Stewart Brand, the father of Earth Day, has rethought everything from nuclear power to genetically modified food. Here are his thoughts on why genetically modified food can help save starving nations. Read the full interview in the October issue of Reader’s Digest.
RD: You have been quoted as saying that the opposition among greens to the genetic management of agriculture is the biggest mistake the environmental movement has ever made. Do you still stand by that sweeping statement?
SB: Absolutely. We did active harm, especially in Africa and some places in Asia, by promoting a form of anti-science. We told people in the developing world, “Pay no attention to the scientists who say that transgenic crops are not only okay but also actually more productive, more sustainable, more adaptable to climate change, and actually good for the environment.” And we had no right to say that. After all, we are the people who base our arguments regarding global climate change on scientific data, and yet when the science didn’t suit our preconceived notions, we abandoned science. That’s not good.
RD: What’s been the reaction to your proposals on genetically modified food?
SB: Well, I’m a little surprised that Michael Pollan, the food activist and father of the locavore movement, hasn’t come over to my way of thinking, because he has busted the industrialization of organic food. The local growing of basically artisanal food is absolutely fantastic in a country where the major nutrition problem is obesity. That’s not the major nutrition problem in much or most of the world. What’s needed is volume. The second green revolution is in the next set of good technologies in agriculture. Not only of higher yield, lower cost, cheaper food, better distribution, and all of that—but also environmentally green in terms of climate.
RD: It sounds as though you’re saying you’re not in favor of organic farming.
SB: I have nothing against organic farming. But if organic farmers aren’t allowed to grow transgenic crops, we’ll have a nostalgia market for food that is designed especially for the wealthy—food that’s not even as healthy as transgenic crops.