‘The Optimistic Environmentalist: Progressing Toward a Greener Future’

ECW Press, 2015
Pbk, 240 pp
ISBN: 978-1770412385

Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain


As an environmental lawyer, Canadian writer David Boyd knows full well that much of the environmental news these days is bad news. However he also knows that although bad news tends to make more compelling headlines than good news, there is good news to be found. Although we have a very, very long way to go, it is a fact that: From air pollution to safe drinking water, from greener cities to renewable energy, we’ve made remarkable but widely underacknowledged progress. And his aim was to document as many examples of this kind of good news as he could fit between two covers.

For anyone who is starting to feel beaten down and defeated by the magnitude of our planet’s green problems, this book definitely provides a much-needed fillip. That was one of Boyd’s main intentions for it. If you feel overwhelmed or exhausted by the onslaught of bad news about the planet and are looking for some genuinely good environmental news, he promises us, then you’ve come to the right place. And he delivers. 

The good news Boyd brings us comes in both small packets and large and in forms both anecdotal and statistical. It may come as no surprise to hear that in some European cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen more than half of all trips are now made using bicycles. But were you aware that the proportion of people commuting by bicycle in some US cities—including Washington and New York—doubled between 2009 and 2013 and that the total number of bike commuters grew faster than any other mode of transport in the US between 2000 and 2012?

To see how far we have come, it is useful to look back. This book reminds us of many things we have already accomplished, such as phasing out CFCs and leaded petrol, banishing smog, reducing acid rain and enabling the comeback of grey whales and bald eagles. And it looks at some of the many newer initiatives that are capturing people’s imagination and energy, like bioremediation and cradle-to-cradle manufacturing.

It is the small, anecdotal examples I enjoyed the most. Like the story of the Sandwich Me In restaurant in Chicago that has done so well with their policy of zero food waste that it took them two whole years to accumulate one plastic bag of garbage—and that was mostly from people bringing in things like disposable coffee cups and leaving them behind.

Examples like this are inspiring. Inspiration leads to optimism. And this was the author’s other main intention. For as his research revealed, optimism is actually a more healthy attitude than pessimism. Studies have shown that optimistic people have more resilience, heal more quickly and show better resistance to disease. And optimism is empowering. If we believe, as this book’s blurb maintains, that: A bright green future is not only possible, it’s within our grasp, we shall probably work harder at making that bright green future a reality.