October 15, 2010

Really Natural Books: Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary

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Stewart Brand is well-known for the Whole Earth Catalog, a book that was very influential in my own efforts to live a greener life. Now Brand has written another book: Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary that has recently been released in paperback.

The title alone is enough to grab your attention and immediately form opinions about the content. I just dig in my heels when I read about anyone advocating for nuclear power; however, Brand shows us how many of the areas of the Green Movement typically viewed with "distaste and distrust" may actually be green. Take for example urbanization: cities are green as they use "resources more efficiently".  

Many of Brand's tenets are a hard pill to swallow for environmentalists. Take for example this excerpt on nuclear power:

The more I thought about the standard environmentalist stance on nuclear waste, which I had espoused for years, the nuttier it seemed to me. The customary rant goes: "You have to guarantee that all the radioactivity in the waste will be totally contained for ten thousand years (no, a hundred thousand years; no, a million years), and if you can't guarantee that, you can't have nuclear power." Why? "Because any amount of radioactivity hurts humans and other life forms. It might get in the ground water."

What humans? The assumption seems to be that future humans will be exactly as we are today, with our present concerns and present technology. How about, say two hundred years from now? If we and our technology prosper, humanity by then will be unimaginably capable compared to now, with far more interesting things to worry about than some easily detected and treated stray radioactivity somewhere in the landscape. If we crash back to the stone age, odd doses of radioactivity will be the least of our problems. Extrapolate to two thousand years, ten thousand years. The problem doesn't get worse over time, it vanishes over time.

Sorry Brand, but I don't buy your logic. This is much of the same attitude that began in the Industrial Revolution, and rather than the problems going away, we are now faced with climate change, high cancer rates, etc.

Despite my reservations, I do recommend this book. It is well researched and thought-provoking, and I do agree with some of Brand's ideas.  It is good to read and contemplate ideas to help solidify your own. 

Disclosure: I was sent free samples of these products to review. No prior assurances were given as to whether the review be positive or negative.

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Posted by Jennifer Lance at October 15, 2010 1:40 AM

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