November 19, 2017

Eco-hero – Edward Goldsmith

From the Telegraph Magazine, 16 December 2006. By Annabel Freyberg.


“Why aren”t more people angry?” the environmentalist Edward Goldsmith asks. “Modern man is wrecking the planet and doing so at an increasingly rapid rate.” For more than 35 years Goldsmith has questioned the orthodoxies of the developed world. A brave and visionary activist and thinker he ignited the modern environmental movement in 1970 by founding The Ecologist magazine which, years before anyone else, aired such topics as genetic engineering, the consequences of large dams and questioned the economics of nuclear power. Derided in many quarters for his apocalyptic beliefs, Goldsmith has in recent years seen much of his thinking become mainstream, if not actually fashionable.

Soon after founding The Ecologist, Goldsmith co-wrote A Blueprint for Survival which spelt out why Earth could not survive untrammelled growth. Published in book form in 1972, and translated into 17 languages, it sold 500,000 copies and kept the impecunious Ecologist afloat for many years. Blueprint led to the foundation of the People Party (later the Ecology Party and finally the Green Party) for which Goldsmith stood unsuccessfully in the 1974 general election at Eye, Suffolk.

In 1972 Goldsmith and The Ecologist team moved from London to Cornwall. The magazine was published here until the early 1990s and Goldsmith remained for more than a decade, leading a “highly ecological life – no car, no heating, a composting lavatory, which lost me a lot of friends as it never worked properly,” as well as farming organically. He stood as a Green Party candidate and protested against the siting of a nuclear power station in Cornwall and later at Windscale (now Sellafield), and in New York outside the World Bank for its part in funding damaging dams.

Goldsmith’s world view was shaped in the two decades after leaving Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read philosophy, politics and economics, and questioned the notion that economic growth was a good thing. After a stint on the allied staff in Berlin, he tried small business ventures and pursued intellectual interests. He also travelled widely, and in London in the 1960s he served on the committee that founded the Primitive Peoples’ Fund, later Survival International. “I realised that survival of primitive peoples and of the environment were inseparable. Primitive people were disappearing, so was wildlife. The root problem was economic development. So I started a paper to explore these issues.”

From the start The Ecologist embraced the bigger picture, from climate change during the African droughts of the mid-1970s to the destruction of the rainforest.

Goldsmith continued to travel while becoming increasingly opposed to globalisation. He advocated a return to a pre-industrial society, putting him at odds with other ecologists.

In 1980, after visiting valleys in Sri Lanka about to be flooded for hydroelectric dams, he began researching the impact of large dams. Working with Nicholas Hildyard, the result was The Social and Environmental Effects of Large Dams (1984-92), now the standard work on the subject.

Goldsmith edited The Ecologist until 1990 and again from 1997-8, when he handed it on to his nephew Zac Goldsmith. He remains a potent force behind the scenes.

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