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Like “earth awareness” and “future-friendly,” “sustainability” is one of those terms that mean, as Humpty-Dumpty might say, whatever you want them to mean. To immerse himself in the realities of sustainable living—to ground those untethered terms—James Glave set out to build an “eco-friendly” writing studio on the Bowen Island property he shares with his wife and their two young children. He chronicles the undertaking in Almost Green, recently published by Greystone, an engaging, funny exploration of the many, often counterintuitive, complexities of so-called green living.
Bowen Island, Glave believes, has much to teach other communities. “We’re the canary in the coal mine,” he says. “Bowen’s 10 years ahead of other places, because transportation costs for us today are what they’ll be for everyone else in a decade—at which point those of us on this side will be totally screwed if we don’t stop all this Sturm und Drang about minor things, like the recent dustup about putting artificial turf on our playing field. The island is a perfect metaphor because it’s self-contained, and the principles of self-sufficiency are hardwired into our identity. If there’s an 8.5 earthquake, the ferries will all head for Coal Harbour to be used as floating hospitals. We’ll be on our own.” Glave fears that Bowenites, like the rest of us, are too easily distracted from the unfolding environmental catastrophe by more apparent but less important concerns. “On Bowen,” he says, “we have a chance now to get our ducks in a row for peak oil and climate change, but we’re failing to make strides in energy self-sufficiency, food security, and active transportation infrastructure—all of which will be critical in coming years. I worry that many people, though well-meaning, are fighting for the wrong things.”
A Burnaby native who worked in the U.S. for 10 years, most recently at Outside magazine, Glave moved to Bowen in 2005. Seeking a new professional focus as well as a more responsible way of living, he absorbed the island’s green ethos. “When my kids ask me, in effect, ‘What did you do in the war, Dad?’ I want to be able to tell them I did what I could to ensure that they’d grow up on a habitable planet.” You’ll find his piece about the dispute over the turf—and about the future of Bowen Island—in Turf Wars.