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One month on - the Editor blogs

Oliver Tickell

21st November 2013

The Ecologist website's new Editor has been in place for about a month. Here he takes a break from his ever-burgeoning email inbox to share a few thoughts

There is real satisfaction to be had by getting important stories published - those that break out of the rigid confines of the mainstream media discourse and shine a light into some very dark areas.

It's about a month now since I took over as Editor of this website and it has been a busy and often hectic time. It's not an exaggeration to say that it has taken over my life, or at least a large part of it. My wife has noticed the difference too. I'm often on my computer evenings and weekends, and I'm no longer so helpful with laundry and other household tasks as I once was.

It has also been intensely enjoyable and rewarding. If it wasn't, I don't suppose I would have been able to put the effort into it that I have. There is real satisfaction to be had by getting important stories published - those that break out of the rigid confines of the mainstream media discourse and shine a light into some very dark areas.

And it's always satisfying when a story "goes big", like Chris Busby's revelation that radiation from Fukushima has damaged the health of unborn babies in California, as radioactive iodine concentrates in their thyroids while they are still in the womb. Other hot topics have ranged from poaching in the Serengiti to the UK's badger cull, biofuels, genetically modified food, 'ag-gag' laws in the US, the slaughter of cetaceans in Peru and Japan, and the climate talks under way in Warsaw.

Of course The Ecologist is about far more than chasing tweets and Facebook Likes - though we are always glad of them. It must aim to lead green thought and opinion, not just follow the public appetite. And it must remember George Orwell's dictum that journalism has to tell truths that some people would prefer to keep secret - and that anything else is public relations.

Busby's article scores on both counts - news of health damage to American babies from a nuclear accident in Japan is just the kind of thing the entire nuclear industry wants to keep quiet. And the story is still getting hundreds of Likes daily, days after it was published, and has been picked up by news media around the world. 

We must also flag up key environmental issues before, dare I say it, the big environmental NGOs wake up to them. Take the whole biofuel catastrophe. Governments around the world have pushed biofuels made from food crops as the solution to global warming, even though it has been clear for years that the carbon emissions associated with biofuels is invariably worse, and often far worse, than burning fossil fuels.

The single worst example of this is palm oil grown in the swamp forests of Indonesia, where rainforest is cleared, orangutans and other wildlife threatened with extinction, and the fragile peat soils burn off under the tropical sun to produce massive carbon dioxide and methane emissions - and all to make expensive diesel fuel for our cars and lorries in Europe and America, or to fuel palm oil-burning power stations.

But while enormous commercial interests were pushing the expansion of biofuels, from 'food fuels' to wood burning power stations, the environmental NGOs were slow to wake up to the dangers, with some noble exceptions. By the time they did, the laws were in place in the US and the EU and have proved impossible to reverse despite their disastrous impacts.

So in the name of combatting climate change, we actually make it even worse as ancient forests go up in smoke and biodiversity is devastated. A fundamental aim of The Ecologist must be to jump on these key issues and raise the alarm early, making a difference before the damage becomes irreversible.

More generally, the core mission of The Ecologist must be what has always been - campaigning for positive change in this world. We do have a specific remit, to concentrate on environmental or 'green' issues, but this must not limit us where important topics are not given an adequate hearing elsewhere. For example, the failure of Aung San Suu Kyi to take a stand in protection of Burma's minority peoples.

But that's not all. Many of our readers are desperate to make their own lives greener and healthier, and we are here to help them make that transition in their lives, step by step. And in the process move ourselves in the same direction.

But now, back to the editing job. There are submissions to review, stories to proof read and put onto the system, pictures to be researched, and hundreds of emails building up in my inbox that I desperately need to get on top of. If you are one of those whose email/s  I still have not replied to, please forgive me. I'm doing my best.

Sadly it's not about to get better. I will soon be doing the job on my own, with no editorial assistant (thanks Andrea, it was good while it lasted!) to help me out. But still with the essential support of the Resurgence Trust and all our wonderful writers, long established or new to the magazine, upon whom I depend every single day. The show must go on! 

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