The story, “How a curious kid from Atherton started and grew a global environmental news site” was published by Barbara Wood in The Almanac on Nov 8, 2017.
The way Rhett Butler tells the story, he was inspired to become a champion of the natural environment by a childhood full of family travel to out-of-the-way destinations such as Borneo, Madagascar and Ecuador.
But the genesis of his Mongabay environmental news and education website — now a nonprofit with more than 35 employees and 200 correspondents in 50 counties, and a multi-million dollar annual budget — also has a lot to do with a publisher’s lack of funding at the same time a new phenomenon called “the internet” was starting to take off.
Mr. Butler, 39, grew up in Atherton and attended Laurel, Encinal, Hillview and Menlo-Atherton schools. His father, Penn Butler, was a corporate attorney with lots of airline miles. His mom, Nancy Butler, was a travel agent with connections and perks.
(Rhett Butler says it wasn’t only because of his parents’ sense of humor that he ended up named after a lead character in “Gone With the Wind.” There’s also a family connection: When Clark Gable, who played the role in the movie, wanted a role model for the film “Test Pilot,” he and Mr. Butler’s grandfather, the only survivor of an Air Corps plane crash, became short-term roommates.)
“My parents decided to prioritize travel,” Rhett Butler says. “Instead of going to where normal people go, like Disneyland … we’d go to Venezuela.”
His parents also indulged his fascination with reptiles and amphibians, and the rainforests. It helps, he says, that many rainforests were near nice beaches and “my mom was a fan of snorkeling.”
At 12, Rhett and his family visited a mostly indigenous community in eastern Ecuador that didn’t see a lot of outsiders. “I made friends with the kids my age, and looked for frogs in the forest,” Mr. Butler remembers.
A few months after returning to Atherton, Rhett saw a front page article in the San Francisco Chronicle about an oil spill on the Rio Napo, upriver from the village where his friends and the frogs lived. “The whole area was now an oil slick,” he says, with the fate of the friends and frog unknown.
During Rhett’s high school years, the family visited Borneo. There Rhett met a researcher who started exchanging letters with him. (It was the pre-email age.) Soon, a letter conveyed the sad news that part of the forest they had explored together was gone it had been leveled and pulped for paper.
Read the full article at almanacnews.com.