Thursday, March 1, 2007

Stewart Brand's new shade of green

Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Catalog publisher (and instigator of Earth's first full-frontal photo portrait), online pioneer, former Merry Prankster, and free-thinking '60s icon, wants to know "where are the green biotech hackers?" He says we should -- and predicts that environmentalists soon will -- embrace nuclear power, genetic engineering, and biotech. He says population is not going to be a problem, nor will urban sprawl. ("An Early Environmentalist, Embracing New 'Heresies'," NYTimes, 2.27.07)

Is he nuts? I don't know, but after re-reading Bill McKibben's classic End of Nature in our environmental ethics class I'm struck by this Brand observation:

"My trend has been toward more rational and less romantic as the decades go by. I keep seeing the harm done by religious romanticism, the terrible conservatism of romanticism, the ingrained pessimism... It builds in a certain immunity to the scientific frame of mind."

I have a lot of respect for McKibben, but I can't warm to his Deep Ecology version of romanticism according to which nature's meaning is her independence of all things human. When he urges that we remain God's creatures rather than aspiring to godhood ourselves, I wonder if there isn't a saner intermediate position: we don't have to be gods, to be responsible global citizens and effective caretakers of the planet (for a change). We are the part of nature that can -- but too rarely does -- think about how to clean up after itself. McKibben makes clear, in this book, in Enough, and probably in his forthcoming Deep Economy -- that he thinks we must rein ourselves in, stop growing, stop re-engineering the planet and ourselves, declare "halt!"

I'm with Stewart Brand on this: "you have to keep trying new things," like biotech, and sometimes you have to rehabilitate old ones -- maybe even nukes.

1 comment:

James Aach said...

Mr. Brand has also been kind enough to endorse my novel of nuclear power, which is based on my twenty years in the US nuclear industry and is designed to provide a good overview of the topic for a lay person. I cover the good and the bad. It is available free online at and also in paperback via online retailers.

"I'd like to see Rad Decision widely read." - Stewart Brand Accelerating Intelligence News