Chris Turner wasn’t always such an optimist. Back in journalism school at Toronto’s Ryerson University in the late 1990s, he had a pretty sardonic view on the world, particularly the environment. For him – and for so many others – it was all doom and gloom.
“I know a lot of journalists tend to have a pretty thick, cynical and sceptical streak, and mine was probably bigger than most,” says Turner. “I was sort of a punk rock nihilist guy 10 years ago.”
So what changed? The birth of his first child, Sloane. It terrified him that he couldn’t promise his brand-new daughter any certainties about the world in which she would grow up.
And that was the impetus for the writer’s most important work to date. For a year, Turner and his family criss-crossed the world, meeting people and exploring communities that were living sustainably.
The time commitment involved with visiting various corners of the globe, including Taos, New Mexico, Freiburg, Germany and India, was staggering. And it was tough financially – at one point, Turner was using credit card cheques to pay for daycare.
“I just knew this was the most important thing I could be writing about,” says Turner about what fuelled him on his quest for sustainability.
In October 2007, a chronicle of his journey, The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need, was published to critical acclaim and became a national bestseller. Among other accolades, the book was named one of the Globe and Mail’s Best Books of the Year in 2007 and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction in 2008.
Turner is now rightfully seen as one of Canada’s experts on sustainability, regularly doing lectures and speaking to the media. But Turner’s optimism doesn’t just pertain to distant geography – he’s now bringing his message and passion closer to home.
Turner was a key force in organizing CivicCamp, an open, participatory workshop where people are encouraged to make presentations and discuss ways to make Calgary sustainable. His initiative debuted to overwhelming success in April 2009, with the first forum filling to capacity.
Turner is now working on a new book that will focus more on the process of becoming sustainable. Last summer, he visited Europe to do research, and has plans to head to Asia after Christmas. Turner remains motivated by the same thing that prompted his initial shift in thinking – his kids (son Alexander was added to the family six months ago).
“I remember as a kid, I had this sense of limitless possibility. The world always seemed to be getting bigger, better, more advanced,” says Turner. “We have to give that gift to our kids, and we can’t do it with the current order of things.”
Why he’s the top: Chris Turner is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to sustainability. His most recent book, The Geography of Hope, is a national bestseller, and he’s a key part of the movement to make Calgary sustainable.
The key to his success: A combination of talent and stubborn determination. “It was going to take a lot to convince me not to keep writing what I wanted to write,” says Turner.