Stewart Brand is an author, pioneering environmentalist, and former editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, which he published from 1968 through 1998. In the early 1960s he served as an infrantryman in the U.S. Army and was subsequently associated with Ken Kesey's "Merry Pranksters" movement. He is president of The Long Now Foundation and co-founder of the Global Business Network (GBN), a consulting firm that helps businesses, NGOs, and governments plan for multiple possible futures. His most recent book, "The Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto," was published by Viking-Penguin in 2009.
Question: What visionaries excited you growing up?
Stewart Brand: Growing up. Well, my mother I guess was a thinker and a visionary because she was, among other things, focused on space exploration. This was in the 1950's. One result of that was when the Apollo Space Program came along in the ‘60’s; a lot of my fellow environmentalists were against it for various weirdly technical reasons. And all I saw was pure adventure and let's get on with it. And so, as a result of that, I was onboard with space and pushed, "Why haven't we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?" in 1966. And then we got the photograph and that created the environmental movement out of almost nothing.
I was sort of acting as if I was lobbying NASA to get images of the earth from space, but I was really lobbying the populace of the world to pay attention to the image and to think about the image a little bit in advance so that when we got it, there would be that shock of recognition; we have this big new mirror to think about ourselves in regard to, and also to think about it as a finite, fragile-looking place that we live.
I was pretty sure that that set of things would occur when we had the photograph. Amazingly enough, they did occur, and that photograph became so iconic that it replaced the previous iconic image of the earth, which was the mushroom cloud of the Cold War, so you got rid of a bad image and got a very positive image that is still with us. And that’s why I wanted it for the cover of my new book.
Recorded on November 17, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen