Stewart Brand, best known for having founded The Whole Earth Catalogue, wrote an essay entitled “Environmental Heresies, published in 2005, that addressed his belief that the environmental movement would soon reverse its position on four core issues. He wrote: “Over the next ten years, I predict, the mainstream of the environmental movement will reverse its opinion and activism in four major areas: population growth, urbanization, genetically engineered organisms, and nuclear power.”
Brand was not correct as to his timing for each of these issues but this transitions does seem to be underway with respect to nuclear energy, that is now being seen as a necessary component of a 100% clean energy grid.
Brand had keen insight into the environmental movement, its composition and divisions. Even more important than his prescriptions on issues, reading this article provides key insights into why the environmental movement is so fractureed and contentious. He wrote:
The success of the environmental movement is driven by two powerful forces – romanticism and science – that are often in opposition. The romantics identify with natural systems; the scientists study natural systems. The romantics are moralistic, rebellious against the perceived dominant power, and combative against any who appear to stray from the true path. They hate to admit mistakes or change direction. The scientists are ethicalistic, rebellious against any perceived dominant paradigm, and combative against each other. For them, admitting mistakes is what science is.
There are a great many more environmental romantics than there are scientists. That’s fortunate, since their inspiration means that most people in developed societies see themselves as environmentalists. But it also means that scientific perceptions are always a minority view, easily ignored, suppressed, or demonized if they don’t fit the consensus story line.
Read Brand’s 2005 article, printed originally at the Technology Review: “Environmental Heresies” here.