Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Chris Anderson: OK, Stewart,

  • in the '60s, you -- I think it was '68 -- you founded this magazine.

  • Stewart Brand: Bravo! It's the original one.

  • That's hard to find.

  • CA: Right. Issue One, right?

  • SB: Mm hmm.

  • CA: Why did that make so much impact?

  • SB: Counterculture was the main event that I was part of at the time,

  • and it was made up of hippies and New Left.

  • That was sort of my contemporaries,

  • the people I was just slightly older than.

  • And my mode is to look at where the interesting flow is

  • and then look in the other direction.

  • CA: (Laughs)

  • SB: Partly, I was trained to do that as an army officer,

  • but partly, it's just a cheap heuristic to find originalities:

  • don't look where everybody else is looking,

  • look the opposite way.

  • So the deal with counterculture is, the hippies were very romantic

  • and kind of against technology,

  • except very good LSD from Sandoz,

  • and the New Left was against technology

  • because they thought it was a power device.

  • Computers were: do not spindle, fold, or mutilate.

  • Fight that.

  • And so, the Whole Earth Catalog was kind of a counter-counterculture thing

  • in the sense that I bought Buckminster Fuller's idea

  • that tools of are of the essence.

  • Science and engineers basically define the world in interesting ways.

  • If all the politicians disappeared one week,

  • it would be ... a nuisance.

  • But if all the scientists and engineers disappeared one week,

  • it would be way more than a nuisance.

  • CA: We still believe that, I think.

  • SB: So focus on that.

  • And then the New Left was talking about power to the people.

  • And people like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak

  • cut that and just said, power to people,

  • tools that actually work.

  • And so, where Fuller was saying don't try to change human nature,

  • people have been trying for a long time and it does not even bend,

  • but you can change tools very easily.

  • So the efficient thing to do if you want to make the world better

  • is not try to make people behave differently like the New Left was,

  • but just give them tools that go in the right direction.

  • That was the Whole Earth Catalog.

  • CA: And Stewart, the central image -- this is one of the first images,

  • the first time people had seen Earth from outer space.

  • That had an impact, too.

  • SB: It was kind of a chance that in the spring of '66,

  • thanks to an LSD experience on a rooftop in San Francisco,

  • I got thinking about, again, something that Fuller talked about,

  • that a lot of people assume that the Earth is flat

  • and kind of infinite in terms of its resources,

  • but once you really grasp that it's a sphere

  • and that there's only so much of it,

  • then you start husbanding your resources

  • and thinking about it as a finite system.

  • "Spaceship Earth" was his metaphor.

  • And I wanted that to be the case,

  • but on LSD I was getting higher and higher on my hundred micrograms

  • on the roof of San Francisco,

  • and noticed that the downtown buildings which were right in front of me

  • were not all parallel, they were sort of fanned out like this.

  • And that's because they are on a curved surface.

  • And if I were even higher, I would see that even more clearly,

  • higher than that, more clearly still,

  • higher enough, and it would close,

  • and you would get the circle of Earth from space.

  • And I thought, you know, we've been in space for 10 years --

  • at that time, this is '66 --

  • and the cameras had never looked back.

  • They'd always been looking out or looking at just parts of the Earth.

  • And so I said, why haven't we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?

  • And it went around and NASA got it and senators, secretaries got it,

  • and various people in the Politburo got it,

  • and it went around and around.

  • And within two and a half years,

  • about the time the Whole Earth Catalog came out,

  • these images started to appear,

  • and indeed, they did transform everything.

  • And my idea of hacking civilization

  • is that you try to do something lazy and ingenious

  • and just sort of trick the situation.

  • So all of these photographs that you see --

  • and then the march for science last week,

  • they were carrying these Whole Earth banners and so on --

  • I did that with no work.

  • I sold those buttons for 25 cents apiece.

  • So, you know, tweaking the system

  • is, I think, not only the most efficient way to make the system go

  • in interesting ways,

  • but in some ways, the safest way,

  • because when you try to horse the whole system around in a big way,

  • you can get into big horsing-around problems,

  • but if you tweak it, it will adjust to the tweak.

  • CA: So since then, among many other things,

  • you've been regarded as a leading voice in the environmental movement,

  • but you are also a counterculturalist,

  • and recently, you've been taking on a lot of,

  • well, you've been declaring

  • what a lot of environmentalists almost believe are heresies.

  • I kind of want to explore a couple of those.

  • I mean, tell me about this image here.

  • SB: Ha-ha!

  • That's a National Geographic image

  • of what is called the mammoth steppe,

  • what the far north, the sub-Arctic and Arctic region, used to look like.

  • In fact, the whole world used to look like that.

  • What we find in South Africa and the Serengeti now,

  • lots of big animals,

  • was the case in this part of Canada,

  • throughout the US, throughout Eurasia, throughout the world.

  • This was the norm

  • and can be again.

  • So in a sense,

  • my long-term goal at this point is to not only bring back those animals

  • and the grassland they made,

  • which could be a climate stabilization system over the long run,

  • but even the mammoths there in the background

  • that are part of the story.

  • And I think that's probably a 200-year goal.

  • Maybe in 100, by the end of this century,

  • we should be able to dial down the extinction rate

  • to sort of what it's been in the background.

  • Bringing back this amount of bio-abundance will take longer,

  • but it's worth doing.

  • CA: We'll come back to the mammoths,

  • but explain how we should think of extinctions.

  • Obviously, one of the huge concerns right now

  • is that extinction is happening at a faster rate than ever in history.

  • That's the meme that's out there.

  • How should we think of it?

  • SB: The story that's out there

  • is that we're in the middle of the Sixth Extinction

  • or maybe in the beginning of the Sixth Extinction.

  • Because we're in the de-extinction business,

  • the preventing-extinction business with Revive & Restore,

  • we started looking at what's actually going on with extinction.

  • And it turns out, there's a very confused set of data out there

  • which gets oversimplified

  • into the narrative of we're becoming ...

  • Here are five mass extinctions that are indicated by the yellow triangles,

  • and we're now next.

  • The last one there on the far right

  • was the meteor that struck 66 million years ago

  • and did in the dinosaurs.

  • And the story is, we're the next meteor.

  • Well, here's the deal.

  • I wound up researching this for a paper I wrote,

  • that a mass extinction is when 75 percent of all the species

  • in the world go extinct.

  • Well, there's on the order of five-and-a-half-million species,

  • of which we've identified one and a half million.

  • Another 14,000 are being identified every year.

  • There's a lot of biology going on out there.

  • Since 1500,

  • about 500 species have gone extinct,

  • and you'll see the term "mass extinction" kind of used in strange ways.

  • So there was, about a year and a half ago,

  • a front-page story by Carl Zimmer in the New York Times,

  • "Mass Extinction in the Oceans, Broad Studies Show."

  • And then you read into the article, and it mentions that since 1500,

  • 15 species -- one, five -- have gone extinct in the oceans,

  • and, oh, by the way, none in the last 50 years.

  • And you read further into the story, and it's saying,

  • the horrifying thing that's going on

  • is that the fisheries are so overfishing the wild fishes,

  • that it is taking down the fish populations in the oceans

  • by 38 percent.

  • That's the serious thing.

  • None of those species are probably going to go extinct.

  • So you've just put, that headline writer

  • put a panic button

  • on the top of the story.

  • It's clickbait kind of stuff,

  • but it's basically saying, "Oh my God, start panicking,

  • we're going to lose all the species in the oceans."

  • Nothing like that is in prospect.

  • And in fact, what I then started looking into in a little more detail,

  • the Red List shows about 23,000 species that are considered threatened

  • at one level or another,

  • coming from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the IUCN.

  • And Nature Magazine had a piece surveying the loss of wildlife,

  • and it said,

  • "If all of those 23,000 went extinct

  • in the next century or so,

  • and that rate of extinction carried on for more centuries and millennia,

  • then we might be at the beginning of a sixth extinction.

  • So the exaggeration is way out of hand.

  • But environmentalists always exaggerate.

  • That's a problem.

  • CA: I mean, they probably feel a moral responsibility to,

  • because they care so much about the thing that they are looking at,

  • and unless you bang the drum for it, maybe no one listens.

  • SB: Every time somebody says moral this or moral that --

  • "moral hazard," "precautionary principle" --

  • these are terms that are used to basically say no to things.

  • CA: So the problem isn't so much fish extinction, animal extinction,

  • it's fish flourishing, animal flourishing,

  • that we're crowding them to some extent?

  • SB: Yeah, and I think we are crowding, and there is losses going on.

  • The major losses are caused by agriculture,

  • and so anything that improves agriculture and basically makes it more condensed,

  • more highly productive,

  • including GMOs, please,

  • but even if you want to do vertical farms in town,

  • including inside farms,

  • all the things that have been learned about how to grow pot in basements,

  • is now being applied to growing vegetables inside containers --

  • that's great, that's all good stuff,

  • because land sparing is the main thing we can do for nature.

  • People moving to cities is good.

  • Making agriculture less of a destruction of the landscape is good.

  • CA: There people talking about bringing back species, rewilding ...

  • Well, first of all, rewilding species: What's the story with these guys?

  • SB: Ha-ha! Wolves.

  • Europe, connecting to the previous point,

  • we're now at probably peak farmland,

  • and, by the way, in terms of population,

  • we are already at peak children being alive.

  • Henceforth, there will be fewer and fewer children.

  • We are in the last doubling of human population,

  • and it will get to nine, maybe nine and a half billion,

  • and then start not just leveling off, but probably going down.

  • Likewise, farmland has now peaked,

  • and one of the ways that plays out in Europe

  • is there's a lot of abandoned farmland now,

  • which immediately reforests.

  • They don't do wildlife corridors in Europe.

  • They don't need to, because so many of these farms are connected

  • that they've made reforested wildlife corridors,

  • that the wolves are coming back, in this case, to Spain.

  • They've gotten all the way to the Netherlands.

  • There's bears coming back. There's lynx coming back.

  • There's the European jackal. I had no idea such a thing existed.

  • They're coming back from Italy to the rest of Europe.

  • And unlike here, these are all predators, which is kind of interesting.

  • They are being welcomed by Europeans. They've been missed.

  • CA: And counterintuitively, when you bring back the predators,

  • it actually increases rather than reduces

  • the diversity of the underlying ecosystem often.

  • SB: Yeah, generally predators and large animals --

  • large animals and large animals with sharp teeth and claws --

  • are turning out to be highly important for a really rich ecosystem.

  • CA: Which maybe brings us to this rather more dramatic rewilding project

  • that you've got yourself involved in.

  • Why would someone want to bring back these terrifying woolly mammoths?

  • SB: Hmm. Asian elephants are the closest relative

  • to the woolly mammoth,

  • and they're about the same size, genetically