Going green Suzuki-style

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 David Suzuki's Green Guide
Small steps to save the planet

All of us with an interest in the health of our natural environment have at some point felt the symptoms of "green fatigue." Green fatigue describes that burned-out feeling that results from the amount of effort needed to understand how to live a (more) responsible life. It is a confusing world to make sense of.

One day we read an article that says buy local, the next day a radio special talks about how buying local in northern climates is more energy intensive because of the heating of greenhouses in the colder months, and therefore worse than certain importing. One website says don't idle, another says turning a truck off then on again uses more fuel than idling for 30 minutes. Paper/plastic? Local/organic? Hybrid/low-emission? The amount of research needed to make simple choices exhausts even the most dedicated environmentalist.

David Suzuki's Green Guide is part of an ever-growing green guide genre. Suzuki's guide and others like Live an Eco-friendly Life (52 Brilliant Ideas), Green, Greener and Greenest and Easy Green Living are designed to help the average person wade through the laundry list of options we all face, and make sense of what actions are responsible to our earth. Is Suzuki's guide the be all and end all of environmental actions we can all take? No. Is it a worthwhile resource for guiding the day-to-day choices that we all make? Absolutely.

The book is about change; the making of practical changes in our daily lives that will reduce impact on our planet. Focusing on the changes individuals can make, Suzuki and co-author David Boyd — an environmental lawyer — provide advice on creating a more efficient home, eating a planet-friendly diet, easing dependence on inefficient transportation and reducing wasteful consumption patterns.

Easily digestible facts — along with charts, graphs and analysis — introduce each topic, and provide a helpful framework for the importance of taking action. "Building and living in houses accounts for 70% of electricity use, 35% of greenhouse gas emissions and 30% of landfill waste in North America," for example, is strong evidence that there is a lot of room for improvement in our own homes, and an inspiration to take action. The authors do well in bringing 'macro' statistics into the context of our personal lives. The strength of their work resides in their ability to connect personal actions to the environment, and to demonstrate how much can be done simply by making intelligent, simple changes.

Like many modern measures of sustainable living, Suzuki and Boyd work off the model of an ecological footprint to conceptualize how we can reduce our collective and individual impact on the planet. As the authors describe it, an "ecological footprint measures how big of a chunk of the planet is needed to produce the resources for, and assimilate the waste of, one person for a year." Using this as a guiding principle the book traces how every action we do has an ecological consequence. All of our actions leave an impact on the environment: from the pesticides used at the orchard, to the coolant used in the transport truck, to the wax that coats the apple, to the gas we use in getting to the store. The authors emphasize that the way we act, or choose not to act, is what makes all the difference.

David Suzuki's Green Guide is at its strongest providing inspirational success stories from around the world about the development of greener laws, the creation of new green technologies and individuals making extraordinary effort to green the world around them. It also recommends non-partisan resources for attaining rebates, rating product effectiveness, learning practical skills and information for bringing sustainable change into our lives. Links provided in the guide connect readers with information about how to bring solar into their homes, get green rebates, and learn more about doing a home energy audit. Change is no more difficult than getting off your couch and doing it, the authors assert, and they certainly do their part in providing the knowledge and skills to do so.

The book is not without its faults though. Many potential readers will be likely put off by some of Suzuki's rhetoric. Assertions such as "[e]ating local is an act of rebellion against a food system that's detached from any notion of ecological reality" and "the debate about the science of climate change is over" threaten to undermine the more moderate themes the book espouses. Continuous reminders that making the right choices will necessarily make you happier is a similarly dubious claim that threatens to alienate potentially interested readers from the main ideas in the book.

That said, the strengths of the book certainly overcome its weaknesses. Yes, it may contain a touch of rhetoric, but take it with a grain of salt. The book does its intended job of providing a useful framework for living a life of less impact, and empowering readers with the knowledge they need to start (or keep) taking steps towards a life that leaves a smaller footprint.

Citizens — both individually and as a whole — can play a role in making a difference to the global environment. Suzuki's latest endeavour is as great a starting point for someone already working to live a more sustainable life as it is to someone totally new to the ideas behind it. If nothing else, reading this book will open your eyes to a great number of ways you can make small, inexpensive changes in your life that can save you money, make you healthier and allow you to leave a smaller footprint.—Myles Estey

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