22 Dec 2009: Interview

Stewart Brand’s Strange Trip:
Whole Earth to Nuclear Power

When the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog embraces nuclear power, genetically engineered crops, and geoengineering schemes to cool the planet, you know things have changed in the environmental movement. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Stewart Brand explains how the passage of four decades — and the advent of global warming — have shifted his thinking about what it means to be green.

by todd woody

Stewart Brand helped shape the environmental consciousness of the 1960s and ‘70s with his Whole Earth Catalog, which became a bible of the counterculture and the back-to-the-land movement. An eclectic compendium of information and “tools” for innovative, environmentally friendly living, the Whole Earth Catalog reflected Brand’s ecological and technological interests, foreshadowing the rise of the San Francisco Bay Area’s computer and green cultures.

In the 1970s, Brand — a Stanford-trained biologist — started CoEvolutionary Quarterly to continue his exploration of environmental
Stewart Brand
Stewart Brand
issues and the rise of new technologies like the personal computer and genetic engineering. In between writing books on computing and space colonies, Brand served as an advisor to California Gov. Jerry Brown. In the early 1980s, Brand co-founded The WELL — the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link — an early electronic community in the pre-Internet days with Larry Brilliant, the epidemiologist who later become the first director of Google’s philanthropic arm.

In recent years, Brand, 71, has begun to rethink his earlier opposition to nuclear power and has embraced genetic engineering, geoengineering of the earth’s climate system, and other issues that were anathema to the traditional environmental movement. This evolution of his thinking has led to his new book, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto.

In it, Brand calls for the rapid deployment of a new generation of nuclear power plants to combat global warming, arguing that technological advances have made nuclear energy safer and any potential danger from nuclear waste pales compared to the damage inflicted by burning coal.

“The air pollution from coal burning is estimated to cause 30,000 deaths a year from lung disease in the United States, and 350,000 a year in China,” writes Brand. “A 1-gigawatt coal plant burns three million tons of fuel a year and produces seven million tons of CO2, all of which immediately goes into everyone’s atmosphere, where no one can control it, and no one knows what it’s really up to.”

Likewise, he says, environmentalists are misguided in their long-standing opposition to the genetic engineering of crops to increase yields and reduce pesticide use. In a move sure to rankle the local-food movement, Brand says organic farmers should also embrace GE crops.

Brand argues that humans have been reshaping the natural environment for millennia and thus should start exploring planet-wide technological fixes to the pending catastrophe of climate change, everything from injecting sulfates into the atmosphere to constructing a gigantic space shield to block solar radiation. And if the Whole Earth Catalog catered to the anti-urbanists of the 1960s, Brand now finds ecological salvation in the world’s mega-cities and their sprawling slums as “concentrators of efficiency and innovation.”

Brand lives on a converted tugboat in Sausalito, Calif., with his wife Ryan Phelan, founder of DNA Direct, a genetic testing service. Environmental journalist Todd Woody met Brand in his book-lined office — located nearby in a beached fishing boat on the Sausalito waterfront — and conducted the following interview for Yale Environment 360.

Yale Environment 360: Who did you write this book for?

Stewart Brand: For two versions of environmentalists — the ones who already know their environmentalism and the ones who are finding out their environmentalism because of climate change.

An assertion I make in the first chapter is that in light of climate change everybody’s an environmentalist. And in light of climate change people who already know they’re environmentalists are facing a changed situation. And I’m trying to help adjust the course in light of the situation and the technologies that are emerging.

e360: Is the environmental movement ideologically stuck in the 1970s?

Brand: It’s moved on in some areas. The environmental movement used to hate cities and is now halfway toward loving cities. The Sierra Club has been very active in supporting compactness in cities. Environmentalists don’t call themselves ecologists any more, and that’s good.

e360: Why is that good?

Brand: It’s good because most weren’t, and most people who said they were part of the ecology movement wouldn’t know one trophic level from another, or what a trophic level is, or what a food web is, or why a niche is a niche, or much less why horizontal transgenic gene transfer is normal rather than unnatural. So not being called ecologists is fine.

e360: Do you see a generational dividing line on nuclear power?

Brand: I’m somewhat speculating that there is a generation gap there. I think it’s probably much stronger with genetic engineering. There is no iGEM [the undergraduate International Genetically Engineered Machine synthetic biology competition] for grownups as far as I know. I take that as pretty much a good sign because geneticists and microbiologists are going to just own so much of this century.

e360: For anyone who’s younger than 35, nuclear power has not been an issue because there have been no new nuclear power plants built in this country for decades.

Brand: Well, that’s my surmise. What one would want to look at is some young anti-nuclear person, do they say Chernobyl? Do they say Three Mile Island? I don’t think they say Hiroshima or Nagasaki because that’s so far in the past. Even for me.

e360: One of the main arguments against nuclear is economic — it’s not viable in the marketplace. How much should the market play in pushing these technologies, versus the government?

Brand: It’s a strange kind of desperate argument. Probably that question applies most in the developing world where coal really is king, is the cheapest. If the market rules, coal wins almost everywhere. I’ve been saying, and I say in the book, that we have to get used to the idea that there’s a very serious role for the government here, basically to make coal expensive, and let the rest fight it out.

It’s not an issue in France and that’s why they have 80 percent nuclear. A bit of arithmetic I haven’t seen done yet is, if the U.S. were 80 percent nuclear, how many gigatons of carbon dioxide would not be in the atmosphere? We could have done that.

We didn’t for reasons very different than France. France was shattered by [the] 1973 [Arab oil embargo] and didn’t have their own coal, didn’t have their own oil. To get some energy independence, not because of anything environmental, they just went dead at it. They respect engineers in France way more than we do here and made the right thing happen and now have a huge export industry with selling energy to everybody in Europe, including all the green countries.

e360: NPR recently interviewed an Obama administration official on whether nuclear power should be an option to fight global warming. That official tried very hard to avoid even saying the word nuclear.

Brand: It’s a hot-button issue. Whether I raise it or not in talks, that’s what people want to talk about. What’s interesting to me, I’m going to go on book tour in England in January. England has just committed to ten new reactors. They’re tired of buying two gigawatts of nuclear power from France, among other things.

Frankly, my book is getting more uptake in England — even though it hasn’t come out there yet — than here. So I’m not sure if it’s my name or the subject or if they’re okay with nuclear, or what’s going on.

e360:: You were an advisor to Jerry Brown when he was governor and anti-nuclear sentiment was at its peak. If Jerry Brown becomes governor again do you see changes in policy?

Brand: We’ve talked about it. He hasn’t said, “Tell me more.” Back in the ‘70s when he first got into office, I said space is actually pretty interesting. Fifty percent of space technology comes from California. He was interested. We hired [astronaut] Rusty Schweiker, he did Space Day, he went to the first shuttle launch and landing. So he became Governor Moonbeam.

I haven’t heard him go that far on nuclear. I think it is still a third rail for all these guys. And I suppose part of what I’m trying to do is to take the charge off the rail.

e360: You don’t talk much about renewable energy in your book.

Brand: I think its very well covered so I don’t have much to add there other than nod, nod, nod, so let’s now talk about something I think I have some fresher information on.

But I think the main point I’m making with this book — and that’s why there’s two chapters about squatter cities and what’s going on in the cities and urbanization and so on — is that five out of six people don’t live in the developed world that has all this excess energy use.

They’re living much closer to the bone, and the greenest people in the world probably are the squatters in the slums of the world — a billion people. How lucky we are that they’re there, they’re getting out of poverty, they’re green as hell but they would really like electricity 24/7 and fresh water and sanitation and some other things that are going to involve more energy use. That’s either coal or nuclear as far as I can tell.

Whether we go to nuclear or not is not as important as whether they do. Or something else that is clean, scalable, and constant.

e360: What about solar?

Brand: My hope, frankly, was space solar because it’s 24/7. [California entrepreneur] Elon Musk flattened my ear on this subject. He said, “Look I do SpaceX so I know a lot about space, I do SolarCity so I know a lot about solar. I’m trying to kill anybody’s sense that there’s some realistic way to do ‘space solar.’”

He said even if you could get your solar collectors into orbit for free it still wouldn’t work. The costs and difficulties of beaming down electricity as microwaves with antennas on the ground don’t work out. For the time being, I’m persuaded by Elon on the matter.

e360: Nuclear power plants consume an incredible amount of water. Is that a concern?

Brand: Yep, water is an issue everywhere and every how. The tech I’d like to see is something more direct. That’s all hand wringing at this point. I don’t know anyone who has figured out how to turn heat into electricity without water.

e360: What has been the reaction to your proposals on genetic engineering and food?

Brand: Well, I’m a little surprised that Michael Pollan hasn’t come over because he has busted the industrialization of organic food.

The local growing of basically artisanal food is absolutely fantastic in a country where the basic nutrition problem is obesity. That’s not the major nutrition problem in much or most of the world. What they need is volume, which is the very thing the Green Revolution spoke to and answered. The second Green Revolution is the next set of good technology in agriculture. Not only green in the sense the first one was — higher yield, lower cost, cheaper food, better distribution and all that — but also green ecologically, environmentally green in terms of climate.

Kind of working backward to what the world wants and needs, and what the climate wants and needs, and ecology wants and needs, then genetic engineering looks like a very important tool.

e360: A theme running through the book is that the rest of the world has a different perspective on nuclear power and genetic engineering.

Brand: We tend to be north-centric, developed-centric. China is going full bore on nuclear. I’ve heard numbers as high as they want to build 400 reactors. And no doubt there will be problems. But there’s problems with dams, there’s problems with all these things. I think that’s the engineering essence I’m trying to have Greens become comfortable with.

When you’re trying to design solutions, you really, really have to get used to the idea of tradeoffs, risk balancing, short-term versus long-term. All this stuff that engineers are comfortable with.

I don’t want the romantic stuff to go away. I don’t want people to stop loving nature or loving some experience they’ve had with nature. They can if they want. Just add this other stuff. And so the line about the romantic loves the tree, but not its genome, and the scientist loves both.

e360: One of your more controversial chapters is on geoengineering, which strikes a lot of people, including scientists, as crazy and dangerous.

Brand: That must be next year’s controversy. I expected some pushback on that one. And I haven’t encountered it at all. Not in person, not in print. But it clearly wants and needs to be there. I think there’s all kinds of things to say.

Actually, the strongest pushback and non-embrace was in Al Gore’s new book. It’s a sentence in which he says we’ve done enough experimentation with the planet, that geoengineering is experimentation with the planet we do not need to do. He goes on about biochar [transforming organic waste into a charcoal-like fertilizer], as he should, but doesn’t think or treat that as geoengineering. I do. I think that kind of effort is a form of grass rootsy, and therefore good, geoengineering.

e360: Do you have concerns that support for geoengineering will be used by others as an excuse to carry on with business as usual?

Brand: Well, I don’t want to eliminate business-as-usual as an okay goal. I want to set aside a potential business as usual that ain’t bad. Suppose we had energy that had that quality of way more than we could use or need, and it was clean.

There is another set of people in the environmental movement who are what I’m calling calamatists, who feel that industrial civilization has committed crimes, sins against nature, and retribution is coming and we must repent, reform, and redeem ourselves in light of these terrible crimes and this terrible sin.

The way you can tell if someone is of that mode is to raise this: Suppose we had clean, squanderable energy available, what do you think of that? The ones that have that frame of mind would say that is the worst thing that could happen.

Again, I think that is not a perspective that makes a lot of sense in the developing world. You can go to African peoples and say what do you think of clean, squanderable energy, they would say, “Yes please. How soon?”

e360: Hasn’t cheap energy in this country lead to our sprawling development and other environmental problems?

Brand: Maybe, maybe. But one of the things the new urbanists changed are that suburbs as they came to be designed are boring stupid places to live. It’s not a question of whether you save energy by walking to the market, you sort of save your mind by walking to the market, by being able to bicycle the kids to school. The idea of parents, smart busy adults, having to be chauffeurs for their children has nothing to do with environmental issues at all — it’s just a weird way to live.

Yale e360 Interviews

Michael Pollan: What’s Wrong with Environmentalism
Kelly Brownell: Food Industry Pursues Big Tobacco Strategy
Sylvia Earle: Restoring the World’s Oceans to Health
Freeman Dyson: Reluctant Global Warming Skeptic
Elizabeth Kolbert: The Media and Climate Change
Ken Caldeira: The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Geoengineering
I just want that one on the table. Suppose we do get clean, squanderable energy. Is that okay or not okay? One scenario is that it is okay. [Local-food advocate] Alice Waters’ approach to food — artisanal growing of food — is a better approach to growing food. But you need a certain amount of prosperity and density and all these other fun things for that to happen. That is also a product of highly industrialized civilization.

Alice Waters needs a city and in the absence of a city you don’t get Alice Waters or Michael Pollan. The city is a market. It’s a sophisticated market.

e360: Thirty or 40 years ago if you picked up a book advocating these ideas, what would you have thought?

Brand: So 30 to 40 years ago I think I would have said to all the genetic engineering stuff — hot dog! I did say at that time “yes” to solar in space because I was pushing space colonies. The only practical reason that we could think of was that a business model for space colonies was beaming down solar.

Nuclear I would have said, “Bad idea,” and I did. Not actively and overtly. I just went in a somewhat knee-jerk mode and my own mode of long-term thinking at the time that it was too big a penalty to exact from future generations, because of the nuclear waste issue.

I think a lot of this stuff is shifting, and this book is a next-30-years to next-100-years book. Most of the issues we’re dealing with — [like] climate — will be sorted out one way or the other in this century. It’s going to be a thrilling century because so much is in play and so many balls are in the air.

POSTED ON 22 Dec 2009 IN Climate Energy Policy & Politics Policy & Politics Pollution & Health Sustainability North America 


Todd (and Stewart), this is a terrific interview and says some things that need to be said. Stewart's book is the best book of its kind that I've read in a long time.

I do think you are too quick to dismiss the economic argument against nuclear power. Do we know what these plants are going to cost? (Admittedly, regulatory uncertainty and delay adds significantly to costs.) If wind and solar turn out to be cheaper, do we still need nukes?

Posted by Marc Gunther on 22 Dec 2009

There was once real genetic engineering... it's called BREEDING and you can genetically engineer plants and animals in nature, not the laboratory.

Posted by Krissy on 22 Dec 2009

We need nukes because you fight the war against global warming with the weapons you've got, not the ones you'd like to have. Without viable battery technologies, solar and wind won't add significantly to meeting demand for electricity. And they're not cheaper. At $0.15-21/KwHr, they come in two-to-three times more expensive than nuclear. Vermont Yankee is offering new electricity contracts at $0.065/Kw/Hr. Try and get that rate anywhere else in New England.

Nuclear energy can be delivered on time and within budget if regulatory agencies are not on a hair trigger to respond to every green group that wants to take a shot at knocking on off.

Stewart Brand made it clear governments cannot sit back and let market mechanisms work their own logic. That's one of the reasons we have global warming in the first place. We need more leadership from elected officials on energy policy instead of endless partisan rancor in Congress.

Posted by Dan Yurman on 22 Dec 2009

This book is loaded for bear, doused with ad hominems, full of inflammatory opinions either unencumbered by facts or so distorting and blatantly wrong that it casts the entire book into question -- even those few chapters that I found insightful. Ironically, the most untrustworthy chapter is Brand's invidious distortion and (deliberate?) misunderstanding of wind and solar energy.

His arguments are blatantly wrong and painfully out-of-date, ignoring an immense literature of empirical experience and accumulated evidence; while his facile fascination and over-the-top effusiveness for nuclear power is buttressed by biases and logical fallacies, shorn of any substantive discussion of the very real challenges that continue to make nuclear power so controversial and questionable.

Posted by Michael P Totten on 22 Dec 2009

Like Marc, I enjoyed the interview. I have a different perspective on costs, however. From my experience as a nuke, a technology advocate, a manufacturer and a financial analyst (I just cannot keep a job) I assert that we have barely begun to climb the 'S' curve of potential cost saving technology improvements available in nuclear energy.

It is, after all, a terribly young form of commercial energy. Humans did not even know it existed as a possibility a mere 70 years ago. We still have people alive today who were there as adults when atomic "fire" was first captured and brought indoors under human control. In contrast, people have been sold the idea that wind and solar are something new - even though humans have been capturing them for thousands of years.

No one who has spent any time associated with nuclear technology can fail to admit that they have seen countless stupid processes that increase costs.

I remember when I was an engineer officer on a submarine and ordered two identical valves. One was intended for a non nuclear cooling system, one was used in a cooling system associated with the reactor plant. The non-nuclear version cost about $20; the one with the pedigree cost about $2,000. Those two very common parts came from exactly the same factory, were produced with the same materials and used the same drawings. The only real difference was the certified paperwork!

Nuclear energy systems can be far less expensive without compromising safety, but the competitors are going to resist the disruption that might cause to their source of power and wealth. I do not plan to allow their resistance to dominate and keep abundant energy out of the grasp of the 5 out of 6 people in the world who currently have little or no access to energy.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

Posted by Rod Adams on 23 Dec 2009

Some of this is wrong.

For starters, the biggest issue is that Space Based solar will not happen for general power. HOWEVER, it can and should be developed for a different issue. In particular, it costs plenty to provide power at Military bases (shipping of generators, fuel, etc). OTH, the receiver could be small and easy to move.

Likewise, this can provide power to remote areas, or even to disaster areas. The receivers can be made small and lightweight. In an earthquake area, a generator or just a small reflector could be moved into position to provide the power to a variety of areas. Likewise, prior to a hurricane moving in, position these sats and then as the hurricane moves out, power it able to be provided in various area in the first couple of hours. That enables a GREAT deal of changes to what we can do.

Posted by g.r.r. on 23 Dec 2009

Overall, a well-done interview. I would like to have seen more appreciation given to the real father of the "Green Revolution" - Norman Borlaug. He almost single-handedly discovered and developed better strains of crops that allowed millions of poor people to escape starvation. He recently passed away, to no fan-fare or national "Thanks" - but we know all about Tiger Woods.

Please give additional verification to the amount of water nuclear plants use or consume.

@Michael P Totten - you might want to consult the arithmetic done by Barry Brook's team at www.bravenewclimate.com - under the TCASE series. Diffuse power doesn't hold a candle to nuclear. And I do residential and small commercial solar installs.

Posted by DocForesight on 23 Dec 2009

I am from France and nobody knows the real cost of nuclear electricity one reason is because it is run by the goverement so it does not have to be cost effective..As far as France selling electricity to other country, that was true before, but for the first time this year, we had to get electricity from other countries! France and its nuclear energy is not a model since it was done throughout intensive propaganda (I remember even at schools where government officials came to tell us how great it was and not even mentioning other alternatives).

Now I am not sure if Steward would like to live near La Hague (the huge french nuclear waste facility/disposal) in northern France, there are many controversies with that, lack of transpenrancy, waste leaking in the ocean......etc and Sausalito is far from there!

The debate is between well-off people living in wonderful place (who in the world would not like to live to in Sausalito?) far from another daily reality that others expereince daily....

Posted by Pierre on 24 Dec 2009

My response to Marc (above) is the same as Brand's, who says in the interview that govt. policy should be to:

"...basically to make coal expensive, and let the rest fight it out."

We need a cost to be placed on CO2 emissions, either through cap-and-trade, or through a carbon tax. Fossil fuels' other huge externalities (e.g., 30,000 deaths every single year) should also be priced. Then we should just let the market decide how to respond.

It must be understood that it is the "environmentalists" (i.e., the anti-nuke, renewables-only advocates) who are dead set against any such free and fair market competition, and who work tirelessly to ensure that no such competition ever occurs. Instead, they insist on massive govt. interventions in the clean energy market, through enormous subsidies for renewables (only) and through outright mandates for large amounts of renewables use (20%) regardless of cost or practicality.

Note that in Waxman-Markey, the required CO2 emissions reduction by 2020 is only about equal to the mandated percentage for renewables for the same timeframe (17% vs. 15-20%). In other words, almost the entire non-emitting energy market has been handed to renewables, by govt. fiat.

The reason they do this is because they know that other options, including nuclear and replacing coal with gas, are significantly cheaper than renewables, and would win out under any system that left emissions reductions up to the market. Official (EIA) govt. statistics show that the cost of intermittent kW-hrs from wind and solar are more expensive than reliable kW-hrs from nuclear. Add in the costs related to intermittentcy (standby fossil power, huge grid upgrades) and their costs are much higher. Analyses by govt. bodies such as the EPA and CBO all show that under a system where CO2 emissions are limited, and the market is left to respond, nuclear's share of overall generation increases substantially. Translation, when CO2 emissions are limited, nuclear is one of the least expensive options.

When you hear all these talk about nuclear being really expensive, all they're saying is that its expensive compared to fossil fuel plants that are free to release all their CO2 (and other pollutants) at no charge. That and conservation. How nuclear compares to other non-emitting (renewable) source is a subject that they are (deliberately) not choosing to talk about.

Posted by Jim Hopf on 24 Dec 2009

I wish I could share Brand's enthusiasm for megacities teeming with "the greenest people in the world," but good reporting like Joanna Kakissis's "Environmental Refugees Unable to Return Home" (New York Times, Jan. 3) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/04/world/asia/04migrants.html?hp surely make me wonder. It appears there is no path out of urban poverty fast enough to get ahead of this problem, and I don't see an answer in Brand's ecopragmatism.
Posted by Edward Wolf on 03 Jan 2010

"The Whole Earth Catalog encouraged individual power; Whole Earth Discipline is more about
aggregate power." - Stewart Brand

Haven't read the book but have heard Brand talk about it on the radio, in part with Amory Lovins, and now have read this interview. I didn't hear or read Brand mention the primary issues with nuclear and GMOs from my perspective, the scale of the organizations needed to do them and the histories of those organizations in respect to how they have used the power they already have. Not good, either for nukes or for GMOs.

I have no fundamental problem with either technology. I do have serious problems with how they have been deployed. Monsanto seemingly wants to own all seed production and has gone a long way toward doing so. They have been ruthless in protecting their patents on their seed in such a way as to drive many people out of business. One example can be seen in the film "Food Inc" where Monsanto's nuisance lawsuits force a seed cleaner out of business even though he has never been proved to deal in Monsanto's seed illegally. That is not the contention of the suit. The contention of the suit is that by his business' existence he constitutes a threat to Monsanto.

The US nuclear industry also does not have a good reputation in how it has dealt with its critics. Their arrogance is legend. In the time we have left in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, nuclear power will play little or no part as there isn't the time nor the infrastructure to produce nuclear power plants in the quantity necessary. Efficiency, resource conservation, and renewables especially if deployed in an industrial ecosystem are the only real solutions available. Everything else is a distraction.

The aggregated power Brand is endorsing through his support for the present nuclear power and GMO industries is corporatism at best and neo-feudalism at worst. The problem is not the technologies themselves but the practices of the corporations which are building them.

As for geoengineering, we live in a geoengineered world, a badly geoengineered world, a stupidly geoengineered world. I've spent the last few hours reading about Thomas Midgley Jr, the man who put tetraethyl lead in gasoline and the inventor of Freon. He is the primary geoengineer of the world we live in and both of his principal discoveries have caused untold destruction and horror. His ignorance can be excused in the case of Freon but not at all for tetraethyl lead as he very well knew the poisonous nature of that additive and actively campaigned to cover it up. Eventually, Midgley strangled in his own invention, a series of ropes and pulleys that helped him move from his bed after he was stricken with polio. He may have strangled us all in his inventions too and his life should serve as a warning to anybody who thinks technology is Promethean rather than Epimethean, as Stewart Brand seems to believe.

Posted by George Mokray on 04 Jan 2010

Dear Stewart Brand and Friends,

Perhaps necessary change is in the offing. As currently structured, the global economy appears not to be working well and could be fast approaching a point in human history when the manmade "economic colossus" becomes too big not to fail because of its unsustainability in the finite and frangible world we inhabit.

Although you appear to be correct in so much of what you report, I have held onto hope for more, much more intellectual honesty, moral courage and bold action from leaders in my not-so-great generation as a way of responding ably to the global challenges that have emerged in my lifetime. Perhaps there is still time available to reasonably acknowledge and sensibly address the converging global challenges that loom before humanity now. At least one of these ominous global challenges, the human overpopulation of Earth, is clearly visible for all to see if not for the willful blindness, hysterical deafness and elective mutism of many too many leaders and experts. Their disregard of the best available science as well as their specious ideological presumptions, the ones derived from the culturally extolled virtue of unbridled greed on one hand and the endless global growth of human production, consumption and propagation activities on the other, appear to be directing the children down a short, patently unsustainable "primrose path" to an unimaginable confrontation with some sort of colossal ecological wreckage, I suppose.

Thanks again for speaking out loudly and clearly.

Posted by Steven Earl Salmony on 05 Jan 2010

Loved the book. Loved the interview. Learned a lot. Wish even more could have been said on how solar and wind can work for the individual home, farm, apartment complex, etc. as companions to the grid. I do not have the facts or the background, but it seems that the local stuff, privately financed can only benefit us all.

Posted by Kathleen on 19 Jan 2010

I understand Stewart's mindset that the problem mankind faces is imminent and the time to address short. Why not use technology that is available?

I just can't get beyond the thought of leaving deadly and toxic waste for thousands of years. What if we in our present economic downturn had to divert our resources to contain nuclear waste left by ancient Egyptians? What if the Pyramids were nuclear waste dumps? If you look at your possessions, I'm sure everyone could find things that are wasteful or superfluous. Now say, "To have this I am righteous to burden all mankind for, essentially, forever." I have worked in factories that could make a million products a week. When we want to say something is unlikely we' "Oh its unlikely, it has just a one in million chance of happening" I have seen those unlikely occurences on the factory floor. Something bad will happen eventually with nuclear power. The potential destruction is too great to allow this poisonous technology to continue much less increase in the ways he proposes.

Posted by take little on 23 Feb 2010

Remember, or research this bit of history if you are still young, Dr. Helen Caldicott's wake up
call, along with the calls of so many others during the early days of nuclear power protests
and the Clamshell Alliance; and remember Chernobyl. If you think that Iran is about to
become a nuclear power and that makes you nervous, then why on earth do you think that
having tons and tons and tons of nuclear fuels and waste would make this a better world? Not
to mention the incalculable costs of infinite storage (see great letter just above). Why would
we listen to Mr. Techno who believes that we can solve everything with engineering? More
intractable problems that must be addressed have to do with overpopulation, climate
stabilization and health. The ill-thought-out Green Revolution simply made the population of
India explode. Sure, engineers are handy. But engineers are not so great with thinking about
human costs and human needs.

Posted by Merryone on 25 Feb 2010

Gosh, I guess it's just a coincidence. Stewart gets involved with Glonal Networking and then... hmmm maybe genetic engineering ain't so bad.

Per stewart: "There is another set of people in the environmental movement who are what I’m calling calamatists, who feel that industrial civilization has committed crimes, sins against nature..."

If you don't believe corporate America -- in pursuit of a larger number on the bottom line -- has committed grave sins against nature, you must be too young to remember Chernobyl, 3 Mile Island and the grand Cuyahoga River catching fire. Reminds me of Timothy Leary as a born again right wing fanatic...

Posted by David strohm on 14 Mar 2010

For those commenters above complaining about the nuclear waste issue...it isn't an issue. Current reactors on burn about 1% of the potential energy in uranium. What we call "waste" has HUGE potential to provide energy to the entire world AND turn a 10,000 year problem into a manageable 300-500 year problem. Google "Liquid Fueled Thorium Reactor" or "Integral Fast Reactor."

And who's to say that in 50 years we won't be able to get rid the waste completely?

Taking the position that we should just bury the stuff rather than develop proven technologies that can eliminate 90% of the volume and decrease the radioactivity by 1.5 orders of magnitude is just crazy. Technology does not stand still, and it won't in this case.

And as Brand says in the book, it's futile to try and stop nuclear power. It's growing whether we like it or not. So we need to make our voices heard to encourage the development of thorium reactors and/or fast reactors to burn up nuclear waste. What's your solution to the nuclear waste problem?

If you had only two choices for a new power plant in your area, would you pick coal or
nuclear? By all possible measures coal is immensely more dangerous. To me, the choice is

Posted by Chris on 21 Jul 2010

I want to hear Stewart Brand comment on Japan's recent nuclear disaster following the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami. Interesting that he and other nuclear power proponents are now curiously mute as the world helplessly watches this disaster unfold.

Japan, one of the world's most technologically-advanced nations, has been incapable of stemming the radiation leaks from the damaged reactors at Fukoshima, this almost 2 weeks after the tsunami wiped out the plant's electrical cooling system! Furthermore, none of the other nuclear superpowers, including the United States and France, have yet been able to help come up with a technological solution for this situation. In the face of such impotence, Stewart Brand, would it not be perverse and hugely irresponsible to still claim that nuclear technology is safe and the best option for our planet?

The situation in Japan is a tragedy of untold proportions and could even get worse unless the runaway heating of the reactors is brought under control. It is increasingly obvious that nuclear technology has a LONG way to go before it can be demonstrated safe. Obviously, the nuclear waste problem is still unresolved. And closer to home, nuclear plants off the coast of California could be vulnerable as they are located in an area of significant seismic activity, and, as those of Fukoshima, keep spent nuclear fuel in water-cooled, potentially vulnerable containment vessels...and of even greater concern, the surrounding areas are home to millions of people, rather than the tens of thousands in the affected areas of Japan.

We need to get over our suicidal belief that we should wait for a technological fix for the problems confronting us in this 'modern age'. We have to face the reality that we have brought them on ourselves - they stem from our greed, addiction to technology and overconsumption of energy. The solution lies not in gambling with nuclear and fossil fuel-dependent technology but in re-learning to live sustainably and in harmony with the earth - that is the true green solution, has many precedents (both past and present), and is the only viable option for our planet. Our survival is at stake - let's hope we learn that essential lesson before it is too late.

Posted by Koren on 23 Mar 2011


Say it isn't so!

I am over here with my apartment windows taped to protect against the radiation drifting
over Tokyo from Fukushima, and dealing with panic-buying and hoarding by fearful Japanese
housewives worried about an explosion and meltdown. It is difficult to get bottled water and
toilet paper.

13 Japanese volcanos have evidenced increased seismic activity.

The incompetence of the Japanese government in dealing with this nuclear crisis has been astounding. None of my Japanese neighbors believe what spokesman Edano, et al are saying.

You and Michael Philips were right on target with Space Colonies for unlimited solar power for
Earth, and the vision of the Yale Professor who led that mid-70's effort with the support of NASA. Why was it stopped? Not enough financial support from Congress?

Posted by Mark Lavelle on 28 Mar 2011

Comments have been closed on this feature.
Todd Woody, who conducted this interview for Yale Environment 360, is a veteran environmental and technology journalist based in California who writes for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Grist and other publications. He previously was a senior editor at Fortune magazine, the assistant managing editor of Business 2.0 magazine and the business editor of the San Jose Mercury News.



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