The TH Interview: Adria Vasil, Author of Ecoholic

Adria Vasil has been writing the popular and Ecoholic column for NOW Magazine in Toronto since the spring of 2004. Adria has a degree in political science and cultural anthropology from the University of Toronto and a degree in magazine journalism from Ryerson. An advocate for the earth, women's issues and human rights since her teens, Vasil has appeared on Canada AM, The Gill Deacon Show, MTV Canada, MuchMusic, Book TV, CBC's Newsworld and much more to promote green living. She has just released Ecoholic, the book showing Canadians how they can live earth-friendly. We talked with Adria about how she got into journalism and where she sees herself in the matrix we call the media.

TreeHugger: Did you always know you wanted to get into journalism?Adria Vasil: No, not at all — I probably had 10 career paths. I thought I wanted to be a social worker — but working in a women's shelter since I was 16, showed me the level of burnout that occurs. So, I traveled after school — taught English in Taiwan and then went backpacking around South America. It was then I realized there were a lot of important stories that needed to be told and weren't. When I got back, I was quite active in the NGO world and found that getting media attention was quite difficult and frustrating so I decided to get into journalism so I could write about the underdog issues that were underreported.

TH: How do you account for your own personal biases in your reporting?

AV: I didn't get into journalism to pretend to be this objective reporter - that's not the style I was interested in. That's why I went to NOW magazine — they encourage you to have a voice and a position. You can still weigh both positions in your research and your article but still call out someone's bluff when you see it. My opinions haven't prevented me from being critical about NGO's either — It's hard as that was my world for some time but you have to be able to be critical sometimes to tell the truth.

TH: What is your take on the state of media in general as it pertains in getting environmental issues out?

AV: The media's definitely gotten a lot better at putting green stories out there in the last year. Environmental news is no longer permanently relegated to two paragraphs at the back of the paper. When the last two IPCC reports came out, climate change issues were constantly making front page news on a daily basis. Journalism really has the power to fuel public perception of these issues. When the media started giving credence to Esso-funded naysayers a decade ago, the public really took to that and carried that cynicism with them. Now we're finally starting to see that undone, thanks in part to the media covering the story in more depth. Of course you still see lulls in coverage and I do worry at times that the media's getting bored with green stories but I don't think things will go back to the dark ages of the 90s. The planet isn't going to let us, or the press, ignore the mess we've created.

TH: Do you get down on the situation or succumb to the there's no hope feeling?

AV: I don't let myself go there — But I'm still a cynic and in my mind I know that there is that possibility that we are totally buggered! But I'm also an eternal optimist — I know it's a weird combination! It's that cliché that every bit helps. It doesn't matter whether you support the environment part way or all the way as long as each step we make is a step forward. My biggest fear tho is that when the situation does seem bad and we have all these apocalyptic messages — we are actually turning people off.

TH: Ever want to rebel against it all and run away?

AV: There's a part of me that wants to run off to some remote island and leave it all behind. But then, I'm sure I'd be taking up with some local activist group protesting one thing or another. So, really there isn't any safe place for me in this world — besides I don't see myself not being active politically either. You never know — I just might disappear somewhere but for now, there's still a lot of work to be done.

TH: Do you find your personal knowledge is a burden sometimes — isn't ignorance bliss sometimes especially when you're shopping for things?

AV: It definitely can be - Ignorance IS bliss but I'm compulsive that way — I just have to turn the product over and read the label! Sometimes I wish I didn't have to put something back but I still do.

TH: Do you allow yourself indulgences?

AV: Oh ya for sure — in my column I always write that this is the best option for this and that but I also tell readers that I'm not perfect and no one can be. Like, I love to travel — it was probably my first love. It's not something I really want to give up but I try to do less now.

TH: Do you make your friends uncomfortable? Do they feel guilty when they are around you?

AV: My friends have made a point of saying thanks for making them not feel judged but that they judge themselves. They don't feel like I'm judging them but them knowing what I do and what I stand for — they just kinda look at themselves. At the end of the day — I don't want to judge people but if they decide to look at themselves based on what I'm doing — then that's a good thing. But it helps to have a sense of humour about things too — so, it's not so serious and depressing all the time.

TH: How do you keep on top of everything to keep yourself well informed?

AV: Yeah, that's very hard but I definitely try my best especially when it comes to the environment. No matter how busy I am — I'll try to login to environmental health news dot org and get at least the top 100 news stories around the world and the latest scientific studies on things; NGO reports. Even if I can get 10 minutes to bookmark things for later, it's better then nothing.

TH: How are you handling the "celebrity" aspect of being an author? Especially with the spots you've been doing on national television.

AV: It's not something I'm overly comfortable with — in fact, it was something I was stressing over when I first decided to do the book. But it's part of the gig and in the end — if it helps further the cause then it's a small price to pay. There is some payback as well — like talking to people who've seen me on tv or heard me on the radio and them giving me feedback on how something I said or wrote helped them out. That kinda stuff makes the interview stuff a lot easier.

TH: What do we need to do to engage more people — even family and friends?

AV: Well, the first thing is to lead by example — it has an effect on people. Also, having conversations with people when it's appropriate. Not everyone is an activist or hard-core environmentalist in the waiting, so I tell people there are lots of little things they can do for the environment — I try to encourage people based on their skill set. Trying to make things relevant to each person — where people's individual passions are.

TH: Where do you see environmentalism moving in the near future?

AV: In the near future, there is a possibility that modern-day environmentalism is gonna be somewhat hijacked on the mainstream level by corporations like Home Depot and Wal-Mart who are definitely walking more of a green-walk then before but might be watering down the movement for hardcore environmentalists. But while that is happening, people are getting more educated and smarter — people are questioning the government and corporations from a more informed base. You see changes (which is really hard for society as a whole) like in England or San Francisco and you hope that continues and that places closer to home will get there sooner rather than later.

TH: Is it a situation where there needs to be disasters for people to get engaged — it's almost the same as when someone loses a loved one before the decide to make changes in their lives they knew they had to make before?

AV: Katrina was the first time people saw something so massive hit their own backyard and whether it was caused by climate change or not — we realized what can happen when the oceans warm up and the storms get picky. If we see more of these close to home — it will just heighten the wake-up call. Not that we are calling for more storms but when we see people suffer — it forces people into action.

TH: What about all these celebrities that have taken up the cause — like Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney and Brad Pitt?

AV: We're such a celebrity obsessed culture and I don't think there is any harm in having a pin-up that people can look to as long as they are well informed and know what they are advocating about. We don't need a bunch of people buying hybrid Hummers. As long as they keep preaching green and if it's cool to be talking green — it will at least get the younger generation involved. Take for example, Pamela Anderson — like her or not she at the very least gets people talking about PETA.

TH: What are your thoughts on the more extreme/hard core environmental groups?

AV: In might be an unpopular opinion but I support all forms of environmental activism. I'm not one of those people — you won't see me tying myself up to an oil rig — but I think that any time movements have moved forward there have been extremists at the front lines doing unpopular things. Society typically backlashes against these people but when along comes some moderates — they tend to be viewed more reasonably. It sort of raises the bar — the people coming up behind these extremists who are willing to negotiate and create dialog can get further ahead. It happened with feminism — the whole burning bra sect alienated a lot of people but when slightly more moderate feminists came along it did have more mass appeal because people's ears were more open to that kind of dialogue because they had been stretched. I'm not a violent person myself but it has its place.

Adria Vasil is the author of Ecoholic, "Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products and Services in Canada", based on the column of the same name in Toronto's NOW Magazine. After an exhaustive book tour — Adria hopes to spend time in her garden this summer and looks forward to maybe a second book and getting back to her readers.
Interview conducted by Lien Thoo.

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