Michael Charles Tobias (born June 27, 1951) is an American author, ecologist, and filmmaker.
Dr. Michael Charles Tobias, earned his Ph.D. in the History of Consciousness at the University of California-Santa Cruz, specializing in global ecological ethics and the interdisciplinary humanities. His wide-ranging work embraces the global ecological sciences, art, comparative literature, the history of ideas, philosophy, and natural history in the context of a multitude of possible future scientific, geo-political, economic and social scientific scenarios. He is the author of over 55 books – fiction and non-fiction - and has written, directed and/or produced over 100 films. His works have been read, translated and broadcast throughout the world. He has conducted ecological field research in over 90 countries. Tobias has been on the faculties of such colleges and universities as Dartmouth, the University of California-Santa Barbara (as both Distinguished Visiting Professor of Environmental Studies and the Regents Lecturer), and the University of New Mexico-Albuquerque (as the Visiting Garrey Carruthers Endowed Chair of Honors). An Honorary Member of the Club of Budapest, Tobias is a full member of the Russian International Global Research Academy, as well as the Russian Public Academy of Sciences.
Tobias is an advocate for animal rights; In 2004 Tobias received the Parabola Magazine Focus Award for his body of work in defense of the Earth. Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder and President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, described Tobias as "one of the world's great souls." 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 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."
Early life and career
Tobias 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. Among his climbs was the first known solo ascent of the sheer wall on Mount Sinai. 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 the Ascent Journal entitled "Pondering the Imponderable." 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.
Tobias' 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." 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, 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." 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." 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. 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." 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. 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. In his Discovery Channel documentary of the Exxon Valdez disaster, Black Tide, he considered the dilemma of safely using oil resources. Tobias 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.
Tobias 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. He has been President of the United States-based ecological NGO since the late 1990s. Dancing Star Foundation. The Foundation initiates and oversees on-the-ground ecological restoration, animal rights protection, international symposia, publications, films, and animal sanctuary endeavors throughout the world, including a large animal sanctuary in Central California, and a partner sanctuary in New Mexico. The Foundation has conducted on the ground research in over fifty countries, collaborating with such partners as the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. National Park Service, the National Biodiversity Centre of Bhutan, Ecuador's Yasuni-ITT Initiative/UNDP, the United Nations Office for Project Services, the EBR Trust of the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve in Tamil Nadu, India, and the New Zealand Department of Conservation. In his 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, 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 feature film recorded the real-time discovery of several species new to science, including a primate on the Peruvian/Bolivian border, and a pseudoscorpion in a cave within Sequoia National Park. In film premieres from Auckland to the National Zoo in Washington D.C., Tobias addressed the issue of "coldspots" in addition to "hotspots," emphasizing new methodologies critically necessary within conservation biology to address those species "under the radar screen," like several of the avifauna species that Tobias has worked to rescue from oblivion in regions like New Zealand where the Dancing Star Foundation has been assiduously translocating such species as the New Zealand Brown Creeper (pipipi (Mohoua novaeseelandiae), Stewart Island Black Robin and Rifleman (Acanthisitta chloris Māori: tītipounamu), all rare New Zealand bird species. Tobias and partner Jane Gray Morrison have been long-time supporters of the old New Zealand adage, "bringing back the dawn chorus." Bird call analyses suggest that the Dancing Star Foundation Ecological Preserve, which they oversee - adjoining Rakiura National Park (New Zealand's most recently enshrined, 14th National Park) supports newly fostered robust communities of native and endemic bird populations, along with two other studied sites on Stewart Island/Rakiura. This data has been strongly indicative of the efficacy of predator-proof fences, of which there are now dozens across New Zealand. 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.
Population and environment
Tobias has tackled the complex issues concerning human population pressure on the environment. 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." 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." 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." 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." 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." 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."
In 2005 Tobias' "The Adventures of Mr. Marigold," was first published in New Zealand. It was described by one critic 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. The book was republished by Zorba Press in Ithaca, New York. In 2012, Dr. Tobias was brought on board by the Secretary of State of Ecuador as 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, along with Al Gore, Jane Gray Morrison and Leonardo DiCaprio. 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 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 President of Chile, Dr. Michelle Bachelet — called for increased awareness of the critical importance of the northeastern biological corridor within Ecuador which comprises the UNESCO recognized Yasuní National Park. He received the international Courage of Conscience Award in 1996. 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. Tobias' 2011 work, 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. Other new books, since 2011, by Tobias include The Strange Life & Disappearance of English Milligrams and Professor Parrot and the Secret of the Blue Cupboard. Beginning in February 2011, Tobias wrote for Forbes on-line, publishing over 80 essays and over 400 letters on ecology, economics, biology and ethics. The sequel to Tobias' autobiography, A Vision of Nature -Traces of the Original World (Kent State University) was published in 2013 by Zorba Press. Entitled Biotopia, this deeply personal autobiographical collection of essays examined the ecology of the human soul. Zorba Press also brought out Tobias' libretto, "The Misadventures of Pinocchio" in 2013. The book was set to become an opera, written by Mexican composer Daniel Catán. Another libretto of Tobias, based upon his Adventures of Mr. Marigold, as of late 2015 was being transformed into a Utopian Opera by Emmy winner A. J. Friedman, and Grammy Award winner Jeff Silbar. In 2013, Tobias gave a keynote address to the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies, the Research Centre for Sustainable Development, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences at their annual conference in Tianjin-Bihai. 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 2014, Tobias and Dr. Paul Ehrlich, President of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University published their book about the future of life on earth, "Hope On Earth - A Conversation" with the University of Chicago Press. The book received widespread praise, although many wondered whether there should have been a "Question Mark" following the title, Hope On Earth. In 2014, Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison's book, The Metaphysics of Protection, was published by Waterside Productions, with a Foreword by Dr. Ervin Laszlo, and a Preface by Dr. Marc Bekoff. Later, SelectBooks in New York brought out Tobias' and Laszlo's book, The Tuscany Dialogues. Also in 2014, Springer New York published Tobias's and Morrison's book, Why Life Matters: Fifty Ecosystems of the Heart and Mind. In 2014, Tobias was elected an Honorary Member of the Club of Budapest. On behalf of the Club of Budapest, Tobias has given Keynote addresses in Monterey Mexico for the Fifth Conference on Worldwide Values at Taihu, China on Global Sustainability, at the 21st International Meeting of the Club of Budapest, in Hungary and at the Milano Expo 2015 meeting devoted to a sustainable planet and feeding a hungry world.
In late October 2015, Tobias delivered a Keynote Address on global ecological challenges at the 4th International Scientific Congress at Moscow State University: "Globalistics-2015: Global Diplomacy in an Unstable World" in commemoration of the United Nations' 70th anniversary. Dr. Tobias is a full member of the Russian International Global Research Academy, as well as the Russian Public Academy of Sciences. In 2017, Tobias' novel Ideal Algebra was published.
Since 2016, Tobias, with his wife Jane Gray Morrison, published a series of books with Springer Verlag/New York, Switzerland, Germany: Anthrozoology: Embracing Co-Existence in the Anthropocene; The Theoretical Individual: Imagination, Ethics and the Future of Humanity; The Hypothetical Species: Variables of Human Evolution; Bionomics in the Dragon Kingdom: Ecology, Economics and Ethics in Bhutan, with Dr. Ugyen Tshewang; Bhutan: Conservation and Environmental Protection in the Himalayas, with Dr. Ugyen Tshewang; On the Nature of Ecological Paradox; and, in 2021, Tobias' book The Earth In Fragments: A Memoir, was published by Nova Science Publishers in New York.
Tobias has lectured widely throughout the world. He has been on numerous faculties: as a Lecturer in Environmental Studies at the University of California-Santa Cruz; an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Adjunct Assistant Professor of English and the Humanities at Dartmouth College; Associate Professor of the Humanities at California State University-Northridge; the Garrey Carruthers Chair of Honors at the University of New Mexico-Albuquerque; Distinguished Visiting Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara; The Regents Lecturer at the University of California-Santa Barbara; Adjunct Professor of Anthrozoology at Canisius College, New York, and – in the Winter of 2016 – the Martha Daniel Newell Visiting Scholar at Georgia College and State University.