Doug Moss, the founder of E Magazine and EarthTalk, answers our questions about his history as a leading publisher in the environmental movement and his present involvement as a crusader for gun control…
When did you launch E/The Environmental Magazine and how did the idea for it come about?
I launched E with a January/February 1990 cover date in December of 1989. In 1988, my wife and I were working at an animal protection magazine that I also co-founded called The Animals’ Agenda and were looking to move on. We had been noticing in our daily reading of The New York Times at our morning breakfast stop a number of environmentally-related articles, specifically about medical waste washing up on New Jersey shores, fires raging in Yellowstone Park and hot weather patterns that at the time had become known as “The Greenhouse Summer of 1988.” That term would, of course, morph into Global Warming and Climate Change and eventually become the most urgent environmental issue of our time.
The timing worked out well, as the Exxon Valdez oil spill had just occurred in 1989, so environmental issues were starting to occupy peoples’ minds more than ever before.
There were no other independent green magazines at the time, but instead a number of what we called the “house organs” of major environment groups such as the Sierra Club, National Audubon, Greenpeace and others. With E, we sought not to compete with those but instead envisioned a magazine independent of any one organization’s agenda, a “Time/Newsweek” of the field, so to speak, that would report on the issues, goals, triumphs and setbacks of the burgeoning movement as a whole. We also wanted the magazine to help define “environmentalism” in its many manifestation for the larger public and so we created columns focusing specifically on health, food, fashion, travel, finance, consumer products, house & home and others. What is now the nationally-syndicated “EarthTalk” column got its start in E as well, initially called “Ask E.” And, of course, we covered all the key and emerging environmental issues, and with private foundation support syndicated quite a bit of the work to other media for reprinting.
Which coverage or what work in general are you most proud of from those days when E was in print?
I believe we were one of the first publications to cover climate change and to popularize the term “Green Living,” two issues for which we eventually authored books. “Feeling the Heat,” edited by Jim Motavalli, E’s editor at the time, was an expansion on articles that first appeared in E itself, looked at on-the-ground evidence of climate change’s impacts. It consisted of chapter-length reports of visits by our writers to actual world “hot spots,” where people were already coping day-to-day with the consequences of climactic disruption. The locations for the book were strategically chosen because each represented a separate and important global warming impact, such as rising tides, melting glaciers, evolving ecosystems and air pollution. As Motavalli wrote in the book’s intro, “’Feeling the Heat’ took global warming out of the realm of armchair speculation and arcane scientific debate, revealing the process of climate change to be ongoing, serious and immediate.”
We later authored “Green Living,” which may have been the first book with that term in the title (many others surfaced afterwards), a compendium of articles addressing numerous topics that the magazine covered. The book provided thorough, step-by-step plans for making every aspect of your life earth-friendly, from the laundry room to the kitchen, topics like maintaining a healthy home; going organic and avoiding genetically modified food; finding a planet-friendly car; making socially responsible investments; using personal-care products free of damaging chemicals and more. Despite its “lifestyle” approach, the book did not skimp on providing the overarching rationale for living more sustainably.
We also simply covered many topics that were rarely covered in mainstream media (but which now are), such as biotechnology and nanotechnology, our rampant consumerism, the early days of electric cars, toxins and health, the animal rights question from an environmental perspective, the environmental impacts of meat-eating, ocean pollution and acidification, environmental racism and environmental justice, over-population impacts, religious views on the environment, bottled water waste, emerging green energy options, green building, green jobs—and even zoonotic diseases (those that now transmit in increasing numbers from animals to humans), which has much to do with what we have been facing in recent years with mad cow diseases, swine flu, bird flu and COVID-19.
And what about EarthTalk? What’s the backstory there?
“EarthTalk,” as noted, began as a column in E called “Ask E,” fielding questions from readers. With the magazine being only bi-monthly, however, we were unable to keep up with all the questions that would come our way. So we found a syndicator, United Features (since absorbed by Andrews McMeel Syndication), which at the time syndicated mostly comic strips like Peanuts and Marmaduke. We worked a deal with them to answer two questions per week (instead of the three we would answer only every two months), and the syndicate managed to sign up 21 major dailies to run the column, which they re-named “Green Living.” After a year or so, the number of papers dropped off due to the faltering economy under George Bush I, so we opted out of that deal and decided to self-syndicate. We were flabbergasted that we signed up hundreds of outlets after just one mailing and a few emails and eventually ratcheted up the participating newspapers, magazine (and later websites and blogs) count to nearly 1,700. We later also created a book out of “EarthTalk” as we had with E content, entitled “EarthTalk: Expert Answers to Everyday Questions About the Environment.”
Beyond publishing E and EarthTalk, have you gotten involved personally as an activist in any environmental issues over the years?
Well, given that I always volunteered my time to E and “EarthTalk,” I have had to also earn a living, which I do as a printing broker, so my environmental activism has been almost wholly in editing, publishing and fundraising for the magazine and the column.
What lifestyle choices have you made over the years to benefit the planet?
I’ve been a vegetarian since 1978, I don’t fly in airplanes (admittedly partly because I’m afraid of flying, though planes are no friend to the environment, at least not until they address their energy sources), and I drive a Prius Prime hybrid electric. Before buying that in 2021, I drove a 2004 Prius (a hybrid but not plug-in) that I kept going for 17 years. I’m also a stickler for recycling and reuse in my household and am somewhat of a minimalist overall in terms of what I buy (and don’t buy).
What keeps you busy these days?
Environmentally I have stayed involved with “EarthTalk” in editorial, fundraising and marketing roles, and I continue to work my print business.
I am also a musician, however, having penned a few dozen melodies over the years on either guitar or piano. I made my first foray into writing lyrics for one of my tunes recently and then going the whole nine yards with producing and releasing a song. It’s about the gun violence epidemic in this country and is entitled “Hard-Hearted People,” which is basically my take on the politicians and other influencers who offer their “thoughts and prayers” but either inaction or outright obstruction on gun control in the wake of these mass-shootings that have become rampant in the U.S.
I don’t perform on the song. I just wrote the words and music and worked with the engineer to supervise its production.
I knew one of the Sandy Hook victims, a 6-year old boy named Noah and am friends with his mother.
Though it was not planned as such, the song debuts just as a $73 million settlement against Remington—the maker of the AR-15-style rifle used in the December 2012 Sandy Hook, Connecticut massacre—has been awarded to families of victims of the shooting that killed 20 first graders and six educators.
That February 2022 settlement followed closely a November 2021 ruling that found conspiracy theorist Alex Jones liable for damages in defamation lawsuits brought by families of Sandy Hook victims. Jones had claimed the massacre to be a hoax, that Sandy Hook families were “crisis actors” in a government conspiracy to stage fake shootings to increase gun control. Lawsuits filed against Jones in 2018 indicated how Sandy Hook families were targets of harassment and death threats from Jones’s followers as a result of his claims. “Hard-Hearted People” mentions this turn of events and decries how “weapons of war,” like those used by many mass-shooters, have no place in the hands of everyday citizens.
Why a song about gun violence from an environmental publisher? All the years we’ve covered the environment we’ve argued how the issues are about public health and creating a safe environment. We certainly don’t have this when there are bullets flying everywhere in hundreds of mass-shootings each year. I see this as an environmental and public health issue right up there along with others, given its toll on human life.
I also feel that the “hard-hearted” terminology doesn’t only apply to gun apologists but appears to be another kind of pandemic coursing through humanity at this time, the behavior of lawmakers trying to suppress votes, the resurgence of white supremacy, abortion bans, hatred of immigrants, and now the actions of Vladimir Putin and other dictators and dictator wannabes like our immediate past president.
Find the song video, a lyric video or just the song file at this link: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL48mdXrwomnFglNaeH4vJeaqJTNfwoiLn.