The Geography of Hope

The Geography of Hope had an odd genesis: writer Chris Turner, contemplating his daughter’s future in Canada’s oil capital of Calgary, was driven to find some reason to believe that her life would not be defined by climatic cataclysm.

I think I could teach her to face war, poverty, famine–human problems with practicible solutions, however complex. I could explain to her that life, as wonderful as it can be, is sometimes far from carefree. But I can’t even tell her with any confidence that there is a future with sufficient durability to serve as a drawing board for her lifelong dreams. There’s a legitimate possibility that she’ll face calamity on a scale I can’t imagine, on a scale beyond anything humanity’s ever seen. This is a prospect that makes it hard to think, makes my vision blur with angry, impotent tears. It terrifies me.

Me too.

Turner spent the following year touring the planet, finding examples of sustainability and solutions to the climate change crisis in villages in Thailand, cities in India, eco-communes in Scotland, institutes in America, and a dozen other places beside. As he repeats throughout, “anything that exists is possible”: we already have the knowledge, skills and technology to solve climate change. We just need to get off our asses and do it.

(It’s a salty book, by the way, dropping f-bombs with a far greater frequency than I’m used to in scientific texts.)

Consider the tech revolution, he argues; if someone had told you, in 1992, that one day you’d have a phone you could fit in your pocket that could read newspapers and letters from people all over the world, that could play your favourite songs, take photos, even video, and that you could buy one of these phones relatively cheap in any shopping mall in the western world (and, according to a recent story in the Star, that social-rights activists in the States would argue that having such a phone was a fundamental human right conferring access to potentially life-saving services for poor people), you would have told them they were nuts. It only took ten years to go from a world in which computers were relatively bulky and expensive desktop beasts useful for printing out term papers or keeping track of budgets to little lap-sized miracle gadgets that provide access to the world’s entire stored knowledge-base–and what it took to go from A to B was a whole lot of foolhardy investment in technologies and ideas that no one thought would work.

We’ve done it before, we can do it again. That’s his argument. And hey, this time it might save our collective lives, so supposedly there’s an additional incentive in there somewhere. The world can change on a dime.

Another example? Consider this quote, from near the book’s conclusion, about the futility of waiting for meaningful governmental action on climate change:

Who really expects anymore that dramatic, positive change will come into their lives from the current round of trade talks, the next stage of Kyoto negotiations, the coming election cycle or the one after that?

That was published in 2007.

Remember, on Tuesday, how impossible Obama’s victory seemed just one and a half years ago.

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One thought on “The Geography of Hope”

  1. My father told me about watching the moon landing with his grandmother, a woman born on a farm in the 1880s. The contrast between where she was born and grew up, with no cars, no antibiotics, Native Americans camping on the farm in the spring and fall, with living to a time where she could watch people land on the moon, was pretty intense, for both of them. It does give me hope, to imagine how far we might come in what’s left of my lifetime, not to mention that of my girls.

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