FOR A SHORT TWO-WEEK period every spring, before the leaves burst their buds, the warm spring sun penetrates the deepest nooks and crannies in the small cottage where I live. Its rays illuminate the grit and cobwebs that have accumulated over the long, dark winter. Sparkling dust rises toward the sun as if it was a cobra under a flutist’s spell. For this brief interlude in May, anything seems possible. The barren maples, ash and elms that tower above me don’t obscure the sun or block my view. Swollen leaf buds hold only promise. I can see the forest and the trees.
This issue of Alternatives shares this clairvoyance. It’s as if the sunshine has exposed the ideas of all my favourite environmental writers and thinkers, and is enticing fresh concepts out of all those hidden nooks and crannies. Passion fills the pages of this issue of the magazine.
In his Alternatives’ debut, Thomas Homer-Dixon argues that whereas physics ruled the 20th century, ecology will be the master science of the 21st. It’s a premise contested by our regular columnist, Stephen Bocking. He doesn’t believe that any particular field of science will dominate society again. Bocking explains the limitations: “Science can inform; it cannot lead, and the essential environmental questions are political, not scientific.”
Bill Rees picks up the challenge. “Not a single candidate in the recent Canadian and American federal election campaigns,” he notes, “fully acknowledged the global ecological crisis or recognized the transformative possibilities inherent in today’s economic downturn.” Stepping away from his trademark rants, Rees serves up some razor-sharp ecological advice for our politicians. He asks, “What constitutes a suitable average material standard of living? How many people could a steady-state economy support sustainably at that standard?”
McGill University’s Ray Tomalty returns to Alternatives after a much-too-long hiatus and puts the lofty concepts described by Homer-Dixon, Bocking and Rees into practice. Applying an ecosystem approach to urban sustainability, Tomalty explores the idea that rather than being outside the urban ecosystem, city dwellers are within it.
We also shed light on the remarkable environmental career of Linda Duncan. From her Ottawa office, this New Democrat Member of Parliament for the Alberta riding of Edmonton-Strathcona explains that it was the spectre of Stephen Harper winning a majority that made her run for political office. That and fatigue. “I was tired of making the government govern, so I became the government,” says this inspiring environmental lawyer.
To round out the issue, we welcome Peter Robinson to our pages. After eight years as CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op, Robinson now heads up the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver. His opinion of Thomas Homer-Dixon’s new title, Carbon Shift, is that the next great book by the venerable author of The Ingenuity Gap and The Upside of Down is yet to come.
The term “ecology” is derived from Greek words meaning the study of our house or dwelling place. I doubt that German zoologist Ernst Haekel, who first coined the term in 1873, meant for it to include searching your home for those warm sunny corners that are perfect for magazine reading, but that’s what I recommend you do with this, our Ecology issue of Alternatives.
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