It happened again the other night. A dinner guest pointed out, with unconcealed relish, the blatant environmental crime in my bathroom. Right there in full view: a dozen or so plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash in my shower.
How could I possibly buy so much plastic, considering I write an environmental column for The Gazette, she asked incredulously. Of course, she was right. It's not like I could plead ignorance. I know that unnecessary use of plastic is evil. I suppose I should be making my own shampoo by mixing some boiled soap nuts with dried gooseberry and herbs, and keeping it in a hand-carved bamboo bottle or something. I could use soap instead of body wash to reduce packaging, my friend hectored. At the very least, I could be saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by refilling empty shampoo bottles with generic hair products at my local health food store. She had me cornered. But instead of graciously thanking her for her "green tip" and vowing to change my ways, what did I do?
I tried, rather lamely, to defend myself. I spoke of the widely differing hair needs among my family members (one needs volume, one needs straightening, one needs moisturizing, and one is addicted to the smell of tropical fruits). I pointed out that in the event of a pandemic, we could live in our house for many months and then emerge malnourished but with clean, well-managed, fruity-smelling hair. I noted that even if we all used the same hair products, we would use the same number of plastic bottles over time.
When none of these excuses washed (or even conditioned), I did what I should have done in the first place. I told my friend to shut up and eat her dinner.
In the almost two years I've been writing this column with my colleague Monique Beaudin, this kind of thing has happened more times than I care to recall. Friends, colleagues and family members love to point out every little thing I do or don't do that doesn't match the greenest standards of behaviour.
Of course, I find this ceaseless teasing and harassment hilarious and enlightening, and I simply can't get enough of it. "I thought you were the Gazette's environment reporter; isn't that a recyclable toilet roll in your waste basket?" "Is this your stack of print-outs? Don't you write an environment column?" "Did you leave the heat on in the living room again, Miss Green Life?"
When I pitched the idea of an environment column a few years back, someone suggested I call it "Queen of Green." It's a catchy moniker, but I didn't like the implication that I considered myself royally green. A good portion of my readers are much greener than I am. I know, because I hear from them regularly.
I recently got an email message from a reader who says she stands at the checkout line and berates people for buying toilet paper made from virgin forests. I have heard from others who knock on car windows to ask motorists to stop idling. While I admire these peoples' courage, I am not sure how many minds they are changing.
I am greener now than I was two years ago, though I have a long way to go. I've learned a lot from the people we have interviewed for this column. For example, I now own a rain barrel. I use reusable bags, a reusable coffee mug, and washable hankies most of the time. I stopped burning wood at home. I eat less meat, shrimp and tuna. I got an energy audit on my house and I even bought carbon credits to offset the greenhouse gas emissions from a flight I took this winter.
So I am trying, but I'm no Queen of Green. I still enjoy a typically wasteful North American lifestyle. There's the air conditioner, too many flights (for which no offsets were purchased), long car trips, over-consumption in general and the shampoo bottles in particular.
But this is neither a mea culpa, nor a horn tooting. It is a reflection on how we can effectively influence those around us to live greener lifestyles. With all due respect to my witty friends and more courageous readers, scolding doesn't work for most people.
In fact, back when we started this column, there was concern in some corners that a hectoring environment column would turn people off. We agree, and we try to remain conscious of it.
If you start nailing people on every picayune aspect of their lifestyle that doesn't meet the most stringent standards of pure environmentalism, many will turn the page.
So this column is a place to find ideas for living a more environmentally aware lifestyle in Montreal. We generally presume our readers want to do that. It's also about issues in the news that affect our ability to do that. If it starts to take on a hectoring or "greener than thou" tone, please let us know.
Most people don't change behaviour because someone scolds them. Some change when they get information. Others change once they notice enough of their friends or people with whom they identify have done so. Recycling or bringing reusable bags to the grocery store used to be something only "eco-freaks" did, but now it's just normal.
I know hectoring doesn't work, because right after that dinner party, I felt a perverse urge to go out and buy more shampoo.
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