At the North American International Auto Show yesterday, Ford sponsored a discussion with Stewart Brand, author of the Whole Earth Catalog. In his discussion, he highlighted the dramatic shift in population from rural areas to urban areas in developed nations thus increasing overall energy usage.
When James Lovelock, Edward O. Wilson and Ian McEwan jostle to praise a book I assume it will be worth attention. Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto doesn’t disappoint. The title echoes the Whole Earth Catalogue which he founded over forty years ago as an ambitious reference aid for skills, tools and products useful to a self-sustainable lifestyle.
Times have changed and Brand has changed with them. Climate change has become a clear and present danger. He has become more of a pragmatist, though no less of an environmentalist. His pragmatism leads him to regard with favour three factors which put him to some extent at odds with others in the environmental movement. The three are urbanisation, nuclear power and genetic engineering, and part of the purpose of the book is to urge the Green-inclined to consider how the three may now be considered significant contributions to facing up to climate change.
When the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog embraces nuclear power, genetically engineered crops, and geoengineering schemes to cool the planet, you know things have changed in the environmental movement. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Stewart Brand explains how the passage of four decades — and the advent of global warming — have shifted his thinking about what it means to be green.
Stewart Brand helped shape the environmental consciousness of the 1960s and ‘70s with his Whole Earth Catalog, which became a bible of the counterculture and the back-to-the-land movement. An eclectic compendium of information and “tools” for innovative, environmentally friendly living, the Whole Earth Catalog reflected Brand’s ecological and technological interests, foreshadowing the rise of the San Francisco Bay Area’s computer and green cultures.
First, take a deep breath. It is difficult to do when it is your life and career day-in and day-out, but every once in a while, all of us moving in the clean tech space should stop and reflect on the breakneck pace at which everything around us is moving: technology, regulation, public awareness. Sure, maybe climate change legislation will not be through the Senate in time for Copenhagen (or at all this year, or even this Session), but that was an ambitious (and partly arbitrary) timeline. On the brighter side, today’s public discourse and political will on renewable energy and climate change would have been inconceivable among anyone but the green elite even five years ago.
Still, I cannot help but notice that one not-so-novel technology is getting a lot of renewed attention these days: nuclear power. Sure, in the industry we’ve all bought into the CW that “nukes are back,” but it always been accompanied by a “sort of” at the end. Microreactor technology has been a consistent “yeah, but” in that developing conversation. Then in their NYT Op-ed, Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham blew the lid off of things with a commitment to good old-fashioned conventional nukes (alongside a commitment to drilling and clean coal that threatens to turn the Senate bill into little more than a symbolic accopmplishment).