By Romy Shoam
Despite the widespread awareness of the climate crisis, especially among teenagers and young adults, most fail to substantially combat this. It is easy to make the excuse that one’s personal changes would make no difference, or that tackling the environmental emergency is the government’s responsibility. However, it is not about what's done in public demonstrations, but rather what is done in the privacy of one's home that really makes the difference.
Meet Haley Clarke-Cousineau, Kaytee McGilton, and James Stewart: three Dawson students making real change. They are part of the Montreal West Environmental Action Committee (EAC), a group that is determined to make Montreal West more sustainable. Their tasks include advising the town on how to reduce its waste, educating the residents to adopt a greener lifestyle, and organizing events related to their environmental goals.
The EAC is made up of about 15 people, both adults and teenagers, which, despite sometimes posing a generational barrier, is often useful: the town’s needs and desires are well represented by a diverse age range. Clarke-Cousineau says that the younger members “can bring more ideas to the table,” and emphasizes that it’s important for young people to get involved with this sort of action because when they joined, “a lot more stuff started getting done” due to their “creative ideas.” According to McGilton, despite the problems that sometimes arise when working with older members, no matter the age, these like-minded people are working to a common goal — making Montreal West more environmentally conscious — as that is what is most important.
The EAC also includes several town officials, who act as a link between the Committee and the town council, facilitating the execution of projects. Stewart puts it bluntly, but clearly: the Committee’s job is to “look into what the town’s doing, and what it could be doing better.”
Their most impressive event to date is their city-wide clothing swap in spring 2019. The teenagers led this event, and although the adults initially expressed some concerns, they supported the execution of what turned out to be a “smashing success.” After many months of preparation and advertising locally and online, 150 people poured into the town hall on a sunny Sunday morning to swap their old clothes for new ones.
The entry fee was a meagre
$2, and one could either choose to buy the flat rate of a $2 bag and fill it with as many clothes as possible or fill however many bags of clothes they contributed to the swap. There was evidently a strong community aspect to this event, and although some people “would be coming for a different reason, [they would also] learn[...] about [the effects of fast fashion], ” McGilton says. Stewart expresses that “it does bring you joy when you see people being able to benefit [from affordable clothing] and give these clothes a second home.” The excess clothes from the event were donated to Fripe-Prix Renaissance on Saint-Jacques Street.
EAC also writes a column in the local newspaper, The Informer, which Clarke-Cousineau usually writes for. Over the summer, the Committee succeeded in diverting much waste from the well-attended Canada Day event by suggesting the change from plastic to paper crockery and utensils and put up posters about what to compost, recycle, and throw out, which have been reused for events since.
The Committee’s future initiatives are to plan another clothing swap, hopefully in the early winter, and incorporate a mini-artisanal fair where local, home-based businesses could sell their goods. They also want to encourage local businesses to choose compostable containers for their take-out.
The three students recognize that it is not so simple to join or create a committee and that their town is privileged in the way that many of its residents have the means to make sustainable lifestyle changes. Stewart would advise similarly concerned teenagers to start locally “because you have power. You can’t take on the entire problem of climate change yourself [...] so just try to do your best within your location and with the resources you have to make a change. If we all do that, then together, it makes an enormous difference.”