The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need

Any community member who has lost hope of our ability to solve environmental challenges needs to read this book by Chris Turner.

You will notice I didn’t say Environmental Community member. Is there an environmental community anymore? Isn’t everyone part of it, if it exists? We are all affected. We are all members.

Chris Turner begins his book at a wind farm in Alberta, and then voyages around the world to see examples of sustainable development. He goes to Samso Island in Denmark, where they use the sun, wind and biomass to provide all of their electricity and home heat, sheep grazing among the solar panels to keep the grass down. He travels to Thailand where a community is installing a run of river hydro project, using bamboo as rebar. He visits Friedburg Germany, where an abandoned military base has been made into the solar Mecca of Europe. He visits Seaside New Urban development in Florida, where cars are parked in the back alley behind the newly built homes, the commercial district is for pedestrians only, and the real estate sells at a substantial premium to elsewhere in the area. He visits India, where billboards in Hyderbad are advertising solar hot water heaters. He visits Okotoks Alberta, a non descript typical new suburban development near Calgary, that has installed solar thermal collectors on each home, and centrally pooled the warmed water to provide home heating in the winter. He meets a retired Proctor and Gamble marketing wiz who provides insight into how organic products have been poorly promoted, with all the labels having the same bucolic pasture, but almost nothing about the product inside. He visits an industrial cluster in Denmark, where each industry uses the waste from another as its feedstock, saving energy, resources and money at the same time.
Throughout the book he makes mention of his readings, from Small is Beautiful, to Cradle to Cradle, to Natural Capitalism. Most of all, he makes reference to Rock and Roll. This book is not a technical comprehensive solution to the world’s environmental problems. It is a series of powerful anecdotes and stories. It is a right brained book that shows how communities around the world have contributed to reducing their environmental footprint. And it is interspersed with a solid understanding of the environmental challenges we face.
He says that it is community, whether local, religious, or business that will make the changes we need. He, like many, has little hope for comprehensive solutions from governments.

He makes a powerful case. But I kept having the feeling that it was not enough. After all, if your community moves to sustainability, cuts waste, eliminates emissions, but other don’t, we have not solved the problem. I still think we need changes in the policy frameworks from senior levels of government to get there. The age of voluntary (in)action is over.

The book is an excellent read, well documented, well researched, from a writer who really gets it. It isn’t the first book I would put on the list of someone exploring sustainability concepts, but it is the first I would put on the list for someone who has lost hope.

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