Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stewart Brand is Da Man

Perhaps I'm a little late to the Stewart Brand book party, but I am finishing his book, Whole Earth Discipline (2009), and have really, really enjoyed reading it. Here is an environmentalist who became famous with his Whole Earth Catalogue (1968-1985), and was also a man who greatly influenced Steve Jobs. We know this because Jobs said so in his most popular Stanford commencement address (youtube 15 minutes), now viewed more than 6 million times.

Brand can make anyone who is anti-GE crops feel like a fool by the time they finish reading his overview on the subject. He also strongly endorses nuclear energy as being the answer to our world's energy addiction problem.

I really liked the following philosophical excerpt from Brand's book and I think it's timely. Although I strongly believe that the hugest of agribusiness and banking corporatism has gotten us into a terrible mess and we need to "get the money out of politics" Dylan Ratigan-style to reclaim our democracy, the paragraphs are a necessary reminder as we are gloomy and doomeristic about our current state of affairs and environment:
It was romantics-charismatic figures such as Henry Thoreau, John Muir, David Brower, Ed Abbey, Dave Foreman, and Julia Butterfly Hill-who taught us to be rings of bone, open to all of it, ready to redirect our lives based on our deepest connection to nature. The year I graduated from Stanford, Brower launched the Sierra Club's Exhibit Format series of nature photography books. His first one, This is the American Earth (1960), made with photographer Ansel Adams, set me on a path I'm still on. Desert writer Ed Abbey introduced the further romance of protest, and role models like Earth-Firster Dave Foreman and mythic tree sitter Julia Butterfly Hill played it out.

Certain knowledge of what to fight for, and what to fight against, gives meaning to life and provides its own version of discipline: never give up. That kind of meaning is illusory, I now believe, and blinkered. Fealty to a mystical absolute is a formula for disaster, especially in transformative times. ...

In 1997 my growing distrust of romanticism in all its forms was crystallized by a book: The Idea of Decline in Western History, by Arthur Herman, which explores one questions: What is behind the ever-popular narrative of decline? Decade after decade, leading intellectuals in Europe and America explain that the world is going to hell, progress is a lie, and bad people, bad ideas, and bad institutions are to blame for the irreversible degradation of all that is true and good.
My Dad said something similar to me a couple of years ago, warning me that every age worries and is certain that things are about to fall apart but we always get through it. And I read Jane Goodall's Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey (2000) when it came out, another scientist-romantic who turned optimistic in her later years.

So, just as I was about to post this, along comes Dot Earth's Andrew Revkin pointing us towards a new book, The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans (OCT 2011) by Mark Lynas and published by National Geographic. Lynas is a British environmental activist who wrote Six Degrees and focuses on climate change. Apparently in his new book, he's gone from being a romantic environmental activist to someone who now supports agriculture using genetic engineering and nuclear energy, and has changed his views on these subjects in the past "several" years.

As I suspected, I read the interview and Lynas admits that Stewart Brand was an inspiration behind his new, formerly unpopular green stances. What about George Monbiot, who also embraced nuclear energy earlier this year?

Stewart Brand is Da Man.
——Kay McDonald


  1. The overriding curiosity of Western zeitgeist is the dualism of opposites. Every generation updates the narrative, every social movement grabs one side of the coin. Even Roger Penrose of Big Bang theory now admits that it's all a part of a cycle. This is how we do progress, innovate, track time, invent the future. We do not get to skip this step, but rather embrace it and create our own fusions. While we watch the pea in the shell game, the best stories grow fractacly, then exponentially on the margins. Despair and excitement together, this is how we call the future into existence, it's our pulse.