Author of Whole Earth Catalog Favors Nuclear, GMOs, and Geoengineering at Off-Site TED Conference

stewart brand ted at state photo

On June 3rd, TreeHugger was able to attend TED@State, a one-day mini-conference sponsored by the US State Department, and organized by the folks over at TED Conference. As part of their Global Partnership Initiative, TED@State was meant to reflect Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's assertion that the department is "opening its doors to a new generation of public-private partnerships." A good idea we think. The majority of the conference centered on global poverty and the developing world, but there were several cues as to how global warming and eradicating poverty will soon be inseparable topics.

Stewart Brand on the Environment

The resident environmentalist presenter was Stewart Brand, author of "Whole Earth Catalog," as well as the forthcoming, "Whole Earth Discipline." In his Catalog, Brand writes, "We are as gods and might as well get good at it." From that statement, one could get the gist of Brand's TED presentation. In a scattershot way, Brand outlined how to save the world from global environmental and societal meltdown. First he gave his global status report: the world is going urban; the West is no longer king—populations and innovation are moving south; and global warming will lead to wars and increasing refugee populations. Rather than try to reverse these trends, Brand outlined manmade remedies for each of these manmade problems.

First, he's all for urban-life, saying, "I used to have romantic idea of living in the city, because I never lived in one." He cited how city-dwellers have lower population growth. He explained that in cities supply and demand, labor and consumer, all live next to one-another. He also made the claim that when populations leave the country for the city, the land returns to its natural condition.

For global power needs, Brand had one word: nuclear . More specifically, micro reactors. They're proliferation proof, carbon-free, cost-efficient and their waste is negligible in comparison to coal.

In Brand's world, the growing populations will be fed GMO's. In fact he said it's a "moral imperative" to introduce more GMO's to the developing world as they have higher yields and often require less water.

Brand ended on a question. He suggested that global geoengineering would be necessary, but who would carry it out, he did not know.

Other TED@State Presenters

Aside from Clay Shirky author of "Here Comes Everybody," the remaining presenters mostly covered issues of poverty. Shirky evangelized the internet and social media as the agents of social change. Paul Collier, author of "The Bottom Billion," lent strategies to deal with post-conflict recovery, saying how economic security—particularly for young men who like to fight when bored—is more important than a straight political solution. Jacqueline Novogratz, who runs the Acumen Fund, talked about "patient capital": investment with little expectation of high or quick returns. She sees it as a middle way between aid, which breeds over dependence on external money, and no aid, which breeds stagnation. Lastly, the economist Hans Rosling gave a dazzling display on how the developing world statistically stacks up against the developed world. He debunked many basic assumptions about the possibility of how much the developing world can and does develop, showing how ostensible 3rd world nations often outpace their 1st world brethren in terms of literacy, disease prevention and other indicators of progress.

While we'd have liked to have seen more emphasis on the environment--or to hear a countervailing voice to Brand's--it was encouraging that the State Department is actively recruiting idea-makers outside the Beltway. It's good to see that the Obama administration recognizes that the same minds that got us into trouble will not be the ones to get us out of it.

Note: Due to technical issues, this post was delay from its original publish date.
More on TED Conference
Al Gore Gives a Climate Science Update at TED Conference (February 2009)
Bill Gates Releases Bugs At TED Conference: A Necessary Feature When Free Markets Don't Deliver
TED 2009: How to Grow Your Own Fresh Air

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