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Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, RestoredWildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary [Paperback]

Stewart Brand
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 28 2010
"This is a very scary book by a very bright man, offering a picture of humanity's future that is both ominous and exhilarating."
-Edward O. Wilson


This eye-opening book by the legendary author of the National Book Award-winning Whole Earth Catalog persuasively details a new approach to our stewardship of the planet. Lifelong ecologist and futurist Stewart Brand relies on scientific rigor to shatter myths concerning nuclear energy, urbanization, genetic engineering, and other controversial subjects, showing exactly where the sources of our dilemmas lie and offering a bold, inventive set of policies and design- based solutions for shaping a more sustainable society. Thought- provoking and passionately argued, this is a pioneering book on one of the hottest issues facing humanity today.


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"Browne is in great form in this page-turning love story, and Melissa is as endearing and empowering as ever -- the perfect lead for this contemporary fairy tale." -- Publishers Weekly --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"After spreading the gospel of self-sufficiency with his inimitable Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand now embraces science and engineering as the disciplines that will see us through the fast-approaching crisis of global warming. Brand's new book is like the man himself: smart, practical, wise and full of goodwill." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very Challenging reading when it comes to the chapter on Transgenetics in our food and in new crops….but I have to hand it to Stewart Brand, I wouldn't be so challenged and want to learn more about the actual science if I wasn't a message from him specifically. This book is a game changer for me.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Yes it seems to go against everything the green movement has been saying for a while (how many greens want dense cities, nuclear power, GE crops and geo-engineering?), but then again, the climate situation is changing. Many of the scientific predictions that people criticized as exaggerated are now revealed as not dire enough. It's in this light that we must read Stuart Brand's latest book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read, lots of great ideas and viewpoints Sept. 18 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. It was an easy read due the style of writing by the author which uses shorter thoughts and sections in a larger viewpoint to express his views. Great stories from over the years too, especially when he describes a common viewpoint that he himself shared (sometimes for years) and what made him change his mind. Learned many things from this book, and really enjoyed the debunking of common thoughts and myths that propagate to this day. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This book could change your world view July 24 2012
By Mr. PG
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Stuart Brand is an environmentalist of such long standing that he has to be listened-to when he speaks. He was an environmentalist long before Greenpeace was even thought of. And his take on the problems out there and their solutions was an amazing revelation to me. He risks a huge amount of scorn and opprobrium for the things that he says, but every single thought and suggestion is completely footnoted and researched. I think he has the solutions and the way out of the environmental mess we've got ourselves into.

Buy this book. I originally found it in a bargain bin, and it deserves so much more than that.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  65 reviews
115 of 134 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the most important --- certainly the most thought-provoking --- book in years Oct. 22 2009
By Jesse Kornbluth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I was interviewing George Soros as the Dow rapidly shed 300 points and crashed through the 10,000 level.

"Is this it?" I asked.

Soros shrugged --- a very calm reaction from an investor who might have seen his portfolio shrink by hundreds of millions of dollars in a matter of minutes.

I lost much less that day, but I had a different reaction --- panic. The thing to do, I concluded, was to trade my beloved Classic 6 in Manhattan for a self-sustaining house in the country. Ten acres would suffice, as long as they had decent water, land suitable for a large garden and enough sunlight for the solar panels.

I bought a URL for the web site I planned to launch: [...]. This was no back-to-the-land hippie retreat. I would be stepping into the smart future: small town/rural purity (Woodsmoke) with the 21st century benefits of a fast Internet (Broadband) and Amazon.com's free shipping.

Given all that, you will understand that I was quite stunned to read "Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto" --- by Stewart Brand, creator of the 1960s and 1970s classic, the "Whole Earth Catalog" --- and discover that the last place its author would have me go is back to the land.

In these pages, Stewart Brand lays out a mind-blowing vision for the planet's salvation: migration to the cities, power generated by mini-nuclear reactors, healthier crops through genetic engineering.

This may well be the most important book I'll read this year. Certainly, it's the most aggressively optimistic book that's also closely reported --- Brand's a student who shows his work. Granted, a lot of it is technical. Skip those pages. Just read with a pencil. Mark what seems important and/or drives you crazy. Start reading more science news --- Brand recommends NewScientist --- and keep an open mind. That is, get ready to abandon your own long-held views. And be just as ready to disagree with Brand.

The book starts with climate change --- not as a phenomenon to debate with those who don't believe it's real, but as a factor in warfare, which has historically often followed changes in climate. In the past, "wholesale carnage was common, and so was cannibalism." But in the last three centuries, historians have found, only about 3% of the world's population dies in warfare. And in our own century, war has become absolutely humane --- we now kill only enough of the enemy to guarantee victory.

But what if we experienced severe climate change? "Humanity would revert to its norm of constant battles for diminishing resources," Brand writes. "Peace lovers would be killed and eaten by war lovers."

Now that he has your attention --- and with that image, he certainly has mine --- Brand makes his case for a Green movement that is smart about science. In other words, based on facts, not emotion. Rachel Carson, he notes, was a hero for her anti-pesticide book, "Silent Spring". But after DD was banned worldwide, malaria took off in Africa, possibly killing 20-30 million children. So he wishes us to consider the direct --- and indirect --- consequences of:
-- "We're now excessively carbon-loading the atmosphere toward inferno."
-- "Cellphones are the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history."
-- For the next three decades, the world will be demographically split: in the global north, old cities full of old people; in the global south, new cities full of young people.
-- "A white roof saves the building's tenant 20% in cooling costs."
-- Because of its nuclear plants, France exports power to coal-burning countries.

But the big phenomenon for Brand, in his new way of thinking, is this: "The takeoff of cities is the dominant economic event of the first half of this century." And when we met in New York for a short interview, that's where we started.

You see more and more people moving to cities. Why do you applaud that?

Cities innovate faster as they grow bigger. They create enormous problems, but they also create solutions faster. Cities seem to know how to get out of their own way.

What's driving the attraction of cities?

Globally, the evolution of cell phones. Once people in the bush have smart phones, people can see the wealth creation in cities.

Won't this lead to more urban gridlock?

People don't move from the country to the capital cities. They go to the nearest city.

Okay, climate change. Care to predict the year when, if we haven't taken radical steps, it becomes just too late to save the planet for humans life?

No, because you can't find a hard edge.

Explain, please.

I used to think rising sea level was not significant. You can, after all, walk back from water. Then I realized most of the wealth and productivity and expensive real estate is on the coasts. In San Francisco, real estate along the shore is susceptible to inches. So rising water is more serious to those people than drought. Very simply, the rich will say: "Stop this!"

And for those who don't live on the coasts?

Ten years of drought would have an effect. At 15 years you realize it's not going away. And once drought stays, the area does die.

In either scenario, climate is the story.

It's the ongoing story: What does climate change mean to us?

But people don't want to hear it. Why?

People turn away from news that confuses them. And these problems resist easy understanding. There's much to disagree about on almost point. Like: every year, carbon comes out of the atmosphere. Does it go to oceans or continents?

You mention the good that would follow if we all painted our roofs white. Give me five more things that we can, as individuals, do to retard climate change.

In my "Whole Earth" days, that would be my focus. Now I don't think about painting your roof white, I think about painting whole cities white.

Can you see that time?

Soon enough, I can see streets that will be embedded with solar cells.

And our power coming from mini-nuclear plants?

Micro-reactors are game changers. China is talking about building 400.

This conversation unsettles me. On one hand, you speak of urgency. On the other, you're very calm. Why aren't you screaming?

I'm a biologist. That comes with a kind of fatalism.

Working out the ideas for this book, when do you realize you were making a break with your past?

As I was pursuing urbanization, I realized there was a nest of good news in what had been treated as bad news. As a journalist, this is what you look for --- suddenly I had a story. And my changed sense of "green" is a piece of that story. That's one advantage of being 70 and having been in the public eye for 40 years.

So is "Whole Earth Discipline" a repudiation of the "Whole Earth Catalog"?

The "Catalog" was not, as some thought, counter-culture. It was counter-counter culture. It matched the passion of the hippie movement with reasoned responses. "Discipline" is the same game.
60 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Steering between Pollyanna and Chicken Little Oct. 21 2009
By S. Kaphan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is the most revealing and compelling of Stewart Brand's writings to date, and I've read pretty much everything he has written in the past 40+ years. Brand is a conceptual artist whose medium is words. He specializes in developing, creating, and promulgating interesting and useful perspectives. Somehow he always manages to find whatever is exciting, important, or cool about whatever he is investigating and to reframe the subject at hand to make you want to learn more. His reframings are powerful. They are aimed to give you a new and improved perspective and point of view, and that is what they do, but they do so with your informed consent.

A lot of people have looked into squatter cities and shanty towns, but Brand does a better job of showing how they are part of an organic and evolutionary and even in some ways positive, optimistic process than most others I've read. There has been a lot of shouting on all sides of the debate on nuclear energy -- this is a really good attempt to get the pros and cons on the table in rational discourse and (mostly) dispense with the flame wars. Same goes for the discussions of genetically engineered crops and geo-engineering. We desperately need a much higher quality public dialog on all these subjects, and this book is a real contribution toward putting all these issues on the table in a discussable format. Stewart is right -- the time for allowing ideology and sentimentality to stand in front of what science is telling us is over, and we are going to be forced as a society to make some difficult decisions relating to the future of our climate and the management of our ecosystems. It is going to require massive involvement and a high level of innovation on the part of many actors, and it is going to require a lot of people to stretch their thinking and give up old prejudices. I don't know if Stewart is right about all the assertions in this book, but the nice thing is, neither does he, and he knows that and comes right out and says so. Loosely held opinions strongly stated. The service of this book is to unwedge the conversation, steer between Pollyanna and Chicken Little, and focus on the important issues that are surely coming our way.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome for any environmentalist, pragmatist...or anyone Oct. 23 2009
By M. Ferretti - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have long considered myself to be a pragmatist without a cause. Nonetheless, I have been fully convinced by reading this book that the time to start a major overhaul in the way we think about global issues is RIGHT NOW. Stewart Brand does a fantastic job laying the facts bare in a way that will convince anyone from the most rational pragmatist to the most ardent environmentalist that we need to start fixing our civilization RIGHT NOW. Not only that, but we must use every tool and technology that we have invented to help us achieve this goal.

His warnings are dire, but hopeful. His advice is strongly worded, but entirely justified. If you are looking for a rational voice in the debate about climate change, genetically modified organisms, the overpopulation "problem" and other issues whose specter is now cast over the future of our species, you must read this book.

It is rare to find a book that is balanced, informative and wholly engaging -- this is one of them.
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We must fix it. Oct. 21 2009
By Peter Petre - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When Stewart Brand captured a generation's imagination 40 years ago with The Whole Earth Catalog, his motto was "We are as gods, and might as well get good at it." With this book, as humankind confronts climate change and other vast, urgent threats largely of its own making, the motto has matured: "We are as gods and HAVE to get good at it." Brand's magisterial tour of urbanization, biotechnology, climate change, energy and agriculture is a feast of surprises, unorthodox opinions, startling insights, wry observations, and moments of reverence and wonder that will inspire and energize productive, practical people everywhere, whether they consider themselves green or not. I don't know if there is a National Book Award for manifestos ... but hey, there wasn't a National Book Award for catalogs when Brand's first great book won, back in the day. And never mind prizes; Whole Earth Discipline offers us a way for humankind to save its own skin.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Changes the Conversation Oct. 31 2009
By Danny Hillis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Don't read this book if you are looking for another confirmation that you have been right all along. Whether you are a Green Party tree hugger or a pro-nuke conservative, you will find parts of this book that will delight you and parts that will annoy you. This is a book that will make you think. If you want to participate in the ongoing conversation about global warming, energy production and environmentalism, you need to read it.
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