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Peer-reviewed journal about the environment leaves room for lightness

By Jasmine Budak

Edited by Nicola Ross
(Published by Alternatives Inc.) $6.95

Alternatives bills itself as a hybrid publication. Part academic journal, part consumer magazine, it features the latest scholarly take on environmental issues presented in the accessible, entertaining format of a glossy. Since 1971, when Alternatives debuted out of Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., its raison d’être has remained as simple as it was innovative: stir the public into action by well-informed, forward-thinking research. And the formula has worked for 40 years.

The magazine, published six times a year, was born at a time when the eco-movement was gaining ground in the mainstream. Organizations such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund were just launching. Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book Silent Spring was awakening the public to a looming environmental health crisis. At that time, Alternatives’ earliest issues were assembled by a professor and student — an operation that ran on volunteer sweat and featured some of today’s most influential eco-thinkers, including Naomi Klein and Elizabeth May. (In 1984, its editorial office moved to the University of Waterloo, and it continues to operate from the southern Ontario campus.)

The journal’s tagline is “environmental ideas + action,” and each issue is loosely centred on a general theme, which ranges from tangible subjects (work, education and books) to philosophical concepts or academic theories (“outer limits” and “building resilience”). Alternatives covers what you’d expect in an eco-mag — climate change, sustainable food production, water and waste. But its content also veers into the science of Kenyan rainmakers, the search for habitable planets, health care and social income, wealth and happiness, as well as interviews with today’s top environmentalists, including Indian philosopher and activist Vandana Shiva.

Though it is a thoroughly researched, peer-reviewed journal, Alternatives also leaves room for lightness. Every few issues you’ll find an eco-themed comic series or crossword puzzle. And despite the magazine’s coverage of sombre and sobering subjects, it speaks with a voice that is ideal for the eco-movement: deeply knowledgeable, lightly humorous, open-minded, non-judgmental and accessible to the masses.

Jasmine Budak is a freelance writer in Toronto.

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