For Earth Day, let’s celebrate Stewart Brand, the distinguished writer, lecturer and author of the classic Whole Earth Catalog, which won the national book award in 1972.
He also has a new book called “Whole Earth Discipline” where he argues that the established Green agenda is outdated, too negative, too tradition bound, too specialized, too politically one-sided to address the scale of environmental problems that we face today.
You might want to check out John Tierney’s column.
“[Stewart Brand] was the one, after all, who helped inspire Earth Day by putting the first picture of the planet on the cover of his “Whole Earth Catalog” in 1968.”
One of the pleasures of reading “Whole Earth Discipline”, is that when it comes to managing the Earth’s ecosystem, he is unconstrained by conventional wisdom.
Tierney distills seven rules from the book. One of these rules is sure to provoke controversy:
“Rule #3. “Let them eat organic” is not a global option. For affluent humans in industrialized countries, organic food is pretty much a harmless luxury. Although there’s no convincing evidence that the food is any healthier or more nutritious than other food, if that label makes you feel healthier and more virtuous, then you can justify the extra cost.
But most people in the world are not affluent, and their food budgets are limited. If they’re convinced by green marketers that they need to choose higher-priced organic produce, they and their children are liable to end up eating fewer fruits and vegetables — and sometimes nothing at all, as occurred when Zambia rejected emergency food for starving citizens because the grain had been genetically engineered.”
This is a bit harsh. After all, if it weren’t for Rachel Carson and organic farmers, how much would the world know or care about the environmental harm caused by some pesticides? Organic farmers go to great lengths to reduce pesticide use and this is a good thing for the environment. It is true though that there is no scientific evidence that organic produce has any nutritional benefits over conventionally grown food. And it is expensive.
And what about Tierney’s Rule #4?
“Frankenfood, like Frankenstein, is fiction. The imagined horrors of “frankenfoods” have kept genetically engineered foods out of Europe and poor countries whose farmers want to export food to Europe. Americans, meanwhile, have been fearlessly growing and eating them for more than a decade — and the scare stories seem more unreal than ever.
Last week, the National Academy of Sciences reported that genetically engineered foods had helped consumers, farmers and the environment by lowering costs, reducing the use of pesticide and herbicide, and encouraging tillage techniques that reduce soil erosion and water pollution.”
This is what Brand himself has to say about genetically engineered crops:
“I daresay the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we’ve been wrong about. We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool.”