The Geography of Hope
If you are of a sustainable mind, you may find yourself, as I often do, overwhelmed and distraught about the current ecological state of the Earth and the bleak data predicting a disastrous future. Because solutions are not ubiquitous in our day-to-day surroundings, we are prone to forget that success stories exist. In his book The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need Chris Turner travels around the globe to discover and discuss existing examples of sustainable advances and lifestyles. As a journalist, not a scientist, Turner presents pragmatic evidence for a feasible future of sustainability. His lucid argument for sustainable initiatives is neither condescending to experts, nor cryptic to novices in climate change science.
Aware of the trend that nonfiction science writing can be rather overwhelming in large quantities, Turner organizes his Geography of Hope into ten chapters, each focusing on a particular facet of sustainability. For topics ranging from design to community to energy, Turner gives concrete and specific examples to support his ideas about the push for sustainable life. He doesn’t include fancy renderings of projects to be finished in 2020, nor mass-produced infrastructures. There is a focus on the small and realistic, as those solutions have to potential to become replicable and mainstream. What strikes me most about Turner’s argument for sustainability is the concept of a sustainability archipelago. “Underwater volcanoes” of technology and advancement spew out isolated, but operational, initiatives (Turner 50-51). Over time these individual projects, such as the power-neutral island of Samsø or the solar-powered neighborhoods of Germany, expand into full-blown sustainable landmasses. Turner’s metaphor recognizes the power of individual projects, and understands how these start-up initiatives grow into societal changes and revolution. This approach to sustainability is far more hopeful than demands for absolute abolishment of current societal and cultural habits. Sustainable changes are not coming out of massive scientific research centers but out of small, self-driven communities. As with the advent of handheld Internet capabilities, Turner’s hope is that sustainability will grow and adapt into a concept integrated into everyday life.
I am frequently jaded and dismayed by the gloomy scenarios predicted with regards to climate change. Essentially I begin to feel that the world is ending, primarily by our own fault, and it rests solely in our hands to make things right once again. When staring blankly at scientific data of retreating glaciers, species endangerment, and graphs predicting an increase of somewhere between 2 and 9 degrees Celsius in the next century, I am overwhelmed by negativity. The Geography of Hope is a thorough and holistic approach to solutions in climate change science. Including historical facts, explanations of technology, and colloquially styled musings on the practicality of sustainable living, the book offers much more than simply data or graphical representations of scientific findings. It amasses the whole ideology of sustainability, from social, cultural, scientific, economic, and ecological perspectives. Turner’s viewpoint is certainly one of optimism, a characteristic that some extremist environmentalists might sneer at. I, however, am feeling much better about the ability of our generation to achieve sustainability should we move with haste towards it.
Turner does a phenomenal job of taking disheartening data and providing not only a slew of solutions, but also the psychological and societal conditions necessary to institutionalize those solutions. Because Turner comes from a journalistic background as opposed to a scientific one, he is able to better understand and communicate the social dilemmas surrounding the science of climate change (Cameron). Oftentimes it can be overlooked in the tidal wave of scientific research and investigation that sustainability is involved in economics, design, homeland security and even war. This generation is not dealing with one isolated field of necessity-driven discovery, but with a force that affects every aspect of life. For example, the small island Samsø has embraced the politics, economics, and manufacturing of sustainable practices in addition to their implementation, creating a sustainable community (Turner). The sheer quantity of specific and existing examples of sustainability leave no doubt or uncertainty in my mind about the possibility of a green present and future. Turner writes like an expert and covers all his bases in a myriad of topics. The Geography of Hope is composed of an astonishing amount of research, based soundly in well-understood thought and supported by countless pieces of evidence, despite Turner’s non-scientific background.
From a political standpoint, Turner has the power to look past the fickle standstill policies and economic biases to present a realistic scheme for sustainability. He most certainly is not shy to criticize the current modes of change in society and faults by which sustainability is hindered. Recycling has actually become “down-cycling” as our products lose value and quality over time until they become waste. He suggests a more holistic approach to production: building and construction with the end in sight (Turner 210-211). He does not weave tales of a picturesque scene of solar panels and wind turbines in the mountains where they filmed The Sound of Music or some happy-go-lucky politicians having a rendezvous over coffee to agree upon some drastic Change Bill. Turner seeks out real time change, the change created by the likes of the Danish farmer Jørgan Tranburg and the green architects dedicated to sustainable design (Turner 44-45). However, in some ways we find ourselves dependent on politics. We need a Martin Luther King Jr., to come in and inspire the masses to make headway. It will take someone proclaiming a message of change and hope, not one of immobility and frightening statistics, to achieve change. Sociopolitically, the environmental movement lacks the momentum to achieve international action. Whether because of doubt, money, or lack of leadership, the movement in practice is largely stagnant, save those of the sustainable archipelago. Chris Turner confidently makes these kinds of igniting claims about sociopolitical stagnation in a way that demands respect and deference from his readers.
The Geography of Hope is a down-to-earth anthology of auspicious sustainable archipelagos. Its pages are not weighed down by heavy statistics or intimidating data, but are filled with stories that contrast the often bleak future with impactful and successful projects. These stories appeal to our emotions, and they create the kind of social change Chris Turner claims we lack in the green revolution (Turner 332). Turner has a mantra, summarizing his point of view on a sustainable future, “Anything that exists is possible” (Cameron). In a culture where climate change is often associated with dismal predictions, Turner offers a literal map of hope, seeking out even the smallest sustainable projects from across the globe. The idea is these initiatives need not be “scalable” or made bigger, they just have to be efficiently replicable (Turner 289). Whether amateur or expert, anyone interested in attainable solutions to climate change, will find Turner’s book full of contemporary success stories.
Cameron, Silver Donald. The Geography of Hope. Sunday Herald Column. The Green Interview, 13 July 2008. Web. 30 October 2011. <http://www.thegreeninterview.com/geography-hope>.
Turner, Chris. The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need. Canada: Random House Canada, 2007. Print.