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“Look at the tag [on the clothes] of the person sitting next to you. Where does it come from?” asked environmental guru Laure Waridel at a conference last Tuesday at Concordia.
Within minutes, it was clear that China, India, Taiwan, Korea, and many other countries had been involved in the production of the clothing of everyone around us.
“You have been in contact with people from all around the world. You have an impact on their lives and their environment,” said Waridel.
As the co-founder of Equiterre, an organization she established with fellow students in 1993 while a student at McGill, Waridel now speaks out on the effects and costs of the public’s consumer choices on others. She is the author of Coffee with Pleasure and is currently working on a film called Citizen One, being produced through the National Film Board.
Waridel is vocal about how the often-cheap price of our food and clothes doesn’t reflect their true social and environmental cost. She challenges people to look at the food they eat, the gasoline in their vehicles and even the glasses they wear as examples of how consumerism is making a giant environmental and social footprint.
Enjoying mangoes and strawberries during the wintertime takes a toll on the environment. “On average,” she said, “the food that we eat in Montreal has travelled 3,060 kilometres.”
Since buying a product means supporting not just the product, but its production process, the treatment of the employees involved in the production and the environmental impact of its production, Waridel stresses that consumers should consider whether they really need to buy an item, or if they can make do with less.”We need to make responsible consumer choices, and the first one is to buy less.”
“By reducing your consumption, you will have more money to make good choices with your money, such as buying organic food [and] fair trade products,” she said.
She said over-consumption is being encouraged by governments to boost their economic growth, even when it’s an unsustainable practice. Overconsumption has permeated North Americans’ way of life and it’s costing us dearly. According to the Center for Economic Education, more young adults filed for bankruptcy than graduated from college in the United States in 2001. The U.S. has more shopping malls than high schools.
“Companies are getting huge tax breaks because they are considered to be part of key sectors of the economy,” she said. But, she said, echoing a popular theme of David Suzuki’s, “there can be no economy without ecosystem. We are mortgaging the ecosystem.”
The solution is easy, according to Waridel: vote with your money.
She advocates buying local products to reduce the environmental footprint caused by the travel. This would also support local farmers and contribute to the local economy.
Waridel also suggested buying at co-ops, buying items without excessive packaging and joining community-supported agriculture projects.
“We have the power to make things change, and it is not that hard,” she said.
Emma Siemens, 16, said she was happy to have some background on these issues. “It is hard to know why we should buy local and recycle if you don’t understand why,” she said.
Nadia Alexan, founder for Citizens in Action, a group devoted to economic and social justice, said she would like more anglophones to take part of these debates.
For more information on sustainable ways of living, or to see what projects Equiterre is involved with, go to www.equiterre.org.