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the daily review, thu., mar. 10

With about 25 pages left to read in David Suzuki's The Legacy, I begin to panic. I'm curled up in front of a warm wood fire on a chilly evening, and I still can't understand how we might achieve sustainability. I still can't see my way through economic barriers and government inaction. I still can't imagine what it is that Suzuki, now 74, wants me to do.

The slim book, which appears to be the final word from Canada's greatest environmentalist, is almost done, and what I've read so far tells me nothing beyond what Suzuki has been preaching for pretty much my entire life.

Feeling a bit desperate, I slow down. Maybe if I pay close attention to the last chapter, A Vision for the Future, I will see the light. Surely, it is in these remaining pages that Suzuki will lay it all before me, inspire me to action, solve the world's greatest woes. I read through his description of his own enlightenment working with Haida Gwaii, his realization that "we are the environment" and that "the 'environmental' crisis is a 'human' crisis." I get this, I think. I've certainly heard him use these words before. I know of his respect for indigenous people.

Then he describes how we must fulfill our three fundamental needs: biological, social and spiritual. He devotes two pages to "biophilia," our love of life. He's not talking about the will to live; instead, he means our love of nature, our need to have plants and animals in our lives.

With only 10 pages to go, he writes, "The biggest challenge humanity faces in carving a better future is to reimagine how we perceive the world, our place within it, and our highest priorities. By creating a vision of what must be, we then determine the way we act." He quotes Thomas Berry, the American philosopher who died last year. "It's all a question of story," says Berry. "We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet, we have not learned the new story."

I recognize our need for stories and thank Margaret Atwood who, coincidentally, wrote the foreword to the little book that I'm intent on finishing. Her pair of eco-novels, The Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake, are engaging, though disturbing. Then it comes to me: What Atwood did was describe a world that we don't want. What the 2004 blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow did was describe a horrific climate-change-induced future. What Suzuki has done for most of his life is tell us about the doom that awaits if we don't smarten up. Even in this book, where he recommends that we learn a new story, he spends much of the first 70 pages on the edge of doom and gloom. He castigates us and our economic system for jeopardizing our clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity. This is David Suzuki.

But as I sit here all curled up and warm, I read Suzuki's recommendation that to find a sustainable future, we need to imagine it and then dream about it. Maybe, if I imagine the countryside where I live as a permanent feature, rather than vacant land waiting for development, it will continue to be countryside.

And then I think about the magazine that I edit and our plans to celebrate its 40th anniversary this year by publishing a retrospective of our best articles. And I think, no, rather we should publish stories, stories about the future we want. And then I think, why don't we talk to schools and get kids to write about the future. And why couldn't we borrow from Terry Fox and have students from across the country spend a day celebrating David's Suzuki's legacy by writing a story about the future they want. And then it occurs to me that they should do it on Earth Day, April 22, and then my magazine could publish some of these stories instead of articles from the past.

And I'm starting to wonder if I could get Suzuki involved, and maybe Atwood, too, and I'm imagining going into the small school in the village where I live and getting these students to write stories and how great that would be. And then I look down and realize that I'm still holding on to The Legacy, David Suzuki's farewell book, and I realize that my panic has been replaced by wild excitement and I think thank you, David Suzuki. Thank you very, very much.

Nicola Ross is editor-in-chief of Alternatives Journal: Canada's national magazine about environmental ideas and action.