This question kicked off a meditation on what “environmentalism” currently means, how its definition has shifted in recent years, and where Chronogram stands in relation to it.
Time was, when you spoke about environmentalism, the issues were fairly broad—protection of endangered species, land conservation, alternative energy, waterway remediation—but the campaigns associated with the “environmental movement” were specific: save the whales, no power plant on Storm King, clean up the Hudson.
(The semi-pejorative “environmental movement” classification always left the door open for slippage into actual marginalizing monikers like tree hugger, spotted owl coddler, and solar sissy. It had yet to penetrate the corridors of power and the media 25 years ago that the environment was not something that one group sought to build a political base upon, like say, abortion, but rather the very air, soil, and water which supports life itself.)
Today, green is the new black. Chain supermarkets have expanded their organic aisles beyond the tofu/brown rice/carrot juice continuum to a wide variety of organic fare, from food to household cleaners to personal hygiene products. Celebrities like Cameron Diaz and Will Ferrell drive hybrid cars. ExxonMobil touts its eco-friendly bona fides in expensive ads (thank you, petrodollars) on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Even the coal industry is getting in on the act, claiming that a new process, turning coal into a liquid fuel, will not only solve our dependence on foreign oil, but also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our cars. (All we have to do is trap the massive amounts of carbon dioxide emitted by burning the coal at 1,000 degrees during the conversion process underground. Suffice to say, whether underground CO2 sequestration will work is unclear.)
Environmentalism is no longer solely equated with tempeh-eating capitalist renunciators who’ve gone back to the land. It’s also about handbags, and tourism, and radiant floor heating. It’s now part of lifestyle packaging, and goes something like this: If you like the serenity of yoga, then you’ll love the less ecosystem-destructive feeling of driving a Toyota Prius to buy grass-fed beef on your way home from the acupuncturist. Marketers have developed a term that defines this demographic of consumers: LOHAS. It’s an acronym for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, a market focused on sustainable living, personal development, health and fitness, the environment, and social justice. And a powerful one at that—according to the International Journal of Consumer Studies, Lohasians spent an estimated $300 billion in 2006, approximately 30 percent of the total US consumer market. This is serious money; we’re not talking about peddling Birkenstocks to longhairs.
Chronogram was LOHAS before there was LOHAS. Since 1993, when the magazine was launched, we’ve covered issues of social justice, environmentalism, spirituality, and health in just about every edition, along with our robust local cultural reportage. It’s been part of our brand from the very beginning, though it wasn’t called LOHAS then, and what Chronogram is isn’t quite LOHAS now either. It’s a “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” equation. Yes, you’ll find articles on social justice in our pages (“Gifts That Keep Giving,” a guide to philanthropic donations this holiday season, appears on page 86); as well as pieces explicitly about environmental topics like global warming (“The Polar Bears of Dutchess County,” profiling the climate change research of the Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, begins on page 34). But we don’t beat a drum about our coverage of these issues any more than a zebra would call attention to its stripes. It’s in our DNA and makes us what we are, and implicitly informs every story we write.
So when I’m asked a question like: “Why doesn’t Chronogram do more stories about environmental issues?” I realize that we’re not showing our stripes forcefully enough, not communicating the expanse of our vision clearly enough. (And, to take the simple answer, possibly not covering environmental issues as comprehensively as some readers would like.) For starters: Stay tuned next month for an interview with Catherine O’Reilly, a biologist at Bard College who worked on the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore. And, of course, much more.
For the past six years, we’ve been sending out, every Thursday, an e-mail highlighting the most noteworthy events from the coming week. I think of it as a mini, digitized version of Chronogram, containing links to selected articles, as well as listings from our website calendar, updated daily. The 8-Day is not something we publicize much in the magazine, but for its 1,352 subscribers (as of October 23; you could be subscriber 1,353 if you hurry!), it’s a useful snapshot of what’s ahead on the cultural calendar, and what they may have missed in the paper version of this month’s edition, all discretely delivered to their inboxes.
One of the greatest benefits of subscribing to the 8-Day, however, is our weekly ticket giveaway. At the top of each newsletter we include a link to our website, where you can enter to win passes to the best of the area’s cultural offerings. Recent giveaways have included the Global Drum Project (featuring Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead), Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster, Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. If you sign up by November 7, you’ll be eligible to win tickets to an evening with Graham Parker at Muddy Cup in Kingston on Friday, November 9.
To sign up for a subscription to the 8-Day Week (it’s free!), visit www.chronogram.com and click on the Subscribe button in the lower right-hand column.