Book Review: A Passion for This Earth: Writers, Scientists, and Activists Explore Our Relationship with Nature and the Environment

What do you love about nature? What place, animal, thing, or experience opened your eyes to the sacredness of the natural world? Who in your life provided a role model for stewardship, activism, or scholarship? Why on Earth do you give a hoot about this planet Earth?

In A Passion for This Earth, edited by Michelle Benjamin and published by Greystone Books and the David Suzuki Foundation, twenty of the biggest movers and shakers in the fields of writing, science, and social activism come together to explore these questions. At the same time, each writer seeks to continue the multifaceted approach to making positive change begun more than fifty years ago by David Suzuki, Canada’s foremost environmentalist.

The book is very reader-friendly and engaging, and the obligatory instances of fêting Suzuki that pop up are not gratuitous, awkward, or irrelevant. Instead, all of the individual pieces coalesce as the writers express their personal perspective on nature and environmentalism. The book’s title may have you suspecting a mélange of ooey gooey green effusions–you know, the sort of stuff I generally tend to write. But what the book delivers is a truly enlightening anthology addressing four different topics relevant to Suzuki’s legacy: “Falling in Love with the Wild,” “Rise Up and Reclaim,” “Uncompromising Dedication,” and “Travels with David Suzuki.”

The first section of A Passion for This Earth comes closest to gooey, but even here “falling in love” does not consist of sappy generalities. As I think the best nature writing should be, each essay is appreciative but also intelligent–as well as humorous. Richard Mabey, for instance, remarks in “The Real Stuff” on how he finds joy in the random beauty of nature: “At times the gratuitousness of creation, its sheer wild playfulness, can only be understood as a kind of unscripted comedy”.1 Like the other authors in this section, his direct experiences lead to passion and then to action rather than leaving him goggle eyed and gape mouthed.

In “Rise Up and Reclaim,” the tone shifts more distinctly to one of action for nature (though there is still plenty of appreciation). There is much greater concern with the why and how of actually changing the status quo in order to save the wild we fall in love with. I was particularly impressed by Paul Hawken’s “The Ecologist,” in which he addresses what he calls “the movement,” the vast network of different organizations and activists that “generally remains unseen until it gathers to take part in demonstrations” and functions for the greater good without a single controlling head (62). “At the heart of all of this is not technology but relationships,” Hawken explains, “tens of millions of people working toward restoration and social justice” and who, in the process, “are reimagining the world” (67, 75).

In this same section, Wayne Grady also puts people above technology when it comes to “reclaiming” a safe, sacred biosphere in “The Mechanical Savior: Nature and the Illusion of Technology.” Alarmed by the vague, vapid, and naïve faith in technology as a saving mechanism that many citizens and leaders express, Grady instead praises a wholesome skepticism in technology. He (rightly) points out, “We have gone well beyond being dependent upon technology for our comfort and convenience; we have been domesticated by it” (105). Can you hear your cell phone screaming for you right now???

The essays in section three, “Uncompromising Dedication,” are similarly dedicated to persevering dedication to acting for the sake of nature. Ross Gelbspan’s “Toward a Real Kyoto Protocol” is indicative of the thoughtful, realistic suggestions given by all of the authors in this part of A Passion for This Earth. Gelbspan explains his plan for reducing humanity’s impact on the environment and stabilizing our climate through three strategies: a subsidy switch (so that funding goes from fossil fuels to clean energy sources), an energy modernization fund (for transferring clean energy technologies to developing countries), and a progressive standard for fossil fuel efficiency (so that countries keep improving their efficiency measures) (131).

With less bite and more heart than some other writers in this section, Carl Safina calls for conservationists to avoid giving an information deluge to the public and instead “to inspire (rather than argue for) a new orientation toward conservation, nature, and environment…that is value based and draws on the call to compassion and stewardship” (184). Here, here!

“Travels with David Suzuki,” the last section of A Passion for This Earth, is obviously more focused on Suzuki himself than the others. But here, too, the emphasis on passion in action does not take a backseat to praising Suzuki. Thus, Robyn Williams ends both his essay “The Wonder of the Natural World” and the anthology itself by reflecting on how environmentalism is still in its infancy, having only “really [taken] off in 1972” (214). This means that “We have only barely begun, and yet we now face our greatest challenge”…and so it is “Time to get moving.”

Like David Suzuki, Williams and all the contributors to A Passion for This Earth see a dire need to keep working, to keep the discussion about preserving nature going before we pass the point of no return and face losing the natural things we love. As they express this in their essays, in this book inspired by Suzuki, they create a superb collection that is valuable both in its parts and as a whole. A Passion for This Earth will surely provoke you to think about human practices and policies, to ponder why nature is important for you (and all of us), and to “get moving” by putting your passion into action on the large and small scales.

Image credits: Earth: NASA, via Wikimedia Commons. David Suzuki: topend, via Wikimedia Commons.
1. Benjamin, Michelle, ed. A Passion for This Earth: Writers, Scientists, and Activists Explore Our Relationship with Nature and the Environment. Vancouver: David Suzuki Foundation and Greystone Books-Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 2008. 45.

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