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  THE ECOLOGIST  
 

Circulation: 25,000
Date of Birth: 1970
Frequency: Ten times a year
Price: $5.99
Natural Habitat: British MP David Cameron’s coffee table, health food and organic stores, and the eco-friendly home of every environmentally conscious consumer

By Srabani Roy

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In a recent letter to the editor of the Ecologist, a reader admitted to throwing away her vibrator after reading an article in the British magazine on the commodification of sex and the environmental damages caused by the PVC plastic used to make the Rabbit, the world’s best-selling vibrator, and other sex toys. Another reader urged a recent letter writer “not to throw away the unenvironmental contents of her cupboard just because they don’t fit in with her new way of life. Trying to consume less is part of going green.” And another suggested returning those products to the manufacturer and explaining why she would never buy them again. “At least that way I know I am not the only one paying a price,” she wrote. The Ecologist is a magazine that changes people’s lives.

Edward “Teddy” Goldsmith, an antiglobalization environmentalist and founder of the U.K.’s Ecology Party (which later became the Green Party), started the Ecologist in 1970. Teddy’s brother—the better known, womanizing, gambling financier, Sir James Goldsmith—helped finance it. Zac Goldsmith, Teddy’s nephew and Sir James’ son, inherited it and became the magazine’s editor in 1998.

Zac Goldsmith is a jumble of contradictions. He is a chain smoker, yet he has been fearless in criticizing giant chemical companies such as the biotech corporation Monsanto. He is outspoken about the evils of the capitalist systems in place in the world, yet he caused a storm when he agreed to serve as an advisor on environmental issues to the U.K.’s Conservative Party. The thirty-one-year-old millionaire—his estimated worth is £300 million (close to U.S. $600 million), according to a 2003 article in the Guardian—inherited not only his father’s wealth and gambling habits (he plays poker at the elite Aspinalls Club on a weekly basis), but also his uncle’s politics and views. And he’s not afraid to use both to promote his environmental agenda in the pages of the Ecologist.

In a 2003 interview in the Observer, Goldsmith said,“Every time you buy anything, it doesn’t matter if it is fair trade or organic, there will be horrors associated with it. The campaign has got to be about changing the structures more than changing the individual. I really believe that. It is impossible to imagine bringing down the giant monopolies—to defeat them you have to bypass them, with farmers’ markets, and so on.”

The full-color, semiglossy magazine, printed on paper made of “75% recycled post-consumer waste and at least 17.5% certified pulp,” practices what Goldsmith preaches. The entire September 1998 issue was devoted to a denunciation of Monsanto. Fearing a libel suit, the magazine’s distributors refused to carry the issue and its printers destroyed copies of it without Goldsmith’s permission, according to the Observer article.

Its articles are well researched and reported. The January 2007 issue’s piece on the Stern Report on climate change, commissioned by the British government, was thorough in its analysis of the science, the economics, and the suggested solutions. Despite its fiercely environmental and anticapitalist agenda, the Ecologist doesn’t uncritically accept every pro-environment argument. It applauds the Stern Report for bringing global warming into the policy foreground, but concludes that it doesn’t go far enough in its predictions of the effects of rising temperatures on the planet, presenting data that contradicts the report’s findings. And its writers have questioned steadfast environmental axioms, such as whether the virtues of buying organic produce, sometimes flown from halfway around the world, outweigh the benefits of buying nonorganic but locally grown products.

Because of the uncompromising stands it has taken against many large companies, the Ecologist has to get along without the corporate advertising that supports many magazines. The editors vet potential advertisers “to ensure that its products or services don’t damage the environment, the people it employs or the consumers.” And its “Behind the Label” section analyzes commercially available products, such as Blistex chapstick and Fairy dishwashing liquid, providing detailed information on the known health effects of their chemical ingredients. Goldsmith’s private foundation helps keep the magazine afloat, making up for the lack of advertising revenue.

Though it caters to a readership that is well educated and environmentally aware, and that frequents health food stores and other specialty outlets, the Ecologist is a must-read for anyone who cares about the way business as usual is changing the earth’s environment. “To anyone who breathes air, drinks water, eats food, and enjoys nature, the Ecologist is a reliable and long-standing British friend, covering environmental issues with dogged assurance,” wrote the editors of Utne Reader after awarding it the accolade for best environmental coverage among all independent magazines in 2006.

 
 
 

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