David Simpson

New Ideas in Ecology and Economics

More than thirty years work at Ideas produced a lot of radio programmes, and so I'm always happy to have suggestions from friends and correspondents as to what I should revive next.  One such suggestion came this summer during a dinner with my old friend John McKnight.  He asked if I had ever interviewed his old friend Bob Rodale (1930-1990), and I remembered that I had— for the present series, back in 1986.  John said that he would like to hear it, so here, after some delay, it is.

These four programmes were an attempt to survey new thinking in environmental and economic philosophy and to investigate some of the efforts that were then being made to build nature and community back into the field of economics.  John McKnight's friend Bob Rodale, who was the director of the Rodale Press in Emmaus, Pennsylvania,  was then involved in one of the many one of many initiatives explored in the series.  He called it the Regeneration Project: an attempt to model community economics after Nature's modes of healing and recovery following a disturbance. 

Since this series was a survey, the ideas are, naturally, not all of the same tenor.  In the second programme, for example, several quite discordant ecological philosophies are presented.  But what impresses me thirty years later is the generally hopeful tone, and the confidence, even among antagonists, that a new age was dawning.  This aspect of the 1980's is easily forgotten today in the wake of the seeming triumph of the turbo-capitalism that was then gestating alongside the alternatives presented here.  History is written by its (apparent) winners, as has often been said —I've seen this saying attributed to both Winston Churchill and Walter Benjamin —and yet many of the initiatives on which I then reported carry on, and many of the ideas and proposals that are discussed remain as compelling and as pertinent as they were in 1986. 

The series had a large cast of characters whom I have listed below, along with their affiliations at the time the series was broadcast:

Part One: Peter Berg, Planet Drum Foundation; John Todd, Ocean Arks International; George McRobie, Intermediate Technology Development Group; Stuart Hill, Ecological Agriculture Project, McGill University; John Quinney, New Alchemy Institute; David Simpson and Jane Lapiner, ecological restoration, Mattole Valley, California.

Part Two: Paul Shepard, Pitzer College, author of Madness and Society; Alan Drengson, University of Victoria, editor of The Trumpeter, a journal of ecological philosophy; Neil Evernden, York University, author of The Natural Alien; John Livingstone, York University, author of The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation; Murray Bookchin, initiator of "social ecology"

Part Three: Hazel Henderson, critic of modern economics, author of Creating Alternative Futures; David Ross, social economist, co-author of From the Roots Up: Economic Development As If Community Mattered; Michael Linton, founder of Local Exchange Trading System (LETS) in Courtenay, B.C.;  Sarah Calisto, Courtenay resident, participant in LETS; Peter Usher, social economist, co-author of From the Roots Up: Economic Development As If Community Mattered; Joy Leach, Van City Credit Union; Michael Philips, founder of the Briar Patch

Part Four: Slimma Williams, Lower East Side poet; Dan Chodorkoff, Institute for Social Ecology; Bob Rodale, Rodale Press, the Regeneration Project; Peter Fuller, Automotive Recycling Company, Allentown, PA; Guy Dauncey, community economics; Don MacMillan, Nanaimo Community Employment Advisory Society; Narasim Katary, director of long-range planning, Sudbury, Ont.; Greg MacLeod, New Dawn, Cape Breton Island, N.S.