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Stewart Brand's 'Ecopragmatism'


In the 1960s, Stewart Brand became one of the country’s first and most famous champions of a new ecological awareness. His Whole Earth Catalog spoke to a generation of hippies and back-to-nature commune dwellers.

Now, at 70, Stewart Brand is calling on environmentalists to reframe their understanding of the problem — and solutions. It’s too late for back-to-nature, he says. Global warming is beyond that.

To survive now, Brand says, we need nuclear power, genetic engineering, giant cities. We must manage nature or lose civilization.

This hour, On Point: In the face of global warming, Stewart Brand redefines green.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Stewart Brand joins us from Denver. Founder and editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, founder of The WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronric Link), and co-founder of the Global Business Network, he’s president of the Long Now Foundation. His new book is “Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto.” 

Joining us from New York is Amory Lovins, co-founder, chairman, and chief scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute. He’s author of “Winning the Oil Endgame.” You can read his critique of Stewart Brand’s book at Grist.org.

Later this hour:

We’re joined from New York by Bill McKibben, longtime environmental journalist and founder of 350.org, an advocacy group organizing events across the world on October 24 — “International Day of Climate Action.” He’s coordinating what he says will be about 1,000 events, from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to the streets of the U.S.

More links:

Here’s Stewart Brand speaking at a TED conference in July on rethinking “green pieties”:

Amory Lovins was on FORA.tv in August talking about energy efficiency and climate change:

And here’s Bill McKibben in Australia this summer talking about the “350″ movement:

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  • Cory

    I’ll bite on nuclear, but not on the food! (pun intended!)

  • Colin

    Looking forward to this show! I recently graduated from NYU with a B.A. in environmental studies and I have come to the same conclusions regarding energy and GE foods, which met with much resistance in classroom debates. I hope for a new green revolution as much as anyone, but we can’t remain entrenched in the environmental dogmas of the past, there is no time left for idealism.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    What I’ve always liked about Brand is that he’s never afraid to think differently about big problems. And, unlike some people, I don’t get the feeling he’s expressing these unpopular views (among his “liberal” tribe) to get a rise out of people or show off, he’s just thinking hard about stuff and comes to his conclusions.

    I don’t always agree with him but I always take him seriously.

  • http://www.pnart.com Peter Nelson

    Every advocate of nuclear power, be he Stuart Brand or George Bush, must be prepared to address two things:

    1. Liability – - Current law (the Price Anderson Act, as renewed) sets an unreasonably-low corporate liability for a major accident. After that it’s up to the Feds to cover the cost of the loss, and we saw how well THAT worked in New Orleans. To make matters worse, private insurance is unavailable. Recently my wife and I wanted to buy a house in Newburyport, MA, near the Seabrook nuke plant. We cancelled the deal when we were unable to obtain insurance against a nuclear accident. N.B. that earthquake insurance is easily and cheaply obtainable in this area even though it has a similar statistical profile to nuke accidents: low probability and high regionally-concentrated impact if is does occur.

    2. Waste Storage Nuke advocates are fond of talking about all the things we could do with nuclear waste – land-based, sea-based, vitrification, blah, blah. But the fact is that we currently haven’t implemented ANYTHING. As long as a permanent solution to waste-disposal remains pie-in-the-sky, so too should any new nuke plants.

  • Brett

    Peter Nelson-
    You beat me to it! This should be an interesting show; I wonder if these two important concerns that you bring up will be discussed with any depth?

  • http://www.pnart.com Peter Nelson

    A few evenings ago I attended party at new house being built by a couple of friends of mine. It was a big party and the whole house was lit up like a Christmas tree. Not only that, but since the house isn’t quite finished the couple are still living in another house on the same property and through the windows you could see lights on there.

    An extravagant waste of energy? Mindless lack of concern for global warming? In the words of John Wayne’s Jacob McCandles, “Not hardley!” Every watt of it was supplied by batteries in the basement which had been charged by solar panels on the roof earlier that day. Even the food was cooked on a modern (induction) electric stove. When they’re not having parties they sell electricity back to the grid.

    In recent years solar photovoltaics have crossed an important barrier – they now produce much more energy over their working life than it took to manufacture them. Not only that but costs have been falling dramatically.

  • Ellen Dibble

    To quote Peter Nelson above: “Current law (the Price Anderson Act, as renewed) sets an unreasonably-low corporate liability for a major accident. After that it’s up to the Feds to cover the cost of the loss.”
    It has seemed to me the nuclear energy industry has been cuing up to be the next Philip Morris for decades now. It’s a gut feeling. How many more corporate addictions do we need?
    If people can generate power in situ (photovoltaic, wind, geothermal, conserving) doesn’t that diminish the chances that we get another generation of Big Oil type politics and deceptions and so on?
    See Lovins’ critique of Brand’s advocacy of nuclear energy at the link up top.

  • Ryan Buck

    To the problem of nuclear waste…

    The nuclear waste issue is being held up by politics much more than technology and research needs. Yucca Mountain funding has just been completely cut, even after decades of research shows that it was the best option for long term dry cask storage, the same dry casks that withstand being hit by trains. As for reprocessing, it was banned by Jimmy Carter in the 1970′s to curb nuclear proliferation, however both France and Japan are currently reprocessing.

    Much like other forms of green technology, the U.S. has simply fell in the technology race, but it was because it chose to embrace fear and paranoia in 1979 instead of funding research and taking a nuanced approach.

    Personally, I’d much rather have to deal with the relatively small about of nuclear waste than the fly ash, smog, CO2, and residuals coming from coal that have lead to poisoning our rivers and changing the climate.

  • http://homesthatfit.com/blog Jamie Wolf

    The other day, not having looked at them for years, I pulled an issue of the Whole Earth Review from 1985 off the shelf. The theme was “Computers as Poison” – as always, (and still) a good provocative read – SB and company being early adopters and having just saved their own enterprise by doing a deal to produce the Whole Earth Software Catalogue. Right or wrong, he’s been there asking the best questions for over forty years now.

    Please ask him about Saul Griffith’s presentation at the recent Long Now Conference about the scale of the challenge (we need a clean energy “Renewistan” with land area the size of Australia) and the surprising realization that the personal actions required in response are actually the way we’d really like to be living anyway!

    Time to tune in!

  • http://witchchild.livejournal.com Soli

    My biggest concern about GM food is that we don’t know what the long term consequences could be to our health. I know some of the claims are about feeding people throughout the world, but again, what are the consequences? Could we have sickly poor folk worldwide held in the thrall of a few companies with the patent on the only food they can get?

  • Daniel Wacker

    There’s a tremendous amount of what Mr. Brand says that I can agree with. BUT, managing nature??? We can’t manage outselves; how does he think we’ll be able to manage nature? And do we really know enough about how nature works to ensure we won’t really screw things up?

  • Ellen Dibble

    Lilya, I posted two times this morning that were scrapped en route. Help, my umbilical cord! Then I decided to post without giving the specific link from up top and it went through. Mysteries of cyberspace.
    I want to hear about population from Brand. Size of.

  • George Curran

    In addition to the comments everyone has made about the problem of managing nuclear waste, Stuart Brand is totally missing the energy demands of processing nuclear fuel. It is intensive and as a result nuclear power is not now, nor will it ever, be a zero green house gas source for energy.

  • btvdan

    This idea that cities can be better for the environment makes much more sense to me than typical environmentalist claims.

    It seems that many of the claims of the “green” movement have more to do with fashion than evidence based reasoning.

    The only thing I would say is that we need to start thinking about limiting the size of cities. We also should do something to plan cities so that they can provide living spaces of respectable size and affordability. The relative cost of living does not reflect environmental costs between urban life and rural life.

    - Dan

  • millard-fillmore

    Even if the long-term effects of GMOs were 100% safe (which is debatable anyway), the way the GMO industry has gone about its business (firing Arpad Pusztai and intimidating other researchers) and passing laws (in the US) favorable to the industry based not on independent research, but industry’s own research; and the resistance to having GMO foods labeled as such – all those raise a huge red flag that is not only impossible, but would be stupid to ignore.

    BTW, these laws favorable to the GMO industry were signed into law by Clinton – a Democrat – who was pally with the industry heads.

  • Todd

    Since when has environmental quackery qualified as pragmatism? Brand should be cited for littering, because he’s is peddling garbage.

  • jonas

    Brand is intelectually dishonest. For instance, he critizes evironmentalists as being ant-scientific for their unwillingness to jump into gentic engineering and nuclulearmadness.

    He skips over the difference between the ability of science to do smething, such as genetically modification and whether there is scientific evidence concerning the results of doing so.

    He ignores the problem of nuculear waste storage as well as the possibility of nuculear accidents.

    He also ignores the fact that scientists have always been willing to use science to support the economic interests of their masters; see the nuculear weapopns scientists; see the tobbacco co. scientists; see the drug company scientists; see the scientists in the Bush EPA.

    Brand knows better and On Point fails to call him on any of the above.

  • steven n. opelc

    We have been asking the wrong question on nuclear power….

    Instead of arguing about how dangerous it is….we should be thinking…

    No matter how dangerous nuclear may or may not be….is it any more dangerous then what we are doing now….??

    thank you for listening to my thoughts….sno

  • Ryan Buck


    To look at the entire fuel cycle, none of the energy sources on the table are completely free of greenhouse gas emissions.

    The iron needs to be mined, wings need to fabricated, transported and turbines assembled before you can get the energy out of the wind, and all those processes as they are now have a carbon footprint. The same with solar or geothermal.

  • millard-fillmore

    As for the oft-repeated dogma that GMOs will feed the increasing population, I have to wonder how many of those people repeating that mantra have a meat-centric* diet. Shift the global focus from meat-centric diet to plant-based foods, and you can not only feed the hungry, but will have plenty of food left over – all without the help of GMOs. People should do some research into the humongous resources that go into producing one pound of meat as well as the waste produced, and compare that to plant-based food offering the same amount of calories and nutrition, and whether from an environmental point-of-view, investing such resources into a meat-centric diet is wise, or whether it is prudent to not have meat reflect the true cost of the resources that go into producing it (negative externalities).

    * I define “meat-centric diet” as one where meat is the principal food for getting nutrition, and plant-based food is an afterthought.

  • Bob Keener

    Who would you trust to run the project?

    This is a vital point. In a society ruled by money (where political power derives from economic power, and economic power is highly consolidated), how can we expect to move in directions that are not going to make short-term profits for those in power? (And if they did, we wouldn’t need Brand to raise them up.)

    How can we change how our society operates so that solutions that makes sense for our common survival can be planned and implemented?

  • http://www.Share-International.org Cindy Bruder

    Nuclear radiation is EXTREMELY dangerous to us. To put it bluntly, it punches holes in our aura (etheric bodies) and is one of the leading causes of early onset Alzimers. We do not have the scientific instrumentation to detect the finer layers of the physical world…. we only know about solid, liquid and gas physical states. There are actually 4 more physical states that are finer than gas – an nuclear raditation is very dangerous to those.

    This is one of the reasons that we see a lot of UFO activity around nuclear plants, etc.

    We must move away from nuclear NOW.

  • http://solarray.blogspot.com George Mokray

    Brand erects a straw man by saying the environmental community is “anti-science” in its opposition to nuclear power and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The opposition is based not on the science so much as the scale and the arrogance of the economic entities that are pushing it.

    For example, the movie “Food Inc” shows Monsanto driving a seed cleaner out of business because Monsanto forbids its farmers to save their seed. The seed cleaner in question did not clean Monsanto’s patented seeds but his very existence was perceived as a threat by the company which has patented and thinks it owns biological life.

    Nuclear power, and micro-nukes are not yet available, has some of the same problems of arrogance as well as the additional problem of not being useful in the next decade as there is no way that the nuclear industry can scale up to produce the number of reactors necessary. For instance, there is only one company that makes the steel necessary for the reactor vessel.

    Furthermore, I agree with Mr Brand that we have already geoengineered the atmosphere. Unfortunately, we have done it disastrously. In fact, I nominate Thomas Midgely as the first geoengineer and the patron saint of the idea. He was the chemist who added tetraethyl lead to gasoline and invented Freon, the CFC which thins the stratospheric ozone layer.

    “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” We are as gods and must be humble about it.

  • David

    Bioengineering is a one way street. Once humankind begins to manipulate the natural systems that govern the planet, there is no going back. It is pure audacity to believe we understand the web of life enough to attempt engineering it around ourselves. Without changing the behaviors that brought us this far, bioengineering will only hasten the deterioration of world society and quicken a gruesome downfall.

  • Todd

    “We are as gods and must be humble about it.”
    Posted by George Mokray

    We are neither.

  • Ray

    I will trade the radiation risks for the known pollution associated with coal. We have to move past carbon base-load power production. People are injured and killed aver day from coal.
    We all talk about the desire for a sustainable planet, most of all, we want to live forever. With the reality we are mortal we give up on any action that cost us personally.
    Ray Tucker
    Somerset KY

  • Tim

    Why just genetically engineer our foods. We can genetically engineer ourselves.
    More compact to consume less resources
    More efficient use of limited water resources
    More adaptable to variable temperatures/climates
    More resistance to disease, pack us in those big cities

  • Melanie

    What are Brand’s views on sustainable agriculture?? If you’re pro GMO, you are also supporting conventional agriculture, mega-farms here in Iowa that are polluting, destroying the soil, and destroying rural communities. Sustainable agriculture practices can build soil organic matter to sequester carbon and help solve the problem of global warming. But the current agricultural system in the united states does not support sustainable methods.

  • Mark Giese

    Are the economics of even the best nuclear power plants really winning over good solar plants? If there was a reasonable “battery” solution, would solar win over nuclear? What if we employed hydro to store energy (pumping water up-stream when surplus electricity is available)?

  • Jonathan Allen

    I agree with Brand that the earth will survive, with or without humans, but what of it? Our current momentum shows us taking earth well beyond its ability to even carry a human population of 1 billion. Given this, I find it too irresponsible to assume that it will not hurt global ecosystems further to plant all kinds of genetically modified food crops.

  • http://www.filipinoboston.blogspot.com akilez

    If we can built weapons of mass destruction. We can built weapons for environmental protection

  • Pete

    Brand is dead on. The idealism of the past has absolutely no chance of survival with the younger generations. Technology and the comforts of society are built into their behavioral patterns, and they will not give it up. Using science, instead of advocating for reversion to primitive ways, is the best path to harmony between the modern world and nature.

  • Lisa

    On the economics of the safety issue, I would like to hear Mr. Brand address the Price Anderson Nuclear Indemnity Act, which has been on the books since 1957 and has been renewed every opportunity since. It basically indeminifies the nuclear power industry by saying the U.S. government will pay the cleanup costs of any reactor accident. How is this not a defacto government subsidy of the nuclear power industry? These costs are never factored into any analysis looking at the economics of nuclear power.

    I live in Tennessee and last year we had a horrible coal ash sludge accident at a TVA fossil plant. The cleanup will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps even $1 billion, and we TVA ratepayers are paying to clean that up. But if a reactor goes bad, its the taxpayer who pays.

    If nuclear power boosters think nuclear energy is so economical let’s start by repealing the Price Anderson Act and make them pay to clean up their own messes. If they say they can’t then that proves what we’ve said all along: nuclear power is neither economical nor safe.

  • Peter Severance

    I am one who witnesses such subtle and amazing phenomenon as the late-winter migration of aquatic mayfly nymphs upstream. I am in awe and wonder of small things that may well be beyond our comprehension.

    The idea that we can manage nature “well” is naive and ludicrous. Brand should know better than most that this is, ontologically, impossibile.

    People on this planet will only survive if they put their hands back into the cool earth and strive to really understand it for themselves.

  • Cliff Sobkiwicz

    Some historic “benefits” of science
    CFCs, PCBs, CO2, Agent Orange

  • Ellen

    Your panelist did not address the caller who asked about the horrendous health effects of radiation from nuclear power plants. Please ask him to respond to this serious issue which is so ignored.

  • Jay

    This guest seems to be pushing the global warming myth which has been contradicted by thousands of scientists. These scientist are conveniently left out of mainstream media. Also, bio-engeneered foods support the bohemoth bio-food industry i.e. Monsanto and have been proven to be destructive to both the enviroment and mankind. One more point, the seems to be supporting the bogus cap and trade agenda which among others is set to make Al Gore and other criminals rich.

  • Ralph Hahnenberg

    Richard P. did not have a zero carbon footprint. He had a pilot fly in supplies (food, gunpowder, clothes, paper, film, etc.) Some of those items require construction and operation of industries.

  • http://shulmandesign.net Alan Shulman

    Address the core issues with Nuclear power generation, to wit:

    1) It’s not insurable. If it’s nto insurable, it’s too dangerous to implement.

    2) No reasonable plan exists to dispose of nuclear waste. Without such a plan, we have no business building one more plant.

    I’d like to hear these issues addressed.

    Alan Shulman

  • Bernard Biales

    I think, and deeply regret, that Mr. Brand is probably right that we are beyond the point of preserving anything like the biosphere we inherited and will move into more and more artificial (and, in sense, inhuman) lifestyles. Far too many people with far too many demands. (Factor of ten). One of the consequences of this is an eroding of individual freedom.
    One recent report suggest that for many animals, the species life span is down to about a century, rather than the normal million(s)– required for normal evolution and replacement. (We have discovered evolution, only to wreck it). Although we are not literally paving the planet, the psychology of where we are going was probably captured in the (off stage portion of) the movie “Silent Running.”
    Mr. Brand’s logic on genetic engineering is flawed and and example of the more general flaw in his thinking. By accelerating rate of changes by factors of ten or more, and making possible changes that were essentially impossible in the old breeding methodology, we have a change in kind. If he can’t see that he is truly blind.
    We may well be forced (or believe we are forced) to the kinds of massive interventions (for example atmospheric sulfur dioxide injection), but we can expect horrendous unintended consequences from such huge and only partly predictable actions. (Although incongruent, it is not entirely irrelevent to think of the unintended consequences — up to the level of the wrecking of nations — of the drug dabbling of the 1960s. Maybe this would have happened anyway, but surely less quickly.)
    All of this kind of finesses the consequences the human augmentation and possible solid state replacement.
    Mr. Brand sounds somewhat somber. So should it be.

    Bernard B

  • jesse colin young

    Let’s face it. We don’t have a clue what to do with our nuclear wast except leave it to our great grandchildren to figure it out. In the meantime, it has been know to leak into the ground water from storage facilities like the one right down the road from me. We have 65 metric tons of high level nuclear waste and millions of gallons of less toxic but still deadly.

    We should not build any more nukes until we master the detoxification of the waste!

  • Bernard Biales

    I suspect that the nuclear question is actually a rather small part of the big picture. It has been suggested that if we ever go to breeder reactors, the use of potential bomb material will expand our police state. (Although I wonder pollution of stocks with Pu 240 has potential as a fix.)

    Bernard B

  • N.J.

    The argument that there is something audacious or arrogant about humans modifying nature leaves out a single fact. Nature designed humans to do the things they do, and one of the things they do is to change their environment to survive within it. We evolved to make tools, build shelters, cloth ourselves, make weapons to defend ourselves from predators. This were all evolutionary developments that nature itself intended.

  • Ray

    How many jobs would be created and how much energy will be saved by putting solar hot water heaters on the roof of all suburban houses? Put carbon cap and trade with the end consumer and they will reduce their energy usage. We have a residential energy picture of past and current use. Start by giving lower rates for people who reduce their energy usage.
    Ray Tucker
    Somerset Ky

  • Bernard B

    Actually, traditional breeding is clearly problematic, as it has supported growth the the present mess.

    Bernard B

  • David Conna

    Mr Brand – and the many new politicians who support nuclear – have missed some crucial points, some of which Amory Lovins made. I won’t repeat Mr. Lovins arguments but will add the very serious waste disposal and terrorism.

    Additionally there are two other HUGE problems with nuclear:

    1) it is far from carbon free – uranium is not a concentrated ore and requires enormous amounts of fossil fuels to mine and refine and, perhaps most importantly,

    2) there are only a few decades of the high grade uranium needed to fuel reactors. After that we simply have a huge mess to clean up and still the energy problem will persist.

    We need to think beyond the nuclear issue to the greater problem that we have overshot the carrying capacity of the planet and we MUST start to live within our means. Until we do, we will keep making bad decisions – and promoting nuclear power is at the top of that list.

  • Bernard Biales

    To say that nature designed us to do what we are doing not only is rather anthropomorphic, but a most dangerous approach — what if we are designed to kill one another by the millions, or even to wipe ourselves out (one answer to the Fermi question).

    Bernard B

  • Vanessa Rule

    Thank you Bill McKibben!!! I hope the media starts to cover climate change in a manner that reflects the urgency of the situation. I don’t understand why the major news outlets haven’t been doing a countdown to Copenhagen and reporting on preparations for the talks more extensively as well as sharing the alarming climate science that is emerging every day.

    This lack of relative coverage has made it difficult for climate activists to be taken seriously by people who don’t realize how grave the situation is. We need your help Tom Ashbrook and WBUR!

  • http://shulmandesign.net Alan Shulman

    For those persons who encourage humans to “manage” nature, please provide some example of successful large-scale management that haven’t resulted in significant environmental degradation and/or trade-offs we may have come to regret later on.

  • Tim from Ohio

    Your guest today with a philosophical view of increasing nuclear power uses the “Science of Crap”. We are currently emitting crap into the atmosphere, water, and land that we can measure. “Background radiation” which is adjusted annually at all nuclear plants, is like resetting the nuclear odonomer so we don’t have to measure the crap that is nearly impossible to measure. The science of nuclear power is this: We know that radiation causes disease, death, and mutation for generations of human beings to come. Your guest’s quick shuffle away from the subject of worker disease and death is apparently the science of pollsters, since workers were positive about their work. We may stop climate change with nuclear power and at the same time kill our species with genetic disease and mutations. These are the scientific facts of nuclear power.

    Stop behaving like the nice guy, Tom. Get tough with anyone who claims to be only espousing science while at the same time demonstrating a philosophical view.

  • Vanessa Rule

    If you want to participate in 350 in Boston, join us at the Boston Under Water Festival on Saturday between 3:00pm and 5:00pm — large group PHOTO will be taken at 3:50pm.

    For more info. and to sign up, so to http://www.350.org/node/5998.

  • Sal

    If energy is what your focus is on the link below is about energy devices past and present that are being ignored by the mainstream energy producers ,because it would make energy so cheap it would displace the current energy producers.


  • Putney Swope

    I think we are beyond hope in this issue.
    All of the industrial nations are guilty in this aspect.
    Germany will not cut it’s omissions to any of the levels needed to bring that country into line to lower carbon emissions. I use Germany as an example as they are one of the leading producers of solar and wind technologies.

    Then there is the elephant in the room so to speak, China and India and while China seems to be attempting to embrace greener technologies it seems that they are not really thinking about this in the same way as the guests are. Also who are we to tell them what to do in context to our dismal record as an industrial nation.

    Then there is the USA, which is the one of largest if producers of carbon emissions in the world. We have a huge amount of people and politicians to whom the idea of climate change is a myth. That there is no such thing as global warming. The politicians who do believe in the science seem to be looking for ways to do nothing or just do enough to seem to be doing something.

    We can’t even design and implement a good national health care policy and have a horrible track record for urban and suburban planing. If the best we can do is Seattle we are in big trouble.

  • Hugh F Stoddart

    In WWII I was an x-ray technician exposed lots of radiation with little protection. Later I assisted with the rebuilding of the highly radioactive cyclotron at Los Alamos and then repeated the process with the MIT cyclotron while a graduate student. In the meantime, I have been involved with the use of radioactive materials in medical research. I am now 82, vigorous, and mentally active inventing and developing medical instruments.

    What concerns me is the sad plight of coal miners and the people that live anywhere near coal processing and burning plants. The amount of unhealthy material being discharged and leaking into ground water (including heavy metals like uranium and thorium) is huge.

    While wind and sun are laudable, we still need a baseline of continuous power generation. This is best done by increasing the current percentage of nuclear power in the mix — electric cars are great but not if their electricity comes from CO2-belching coal plants spewing pollutants over the land.

  • Putney Swope

    Hugh your lucky and it seems to me that your exposure was small enough not to get you sick.

    The problem with nuclear energy is it’s to expensive to build and not cost effective. The waste issue is not something to dismiss. Pointing to the hazards of coal is not a good argument for going nuclear.

    As I posted before, we are not going to enough soon enough so the reality is nature is going come down on us like a ton of bricks.

  • Sal

    As for the environment the chemical companies are producing poisons that is harming the water and soil and human health in countries that utilize them.


  • http://www.warblerpress.com Peter Hildebrandt

    My 18-year-old daughter was one of two college students selected to lobby in Congress on environmental issues from our state – she’s up there right now. I have learned much from her over the past couple of years as she is very actively involved in all this.

    At a DC gathering a few years back she heard many talks from people around the world who’d felt firsthand the effects of uranium mining. For all the talk about what to do with spent fuel, no one seems to ever talk about the extensive destruction to people and the environment during the mining of uranium. I don’t know if this was brought up in this show, as I am about to listen to it after the fact. But this is a concern that needs to be factored in as well.

  • Dana Franchitto

    I don’t have time to read all of these posts and I could not hear all of toeday’s program but I did not hear or see any questions of the canard that Nuclear energy engenders no greenhouse gases. It’s true that while up and operating nukes don’t emit greenhouse gasesbut according to jounalist, Karl Grossman,writing in EXTRA magazine(published by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting)the nuclear fuel cycle invovling mining, fuel enrichment, refining, and waste disposal is very carbon intensive. Given the amount of nukes ,we would need to meet projected energy needs nuclear energy could exacerbate the the climate crisis. Of course given that Stewart Brand is a PR flak for the industry , we would not expect him to reveal that. Furthermore,if I remember correctly he has a foinacial interest in a compnay that stands to profit from a nuke revival.

  • http://www.myspace.com/lloydhart Lloyd Hart

    Letter of Support for Gramma Donna Dillman’s Hunger
    Concerning the death of my father!

    Below is a letter of support I sent a fellow activist two years ago that tells my family’s story and a bit of history around the issue and how talking up Nuclear power is already having horrible environmental effects.

    Lloyd Hart

    Strike Against Uranium Mining.
    Dear Gramma Dillman

    My name is Lloyd Hart. You may remember back in 1987 I conducted a hunger strike against the resumption of uranium mining in British Columbia. We were camped on the lawn of the legislature until the government decided to reverse a 200 year tradition of individuals and parties with grievances with the government camping on the lawn of the legislature.

    The hunger strike, the camp battle and the media it produced helped fuel a movement languishing in the stasis produced by a stubborn greed driven government. The would be premier Mike Harcourt leader of the NDP personally and publicly promised me that he would ban uranium mining in B.C. forever once he became premier. The NDP gave me an official Queens welcome into the legislature forcing the speaker of the house to acknowledge my presence in the gallery for ever burning our protest against uranium mining in the hansard and British Columbia and Canadian history.

    Of course we all felt we had won a very profound battle but twenty years later the politicians that ignored the warnings of global warming and climate change are now creating an artificial rise in the price of uranium in a public climate becoming acutely environmentally aware. These politicians are saying that nuclear power will play a role in solving global warming and climate change. This is a lie and this lie is causing the people who trade in uranium futures to push the price so far beyond the realism of the present day market that uranium prospecting has spread across the land once again.

    Twenty years ago the movement in B.C. toppled the government of premier William Vanderzalm in the very next election but did not complete the job of ending uranium mining in B.C.. With the radical rise in the price of uranium the present liberal government of B.C. is relaxing mining regulations to allow uranium prospecting and mining to occur once again.

    The reason that nuclear power will not be apart of the solution as we deal with global warming and climate change is for the simple fact that the geological slap back as a result of glacial melt and ocean rise will cause far to many earth quakes for the nuclear facilities we have now to remain in operation. Case in point, the recent earth quake that took out Japan’s largest nuclear facility at Kashiwazaki, Japan. In the coming years and decades hundreds of Chernobyl’s will be created as a result of the effects of global warming and climate change if we do not take a profound and committed stand against nuclear power and uranium mining right now.

    My father, George William Hart died twenty seven years ago from complications arising from repeated exposure to high and low levels of radiation after he spent sixteen years applying his genius in creating electronic instruments, computers and software in an attempt to make nuclear power safer. His attempt failed and so did his health.

    When politicians are repackaging nuclear power as the solution to Global Warming regardless of the facts that show that cancer and other disease clusters have exploded around the nuclear industry’s facilities including around uranium mines themselves we must quadruple our efforts to tell the truth and stop these mad men who will in their actions now make a great deal of the surface of the earth uninhabitable for all living things in the near future.

    My Family was split asunder on the chopping block of nuclear power. My father, my sister, my high school physics class and my self were contaminated with radioactive particles while my father led us on a tour of his work place at the Whiteshell Nuclear Research Facility in Pinawa Manitoba where my father and his colleagues worked directly with a nuclear power plant owned and operated by the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. My Father’s employers have never answered for his death.

    I personally know exactly how dangerous nuclear power is and am proud to join with you Gramma Don, in your brave stand against these men that have inspired the greed of unscrupulous mining prospectors and the companies they work for. For these individuals to totally disregard science and the misery that will be heaped like the tailing piles at Uranium City and Eliot Lake upon the health and welfare of their fellow human beings and the environment in which we live for the sake of short term profits is the height of criminality.

    We must burst the uranium bubble being created by phony speculation in the futures markets. Using the public fear of global warming and climate change to sell futures in uranium fuel radically artificially driving its price up is beyond unethical, it is criminal. As a commodities traders they might as well be committing murder.

    My heart is with you Gramma Don. I will be by your side in spirit and in prayer.

    Your truly
    Lloyd Hart

  • Ellen Dibble

    I think the world (China and India) that is so quick to blame the USA will beat us to green solutions if at all possible. Issues of pride are at stake. I’ll have to check out Sal’s links. I want to hear what the next international conference surfaces, though I suspect Big Corporations will have Bigger Voices there than they deserve. Governments don’t want to offend their big taxpayers: “Don’t tread on me” says Old Energy.
    As to Iran’s nuclear energy plans, I think if they are the evil empire (which I don’t), they will poison themselves (see the warnings in this thread). I like Iranian people, but if they could keep this experiment to their extremists somehow, I’ll keep quiet and not warn them.

  • http://www.wilpf.org margaret harrington tamulonis

    MR.BRAND made some money with the Whole Earth Catalogue and he can make plenty more as a spokesperson for the nuclear power industry.NUCLEAR POWER IS THE MOST HIGHLY SUBSIDIZED ENERGY INDUSTRY IN THE US. Nuclear power is toxic from the initial uranium mining, through


  • Ray

    Isn’t coal subsidized by not keeping streams and rivers clean? If coal had to provide a waste disposal system like we propose for nuclear then it would cost ten times as much. Coal ash impoundments won’t last 100 years never mind the 10,000 years planned for Yuca mountain. Look at the waste from ore to proper disposal for each. Coal releases more radiation when burned than nuclear. We should beat our nuclear weapons into power plants. There is not a easy answer but small (100 megawatt) underground nuclear located at current coal plants could clean up base-load power with less pollution. It could use steam turbines already in service.

  • Marion Delgado

    I became aware of market fundie, hip capitalist, and use Ayn Rand door-to-door book seller Stewart Brand in the 1970s. He himself was never an ecologist or pro-environment. His mission in life is to sell market fundamentalism to hippies. Period.

    He said capitalism was the same as the ecology, and any attempt, ever, to regulate it, or keep anything in the commons, or have anything whatsoever publicly owned, immediately turned the wild and wonderful and completely natural market into a stagnant corn field. All the while depending on things like the FCC and various IP brownshirts as well as the taxpayer funded violence enforced monopoly on the use of natural resources, etc. which market fundies like him want not to be discussed.

    When you realize to Brand, the market, which runs our lives under immortal, amoral, all-powerful beings called corporations which operate with invisible hands and magic = the market IS nature, and the only part he cares about, his professed defense of nature becomes immediately logical. Otherwise, not.

    He is the founder of the crunchies and the godfather of the cyberlibertarian market fundies on the government created internet.


    And TED talks are basically conventional wisdom for establishmentarians who want to pretend to be cutting edge.

  • http://davidvielmetter.com David Vielmetter

    I have first hand experience (from parents) with the fear that comes from nuclear energy. I’m gen. X and I don’t share the fear because I was too little to fully understand the consequences of events like Chernobyl and 3 mile island. Fear is a powerful thing and I know that to this day my parents are still somewhat anti-nuclear energy because of their experiences all those years ago. Changing minds takes a lot of time, but what helps is to look at problems like energy production for 6 billion people in an honest way like Stewart Brand. The fact is that wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources will not fulfill the need for continuous power we as a human race have come to demand. So we have a choice between nuclear and coal to make up the slack. For me the choice is clear, but whenever I bring this up with parents they get hung up on trying to figure out how to provide 6 billion people with solar energy or some other form of renewable energy.

    As for sustainable living, I also agree with Brand. Living in a 3 bedroom house with a yard and pool may be the american dream, but it just isn’t sustainable for the human race. Living in small spaces contained within superstructures where everything is shared -such as apartment complexes in Hong Kong- are the greenest thing we as people can do. The problem is that no one currently living in a house or aspiring to live in one wants to hear that. The problem is that many people currently into the “green” fad are wealthy individuals who are living the unsustainable american dream already and who figure that putting some solar cells on their roof will sufficiently offset global warming if “everyone just did that.” To those people I pose the following question: Where do you propose to put all the people in China and India that’ll one day want to have their own plot of land with a pool and a 3 bedroom house???

  • Peter Nelson

    Nature did not “design” us to do anything. Evolution has no teleological component. (look it up if you didn’t go to college).

    Using science, instead of advocating for reversion to primitive ways, is the best path to harmony between the modern world and nature

    And what’s so primitive about photovoltaics, whole-house energy control systems, electric, fuel-cell, or plug-in hybrid technology, or fiber-optic-to-the-home telecommuting technology? Besides being an engineer and a member of the AAAS, I’m also an organic gardener. Think soil-chemistry, understanding plant biology, predator life-cycles, pheromone signalling, etc.

    It’s an idiotic and utterly false dichotomy to think that this is a “science-versus-hunter-gatherer mentality” issue.

    This is simply a question of Appropriate Technology. Brand (and anyone with intellectual curiosity) should download and listen to the excellent free lecture series from the LSE – London School of Economics (http://www.lse.ac.uk/resources/podcasts/publicLecturesAndEvents.htm). You’ll get a flavour of why it’s so hard for us to model and understand economic systems and why we can’t seem to manage one that works well. Then reflect on the fact that whole Earth ecology is vastly more complex and poorly understood than our human economic systems. “Managing nature” is hubris with a large exponential expression on it.

  • http://www.pnart.com Peter Nelson

    Living in small spaces contained within superstructures where everything is shared -such as apartment complexes in Hong Kong- are the greenest thing we as people can do.

    Really? Check out this Wikipedia article about air pollution in Hong Kong: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_pollution_in_Hong_Kong Actually the EPA recently issued a report about air pollution in Boston that was pretty damning, too.

    Proposing urban lifestyles is a lot like proposing nuclear power – it’s based on the assumption that we’ll have solution to problems that we haven’t been able to solve yet. I’d be all for nukes if the abovementioned liability and storage issues were addressed. Likewise I’d be all for urban life if someone could come up with an urban environment that was livable.

    I go to my nearest large city, Boston, every so often, and it’s like an insane asylum with smog. Noisy, congested, dirty, crime-ridden, smelly, beggars on the street – yuck! I often have to take the MBTA and share my personal intimate space pressed-up against complete strangers, their noses dripping with the exudate of unknown diseases, unpleasant smells of body-odor, halitosis, and unhygenic body parts wafting up, kids playing their iPods so loudly that their earbuds are like PA speakers, and trying not to stand too close to the weirdo who just got on conversing in a loud voice to the God that he hears in his head.

    And then there’s the everpresent DIRT in the air! Recently, coming back from jury duty at the Federal Courthouse I got off at Park and decided to walk to Harvard Square for exercise. Then I went home. There I discovered that my collar was BLACK and I could take a piece of cardboard and scrape off a thick layer of black sludge by just rubbing it on my skin! I can work ALL DAY cutting and splitting logs in the woods in back of my house 35 miles northwest of Boston and not get nearly that dirty!

  • http://davidvielmetter.com David Vielmetter

    Dear Peter Nelson,

    Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comment and missing my point completely. My point was that while it’s true that ecologically you’d be more green if you lived in a densely populated city, that it certainly isn’t a popular choice for most…especially to those of us who are used to have our personal space while commuting to work and tending to our gardens and living on a sizable plot of land.

    As far as nuclear waste is concerned, we do have a solution for the waste: put it in a hole in the ground in an unpopulated secured area. It’s just being held up by politics, but eventually black mountain will be used for waste storage and guess what, the human race will continue on without a major nuclear waste disaster.

  • Brett

    I agree that “managing nature” is pure hubris; humans have been trying to do so for many, many years, to no avail (and that is being forgiving and kind-spirited in my characterization toward humans). Tom even mentioned at the outset of the show ideas of manipulating the seas and skies, etc. Considering our track record of proceeding without understanding consequences, being greedy, and so on, I shudder to think of these as “solutions.”

    Brand was being disingenuous through most of the show, and as much as he kept spouting the need to rely on science–and was quick to mention his “biologist” credential–his presentation was very dismissive of scientific information that did not support his opinions and only really alluded to scientific data to support his opinions.

    In response to Lloyd Hart’s call, he asked if anyone other than his father had gotten sick. He dropped that quickly (but it was obvious where he was going with that!) then tried using the “study” of people who live near nuclear power plants reporting they were happy as “evidence” that it is completely safe. This sounded more like a questionnaire sent out by the power company and not data; it would be giving that too much respect to even call it anecdotal data!

    Toxic waste from nuclear power wasn’t even discussed. Nor were any of the problematic processes along the way of nuclear power, from mining for uranium to potential for nuclear meltdown. Perhaps the latter is remote, but it has happened twice (on a scale large enough to be reported). Nuclear power is expensive; I don’t see it as a great saviour albeit better than coal-fired power plants. AND…what was that by commenter David Vielmetter about just put nuclear waste in the ground where no one lives as a solution???? That sort of thinking is the diametric opposite of fear: it’s putting one’s head in the sand!!!

    I was aghast at Brand’s flippant remark about genetically engineered food and how it is no different than, as he put it (sorry, this is a paraphrase) no different than what has been happening for the last ten thousand years! And he wants everyone ELSE to rely on science?!?!?! Nature’s adjustments over thousands of years–and even human involvement in cultivation is not quite the same process. GE food isn’t necessarily troublesome to ingest (although certain enzymes missing that help absorption of nutrients mean inferior food); it’s bigger problem has to do with upsetting the delicate ecosystem. If one pest is absent from the chain, its predator is absent and so on. Some of those “pests” are beneficial to the ecosystem. Not to mention how GE seeds are the product of companies like the Monsanto corporation who use Pinkerton tactics from the robber barons’ golden days to ensure no seeds are saved by growers. They also “ensure” that growers only use their pesticides and schedules. Large purchasers of food, i.e., McDonald’s (the largest purchaser of potatoes in the world), for example, work with Monsanto and their ilk to make growers “conform” to industry “standards.” Agribusiness is about as corrupt and dangerous as an industry can get, and Brand thinks this is the way to go for the future? He reveals his true nature in this program.

    I am an organic gardener who runs a small niche landscape company which practices only organic methods and uses tools that do not require fossil fuels. I practice seed saving. This practice is as old as human kind. It is a way of keeping the seed stocks strong, ensuring future generations of healthy varieties of plant material. This is very different than genetic engineering, so Brand is being intellectually dishonest when he says GE is part of an age old process. He full well knows the difference.

    Brand is hawking his book, which is no different than his other purely capitalistic endeavors. Nothing sells like controversy, and he realized this a long time ago; people just have misinterpreted who he really is until now.

  • millard-fillmore

    Has Stewart Brand not heard of the Precautionary Principle?

  • Bob Bush

    Brett, Thank you for the most right on posting I have read on this topic, though I admit to not reading them all.
    For anyone reading this from Louisville Ky, or are planning to be here this Saturday, come to the Great Lawn on the waterfront and join our 350 Climate Action, 2:15 til 5:30, forming “350″ and a Fluer-de-Lis with ourselves and an aerial photo to post on http://www.350.org! Check that fabulous site if you haven’t yet.
    Thank you Bill McKibben, James Hansen, and our dear own Wendell Berry for all you do to bring attention and action to this problem, and hopefully, to all of us for solutions.
    Bob Bush

  • Ellen Dibble

    I think what I heard Brand say: it was 5.5 billion years that plants have been genetically mutating, and Brand had me persuaded that genetic modification is fine until Brett weighed in.

  • peter nelson

    I’m reposting this because I screwed up the editing of my prior post. Why oh WHY doesn’t OnPoint provide a discussion forum with modern editing capabilities? I’m active on many forums and this is the only one with no editing features. It’s ironic that we’re talking about applying advanced science and technology to our problems but OnPoint can’t seem to offer even current technology to its forum. The admin should feel free to delete the earlier one.

    My point was that while it’s true that ecologically you’d be more green if you lived in a densely populated city, that it certainly isn’t a popular choice for most…especially to those of us who are used to have our personal space while commuting to work and tending to our gardens and living on a sizable plot of land.

    This implies that it’s just a matter of what we’re used to or familiar with. My point was that crowding, noise, pollution, crime, dirt, antisocial behavior, etc, are intrinsically bad, unpleasant and/or unhealthy. Numerous studies have shown that noise, pollution, crowding and stress have bad health effects.

    Read up on the first and second generations of Jewish, Italian, and Irish immigrants in New York City who, in the 1940’s and 1950’s left the City to move into the suburbs. They were familiar with city life but they moved out because, well, they were familiar with city life.

    As far as nuclear waste is concerned, we do have a solution for the waste: put it in a hole in the ground in an unpopulated secured area.

    That’s not a solution, it’s an idea for a solution. I’m OK with people having ideas for nuclear plants, too. My point above is that before we build any more real, operating nuclear plants we need to have a real, operating waste solution.

  • Ellen Dibble

    On urban environments being green versus black. I believe cities (urbis, Latin, city) are defined as having populations over 15,000, something like that, at least in Massachusetts.
    Those immigrants who left Boston and New York City in the 20th century were leaving cities that grew before green sustainable planning came into being. There are cities where people can walk to everything they need and also walk to city gardens where they can grow their own vegetables, where they can also walk to the woods, the river, the hills.
    I didn’t hear Brand differentiate between metropolitan and urban. I think there is a happy medium between sprawl and scrunch, and I think that happy medium will be sustainable.

  • Brett

    Brand was trying to compare human cultivation of plants [some evidence has been revealed to indicate the practice goes back 10,000 years; but, considering humans go back almost 200,000, I'll bet the practice is older, even accompanying hunting and gathering incidentally] to modern genetic engineering. Genetic mutations have occurred in nature without any help for as long as the earth has had vegetation. It is how plant material evolves and develops resilience to insects, diseases, and even larger animal destruction. Human cultivation has historically used natural methods such as seed saving and hybridization using cross pollination. (These practices increase plant strength and species longevity.)

    Modern, genetically engineered food is way, way different (these practices produce essentially a mutant that will become inferior over time). Aside from not knowing the long-term effects of GE food, we already know scientifically that the food is inferior; we already have evidence that certain species of insects have disappeared; we have sneaking suspicions that the alarming absence of bees may be partly attributable to GE food production; we already have ecological alarms/red flags. We also see a calculated and manipulated opportunity for two or three chemical companies to rule the world of agribusiness and dictate everything that happens on large, commercial, unsustainable farms that will also eventually be owned by just a couple of companies.

    GE practices are not good for humans and other animals. And if cows are to be eaten, they ought to be fed grass NOT CORN anyway!

    Brand knows all of this all too well.

  • http://www.pnart.com peter nelson

    I believe cities (urbis, Latin, city) are defined as having populations over 15,000, something like that, at least in Massachusetts.

    Actually, no, the definition of a city in Massachusetts is based on its form of government. A city has a mayor and city council; a town has a town manager and board of selectmen. Framingham, population 67,000, is a town, for example. Chelmsford, population 34,000 is also a town. North Adams, 14,000, is a city.

    There are cities where people can walk to everything they need and also walk to city gardens where they can grow their own vegetables, where they can also walk to the woods, the river, the hills.

    What would you suggest as examples (preferably in Massachusetts)?

  • Ellen Dibble

    As to “city,” there are three town/cities within about 10 miles of me that have been voting whether to go with city or town government, given that their population has hit the threshold. I’m surprised North Adams gets to be a city with 14,000. A city has an elected mayor. Easthampton recently became a city. It still has mayor numero uno in place. Amherst voted to remain a town, I believe, with population more than doubled when UMass is in session. Greenfield, another small city.
    Cities this size are more vulnerable because of less diversification, and have to pool resources, just as towns do, in order to function efficiently. The layer of county government used to do more of the pooling but is now pretty vestigial.
    There has been a kind of evolution where a quiet town with a minimal center gets publicity, attracts people seeking houses less costly than in Boston or NYC, the quiet town becomes an expensive suburb (then city), and then people seeking less costly houses move further out, and so on.
    This is all determined by economics, not by sustainability. Developers are not early adopters of future-think. Cities and towns are merely trying to keep their budget balanced for another year. When I feel crowded and financially pinched, I don’t find the 21st-century city, or those I find are also getting yuppified, and although my city needs tax-paying industries, it’s considered paradise by its people. If you can find us, you are welcome.

  • Brandon Askew

    I would like to hear Mr. Brand’s opinion of the Hyperion Power Module. This device could be placed in communites to provide power on a local level.


    The core of the HPM produces energy via a safe, natural heat-producing process that occurs with the oscillation of hydrogen in uranium hydride. HPMs cannot go “supercritical,” melt down, or get “too hot.” It maintains its safe, operating temperature without the introduction and removal of “cooling rods” – an operation that has the potential for mechanical failure.

    Thank you
    Brandon Askew
    from Hawaii

  • peter nelson

    I would like to hear Mr. Brand’s opinion of the Hyperion Power Module.

    Mr. Brand has left the building.

    WRT the HPG – it doesn’t exist. At least not yet. The company claims they might have one by 2013. Until then it’s just pie-in-the-sky.

  • Ryan

    He’s talking about why people move to the cities. Does Mr. Brand realize that people are leaving the countryside in the developing world because of the privatization of farmlands? Which, by the way, is part of the same logic of agricultural “progress” that the biotech companies are all about. Agriculture is not yet COMPLETELY part of modern global capitalism, but if we facilitate the efforts of biotechnology corporations and export-oriented agriculture (rather than staple cropping), then it soon will be. And the result of that will be poor people suffering, since they will no longer have the means to feed themselves directly. If Mr. Brand is concerned about conflict, take into account a formerly rural population that has been dispossessed of their land and are very angry about it.

  • Bob Rager

    I’m impressed how clear thinking Stewart Brand is on the subject of the way forward to the future of civilization. Nuclear energy technology has evolved to make this approach among the important medium-term solutions to clean energy. There are no problems with nuclear energy that cannot be solved by appropriate research. As far as genetically modified foods are concerned, the point has been made that this is being done in nature already. How else will there to be enough food to meet the needs of a continually growing global population where improved economic conditions – and potentially improved health and longevity thanks to Genetic Modifications – will significantly increase demand for a wider variety and amount of foods.
    Thank you Stewart Brand for taking such a controversial stand on these subjects. Those who are schooled in so-called political social correctness need to listen to the logic of your message and reconsider some of their positions. Their futures may depend on it.

  • Naomi

    Mr. Brand, you talk too theoretically, and the reality of genetically modified food is that it is being controlled by poorly regulated companies driven by profit. And as you must know, these companies are doing a lot of harm to ecosystems (including the people who inhabit them).
    (Food Inc. and The Future of Food)

    I found this interview really frustrating because you didn’t talk about how you ACTUALLY advocate using GMFs. Simply promoting them without addressing the major problems of the food industry, will only encourage others to be manipulated by the intense lobbing of big agribusiness.

    Please use your fame more responsibly.

  • Putney Swope

    The number of hungry people in the world rose to 1.02 billion this year, according to the United Nations, despite a 12-year concentrated effort to cut the number.


    The other thing Mr. Brand forgot to mention is how Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds are making farmers in third world countries broke and destitute.

    In 2007 farmers in India sued the company.


  • roger

    given the trajectory of the world’s population growth, its consumption of resources and diminishing arable land, genetically modified food and nuclear energy may not be optional in the future.

    the real necessity is a birth stop and abatement of populaltion growth.

    overpopulation is the cause of almost all our environmental, political and economic problems.

    nothing can improve until the planet’s population is reduced to a level sustainable in equilibrium with its resources.

    but with wall street and the corporations demanding perpetual growth, the politicos needing more bodies to tax to keep social security afloat, and the churches illogical stance on birth control (you may outdo us on the battlefield, but we’ll outdo you in bed), there is absolutely no hope.

    we have passed the tipping point for the planet to self-correct and heal itself even if all the people were removed.

    a prediction: nuclear energy in the form of bombs will be unleashed all over the world. how could it be any other way?

  • Brett

    ‘As far as genetically modified foods are concerned, the point has been made that this is being done in nature already. How else will there to be enough food to meet the needs of a continually growing global population where improved economic conditions – and potentially improved health and longevity thanks to Genetic Modifications – will significantly increase demand for a wider variety and amount of foods.’ -Bob Rager

    You have some misconceptions, Mr. Rager. Natural genetic “modification” that occurs in nature happens very gradually, over a long time, based on the natural need for the plant to overcome its weak elements that might inhibit its ability to survive and thrive. In simple terms, the plant modifies itself to keep on keeping on. Genetically “engineering” seeds for a plant is an artificial process designed to make the plant repel a particular pest or mutate so it can be immune to certain specified diseases, all without regard for ecosystem disruption concerns. The plant is being manipulated by external forces that are not concerned with the strength of its species through stronger seed stocks. Seeds aren’t even saved because seeds are artificially engineered. The artificial process is not designed to create a more nutritious food, nor is the process necessarily concerned with variety.

    ‘Those who are schooled in so-called political social correctness need to listen to the logic of your [Stewart Brand] message and reconsider some of their positions.’ -Bob Rager

    This is a kind of straw man approach. You are reducing any opposing opinion to nothing more than ‘political social correctness.’ And judging by the tone of your comment being a kind of Stewart Brand admiration society, your “position” seems more like idolatry. Your only point that seemed remotely thoughtful was about problems with nuclear power being solvable. True, at least I believe this is also true; however, the larger problem, based on your Stewart Brand’s urgency issues, is that those problems currently exist with no solutions in sight. 

  • Brett

    McDonald’s buys more than 3 billion pounds of potatoes annually. They dictate to growers what kind of potato to grow: the Russet Burbank. McDonald’s pulls the strings when it comes to potato production in the world. The Russet Burbank is problematic, however. It’s drought intolerant to the point of being a water guzzler,
    it is prone to a host of diseases, and it takes forever to mature. To grow that variety, growers have to adhere to a heavy schedule of pesticide application. Enter Monsanto. THEY dictate what chemicals growers are going to use, how much and frequency. These two factors (corporate fascism) determine the complete guidelines of how potato growers operate. Monsanto creates schedules for growers, McDonald’s determines price, essentially, and all of this is designed so growers can not afford any loss in yield whatsoever, and can not deviate from the prescribed schedule, or they are driven out of business. (Kind of like a master’s whip but on a grand scale, a whip that can whip a couple thousand people at once.) Growing the same crop over and over, using a heavy schedule of chemicals also ruins farmland over time.

    McDonald’s shareholders have become so concerned about the use of chemicals in the production of their potatoes, they are demanding the corporation start using a different variety. Each variety that McDonald’s has dictated be grown over the years has had its problems. There is quite a lot of wrangling from different researchers as to who will supply the seeds for the next big variety. The problems will still exist, however. They haven’t used genetically modified potatoes…not yet, anyway…they HAVE caused much hardship for the growers of the world and have driven many a potato farmer out of business, though. If GE potatoes are used, McDonald’s and Monsanto will see to it that that practice is completely controlled by them, as is done in the growing of GE food now. Monsanto holds most of the “intellectual property” rights to GE seeds. Can you say “monopoly”?? This potato business is like the Irish potato famine to the power of ten and with more severe global environmental consequences.

  • Jim Hopf

    Fossil fuel plants cause 25,000 deaths in the US alone ANNUALLY, and are the leading single cause of global warming (40% of US emissions). Western nuclear power plants have never killed a member of the public or had any measurable impact on public health. Nuclear also has negligible impact on global warming. There are some environmental impacts from uranium mining, but they are much smaller than the impacts of coal mining, let alone coal burning, and are similar to the impacts of gas extraction.

    All scientific studies on the overall external (i.e., public health and environmental) costs of various energy sources concur that nuclear’s health/environmental impacts are tiny compared to fossil fuels, and similar to renewable sources (www.externe.info/).

    Studies have also been done on the overall net CO2 emissions (global warming impact) of various energy sources, including all aspects of the generation process (i.e., ore mining, fuel processing, plant construction, plant decommissionong, waste management, etc..). Such studies conclude that nuclear’s overall net CO2 emissions are 2% of coal’s, 5% of gas, and equal to or less than renewables.


    Long term uranium supply is not an issue. We have enough uranium for 1000 years or more, even without breeding or recycling. With those things, the fuel supply is essentially infinite.


    Nobody has been ever killed or sickened by commercial nuclear power waste. Nuclear waste is not unique in terms of long term hazard. In fact, given their much larger volumes, less stable (leach-resistant) forms, and careless manner in which they are buried, most of our other waste streams actually pose a much larger health threat, over the very long term. Nuclear waste is the only waste stream for which we are required to provide scientific proof that it will never be a significant hazard, for as long as it remains toxic. Other waste streams are simply dumped. Nuclear is the ONLY industry that has solved its waste problem.

    As for economics, renewables are much more subsidied than nuclear, and there is an absolute requirement for a specified percentage of renewables use (~20%), regardless of cost or practicality (i.e., an essentially infinite subsidy). Under any sytem where CO2 is capped and it is left to the market to decide how to respond, nuclear would do very well.

    Finally, even nuclear opponents concur that the maximum subsidy (if any) from the Price Anderson Act is only ~0.04-0.4 cents/kW-hr (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price-Anderson_Nuclear_Industries_Indemnity_Act), whereas the comparable “free pollution” subsidy given to coal is ~4-8 cents/kW-hr (www.externe.info/), i.e., 10-200 times higher.

  • joe biden

    Wow, Mr. Brand is on the WRONG side of just about every issue. Simply offensive. What’s up with “On Point” for putting such a tool on the program? Bad judgment that reflects very poorly on you Mr. Ashbrook. This show cannot be recommended listening, except for the part where Mr. Brand is owned by Amory Lovins.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Jim Hopf makes good points. As compared to coal, nuclear is much better. Coal, however, has a huge lobby. The economy has been coal-driven, and the physical costs are part of the American wallpaper. Nuclear, if it can displace coal, earns my great respect, because it is cleaner and does not cook the planet. If they can do that without throwing hundreds of thousands out of work, I’d step back and let them do it, but keep that industry on a leash. Be ready to pull back. Give them 25 years by which time we want something better. And you know what? People in this thread have said that nuclear cannot be up and running that fast, not in terms of permits and financing, not in terms of various things (laywoman’s effort here). So if they cannot be in place in time, how can nuclear be out of the way as well.
    Why do I say nuclear has to be ready to bow out? Help me out here. I have a hunch.
    Interesting that in this forum, a super and hard-hitting post is often followed up by just the opposite. It’s like watering down the brandy.

  • peter nelson

    There are no problems with nuclear energy that cannot be solved by appropriate research.

    There are no problems with anything that cannot be solved by appropriate research! So when that research has been done and we have actual, functioning solutions. not “proposed” solutions or “ideas” for solutions, then nuke proponents should feel free to get back to us.

    As far as genetically modified foods are concerned, the point has been made that this is being done in nature already.

    And as we’ve already pointed out, that claim is wrong. Natural evolution results in greater genetic diversity, GM techniques and business models result in less genetic diversity. Natural evolution results in propagation based on fitness to a particular environment, including predators and competitors, GM results in the introduction of species with no ecological relation or adaptation to the surrounding environment. Naturally evolving species have shifts and changes to their genome which occur over time and as a result of selection processes, GM genomes are held in stasis by the patent-holder.

    It’s utterly redonkulous to hear proponents of Brand’s philosophy say that his opponents are “anti-science” when they make such scientifically ignorant comments.

  • peter nelson

    Western nuclear power plants have never killed a member of the public or had any measurable impact on public health.

    The price and availability of insurance is based on assessments of risk. Insurance companies employ armies of statistical experts to do the math. Earthquake insurance is expensive on the west coast because risks are much higher. In Massachusetts earthquake insurance is cheap because they are less frequent and less strong.

    A friend of mine in Littleton had $16,000 of damage to a chimney a few years ago from a 3.8 magnitude earthquake there. But no people in Massachusetts have been killed by an earthquake in even LONGER than no people have been killed by nukes.

    So insurance against nuclear accidents should be cheap and insurance companies should be falling all over themselves to offer it if nukes are so safe because they could collect premiums and never have to pay out. So why couldn’t I buy nuke accident insurance a few years ago when I was thinking of buying a house a few miles from Seabrook?

    And also why then doesn’t the government require nuke operators be to indemnified against the FULL cost of a nuclear accident? If we had an accident HALF as bad as Chernobyl at Seabrook or Pilgrim (Plymouth MA) the cost could be in the TRILLIONS because of all the businesses, population centers, and environmentally sensitive areas nearby. But by your reasoning the risk is statistically neglible so insurance and secondary market (reinsurance) rates should be low.

    Actions speak louder than words and the actions of the insurance and nuclear industries don’t match your words.

  • peter nelson

    Nuclear, if it can displace coal, earns my great respect, because it is cleaner and does not cook the planet.

    At the very top of this discussion, even before the show aired, I and others asked about the two main problems with nukes : liability and waste. If these problems were solved then I, too, would support nukes.

    But these questions have not been adequately addressed either by Brand or anyone on this forum. The best we get is “here’s an idea how they might get addressed if I ran the world …”.

    But the liability and waste issues have been on the table for DECADES yet the nuke industry and their proponents have yet to put solutions in place. To me this says that these problems must be very hard, else they would have been solved long ago. So I’m not holding my breath.

  • Sylvia Davatz

    How discouraging to hear a guest on On Point argue in favor of genetically engineered organisms using the tired and completely false statement that “we have been making these changes in plants since the beginning of agriculture”. The genetic engineering of food plants was not possible before the discovery of DNA since it involves moving the DNA of one species to that of another, and, in the process crossing natural boundaries in species that are meant to prevent this very thing! We are violating these boundaries without fully understanding the consequences. The entire technology is based on the assumption that each gene has one discrete, knowable, identifiable function and that it will not exhibit other properties when brought into combination with unfamiliar DNA. This theory has already been proven false. Not so long ago we were arrogantly talking about “junk DNA” simply because we didn’t understand it’s function.

    There has never yet been independent testing of GMOs to determine their safety, there has been no public debate about their introduction into our food, about 70% of our processed food contains GMOs without any labeling, but about 90% of Americans would want that labeling. And studies which DID show the potential for serious health risks have been suppressed.

    The genetic engineering of foods was an unnecessary technology in search of a commercial application. In spite of Monsanto’s claims, not one of their products is designed to increase yield, the seeds are engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s herbicides and pesticides. And, in fact, farmers are reporting decreased yields with GE seeds. This amounts to using an unsustainable technology, which, arguably, serves ONLY to control our food supply, to support an unsustainable agricultural system. No company which has 75 lawyers whose sole function is to sniff out farmers who are supposedly violating their patents can claim to be supporting sustainability.

    Studies are increasingly emerging showing that smaller, diversified organic farms are more productive that huge monoculture operations. So: support your local farmers, read labels carefully to avoid GMOs and use your power as a consumer!

  • http://www.theforesightproject.org Mary Essary

    I would like to know 1.) What Mr. Brand would comment on the newest nuclear project in Europe, which, to quote Professor Bill Moomaw at the Fletcher School, and a member of 2010 IPCC committee “After two years is two years behind schedule.” Not to mention already seriously over budget. 2.) A cost/output comparison with smaller efforts that can be brought on line much more quickly. And finally, 3.) On the latest report from UCS that used a variety of economic models to reach conclusions about the technological mix that would allow us to reach sustainable greenhouse gas levels: http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/solutions/big_picture_solutions/climate-2030-blueprint.html.

  • Marc

    Great show – at the very least Brand provided an alternative way of thinking about what appears to be an impossible set of problems. Though I strongly believe in conservation, sometimes its’ advocates seem almost religious about it – allowing no alternative views. I also think Brand’s view is that many of his recommendations are risky but we don’t have much choice. I’m sure he knows the problems with genetically engineered plants, but today there are a billion or so people starving at any point in time (I don’t know the actual number, but I know it’s high). And this will only get worse, just like warming and other problems will only get worse.

    One disagreement with Brand. He didn’t really address the question on population growth. He said it was leveling off at some very high number, but the point the caller brought up was how much an effect the current and projected size has on our world. My guess is he was taking the future 11 billion or so as a given. That may be true, but the impact of this number of people is rarely covered. I wonder how much any steps really matter when faced with this number of people.

  • justanother

    Thank you, Tom, another great show and discussion. And I also enjoy all your listeners thought provoking debates on this forum.

  • Brett

    Peter Nelson-
    I fully agree with all of your comments entered at 10:33a, 10:53a and 11:03a.

    Sylvia Davatz-
    You have said with even more clarity what I’ve been saying. Thank you! I would add that another big problem with genetically engineered foods is one of contamination with natural foods during the growing period and even into the shipping phase. Potentially, GE foods can ruin all food on our planet.

    GE growing does NOT increase yields, and GE foods are inferior, so I would argue that world hunger will be increased, not to mention more disease.

  • Rob L

    Great Show! We need more environmentalists like Mr. Brand – telling us what we can do to make our lives and the environment better, instead of just telling us what we can’t do.

    As far as nuclear goes, the only substantial baseline electric sources, worldwide, are coal, nuclear, and hydro. Hydro has reached its limit in most places. So going forward, it’s coal or nuclear. That should be a no-brainer for anyone interested in the environment – or anyone who likes to breathe clean air and eat fish without mercury. The French get 80% of their electricity from nuclear, safely, at reasonable cost. The Japanese get close to 50% of their power from nuclear. Despite not building a new nuclear plant in 30 years, the U.S. still gets about 19% of our electricity from nuclear. It can be done!

  • Rob L

    And another thing – Amory Lovins is a fraud. If he had his way we’d all living in the dark, taking cold showers.

    Don’t believe me? He says photovoltaics are cheaper and “decades more advanced” than nuclear. If that’s true, why is nuclear still 19% of U.S. electric supply? If photovoltaics are so cheap, why is there more (natural) gas turbine production installed every year than photovoltaic?

  • Peter Nelson

    If photovoltaics are so cheap, why is there more (natural) gas turbine production installed every year than photovoltaic?

    That’s easy. Up until the recession all the major PV makers were maxed-out on capacity and building new factories as fast as they could. For example, ESLR as of last December was booked solid through mid-2010 and has just brought a new factory on line.

    The other reason is that gas is so plentiful in the US now that there is no additional storage capacity so they’re practically giving it away. (disclaimer: I’m a shareholder in CHK and DVN)

    PV’s on your roof pay for themselves in about 15 years (less if energy costs go up in that time). After that your electricity is essentially free. The problem is that PV prices have been dropping so fast, and efficiencies improving, that if you wait a year you can shorten the payback time by more than a year. This makes the math “interesting”, i.e., if I put PV’s on my roof today they’d be paid off by 2025, but if I wait a year they’d be paid off by 2024. So financially the incentive is to wait. It’s just the opposite with fossil – every year that goes by they put tighter pollution controls on fossil plants but they usually grandfather-in a certain percentage of previous plants. So the incentive is to build now.

    But as I pointed out earlier, I know people who are totally off grid using solar and have plenty of energy to spare – no cold showers or dark rooms there!

  • Matt

    I agree to reproductive responsibility, but the idea of having it dictated or forced upon us by governments, corporations and NGOs(with what is manifesting itself as a more and more Satanic agenda). is a bit disturbing. Often this mentality leads to mass murder and genocide.

  • ruralcounsel

    The one conclusion I’ve reached after reading through these comments is that anti-nuclear sentiment is still very high among the technical-illiterate and reflexive environmental advocates.

    Which probably means we’re doomed to letting our current level of civilization, freedom, ability to feed our population, and standard of living slip slide into the gutter of history.

    Oops, that probably will mean an end to NPR, too. No more wealthy elite liberals to participate in those fund drives!

  • Rob L

    Sure, you can live off the grid and have plenty of power – if you’ve invested enough in the generating medium. It’s not that hard to grow more food than you can eat either, but that doesn’t mean that everyone growing their own food is the answer for a modern industrial society.

    A 15 year breakeven for (subsidized) PV is equivalent to a 4.8% return. So even with a subsidy, most homeowners get less return on PV than if they just paid down their mortgage early.

    Maybe someday PV will be competitive with fossil fuels, but it’s not now, and has never been done on any serious scale. Nuclear has been competitive with fossil for 50 years, and has had radical improvements to potential safety over the last decade.

  • Marion Delgado

    The people killed by TMI just didn’t die that day, is all. But that’s a lot like saying very few people were killed by Chernobyl. To add insult to injury, the public safety was sacrificed to the imperative to protect the nuclear industry not only before the catastrophe, but more importantly, after. The public was lied to for corporate protection by the government that should have been defending them, and more people died because of that.

  • MartRoss


    Unfortunately, Stewart Brand exemplifies the hubris and
    arrogance that has destroyed so much of this planet. He is on a hopeless quest
    to conquer nature, rather than redefining our priorities to fit into nature. Mr.
    Brand’s distorted thinking is the sort that has made a mess of this planet. It
    is rare that I hear such well formed twisted truths to support preconceived and
    distorted notions of reality. His glossing over and partial statements
    frequently imply a factual statement that is very far from the truth. In fact,
    he is omitting,  grossly over
    simplifying, or entirely ignoring large bodies of knowledge and scientific data.
    If he wasn’t taken so seriously, his form of reasoning is a perilous
    combination of ignorance and arrogance that could be laughable, as a tragic
    comedy. His cleverness and seeming intelligence is sadly the antithesis of wisdom.
    When actions and events that continually prove to further damage and degrade the
    environment are refused to be recognized for what they are, and Mr. Brand calls
    for an escalation of these actions, I think there is only one way to describe
    such thinking – as very foolish and possibly insane. Maybe Dr. Strangelove is
    a role model for Mr. Brand, or a hero.


Aug 28, 2014
Photos surround the casket of Michael Brown before the start of his funeral at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.  (AP)

The message that will last out of Ferguson with New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb.

Aug 28, 2014
Some of the hundreds of earthquake damaged wine barrels cover and toppled a pair of forklifts at the Kieu Hoang Winery, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Napa, Calif. A powerful earthquake that struck the heart of California's wine country caught many people sound asleep, sending dressers, mirrors and pictures crashing down around them and toppling wine bottles in vineyards around the region. (AP)

Drought in California, earthquake in Napa. We look at broken bottles and the health of the American wine industry.

Aug 27, 2014
The cast of the new ABC comedy, "Black-ish." (Courtesy ABC)

This week the Emmys celebrate the best in television. We’ll look at what’s ahead for the Fall TV season.

Aug 27, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, right, as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, center, looks at them, prior to their talks after after posing for a photo in Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. (AP)

Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s leader meet. We’ll look at Russia and the high voltage chess game over Ukraine. Plus, we look at potential US military strikes in Syria and Iraq.

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