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Stewart Brand

Posted By Russ Roberts On March 1, 2007 @ 4:09 pm In Environment | Comments Disabled

John Tierney writes about [1] Stewart Brand’s heresy:

Stewart Brand has become a heretic to environmentalism, a movement he
helped found, but he doesn’t plan to be isolated for long. He expects
that environmentalists will soon share his affection for nuclear power.
They’ll lose their fear of population growth and start appreciating
sprawling megacities. They’ll stop worrying about “frankenfoods” and
embrace genetic engineering.

My favorite part:

Mr. Brand is the first to admit his own futurism isn’t always
prescient. In 1969, he was so worried by population growth that he
organized the Hunger Show, a weeklong fast in a parking lot to
dramatize the coming global famine predicted by Paul Ehrlich, one of
his mentors at Stanford.

The famine never arrived, and
Professor Ehrlich’s theories of the coming “age of scarcity” were
subsequently challenged by the economist Julian Simon, who bet Mr.
Ehrlich that the prices of natural resources would fall during the
1980s despite the growth in population. The prices fell, just as
predicted by Professor Simon’s cornucopian theories.

Professor
Ehrlich dismissed Professor Simon’s victory as a fluke, but Mr. Brand
saw something his mentor didn’t. He considered the bet a useful lesson
about the adaptability of humans — and the dangers of apocalyptic
thinking.

“It is one of the great revelatory bets,” he now says.
“Any time that people are forced to acknowledge publicly that they’re
wrong, it’s really good for the commonweal. I love to be busted for
apocalyptic proclamations that turned out to be 180 degrees wrong. In
1973 I thought the energy crisis was so intolerable that we’d have
police on the streets by Christmas. The times I’ve been wrong is when I
assume there’s a brittleness in a complex system that turns out to be
way more resilient than I thought.”

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