Stewart Brand's Little Green Book

Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand, editor of The Whole Earth Catalog, author of How Buildings Learn and founder of The Long Now Foundation has written Whole Earth Discipline: An EcoPragmatist Manifesto. I'm generally leery of manifestoes, but given Mr. Brand's resumé I decided to chance reading it. I'm still considering Whole Earth Discipline (and have incurred the wrath of my local library by keeping it overdue). Brand makes three statements in his book - Cities are Green, Genetic Engineering is Green, and Nukes are Green. Is he radical, practical or both?

'We are as gods and HAVE to get good at it'. Not a bad way to start a book. Mr. Brand continues in 'Scale, Scope, Stakes, Speed' to explain how humankind has already, if unwittingly, engineered our planetary climate. Using thorough examples and references (here and throughout the book) he illustrates the point that our planet is rapidly transitioning away from the climate we have grown to know and depend on.

With that groundwork laid, Brand uses the chapter 'City Planet' to detail the urbanization of the global population (over 50% urban as of 2007). While the explosive growth of cities often begins in slums, given the opportunity of land ownership slums can rapidly evolve into more permanent and vital communities. Brand argues that instead of bulldozing slums city governments should provide utility services and help the residents upgrade the slums.

Brand continues in 'Urban Promise' to promote the advantages of urbanization - i.e. 'Cities are Green'. In short, people in cities innovate more, reproduce less (short-circuiting overpopulation), and consume fewer resources (and can be even greener yet) than those living rurally. Mr. Brand makes his case that while far from perfect, cities provide economic and educational opportunities that people simply cannot find elsewhere.

In the next three chapters Mr. Brand takes a few possibly more radical stands stating that 'Nukes are Green' and 'Genetic Engineering is Green'. Brand's first point is next-generation nuclear power is vital for providing low-carbon baseload power and phasing out coal. Secondly, genetic engineering is a modern, efficient and precise version of selective breeding which people have been doing for millennia. I'll not defend Brand's points - read the book to see if you agree with his arguments.

Brand identifies the players of the modern environmental movement in 'Romantics, Scientists, Engineers'. Mr. Brand's greatest concern is an anti-science bias among the 'Romantics' that has turned them away from tools like cities, nuclear power, and genetic engineering. While he credits 'romantics' for starting the green movement, Brand worries that they threaten progress in new CO2 reduction solutions. 'There is no excuse for environmentalists to block scientific research on environmental issues, ever.'

The last two chapters 'It’s All Gardening' and 'Planet Craft' discuss the past and future of ecosystem engineering. Brand discusses the techniques of indigenous tribes in the Americas, Asia and Australia who used fire and earthworks to create and maintain vast and productive gardens. He then moves to the future of 'terraforming' to detail current and speculative techniques like terra preta, rewilding and permaculture, ocean algae fertilization, etc. for reducing atmospheric CO2.

Given the knowledge of our environmental predicament Stewart Brand asks what will we do next? I agree that we must begin now (or yesterday) to reduce global carbon output and work on multiple fronts to absorb atmospheric CO2. I also agree that science will help us find the most effective tools for reducing CO2. I do disagree with Brand on a few points (mostly related to Genetic Engineering and how corporations are actually using the technology). But, his radically practical manifesto is definitely worth a read. So, have you joined the struggle to reduce CO2 'comrade'?

More Info:

Stewart Brand

The Annotated Whole Earth Discipline: An EcoPragmatist Manifesto, by Stewart Brand

The Whole Earth Catalog

The Long Now Foundation - Manifesto