AS ORION ENTERS its thirtieth anniversary year, it seems noteworthy that Tim DeChristopher (interviewed on page 41 of the print edition, and here on the website) is also thirty. Tim, a climate activist who is currently serving a two-year prison sentence for falsely trying to outbid oil and gas companies at an auction of leases on public lands, was born at the same time that Orion’s first editors were planning the inaugural issue of the magazine in their little office in New York City.
In at least one sense, Tim’s life reflects the way the movement for nature has changed in the time since Orion was founded. The degree and kinds of danger humans face, and the level of urgency felt around that danger, is fundamentally different for Tim and his generation than that experienced by Orion’s first readers. Tim’s generation has only known presidential administrations that were satisfied to pretend that urgent action to protect our future was not necessary. They have grown up in a world in which big business not only tolerates greed, but is defined by it. As adults, they have never known airports that are not full of security systems and suspicion. They did not experience the optimism of the 1950s, they are too separated from the 1960s to be buoyed by the spirit of activism that was unfolding then, and they did not experience the vibrant and powerful environmental movement of the 1970s. Born in the 1980s, theirs is a generation that learned early on that it is fruitless to look to the people in power to create the change the world needs. And they are right. As Terry Tempest Williams writes in her introduction to her conversation with Tim, “we can no longer look for leadership outside ourselves.”
Terry wrote those words in reference to a thirty-year-old, but her tenet is not so different from the one that Orion and its contributors began with thirty years ago: that real action starts with the individual and an individual’s convictions; that cultural transformation cannot happen without personal transformation. However, those writers and artists also believed, or at least hoped, that justice would emanate as much from the top as from the bottom—and especially from political and economic systems. It goes without saying that it has not exactly played out that way. Government has failed to take any meaningful stand, and while many individual businesses have striven for economic and environmental responsibility, the corporate community as a whole has failed to emerge as an agent for positive change.
What Orion and its early contributors did not fully understand, it seems now, was how little we would be able to count on government and economics, and how true would be the conviction that personal action is the way change happens. As evidence, we would cite Occupy Wall Street, the challenge to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, and the anti-hydrofracking movement as examples of recent efforts that show that the real thinking about our future is being spearheaded by individuals who, like Tim DeChristopher, will not stand by and watch our future be senselessly destroyed.
In this issue, Tim describes being transformed by the experience of standing up for his beliefs. “I thought I was sacrificing my freedom,” he says, “but instead I was grabbing onto my freedom and refusing to let go of it for the first time.” If you feel the urgency for change that Tim does, allow yourself to be transformed. If you want to be transformed, then look to nature, to the power of creativity, and to the people around you, because it is here that you will find what you need. Nature, creativity, community—these are the values for which Orion has stood for the last thirty years. We are honored to be here with you for the next thirty.