Stewart Brand on Ecology

article image
Whole Earth Catalog is a giant. Ecology as a movement, as a religion, is tremendously exciting, and everyone can get a piece of the fervor.

Stewart Brand, the man behind the Whole Earth Catalog is a giant. His succinct assessments of a situation quite often are classics. Our finest tribute to Brand remains . . . a reprint of his writing for WEC. Consider the following open letter:

Hon. John Brademas, Chairman
Committee on Education and Labor
Select Subcommittee on Education
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515


Thank you for the opportunity to testify before your committee.

I am delighted by the spirit behind your Environmental Quality Education Act (H.R. 14753) and depressed by every measure in it.

I’m a former ecology student, and I can report that ecology as a science is pretty boring. Definitely not for everyone.

Ecology as a movement, as a religion, is tremendously exciting, and everyone can get a piece of the fervor.

However, this voluntary mass education could be poisoned by Federal “help”, as highly-intentional over-specialized application of fertilizers and pesticides has damaged other natural growth processes.

In my experience, the whole apparatus of application, approval, and funding commonly introduces a dishonesty into an operation that can never be eradicated. And if the operation is educational, dishonesty is the death of it.

I see that the bill provides for preparing information specifically for mass media use. Involvement of Government with mass communications in this manner strikes me as dangerous as re-joining Church and State.

If Federal funds are to be spent on environmental matters, let them go to:

  • The space program which has given us the anti-environmental perspective to see our planet whole and alive and in hazard.
  • The World Game of Buckminster Fuller’s. This computer operation is planned to perform for the Earth as NASA’s computers did for Apollo 13. (Inventory resources, assess damage, compare alternative “futures”, select the most promising, constantly.)
  • Contingency planning for environmental disasters comparable to long-range planning in the military.
  • A “wet” NASA to investigate the sea and treat it like Antarctica, as a fragile, trans-national environment. (Use of the oceans must be governed from a strictly environmental standpoint by an international body with a great deal more power to act than the U.N. has.)
  • Rehabilitation for ecological disaster areas such as Lake Erie and Appalachian strip mine country.
  • Ecology Action-type groups, but only for services rendered. Do not fund them, do not tax them, do not pass laws about them. When they perform a service to Government, such as investigation of environmental crimes, pay them for the information.
  • Follow-up reports by independent groups of Federal actions affecting the environment. Do this as a built-in part of initial funding. Appropriations for a dam or a war would include money to go to the National Science Foundation or the Audubon Society or whoever to study the environmental effects of the project and report on them.

I realize that practically none of the above are the province of an Education Subcommittee.

John Holt has suggested that if we tried to teach infants to talk, they would never learn. I suspect it is the same with ecology. It must be learned. It is being learned. If you try to teach it to people, you will only teach them to hate it.

Let it be.

Stewart Brand
Whole Earth Catalog
Menlo Park, California

July, 1970 Whole Earth Catalog

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368