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Mission Impossible | by jurvetson
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Mission Impossible

Hanging by its tail from the balcony roof. (best viewed large)


Costa Rica: Abolished its army to invest in education instead. Almost a carbon neutral country, as all of their electricity comes from hydro, wind and geothermal, and they planted 3 million trees last year. The forest coverage grew from 21% in 1987 to 52% today. They made a bet that ecotourism would be a better use of the land than cattle farming. And now it does earn more than cattle, bananas and coffee combined. And they are still the second largest banana producer in the world.


I was reading these stats in Stewart Brand’s new book, Whole Earth Discipline, while ensconced in the Guanacaste Forest he celebrates.


And how about the Costa Ricans?

They are the happiest people on Earth (NYT).


Here are some provocative quotes from Stewart Brand’s book – a eco-friendly pragmatist’s celebration of urbanization, nuclear energy and genetically modified organisms:


“Climate change. Urbanization. Biotechnology. Those three narratives, still taking shape, are developing a long arc likely to dominate this century.


In all societies from hunter-gatherers on up through agricultural tribes, then chiefdoms, to early complex civilizations, 25 percent of adult males routinely died from warfare... Humans perpetually fight because they always outstrip the carrying capacity of their natural environment and then have to fight over resources... Peace can break out, though, when carrying capacity is pushed up suddenly, as with the invention of agriculture…trade, or technological breakthroughs. Also a large-scale dieback from pestilence can make for peaceful times... With climate change under way… we face a carrying capacity crisis leading to war of all against all, this time with massively lethal weapons and a dieback measured in billions.


The United States and France have the highest birth rates in the developed world, just below replacement level. America does it with immigrants and churchgoers… France does it with socialism.


Fully 85 percent of the world’s working age youth, those between the ages of 15 and 24, live in the developing world.


Chernobyl: The real damage to people in the region is from poverty and mental stress. Fear of radiation is a far more important health threat than radiation itself. The zone’s evacuation put an end to industrialization, deforestation, cultivation and other human intrusions, making it one of Ukraine’s environmentally cleanest regions… The world’s worst nuclear power plant disaster is not as destructive to wildlife populations as are normal human activities. Even where the levels of radiation are highest, wildlife abounds. I predict there will be a Chernobyl National Park.


Nuclear energy has done more to eliminate existing nuclear weapons from the world than any other activity. …currently 10% of the electricity Americans use comes from Russian missiles and bombs.


Coal is now understood to be the long-term systemic horror we once thought nuclear was.


The environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we have been wrong about. We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool. We make ourselves look a conspicuously irrational as those who espouse ‘intelligent design’ or ban stem-cell research, and we teach that irrationality to the public and to decision makers.


As with nuclear, those who know the most are the least frightened.


By current estimates, 80% of the genes in microbes traveled horizontally at some point in their past. Parasitic plants and fungi swap genes spontaneously with their hosts. Virus-like genes represent a staggering 90% of the human genome.


Despite their best efforts to shut it down or ignore it, environmentalists gained more from the space program than anyone else, and sooner.


Ecosystem engineering is an ancient art, practiced and malpracticed by every human society since the mastery of fire.


A continental American population estimated to have been between 50 million and 100 million in 1491 was reduced to 6.5 million by 1650. It was the greatest cataclysm in human history; a fifth of the world’s population died. We think of it as a military event, but it was almost entirely biological.


China, a nation run by engineers rather than lawyers.


When Kevin Kelly was traveling in China in 2006, he found that every elementary school in every village had a sign over the door in Mandarin with the following guidance:






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Taken on December 25, 2009