Quote for the Day

"There were legitimate reasons to worry about nuclear power, but now that we know about the threat of climate change, we have to put the risks in perspective. Sure, nuclear waste is a problem, but the great thing about it is you know where it is and you can guard it. The bad thing about coal waste is that you don’t know where it is and you don’t know what it’s doing. The carbon dioxide is in everybody’s atmosphere," - Stewart Brand, scarily smart thinker, airing some environmental heresies to John Tierney.

Read the whole thing, and get a little more optimistic about our environmental future. One divide in our culture right now is between optimists and pessimists. The case for pessimism is obvious and we see it every day: the threat of terror, the rise of fundamentalism, the warming planet, cultural dislocation. But the case for optimism is also solid: free societies can and will endure the ressentiment of the left behind, if we do not lose our nerve; technology can solve as well as cause problems; science is forging new vistas in health and ecology. Brand, for example, "sees genetic engineering as a tool for environmental protection: crops designed to grow on less land with less pesticide; new microbes that protect ecosystems against invasive species, produce new fuels and maybe sequester carbon."

And then this challenging statement, one that sees a contest between realism and romanticism at play in our world. It helps illuminate some of the issues in my debate with Sam Harris:

"My trend has been toward more rational and less romantic as the decades go by. I keep seeing the harm done by religious romanticism, the terrible conservatism of romanticism, the ingrained pessimism of romanticism. It builds in a certain immunity to the scientific frame of mind."

I guess I believe there is another conservatism to rival the "terrible conservatism of romanticism": a conservatism of doubt, of realism, of empiricism, and of nerve. That's what my book tries to capture. And it's a deeply optimistic book.