Unboxing Environmentalism

Right as we were wrapping up this issue, our memberships director forwarded an email from a subscriber who said he had decided to terminate his support of Earth Island Institute because he had “a philosophical difference with the political direction” the Journal was going.

“I do not agree with the social activism of some of your articles,” he wrote. His primary support for Earth Island was our founder David Brower’s legacy of “environmental conservation,” and the Journal, his politely-worded email implied, was guilty of mission creep, i.e., the gradual broadening of the original objectives of a mission or organization.

The good gentleman’s words couldn’t have made me more proud of the work we do at this magazine, and at Earth Island Institute, which publishes the Journal.

I’m glad that our readers and supporters are beginning to see more clearly what we stand for – an environmental movement that’s broad and inclusive, that acknowledges that environmental and social justice issues are inextricably linked.

To set the record straight, this is the kind of environmentalism we have always advocated. Brower envisioned Earth Island, from the start, as an organization that encourages people to take inspired action to safeguard all life on Earth; as a place that helps incubate creative solutions to the interconnected challenges and threats facing this planet and its people.

If there’s any doubt about that, take a look at the sheer diversity of issues Earth Island projects cover – from wildlife conservation to food security to climate justice. Even some the earliest projects the Institute adopted back in the 1980s, such as the Environmental Project on Central America, worked to highlight the connections between poverty, war, and the environment. As Dave Henson, cofounder of the now-decomissioned epoca recalls, Brower took in the project when no other environmental organization would give them “the time of day.”

And as we do now, Journal articles from back then also covered issues like ecology and justice in Central America (Summer 1987), the connections between economic and environmental violence (Spring 1988), and Native peoples’ struggles to save their homelands (Spring 1989).

In all the work we have done over the past 35 years, we have seen time and again that communities subject to environmental exploitation are often the same ones that are disproportionately impacted by economic inequity and structural racism. It’s impossible to box off the fight to save our wildlands and their nonhuman inhabitants from the many struggles for social justice, human rights, and democracy taking place across the world.

We don’t work in a vacuum. If we wish to create just and enduring solutions to preserving life on Earth, we need to open our hearts to the diverse communities of our planet, both biological and human.

To do any less than that – especially at this critical moment in time where the very fabric of democracy and our ability to speak up for the voiceless is under threat the world over – is to invite peril. And we simply refuse to stand by and let that happen.

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