IN THE EDITORIAL of the first issue of Orion, published in the summer of 1982, then editor-in-chief George Russell wondered about the wisdom of launching yet another nature magazine. There were enough nature magazines, he remarked, that it was worth asking why another was needed. But a letter from the remarkable biologist and humanist René Dubos provided the rationale that he and the other original staff were seeking: while many environmental magazines addressed environmental issues, Dubos wrote, none dealt with the creation of “a broad philosophy of nature.”
Thirty years later, Orion has been through three cover-to-cover redesigns, changed its frequency of publication from quarterly to bimonthly, and spawned digital iterations of itself that could scarcely have been imagined three decades ago. Various staff members have come and gone, and the magazine moved its headquarters from Manhattan to rural Massachusetts. But as much as in its beginning, Orion still strives for a broad philosophy of nature rooted in a deep attentiveness to the world that makes a new relationship between people and nature possible, and that brings responsible inhabitation of the planet within reach. It would not be wrong to say that every word that has appeared in the magazine — about 5 million — has sought to articulate Dubos’s “broad philosophy” and to reconnect humans with the earth.
A glance at the earliest issues of Orion gives the impression of an era that was simpler and less dire than the one we live in now. There were more articles about wilderness and the lives of animals and fewer about polarized politics and corporate greed. There were more stories about conservation and none about climate change. The world is a different place now than it was then, and it is sometimes harder to maintain a focus on broad thinking when specific, concrete solutions to environmental problems are so urgently needed. But a philosophy of how to live — a view of the world grounded in ethics, justice, and compassion — was and still is what’s needed more than any other single thing. New technological and political solutions are essential, but to succeed as a species, humans will need a kind of imagination that goes beyond technology and politics. For example, our failure to implement the widespread use of alternative fuels — of which there are and have always been many — is less a problem of technological or political imagination than it is a problem of moral imagination. Because when our philosophy of how to live helps us imagine a future worth having, we find the personal and cultural resolve to do what we know is morally correct. It is this notion that inspired Orion’s founders, and that has influenced every issue since.
In considering the next thirty years, and trying to envision a compelling and enduring future, Orion asked thirty writers, educators, activists, and scientists to describe some of the other qualities that will be needed if humanity is to discover a more peaceful and redemptive way of living. You’ll find five of these essays in this issue, and all thirty are collected in Thirty-Year Plan, a new book published by Orion on its thirtieth anniversary. (See the back cover of this issue for more information about the book.)
Ultimately, our quest for a broad philosophy is embodied less in the magazine and more in the community of readers, writers, and visual artists that has come to surround Orion — people who are passionately, thoughtfully, and uncompromisingly working toward cultural change in service of a vibrant future. We’ve been honored to have had you with us over these past thirty years, and we look forward to the next thirty.