The godfather of green

In: Uncategorized

27 Aug 2009

I do not feel any sadness at news of the death of Teddy Goldsmith, one of the pioneers of green thinking in Britain, but his obituaries are revealing about the nature of environmentalism.

Goldsmith launched the Ecologist magazine in 1970, and was its long-time editor, as well as the Ecology party (later the Green party). His best known book, originally a special issue of the Ecologist, was Blueprint for Survival (1972). Essentially he was an old-fashioned Tory with green sympathies who, by the sound of it, found the movement of the “left” towards environmentalism disorientating.

1)Goldsmith was a classic eco-toff. According to the obituary in yesterday’s Telegraph:

“Edward René David Goldsmith was born in Paris on November 8 1928, the son of a Suffolk landowner, Frank Goldsmith, Conservative MP for Stowmarket between 1910 and 1918. Frank’s father had emigrated to Britain from Germany, and anti-German feeling in Britain during the Great War forced Frank to move to France, where he ran a chain of luxury hotels and married a girl from Auvergne called Marcelle Moullier, Teddy’s mother.

“Teddy described his youth as one long holiday, moving between hotels across the south of France. The Goldsmiths returned to Britain (initially to Claridge’s) during the 1930s, and from Millfield School he went up to Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1947 to read PPE. Although he admitted that for 18 months he and his younger brother, Jimmy, did little but gamble with their friends, Teddy obtained his degree in 1950.”

2)Goldsmith was an arch-Malthusian who despised modern industrial society. According to an article by Paul Kingsnorth in the Ecologist two years ago his central idea was: “that small-scale, ‘traditional societies’ are the only ones that work, and that humanity needs to return to such a way of life if it is to have a future.” He was avidly opposed to, among other things, dams and nuclear power.

3)Goldsmith had problems coming to terms with the increasingly mainstream character of green ideas and their adoption by the “left”. According to Kingsnorth: “Today’s leading Greens are almost all drawn from the political left. They speak the language of ‘social justice’ and ‘multiculturalism’, and are anxious to trumpet their ‘progressive’ principles. In this context, Teddy Goldsmith’s stubbornly small-c conservative vision, and his commitment to ‘stability’, ‘tradition’ and the teachings of ancient religions are red rags to a green bull.”

This final point is only partially true. Although many greens see themselves as radicals their outlook is fundamentally conservative.