The revolutionary follow-up to Chris Turner’s Governor General’s Literary Award and National Business Book Award nominee, The Geography of Hope.
The most vital project of the twenty-first century is a shift from our unsustainable way of life to a sustainable one--a great lateral leap from a track headed for economic and ecological disaster to one bound for renewed prosperity. In The Leap, Chris Turner presents a field guide to making that jump, drawing on recent breakthroughs in state-of-the-art renewable energy, cleantech and urban design. From the solar towers of sunny Spain to the bike paths and pedestrianized avenues of the world’s most livable city--Copenhagen, Denmark--to the nascent "green-collar" economies rejuvenating the former East Germany and the American Rust Belt, he paints a vivid portrait of a new, sustainable world order already up and running.
In his 2007 book, The Geography of Hope, Chris Turner wrote about an emerging world of clean-tech possibility. This led to a two-year stint as sustainability columnist for the Globe and Mail, during which many of the fringe developments covered in his book became vital. By the time those two years were up his reporting tracks were being retraced by mainstream outlets like the New York Times. In The Leap, he once again charts the world’s near-future course.
Here's Chris Turner himself, on his career, his inspiration, and his new book:
The great sidelong leap from unsustainable to sustainable living that I describe in The Leap feels somewhat autobiographical, even though I don’t talk about my own life much at all in the book. I never set out deliberately to cover the sustainability beat as a journalist, and I certainly never intended to become a professional optimist; instead, I took a leap of faith of my own seven years ago and landed there by accident.
My first book was Planet Simpson, a cultural history of The Simpsons – a book about a cartoon that was actually more like a recounting of everything wrong with modern society, which in its hilariously satirical way is what The Simpsons is. In that book’s wake, I knew I wanted to write next about climate change, which I believed then (and still do now) is the defining challenge of the twenty-first century.
I decided, though, that I didn’t want to talk about the problem, didn’t want to spend the next few years of my life telling tales of doom and decline. Without the leavening satire of Homer and Bart and Mr. Burns, I knew that would be a hopeless story.
I had no idea how to solve the climate crisis, but I set out anyway on a sort of dare to find solutions. I was convinced there had to be some, even if I didn’t know what they were or where they were. The result of that journey of discovery was my 2007 book, The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need. In the hazily defined sustainability movement whose emergence the book documents, I felt like I’d uncovered the richest vein of innovation, ingenuity and inspiration on the planet, and I knew I’d found not just the subject of a book but the central focus of my life’s work.
I now feel like it’s my job to fix a critical eye on the world’s brightest beacons of hope and be professionally amazed by what’s possible. During the field research for The Geography of Hope, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, how close at hand were the solutions to climate change and so many other of the world’s most intractable problems; during the field research for The Leap, I couldn’t believe we weren’t all pursuing those solutions post-haste. I started out amazed at everything people were doing and now I’m most amazed by how reluctant we are to follow their lead. I’m astonished, still, that 50 families in southern Germany live in homes that make more energy than they use – that 50 families in southern Germany live in green power plants – and that every other family on earth isn’t building a house like that of its own.
As I write this, the news is just breaking – and sinking in – that one of the foremost change agents of our time, Apple founder Steve Jobs, has died. I pick up my iPhone and scroll through heartfelt eulogies on the internet and I’m reminded that I hold in my hands a flat-out eye-popping miracle of human invention, a thing that simply wouldn’t be if Steve Jobs hadn’t willed it into existence.
Here’s something Jobs told the 2005 graduating class at Stanford:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever – because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path. And that will make all the difference.”
He is describing the force of will that propels The Leap.
My main purpose in writing The Leap was to create a language for describing the transition to sustainability equal to its extraordinary transformative power. For too long, the conversation about this change has been dominated by talk of costs, challenges and uncertainties; we need to speak with greater volume and clarity about benefits, successes and boundless opportunities. The reality on the ground on the far side of a Leap is that it is a place best understood through the lens of Jobs’ risktaking verve. It’s the new frontier, wild and exciting, dynamic and inventive and overflowing with promise.
The best places in the world are the sustainable places – Copenhagen’s bike lanes, Germany’s solar-powered suburbs, Spain’s fast trains, Iowa’s community-scale windfarms, the handful of basements in my hometown of Calgary where next-generation furnaces heat the air and produce electricity as a sort of waste product. Let’s celebrate these successes – and then set about replicating them everywhere.
Let’s take The Leap. The only thing we have to lose is our fear of falling.
Thanks to our friends at Random House Canada, and special thanks to Chris himself, for sharing this exclusive guest blog.