This talk was given at Cowell Theatre in Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, California on Friday October 9, 02009.
Brand built his case for rethinking environmental goals and methods on two major changes going on in the world. The one that most people still don’t take into consideration is that power is shifting to the developing world, where 5 out of 6 people live, where the bulk of humanity is getting out of poverty by moving to cities and creating their own jobs and communities (slums, for now).
The second dominant global fact is climate change. Brand emphasized that climate is a severely nonlinear system packed with tipping points and positive feedbacks such as the unpredicted rapid melting of Arctic ice.
Global warming has to be slowed by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases from combustion, but cities require dependable baseload electricity, and so far the only carbon-free sources are hydroelectric dams and nuclear power. Brand contrasted nuclear with coal-burning by comparing what happens with their waste products.
Moving to genetically engineered food crops, Brand noted that they are a tremendous success story in agriculture, with Green benefits such as no-till farming, lowered pesticide use, and more land freed up to be wild. The developing world is taking the lead with the technology, designing crops to deal with the specialized problems of tropical agriculture. Meanwhile the new field of synthetic biology is bringing a generation of Green biotech hackers into existence.