Teddy Goldsmith (1928–2009)

With the death of Teddy Goldsmith on August 17, a towering tree has fallen in the thin remaining forest of visionaries and inspired amateurs who pioneered today’s environmental and humane movements.

Teddy graduated from Oxford in 1950 disillusioned with what he had been taught and spent years, enabled by family money, reading voraciously and traveling with naturalist John Aspinall to “get it right.” In Africa—subsequently Asia—he became convinced that tribal societies were the only truly sustainable societies. “The more I thought and read and saw," he said, "the more I realized how wide the problem was. Here were people talking about how these poor people needed development yet development was destroying them. And it became clear to me that this applied to wider society as a whole.”

In the late 1960s, after Bernard Lewis’ exposure of the Brazilian government’s genocide of Amazonian tribes, Teddy helped establish the Primitive People’s Fund, now called Survival International. In 1970, assembling a group of similarly radical thinkers, he founded The Ecologist magazine and edited it—often single handedly—for the next 20 years. Blueprint for Survival, first published in The Ecologist in January, 1972 for the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, sold 750,000 copies in book form. In The Stable Society (1975) Teddy elaborated his opposition to capitalism and his conviction that a market economy is incompatible with ecological and social stability. The Great U-turn (1988) returned to this thesis, arguing that humanity can find a sustainable future only with “small, self regulating, self sufficient, self respecting societies.” The Way (1993) was designed as a summary of his world view.

Almost every major environmental issue and trend within the movement bears evidence of Teddy’s influence. He was a central figure in founding the world’s first national green (initially People) party in the UK in 1973, inspiring similar parties across Europe. He grasped early in his life that the very future of life on the planet depended on preserving of tropical forests, and he was an ardent supporter of the Chipko tree huggers who have expanded from the Himalayas to become India’s most effective forest protectors. In the 1980s The Ecologist opened a hard hitting campaign against the grotesquely destructive (and invariably corrupt) big dam projects funded by the World Bank and other development agencies. Teddy opposed globalization, characterizing it in a seminal 1996 essay as a new and pernicious form of colonialism via transnational corporations. He was an early and adamant foe of industrial agriculture and factory farms.

The Ecologist persists today—although only in electronic form (www.theecologist.org). Health expert Pat Thomas replaced Teddy's nephew, Zac Goldsmith, as editor in 2007. Teddy and his wife Katherine, lived his last years in Sienna, Italy, an ancient Italian city, steeped in history and republican tradition, that they regarded as an enclave of stability.