I'VE BEEN THINKING a lot about Sudbury these days. Long the butt of moonscape jokes and widely recognized as one of the world’s “best” examples of industrial pollution, this Northern Ontario town has much to teach us about hope and moving ahead.

By the 1970s, after decades of exposure to sulphur-laden clouds emanating from open-air nickel and copper smelters, an immense blackened area encompassing Sudbury grew nothing but an occasional stunted birch tree. For Sudbury, environmental devastation was considered the cost of high-paying jobs.

It wasn’t until a group of academics, bureaucrats and citizens came together in 1973, turned a blind eye to the question of who caused the devastation and began talking about the Sudbury they hoped for, that the transformative process began. The result, 35 years, $25-million and over 15 million trees later, is not only a dramatically greener landscape, but also a hope-filled city that is adored by the creative, industrious and prosperous community that has blossomed within its borders.

In this issue of Alternatives, we focus on environmental books and the authors who spent long hours crafting them. With reviews of 29 of the latest and best releases, as well as excerpts from some truly impressive environmental titles, both old and new, fiction and non-fiction, you’ll have lots of reading to fill those dog days of summer that are surely around the corner.

Ronald Wright, best known for his non-fiction book, A Short History of Progress, which was the topic of the 2004 Massey Lecture series, introduces us to his highly acclaimed fictional account of London, England in the year 2500. Think Mad Max crossed with Silent Spring.

The masterful storyteller, Dan Yashinsky, advises us to improve our listening skills so that we can hear the wisdom of the most unlikely voices. Meanwhile, in an introduction to his book, The Geography of Hope, Chris Turner encourages us to abandon talk of punitive expenses and think instead of the exhilarating opportunities for rejuvenating a failing social order. What better way to spend a long weekend than re-reading Walden, asks reviewer Susan Scott. For her, Thoreau’s timeless classic is a life-long companion that she turns to again and again. Stirred by this evocative theme, Taarini Chopra, our assistant editor, has selected poetry for the back page. “In Aornis” is a startling contribution from award-winning nature poet Don McKay.

And for the bibliophiles out there, Stephen Bocking tracks the texts that have helped shape the environmental movement, while I present observations from some of Canada’s most-loved bookstores. Accounts of doom and gloom, I learned, are giving way to more hopeful stories.

In keeping with this upbeat theme, it is our hope that the rich reading list in this, the first of our annual issues dedicated to environmental writing, will not only help you decide what to read, but also inspire you to adopt a hopeful, Sudbury-style, move-ahead attitude. 

Nicola Ross is the former Editor of Alternatives Journal, and is a member of the editorial board.

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