Planetary Health

Structure of this page

This page is just an aide memoire at the moment. The main headings more or less follow those in Stewart Brand’s book Whole Earth Discipline.  This doesn’t mean I agree with what he says (although a lot of it I believe is reasonable); but that he has chosen a good set of key issues relating to planetary survival.

My own view on any of these discussions is a meta-view: one of scientific integrity, which goes like this: A proper scientist should be ready to abandon a bad theory in the face of evidence. Now, we are all human, and the best of us fall into entrenched positions, especially if it has taken years of research to construct an argument, theory or model. Others should make some allowances for that, and give proponents of any given position opportunity and time to adjust their ideas.

Regardless, the main game is evidence, coupled with comprehensive model(s) of the phenomenon in question. A proper model is required because it draws in all the relevant factors, and prevents convenient cherry picking. For example, a ‘model’ of nuclear power needs to include all kinds of factors, not just reactors – it needs to include mining, transport (all over the place), waste storage, reprocessing, decommissioning, land usage, terrorism, exclusion zones, and so on. My belief is that if two opposed parties (e.g. Lovins v Brand in the nuclear category below) can agree on the facts, i.e. accept the same model, and agree on the quantifications of the details (e.g. just how much radiation can humans handle?), then the remaining debate must be about values (e.g. is land containing windmills devalued?) and probabilities (e.g. how likely is it that terrorists can and would obtain the materials to make bombs?). The former is at least partly subjective, and so is the latter, really, given that our ability to forecast the future is laden with the assumptions we see as important or real today. Most of the noise in debates about the environment seem to be in the ‘facts’ arena. To make planetary decisions, we need to get past arguing about facts (by improving our models and their quantifications) and start trying to agree on the subjective elements.

Giant Cities

Nuclear power

The debate

Amery Lovins – Four nuclear myths (PDF).

Stewart Brand – Whole Earth Discipline.

Lovins versus Brand – NEI Nuclear notes blog analysis: part I, part II, part III.


Fast breeder reactors – wikipedia

Energy Solutions for the Future


David MacKay’s Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air

Genetic Engineering


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