supposed to be a new law that recycle-men (or whatever the correct term is...) will only take what looks to be the 'correct' contents in the big apartment can, now. In Mtl, the clear plastic bags reveal to all just how badly you're doing, and I know folks whose garbage has been refused. I think the clear, 'green' bags idea is a great idea. But Steve's right: the Big Guns need to be Encouraged in some very Important ways. I'll continue to nurture my guilt and hopefully make better changes along the way...

Fri Jan 18, 03:01:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Tamara. Are there any signs that government and business share the guilt or is that too human an emotion for institutions?

Sat Jan 19, 09:30:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

'Too human for institutions'. Isn't that a protest button?

Mon Jan 21, 03:46:00 am GMT-5  

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