‘We are as gods and HAVE to get good at it’

Whole Earth Discipline cover

I’ve just finished reading Stewart Brand’s 2009 book, Whole Earth Discipline. I love the breadth of vision, the passion and the enthusiasm with which he writes, just as back in the 1970s I loved the magazine Co-Evolution Quarterly that he founded and contributed to.

In this book he states: ‘We are as gods and HAVE to get good at it’. Yes, absolutely, I agree. Humanity has unwittingly influenced the biosphere in profound ways, and now it is our responsibility to manage it back to health. It is a system of immense complexity. Nobody has all the answers. We need to carefully and scientifically keep assessing what we do and modify our policies and practices to fit our evolving understanding to the situation.

One of the things I most like about this latest book is that it profoundly challenges a lot of the positions and beliefs I’ve long held. That is good. There are also sections of the book where I think he is less well informed, and I’d like the opportunity to challenge him. I think he might welcome this too. Early in the book he states ‘In keeping with professional forecaster practice, my opinions are strongly stated and loosely held – strongly stated so that clients can get at them to conjure with, loosely held so that facts and the persuasive arguments of others can get at them and change them.’ I like this attitude.

On many issues, and particularly in the USA, things have become so polarized, so ideologically driven that masses of people stubbornly hang on to obsolete understandings of the world. Examples abound. It’s easy to see the mistakes of others: how daft the climate change sceptics refusal to look carefully at the science! I can’t yet see any issues where this book has forced me into a complete u-turn, but quite a few issues where I feel my position become more nuanced, perhaps a little less absolute. Over coming months I’ll explore several of these, from biotechnology and urbanisation where I feel I’ve learnt a lot from Stewart Brand, to renewable energy where I feel I could usefully help educate him!