I just realized that it would be worthwhile to save my reviews of the books I read here as well as on Goodreads. This was prompted by noticing the “Blog this Review” convenient little cut/paste feature on Goodreads. I enjoy that site so much!
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This manifesto is a call for environmentalists to leave behind their romantic ideals and move into the 21st Century. Stewart Brand’s zeal and enthusiasm make most of this book a joy to read, and he is the first to admit his past mistakes in his efforts to serve the earth. In particular, he urges rethinking opposition to nuclear power, urbanization, and genetic engineering.
I haven’t thought much about urbanization as an environmental boon before this book. I personally am not a fan of the city, despite living in the middle of one, and would love to return to rural areas. Brand makes a very compelling argument for the healthy urban environment and how it can help clean up a lot of the poverty, pollution, and waste that we are now experiencing. This was an eye-opening section for me, and I will likely do further reading on the topic.
Brand was preaching to the choir on the next section. I have been staunchly pro-nuclear for years. Especially updating and expanding with new, updated tech (using Chernobyl or Fukushima as a boogeyman is disingenuous in my opinion, but that’s a topic for another day)can be a huge difference in our CO2 levels and provide a low-risk, high-output, and largely clean alternative to fossil fuels and other alternatives we have at the moment. I do think that Brand glossed over the human component here, but I expect that if the book were written after Fukushima, instead of directly before, that component would have been more extensive.
I was really grooving on this book, enjoying every bit even when I disagreed with him, but then I got to the genetic modification bits. And here I ran into trouble, and stalled reading it for quite some time. He does not give his opponents a fair hearing in this section, probably because he has done time as a nuclear detractor and an opponent of urbanization. He doesn’t seem to understand the valid concerns of those who urge caution and oppose genetic modification, and therefore doesn’t adequately address those concerns. He condescendingly suggests that these people are simply fearful of science and innovation. He’s clearly dazzled by genetic science, and thinks it is super cool, and anyone who doesn’t see it that way is just an old fogey.
The rest of the book, he goes back to being more fair minded and even handed. He suggests that political divisiveness and single-minded all-or-nothing thinking does more harm than good. While he clearly on the left side of the political spectrum, and can’t resist quite a few digs at the Republican party along the way, he also takes a few jabs at Al Gore. It’s apparent that he thinks Jerry Brown is the cat’s meow, though.
He discusses human intervention on the planet, and how little we know and how much we’re learning daily. He suggests that North America was destroyed by the white man, not by raping and pillaging the pristine wilderness, but by destroying elaborate terraforming projects by wiping out (mostly via germs) the gardeners of two continents.
In the last chapter, he talks in great detail about geological engineering, and some possible worst-case scenario solutions if global warming keeps up to predictions. They are all incredibly interesting and I can’t even scratch the surface of all the amazing ideas he brings to the table in the last few chapters. They all bear further investigation. As this is a manifesto, his aim isn’t to delve deeply, but just suggest that there are solutions, if we are pragmatic and open to them, but balancing that openness with being appropriately critical and wary.
Brand’s writing style is enthusiastic and clean. He is frank; even when he’s using a metaphor that he knows is imperfect he admits it. He owns up to past mistakes, and suggests that he could very well be wrong about many things he is writing about now. He suggests his readers be open and reasonable, rather than intractable and stubborn, to go about taking care of the planet we all call home. He appeals to all of us to be intellectually honest and curious and hopeful, rather than despairing and quibbling over details.
His love of science, humanity, and the world are all apparent, and even though there is much in the book I disagree with, it opens up the question of a greater dialog and research to such a degree that on the whole, I am thrilled that I read it. It has opened me up to many possibilities and ways of thinking about the planet that I hadn’t considered before, and I would suggest anyone interested in these issues, no matter what their stance, would get a great deal out of hearing Stewart Brand out.