The Rise of Scientific Environmentalism

The New York Times has an article about the pioneering environmentalist Stewart Brand and his insistence that in the coming decade the environmental movement will move from being dominated by what he calls “romantic” environmentalism to a better “scientific” kind. Essentially the distinction is between those well-meaning but misguided idealists who oppose the unnaturalness of genetically modified foods and still shriek in terror at the mention of nuclear power and the current minority of environmentalists who take an evidence-based approach to evaluating new technologies. From the article:

He thinks the fears of genetically engineered bugs causing disaster are as overstated as the counterculture’s fears of computers turning into Big Brother. “Starting in the 1960s, hackers turned computers from organizational control machines into individual freedom machines,” he told Conservation magazine last year. “Where are the green biotech hackers?”

He’s also looking for green nuclear engineers, and says he feels guilty that he and his fellow environmentalists created so much fear of nuclear power. Alternative energy and conservation are fine steps to reduce carbon emissions, he says, but now nuclear power is a proven technology working on a scale to make a serious difference.

If this profile is to be believed, Brand has been right more than once before. If so, this would make me optimistic that we could take a more reasoned approach to implementing new developments in future, without the knee-jerk anti-technology reactions of the “romantics”.