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Whole Earth Discipline

Stewart Brand

Until recently, men have always fought ferocious wars, with up to a quarter dying in battle. Constantly forced to choose between starvation and robbing your neighbours. Only peaceful times when carrying capacity pushed up by agricultural or technological innovation (or plague).

Cities are wealth creators. 1800 world was 3% urban; in 2007 reached 50%; by 2050 it will be 80%. Life in rural villages dull, impoverished, restricted and exposed to the vagaries of climate. City work not as gruelling, less vulnerable, and more chance of upward mobility, so gladly accept life in a slum as the price.

Cities persist because they change - they are essentially rebuilt every 50 years or so. Jericho has been continuously occupied 10,500 years. Jerusalem still impt despite being conquered or destroyed 36 times and changed religion 11 times.

Cities make the planet greener: when subsistence farms are abandoned, trees and shrubs return, no longer ravaged for firewood, and wild animals come back too.

Cities are so much more successful at new ways of producing income, and it costs so much less to provide services that the only realistic poverty reduction strategy is to move everyone to cities. Each city dweller uses less land, less energy and water, and produces less pollution than villager. And New York is the greenest city of the lot.

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Cities constantly throw up problems and people keep producing solutions.

What you see in slums is not a despondent populace crushed by poverty but a lot of people busy getting out of poverty as fast as they can. Over time, slum dwellers gradually rebuild, each time stronger and more permanent.

Urbanization is defusing the population bomb. In village, every child is an asset because it's another hand in the field. In the city it's a liability because it stops mother getting work or training.

Glow-in-the-Dark Greens strongly oppose nuclear power mainly because worry about what we will do with the waste. But need to only store it temporarily because can be confident that future generations will figure out how to use it as a resource.

Generation gap in Greens - younger ones don't have personal memory of Cold War fears of nuclear war. Climate change dominates their thinking, and they're comfortable with technology.

'Natural' plants are less safe than GE ones. Toxic compounds have only cropped up in conventional foods - peanuts, shellfish and dairy products. 2/3 of the compounds in roast organic coffee cause cancer in rats.

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Ig the anti-GE lobby had been able to use the same tactics on inventions, they would have banned cell phones ("they'll microwave your brain, the masts will fry our babies, driver-distraction, corporates will take over all communication ...."). But in fact cell phones and smartphones in particular, have led to a huge empowerment of people everywhere, particularly the poor.

History looks like a SF novel in which mutants repeatedly arose and displaced humans - sometimes quietly, by surviving starvation or disease better; sometimes as a conquering horde. And we are those mutants.

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