This is Aaron's piece that was part of the Best in Environmental Writing win - our trip to Mexico was in December '08.
From where I’m sitting — a sun-soaked patio on a loping hillside dotted with banana trees and coconut palms, a siesta-shrouded town lazily swinging to my right while red-backed tourists frolic in a frenzy of holiday excitement on the pristine beach below — it’s easy to imagine a winter vacation to Mexico is nothing short of positive.
The town of Sayulita, sitting humbly on the Pacific coast just north of Puerto Vallarta seems a dream away from life in Canada, where my focus of late has been on trying to reduce my personal environmental impacts and contribute to a sustainable community to call home.
My partner, Katie Harris, and I spend our days riding our bicycles to pick up recycling from businesses in Cowichan, a service now keeping more than three tonnes of waste out of the landfill per month using emission-free transportation. Building on that success, we have recently begun servicing apartment complexes and stratas, businesses and residences to collect organic materials.
As individuals, a couple months back we joined Cowichan Carbon Busters to examine ways to reduce our personal environmental impacts even further, and have in eight short weeks managed to reduce our carbon footprint by 60 per cent.
Yet here we are in the middle of winter in Mexico, eating tamales off Styrofoam plates, and sipping cervesas from glass bottles we know are destined for the landfill. We’re so fresh off the plane the heavy weight of jet-fuel derived carbon emissions makes it hard for full relaxation to occur.
There’s an environmental cost to everything we do and flying puts us all in debt.
Travel was a big focus of Carbon Bustin’ discussions and no one could agree on what justified flying the friendly skies. Was it to visit a sick mother? Maybe it was a chance to skydive? Or does making your way around the world starting programs to combat climate change mean it’s OK to recline your seat and enjoy a pack or two of pretzels?
The answer, unless we want to get into some serious stone throwing from inside our glass greenhouses, is to leave that choice up to the individual.
It may seem like a conclusion of convenience coming from a sinner with sand between his toes, but laying charges from atop a holier-than-thou pedestal hurts the cause, making eco-novices turn red instead of green, embarrassed to be caught trying the wrong approach.
While there’s no doubt those who do nothing are in need of goading and engagement, pointing fingers is divisive and counter-productive.
In Sayulita, a small group of like-minded individuals have for the past year been introducing the concept of recycling, a tall order in a country where taco stands cover their plates with plastic bags to avoid washing them.
I had the chance to help out during one of the pickups and work alongside two extremely passionate guys — Ramon and Octavio — so eager to make a difference they tore open fly-riddled garbage bags to look for cardboard, plastic and aluminum among the dirty diapers and rotting food.
These two have no time to lay judgment or be indignant that storeowners don’t recycle — they are too busy trying to educate and explain the concept in general, something we at home take for granted.
In Canada, we sometimes find ourselves discouraged with the slow moving mechanism of change.
Octavio and Ramon deal with it by forgetting about the actions of others and getting down to action themselves.
If each us do a little bit, we’ll see a difference. It’s a million small accomplishments that will lead to the biggest change.