Brand builds his case for rethinking environmental goals and methods on two major changes going on in the world. The one that most people still don’t take into consideration is that power is shifting to the developing world, where 5 out of 6 people live, where the bulk of humanity is getting out of poverty by moving to cities and creating their own jobs and communities (slums, for now).
He noted that history has always been driven by the world’s largest cities, and these years they are places like Mumbai, Lagos, Dhaka, Sao Paulo, Karachi, and Mexico City, which are growing 3 times faster and 9 times bigger than cities in the currently developed world ever did. The people in those cities are unstoppably moving up the “energy ladder” to high quality grid electricity and up the “food ladder” toward better nutrition, including meat. As soon as they can afford it, everyone in the global South is going to get air conditioning.
The second dominant global fact is climate change. Brand emphasized that climate is a severely nonlinear system packed with tipping points and positive feedbacks such as the unpredicted rapid melting of Arctic ice. Warming causes droughts, which lowers carrying capacity for humans, and they fight over the diminishing resources, as in Darfur. It also is melting the glaciers of the Himalayan plateau, which feed the rivers on which 40% of humanity depends for water in the dry season—the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Mekong, Irrawaddy, Yangtze, and Yellow.
Global warming has to be slowed by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases from combustion, but cities require dependable baseload electricity, and so far the only carbon-free sources are hydroelectric dams and nuclear power. Brand contrasted nuclear with coal-burning by comparing what happens with their waste products. Nuclear spent fuel is tiny in quantity, and you know exactly where it is, whereas the gigatons of carbon dioxide from coal burning goes into the atmosphere, where it stays for centuries making nothing but trouble. Brand declared that geological sequestering of nuclear waste has been proven practical and safe by the ten years of experience at the WIPP in New Mexico, and he paraded a series of new “microreactor” designs that offer a clean path for distributed micropower, especially in developing countries.
Moving to genetically engineered food crops, Brand noted that they are a tremendous success story in agriculture, with Green benefits such as no-till farming, lowered pesticide use, and more land freed up to be wild. The developing world is taking the lead with the technology, designing crops to deal with the specialized problems of tropical agriculture. Meanwhile the new field of synthetic biology is bringing a generation of Green biotech hackers into existence.
On the subject of bioengineering (direct intervention in climate), Brand suggested that we will have to follow of the example of beneficial “ecosystem engineers” such as earthworms and beavers and tweak our niche (the planet) toward a continuing life-friendly climate, using methods such a cloud-brightening with atomized seawater and recreating what volcanoes do when they pump sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, cooling the whole world.
Green aversion to technologies such as nuclear and genetic engineering resulted from a mistaken notion that they are somehow “unnatural.” “What we call natural and what we call human are inseparable,” Brand concluded. “We live one life.”
Stewart Brand - Stewart Brand is a co-founder and managing director of Global Business Network, founded and runs the GBN Book Club, and is the president of The Long Now Foundation.
Brand is well known for founding, editing and publishing the Whole Earth Catalog (01968-85), which received a National Book Award for the 01972 issue. In 01984, he founded The WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), a computer teleconference system for the San Francisco Bay Area. It now has 11,000 active users worldwide and is considered a bellwether of the genre.
Brand has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Santa Fe Institute, an interdisciplinary center studying the sciences of complexity, since 01989. He received the Golden Gadfly Lifetime Achievement Award from the Media Alliance, San Francisco in the same year.
He was a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization which supports civil rights and responsibilities in electronic media, and is an acting adviser to Ecotrust, Portland-based preservers of temperate rain forest from Alaska to San Francisco.
Brand is the author of many pioneering books including The Clock Of The Long Now in 01999, How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built in 01994, The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT in 01987, and Two Cybernetic Frontiers on Gregory Bateson and cutting-edge computer science in 01974. It had the first use of the term “personal computer” in print and was the first book to report on computer hackers.
Kevin Kelly - Kevin Kelly is a member of the the Long Now Foundation board of directors.
Kevin Kelly is the editor at large (formerly editor in chief) at Wired Magazine. He was involved in the 1993 launch of this influential magazine. In 1994 and 1997, during Kelly’s tenure, Wired won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence.
From 1984-1990, he was publisher and editor of the “Whole Earth Review,” a journal of unorthodox technical news. He is a founding board member of the WELL, a Sausalito-based teleconference system that is viewed as a model of online community. He edited “Signal,” a Whole Earth Catalog of personal communication tools. He launched Cyberthon, the first round-the-clock virtual reality jamboree.
Kelly’s book on how machines are becoming biological is called Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and Economics. In 1998, he also published New Rules for the New Economy.
He is also a member of the Global Business Network, a distributed think tank specializing in future scenarios for global-minded businesses. He has written for Time, the New York Times, the Economist, GQ, and Harpers. His latest book, Asia Grace, is currently available from Taschen.
Peter Schwartz - Peter Schwartz is cofounder and chairman of Global Business Network (GBN), a unique membership organization and worldwide network of strategists, business executives, scientists, and artists based in Emeryville, California.
Established in 01988, GBN specializes in corporate scenario planning and research on the future of the business environment. From 01982 to 01986, Schwartz headed scenario planning for the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies in London. His team conducted comprehensive analyses of the global business and political environment and worked with senior management to create successful strategies.
Before joining Royal Dutch/Shell, Schwartz directed the Strategic Environment Center at SRI International. The Center researched the business milieu, lifestyles, and consumer values, and conducted scenario planning for corporate and government clients.
Schwartz is the co-author of both the 01999 books The Long Boom, and When Good Companies Do Bad Things: Responsibility and Risk in an Age of Globalization, and is the author of the 01991 book, The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World. This seminal publication on scenario planning has been translated into Dutch, Portuguese, and Chinese.
Schwartz also co-authored Seven Tomorrows: Toward a Voluntary History with James Ogilvy and Paul Hawken in 01982, and The Emergent Paradigm: Changing Patterns of Thought and Belie with James Ogilvy in 01979. He has published and lectured widely and served as a script consultant on the films War Games and Sneakers. Schwartz received a BS in aeronautical engineering and astronautics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.