Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Smart guy

Uber techno-hippie Stewart Brand (the guy who created the Whole Earth Catalog, imagined "horizontal information networks" (read "the Internet") and arranged a demonstration of the computer mouse--in 1968) is profiled in the New York Times. The piece, "An early environmentalist, embracing new 'heresies'" (yes, they put "heresies" in quotes), will make Gaia-worshippers' eyes bleed:
Stewart Brand has become a heretic to environmentalism, a movement he helped found, but he doesn’t plan to be isolated for long. He expects that environmentalists will soon share his affection for nuclear power. They’ll lose their fear of population growth and start appreciating sprawling megacities. They’ll stop worrying about “frankenfoods” and embrace genetic engineering.
Greenpeaceniks (in Moe Szyslak voice): Whaaaaaa?!?

He sees genetic engineering as a tool for environmental protection: crops designed to grow on less land with less pesticide; new microbes that protect ecosystems against invasive species, produce new fuels and maybe sequester carbon.

He’s also looking for green nuclear engineers, and says he feels guilty that he and his fellow environmentalists created so much fear of nuclear power. . . .

“There were legitimate reasons to worry about nuclear power, but now that we know about the threat of climate change, we have to put the risks in perspective,” he says. “Sure, nuclear waste is a problem, but the great thing about it is you know where it is and you can guard it. The bad thing about coal waste is that you don’t know where it is and you don’t know what it’s doing. The carbon dioxide is in everybody’s atmosphere.”

Funny thing, the reporter, John Tierney, doesn't ask Brand where he stands on Leslie Gore-bal Warming, and my cursory look didn't turn up any "we're all gonna die" riffing from the guy. Clearly he believes it's a threat, but he also seems much, much calmer about it than your average eco-doomster. As the Times says, he's strangely calm about other issues that send eco-hysterics to the (non-latex, all natural) rubber room as well. For example,
he now looks at the rapidly growing megacities of the third world not as a crisis but as good news: as villagers move to town, they find new opportunities and leave behind farms that can revert to forests and nature preserves. Instead of worrying about population growth, he’s afraid birth rates are declining too quickly, leaving future societies with a shortage of young people.
Brand also mentions the famous Paul Ehrlich/Julian Simon bet, which this wretched bog has bloviated on more than once:

Brand is the first to admit his own futurism isn’t always prescient. In 1969, he was so worried by population growth that he organized the Hunger Show, a weeklong fast in a parking lot to dramatize the coming global famine predicted by Paul Ehrlich, one of his mentors at Stanford.

The famine never arrived, and Professor Ehrlich’s theories of the coming “age of scarcity” were subsequently challenged by the economist Julian Simon, who bet Mr. Ehrlich that the prices of natural resources would fall during the 1980s despite the growth in population. The prices fell, just as predicted by Professor Simon’s cornucopian theories.

Professor Ehrlich dismissed Professor Simon’s victory as a fluke, but Mr. Brand saw something his mentor didn’t. He considered the bet a useful lesson about the adaptability of humans — and the dangers of apocalyptic thinking.

“It is one of the great revelatory bets,” he now says. “Any time that people are forced to acknowledge publicly that they’re wrong [of course, Ehrlich did so only about a few specific predictions while continuing to claim his theories are valid--ed.], it’s really good for the commonweal. I love to be busted for apocalyptic proclamations that turned out to be 180 degrees wrong. In 1973 I thought the energy crisis was so intolerable that we’d have police on the streets by Christmas. The times I’ve been wrong is [sic] when I assume there’s a brittleness in a complex system that turns out to be way more resilient than I thought.”

For you Drunkablog-reading apocalyptic thinkers out there (and you know who you are!), let me repeat that: "The times I've been wrong is when I assume there's a brittleness in a complex system that turns out to be way more resilient than I thought." And this is Stewart Brand talking, you feelthy, reedeeculous, ahging heepies! Recreate '68! Recreate '68!

(via the scintillating Naomi and Ashley of the Judd "Brothers" blog)

Update: Maybe that the Drunkablog and Stewart Brand are like this (two fingers wrapped around each other) on so many issues will finally convince some of you cockchafers that, intellectually, the Drunkablog is more akin to these folks than to these. (Physically of course he still resembles the latter).

Update II: Anybody remember any other "great revelatory bets"? There are a couple, I think, but all that comes to mind is the time the one egghead threatened to crush the other egghead's skull with a poker. That had nothing at all to do with a bet, though, I'm pretty sure.

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