This PEI journalist and musician went from pondering our environmental future to publishing a book on it
Five years ago, Charlottetown musician, freelance journalist and writer Todd MacLean did an ordinary thing and got extraordinary results. It was a shower. He had U2 cranked.
“I don’t know what other people think about in the shower,” MacLean says. “But I think about global issues.”
In this instance, he was wondering what Bono would say if MacLean were to ask him what kind of realistic hope humanity has for the future. Your standard political musician’s fantasy. And it hit him: the idea his wife Savannah would call his most inspired.
It was a way for him to marry his passion for writing to his deep concern for the environment and social justice. It would change his understanding of the world and his place in it.
It was a simple enough concept involving immensely complex logistics. For those of us who despair about our collective future, what if there were a different short essay each day – 365 in all – on how to “ensure not only the survival of the human race but the preservation of the rest of life on Earth.”
These kinds of insights could only come from the people who work most effectively to create change. That’s some pretty high-profile, hard-to-reach individuals.
It took MacLean another year, with inputs from his wife, academic advisor and a lawyer, to figure out how to go about it. He selected hundreds of high-impact potential contributors – artists, musicians, politicians, farmers, chefs, humanitarians, environmentalists – from across the globe. Many were his personal heroes.
For starters, MacLean aimed for big-time Canadian environmentalists, starting with David Suzuki. “It took three or four emails to his assistant and then finally I received 163 words from Suzuki. They turned out to be among the darkest in the book.”
Other big names followed, including the Dalai Lama, Maya Angelou, Raffi, Bruce Cockburn, Stephen Hawking, Desmond Tutu and the late Nelson Mandela. Most found reason for hope despite the daunting array of environmental crises facing humanity and all life on the planet.
Several Maritime writers, including Richard Zurawski, Don McKay and David Helwig also contributed. “They aren’t always who you’d expect but they are all effective in moving toward sustainability,” MacLean says.
Three years later, Global Chorus: 365 Voices on the Future of the Planet was in bookstores. “It was so exhilarating to hold that book for the first time at Bookmark in Charlottetown,” he says. “Savannah, who in so many ways had made this possible, took my picture with the book. I was in tears holding it.”
That moment was the culmination of not only three years of tireless work, but more than two decades of writing. The stakes of MacLean’s subject matter haven’t always been this high. In Grade Five, his classmates closely followed his serial short stories about two comedic characters, John and Bob, and their wild worldly adventures including an Amazonian quest.
MacLean cultivated his writing talents doing an honours degree in English at the University of Prince Edward Island. His thesis was a novella that somehow found humour exploring philosophical tenets and ideas. Not long after graduation, he found himself writing a weekly music column with Charlottetown’s daily newspaper, The Guardian, a gig he’s had for ten years.
MacLean is also a freelancer broadcaster who has worked with CBC Radio and Television covering environmental issues, which remain his greatest concern. “In 1990, I had a great teacher named Bill Hogue at Eliot River Elementary School,” in Cornwall, PEI. “We had a slogan that went ‘there is no away,’ meaning you can throw stuff in the garbage but it doesn’t really go away.”
That year, a reporter and photographer from none other than the Guardian visited the school and ran a story with a picture featuring MacLean and his classmates, each holding a letter from their slogan. “We were just learning and spreading awareness. I thanked Bill Hogue in the acknowledgements of Global Chorus,” he says.
Mr. Hogue may want to prepare himself for fame. This fall, Global Chorus will be re-released across the United States with a new foreword by Jane Goodall. It’s also been picked up as curriculum material across Prince Edward Island, to be used to by Grade Nine social studies teachers.
Now that he’s coordinated and compiled words from humanitarian and environmental experts from around the world, he’s been inspired to take the big ideas and write about how they can be made part of our day-to-day practice of living.
Just as Mr. Hogue once lit a fire in him, MacLean hopes to inspire change among youth with his next book, with a focus on turning big environmental ideas into day-to-day practice. Sometimes all it takes is a good teacher. And sometimes what’s required is a good book.