Hazel Henderson, environmental activist and futurist writer, dies aged 89

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Coming home from the park in the mid-1960s, Hazel Henderson would take a shower to wash the soot off her young daughter. Ash will fall from the New York City sky as incinerators burn trash, and the horizon will disappear behind a yellowish haze. Some days the air was so dirty it was hard to breathe, and for a while there was only soot and smog that Ms. Henderson.

“You know, honey, you’re going crazy about this pollution,” she later recalled her husband’s words. “Now, why don’t you go and talk to the mayor and leave me alone.”

Henderson, a British-born housewife who grew up hearing stories about the toxic “London fog,” following her advice, wrote to Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. — as well as to local TV and radio stations — at the launch of a successful campaign to get air pollution readings published on the evening news.

Supported by other mothers he met while distributing flyers during park walks, he won new restrictions on air pollution, especially after smog blanketed the city over Thanksgiving weekend in 1966.

“We got what we wanted,” he later told the Australian Financial Review, “but not before the New York business community branded us communists. It was my first lesson in how deeply rooted forces resist change.”

Ms. Henderson has continued to spend decades campaigning for social change, moving from air pollution to broader issues of environmental justice, gender equality and economic development. A self-described “futurist, self-employed” self-described, he wrote nine books, published syndicated newspaper columns and lectured around the world, influencing political activists such as Ralph Nader, who cited his work while running for president in 2000 as a Green candidate. party.

He was 89 years old when he died – or “became virtual,” as he called it – on May 22. His death was announced in a statement by Ethical Markets, the media company he founded to promote the “evolution of capitalism.” The statement did not say where or how he died, but that he had colon cancer, according to Nader, who interviewed Henderson earlier this month for his weekly radio show.

A passionate writer and environmental activist, Ms. Henderson never graduated from college and mostly worked outside established institutions. “I always knew I couldn’t work,” he once told St. Petersburg Times. “I would be fired from any job for insubordination.”

But he built a long career as a gadfly thinker, known for arguing that economic growth must be balanced with environmental protection and for championing the adage “think globally, act locally.” The Christian Science Monitor once described him as “a great builder of new ways of thinking, one who would not be offended by critics calling him a crank.”

Through Citizens for Clean Air, the environmental group he helped organize in New York in 1964, he lobbied for new local, state and federal pollution laws, targeting pollution caused by cars — “Internal combustion engines should be in museums, he states — as well as power plants and waste incinerators. The group grew to more than 20,000 members, about 75 percent of whom were women, according to historian Adam Roma’s book “The Genius of Earth Day.”

“Politicians say there will be no interest!” Henderson told the Sydney Morning Herald, recalling one of his early campaigns for new pollution regulations. “The mothers and prams went to City Hall, and not a single council member dared to oppose it. It was very gentle, and very politically persuasive.”

As part of her fight against air pollution, Ms. Henderson taught himself economics, better off arguing with business executives and academics who insist that dirty air is just the cost of doing business. He has become a fierce critic of economic orthodoxy, equating the field with a form of “brain damage,” and condemning the use of metrics such as gross national product (GNP) as a yardstick of national success.

In place of GNP he suggests his own report card for the country’s economy, factors in literacy rate, life expectancy, child development and other metrics.

Henderson shared his views with Senator Robert F. Kennedy (DN.Y.) in 1967, after arranging a helicopter trip around New York “to show him,” he later said, “all the sources of air pollution and why our group proposes correcting the GNP.” our nation.” The trip seemed to make an impression: While running for president next year, Kennedy gave a speech lamenting that the nation “seems to have given up personal excellence and community values ​​only in the accumulation of material things.”

GNP, Kennedy added, “does not measure our intelligence or courage, wisdom or learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except what makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

Ms. Henderson later published books including “The Politics of the Solar Age” (1981), in which he set about “repealing the economic priesthood,” arguing that “three hundred years of snake oil” had resulted in high inflation and unemployment, as well as natural resources are depleted and the planet is on the verge of an ecological disaster.

“One might even say that the generous ‘invisible hand’ imagined by Adam Smith has become the clumsy, inattentive ‘invisible foot’ that tramples on social, human and environmental values,” he wrote, advocating for a new economic system driven by renewable energy sources.

“Henderson writes in a lively, well-informed, deliberately outrageous style about the things that matter to us all,” wrote New York Times reviewer Langdon Winner. “In his best moments, he appeared to be the capable successor of the late EF Schumacher,” the German-British economist who believed that “small is beautiful.” “Those who are tired of the flimsy liberal economy and rejected by today’s conservative nostrum will find plenty to ponder here,” Winner added.

Some academics are more critical of her work, not that Ms. Henderson cares.

“My analysis was denounced by economists as misguided and absurd,” he wrote in his follow-up book, “Building a Win-Win World” (1996). “I learned to interpret this as evidence that I hit the house.”

Generally speaking, she was born Hazel Mustard in Bristol, England, on March 27, 1933. (Some sources say she was born in the nearby town of Clevedon.) Her father was an entrepreneur, and she describes her mother as a proto-environmentalist who grew her own fruit and vegetables, raise their own chickens and buy fish from the local pier.

After graduating from high school, Ms. Henderson worked as a switchboard operator, sales clerk, and hotel clerk. She married Carter Henderson, a former London correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, in 1957, around the time she moved to New York. Their marriage ended in divorce.

Ms. Henderson writes for publications ranging from the Harvard Business Review to The Nation, and is a fellow or board member at think tanks including the World Business Academy, the Worldwatch Institute, and the Council on Economic Priorities. In the late 1970s, he became an adviser to the US Office of Technology Assessment and served on panels of the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Engineering.

When support for green energy waned during the Reagan administration, Ms. Henderson is involved in what he calls the “socially responsible investment movement”, serving on the advisory board of the Calvert Social Investment Fund. “It was like crossing the Rubicon for me, deciding to be a part of capitalism,” he said.

Supported by her second husband, Alan Kay, she founded Ethical Markets Media in 2004. Her husband, founder of the Wall Street electronic trading platform AutEx, died in 2016. Survivors include a daughter from her first marriage, Alexandra Leslie Camille Henderson; and a grandson.

“Never doubt for a moment that a small group of dedicated citizens can change the world,” said Ms. Henderson, citing his friend Margaret Mead, an anthropologist. “Indeed, it’s the only thing ever.”

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