Recommended Reading

Viewpoint

by Steve Dearlove

As an avid reader of books and other  texts on all things environmental, I have been offered the opportunity by SABMag to write a series of reviews highlighting the works that I consider essential to an understanding of the crises we face.  For me, the literary journey has been a transformational one, focussing on our collective physical existence on this planet and the relationships, interconnectivities and consequences that emanate from it.
But, prior to jumping into the book reviews, a little background will help to set my personal journey and passion for the planet in context.
In the summer of 1973, I had just turned 12 and was focussed on many important things: expanding my Hot Wheels collection; pining for a new 10-speed bike; and itching to get behind the wheel of my mother’s new AMC Hornet.  I had a passion for cars and anything new; definitely not an environmentalist in the making.
Our family had recently moved from a suburb of Toronto to its rural outskirts north of Bolton, ON. The new house sat on 1 acre with views to rolling farmland dotted with bush and grazing cattle. The rural life seemed good to me.
We had barely been there a few months when I first heard talk about an oil embargo. I knew what oil was, but what was an “embargo”? All I knew was that our furnace ran on oil and that gasoline came from oil. As the embargo took hold anxiety grew, and when a news magazine appeared on our kitchen table with a cover headline screaming, ‘Will We Freeze in the Dark?’, it stopped me in my tracks. I read the article with a gut-wrenching mix of fervour and trepidation.
This was a terrifying hypothesis for a 12 year old to grasp, as it foretold of a frightening future of energy shortage and ensuing impoverishment. I figured I was far too young for it all to be coming to an end. Suddenly, it had become clear that not only did our family have a problem, but so did everyone else.
I would never look at a car, airplane, house, city or our way of life the same again. My interest in architecture was purely coincidental, simply enabling me to learn more about the relationship between energy and the environment through direct application.
When I entered Carleton University in 1979, the architecture school was still teaching “first principles” of design, but despite the recent oil crisis, the panic over possible energy shortages seemed to have dissipated, and “environmental design” was once again more novelty than necessity.
But the seeds of disquiet had already been planted within me and were now being fed by issues and events that ran the gamut from the growing number of endangered species, to suburban land developments devouring farmlands, wall-to-wall racks of household chemicals appearing in stores, highways clogging up with traffic and smog as soon as they opened, an ever increasing roar of airplanes overhead, acid rain killing fish and trees, a growing number of appeals to help starving children abroad, strawberries appearing  in the grocery stores in February, flavour and nutrients in our food dropping substantially, foreign labour displacing our own labour forces, passenger rail service and public transit systems collapsing, the Amazon forest going up in flames and endless reports of rampant cancer.  Each issue was discreet, complex, tragic and worrisome. Information abounded, but no one seemed to be connecting the dots. I felt compelled to find some answers.
I hope to demonstrate through these book reviews how a collection of disparate writings form the pieces of a complex puzzle that, unintended by their authors, fit together to form a comprehensive and clear image. The readings will be a difficult journey at times, as much of it isn’t very pretty, but my greater hope is that with them you will be moved to action as I have been. It’s clear that there’s no more time left for pondering, investigations, analysis, debate, contemplation and paradoxically, more books to be written.
Action is what is imperative, but this action must be deep and real and not a placebo. I hope that you will discover that we are currently providing a surplus of guilt-assuaging actions that are only scratching the surface, even amongst the greenest of our ranks, and that we are still very much asleep on what is really happening and its consequences.
The adage “if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem” has never been truer.

Steve Dearlove B.Arch, OAA is an architect with Salter Pilon Architecture Inc. practicing in Barrie, Ontario and can be reached at sdearlove@salterpilon.com

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