How to Keep Green Real

Stewart Brand’s book “The Whole Earth Discipline” is subtitled “An Ecopragmatist Manifesto.” So what is impractical about the current environmentalist movement?
  • Transcript


Question: How does your new book build on your previous work?

Stewart Brand: Whole Earth Discipline is a pretty ambitious book.  It is basically putting out an environmental agenda across the board for saving the world from the worst of climate change, but also saving the environmental movement from the worst of it's misdirections, which is gone off – most of what the environmental movement has done, I think, has been superb and I've been a part of much of that.  Much of the book is acknowledging the things that we got right.  But I'm also trying to acknowledge the things that I think we got wrong, especially in light of climate change, especially in light of the way the world is rising out of poverty very, very quickly and five out of six people in the world are coming into middle class.  They have the energy needs of that, they have the food needs of that, they have the expectations of that, they have power, ingenuity and all this stuff.  And any environmental behavior, any program to deal with climate change that doesn't acknowledge those things, plus the rapid movement of biotechnology, I was trained as a biologist, so I’m alert and excited about that.  All of that stuff changes the world situation such that to be an effective environmentalist now I think involves some serious changes and that's what the book is about.

Question: In what ways is the current green movement impractical?

Stewart Brand: There's a lot of etiology in the environmental movement at this point.  Some of it is political, there's a kind of a left bias, which I think hurts us terribly.  There is a romantic bias of humans being one with nature, which is great because it gives a lot of motivation from whatever was your deepest connection with nature.  It maybe was just a book about nature.  But that approach can then blind people to taking science seriously in areas that are inconvenient for a standard environmental approach.  So, genetic engineering, GMO's and all of that, are scientifically profound, valid, the engineering is superb, they have great benefits for the environment.  But if there is this kind of romantic notion that that somehow goes against nature, it's not only a romantic notion, it's an ignorant notion.  So, what I'm trying to bring to bear is here's a lot of the data and science that's out there and we've been living with these things for 10 years now and 1) they don't hurt you to eat, 2) they're great for the environment for these various reasons, and so rather than fight this technology, let's green it up and really run with it.  

That sort of thing is what I think I'm trying to do here.

Question: What technologies must environmentalists learn to accept?

Stewart Brand: I think the main technology that should be green right down to the core is biotechnology.  So much of the environmental movement is biologically based for a long time, and we were called the ecologists, though very few of us were though I was once.  And we listened to the science about climate and then deafened ourselves to the science about biotechnology.   

There is so much juice to that domain, I think it's going to dominate a lot of what’s going on in this century anyway, and for environmentalists to stand in it's way will just make us look stupid, and has already made us look dangerous because in places like Africa that badly needs food crops that are adapted to the tropical agricultural situation they are in, environmentalist, especially based in Europe have stood in the way of that technology and said it is bad for you, it's poison, it's against nature and all this nonsense.  And as a result, people have been seriously harmed, the technology has been delayed by a decade or more and I sort of don’t mind whether the environmental movement making a mistake when it is neutral, but when we do harm, I mind a lot.

Recorded on November 17, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen