Teddy Goldsmith - Obituary

This obituary of Teddy Goldsmith was published in Green World in 2009

Teddy Goldsmith 1928-2009

Edward ‘Teddy’ Goldsmith, who died in August aged 80, was a hugely influential life member of the Green Party, an activist and major donor. He was the founder of the Ecologist magazine and the single most influential thinker in the early days of the party.

The last time I saw Teddy was back in 2004 during the run-up to the European Elections. I’d gone up to London to see if he’d contribute to our campaign here in the south west. What stayed with me after I left was the way he said farewell. He shook my hand and then, with the touch of an old fashioned ‘gentleman’, placed his left hand on top of our two held hands, and looked into my eyes. I remember the intimacy of that look. It was a gesture of remarkable warmth.

I first heard of Teddy in a Sunday magazine back in 1972. He was featured in a story about a group, including Peter Bunyard and Jeremy Faull -the party’s first-ever county councillor- who’d bought land in Withiel, Cornwall to create a self-sufficient community living close to the land. Some years later, quite coincidentally, I found myself living in the same valley, with Teddy as my neighbour, and enjoying his treasure trove of a library. That was the beginning of my own Green Party journey.

Teddy has often been labelled the founder of the Green Party, formerly called PEOPLE; but that distinction did in fact belong to our own original Gang of Four:- Mike Benfield, Freda Sanders, Tony and Lesley Whittaker. Although he was passionately ‘political’ Teddy’s real contribution was as an intellectual, with the freedom that that role gives, rather than as a politician.

Back in 1972 when the Gang of Four were setting up PEOPLE, Teddy was organising the Movement for Survival; attempting, in a way similar to Real World in the 90s, to bring the different elements of the environmental movement together in a political alliance. Only when that failed did he link up with PEOPLE’s founders.

It was Dennis Nightingale-Smith who introduced Teddy to PEOPLE, at his house in Malvern Hills, when he heard that they had adopted his ‘Blueprint for Survival’ as the basis of their policy. Blueprint’s impact, with its analysis of ecological limits, can hardly be underestimated. It sold half a million copies, was debated in Parliament, and led directly to the creation of the modern green movement. It also led PEOPLE to invite Teddy to write the first Manifesto for a Sustainable Society. Sadly it was not to be. Like Marx and the Communist Manifesto, Teddy had difficulty meeting deadlines.

In 1974 Teddy stood as a PEOPLE candidate in the General Election of that year in Eye, Suffolk, which included part of his father’s old constituency, Stowmarket. Using a camel to highlight the soil erosion caused by intensive agriculture, and a closely written 3000 word election address, he lost his deposit with style. In 1975 it was Teddy who proposed that the party should change its name from PEOPLE to the Ecology Party to reflect the centrality of political ecology to green thinking.

Teddy always championed the dispossessed. He started out as an anthropologist and subsequently helped found Survival International with Robin Hanbury Tennison. He was the author of dozens of seminal books including Blueprint for Survival (1971), Can Britain Survive (1972), The Stable Society (1978), the Social and Environmental Effect of Large Dams (1984), the Great U-turn: De-industrialising Society (1988), Gaia and Evolution (1990), 5000 Days to Save the Planet (1990), The Way: An Ecological Worldview (1992), The Case Against the Global Economy (1996).

In the 90s, through the International Forum on Globalisation (IFG) which he founded with Jerry Mander, he continued his devastating critique of growth led globalisation with relentless attacks on the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In 1991 he won the Right Livelihood Award, known as the alternative nobel prize, and the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. In 1997 he was cited for ‘Best Ecological Politics Book of the Year’ by the American Political Science Association for ‘The Case Against the Global Economy, and for a Turn Toward the Local’.

In 2007 the IFG hosted the first Edward Goldsmith Lifetime Achievement Award and Teddy himself was the first recipient. On many of the issues he wrote about -rainforest destruction, dams, indigenous peoples, cultural preservation, agribusiness and globalisation- Teddy has been proved prophetic, and usua lly decades ahead.

In many ways Teddy was a controversial figure, challenging received wisdom wherever he found it and his conservative views on some social issues - leaders, population and immigration, and women in the home- certainly caused ructions with many in the Green Party. His views stemmed from a belief in a steady state economy and a stable society, in economic and social sustainability.

Former Green Party Executive Chair, Jonathon Porritt said: “Teddy was the first person who articulated the essence of sustainability in a complete and uncompromising way. He was 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.”

It is an understatement to say that Teddy was influential. He was a force of nature and of vision. In my book he was the single most influential person in the evolution of ecological political thought. And if that wasn’t enough he was also compassionate, witty, exuberant, humble, generous and loyal. He will be missed.

When the roll of honour of those early green pioneers is called out Teddy’s name will be prominent. He was a truly inspirational figure and his thinking on eco-systems and sustainability underpins the rationale behind our politics. Teddy is survived by his wife Kathy, and his children Alexander, Dido, Clio, Benedict and Zeno.

David Taylor, former Principal Speaker


See also http://www.edwardgoldsmith.org/ for much more on Teddy's writings and life.

 

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