Green@Google: Stewart Brand

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 18.03.2010

>>Bill Wile: Hi. Good afternoon. Thanks for everybody coming today, both here and I guess
we've got some, some video links as well.
I'm Bill Wile and it's with great pleasure that I welcome you to Green@ Google which
is our speaker series that welcomes authors to Google to talk about various environmental
and sustainability topics.
First I'd like to introduce our speaker who is one of the most remarkable environmental
advocates living today. He's inspired at least one if not two or three generations of, of
people over the last many years, including myself.
As I was writing this I was, I was kind of struck by the number of parallels between
our speaker's pioneering work and biography and our own Google history. I should say that
I could probably spend the entire hour summarizing his biography -
you guys don't want me to do that.
So, first of all he's a Stanford graduate the place where Larry met Sergey. Thirty nine
years before Google Earth was launched he initiated a campaign which resulted in NASA
releasing the first color images of earth from space. These pictures also helped to
inspire the creation of the first Earth Day celebration.
He is best known as the founder of the original Whole Earth Catalog. Some of you are probably
too young to know what that is, some of us aren't.
>>voice in audience: Fossil.
>>Bill Wile: Thank you. Yes, fossil. I'm guilty.
It was likened to and I quote "Google in paperback form." I don't think that was said in the
'60's but more recently. And he received a national book award for it.
He was the original organizer of the Hacker Conference popularizing the famous phrase
"information wants to be free" an idea which continues to become even more popular today
and certainly resonates with our mission to make the world's information easily and universally
accessible and, and useful.
He also co-founded The Well, another thing that many of you are probably too young to
know about -
with Larry Brilliant who was an executive director of for several years.
It was one of the first and longest lasting online communities and, and really paved the
way in many ways for every online business from Amazon to eBay to Google and, and so
Stewart is a self proclaimed environmental heretic; so he's not afraid to challenge the
status quo.
He's here today to talk about his latest book "Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist
Manifesto." A book which has been hailed as one of the most important books of the decade as well as ominous and exhilarating
and mind bending.
I hope you'll find his ideas engaging and provocative as well.
Please join me in welcoming Stewart Brand.
>>Stewart Brand: Alright. How's our sound are we okay all the way in back and stuff
like that? Okay. Great. Good to go.
>>Bill Wile: One, one other point of order.
Sorry. So this is being recorded and will be put on YouTube so when you ask questions
please remember that; that this is public; this is not a private Google talk and there
is on microphones.
>>Stewart Brand: I wonder what things you don't say in those circumstances, but I won't
>>Bill Wile: We can't tell you.
>>Stewart Brand: Yeah, quick revisit. At age of 10 I gave my pledge as an American to save
and faithfully to defend from waste the natural resources my country - its air, soil, and
minerals, its forests, waters and wildlife. That came from not some kind of lefty thing,
but outdoor life.
The conservation pledge was promoted by conservatives, basically hunters and fisherman and its relative
to remember the environmental movement was basically begun in this country by duck hunters.
And it has been a, a conservative thing from the start and it's only lately got identified,
I think over identified with being on the left.
So I went to Stanford, got a degree in ecology, did The Whole Earth Catalog '68, in the '70's
I worked for the first Jerry Brown administration.
And he, that administration set in motion the regulations and rules and norms so that
Californians emit half the greenhouse gases of the residents of any other state per capita.
That lasted through several Republican governors and it's an impressive accomplishment.
So a current event for me is this book called Whole Earth Discipline. I'll just mention
a couple of things that
are in it, but I won't touch on much today. I'm trying to move on thinking from the idea
of natural capital as a way to think about ecosystems services and just to say, "Look,
it's infrastructure." Yeah, it's natural infrastructure, but a bridge is an infrastructure and so is
the river under it.
Precautionary principle is fine if and only if it allows things to go forward and be tried.
So I want the precautionary principle matched with a vigilance principle where you keep
an eye on stuff. You try it and then out of precaution you watch if it's gonna do good
things or bad things.
It's particularly nice to be talking here at Google because the rethinking green I'm
doing basically is trying to get the whole environmental movement and everybody who listens
to them to think like scientists and even more to think like engineers. That it's not
always saying no to things but often saying yes, but let's do it this particularly cool
That involves thinking like a fox instead of a hedgehog. Being able to hold a whole
many things, many ideas, some of them contradictory in your mind at the same time, instead of
pledging your entire life and allegiance to one hedgehogeque ideology.
So I'm trying to move people from romance to science to engineering and we're realizing
that we are now the keystone species on the planet and it is basically ours to guard either
well or badly but we don't have a choice not to.
The news items in the book and ones that are maybe more directly relevant here and these
were more fun to illustrate is cities are green, nuclear power is green, genetic engineering
is green and I fear that geoengineering may well be necessary.
Let's quickly visit the climate aspects of that.
I won't go through the whole trip that I'm sure Al Gore did on climate, but the point
that interests me most about it is the degree to which it is a severe non-linear system
with various hidden positive feedbacks, tipping points, thresholds and whatnot. This is just
one diagram that climatologists use to remind themselves of the things that we don't know
yet. So there's a hell of a lot more science that needs to come along on all these subjects.
What happens when climate really affects things is with warming you get drought; with drought
you get a fight over lowering carrying capacity for, for humans, over resources, over water
in the case of Darfur. If things go badly with climate Darfur may be seen as the first
of the climate wars.
A good book on this sort of subject is called Constant Battles by Steven LeBlanc.
Another potential conflict area is the glaciers of the Himalaya, no they're probably not gonna
all melt by 2035 as we heard from the IPCC, but they are nevertheless melting and the
entire Himalayan plateau feeds rivers that provide water in the dry season to 40% of
humanity. Mostly those rivers flow through several different nations, several of which
are nuclear armed. If they get to fighting over resources it could get pretty ugly.
A couple of good climate books - this is interesting, this is such a green presentation that all
my colors have gone green.
There really are other colors in the original. This is kind of fun, but it's a little sickly
I'd have to say.
Anyway a couple books I recommend is James Lovelock, "The Vanishing Face of Gaia" and
"Six Degrees" by Mark Lynas.
With this group of engineers I will raise a question that is - I don't usually raise
in public - which is there may be hidden negative impacts, we hope so, in the climate system.
There may be a flywheel of momentum effect that slows down some of these tipping points
and positive feedbacks.
There is still carbon disappearing from the atmosphere that we don't know where it's going;
mysterious carbon sink. It may be going in the oceans, it may be going in the soil, it
may be going in the trees growing because of CO2, but we, we need to figure out what
that is and either at least work with it or not into it.
Lots of science.
Likewise another possible positive feedback; a whole lot of the book goes on about microorganisms;
our best friend 'cause they create the atmosphere that we live with. There's a microorganism
in the oceans called Emiliania huxleyi, EHUX to its friends, that makes blooms that you
can see from space; they increase the reflectance of the earth when they do that; they fix carbon
in their shells; the shells then sink to the bottom of the ocean and they are a carbon
fixer and there's some sign with lab work that they may not add to acidification of
the oceans. Lots more science needed there.
So moving from climate to the whole perspective on demographics; the major fact that I'm trying
to get everybody who's thinking about these issues, climate and green issues and so on,
is that five out of six of us do not live in the developed world, we live in the developing
world where a whole hell of a lot is going on. People are moving to cities, they're educating
their kids, they're getting the hell out of poverty and it is a demographic change as
large as any in the history of humanity going on now. We've now passed the majority of people
living on the earth are in cities, I call it city planet and the expectation is that
by about mid-century we will be up to 80 percent [inaudible] which is what it is in developed
countries now.
The overall numbers are incredible. One point three million new people a week in cities,
70 million a year. Some are being born there; most are moving there. And when they move,
they move from primarily from subsistence agriculture situations which are beautiful
to look at but they're hell to work in. They are poverty jobs, they're ecological disasters
built specifically inside of marginal land.
When people move off this land, especially in the tropical areas it grows back pretty
fast; the animals come back because they're no longer being killed for bush meat and this
is a, a part of the green advantage of cities. That's in the developing world.
In the developed world, as we are increasingly finding, cities are a great place to live
if you wanna use less materials; less energy; and by the way have a more exciting life.
So people are moving away from the poverty trap, but they're moving toward action. Now
they don't get to go to downtown Manhattan right away, they start with squatter cities;
And there is no end of economic activity going on there; in the informal economy as it's
called. I talked about this a couple years ago, so I won't go in great depth about it,
but a good book on the subject is Shadow Cities by Robert Neuwirth.
An important point to realize is that, that people are getting out of poverty; part of
what they're doing is that they're moving to the bright lights in cities to buy electricity.
If it's not there, readily available, they don't have money to pay for it, they steal
it. Like here in Rio. They do the same with water and cable TV and by and by if they've
stole well enough gradually it gentrifies and these things become legal, but it starts
out illegal.
Squatter cities are the densest social capital activities in the world. Look at an edge like
this in Sao Paulo and you start to see why cities derive so much of their power from
proximity. In this case, you've got people that live on the left in the boring part of
town walk to work over in the, in the exciting part of town over the boring empty swimming
pools on the right as nannies and gardeners and guards and cooks and whatnot, and then
walk home to the interesting life on the left.
Proximity is everything in cities. It is what drives people to them, it's what rewards them
for being there. So here you have a, a national scale train moving through a dense slum market
in Bangkok, and these kinds of proximities are drivers of innovation; they're drivers
of economic activity; and one of the reasons we all move to cities is [inaudible].
I love showing this to city planners. It -
They're real estate guys; now where do you begin?
The poor people of the world are the slums and the squatter cities are the greatest people
there are. They use the least energy and the least materials, but they're that green because
they're poor and they do not chose to remain that poor.
Now this particular guy told the photographer [inaudible]: "For toilet purposes we have
to go outside." This is in the Dharavi slum in Mumbai. "It's a problem; we have to go
in the road. The electricity is on for two days and off two days or not on at all. We
don't have much space for the children to play in; they use the road to play in and
accidents take place again and again. I'm not studied at all and am illiterate. For
work I stitch government jeans and pants. It's fine but the workday ends late. I want
to educate my kids; 'til the day I die I'll educate them. As long as I'm around that's
That's a world changing event. The kids getting educated in cities, fewer of them typically
in birth rate drops below two point one per woman as soon as they get into town and that
combination is changing worlds. So what we're looking at over the next 30 years is a global
South full of huge growing cities, new cities full of young people and here in the North
basically old cities increasingly full of people who look like me; old people.
And where do you think the action's gonna be? Because all the cities in the world want
to get to this state which is not usually green, it's usually a beautiful golden yellow.
Cities require base load power and to get to the power issue right now we get base load
electricity from just three sources. Mostly coal and gas, some hydro, some nuclear. In
terms of constant base load there is, so far no other source. We hope it gets mass storage
for solar to wind, but they don't, they're not on line yet.
From the green standpoint the main argument for nuclear is when you compare what happens
with base, the waste products. That beautiful monogrammed cook pan would contain -
a lifetime's worth of spent fuel from nuclear electricity. Whereas just one day in a normal
one gigawatt coal fired plant you see 19,000 tons of carbon dioxide coming out along with
no end of slurry and flash and the rest of it.
Where does the waste go? Nuclear waste and 20 tons of fuel becomes 20 tons of waste goes
into two dry cask storage back in the parking lot. Two point nine million tons of coal turns
into eight million tons of carbon dioxide which goes into everybody's atmosphere where
we can't do anything about it.
So when you compare the lifetime greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear it's down there with
hydro and wind and, and still ahead of solar.
Just a thing or two to say about wind. It's pretty major infrastructure by now. And it
takes not just an ecological footprint on the land but a physical footprint on the industrialized
landscape to the point of one gigawatt which isn't constant taking up about 250 square
miles of industrialized land.
Solar is even tougher. Here in California take a pretty place out in the desert and
bulldoze it for solar farms and one gigawatt takes 50 square miles. And just in case you
think that's a particularly pretty or spectacular place in the desert there's of course a Google
indicator of where the photograph was taken. It's an ordinary spot that is exactly the
kind of places that are being dozed for solar farms.
Not that I'm against solar or wind. But it's, as environmentalists starting to learn the
trade off, Saul Griffith has gone through the numbers
and figured out that to really stabilize the climate we need 13 terawatts of new clean
energy and if you parcel all of that out what it would take to do it, you get things like
30,000 square miles of solar electric panels, 15,000 square miles for another two terawatts
of solar thermal panels and on down the line and still only comes to ten, so he threw in
three terawatts of nuclear for 3900 one gigawatt reactors. You add it all up and it takes an
area about the size of North America which Saul calls "Renewistan."
A really good book on this subject is David McKay's, basically doing the math on what
it would take to make England green. And one of the things he says, "Look I'm not trying
to be in favor of nuclear, but I am in favor of arithmetic."
Everybody says what about Chernobyl? Okay. Chernobyl is interesting. You go back there
later and what you find now is it's the world's best, or Europe's best wildlife refuge. One
zoologist who went there, studied the animals on the ground for 10 years and said that it
was very interesting that the world's worst nuclear reactor disaster was nowhere as harmful
for, for the wildlife as just what people do ordinarily, farming and so on. But people
moved out [inaudible] was reforested. So my expectation is that within this decade you'll
see Chernobyl National Park and we'll all go there to see the animals and to see the
terrible sites and the terrible thing that happened.
Proliferation is another famous issue and this is red, white and blue.
And it's megatons, I guess they really didn't wanna call it megadust to megawatts.
But 10% of American electricity comes from recycled Russian warheads. We haven't even
started on our own stock pile yet. It is one of the good reasons to move ahead with, with
shutting down all of the nuclear weapons in the world because unlike most weapon systems
this is actually valuable. When you down-blend the weapons grade uranium into fuel you can
run a hell of a lot of electricity. I think it's wonderful that the very bombs that were
targeted at blowing up American cities are now being used to light up American cities
is exquisite.
Another big question is nuclear waste. What will we do with that? Well it's not going
to Yucca Mountain. Where it stands now is we need broadcast storage in the various reactor
sites in the US and around the world. Where can we find an area 50, 100, 150 old and think
about what we wanna do with it, it may well be fuel for the next generation of reactors
or it could just go in the ground if we wanted to where nuclear waste has been going for
10 years in New Mexico in the Waste Isolation Power Plant which is pretty cool to visit
and they occasionally welcome visitors.
The argument for the WIPP is that that sulfur base has been there for 250 million years;
it's not going anywhere; water doesn't come in or out of it; you're down half a mile;
and it's about as good a place as any to stash stuff that you really wanna forget about.
A good book on nuclear is Gwyneth Cravens' Power to Save the World.
A previous group would wanna see how we think about transporting nuclear waste -
>>voice on video: Shipping containers have been loaded on a truck that was crashed first
at 60 miles per hour and then at 80 miles per hour into a 700 ton concrete wall. They
have been broadsided by a 121 ton locomotive traveling at 80 miles per hour.
Another physical test involved dropping containers in a 30 foot free fall onto steel reinforced
concrete, comparable to hitting a concrete slab head on at 120 miles an hour.
They've been dropped onto a six inch diameter spike and the containers have been burned
in a pool of aviation fuel for 90 minutes at temperatures of more than 2,000 degrees
The results in each case: there were no ruptures or significant damage to the used fuel containers
themselves. Although dented and charred the containers remained totally intact to protect
the used fuel they would carry.
>>Stewart Brand: See the amount of fun we chemical engineers can have.
I think it's useful to think of, of nuclear not just in terms of, of that it puts out
less greenhouse gases, but there are various positive things that can happen with the next
generation with the fast reactors and some of the other hotter burning reactors.
So you go from what we have with Diablo Canyon now to yellow electricity from there should
go into plug-in hybrids, then it's clean, it's not so if it comes from coal or gas.
The hot reactors could, can be used directly for generating hydrogen and for desalinating
water for fresh water.
They can also take that spent fuel and turn it back into fuel so that the stuff we are
worried about putting in Yucca Mountain can be just be put into the, the fourth generation
reactors and put to work.
And of course there's no carbon dioxide with managing what comes out of this.
One of the elements that I'm most interested in is the, is the new domain of down on the
lower left of so-called small modular reactors; the SMR's; 25 megawatts and stuff like that.
Here's one from Toshiba "Super Safe Small & Simple."
The Russians are leading the way on this one. They've got one that they're building now
for use along the Northern Sea Passage because the ice is melting north of Russia and the,
it's opening up for shipping; they're pouring concrete for ports; they need power for the
ports. They're making these floating 35 megawatt reactors and they are also planning to sell
them to the developing world for coastal countries.
Here's a local design from Lawrence Livermore; the commercial design from New Mexico Hyperion
was supposed to be ready now; they're getting sales, new scale in Oregon. These are all
very typically buried in the ground; they are modular in the sense they're built at
a factory instead of on-site and then trucked to the spot; put in the ground; treated as
"nuclear batteries" relatively few moving parts; proliferation proof, safe and all that
good stuff.
Even though one of the oldest players Babcock and Wilcox has, they're the ones who built
the reactors for the Navy they just come out with a new 125 megawatt reactor. They say
they have three utilities that wanna purchase it.
Here's basically a concept for a fourth generation reactor that's small; 100 megawatts. This
Integral Fast Reactor potentially could for a small town besides providing local electricity
also desalinate water locally, provide hydrogen locally if that turns out to be useful.
There's many people at Google who love storing.
The outfit that Nathan [inauble] does in Electrical Adventures is working with global wood; they've
got a thorium design that is a true bury and forget; it is, you put it in the ground and
run it for 60 years and then just leave it there. The nature of the waste is perfectly
comfortable in that spot.
Now will the Google goal of having some form of clean energy that's cheaper than coal come
along? I don't know. I don't know if it'll be nuclear, I don't know what it might be.
But in the meantime it's probably important that governments that we hire to think long
term and deal with infrastructure make coal expensive, so that the market and everything
else can move ahead in making these other things go forward and get cheap enough.
Basically if the, if the governments in Europe, the United States, China and India all make
coal expensive, we're probably in pretty good shape for greenhouse gases and if they don't
it's gonna be difficult.
One other quick subject: good old genetically modified organisms; genetically engineered
food crops. For some reason my fellow environmentalists became deeply adverse to it; frankenfood.
And it was based on I think ignorance that, the notion that if you take genes from one
species and put 'em in another species there's something profoundly unnatural about that.
It's not unnatural for microorganisms, they've been doing it for 3.5 billion years. It's
how a great deal of evolution has occurred; my translation of genes from one organism
to the next. We're just finally picking up on that technology called a form of biomimicry.
One of the things to ask with-- I love that poisonous green color.
Okay, who's actually using this? Well the Amish for one.
Were usually very suspicious of any new technology but they are also some of the best farmers
in America. They know good seeds when they see it. They were one of the early adopters
of Bt corn for example.
Likewise all around the world it's been picked up by many developing countries such as South
Africa where engineered white maize is one of the most popular food crops there.
There's three books I'll quickly recommend here: Gordon Conway's The Doubly Green Revolution;
two local folks Tomorrow's Table; Pamela Ronald is a genetic engineer at UC Davis married
to an organic farming teacher named Raoul Adamchak. They think the combination of organic
and engineered is the ideal way to go with agriculture. I'd have to agree.
A good survey of the area is Nina Fedoroff's Mendel In The Kitchen.
This is the most successful agricultural revolution in history basically. It has taken off so
rapidly and my fellow environmentalists keep saying that it's somehow bad for farmers,
but the farmers haven't gotten that message.
They think these are better seeds; they like plants that they can get ahead of the weeds
with, that they can get ahead of the pests with, and that doesn't do a lot of damage
to the landscape.
So in the case of soy beans, for example, most of the world's soy beans now are, are
herbicide tolerant; that means that you don't have to plow the ground to keep the weeds
down. No till agriculture is absolutely one of the best things you can do ecologically
and it's a direct result of genetic engineering.
As for the moral and ethical issues, The Nuffield Council on Bioethics in England explored this
subject twice in great depth, and came up with the conclusion that there is a moral
imperative for making GM crops readily and economically available to anybody in the developing
world that wants it.
Now this is not just for the developing world. Yeah, there are a number of things that are
being done for especially tropical plants that have not been bred up to their full capabilities,
and so you have some fairly lousy food like Cassava which is good for storage but not
much else that 800 million people live on. Or sorghum that 500 million people live on.
Bill and Melinda Gates' Foundation put money into BioCassava Plus. It is improved eight
ways including producing the damn cyanide that is natural in the plant.
Down on the lower end of the scale you see things that are gonna be of great interest
to us such as not only an allergy-free peanut but a pig with omega-3 fatty acids in it.
So it's as healthy for you, your system and your heart as eating wild fish and it would
be fine with me if you didn't eat a wild fish and ate a pig instead. Or even better there's
a soy bean that has this capability coming along from everybody's favorite enemy Monsanto.
They're finally doing some crops that are gonna be nutritious.
And increasingly there will be medical benefits as well in some of these engineered foods.
The engineering standpoint on this is the Rob Carlson, the Carlson curve, is pointing
out that even though recombinant DNA technology, standard genetic engineering has been increasing
its capabilities at a faster than a morris Law rate.
The new capabilities of synthetic biology, that is of basically generating new genomes
somewhat from scratch; that's moving even faster than that.
In order words, this is a technology which is going to increasingly dominate everything
including all the environmental issues we're interested in.
This is a generational thing. So Drew Endy over here at Stanford is bending the mind
of children with comics that invite them to get some of this stuff in just like Erector
sets and chemistry sets and kids kit sets of long ago; these are now biotech sets for
the kids to make new forms of life in the basement.
And then they convene once they're in colleges and form teams they get together and compete
at MIT every September at the iGem meetings and what are they up to now, 100 teams from
26 countries. This is an amazing occasion and of course a lot of it is frivolous. Bacteria
that do the wave;
that smell different in different parts of their cycle of life. But at the same time
they've come up with things like a, a very cheap biotech sensor for pollution in streams.
I just threw in here a picture which is accurate because that is a blue rose. The thing which
has been tried to be created by breeding lo these many years, everybody failed and the
Japanese the Suntory came up with a blue rose they call Applause. They borrowed a couple
of genes from pansies and petunias and that is not a pansy or a petunia, it's a rose and
for $30 a stem you can buy one.
One of the pleasures of working on this book is I got to revisit ecology 50 years after
studying it; a lot has changed. One of the things that's come along is this term called
ecosystem engineering. It's the sort of thing that earthworms do beneficially; basically
in the process of making the soil better for earthworms it makes the soil better for everybody,
including farmers.
Likewise beavers famously make ponds which then make habitat, ecotones and all the rest
of it and multiply the diversity in any area that they're permitted to do that.
This is one of the reasons that bringing the wolves back to Yellowstone was so great because
the wolves ate the, scared enough of the elk that the elk got out of the [inaudible] areas,
stopped eating all the trees; the beavers came back [inaudible] trees, started damming
creeks and the biodiversity of those parts of Yellowstone jumped immediately.
One of the great inspirers for me and other greens is Aldo Leopold. He basically inspired
people to become ecosystem engineers by restoring natural systems and then he showed how quickly
he's done it with his own shack in Wisconsin in Sand County where he took a really frapped
out farm, planted a bunch of trees and lo a few years later the forest was back.
He undid damage on 150 acres.
We're looking at having to undo damage on a planet scale. And that's gonna get hairy
'cause here's why.
We're realizing that we may not get through the easy ways to head off greenhouse gases
and climate change. Mitigation may not succeed soon enough. We see things like what happened
in Copenhagen and that's pretty impressive. We keep getting more bad news than good news
from climate science. One still hopes that there's gonna to be something that shows there's
unique stable capability there but that has yet to emerge.
And then as people start looking at geoengineering the realization is that it is shockingly cheap.
For example, sometimes it's free.
This was Mt. Pinatubo in 1991. It sent 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide, volcanic ash
into the stratosphere which James Hansen predicted would cool down the planet by half a degree
Celsius and lo and behold next year it was cool by half a degree Celsius; there was more
ice in the Arctic which meant more polar bears and the biologists called the cubs Mt. Pinatubo
So this is the one that the climatologists think, "Well, if volcanoes can do it, we can
do it." And of course Nathan and the intellectual ventures guy wanted to, guys wanted to get
into this. They came up with a notion of blimp-supported hoses that would carry up 100,000 tons a year
of sulfur dioxide; they figured three million tons a year would do it; if you could do it
every year that would be enough to cool the planet basically three degrees Celsius; head
off doubling the CO2 emitted; and I think they low balled the price at $300 million
a year.
But compare that to the cost of mitigation and, and think about the attractions of doing
this sort of thing when things get really hairy.
Now there's, yeah other very cool ideas. This is one, that's Stephen Salter, the English
engineer designing rotor sails for a ship that will be robot controlled and satellite
guided that would course up and down; atomizing sea water; putting the atomized sea water
out so it dries out immediately into little salt crystals which then becomes the core
of a water droplet which goes up and joins the ocean clouds and makes them brighter,
thereby brightening the whole damn planet or at least that part of the oceans by whatever
degree he wanted to make it.
There are so many things to do with the science on this. There, there's two whole branches
of this. I've been to some of the meetings withengineering. How the hell do we actually
do it? There's a bunch of retired Silicon Valley engineers who are looking at this thing
as a very large ink jet printer.
Along with them are atmospheric physicists and others saying, "Well, just a damn minute.
We don't know a whole lot of stuff like how many particles does it take to actually make
clouds? What size are the clouds really like? And by the way, how do clouds actually work
it, with climate?" We don't know that yet so it's, lots to do.
One that everybody sort of feels good about remains to be seen if it were really played
out is biochar; that is pyrolizing smoldering agricultural waste, turning it into charcoal
which is a tremendously stable molecule and at least in the Amazon the way the Indians
did it stayed in the ground for 4,000 years. That may be a way to fix carbon on a large
scale. And, and marginal soil becomes much better soil you can amend with this stuff.
So this all adds up to what Paul Crutzen is calling the anthroposophy. We are now in a
geological era where we've ended the holocene; the anthropocene is in humans are affecting
things that are visible on a geological scale. Things we're doing with the atmosphere may
be with us for tens of thousands of years. And so we are terraforming the earth and if
we're gonna terraform it badly that is terrible. We don't have a choice at this point with
6.8 billion people to not terraform.
So our only choice is to terraform well, hence the realization that at this time we are earth's
gods and we have to get good at it. I think we're shifting toward pragmatism.
The way I would sum it up is to say the ecological balance is too important for sentiment. It
requires science.
The health, health of natural infrastructure is too compromised for passivity. It requires
What we call natural and what we call human are inseparable.
We live one life.
Thank you.
There's a slide that will come up automatically with some of the book references if you wanna
look any of this stuff up and I would point you that the Eskie notes a link on the right
gets you to the augmented, illustrated, updated online version of the book which only a few
people know about. But if you like the book, you'll find it. All the sources are there
with live links and lots of other things I've stolen from all over the Web thanks to you
at Google images.
>>Bill Wile: So we have, we have time for some questions. Please come up and use the
mic and when we're done with Q and A then I believe we have a number of copies of Stewart's
book that he'll be signing. So, here's the mic.
Well while we're waiting well-- so one of the issues that we've been paying a lot of
attention to here is the cost of clean energy. What can you say about the cost in particular
of nuclear and whether we can afford to deploy it at the massive scale that would be needed
toget the mitigation that we need?
>>Stewart Brand: This is one of the reasons I like the small modular reactors is the sticker
shock of building a 1.6 gigawatt machine for multi-billions of dollars is now answered.
Al Gore likes to say that nuclear power comes in only one size extra large. And that has
been the case, but it is no longer. Recently the case with down to 25 megawatts is one
small town, one reactor.
The advantages on that are that you don't have a huge capital cost to get really going
because these things are modular they're built to work in series so you can if you like the
one, get another, get another, and the whole process becomes of a much more manageable
And the other great advantage is if you can have it locally it means you're not dependent
on the problems of the grid which is famously where all the breakdowns occur.
You get more resilience in the grid; you shortcut the 20% or so losses that you have running
your electricity long distances like where doing and so on.
So that's the story. I seem to get a lot of questions.
So next.
>>Q: Yeah. One of your quotes had to do with having less emotion and being more scientific
about this, but it seems like part of the challenge.
>>Stewart Brand: I thought it might be emotion.
>>Q: Right. Yeah, part of the challenge with nuclear energy is people have very strong
emotional feelings about it and I was wondering whether they're based in fact. How, how do
you propose that that particular problem gets addressed?
>>Stewart Brand: To some extent it's, it's kind of offsetting emotions 'cause people
are getting emotional about climate. And the environmentalists that I've seen change their
mind; and I'm one of them, typically got brought to thinking differently about nuclear by thinking
differently about climate than they had before.
An example is Stephen Tindale in England who was head of Greenpeace UK and when he heard
about the positive feedback of methane coming out of the melting permafrost he freaked out.
And it got him looking at nuclear and it, with him as with me he realized there's a
lot more to nuclear than he thought. He started asking around his other environmentalist friends,
especially the younger ones, and they were having the same, what he called "religious
And Stephen went all the way. He is now a paid consultant and a spokesperson for the
nuclear industry. [laughs]
I'm not doing that.
>>Walker Kelly: Hi Walker Kelly. Thank for coming. I've yet to read your book.
You have contributed with the books also here and in your book to help me change my mind
about some of the things I felt very strongly about. So thank you for that.
>>Stewart Brand: Wow.
>>Walker Kelly: I did have one question, though. As, as you mentioned previously the, the number
one enemy Monsanto, they have, they're, they're driven by profits if I understand as well
as the, the common good. And in order...
>>Stewart Brand: Are you certain about profit...
>>Walker Kelly: Monsanto and...
>>Stewart Brand: And and other companies we might...
>>Walker Kelly: Of course.
So I, I preface that by saying that one of their, one of the reasons why they're doing
the genetic engineering is for patents on seeds. And I'm curious how we can protect
farmers and other agricultural engineers you could say, from the problems of seeing cross-pollination
and having farmers being pursued litigiously for ending up with genetically engineered
products in their fields even though they didn't start with it; just as a, a process
of nature's genetic engineering. So what have you...
>>Stewart Brand: Well it's a great question and first of all I think environmentalists
trying to speak for farmers usually is embarrassing; it should be both parties because farmers
are customers in this case. And the idea that somehow all of these farmers are being hoodwinked
and they, they need to be protected by farmer spirited environmentalists-- you're getting
between a vendor and a customer there in an unnecessary way.
Farmers are real good at sorting out their own needs and interests and that there's,
every farmer basically gets seed from a number of different suppliers, catalogs, local seed
dist, vendors and so on. And the minute they're not happy with Monsanto they'll buy seeds
from someone else.
And even engineered seeds are now coming from Syngenta, Dow, Dupont. So there's real competition
there; I'm not so worried about that.
But you raised a point of intellectual property defense and I think Monsanto is...
it has done things like, first of all, patenting naturally occurring genes, which always I
think is a strange thing to do.
Techniques of research that get patented and then kept away from academic researchers around
the world strikes me as a real bad thing to do. And once you find the ways to-- I would
love to see environmentalists and everybody else go after them to keep that from happening
very much.
One advantage of patent law is that you get your 20 years and then it's over. So for example,
the first Roundup Ready soy beans are coming out of patent this year. And they're, they're
trying to do Roundup Ready II soy beans, but meanwhile the thing that they developed is
out there.
Roundup itself glycosade came out of patent around 2000 and instantly dropped a third
to a third of price and everybody's using it now 'cause it's such a good herbicide.
So I think that, Monsanto's a mixed bag.
>>Walker Kelly: Thank you.
>>Stewart Brand: Thanks.
>>Q: And I think that nuclear, large scale nuclear is not inherently expensive. In the
late '60's and early 70's they were built for inflation adjusted prices that are cheaper
than coal plants are built today, so it's, it is cheap. But what really happened is there
a perverse incentive the way we regulate utilities. We guarantee them a certain profit on their
capital investment.
So we shouldn't be surprised if they inflate the capital investment. If there's some kind
of regulatory interference that they can address by adding a new safety system that costs an
extra million dollars and they get 10.7% guaranteed return on that investment by the CPUC they're
going to not fight really, really hard to turn down that investment opportunity.
>>Stewart Brand: You're right about that.
>>Q: So, so we've doubled or tripled the real cost of building power plants because we doubled
and tripled the opportunity for those companies.
>>Stewart Brand: I would assume that some developing countries will work around that
they're not dealing with US--
>>Q: China is currently building 58 or so power plants at about a $50 a watt.
>>Stewart Brand: The numbers I hear are is that there are something like 400 reactors
being planned for.
>>Q: So it, it, we don't need small nuclear power plants to solve this problem, we just
need to fix our regulatory process so we allow the building of big power plants for actual
>>stewart Brand: Thank you.
One point on the earlier question; I meant to point out is the, the question of gene
flow. What happens when BT corn pollen goes over to the organic corn guy nearby and he
winds up getting some of these [laughs] better genes in his corn -
and complains vociferously that he can't sell organic anymore?
Well that is one way of thinking about it. But it's interesting how it played out in
There's a book called "Hybrid" that I just read that in the chapter toward the end said
that the future was creole. And what he pointed out was when BT cotton came to India and over
the vociferous complaints of the pesticide companies who saw that there was going to
be a lot less pesticide used in India, and by anti-globalists like Sheba who said these
are suicide genes, they're horrible, the usual, and Monsanto set up a of couple of test plots
of BT cotton in India and immediately started losing some of their plants from these test
plots, quite a lot of shrinkage.
And then pretty soon suddenly there's a lot of land raised cotton around that part of
India and then all over India which is caterpillar proof, because the guys had stolen the BT
cotton plants then bred it with their own land raised cotton, the local stuff which
was now caterpillar proof and that's the creole effect. There was suddenly 50 different versions
of somewhat BT land raised cotton all over India.
So is, these robbers are not working against their own interests. And it is, it's a kind
of a squatter city sort of thing. People find their way to make stuff actually work.
>>Q: I wanted to thank you for the wonderful work that you've done over the years, but
today I had a question for you since you seem to be sort of crunching numbers. I wonder
if you're familiar with Klaus Lackner's synthetic trees?
>>Stewart Brand: Yeah.
>>Q: Yeah. Have you looked at that and do you have some analysis of whether or not that's
even feasible?
>>stewart Brand: I am nowhere near competent to guess whether Klaus Lackner's carbon eating
trees will really work. I hope they will.
>>Q: Me too.
>>Stewart Brand: And by the way I will, I will put forward a, another carbon capture
technique that Gregory Benford came up with with someone else; the science fiction writer
and physicist, Gregory Benford.
He said, "Well, hey let's just do it quick and easy . What you do is you take about a
third of your agricultural waste from any place of any agriculture and take away; it
won't harm the soil and you go through all this process of pyrolizing it in a bio jar.
Christ why not just bale it, put it in a truck, take it to the ocean, dump it in the ocean;
bales will sink to the bottom; the carbon will stay there for thousands of years, what
about that?
And it doesn't work out in terms of the cost of transportation and so on-- yeah it does.
So basically I love that and you can just start doing it; today; without even pyrolizing;
just truck it, bale it. Imagine that.
>>Q: Hello. I keep hearing very good arguments for using chlorium as a nuclear fuel. Like
ranging from the amount of waste to all sorts of may making fuels and arms control and,
and the availability of chlorium which is much, much larger than, than uranium.
On the other hand, it seems that the industry as it stands today is not really looking into
that and I'm wondering if this is because they are not actually selling nuclear power
and nuclear reactors but they are selling the, the, the uranium fuel cycle, but that
is like that--
>>stewart Brand: There's probably many here who saw it; the Wired article several months
ago on chlorium and there's a fad going for it which I think is just great. Some fads
are hula hoops and some fads are jogging; you never know which it is until you've had
it for--
But indeed there's supposedly three times as much chlorium as there is uranium around.
India in particular has very large quantities of chlorium and is one here is going ahead
on developing program which is great.
James Lovelock tells me that everybody says there's no proliferation aspect to it, but
he says there is a U235 process, a model U235 that comes out of using chlorium reactors
that if you were a really hard working inventive military type you could figure out a way to
make weapons, concentrate that and make weapons out of it.
So it's not perfect. But guess what [laughs] if something were easy and perfect we would
have already have done it. So it remains to be seen how chlorium plays out when it, when
it's added to the mix.
How's our time. It's just about one o'clock.
>>Bill Wile: Pretty close. Anymore questions?
Okay. Well please join me in thanking Stewart.
>>Stewart Brand: Thank you.