The 1960s and 70s were milestone decades for environmental activity; they marked an era when the concept of ecology hit the radar of general public awareness for the first time. They also marked the birth of organizations like Pollution Probe, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, Environment Canada – and our own Alternatives Journal.
It was during this verdant time that Robert Paehlke (then in his first year of teaching at Trent University) met Jim White (a Trent student who was active in Pollution Probe Peterborough). The two concocted the idea of a journal/magazine hybrid that would transform scholarly research into ideas for tangible community action. In 1971, Paehlke established Alternatives Incorporated, a registered charity, with the sole purpose of publishing Alternatives Journal.
The diverse challenges arising from humanity’s complex relationship with nature require diverse responses. This fact formed the genesis of the Alternatives vision: a forum in which intellectuals and activists from separate fields could exchange ideas with one another, and bring their stories and research to a general audience. The first volume combined the expertise of political scientists, historians, anthropologists, lawyers, economists, psychologists, philosophers, biochemists, zoologists and activists. As global environmental concerns evolved, the range of professionals contributing to the magazine expanded.
For thirteen years, Alternatives Journal was run on a shoestring budget by faculty and students at Trent University as a volunteer, cut-and-paste operation – initially handing out freebies in obliging bookstores in the hope of generating interest. Even with such a modest beginning, Alternatives was soon publishing noted scholars and activists from Canada and the United States: Walter Pittman, Peter Adams, Peter Victor, Michael Kraft, Amory Lovins, Barry Commoner, David Estrin, Elizabeth May and Naomi Klein.
In 1983, Alternatives Journal introduced formal refereeing. This review process ensures accuracy and credibility of information, making Alternatives Journal a coveted publishing venue for academics, and a quotable journal source for university students. In 1984, the journal moved to the University of Waterloo, switching editorial supervision over to Robert Gibson. In 1995, it became the official journal of the Environmental Studies Association of Canada. In 2015, Alternatives Journal became a proud founding member of the Canadian College & University Environment Network.
Though Alternatives Journal has undergone many changes and has grown significantly since its founding, it stays true to its original objective – to disseminate accurate, well-researched information with the intention of inspiring and empowering positive action. Alternatives Journal continues to provide reliable insight on contemporary environmental discourse, and it remains a vital part of the environmental community, forging new bonds between scholars, activists and professionals.