Michael Tobias

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For the luthier, see Michael Tobias Design.
Michael Charles Tobias
Born (1951-06-27) June 27, 1951 (age 64)
Nationality American
Occupation author, global ecologist, anthropologist, historian of ideas, mountaineer, filmmaker,

Michael Charles Tobias (born June 27, 1951) is an American author, ecologist, mountaineer, and filmmaker. His concerns include "the anthropology of conscience", which emphasizes humanity's capacity for non-violence, compassion, and tolerance.[1][2]

Tobias is an advocate for animal rights;[3] In 2004 Tobias was honored with the Parabola Magazine Focus Award for his body of work in defense of the Earth.[4] Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder and President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, described Tobias as "one of the world’s great souls."[5]

Tobias is known for his novel, and 1991 ten-hour dramatic television series, Voice of the Planet for Turner Broadcasting starring William Shatner, as well as his best-selling [6] book World War III: Population and the Biosphere at the End of the Millennium. Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, first wife of the 4th King of Bhutan, described Tobias' efforts as being "invaluable for policymakers and scientists...(and) inspiration for the next generation of young ecologists wanting to make a difference in the world."[7]

Early studies

Tobias received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1977 in the History of Consciousness.

The Himalayas, and mountains in general, are an important influence on his work. He was the first review editor for the journal Mountain Research and Development, and some of his early climbing fiction and non-fiction appeared in such journals as Climbing, The Mountain Gazette, and Mountain Magazine, most notably an early essay entitled "The Anthropology of Ascent." He made hundreds of mountaineering ascents, including many first ascents.[8] Among his climbs was the first known solo ascent of the sheer wall on Mount Sinai.[9] In 1973, he lived in a cave above the Saint Catherine's Monastery in Egypt while attending the University of Tel Aviv and writing one of his earliest books, Dhaulagirideon; his research in Sinai was the subject of an essay in Mountain Magazine entitled "Pondering the Imponderable." [10] In 1984, he wrote, produced, and directed a mountaineering film, Cloudwalker for the UK's Channel 4. It chronicled a failed attempt at a first ascent on a 7,000 foot wall of ice on the Moose's Tooth in the Ruth Gorge Amphitheatre of Alaska's McKinley range. Much of this early mountaineering appeared in many of his books, including the early metaphysical epic, Tsa, and a novel set in Ladakh (where he had spent nearly a year while working on his Ph.D.) titled Deva, with a Preface by Kimon Friar. Tobias edited an anthology, The Mountain Spirit, as well as the anthologized work, Mountain People.[11]

Population and environment – World War III

Tobias has tackled the complex issues concerning human population pressure on the environment.[12] His book World War III: Population and the Biosphere at the End of the Millennium received widespread praise. Psychology Today wrote that it "reads like a volcano erupting...Tobias throws sparks like an evangelist and has the old-fashioned, wide-ranging erudition of a Renaissance scholar."[13] Scientist Marc Lappé described World War III as "a lengthy and complex treatise that is a distillation of a lifetime of thought and action concerning the human condition.... It provides a thread of hope, offering a new vision about how humankind may ultimately come to peace with nature." [14] Writing of Tobias' World War III in 1998, Jane Goodall said, "Tobias describes for us a path that we could take – a path mapped out by a combination of scientific, logical, intuitive, and spiritual reasoning – towards a future where all is not, after all, lost."[15] In 1994, during the UN International Conference on Population and Development, the Montreal Gazette quoted Tobias, "For purposes of absolute clarity I call it World War III," or, as the Gazette extrapolated from Tobias' perspective, "the most terrifying problem humanity has ever faced."[16] In her foreword to World War III, Jane Goodall said of Tobias that he has provided "ample scientific proof of the large-scale habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity that has and continues to take place."[17]

Tobias' feature-film documentary No Vacancy, based on his book, addresses the issue of population and the environment. Journalist Ellen Snortland, writing in the Pasadena Weekly, stated that "No Vacancy, written and directed by Michael Tobias, is to the world's population explosion what Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' is to global warming."[18][19][20][21]

His PBS film Ahimsa –Nonviolence was shown in the United States on Christmas Day in 1987 and was described by Southeast Asian Religions Professor Chris Chapple as a film “which elegantly portrays several Jain leaders and extols the religion as the great champion of animal rights and nonviolent living.”[22] The film, which took three years of preparations and was filmed in nearly 100 locations across India, was one of the first to explore in depth the Jain religion, [23] as well as portraying the life of Digambara, Shwetambara, and Sthanakavasi mendicants. In an essay on Jain conscience in 1997, Tobias described “the goal of absolute nonviolence” as an ideal that activists worldwide must take seriously, “every waking moment."[24] Elsewhere he has argued that evolution does not condemn us; only our choices can do that, adding, “We have the capacity throughout our lives to give unstinting, unconditional love.”[25]

In examining the Bishnoi, he focused on universal principles of conservation based on long-term ethical convictions. In this case, the Bishnoi of Rajasthan who, during a sustained drought in Western India and Pakistan in 1988, were shown to have saved themselves and their communities and ecosystems through prudent and non-violent ecological behavior, a metaphor for progressive conservation that could be applied throughout Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.[26][27] He pointed out that the entire society of the Todas of the Nilgiris converted to vegetarianism 1,000 years ago. This transformation of an entire community on ethical grounds is one of the “windows” he cites as key to understanding the potential for the human species to engage in non-violence. In his introduction to the book One Earth he wrote, “The human race is rallying. The earth desperately needs the personal help and restraint of each of us.”[28]

The sanctuary movement and international conservation efforts

In a cover story for the New York Academy of Sciences publication The Sciences, and in three films, he called for an Antarctic World Park, in the spirit of similar proposals from Greenpeace and New Zealand.[29] He drew attention to the despoliation occurring in what was considered the last great hope for large-scale habitat preservation. His film Antarctica: The Last Continent (PBS, 1987) encouraged the National Science Foundation to implement best environmental practices at some of its managed bases in Antarctica, including McMurdo Station, which NSF subsequently did. [30] In his Discovery Channel documentary of the Exxon Valdez disaster, Black Tide, he considered the dilemma of safely using oil resources.[31]

He endeavors to explore the concept of sanctuary in his, and co-author Jane Gray Morrison’s work, Sanctuary: Global Oases of Innocence. They track efforts by conservationists and animal rights activists to save habitat and individuals. They focused on Alaska (Wrangell-St. Elias National Park with Park Service and United States Fish and Wildlife Service researchers working to save a rare seabird, the Kittlitz's murrelet), the San Francisco Bay Area (Muir Woods and the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge), Central Park, Gene Baur and team’s Farm Sanctuary in Upstate New York, the Central Suriname Nature Reserve with Dr. Russell Mittermeier, the Iberian Wolf Sanctuary in Portugal, the work of Brigitte Bardot in France, continuing efforts to save Bialowieza National Park in eastern Poland and western Belarus, a European brown bear sanctuary in the Netherlands, Michael Aufhauser’s Gut Aiderbichl sanctuary in Salzburg, Austria, Howard Buffett’s cheetah sanctuary (Jubatus) in South Africa, Marieta Van Der Merhe’s Harnas Wildlife Sanctuary in Namibia, and other sanctuaries on Socotra in Yemen, in the United Arab Emirates at Al Maha, at the Al Areen Sanctuary in Bahrain, in the vegetarian Rajasthani city of Pushkar, and the Nilgiris of India (working with the Todas and Dr. Tarun Chhabra), in Indonesian Borneo with Dr. Birute Galdikas at Tanjung Putting National Park, in Brunei’s Ulu Temburong National Park, at a butterfly sanctuary in Malaysia, at nature reserves throughout Singapore, in Thailand, and the many moss temples of Kyoto’s Greenbelt, Japan, and in eastern-most Bhutan’s newest Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, where he participated in a biodiversity survey across 125 kilometers of little-known Eastern Himalayan high-altitude terrain, under the auspices of Bhutan’s National Biodiversity Centre.

He has been involved in wildlife preservation efforts. In New Zealand, he has overseen ecological restoration of a peninsula in the far South of the country, adjoining Rakiura National Park.[32] He is President of the California animal sanctuary Dancing Star Foundation.[33]

In his most recent documentary, Hotspots (2008), Tobias and Morrison joined forces with President of Conservation International, Dr. Russell Mittermeier, to make a film based upon the book Hotspots Revisited,[34] which focuses upon biodiversity conservation efforts on Easter Island, throughout Madagascar, in the Atlantic Forests of Brazil, in the Tropical Andes, Southern California, and New Zealand.

"The Adventures of Mr Marigold" has been described by critics as "The Best Book of the Year" and "The Most Interesting Book of the Decade". With hundreds of illustrations by the great New Zealand photographer/explorer/ecologist, Craig Potton, Tobias has frequently described The Adventures of Mr. Marigold as the one book that most clearly elucidates his basic philosophy of life.

Recent endeavors

Dr. Tobias is a Goodwill Ambassador for the Republic of Ecuador's Yasuní-ITT Initiative, in an effort to save Ecuador's Yasuní National Park and surroundings from oil exploitation. Yasuní, arguably one of the most biologically diverse and important eco-regions on Earth, is the subject of the film, "Yasuní — A Meditation on Life," Directed and Written by Tobias, Produced by Jane Gray Morrison, which premiered, along with a corresponding Quito-based SATRE 3D installation, at the United Nations Rio+20 Summit in late June, 2012. In a terse presentation at the UN Rio Summit, Tobias — along with such panelists as President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Dr. Helen Clark, Chief of the UNDP, and former President of Chile, Dr. Michelle Bachelet — called for increased awareness[35] of the critical importance of the northeastern biological corridor within Ecuador which comprises the UNESCO recognized Yasuní National Park.[36]

Tobias was an official delegate at the Summit and spoke on how to embrace the Yasuní-ITT Initiative as a cutting edge global warming mitigation strategy, not only for the Amazon, but for the entire planet.

Consistent with his long-standing philosophical and scientific efforts to reconcile animal rights and conservation biology, Tobias delivered the annual keynote address at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies in March, 2012, as the opening for a symposium on Conservation Biology, Animal Rights, and Comparative Religions.[37]

Tobias' most recent book, God's Country: The New Zealand Factor (co-authored with Jane Gray Morrison) with a Foreword by PETA President, Co-Founder, Ingrid Newkirk, is a 600-page examination of the first decade of the 21st century, through the lens of ecology, biodiversity, economics and ethics, and offers formidable considerations for new and revolutionary sustainability in the combining of a moral compass with governance and biology. Ingrid Newkirk suggested it should be "nominated for a Pulitzer." Other new books by Tobias include The Strange Life & Disappearance of English Milligrams - a terrifying tour-de-force - and Professor Parrot and the Secret of the Blue Cupboard.

Since February, 2011, Tobias has written for Forbes on-line,[38] publishing over 80 essays and over 400 letters on ecology, economics, biology and ethics. In late July, 2012, the Dancing Star Foundation, of which Tobias is President, received the 2012 Environmental Innovator Award, as part of New Zealand's Environment Southland and Department of Conservation Environment and Conservation Awards. Much of DSF's emphasis in New Zealand has focused upon the rescuing of endangered species, particularly of avifauna. These endeavors have utilized some of the most state of the art translocation methodologies in the world.

Tobias delivered the Keynote closing address at the "Ahimsa and Sustainable Happiness" Conference at Cal Poly Pomona in November, 2012, examining international taxonomic changes, and pushing the boundaries on what constitutes true ethical sustainability, asking such questions as, "Will Climate Change engender new Moral Change" in the human species?

In 2012, Tobias and Dr. Paul Ehrlich of Stanford finished their book on the future of life on earth, "Hope On Earth - A Conversation" scheduled for publication in April, 2014, by the University of Chicago Press. In addition, Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison's latest book, The Metaphysics of Protection, is scheduled for release in 2014.

Additionally, the sequel to Tobias' autobiography, A Vision of Nature -Traces of the Original World (Kent State University) will be forthcoming in 2013: Biotopia from Zorba Press. Most recently, Tobias' libretto, "The Misadventures of Pinocchio" was published by Zorba.


  1. ^ "Red listed biodiversity threatened," by Jane Gray Morrison and Michael Tobias, www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=7638, 7/23/08
  2. ^ "Johnson: Readers just discovering Richard Yates' work". Online Athens. 2001-05-27. Retrieved 2012-03-12. 
  3. ^ See “Michael Tobias,” pp.269–278, People Promoting And People Opposing Animal Rights – In Their Own Words, ed. by John M. Kistler, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 2002.
  4. ^ Explore the Power of Myth in film at Mythic Journeys [www.mythicjourneys.org/PR_film_festival-rev3.pdf]
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Tobias, Michael. "Michael Tobias". http://www.michaeltobias.org/. Retrieved 8/3/15.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  7. ^ From the Queen of Bhutan's foreword to Sanctuary: Global Oases of Innocence, by Michael Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison, p. ix, Council Oak Books.
  8. ^ Tobias, Michael. "Michael Tobias". http://www.michaeltobias.org. Retrieved 8/3/15.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  9. ^ Tobias, Michael. "Michael Tobias – Brief Biographical Details". http://zorbapress.com. Zorba Press. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  10. ^ Michael, Tobias. "Michael Tobias – Brief Biographical Details". http://zorbapress.org. Zorba Press. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  11. ^ Tobias, Michael. "Michael Tobias – Brief Biographical Details". http://zorbapress.com. Zorba Press. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  12. ^ "Feeding the Population Monster – A review essay based on a new book by Michael Tobias entitled: World War III: Population and the Biosphere At the End of the Millennium," by Ronald Bleier, desip.igc.org/Monster.html; Thomas Marks' review of World War III, published in the journal Small Wars & Insurgencies, Volume 7, Issue 1 Spring 1996, pages 112 – 119; "Population Ethics For the 21st Century," by Michael Tobias, www.populationpress.org/essays/essay-tobias; See also "Listening To Women," by M.Tobias, The Population Press, Volume 10, Number 3, Fall 2004, pp.6–11.
  13. ^ Psychology Today, "What's next?"
  14. ^ Lappe, Marc. "So Many People . . . How Will We Feed Them? World War III: Population and the Biosphere at the End of the Millennium, By Michael Tobias", Los Angeles Times, November 27, 1994. "Like Wilson, Tobias perceives the duty to maintain biodiversity as a moral requirement of planet stewardship."
  15. ^ Jane Goodall, from her foreword to World War III –Population And The Biosphere At The End Of The Millennium, Continuum Publishing Company, New York, 2nd edition, 1998, p.12.
  16. ^ "Cairo's an apt site for UN population conference," by Mark Abley, The Gazette, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, September 3, 1994. www.lexisnexis.com/us/Inacademic/frame.do?tokenKey-rsh-20.640961.830
  17. ^ p.12, Jane Goodall's foreword to World War III – Population And The Biosphere At The End Of The Millennium, by Michael Tobias, 2nd Edition, Continuum Publishing Company, New York, 1998.
  18. ^ "Stories". Pasadena Weekly. Retrieved 2012-03-12. 
  19. ^ "Regarding a sustainable world," by Olivia Redwine, New Perspectives, Winter 2008, pp.18–21.
  20. ^ "No Vacancy, a Film by Michael Tobias," reviewed by Dr. Alvin Winder, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in Int’l. Quarterly of Community Health Education, Vol. 26(3) 319–320, 2006–2007
  21. ^ 'Mad Cowboy' Wins Artivist Film Festival Best Feature Award;
  22. ^ Jainism and Ecology: Nonviolence in the Web of Life, edited by Christopher Key Chappel, Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School, Religions of the World and Ecology Series, 2002.
  23. ^ Tobias, Michael. "Michael Tobias". http://www.michaeltobias.org. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  24. ^ “Ecology of Conscience,” by Michael Tobias, Parabola, Fall 1997, p.18.
  25. ^ “Choosing Generosity –Filmmaker and author Michael Tobias on developing the capacity for unconditional love and making sense of our passions,” Interview by Zoe Weil, Hope Magazine, Spring 2000, No.22, pp.51–53.
  26. ^ Michael Tobias, "Desert survival by the book", New Scientist, 17 December 1988, p.29- 31;
  27. ^ Tobias, M., Environmental Meditation, Crossing Press, Freedom, Calif., 1993, pp.83–96.
  28. ^ Michael Tobias, “The Anthropology of Conscience,” Society & Animals, pp.69–71.
  29. ^ “The Next Wasteland: Can the Spoiling of Antarctica Be Stopped?” by Michael Tobias, The Sciences, March/April 1989, pp.18–24
  30. ^ Tobias, Michael. "Michael Tobias – Brief Biographical Details". htp://zorbapress.com. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  31. ^ "'Black Tide'; Discovery's 'Tide' Examines Alaska Oil Spill," by Patricia Brennan, Washington Post Staff Writer, March 18, 1990, The Washington Post Sunday Edition
  32. ^ “Island fence set to enhance biodiversity,” by Phil McCarthy, Southland Times, Invercargill, New Zealand, April 14th, 2005: “It was an important conservation tool to help restore native flora and fauna in a region of outstanding historic biodiversity, “ Tobias said.
  33. ^ "About the Foundation - Biographies". Dancing Star Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-12. 
  34. ^ Hotspots Revisited, by Russell A. Mittermeier, Patricio Robles Gil, Michael Hoffmann, John Pilgrim, Thomas Brooks, Cristina Goettsch Mittermeier, John Lamoreux and Gustavo A.B. Da Fonseca, CEMEX, Mexico City, 2004.
  35. ^ "Yasuní-ITT will be Promoted in Brazil". Ecuador Times. 2012-04-23. Retrieved 2012-04-23. 
  36. ^ "Ecuador Yasuni ITT Trust Fund". United Nations Development Group. 
  37. ^ "12th Annual Jaina Lecture: Mahavira, Don Quixote and the history of ecological ethics and idealism". SOAS, University of London. 2012-03-21. 
  38. ^ "Green Conversations". Forbes. 


  • Documentary filmmaking : [2]
  • Feeding the Population Monster: [3]
  • Kinship with the Animals: [4]

External links