Whole Earth Discipline

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Whole Earth Discipline
Black book cover with a small photo of Earth from space, white text: WHOLE EARTH DISCIPLINE, and in red AN ECOPRAGMATIST MANIFESTO, in white STEWART BRAND, and in yellow FOUNDER AND EDITOR OF THE WHOLE EARTH CATALOG
AuthorStewart Brand
Original titleWhole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto
PublisherViking Penguin
Publication date

Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto is the sixth book by Stewart Brand, published by Viking Penguin in 2009.[1] He sees Earth and people propelled by three transformations: climate change (global warming), urbanization and biotechnology.[2] Brand tackles "touchy issues" like nuclear power, genetic engineering and geoengineering, "fully aware that many of the environmentalist readers he hopes to reach will start out disagreeing with him".[3]


Brand said in an interview with Seed magazine, "...I'd accumulated a set of contrarian views on some important environmental issues—specifically, cities, nuclear energy, genetic engineering, and geoengineering—and that it added up to a story worth telling."[4]

The author cites numerous other authors both in the recommended reading section[5] and in live lectures.[6] In particular, book influences are Constant Battles by Steven A. LeBlanc with Katherine Register,[7] Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, a New Urban World by Robert Neuwirth,[8] and James Lovelock, the author of The Revenge of Gaia and The Vanishing Face of Gaia.[9]

In an interview with American Public Media, Brand said, "...in [Whole Earth Catalog] I focused on individual empowerment, and in [Whole Earth Discipline] the focus is on the aggregate effects of humans on things like climate. And some of these issues are of such scale that you got to have the governments doing things like making carbon expensive. Or making coal expensive to burn and putting all that carbon into the atmosphere. And individuals can't do that, individual communities can't do that. It takes national governments."[10]


Speaking on "Rethinking Green", Brand provided a short version of his book:[11]

The book challenges traditional environmentalist thinking around four major issues:

  • Cities are green.
  • Nuclear power is green.
  • Genetic engineering is green.
  • Geoengineering is probably necessary.

He summarized the book as follows:

Urbanization, or the move to cities, requires grid electricity, which chapter one discusses, in particular nuclear power. Another two chapters explain the need for genetic engineering. The fourth chapter is a "sermon" on science and large-scale geoengineering. The fifth chapter tackles restoration of natural infrastructure and benevolent ecosystem engineering. Finally, Brand concludes with humans' obligation to "learn planet craft", to enhance life and Earth like an earthworm.[12]


Amory Lovins published a critique at the Rocky Mountain Institute,[13] saying on NPR that nuclear energy is not the most cost-effective solution, that it is too expensive and slow to build.[14] Jim Riccio, a spokesman for Greenpeace speaking with Green Inc. of The New York Times, called Brand's arguments "nonsensical, especially concerning the abysmal economics of nuclear power."[15]

"(Environmentalists) are viewing what I'm saying more in sorrow than in anger," Brand told the Toronto Star.[16]

Online revision after publication[edit]

Brand maintains an online version of his book[17] where, as he says "the text (much of it) dwells in a living thicket of its origins and implications. Instead of static footnotes there are live links to my sources, including some better ones that turned up after the writing".

He also published an online "Afterword".[18] He asks: "What belongs in an afterword?" For one thing, he says: "history that has moved on from what I described in 2009 should be indicated" But his Afterword is also a place where he can record changes in his views: "I did promise in this book that I would change my mind as needed...."

Brand says his views on climate are influenced most by his old friend James Lovelock.[19] In the Afterword, Brand writes that Lovelock has "softened his sense of alarm about the pace of climate change". (Lovelock's position had been that planetary catastrophe was now unavoidable).[20] Brand explains that Lovelock changed his mind because of two things: he read a book, The Climate Caper, by Garth Paltridge,[21] and he read a paper by Dr. Kevin Trenberth,[22] which was published in Science. Brand quotes from an email he got from Lovelock: "Something unknown appears to be slowing down the rate of global warming".

Brand's current position on climate change is unclear. In a talk recorded in Vancouver, he told the audience "maybe nothing" will happen as a result of the accumulating greenhouse gases, although he said it would be "like playing Russian Roulette with five cylinders loaded, to not reduce emissions".[23]


Publishers Weekly said, "Rejecting the inflexible message so common in the Green movement, he describes a process of reasonable debate and experimentation. Brand's fresh perspective, approachable writing style and manifest wisdom ultimately convince the reader that the future is not an abyss to be feared but an opportunity for innovative problem solvers to embrace enthusiastically."[24] Library Journal's verdict: "Despite the occasional flippant comment, Brand's tough but constructive projection of our near future on this overheating planet is essential reading for all."[25] One Energy Collective reviewer disagreed: "What's Brand doing telling people to pay attention to a second rate climate science denier like Paltridge? And that aging old friend of his who has so influenced him, Lovelock, he doesn't seem to understand what recent debate among leading climate scientists means."[26]


  1. ^ Brand, Stewart (2009). Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto. Viking Penguin. ISBN 978-0-670-02121-5.
  2. ^ "Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto". Skeptics Society. 2009-10-27. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  3. ^ Morton, Oliver (October 2, 2009). "Must-reads for Copenhagen". Nature Publishing Group. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  4. ^ Montenegro, Maywa (September 3, 2009). "Author and environmental icon Stewart Brand on four green heresies, developing-world ingenuity, and the new face of environmentalism". Seed. Seed Media Group. Archived from the original on September 6, 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-02.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  5. ^ Brand 2009, pp. 303–313
  6. ^ Brand, Stewart (October 24, 2009). Lecture Series presented by KPMG - Whole Earth Discipline. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Perimeter Institute, Quantum to Cosmos (Q2C) Festival. Retrieved 2009-10-25.
  7. ^ Brand 2009, p. 2
  8. ^ Brand 2009, p. 37
  9. ^ Brand 2009, p. 11
  10. ^ Brand, Stewart and Ryssdal, Kai (October 26, 2009). Marketplace: A pragmatic response to climate change. American Public Media. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  11. ^ Brand, Stewart (October 10, 2009). Rethinking Green. The Long Now Foundation via ForaTV. Event occurs at 15:20. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  12. ^ Brand 2009, p. 23
  13. ^ Lovins, Amory (October 13, 2009). "Four Nuclear Myths" (PDF). Rocky Mountain Institute. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  14. ^ Lovins, Amory (October 21, 2009). "Transcript: Brand vs. Lovins On Nuclear Power". On Point. Trustees of Boston University. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  15. ^ Witkin, Jim (October 23, 2009). "Of Climate Change and Nuclear Power". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  16. ^ Kelly, Cathal (October 10, 2009). "Why greens need to grow up if they want to save the planet". Toronto Star. Torstar. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  17. ^ Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, online version Retrieved July 20, 2010. Archived September 24, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Online Afterword to Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto. Retrieved July 20, 2010 Archived June 17, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Radio Ecoshock interview with Stewart Brand Retrieved July 20, 2010.
  20. ^ Enjoy life while you can Views of James Lovelock, The Guardian, March 1, 2008, Retrieved July 20, 2010.
  21. ^ Paltridge, Garth The Climate Caper 2009
  22. ^ Tracking Earth's Energy, Science "Perspectives" April 16, 2010 Retrieved July 20, 2010.
  23. ^ Radio Ecoshock interview with Stewart Brand Retrieved July 20, 2010.
  24. ^ "Nonfiction Reviews". Publishers Weekly. Reed Business Information, Reed Elsevier. August 24, 2009. Archived from the original on August 31, 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  25. ^ Conn, David R., Surrey P.L., B.C. (September 1, 2009). "Science & Technology". Library Journal. Reed Business Information. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |url= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  26. ^ Lewis, David, November 10, 2010 Stewart Brand: Fearless Follower of Lovelock, not science review of Brand's online Afterword, The Energy Collective

External links[edit]