Often, in the editorial of a magazine’s anniversary issue, the editors feel compelled to make breezy statements about how the magazine has changed since it was founded, or how it has stayed the same, or how the world has changed, or stayed the same. They strive to tie a tidy bow on the past and point the way clearly toward the future.
But for a magazine about the relationship between people and the natural world, there are no tidy bows, and the path forward isn’t at all certain. One thing that can be said with certainty is that at the time Orion was founded, thirty-five years ago, the environmental predicament that humanity faced was simpler, or at least seemed simpler. In those days, many people believed that damaged natural systems would be repaired, wildlands reclaimed, biological diversity retrieved, and that an equilibrium that had once existed between humans and nature would be restored. I did, and many people like me did.
Thirty-five years later, it’s hard to believe that a harmony between people and nature—whether that harmony was history, possibility, or fantasy—is going to be easily established (or reestablished). In fact, it’s much easier to believe that a peaceful equilibrium between people and nature is not part of the foreseeable future. That sounds terribly gloomy; not everything has gotten worse. More diverse communities are included in the conversation about the environment than was the case thirty-five years ago, which is likely the most hopeful change within the environmental movement, although there is still a long way to go before the movement can lay claim to true inclusivity. But under the present circumstances—whether it be the hardened scientific evidence of climate change or the fact that America is living under the most anti-environmental presidency in history—too much optimism would be not just foolish, but dangerously misleading.
How many times has it been declared that humanity and nature are at a crossroads, or something along those lines? Given what has transpired (or perhaps what has not transpired) in the last thirty-five years, the Anthropocene is going to be defined by the occurrence of one crossroads after another after another. It’s a permanent condition now. In spite of all the progress—all the science and policy advancements, all the activism and the advent of sustainability, the greater diversity of voices and ideas, and all the words that have been written about the environment (including many hundreds of thousands in this magazine)—it has not been enough. What that means is that we will have to turn toward a future we can’t predict and may not understand over and over and over again, in light of new information, new circumstances, and new demands.
This special thirty-fifth anniversary issue of Orion seeks to illustrate the paths along which some people were traveling when they reached an internal turning point—a turning point at which they discovered they could no longer approach the world with the same understanding they had relied on, or could no longer lead the same lives they had been living. In the Anthropocene, we are all on paths that will include that moment, and many recurrences of that moment.
So now the question becomes, how do we get good at turning toward the future, no matter how uncertain it may be, and find the courage and resilience we will need to make good decisions at those moments? And it’s not just that. A safe, just, and abundant future will depend on billions of us reaching turning points at which we reconsider what we want the world to become. So how do we support one another’s turning points? How do we sustain ourselves, and each other? How do we love each other, even—or especially—those with whom we don’t agree, through the revolutions ahead?