People Power (part 4)

Queen of Green
Interview with Adria Vasil - Ecoholic columnist for NOW Magazine

As Adria Vasil reminisces about designing & selling sweatshop-free T-shirts, I'm thinking she might be the Martha Stewart of the eco set - chic, arty & rigorous.
She protests loudly, "Oh no, she's way too uptight. Don't categorize me that way, whatever you do."
Okay, then I'll categorize her as Canada's foremost expert on how to live your life, 24 hours a day, with complete environmental awareness. She does it without the hippie tinge thing that stereotypically accompanies that consciousness.

Her book, Ecoholic, takes the same name as her weekly column in NOW, which answers readers' questions with counsel on how to think about the issue & how to shop organically & locally to solve the problem. It makes eco living seem manageable, a major accomplishment when dealing with a vast set of issues that can be overwhelming.
Vasil says the key is to avoid thinking you can do everything at once.
"Let's face it. You can't achieve environmental purity unless you're Woody Harrelson & you have millions of dollars," she says.
Take things one issue at a time, she advises. Most people can't afford to overhaul their whole house at once, so if you're in the market for a new item, choose organic.
Not that it's always easy.
"The high-end items are a real problem. You can buy an eco-friendly couch made of latex in California, but then you have to ship it thousands of miles in a gas-guzzling truck. Believe it or not, Ikea is not a bad option. They don't use formaldehyde & stopped persistent fire retardants on their couches in 2002."

When NOW launched the Ecoholic column in 2004, even Vasil wasn't sure it would fly. Shortly after it debuted, she wrote an article proclaiming that environmental consciousness was dead, & a quick poll she conducted of activists in the field suggested they were prepared to say the same thing.
Nevertheless, Random House put out feelers a year later, suggesting there might be a book there. Nothing came of it at first.
"A sales guy told me there was no market," she says with a small smile.
But then the publisher came knocking again - loudly - when the world's collective consciousness seemed to turn on a dime.
More like millions of dollars, says Vasil.
"The first & most important factor was the rise in the price of oil in late 2004," she says. "When people have to pay, they'll consider change. I always applaud when the price of gas goes up, because people start making the connections.
"Then," she revs up again, "the tsunami happened, & Hurricane Katrina showed people what happens when storms get freaky. When whole cities are swallowed up in these situations, people start to believe that climate change is a problem."
There was also more science, she says, & it was growing more convincing. Polar bears starving in the Arctic & seals looking for an ice floe to birth their pups on - those images are powerful.

Though she insists that conservation is a money-saving strategy, she insists that people shouldn't be moved purely by financial factors.
"When people complain about the cost of organic food, for example, they have to be made aware that that is the real cost of food. Given what we put on our tables on a daily basis, food is ridiculously cheap in Canada.
"I'm always suspicious when someone promises cheap organics. When organic milk comes cheap in the U.S. you can be sure the cows are being rounded up & kept indoors - because that's the least expensive way of producing milk. Do we really want that?"

Adria Vasil was reading Noam Chomsky at 16 & that same year, she began volunteering at a women's shelter & getting active in the East Timor Alert Network.
She went into journalism because she was tired of sitting on the other side begging to get coverage for the issues that mattered to her, & came to NOW after graduating from Ryerson.
The Ecoholic column was the perfect fusion of her two major interests: corporate practice & the environment. When she began the project she was hurting for ideas, but NOW readers have flooded her inbox with questions, creating a backlog guaranteed to keep her busy for months.

But don't, whatever you do, consider her an eco ideal - she even has a bona fide eco vice: she loves travel, & takes those toxin-spewing planes.
"I really believe that seeing the planet helps drive our love for it & our passion to save it. I wouldn't be who I am without having had the experiences I've had camping through South America. Should we be flying twice weekly for business? No. Should we be flying to Montreal (from Toronto) for a vacation? No, but I still think a carefully chosen vacation - that is, not to a giant, all-inclusive resort that swallows the environment & culture around it - is not to be discounted entirely."
It's typical of Vasil's never-holier-than-anybody way of talking about the issue.
"Environmentalism can't be furthered by an elite club that knows the secret handshake & won't let you in if you're not doing the 150 different things you need to do to enter the club.
"I take a more welcoming approach."

Queen of Green: Interview with Adria Vasil
Conducted by Susan G. Cole
NOW Magazine