|Goldsmith: his 1972 book Blueprint for Survival called for a world order based on small, self-sufficient communities Photograph: The Ecologist|
Environmental campaigner and writer who founded The Ecologist magazine
Thursday 27 August 2009 20.20 BST
Edward Goldsmith, who has died aged 80, was an influential environmental scholar, polemicist and campaigner who founded and edited the Ecologist. A special issue in 1972, Blueprint for Survival, proposing the formation of a movement for sustainability, was published as a book, sold 750,000 copies in 17 languages and led to the foundation of the People party, later the Ecology party, which eventually became the Green party.
Blueprint for Survival was a call for a new world order founded not on economic growth but on stable populations of small, self-sufficient communities, similar to those that Goldsmith had seen in his early travels. "I began to see that the survival of primitive people and of the environment were inseparable," he wrote at the time. "Primitive people were disappearing. So was wildlife. I realised that the root problem was economic development. So I decided to start a paper to explore these issues."
However, Goldsmith's extremist, conservative philosophy, opposed to economic development and globalisation in favour of local self-sufficiency, later marginalised him in the green movement, whose politics were moving leftwards. While greens welcomed the Channel tunnel as investment in public transport, he damned it as "designed to further increase our economic activity, exacerbating our rapidly deteriorating environment".
Goldsmith was influenced by the sociological writings of Karl Polanyi, which emphasised the way economies are embedded in society and culture. His travels with his millionaire college friend John Aspinall introduced him to tribal communities on which his later thinking was based. The Ecologist, founded in 1969 and edited by Goldsmith from 1970 to 1989 and 1997-98, was partly financed by his younger brother, James, the billionaire financier.
For all his gloomy prognostication and his passionate commitment to protest, Goldsmith was a gregarious and exuberant bon vivant, a gifted raconteur who hosted parties in his homes in rural Cornwall, London, Paris and the south of France. His sociability, energy and charismatic charm won over even his most bitter critics. He liked to recall that, after attempting a business career in Paris, and failing, he gave his share of the family inheritance to his brother, an investment that laid the foundation for James's fortune and, indirectly, his own prosperity.
Goldsmith's passion for anti-science and his love of good company and good living combined in his foundation, with Denis de Rougement, Gerard Morgan-Grenville and others, of Ecoropa, a travelling debating society of scientists and writers which met convivially in pleasant parts of France, Italy and Spain and Germany.
His extreme social conservatism led Goldsmith at one stage to give support to an extreme rightwing, racist group in France. That, in part, led to Nicholas Hildyard's departure in 1997 from the Ecologist, which was then edited for 10 years by Goldsmith's nephew, James's son Zac.
Zac Goldsmith, environmental adviser to the Conservative party and prospective parliamentary candidate in Richmond Park, said his uncle "was responsible more than anyone else for waking us from our collective slumber. Radical ideas are no longer so radical – the credit crunch has made that obvious. If we pull through the environmental crisis, we all owe Teddy Goldsmith a debt of gratitude. He never regarded his work and status as ends in themselves, just a means to an end, an approach that today's politicians would do well to emulate."
The environmentalist Jonathon Porritt said: "Teddy was the first person who articulated the essence of sustainability in a complete and uncompromising way. He never worried about realistic possibilities. His mission was to have it all. Not always the most accommodating, but he was at his best applying scientific rigour to a problem."
Goldsmith was the son of Frank Goldsmith, Conservative MP for Stowmarket, Suffolk, from 1910 until 1918 who later ran luxury hotels in France. He was educated at Millfield school and Queen's College, Nassau. At Magdalen College, Oxford, he got a third-class degree in politics, philosophy and economics.
He began campaigning, in flamboyant style, in the February 1974 general election when he stood as the People party candidate at Eye, Suffolk. In protests against intensive farming which degraded the soil, he and his supporters paraded with a camel borrowed from Aspinall's private zoo, bearing the slogan "No Deserts in Suffolk. Vote Goldsmith." Few people did, he lost his deposit and retreated to a Cornish village from where he edited the Ecologist until 1989.
Goldsmith soon returned to egregious protest when the Central Electricity Board tried to test-dig for a nuclear power station five miles from his home. As the diggers arrived, he blocked the entrance to the site by installing his desk and sat in his chair dictating letters to a secretary. The police declined to intervene and the project was eventually abandoned. In 1979 he contested Cornwall and Plymouth in the European parliamentary election for the Ecology party.
In the 1980s he directed some of his fiercest attacks towards the World Bank, which he saw as financing illusory progress by forcing developing countries to export food while destroying their natural ability to grow it. In an open letter to Tom Clausen, the bank's president, he told him to "stop financing the destruction of the tropical world, the devastation of its remaining forests, the extermination of its wildlife, and the impoverishment and starvation of its human inhabitants".
Another of Goldsmith's targets was big dams, which he saw as spreading poverty by flooding the lands of the poor for the benefit of wealthy industrialists and exporters. Goldsmith and Hildyard published a three-volume study: The Social and Environmental Effects of Large Dams (1984-92), which was later quoted in protests against dams in other countries.
Yet another consistent target was the UN's food and agricultural organisation, which Goldsmith claimed was controlled by multinational agro-industrial companies. He wrote: "Development may be designed to combat poverty, but it is in fact creating poverty. The main cause of poverty today is environmental degradation caused by economic development. Most people who live in the world's great slums are development refugees."
To combat what he saw as destructive economic development, Goldsmith elaborated his own spiritual philosophy. In his 1992 book The Way, he sought to expand Fritz Schumacher's notion of "Buddhist economics" based on "right livelihood" and "the middle way". Arguing that evolution was "purposeful, not for humans but for the planet", he set forth 66 precepts for "right living," warning against being "blinded by science which is itself a faith and has become an enemy. Ecology is also a faith – in the wisdom of those forces which created us with extraordinary benefits – and in our ability to develop cultural patterns that will enable us to maintain the integrity and wisdom of the natural world."
He saw scientists in their white coats as having "all the attributes of religion – faith, dogma and priesthood". Questioning the notion of objective knowledge, he pointed out that "man is a participant, not an objective observer". Few anthropologists would agree with Goldsmith that traditional societies do not change, but there is perhaps more sympathy for his central thesis that the natural world has wisdom greater than human.
Goldsmith, who was bilingual, launched a French edition of the Ecologist and co-edited a volume in French, La Médicine à la Question (1981). He also created versions of the Ecologist in Spain, Brazil, India and New Zealand. Other books included Can Britain Survive? (1971), The Earth Report (1988, co-edited with Hildyard), 5,000 Days to Save the Planet (1990, with Hildyard and others) and The Case Against the Global Economy (1996, edited with Jerry Mander). He received the Right Livelihood award and was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur for his services to France.
Goldsmith is survived by the son and two daughters from his first marriage, to Gillian Pretty, and by his second wife, Katherine James, and their two sons.
• Edward René David Goldsmith, environmentalist, writer and editor, born 8 November 1928; died 21 August 2009