Last week, on July 21, Earth Island Journal hosted a debate here at the David Brower Center about how technological advancements can be balanced with environmental protection. On one side we had Stewart Brand, publisher of the iconic Whole Earth Catalog and author of the book, Whole Earth Discipline, which argues – in sometimes strident tones – that environmentalists need to reconsider their opposition to nuclear power, genetically modified foods, and geoengineering of the planet’s atmosphere. On the other side we had prominent Indigenous leader Winona LaDuke, who has been an eloquent spokeswoman (and tireless activist) for the importance of traditional knowledge, especially when it comes to food production. Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation’s environment correspondent, served as moderator.
The discussion was part of Earth Island Journal’s commitment to fostering dialogue among environmentalists on issues that elude easy answers. In the last two years, the magazine has hosted debates on the environmental consequences (and ecological benefits) of meat-eating; whether we should build large scale solar energy plants in wilderness areas; the tradeoffs between investing solely in mass transit versus also encouraging electric vehicles; and whether natural gas can serve as a “bridge fuel” to a renewable energy economy. The idea behind these debates is to encourage discussions that will help create a smarter, sharper green movement. As I wrote in an Editor’s Letter when we started the series: “Disagreements, engaged in without embarrassment, reveal a strategic sophistication. They are a sign of maturity. Only a movement that has the self-confidence to disagree with itself has the chance of fulfilling its aspiration. It is, perhaps, part of the alchemy that transforms the fringe into the cutting edge.”
In that sense, last week’s debate was a huge success. Brand – who demonstrated real courage in appearing before an unsympathetic Berkeley, CA, audience – raised some provocative points about what he dubbed greens’ technological paranoia. In a thoughtful rebuttal, LaDuke encouraged a new humility in humans’ relationship with other living things. The two didn’t end up agreeing on much – and that’s OK. The audience left wiser for just having heard the exchange.
Below are some of the highlights of the debate, including a passionate audience member’s question/statement from actor-activist Peter Coyote. I hope you enjoy the debate as much as I did.
Special thanks to the staff at the Earth Island-sponsored Sacred Land Film project for recording and editing the debate.