One of the pleasures of reading Stewart Brand’s new book, “Whole Earth Discipline”, is that when it comes to managing the Earth’s ecosystem, he is unconstrained by conventional wisdom.
In a break with many old-school environmentalists, Brand argues that the established Green agenda is outdated, too negative, too tradition bound, too specialized, too politically one-sided to address the scale of environmental problems that we face today.
Who better to challenge the rigidity of the long-respected environmental movement than the distinguished writer, lecturer and author of the classic Whole Earth Catalog, which won the national book award in 1972?
“Whole Earth Disciplines” offers a radical rethinking of the traditional “green” movement whose battle against modern technologies often appears to be antithetical to the goals it professes to achieve, seemingly eternally stuck in a bygone era. Especially in his chapters on nuclear energy and genetic engineering, Brand’s progressiveness, willingness to grapple with the science and well-thought out vision shines through. “Ecological balance is too important for sentiment. It requires science,” says Brand.
Brand believes that the environmental movement is driven by two powerful forces-romanticism and science that are often in opposition. “The romantics are moralistic and dismissive of any who appear to stray from the true path. They hate to admit mistakes or change directions. The scientists are ethical rather than moralistic, rebellious against any perceived dominant paradigm”. A romantic loves the tree not its genome. A scientist loves both.
The book is extremely well-researched with references and illustrated annotations of the chapters available on-line.
Part memoir, part history of the environment al movement and part manifesto for the future, Whole Earth discipline will delight the reader with its stories and characters. Over the years, Brand seems to have conversed with everyone ever involved in the environmental movement and many of these old friends appear in his book.
The reader will encounter Jim Lovelock, one of the founders of the Gaia’s hypothesis that the Earth functions as a kind of superorganism; Amory Lovins, beloved advocate of “soft energy technologies”; David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth”; California governor Jerry Brown, for whom Brand arranged meetings with leading intellectuals; James Watson, a co-discoverer of the structure of DNA; Paul Erhlich, author of 1968 book “The Population Bomb” as well as Brand’s undergraduate advisor when he was a student at Stanford; and the Hopi spiritual interpreter Thomas Banyacya, who advised Brand on the best way to collect herbs (do not harvest everything, leave some to grow back).
Even Vice President Al Gore has a brief appearance: ” When I mentioned [the idea of solar shades] it to him, he said, ‘Oh right, Brand. Let’s just experiment with the whole planet!'”
You will laugh when you read this book- the prose is clear and bright and witty. You will also be reminded again of the seriousness of our situation and the need for science-based dialog and action to sustain Earth for generations to come.
This book is both a manifesto for a more progressive green movement (which Brand calls Green 2.0) and an enjoyable tour in the life of a brilliant thinker and writer.
The one serious omission from this book? The lack of inclusion of ScienceBlogs, the largest internet resource for science, on his list of recommended reading.
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