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Environmentalist Calls Biotech “the world's dominant engineering tool”

October 30, 2009
Marketplace did an interview on October 26th with Stuart Brand, original founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue, which offered readers a vision of returning to the land in order to live sustainably. Brand has recently published a new book, The Whole Earth Discipline, which tackles climate change using a somewhat different tone, and gives eloquent praise to biotech agriculture.

According to Brand, a lifelong environmentalist who sees everything in terms of solvable design problems, three profound transformations are under way on Earth right now:

  1. Climate change is real and is pushing us toward managing the planet as a whole.

  2. Urbanization:  Half the world's population now lives in cities, and eighty percent will by midcentury-is altering humanity's land impact and wealth.

  3. Biotechnology is becoming the world's dominant engineering tool.

In light of these changes, Brand suggests that environmentalists are going to have to reverse some longheld opinions and embrace tools that they have traditionally distrusted.

Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal talks to Brand genetically modified crops and genetic engineering. “How does that make sense from an environmentalist point of view?,” Ryssdal asks. 
“Already the crops that we have now, the herbicide tolerant and the insect-resistance crops, like Bt-corn and Bt-cotton, and so on, are cutting back on pesticide use, which is terrific, says Brand. “The herbicide-tolerant ones mean that you don't need to plow every year, so you're getting what amounts to higher yield, so you can raise more food on less land. And all of that is good for ecology in general and climate in particular.”

 When Ryssdal asks about “frankenfoods,” Brand responds: 
“Yeah, and frankenfood is first to a fictional romantic story in the 19th century, and the idea there was that Dr. Frankenstein was doing something against nature. And that somehow genetically engineered food crops are against nature. And as a biologist, I'm just baffled by that line of argument because agriculture has been in that sense against nature for 10,000 years. That we're finally able to do more precise tuning of the crops is a huge gain, not a loss.”