The Satya Interview with Jim
is the editor of the award-winning Connecticut-based E Magazine, a national
environmental bi-monthly. Motavalli also writes columns and articles
for numerous other magazines and newspapers, including the New York
Times. His writing on population issues won a 1999 Global Media Award
from the Population Institute. He is the author of Forward Drive: The
Race to Build Clean Cars for the Future (2000) and Breaking
Gridlock: Toward Transportation that Works (2001), both published by
Sierra Club Books. Motavalli hosts a public affairs and music radio
show on listener-supported WPKN-FM in Connecticut. He teaches journalism
at Fairfield University. Angela
Starks asked him about E Magazine
and the connections that he sees between different activist movements.
How did E Magazine come into existence?
It was founded in 1990 by Doug Moss, the publisher, and by his wife
Debra Kamlani. Doug was also involved in the start-up of The
Agenda magazine and I was the editor so we both have a background in
What are the guiding principals and
themes of E Magazine?
Its a broad digest of environmental news; a newsstand publication
aimed at the general reader. The basic idea is to take what are somewhat
esoteric environmental topics and make them palatable and understandable.
We dont use a lot of scientific jargon. We use a lot of interviews,
colorful descriptions, and photographs.
So its mostly environmental issues
that you cover?
Its all environmental issues. But Id say we take a broader
approach to that than some other publications. We tend to think that
some animal rights issues have a place.
Do you see a link between animals and
I think there isor should bea natural affinity between environmentalists
and animal rights people, but traditionally the two groups are very
far apart and even antagonistic to each other. I think thats unfortunate
because they have so much in common, but they see the world very differently
and that gap is very hard to bridge.
Can you give an example of how they
see the world so differently?
Animal rights people are emotionally driven, so they care about the
individual animal and its suffering. Environmentalists look at it in
the broader context, they care about the survival of a species as a
whole. A lot of the real emotional issues for animal rights people are
about animal species that are not in any way endangered; like deer,
for instance. Hunting as an issue doesnt have much resonance with
environmentalists; deer tend to be overpopulated in many suburban areas
anyway, and because only five percent of Americans hunt, the deer population
isnt significantly endangered. Factory farming is another example;
I think environmentalists tend to see the issue in terms of the waste
created by big factory farms. So the cruelty of packing those animals
into slaughterhousesand those kinds of thingsis not as much
of an issue for them. Also none of those species are naturally-occurring
and, again, thats what environmentalists tend to care about. These
species have been specially bred and wouldnt even exist if they
werent being raised for food.
Do you see any places where there is
a connection or a sense of understanding?
Yes, for instance the waste issue. In the upcoming January issue of
E Magazine, I make the case that environmentalists really should
be vegetarians and I come up with four main reasons why. Theres
world hunger, because it takes almost five pounds of grain to produce
a pound of beef. Thats a total waste of resources and is something
that environmentalists should be able to understand. Then there are
the environmental costs of grazing, including the destruction of rainforests
to create land for grazing. Thirdly, theres all the energy used
by factory farms. And finally theres the waste, because they generate
more than a billion tons of animal waste a year and its very polluting
So you would see meat-eating as one
of the biggest causes of environmental degradation?
Its huge. I think the waste problem is up there with the radioactive
waste problem. Its a huge disposal issue. How can we do it safely?
For instance, environmentalists made a lot of noiseand rightly
soabout the Exxon Valdez oil spill that dumped 12 million gallons
of oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska. But in 1995 there was a
hog waste spill of 25 million gallons that did more damage. It killed
more than 10 million fish, but there was no uproar about it.
As an example of how social justice and environmentalism can clash:
In the November/December issue of E Magazine, you wrote a feature
on the effects of population growth on Californias environment
and referred to the impact of immigration, but some people say that
it is racist to blame immigration.
I dont think its racist to just point out whats an
obvious truth, which is that almost all of the population growth in
California is attributable to immigration. I think many groups, for
political reasons, are ignoring this but its simply a reality.
I just wanted to take this out from under the covers where it seems
to be hidden. The evidence is pretty clear that Californias population
would not be growing if the state did not have such high levels of immigration.
Were not saying anything negative about the immigrants themselves.
Its just a numbers thing. It has nothing to do with where they
Then theres the case of the logging
industry where some people say we have to let it continue in certain
areas because otherwise much-needed jobs would be lost, but environmentalists
say we need to save trees, not jobs. What are your thoughts on that?
In many of those areas, the logging jobs constitute only a very small
part of the economy. Ive seen some pretty convincing figures about
that. The logging industry has been shrinking for some time. And many
of these areas have really shifted to a service-based economy and the
extraction industries are only a very small part of it. Thats
not to minimize the loss of jobs, but I dont think that loss is
necessarily as devastating to the economy as it once was. The logging
industry tends to make it look like these towns become ghost towns when
the logging firms disappear, but theyre not big employers anymore.
How relevant are the themes of E Magazine
in the wake of September 11 and in the context of the current war on
If you look in our latest issue theres something called Lessons
from the World Trade Center. In the millions of words that have
been written about this, one of the things that isnt getting a
lot of attention is the need for energy independence. Right now, the
U.S. has five percent of the worlds oil but we consume 25 to 30
percent of it, and 65 percent of the worlds oil is in the Middle
East. I think we import something like a million barrels of oil a day
from Iraq alone. The reason we went to war against Iraq is because they
threatened a major oil partnerKuwait. And I think our defense
of Saudi Arabia is also based on their tremendous oil reserves; they
have something like 30 percent of all the worlds oil. Since that
part of the world is so dangerously unstable right now, I think its
rather ironic to see all the American flags flying from the bumpers
of huge SUVs because this is part of the problem. I am a huge believer
in alternative energy sources, hydrogen fuel cells in particular. [See
Interview with Seth Dunn, p. 26] Through conservation and new technology,
we can hugely reduce the amount of oil we use.
How do magazines such as ours move
on to other themes after such a huge tragedy?
Well I think we can try to put the tragedy in context. I dont
think any of the environmental issues are going away and if we dont
pay attention to them theyre only going to get aggravated. A primary
example of that is global warming. Even if no one is paying attention
to it, were still pumping record amounts of carbon dioxide into
the atmosphere. So the problem is getting worse rather than better.
I do see the 21st century as one being dominated by environmental issues
because I think so many of them are coming to a head. From our current
perspective, I think its hard to see environmental issues back
in the center of the table but I think it will happen.
After reading E Magazine, in
what general ways do you hope readers will be inspired or educated?
I think they will learn a lot about the facts behind environmental issues,
and theyll get both sides. And theyll get contacts at the
end of our stories, so if they want to become involved on either side,
they can do that. We think of it as empowering readers to both know
more about subjects and to get involved in them if they want to. I try
very hard to balance the stories so theyre not one-sided activist-oriented
Anything else youd like to add,
especially in regard to connections between the different movements?
Well I think a lot of different movements come together in the environmental
movement. Theres been increasing recognition of environmental
racism. And obviously globalization is also an environmental issue.
I found it interesting: I recently attended the Animal Rights 2001 conference
and there were a lot of people there who were also globalization protestors
and environmentalists. Also, feminists were objecting to the PETA campaigns
(like Id Rather go Naked than Wear Fur) because they
thought they were sexist. So it showed that they were applying lessons
from other movements to the environmental and animal rights movements
which I think is a good idea. There was also evidence that a younger
generation of people is getting involved in animal rights, which I dont
think has always been true.
To learn more about E Magazine or to order a subscription ($20), see
www.emagazine.com or call (815)