Stewart Brand is a remarkable individual. In the late 60’s he campaigned NASA to release the now iconic image of earth from space. This photo then graced the cover of his Whole Earth Catalog, a sort of Loot magazine for hippie communes. At the same time his interest in technology led to a job as cameraman on Doug Engelbart’s seminal ‘Mother of All Demos‘. In later years he co-founded the WELL, the Global Business Network and the Long Now Foundation.
Brand is currently on tour promoting his sixth book, Whole Earth Discipline. On Saturday he stopped by the ICA in London for a presentation and short Q&A.
As a lifelong environmentalist and a founder of the green movement, Stewart Brand’s opinions on climate change carry some weight. What’s interesting though, is that those opinions are informed by a comprehensive understanding of modern technology. His approach is pragmatic (the book’s subtitle is An Ecopragmatist Manfesto) and some of his conclusions are surprising.
If you follow the Seminars About Long Term thinking (and you should, they’re great) you’ll know this pragmatic approach has led him to take controversial positions on a number of green issues. For one he’s pro nuclear power: citing the work of Saul Griffith, who has researched the real cost and scalability of green energy provision, nuclear power seems the only viable option. His roundup of new reactor designs was very enlightening, one of which is even powered by the waste generated by our current reactors.
Re-thinking green in light of new technology he comes down in favour of genetically modified food. Again, a controversial position he backs up with real world examples. He makes a speculative case for geo-engineering and also for sustainable urbanism. The resourcefulness of slum dwellers wonderfully illustrated in the video above.
After the presentation was over Stewart was joined on stage by Alexander Rose, Executive Director of Long Now, for a short Q&A. After this Long Now London met for an informal meet and greet. This was a great chance to talk to like-minded individuals and I’m happy to report that my rather battered copy of The Clock of The Long Now now bears the signature of it’s author.