With a constant stream of newsfeed images showing communities caught up in extreme weather events – catastrophic floods, droughts, and wildfires – juxtaposed against increasingly outrageous political stories and fake news, it’s often difficult to feel we have any control whatsoever over the trajectory of our lives. In Edging Forward: Achieving Sustainable Community Development, Royal Roads University’s Canada Research Chair Ann Dale tackles the matter of agency and the role of storytelling in the quest for transformative change.
Framing the book with the loss of her son to suicide in 1998, Dale encourages empathy and drives home the relationship between community and humanity. In Chapter 6, she crystallizes her overall purpose when she writes, “The main narrative of my book … is that we cannot afford to edge forward – we must leap forward, given the three social imperatives of climate-change adaptation and mitigation, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable community development.”
Dale covers much ground in this brief text, employing childhood stories as both chapter headings and accessible ways to frame her arguments. The structure of the chapter titled “Going Down the Wrong Rabbit Hole: The Climate Imperative,” with its many references to rabbit holes, at times intrudes upon the content. In “Three Trolls Under the Bridge: Barriers to Change,” however, the eponymous creatures are employed to great effect to illustrate how long-held “stories around perpetual growth, capitalism, and government” shape our current reality. One of Dale’s most pressing questions is: “If the pursuit of growth does not increase wellbeing in wealthy societies, why does it remain the dominant policy objective of governments in these societies?”
Backed by more than 15 years of research experience, Edging Forward is one part of a complex multimedia project. On the accompanying website, paintings by Nancyanne Cowell help awaken the senses and evoke an aura of mystery. A wealth of audio, video, academic, and print articles further fire imaginative leaps. Taken as a whole, Edging Forward comprises a kind of intellectual parkour. In its call for a more authentic engagement with nature, it’s a rabbit hole we’d be wise to go down.