John P. Milton- Pioneering Ecologist

History of environmental and ecological accomplishments

John-P-Milton-Selva-Lacandon-1959John P. Milton’s ecological and environmental background is quite extensive. In 1966, with Sir Frank Fraser Darling, he co-edited the 767 page Doubleday book “Future Environments of North America: Transformation of a Continent,” which helped birth the environmental movement. This volume, and the multi-investigator research plan and study conference that Darling and Milton designed, organized and facilitated from 1963 to 1965 before the book, clearly showed that none of the existing compartmentalized systems of Western learning were capable of discovering and learning how to harmonize human cultures with natural systems. This insight provided the foundation for a novel environmental perspective to arise as an entire new movement in the late 1960’s. Also, the selection of the title: “Future Environments…” helped initiate the widely accepted use of the term “environment” to describe this global awakening - which then became the “Environmental Movement” of today.

Mr. Milton then shifted his view to global ecological concerns. In the mid 1960’s, virtually no work had been done to determine what were the worldwide social and ecological impact of corporations, governments, the UN and bilateral aid organizations through their development projects. Many of these projects were involved in transferring temperate zone development approaches into tropical, arid lands and sub-tropical ecosystems, where they often proved catastrophic in effect. Also, most of these projects were very large in scale – which led to massive unforeseen environmental consequences. Lastly, impacts on Nature’s natural systems were largely ignored and, if dealt with at all by economists, they were treated as “externalities.” Together with Mohammed Taghi Farvar from Iran, Mr. Milton organized a massive series of research studies, utilizing over 50 scientists, into the ecological impacts of many different types of development projects. Over four years, from 1965 into 1968, these research projects gathered together several hundred case studies of environmental impacts – usually for the first time.

All this work was presented and discussed at a special international study conference in 1968, which had a huge impact on international development thinking. After the Conference, four more years of research and integration of the project work into a book led to the 1030 page publication in 1972 of “The Careless Technology: Ecology and International Development.” This contributed greatly to the first UN Conference on the Environment (as its major database of global environmental impacts), held in Stockholm in 1972. The case studies also helped in the passing of the US Environmental Policy Act, the creation of UNEP, the setting up of an Environmental Division within the World Bank, and the creation of many new bilateral initiatives to make bilateral aid projects more socially and environmentally sustainable.

After the Careless Technology initiative, Mr. Milton shifted his work to essentializing the core ecological principles for economists and development planners so that they could more effectively take the lessons that had been learned from both the Future Environments Project and the Careless Technology Case Studies – an apply them to new initiative. The effort to create ecologically sustainable development was born. This effort culminated in a 1973 book by Mr. Milton, Ray Dasmann and Peter Freeman entitled: “Ecological Principles for Economic Development.” It was translated into a number of languages, including the main language of Indonesia. Much of the Ecological Principles book was written while he was a Woodrow Wilson Center Scholar at the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C.

In 1972 and 1973, Mr. Milton was also invited to work for a period as the White House’s first ecologist. His efforts in the President’s Council of Economic Advisors helped develop The US Nation’s first national environmental policies. He also was deeply involved in defining wilderness preservation opportunities for the President.

US-AZ-Chir-Ph-JPM-John-teaching-forest-crop-0887Following his national policy development work with the President’s Council of Economic Advisors and the Ecological Principles book project, Mr. Milton worked throughout the 1970’s to help create models and demonstrations of ecologically-sustainable economies and communities. He focused on developing such models at the household, neighborhood, small town, middle-sized city and watershed levels of design and application. During latter 1970’s, he was working as a Professor at the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois and heading up its Center for Middle-Sized Cities, Urban and Regional Studies. This was an exciting opportunity to ground much of his earlier work in helping various levels of actual community transform towards sustainable communities.

Two more of his major environmental involvements concerned protection and preservation of the American Alaskan and Canadian Arctic wilderness, as well as work to create an international movement to protect planet Earth’s tropical forests. On Arctic issues, Mr. Milton led an expedition across the little-known Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in the mid-1960’s. His book detailing this expedition is entitled: “Nameless Valleys, Shining Mountains.” Roger Kaye (ANWR Manager 1995-2000) noted recently about Milton’s journey: “…this place serves to enhance respect for other life forms and to perpetuate the ecological and evolutionary heritage all people share with them. As ecologist John Milton said following his eight week journey through the refuge, ‘Its purpose is to be. Man’s role should be…let it be’ (Milton 1969).” Kaye further quotes “Milton expresses the hope that ‘man continues to have the good sense to allow some of the earth to go its own way,” and continues: “While crossing the Romanzof Mountains, Milton pondered the importance of wild places where one ‘can relearn what he is and where he came from.”

Not long after this expedition, oil discoveries were announced on the North Slope of the Brooks Range in Alaska, and the plan to build an oil pipeline was proposed. Drawing on his profound wilderness experience and many photographs, Mr. Milton campaigned all over Washington D.C and around the U.S. to assure protection of ANWR and the North Slope. As one of the architects of the U.S National Environmental Policy Act, and one of the founders with David Brower of Friends of the Earth, he was able to provide the data needed to have Friends of the Earth file the first successful testing of the new act. An injunction against the construction of the Alaskan Oil Pipeline was granted in US Court, halting the construction of an oil pipeline across the Brooks Range for years. Ultimately this action forced the oil companies to build an oil pipeline that would not harm the Eastern Brooks Range Caribou herd and other wildlife.

A few years later, and throughout the 1970’s, Mr. Milton campaigned for the setting aside of over 100 million acres of Alaskan wilderness coming up for review during that decade. For National Geographic Society, he wrote and photographed “The Last Great Wilderness” section of their “American Wilderness” book. Finally, in 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act was signed by President Carter, protecting 103 million acres of Alaskan land in national parks, wildlife refuges, wild rivers. 56 million acres went into permanently protected Alaskan wilderness. The size of ANWR was doubled overnight. The Nation’s entire wilderness system was tripled in size.

Together with Teddy Goldsmith, the Editor of the Ecologist Magazine in England, Mr. Milton conceived the building of a Tropical Forest Protection movement and coalition-building process that would help reverse global trends toward destruction. This work began in the late 1970’s and received a series of grants from Threshold Foundation that allowed the work to unfold in a substantial manner. Effective coalitions were built linking Developed countries and tropical nations. For example, an appropriations bill would come before US Congress to fund a reservoir that would destroy massive areas of the Brazilian Rainforest. The coalition responds by flying indigenous elders from the flood zone into Washington to testify on the reservoir. The bill is defeated and the rain Forest and traditional peoples are saved. The coalition managed scenarios like this on a regular basis.

DSC 1112-John-meditatingSince the 1980’s, Mr. Milton has focused on developing an Earth-honoring, liberating set of principles and practices that merge the heart and mind openness of spiritual exploration with a scientific grounding in ecology. His passion is to help shift human spiritual systems toward an environmentally sustainable way of life, creating a new cultural foundation for the West that he refers to as 'Sacred Ecology.' From this perspective emerges earth-connected spirituality that recognizes all living beings as One’s true community.

Written by Goran Gennvi


Future environments of North America: The Transformation of a Continent. Being the record of a conference convened by the Conservation Foundation in April 1965, at Airlie House, Warrenton, Virginia. Organized and Edited By: F Fraser Darling; John P Milton

The Careless Technology: Ecology and International Development

By:M Taghi Farvar; John P Milton

For more detailed information on “The Careless Technology visit the web site:

Ecological Principles for Economic Development

By:Raymond Fredric Dasmann; John P. Milton; Peter H Freeman

Milton, John P. 1969. 1970. Nameless Valleys, Shining Mountains: the Record of an Expedition into the Vanishing Wilderness of Alaska's Brooks Range. New York: Walker & Co