Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto by Stewart Brand

An excellent analysis of environmental issues with reasonable arguments for the necessity of Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, and Geoengineering (that list is from the new subtitle of the paperback version).
Brand gained notoriety and credibility as an environmentalist due to his “Whole Earth Catalogue” of many years ago. Given that much of what he now advocates does not align with many environmentalists, I imagine many will charge him with heresy.
The gist of the arguments are that dense cities are more efficient than distributed communities; that alternative energy sources like wind or solar do not provide enough baseload power so nuclear is required; that many fears around transgenic crops are unfounded, and that we will need genetically modified food to feed people; and that we are not doing enough to reduce our carbon emissions to abate global warming so we are going to have to look to geoengineering.
I found the book interesting (especially about life in slums), the arguments accessible and the presentation engaging without being too harsh.
Given that the book was written by someone so knowledgeable about the environment (but being wary about deference to authority), that Brand puts great emphasis on science and evidence, that his arguments seemed so reasonable when presented and that he appears to be aware of psychological biases and attempts to mitigate them, it is hard not to be convinced by most of what he has written (I'm most unsure about nuclear power). Being cautious I would now say that the burden is on those who disagree to provide rebuttals.
(Personally, it was interesting to be more persuaded by Brand’s coverage of geoengineering than that of SuperFreakonomics. I think it is because his was more detailed and, yes, credible, while theirs was not entirely consistent or convincing.)

I highly recommend you read it!