Just more than a decade ago, I was a stressed mom-to-be standing in the aisles of Wal-Mart getting a migraine. Who makes this stuff? I wondered. What is it made of? Why is it so cheap? And what is the true cost of saving money? Hard to believe but there in the aisles amidst the smiley faces, an activist was born…

Since then, I’m often asked – by those who believe climate change is a conspiracy theory and by those who think we’re too far beyond the tipping point to bring our planet back – why it matters that we try to live lighter on the planet.

Here’s what I tell them:

It matters because all any of us can really control is ourselves. And our choices. And that, surprisingly, is pretty powerful stuff. Every time we open our wallets we’re casting a vote in the marketplace. We’re sharing with companies our values. Our dreams. We can tell them we dream of a world where the products we buy are safe for us. That they’re made from materials that are renewable, recycled, or recyclable. That they are produced by people paid a fair wage.

It matters because the time to debate is gone. The time to hesitate is gone. Bill McKibbon is an American environmentalist who’s currently inspiring people to draw the world’s attention on October 24th to the number 350. Why 350? It’s the upper level of CO2 the atmosphere can safely absorb. We’re currently at 390, which the world’s top climate scientists agree is too high. We must mobilize our politicians to move quickly. The Copenhagen Climate Conference in December is when many of these decisions will be made to determine what happens in our future.

It matters because, by the time a baby takes its first breath, it has more than 300 chemical compounds in its bloodstream: mercury from fish, flame retardants from household dust, pesticides from backyards, hydrocarbons from fossil fuels.

The womb is our very first home…and it’s increasingly contaminated. There are 83,000 chemicals currently in use with about a half dozen added daily. Most are probably benign – but we don’t necessarily know that because 80% of these don’t have any health or safety data. But others have names you may recognize – asbestos, formaldehyde, DDT, bisphenol A…

It matters because most of use an average of nine personal care products a day (a quarter of us are particularly high maintenance and use an average of 15). Yet 89% of the ingredients have NOT been tested…and certainly not in the way they’re being used – small amounts over time, in combination with other ingredients. And keep in mind that we wash much of these chemicals into our waterways. Most of us think it’s only small amounts we are putting on our skin, but keep in mind that a patch delivers nicotine to a smoker. It’s a very effective way of distributing chemicals to our bloodstream.

It matters because our diets are worse than our driving habits. It’s cows that are choking the life out of the planet…more than all forms of transportation combined: 18% versus 13%. If you are a dedicated carnivore, look for grass-fed beef, pasture-raised animals – better for you, better for the environment, better for the animal…

It matters because environmental issues are the civil rights issue of our time. It’s the world’s poor who will be – indeed already are -- disproportionately affected and are the least to blame for this mess. The asthma rates of inner-city kids have jumped fourfold in the past two decades and that’s being largely linked to pollutants, says a 2006 report out of Montreal. We have Inuit losing their habitat and, in some cases, their food sources. I listened to an Aboriginal youth in the U. S. call what is happening, “an act of violence against future generations.” And I knew he was right.

It matters because we deserve better. Future generations deserve better.

And the only way they’re going to get that is if we start voting – with our wallets, for products we can feel good about purchasing and by voting for politicians who recognize that we’re teetering on a precipice and that we just don’t have anymore time to waste.

That, I tell them, is why it matters.

Leslie Garrett is a national award-winning journalist, author and editor, based near Toronto, Canada. She is the author of The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World and she has also written a dozen children’s books, including a biography of renowned environmentalist David Suzuki and “EarthSmart”, a book for young children on protecting the environment.

Visit: http://www. virtuousconsumer. com/

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