A history of The Ecological Citizen and its roots

Last updated 28 January 2022

Based on inputs from Ian Whyte, John Davis, Joe Gray, Dave Foreman and Tom Butler

The Ecological Citizen arose, in a proximate sense, as the intellectual output of a trans-Atlantic collaboration between Patrick Curry, Joe Gray and Ian Whyte. Its roots, however, run much deeper. This brief article traces the Journal’s history, from the events immediately preceding the publication of its first issue, in July 2017, and also explores its fuller heritage.

In early 2016, a series of teleconferences was organized between several members of the Ecocentric Alliance and some of the people involved in Wild Earth, an environmental journal published between 1991 and 2004. Debate centred on the relative merits of attempting to revive Wild Earth or creating an entirely new publication to take up the torch. It quickly became clear that the latter represented the favoured approach, and a consensus emerged that this new publication should have a global scope and cover a broad range of topics, including conservation, ecology, ecocentric citizenship, philosophy, activism, and human population and consumption, with an emphasis on 'ways forward'.

The prospect of launching a journal with a paid staff was discussed, but it was a model based purely on volunteers, with an absolute minimum of funding, that ultimately arose. A meeting between Patrick Curry (who would become the Journal's Editor-in-Chief) and Joe Gray (Associate Editor), which took place on 11 May 2016 at the Rising Sun pub in the Barbican area of London, UK, sealed their commitment to launch the Journal, and Ian Whyte, a long-time ally of Patrick's, was rapidly brought into the fold as an Associate Editor. For Joe, who had previously had articles rejected from other publications because reviewers insisted that he make them more human-centred (something he was not willing to do), there was a particular motivation to develop an outlet for those wishing to express non-anthropocentric thinking.

The name of the Journal was chosen to recognize the work of Aldo Leopold and his phrase 'plain member and citizen of [the land-community]'.* One of the first acts of Patrick, Joe and Ian, after choosing a name, was to recruit a Poetry Editor and an Art Editor, which they did, respectively, in Victor Postnikov and Stephanie Moran.

A little over 12 months after that meeting in the pub, with much help from the Journal's Consulting Editors and nascent Advisory Board, the first issue was published. Soon after, Adam Dickerson and Eileen Crist joined Joe and Ian as Associate Editors. In 2020, on the occasion of the 50th Earth Day, the team launched a blog titled Earth Tongues as a complementary platform to the Journal.

The first issue of The Ecological Citizen had set a tone for future publications, featuring contributions from authors spanning a wide range of disciplines and representing four continents. Also, 13 years after the folding of Wild Earth, a significant gap was at last filled.

Wild Earth, in its 14-year run, fulfilled many vital functions for the biocentric and ecocentric conservation movement, not least spreading knowledge on conservation and ecology, but also reporting on and encouraging actions and aiding with networking. Like The Ecological Citizen, it had emerged to fill a deep hole – one associated with a change in direction of Earth First!, an advocacy group originally inspired by Edward Abbey's Monkey Wrench Gang, as well as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and the Land Ethic of Aldo Leopold.

In the words of John Davis: "Wild Earth evolved out of the old Earth First! Journal during a crisis. The Reagan Administration's Federal Bureau of Investigation had infiltrated the Earth First! movement – surprising us by taking seriously our challenges to corporate exploitation of public lands – and sowed seeds of discord. Earth First! Journal publisher Dave Foreman was framed for conspiracy to destroy private property, probably to send a warning throughout the movement, and others were targeted too. The stress of trials and dealing with hostile authorities left Dave ill, and me, the publication's Editor, on the run. The Earth First! old guard, however, remained united and, after the trials, quietly regrouped to keep the uncompromising work for wild nature going, but without bringing the weight of the state down upon ourselves."

Among the steadfast aiding Dave and John, as they conspired to start a new journal devoted to wildlife protection and recovery and big wilderness, were conservation biologist Reed Noss, environmental researcher Mary Byrd Davis (John's late mother), political scientist David Johns, Nancy Morton (Dave's wife), and future editor Tom Butler.

From the start, Wild Earth linked conservation activists with conservation biologists and artists. It served as a forum for what Dave called the New Conservation Movement – the many tough grassroots wilderness and wildlife advocacy groups. It also addressed the fundamental threats to biological diversity, particularly the socially sensitive topic of human overpopulation.

It depended disproportionately, however, on one generous wildlands philanthropist, Doug Tompkins, and his Foundation for Deep Ecology. When Doug changed his focus to Chile and Argentina, Wild Earth soon lost financial viability. The Wildlands Project, with which Wild Earth had become officially merged, had to shut down the magazine as a cost-saving measure. Since that sad closure, commented John, "all of us formerly involved with the journal many times have heard the lament: 'We miss Wild Earth.'" But in its place, as John has written, "The Ecological Citizen can be a catalyst for radical, egalitarian, compassionate, unifying change. […] May this much-needed new forum lead to a truly wild Earth, with secure homes for everyone in the biotic community." 

*For Joe, the name also gave a nod to the local newspaper of his city of birth (Gloucester), The Citizen.