Environmental heresies

Courtesy of slashdot

Stewart Brand, famous for the Whole Earth Catalog and the Well virtual community, has just published an article called Environmental Heresies in The MIT Technology Review. He predicts that the environmental movement will have to reverse its position in the next ten years on four key issues:

  • population growth,
  • urbanization,
  • genetically-modified organisms, and
  • nuclear power.

Here are his arguments. Population growth is no longer a pressing problem because of global population decline. Urbanization is good because women gain more power and independence when they move to cities from villages. Moreover, empty villages mean that nature might return to those places. Genetically modified crops produce higher yields on less land area and with fewer pesticides and herbicides. He reminds the reader that the Amish, who are considered otherwise technology-adverse, have adopted GM crops. [He doesn’t mention the potential for gm crops like golden rice, which puts vitamins into food eaten by vitamin-deficient populations, although there are significant critiques of this approach.]

By far, his most controversial contention–he’s not the only one to make it–is that environmentalists will come to support nuclear power. Fossil fuel consumption must be reduced to slow global climate change. However, alternatives to fossil fuels, wind, solar, are considered incapable of supplying the energy that the world demands. Nuclear power is believed to be the only power source to meet the need.

He concludes that environmentalists have romanticized nature; whereas scientists, who have tried to promote these heretical ideas, have become the true radicals. It’s important for environmentalists to remain idealists, but it’s up to them to recognize these new realities. Don’t know whether I feel like a radical here, but I do find the latter two “realities” quite uncomfortable.

One Response to “Environmental heresies”

  1. pete says:

    Although I disagree with the first point about population decline in ten years (the UN expects the peak to come much later than that), he is probably right with his other points. GM food will be widely adopted by nations that have little choice in their struggle to feed their populations. The environmental effects of GM foods will be what they will be, and will be the price people pay for not starving.

    While I would like to live in the country, urban centers are more efficient in terms of transportation and energy requirements (when the dreaded urban sprawl is avoided), and if properly designed and planned, they need not be soul crushing. Now if we could learn to stop building our cities on our best agricultural land…

    As for nuke power, the cultural bias against it in the West (except France) is pretty insurmountable right now. Given a few years of regular brown-outs, that may change, especially if new technologies can be sold as being safe (or at least safer). Woe to the grandkids if we start getting most of our power from fission, though. Even barring accidents (good luck), those plants will have to be de-commissioned after 40 or 50 years, and the material dealt with.