`Green conscience’ inspires change

by Franke James

Toronto woman is optimistic that others will shrink their carbon footprint, just as she has


Franke James knows it isn’t easy being green. And when people ask the Toronto-based artist and environmentalist what they can do to become greener, she gives them the hard truth, literally.

“Do the hardest thing first while we are strong and before we change our minds,” she says. “The reason to do the hardest thing first is because little things like changing a light bulb doesn’t necessarily change our lives. But if we can pick a bigger environmental goal that is going to have an impact on our lives, we’ll feel prouder of doing it and can tell people.”

Not only has James told people what she has done to become greener, but she has also chronicled her eco-journey and struggles in the illustrated book, Bothered By My Green Conscience, printed on 100 per cent post-consumer waste paper by New Society Publishers.

Naturally, the book begins with James challenging herself by doing the hardest thing first, which was selling her family’s only vehicle, a gas-guzzling SUV.

Soon after, she saw the advantages of not having a car.

“The funny thing is that it was a benefit,” she says. “It improved fitness because we walked and cycled, we took the TTC everywhere, and it also makes us pause before we buy stuff because we can’t easily haul it home, so we just buy less. And another terrific benefit is that we save $10,000 each year.”

Pleased with the outcome, James’ radical eco-actions continued when she and her husband decided to turn their useless driveway into a garden – until they found out it was illegal to not have a driveway made of concrete, asphalt or interlock in the city. Voicing how ridiculous the bylaw was to the mayor’s office, the couple got a permit to make the first green driveway in North York.

“It’s not only beautiful but, also, the majority of the storm water no longer runs into the sewers and pollutes the lake,” James says, noting that roughly 10,000 gallons of storm water now recharges groundwater and nourishes the plants and trees on her green driveway.

James realizes not everyone can conveniently get rid of their cars, change their driveways into gardens and write books about their hefty environmental triumphs, but they can do something.

“I’m not telling people to sell their cars,” she says, noting that she lives close to basic amenities. “If you live in the suburbs, you probably need a car – so get an energy audit. Or for people who live in apartments, cut down on meat eating to help reduce carbon emissions. Instead of using your dryer, hang laundry outside to dry …

“I want people to look at their lives and analyze some ways they are contributing to global warming.”

And take satisfaction from what you accomplish, James says.

“Measuring change with water and hydro is so satisfying,” she says. For example, she noticed a change in her hydro bill when she got rid of her second fridge and replaced it with a mini fridge that is unplugged for most of the year.

And she reminds us that money talks (not to mention that neighbours talk, too).

In her book, James points out that when New York created the Pooper Scooper Law in 1978, the threat of a fine combined with social pressure caused people to pick up after their dogs. She thinks if people can change their behaviour when it’s the law, they can certainly make an effort to listen to their green conscience and not throw biodegradable items in the trash, even during a garbage strike.

“It’s really true,” says James. “If we can convince people to pick up dog poop, who knows what social change is possible?”

Franke James will read from Bothered By My Green Conscience ($16.95, New Society Publishers) tomorrow at 3 p.m. at Roots, 100 Bloor St. W.

Erin Kobayashi is a writer based in Toronto.

copyright The Toronto Star

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