Teddy Goldsmith was a curious paradox of a man. Very rich, very establishment, yet also fiercely anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and anti-modern. A pioneer of environmental campaigning, Teddy was making the case against global capitalism before I was even born, and countering its global spread with a vision of his own: a romantic, conservative vision of small communities living ‘stable’ lives close to the soil. For a time Teddy tried to live this life himself, in Cornwall in the 1970s, where he would proudly boast that his stinking compost toilet turned away all but the hardiest visitor.
That tale was revealing, because if there was one thing Teddy enjoyed it was riling people. Part of him was desperate for his radical, well-researched and sometimes shocking ideas to be taken seriously. Another part of him was repulsed by the kind of people he also wanted to be taken seriously by. He was a perpetual outsider: eccentric, angry, brilliant, quixotic and sometimes frustrating. No-one ever worked with him without either shouting at him or wanting to, or without disagreeing, often very strongly, with some of his ideas. But no one ever worked with him, either, without developing a strong personal attachment to him, and a good deal of respect, for he was a kind, decent and humble human being.
Teddy’s brand of conservative, even reactionary, environmentalism is out of fashion today, at a time when the green movement seems to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the political left. Many of today’s young greens have probably never even heard of him. But without him there would be no Green Party in the UK, no Ecologist either, and the debates we are having would be very different ones.
Teddy’s legacy will be his writings, which are collected here. I personally recommend the essay Development as Colonialism as essential reading for any modern green. His co-edited book The Case Against the Global Economy is excellent, and the Blueprint for Survival was pioneering and is still relevant today.