Yesterday at Techonomy--before the fun started--we heard from Stewart Brand, famed founder of the Whole Earth Catalog and author most recently of Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto. With his latest book, Brand is pioneering a new brand of environmentalism that discards some of the movement’s anti-technology habits, and reacquaints the green impulse with an openness to innovations that may be the key to solving our biggest problem—climate change.
According to Brand, environmentalism has a “legacy resistance” to nuclear power, and to transgenic crops or GMOs. In other words, the resistance isn’t really based on strong evidence of dangers, so much as an instinctive distrust of certain types of meddling with “nature.”
In fairness, critics like Amory Lovins have disagreed strongly with Brand about nuclear power. But without airing the economic side of this debate, it strikes me that Brand’s argument is broader and does not stand or fall on this basis. He’s trying to say that to save the planet, you can’t be afraid of innovation or technology. You can’t solve our problems with a retreat into Luddism.
Indeed, you might even have to try out things that you really don’t want to sample—like geoengineering the climate system. As Brand put it at Techonomy yesterday, we’re already “terraforming” the planet—we’re just doing it badly. “If the choice is between terraforming badly or terraforming well,” he said, “then it’s a question of engineering.”
My sense is that resistance to using technological innovations to solve environmental problems seems to be slipping among greens today. After all, it is climate scientists themselves who are leading the drive to make geoengineering part of the discussion. Brand seems to think that in the green movement, generations are changing and there will be much more of a focus on what works. These days, amid talk of a “nuclear renaissance” and dwindling combat over GMOs (especially in the US) he may be right.