This sustainable life: What is cool?

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By Anne-Marie Vettorel

I have to say, I’m slightly embarrassed. I’ve been going about my business this year, writing this column, and all the while ignoring the implicit premise that hides behind my bits of advice: that our individual actions make a significant difference to the environment.

Sure, we all know that recycling is pretty kick-ass, and that living a simple, anti-consumer lifestyle can reduce a person’s annual carbon emissions by numerous tons.

But beyond that, we need to consider that the only way for individual actions to work is if they are part of a collective — and let’s be real, how many people actually walk the talk?

It’s hard giving things up — it’s inconvenient and it’s time consuming. The thing is, no matter how much PR the green movement gets, it is fundamentally at odds with everything “cool.”

To use a very poor analogy, it can’t compete with the marketing Goliath of consumerism. I sat down with Justin Trudeau last year to talk about the youth vote and when I watched the video again this week, I noticed that the voter apathy we were discussing might as well have been apathy toward anything, including the sustainability movement and climate change.

“What’s cool?” he said. “Cool is being detached, being uncaring.” You fall down—but quickly brush yourself off because “you’re cool.” On the spectrum from cool to concerned, voting, like environmentalism, is clearly at one end. Hang on to a pop can until you find a recycling bin?

That’s an obvious statement that you care. And although commitment and vulnerability aren’t quite rock and roll, my theory is that the spectrum curves back around—and at a certain point, caring becomes incontrovertibly cool.

Basically, those of us who are living eco-friendly lives need to say ‘haters to the left’ and keep doing a small part to make big changes. They’ll catch up.

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