When Melanie Tapson and her husband, Brad, were looking to put down roots in Toronto, Ontario, finding just the right location was key. When they finally settled in Leslieville, a community that runs adjacent to the Don River in the east end of the city, it was the balance of comfort and convenience that drew them in.
“Brad works for Sustainable.TO, an architecture firm dedicated to building sustainable communities,” says Melanie — a speech pathologist specializing in voice therapy who works primarily with singers, actors, and trans people. “It’s walkable from our house, and from daycare. And that’s a big part of the reason we live here, we’re on a transit line in a really walk friendly neighbourhood.”
For Melanie, 42, that walkability is important. The abundance of amenities reachable on foot — grocers, local butchers, bakeries, cafes, restaurants, home decor shops, flower stalls, even the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) — means leaving the car in their shared driveway most days. And, when they do take it out, it’s a necessity. “The only time we really get the car out is to go to IKEA,” says the mom to 3-year-old Fiona. “Even then there’s three of us in the car — it’s never just one person along for the ride.”
Similarly, for Caitlin Beaulieu, a Cree woman originally from Nova Scotia, living in Whitehorse, Yukon, altered her connection to her community. “A lot of people find this surprising, but Whitehorse is actually a thriving art community. We are also very much a wilderness city. It’s not unusual to see a bear around town. So you are often interacting with the environment in a way that feels less removed than in larger cities.”
Bears or not, Caitlin, 30, bikes year-round to avoid unnecessary driving. On top of that, the artist, writer, activist, performer, and — recently — legal receptionist is a mom to 3-year-old Sadie and puts a lot of thought into balancing her consumption with her needs. “People often buy things that just end up in the trash. So I try to avoid buying things in the first place.” She also avoids disposables and single-use plastics as much as possible but recognizes that privilege affords her those choices. And she believes having privilege also means having a responsibility to examine it. “The most important aspect of environmentalism is challenging the ways capitalism favours business and profits over people and planet.”
Melanie agrees. Although they do their best — using cloth wipes and diapers, choosing glass over plastic, carrying travel mugs and water bottles, foregoing Saran Wrap, eating a largely meat-free diet, composting, recycling, stocking their pantry with mason jars filled at the local bulk goods store, buying furniture and clothes secondhand, and buying carbon offsets when they travel. “Doing it all the right way is expensive,” she says. “It’s really hard and it can be time-consuming.” But with a new baby coming in November, Melanie and Brad have been thinking even more about how they can lower their footprint — something they’ve been committed to revisiting yearly since they started dating.
Living in the close-knit community of Pockwock, in Upper Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia, surrounded by flora and fauna, also colours Kelsey Eisner’s connection to the environment and her efforts to live sustainably, as did her childhood growing up with an environmentalist dad.
“I love where I live,” she says. “We grew up on rivers and in forests. My father taught us how to appreciate nature. Wasting resources is always on my mind, and I avoid it as much as possible.”
Kelsey, 27, is of mixed Inuk/German heritage and a mom to two boys; Kian Eisner, 2, and Owen Devine, 4. An early childhood educator for nearly a decade, the young woman — with energy to spare, is currently enrolled in Child and Youth Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. And living sustainably is one of her objectives.
In addition to buying local produce whenever she can, she avoids plastics, limits how much fuel she uses, buys ethically raised hormone and antibiotic-free meat, and shuns disposables. Someday she hopes to raise chickens, bees, goats, and tend a huge garden on her own land complete with a log cabin fitted with solar panels, a wood stove, and a well. “I’m a dreamer,” she says. “But dreams point us to goals.”
While these three moms’ environmental concerns vary, they all express worry over current climate issues and what the future may hold.
“I am very worried about indigenous communities and how pipelines and private sales of water are impacting them,” says Caitlin. “In Canada right now Indigenous people are trying really hard to save our lands and waters. Not just for their benefit but for the benefit of all… Pipelines are being routed through traditional territories and have high-risk for spilling. It’s a huge concern.”
For Kelsey, waste and greed weigh heavily on her mind. She fears that it will take things moving beyond our control for leaders to make a sincere and lasting change — if it’s not too late. “We should work with the land and not against it. With the people, not against,” she says. “Environmental concerns concern everyone.”
But what is the best way forward when the world’s problems seem overwhelming and bleak?
“Don’t be afraid of trying stuff,” says Melanie. “And build community with other people who care about similar things. We have a community of people who are like-minded. And that feels hopeful. So does watching my kid not bat an eyelash at anything. She doesn’t even blink. Cloth wipes for her butt? Totally appropriate. Reusable bottles of water when we’re out? She doesn’t ask to buy things. She just gets it. And if we change something? She rolls with it. Kids are really quite resilient.”
Caitlin and Kelsey place their own hopes in similar things, and time and awareness are chief to the feeling.
“10 years ago people thought I was crazy for biking all over the place, and for religiously using a reusable mug,” says Caitlin. “Now these things are extremely common. So time gives me hope.”
“People are becoming more aware,” says Kelsey. “We have information at our fingertips. We can make choices that have an immediate impact. Teaching our children will instill new habits and shape new mindsets. They will change the future.”
Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based freelance writer, bartender, and editor of the Whole Family Happiness Project. She lives in Halifax, with her son and a penchant for really strong tea, yoga, hammocks, and hoppy beer.
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