Categories
Ecologist, The

The Spirit Of The Age

The Spirit Of The Age

Fred Pearce

It is exactly 30 years since The Ecologist first waved its campaigning fist at the self-destructive tendencies of mankind. Much has been achieved since then; but much remains to he done. To open our anniversary special on the events and effects of the last — and next — three decades, Fred Pearce traces the magazine’s history, successes, conflicts and influence.

In a world where even saving the planet can be made to sound mundane a matter –of switching off the lights and recycling old cans — The Ecologist, in its 30 years of fitful, fretful existence has always offered the wider picture, the apocalyptic vision and the intellectual pyrotechnics. It has championed big causes and made big enemies. Why take on mere governments when you can broadside the World Bank? Why tackle humble ecosystems when the real subject is Gaia herself?

The spider at the centre of this web throughout has been founder, publisher and sometime editor Edward, better known as Teddy, Goldsmith. His origins explain much about the eclectic and uncompromising makeup of the magazine.

The Goldschmidts were for centuries one of Europe’s second-league banking families — poor cousins of the Rothschilds. In the late 19th century, Adolf Goldschmidt, grandfather of Teddy, came to Britain, bought an estate in Suffolk and set about becoming British. His son Frank went into politics, becoming, by 1910, the Conservative MP for Stowmarket. But anti-German hysteria at the start of the First World War forced him abroad where he ran a string of French hotels, and met a girl from the Auvergne called Marcelle Moullier, who became the mother of Teddy and his brother, the future financier James.

Back in England, Teddy sporadically studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford before becoming disillusioned with the subject. He began a long period of reading and travelling the world alone or with his friend Jack Aspinall, during which his own highly personal world view was forged. Aspinall and Teddy shared a love of the primitive. Aspinall divided his time between his London gambling club and collecting animals for his zoo, Howletts near Canterbury. Meanwhile, Teddy’s enthusiasms turned to anthropology. In the 1960s he served on the committee that founded the Primitive Peoples’ Fund, which later became Survival International.

But he was developing ‘green’ views, too. ‘I began to realise that survival of primitive peoples and of the environment were inseparable. Primitive people were disappearing; so was wildlife. I realised that the root problem was economic development. So I decided to start a paper to explore these issues.’

THE ECOLOGIST IS BORN

Goldsmith launched The Ecologist in 1970 on a wave of concern for the fate of the planet. Rachel Carson had published her seminal book on pesticides, Silent Spring; British economist Barbara Ward had coined the phrase ‘Spaceship Earth’ in an equally influential work on the links between economics and the environment; in California biologist Paul Ehrlich had just brought out his controversial tract, The Population Bomb. The first issue of The Ecologist fizzed with these issues and many more. Its cover showed a man drowning in a sea of rubble, reaching out for a lifeline. Its main features covered themes that would become familiar to regular readers.

There was the anthropological ‘survival’ strand, with Robert Allen reporting on Eskimos and the Alaskan oil boom, while predicting the Exxon Valdez pollution disaster of two decades later. Toxins featured in stories on the dangers of the drugs pumped into modern farm animals and on radiation being released into the atmosphere, with its warning of a Chernobyl-like disaster. There were two pieces on the number-one fear of the time: the population explosion. One, by Michael Allaby, asked ‘can we avoid a world famine?’ It concluded that the only way Out was to reduce the world’s population by at least a half.

Goldsmith himself wrote a piece entitled ‘Cybernetics, society and the ecosystem’, drawing together some of the ideas that nine years later formed the heart of James Lovelock’s first book on Gaia, in which he postulated that the planet’s biosphere operated as a single self-sustaining organism.

BLUEPRINT FOR SURVIVAL

The magazine hit the ground running. Within months it had carried a long tract called A Blueprint for Survival, written by Goldsmith and Allen, which was later published as a book, selling three-quarters of a million copies in seventeen languages. The money kept The Ecologist, whose own sales were poor, afloat for many years. It was a full-throated call for a new world order founded on zero growth, stable populations and the kind of small, self-sufficient communities that Goldsmith had seen in traditional societies on his travels.

In the years immediately before the first global oil crisis in 1974, the world’s post-war economic juggernaut seemed unstoppable. But the Blueprint, and a similar manifesto to emerge in the US called The Limit to Growth, were the first detailed articulations of a new vision. And they hit the mood of growing eco-angst — appearing as both Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace were established, as governments in the US, Britain and elsewhere set up the first environment agencies, and in the run-up to the 1972 Stockholm Environment Conference — the first Earth Summit.

The Blueprint gained widespread support from such influential figures as Sir Julian Huxley and Peter Scott. Goldsmith was invited to meet Britain’s first environment secretary Peter Walker to discuss the implications. ‘At the time, we genuinely believed that if politicians were alerted to what was happening to the planet, they would do something about it,’ Goldsmith says now. He is no longer so trusting.

The Blueprint called for the formation of a ‘Movement for Survival.’ This led directly to the creation in Britain of the People Party, later renamed the Ecology Party and later still the Green Party. Goldsmith stood for the People Party in his father’s old Suffolk constituency in the 1974 general election, campaigning against industrial agriculture with a camel supplied by Aspinall that bore a sandwich board reading ‘No deserts in Suffolk. Vote Goldsmith’. He lost his deposit.

Sensing the tide turning against them, Goldsmith and the Ecologist team retreated from London to a group of small Cornish farm cottages — a small, largely self-contained community from where the magazine sought to practise what it preached.

THINKING THE UNTHINKABLE

Inevitably, there were feuds. Michael Allaby, who joined Goldsmith in Cornwall as managing editor, remembers: ‘Over the months that followed I found it increasingly difficult to work with Teddy. There were many rows. I disagreed with more and more of his views.’ There was an article by Robert Allen that appeared to support Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, a dispute about Darwinian evolution and more.

According to Peter Bunyard — who besides Teddy is the one person to have contributed editorially to the magazine throughout its life — many of the rows related to ‘Teddy’s deterministic adherence to the notion that traditional societies alone have the key to sustainable living’. But Goldsmith’s unshakeable belief on this point was the grit in the oyster. And other later-influential figures joined to replace those lost. Nick Hildyard, for instance, who worked full-time for the magazine for 20 years, much of that time as editor, arrived after being inspired when Goldsmith and his team visited his school to discuss the Blueprint.

The test for any magazine with radical pretensions is not its ideological purity, or whether its determination to pursue its radicalism lures it into occasional unhealthy alliances. The test is whether it becomes a place where new ideas can flourish and find expression. And, when the time comes, whether it can renew itself. Here The Ecologist has been spectacularly successful.

GETTING THERE FIRST

Graham Searle, founder of Friends of the Earth in the UK and an early associate editor, was able to say on the magazine’s 20th anniversary in 1990 that the early editions ‘contained virtually all the issues we are talking about now’. He might have added that it was by then full of many ideas that Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and others would only latch onto far into the 1990s.

For any environmental journalist, myself included, a rummage through 30 years of the magazine is a salutary experience. Global warming, the destruction of rainforests, the politics of seeds and genetic modification, the economics of nuclear power, the lethal impacts of large dams, the apparent impossibility of reforming the World Bank — all are topics on which The Ecologist ranged far and wide years before the rest of us caught up.

It was discussing climate change during the African droughts of the mid-1970s, at least 10 years before the topic became common currency. The world woke up to the crisis in the world’s rainforests in the late 1980s, but look through The Ecologist and you find a cover feature entitled ‘Who’s destroying the rainforests — peasants or profits?’ back in 1982. Not only had it identified a critical global problem, it had tied down a central dilemma in addressing it.

Or take the issue of large dams. For many years environmentalists had liked dams. They appeared to be temples of clean, renewable energy. They provided water for the ‘greening of the deserts’. A few lovers of wilderness shed tears over the loss of a particularly beautiful valley beneath a reservoir. But wider environmental and social issues were barely discussed. Until, that is, Goldsmith and Hildyard went to work.

It was around 1980 that Goldsmith, during one of his periodic bouts of wanderlust, stumbled on plans to flood valleys in Sri Lanka for a complex of hydroelectric dams known as the Mahaweli scheme. He was appalled at the destructive folly of it. ‘These dams destroy so much in return for a few decades of electricity,’ he said later. ‘I came back from Sri Lanka determined to fight such projects.’

And he did, to immense effect. Over the next four years, he and Hildyard commissioned an extraordinary series of papers from around the world on the social and environmental impacts of large dams. What emerged was a picture that previously very few had even suspected — that most dams in most places at most times do more harm than good, using State power to steal the ecological wealth of rivers from poor, rural communities and redistribute it to the rich, urban and landed. In case after case, the academic contributors demonstrated the scale of environmental destruction affecting the lives of millions of people, the spread of disease and corruption and the unfulfilled promises of the engineers.

Goldsmith and Hildyard underlined these themes in a three-volume book published in 1985, which became a seminal text for what has become a worldwide movement to oppose large dams. As Phil Williams, a hydrologist from California, put it in his introduction to The Social and Environmental Effects of Large Dams: ‘Dams transform the social life of a country, destroying indigenous, traditional cultures and accelerating the change to a cash economy centred on cities… The promise of radically changing a country’s economy is frequently used to justify the destruction of communities, ecosystems and traditional agricultural systems.’

This analysis is now accepted wisdom in the environment movement. But 20 years ago, it was not. And it was the energy and single-mindedness of The Ecologist’s critique that set the new paradigm. Many 1990s campaigners against dams on the Narmada in India or the Three Gorges mega-project in China, US greens working to tear down old dams in the mid-west, and British opponents of the Ilisu dam on the River Tigris in Turkey, will be unaware that in all probability none of this would have happened but for The Ecologist’s pioneering work.

ECO-NOMICS

The Ecologist has also been remarkably good with its economics. It got dams right. It also long argued the case that nuclear power made no economic sense. ‘We exposed the fallacy of cheap nuclear power and anticipated the City’s analysis by eight years,’ says Bunyard. Emboldened, it attempted a similar destabilising act on the World Bank itself. Many environmental and other groups, anxious not to be seen as opponents of economic development in poor countries, continued for many years to try and seduce the bank into greener ways. The Ecologist, having no truck with the conventional development agenda, had no time for its agencies either. It broke with the post-war economic consensus of the World Bank and IMF, Bretton Woods, the Marshall Plan and the rest long before most greens.

‘Development may be designed to combat poverty,’ Goldsmith wrote. ‘But it is in fact creating poverty. The main cause of poverty today is environmental degradation caused by economic development. Most people who live in the world’s great slums and shanty towns are development refugees.’ Only at the World Trade Organisation conference in Seattle last year did many environmentalists catch up with that analysis.

The magazine thundered in an open letter to the World Bank’s President Barber Conable in 1987: ‘More than half of the inhabitants of the third world live outside the market system. Such people you cannot and never will be able to help. All you can do is further impoverish them by financing projects that must deprive them of their basic resources, such as the natural forests, fertile land and uncontaminated water.’ Goldsmith’s authority, which by now included many friends on Capitol Hill, ensured that the Bank’s President replied in detail, knowing full well that the magazine would print a withering riposte on the facing page.

It was not just the Bank. Globalisation was emerging as the real target of The Ecologist. It was the unifying theme behind opposition to nuclear power and the green revolution, world trade and large dams, deforestation and consumerism. And the anti-globalisation agenda also helped the magazine to declare as bogus the arguments of other greens. Some, for instance, became seduced by ‘green consumerism in the late 1980s — on the back of the runaway success of a now-forgotten book, The Green Consumer Guide. The Ecologist had no truck. ‘Underlying the current green consumer boom,’ it wrote in 1989, ‘is the idea that with careful housekeeping, we can somehow have our cake and eat it. [This is] no different to a belief in perpetual motion.’

CHANGING TIMES

The Ecologist has always taken itself very seriously. By and large it has been right to do so. Its fire, intellectual verve and occasional fanaticism are almost unique in British journalism. But such serious purpose can create problems.

Some, for example, have found that Goldsmith’s lifelong search in print for a ‘bio-ethic’ has sometimes got in the way of the campaigns. Bunyard puts it best. ‘Teddy sees wisdom and purpose in the universe and that in a series of nested levels the purpose of the parts is to shore up and maintain the whole. Hence the need for a stable family to shore up the community, and the community the environment of which it is part. Such a way of thinking upsets those post-modernists who muddy the waters with their cultural relativism.’

Through the late 1980s and early 1990s, this theme became increasingly at odds with Hildyard’s emerging agenda on ‘Third World’ development, in which he sought hard to make the magazine serve progressive community groups round the world and to give them a voice. He embraced feminism and fought racism. He was proud that its offices became the temporary headquarters of the Twyford Down anti-motorway protesters, while still helping to sustain anti-logging tribespeople in the Borneo rainforests and anti-dam protesters in India.

‘It took me a long time to realise the power the magazine had and to use it in a way that is sensitive to the needs of movement building,’ he says today. ‘We never went for newspaper headlines — no doubt to the detriment of sales.’

For some this earnestness made the magazine boring. It could be. It could also trigger conflict. And after many years of working together, Hildyard and Goldsmith’s diverging political views made it inevitable that at some stage they would part. That parting came in mid-1997, when Hildyard and fellow editor Sarah Sexton left the magazine, claiming irreconcilable differences with Teddy Goldsmith.

STILL STANDING

The magazine is now in the process of being reborn — as all magazines must. Its cover rubric says it is ‘rethinking basic assumptions’. It looks more like a conventional monthly magazine. It even has a science editor — the evergreen Peter Bunyard. But that is not to say scientists get an easier ride. Especially cancer scientists. Ask their doyen Sir Richard Doll, a pioneer in identifying links between smoking and lung cancer. His assertions that environmental pollution is a minor cause of cancer earned him the epithets ‘defender of corporate interests’ and ‘questionable pillar of the cancer establishment’. He responded by calling The Ecologist ‘a child’s fiction magazine’.

The magazine has noticeably returned to the warpath on issues of immediacy to its European and American readers, including the toxic threats of life such as dioxin and radiation, while retreating as a mouthpiece for development issues in the poor world. But the eclecticism remains. Recent features include ‘Maori Religion and the natural world’, ‘The Cosmic Covenant’, ‘The madness of nuclear energy’ and ‘In bed with Dr Jack [Cunningham].’

But some things don’t change. The estimable Richard Willson still does the cartoons. Indian radical green feminist Vandana Shiva may now be a star name writer, her name emblazoned on the cover – but it was The Ecologist in its less headline-grabbing days, that gave Shiva the column inches to become a fully-fledged mainstream pundit.

And even disgruntled ex-editors have been quick to praise recent coverage of climate change and the ‘headline-grabbing’ Monsanto Files, which pursued the company’s record through a checklist of issues from Agent Orange and PCBs to herbicides, genetic engineering and ‘terminator’ seeds. The investigation resulted in an issue so caustic that big magazine distributors refused to handle it. Its uncompromising opening lines: ‘Genetic engineering threatens to upset the Earth’s ecological balance, and to undermine the livelihoods of millions of people around the world. It is a technology that is almost entirely controlled by a handful of giant transnational corporations, and its effects are often irreversible’ could have come out of any era of the magazine’s past.

Indeed, the new Ecologist looks remarkably like the 1970s version with a design and journalistic makeover. The magazine that has championed rickshaws and the Khmer Rouge, Zulus and Gaia, peasants and feminism, sterilisation and rainforest rubber tappers, is not done yet.

Fred Pearce is a regular contributor to New Scientist and a long-time reader of The Ecologist.

First to say…

THE Ecologist

INDUSTRIAL FARMING: 1970

‘The use of fertilisers is limited because pest species develop immunities to them, and the cost to the environment and possibly to the health of man is too high to be borne.’

WATER SCARCITY: 1970

‘Large scale irrigation will produce violent ecological changes whose results are largely unpredictable, and will place an intolerable strain on water resources.’

PCB POLLUTION: 1971

‘A very disturbing finding about the biological effects of PCB is that they can have an insidious effect on hormonal systems.’

GENETIC ENGINEERING: 1977

‘In the face of all the ethical difficulties that genetic engineering creates… we should take a long, hard look at it before it goes any further.’

RAINFOREST DESTRUCTION: 1980

‘If present trends continue… there will be no more tropical moist forests in 60 years’ time.’

WAY BACK WHEN…

Co-founder Peter Bunyard (left, with Teddy Goldsmith) remembers the magazine’s origins, and wonders how the world has changed.

Like a bombshell, early in 1969 an article appeared in the Sunday Times colour supplement, which spoke of unbelievable atrocities committed by government authorities, especially the Agency for Indigenous Affairs (FUNAI) in Brazil. Norman Lewis, the author, told of disease-infected blankets dropped from the air, machine-gunning and even bombings carried out against indigenous tribes in the Amazon. It was horrendous stuff. One result of this revelation was Survival International (then, can you credit it, known as the Primitive Peoples’ Fund). Another was The Ecologist and, as the first editors and contributors, we used to meet in the same building as our anthropologist brethren, down Craven Street, just off London’s Charing Cross Road.

What has really changed since then? One thing is for sure; we are far more enlightened about environmental issues than we ever were in 1970. Global warming didn’t exist then — not as an issue — and the ozone hole hadn’t appeared like an unseen curse above our heads. Nor did we have the London Dumping Convention, the International Whaling Commission, the Montreal Protocol, the Biodiversity Convention, the Convention on Climate Change and a host of other treaties.

But has all that flurry of post-1960s activity changed much? Or are the current number of environmental organisations simply a reflection of the poor state of the world? Like the supposed final triumph of communism when the state is no longer required, we environmentalists should welcome our obsolescence — the time when we are no longer needed to shout at the WTO, or root up genetically-modified organisms. But it’s not yet time for us to retire: for the human impact on the planet is greater than ever.

We humans have now transformed 50 per cent of the planet’s land surface, with all that entails in terms of loss of forest cover and extinctions. We are contaminating 50 per cent of all freshwater sources. In less than a century one-quarter of all bird species have become extinct. We now use more than two-thirds of marine fish resources. The rate of global warming is unprecedently high. As if this wasn’t enough, we can add acid rain, ozone holes, and massive amounts of PCBs and other chemicals swilling around our rivers and oceans. It’s not a pretty story.

It all takes me back to the people of the Amazon, such as those with whom I have stayed in the western reaches in Colombia. Their ecological ‘footprint’ has been negligible, or even non-existent. It is possible to improve, not destroy, this planet we all find ourselves on. It is possible to learn from it, respect it. It can be done. The question is whether modern humanity can learn this lesson in time.

The rising tide of environmental destruction and economic inequality over the last three decades has sparked the rise of a new and radical political movement — the greens. The progress of The Ecologist has mirrored, and even spurred, that development. Over the next six pages we trace the progress of global environment, the green movement, and The Ecologist itself, since 1970. Research by Fred Pearce.

TIMELINE: Key Events in the 1970s

GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT

1971

Agent Orange defoliant spraying ceases in Vietnam after studies show health effects on servicemen (not to mention the Vietnamese and Cambodians being sprayed). It was the biggest sign yet of the predictions of Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring coming true. Other persistent organic pollutants such as DDT soon join the banned list.

1973

CITES signed. The conclusion of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species recognises that world trade is a major cause of species extinctions. CITES bans trade in animal products such as tiger skins and turtle shells, while imposing controls on other trades deemed to threaten plant and animal species.

1973

Trans-Amazon Highway completed. Roads destroy rainforests by providing access to the jungle for loggers, ranchers and the landless poor. The first Trans-Amazon Highway opens up an orgy of forest destruction in the world’s largest rainforest, home to up to half of the world’s species.

1973

Sahel drought. Famine kills millions across a wide area of arid Africa. Some blame a change in the continent’s climate, warning that it may be part of a global climatic shift. Others blame overgrazing. All agree there is widespread ecological breakdown, a phenomenon quickly titled ‘desertification’.

THE ECOLOGIST

July 1970

First issue launched by Edward Goldsmith, Peter Bunyard, Michael Allaby and Robert Allan. ‘The Planet Earth is unique in our solar system in displaying those environmental conditions required to sustain complex forms of life,’ writes Goldsmith, going on to describe Man’s effects on the planet as ‘cataclysmic.’

1972

‘A Blueprint for Survival’ published in the January issue of the magazine. It goes on to become one of the decade’s most important environmental books, selling 120,000 copies in 17 languages, and influencing the formation of Green Parties around the world.

1972

Ecologist editors among the founders of the UK Ecology Party — later to become the Green Party.

ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT

1971

Formation of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth International, which become the dominant environmental campaigners of the following three decades. Greenpeace is the reformation of the Don’t Make a Wave Committee of Vancouver, which opposed nuclear testing in the Pacific. FoE is a radical splinter of the US Sierra Club.

1972

Limits to Growth published. Authors Dennis and Donella Meadows make early computer projections of global trends in population, pollution and scarcity of raw materials and predict a population crash and ecological meltdown unless pollution is severely curtailed. Backed by an Italian millionaire and his private foundation The Club of Rome.

1972

Stockholm Environment Conference. The first ‘Earth Summit’, it has a huge public impact. Makes first call for a whaling moratorium. Creates the UN Environment Programme and leads to the first Green Party, in New Zealand. Its warnings are widely ignored after 1974 oil crisis brings economic growth to a juddering halt.

1973

Small is Beautiful published. Subtitled ‘a study of economics as if people mattered’, EF Schumacher’s visionary book links environmental thinking and opposition to globalisation — laying the intellectual groundwork for Seattle 26 years later. Schumacher is also founder of Intermediate Technology and President of the Soil Association.

1974

First oil crisis. OPEC nations impose huge rises in oil prices and trigger a halt to post-war economic growth. Many fear the moment marks the end of a world of cheap and plentiful resources. But later, global markets reassert control, causing poverty and debt in poor nations dependent on selling resources to survive.

1976

Seveso accident. Dioxin is released in an industrial accident at a pesticides factory in the Italian town. Already known as the most dangerous compound in Agent Orange, it now becomes known as mankind’s most deadly chemical and is subsequently found in humans and animals worldwide. How many does it kill? Nobody knows.

1977

Love Canal. Rising concern about dioxin and related chemicals is heightened by the discovery of leaks from a chemical dump in the US into the basements of houses built on top. Triggers the hugely expensive ‘Superfund’ programme in the US to detoxify chemical dumps and contaminated land, and similar programmes in Europe.

1979

Three Mile Island. Major accident at a US nuclear power plant. Meltdown almost occurs as cooling systems fail after emergency shutdown of reactor.

1973

Massive radioactive releases narrowly avoided, but public confidence in nuclear power is fatally undermined and new plant orders in the US almost cease.

The magazine moves from London to Cornwall, where the editors set up the Wadebridge Ecological Centre to help put sustainable living ideas into practice.

1975

Teddy Goldsmith returns from a five month stay with the Gandhi Peace Foundation in India to produce a special issue of the magazine on the continuing relevance of Gandhi’s ideas.

1975

‘Atlanta 2000’ conference on building a green future and responding to the energy crisis. Teddy Goldsmith a key speaker, with David Brower, head of Friends of the Earth and other key greens.

1977

Special issue on ‘The Future of America’, dedicated to President Jimmy Carter. It is a manifesto for a sustainable US future, which is also presented at a conference in the US chaired by leading ecologist Eugene Odum.

1978

The Ecologist splits in two. The Ecologist becomes a more detailed quarterly, while The New Ecologist becomes a monthly, more mainstream magazine. The experiment lasts less than a year.

1975

Greenpeace’s first anti-whaling campaign sets sail from Vancouver. By taking camera crews and physically putting themselves between harpoon and whale, Greenpeace’s eco-warriors give the public a heroic icon of environmental activism far removed from the old images of sandals, brown bread and paper recycling.

1977

Green Belt Movement established in Kenya. Africa’s first genuinely nongovernmental environment group is formed by a woman, Wangari Maathai (left). It pays poor rural women to plant trees across the country to protect their farms from soil erosion and desertification. Over the next 20 years, more than 20 million trees are planted.

1977

Windscale Inquiry starts. Greens scale new heights in public debate when the long public inquiry into nuclear reprocessing at Windscale (now Sellafield) is dominated by FoE, whose opposition is based as much on economics as safety. FoE loses the inquiry but wins the argument. The resulting THORP plant remains a lame duck.

1979

Die Gr[ddot{u}]nen founded. Though not the first Green Party, the German Die Gr[ddot{u}]nen swiftly becomes the biggest and most influential, riding a tide of opposition to pollution in the heart of Europe’s post-war ‘economic miracle.’ Soon winning parliamentary seats, the Greens are the heirs to 1960s student protests and the anti-nuclear movement.

The 1980s was the decade of Thatcherism, Reaganomics and the ruthless expansion of the global market. It was also a decade of rising environmental concern, as ozone loss, rainforest destruction and the first signs of global warming sank into the public consciousness, and the greens began to register on the political radar.

TIMELINE: Key Events in the 1980s

GLOBALENVIRONMENT

1982

Acid rain scandal in Europe. Widespread tree deaths in Germany caused by air pollution trigger major electoral gains for Die Gr[ddot{u}]nen in 1983 and add to pollution fears raised by fish deaths in acid streams and lakes in Scandinavia; Most of Europe joins ‘30% Club’ of nations committed to cutting acid emissions from power plants.

1984

Ethiopian famine. The second great famine in Africa in just over a decade brings growing concern about climate change. The drought belt of Africa has had almost two decades of exceptionally dry weather. And it is clear that traditional coping strategies among poor farmers and herding communities have broken down.

1985

Ozone hole observed. British scientists in Antarctica discover a gaping ‘hole’ in the stratospheric ozone layer above the continent. In it, the majority of the ozone that shields the Earth from dangerous ultraviolet radiation is destroyed. It emerges that the culprit is man-made chemicals, especially CFCs, confirming a theory first propounded in the 1970s.

1986

Chernobyl. The world’s worst nuclear disaster, with an expected final death toll numbering 10,000 or more, occurs at a power station in Ukraine. The accident, not acknowledged by Soviet authorities until the fallout cloud passes over Scandinavia, confirms fears about the worsening environmental crisis in the Soviet empire.

THE ECOLOGIST

1980

A special issue containing a detailed ‘Plan To Save the Tropical Forests’. The plan is signed by eminent ecologists and conservationists from around the world. The magazine sets up the World Ecological Areas Programme to push for the plan’s acceptance.

1981

The Ecologist sets up the Committee on the Future of Nuclear Energy, which produces a report exposing the economic fallacies underpinning nuclear power. The report is presented to parliament by former energy minister Tony Benn.

1984

Teddy Goldsmith and Nicholas Hildyard publish the first volume of their groundbreaking three-volume study of the effects of large dams. It inspires anti-dam protests around the world.

1985

The magazine features responses from prominent world figures – including Margaret Thatcher, the Minister for Overseas Development and the World Bank’s President – to the magazine’s recently-launched campaign against the World Bank.

ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT

Global 2000 report published. It is the first government report forecasting ecological crisis, drawn up by US scientists over three years. President Carter receives the report, as he leaves office – to be replaced by Ronald Reagan. But its warnings of raw materials shortages prompt a US buildup of ‘strategic metals’.

1980

1980

Polish Ecology Club formed. Through the 1980s, environmentalism is a focus of opposition to Communist rule in Eastern Europe. The Polish Ecology Club is the pioneer formed by supporters of the Solidarity movement, initially to oppose Krakow’s horrendous air pollution. Survives after Solidarity crushed, and shapes green agenda for reformists in 1989.

1984

Danube Circle formed in Hungary. The most potent East European green group, it opposes the Nagymaros dam on the beautiful Danube Bend. Taps political dissent and brings huge demonstrations to the streets of Budapest. Defeats both the dam and Communist rule in Hungary leading to a domino effect among neighbours.

1985

Rainbow Warrior sunk. French government commandos attach limpet mines to the hull of the Greenpeace flagship as it sits in Auckland Harbour, New Zealand, preparing to harass French nuclear tests at the Mururoa atoll in the Pacific. The boat sinks and one crew member dies in the blast. International outcry.

1987

Montreal Protocol signed. Scientific concern that the whole of the ozone layer could soon disappear forces governments to agree an emergency phase-out programme for the most damaging chemicals — but only after major manufacturers such as DuPont and CI withdraw their opposition at the last minute.

1988

North Sea seal deaths. A mystery epidemic kills 18,000 seals in the North and Baltic Seas. Canine distemper is later diagnosed, but a buildup of poisonous organic chemicals is widely blamed for disabling the seals’ immune systems. An upsurge in unexplained deaths among other marine mammals may have had a similar cause.

1989

Fall of Berlin Wall. The collapse of Communism and the symbolic fail of the Wall follows the mass emigration of East Europeans via Hungary, where a government undermined by environmental campaigns opens the borders to the West. Greens are prominent among opposition groups in several countries who took power.

1989

Exxon Valdez. A tanker carrying crude oil from Alaskan oil fields runs aground in Prince William Sound, releasing 12 million gallons of oil across a huge area of pristine Arctic habitat. The clean-up bill is dwarfed by compensation claims from fishing communities and others whose lives are wrecked.

1986

One thousand copies of an issue focusing on Indonesia’s destructive transmigration policy are smuggled into Indonesia. Some are obtained by the government, and the dictator Suharto declares that The Ecologist is a ‘conspiracy’ against his regime.

1986

A special issue of the magazine focuses on the after-effects of the Chernobyl disaster — the like of which it had been warning about for more than a decade.

1989

Editor Nick Hildyard attends the Altimira gathering of Brazilian Indians in Brazil protesting against rainforest destruction.

1989

At the height of the global concern about rainforest destruction, The Ecologist’s editors invade a session of the UN Security Council with a 3 million signature petition urging the UN to act on forests. The Secretary General is forced to concede a meeting with Teddy Goldsmith to discuss the issue.

1986

Whaling moratorium signed. After a long campaign by several environment groups, the International Whaling Commission imposes a moratorium on commercial whaling. Critics say the coup shows how environment groups could ‘capture’ an international body set up to manage wildlife stocks.

1987

Brundtland Report published. The UN’s World Commission on Environment and Development, under Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland (above), puts forward a strategy for ‘sustainable development’, arguing that economic growth and environmental protection can coexist. Thus sets framework for 1992 Earth Summit.

1988

Green Consumer Guide published. The UK publishing phenomenon comes at the height of Thatcherite consumerism and suggests you can ‘buy’ environmental protection. Various ‘green’ consumer products are launched in the following months and a new group, Ark, is formed to both campaign on green issues and market green products.

1989

Crescendo of environmental activity worldwide (and the British Green Party winning 15 per cent of vote in European elections) pushes governments into a range of promises, including saving the Amazon rain forest and halting the pollution that causes climate change. More tangibly international trade in elephant tusks is banned.

The 1990s saw the green movement grow in confidence, stature and, in some cases, radicalism. As environmental concerns moved out of the ghetto and began connecting with economic and social issues, so public support for new approaches to the world’s problems began, slowly, to grow. Meanwhile, the globalisation of ‘development’ went on much as before, throwing up new problems like genetic engineering.

TIMELINE: Key Events in the 1990s

GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT

1991

Gulf War unleashes oil fires. Saddam sabotages the oil wells of Kuwait during the Gulf War. Fires burn for many months, unleashing clouds of black smoke across the region, causing lung diseases and polluting the desert with oil lakes. Allied bombing releases more oil into the Gulf.

1992

Now an Arctic ozone hole. Though less deep than the Antarctic hole, the first appearance of an Arctic hole threatens heavily populated areas as far south as the British Isles, reviving fears that UV radiation streaming through the thinning ozone layer may be partly to blame for a rising toll of skin cancers.

1994

Desertification Convention signed. Growing concern about environmental degradation in the dry lands of Africa triggers the signing of the Convention, which was promised to Africa during the 1992 Earth Summit. But donors fall to back the treaty with cash.

1994

Uruguay Round concluded. The long-running world trade talks conclude with the creation of a World Trade Organisation with wide powers to force countries to open their borders to all and any trade in the post-Cold War ‘new world order’. The decision is condemned by environment, consumer and labour groups.

THE ECOLOGIST

1990

Teddy Goldsmith, Nick Hildyard, Peter Bunyard and Patrick McCully launch ‘500 Days to Save The Planet’, an Ecologist book which sells over 350,000 copies.

1991

Publication of Teddy Goldsmith’s book The Way — An Ecological World View.

1990

The magazine produces a special issue on GATT and the dangers of globalisation, more than half a decade before the wider green movement catches up.

1992

The Twyford Down anti-motorway campaign, the first of the British mad protests of the 1990s, is briefly based in The Ecologist’s office in Dorset, and supported by the editorial team.

ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT

1990

First report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It finds that the greenhouse effect will raise global temperatures — and that a recent warming trend could have been due to human activity. The ‘consensus report’ is a landmark for environmental scientists acting in unison to advise the world.

1991

Antarctic protocol on environmental protection agreed. The nations that lay claim to parts of the frozen continent agree to ban most economic activity there, creating in effect a ‘world park’ — another victory for campaigners such as Greenpeace, whose ships took their demands to the continent in person.

1992

Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. The largest ever gathering of heads of state on any topic agrees a huge ‘wish list’ on ‘sustainable development’. They also sign two major environmental conventions demanded by greens — on limiting greenhouse gas emissions and on protecting biodiversity.

1994

World population conference. The conference in Cairo breaks with the authoritarian demographic tradition that coerces people to adopt contraception and demands lower reproduction in developing countries. Instead, it redefines population as a human rights issue, stressing women’s rights to reproductive health and control over their bodies.

1997

Kyoto Protocol signed. Industrial nations agree to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases by 5 per cent by 2010 as a first practical step to stemming global warming. But controversial rules to allow countries to trade their emissions entitlements, insisted on by the US, remain to be finalised and threaten to undermine the deal.

1998

Millennium’s hottest year. Analysis of thermometer records along with tree rings, ice cores and lake sediments confirms that the penultimate year of the millennium is also its hottest, coming in the hottest decade of the hottest century. Few now doubt that the world is on a warming trend, nor that human activity is to blame.

1998

Borneo forest fires. Landowners on the Indonesian island set huge areas of forest on fire as they clear land for palm oil plantations. The fires spread out of control in an unusual dry spell caused by the El Ni[tilde{n}]o climatic anomaly which climate scientists believe is being intensified by global warming.

2000

Biosafety Protocol signed. Nations agree a deal that gives countries the right to refuse entry to genetically modified organisms. For the first time, a ‘precautionary principle’ is enshrined in an international treaty Forced on the US by the row over GM crops, it is seen as a victory against the forces of globalisation.

1992

Another special issue — Whose Common Future? — makes a strong plea for ‘rejecting development and reclaiming the commons’. Its ideas resonate strongly with many other sections of the Green movement.

1994

The magazine helps launch a ‘Fifty Years Is Enough’ campaign against the World Bank, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Bretton Woods agreement.

1998

‘The Monsanto Files’ — a 60 page expos[acute{e}] of the world’s major biotech company — becomes the best-selling issue of The Ecologist ever — selling over 400,000 copies in a dozen languages. The printer’s decision to pulp an early printing of the issue, fearing legal action, is reported around the world.

1999

Special issue of the magazine on climate change is distributed widely around the world, and is used by policymakers and environmentalists to fuel the campaign for stronger action on greenhouse gas emissions

1995

Arsenic poisoning uncovered in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Environmentalists reveal a major outbreak of mass poisoning as arsenic in underground rocks is dissolving into water pumped to the surface by wells dug by foreign aid agencies. Probably millions are being poisoned, but governments are slow to accept the threat — and even slower to act.

1995

Brent Spar scuttling called off. In probably its most dramatic and successful action, Greenpeace boards Shell’s giant North Sea oil structure as it is towed to an Atlantic dumping ground. And as consumers boycott the company’s products across Europe, they force it to abandon the dumping and bring the structure ashore for recycling.

1999

Storm over ‘Frankenstein foods’. European environmental, health and food groups bring the international seed industry to its knees over the safety of genetically modified crops. Consumers boycott the products, most from the US; European field trails are trashed and chief antagonist Monsanto is forced to renounce the ‘terminator gene’.

1999

Mass protests in Seattle during a meeting of the World Trade Organisation shatters the WTO’s dogmatic belief that globalisation will benefit all, and brings promises of a fundamental rethink of its strategies to impose open trade whatever the consequences for farmers, consumers and workers.

COPYRIGHT 2000 MIT Press Journals

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group