INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Prospect MARCH 2009 - by Brian Eno
During the 1990s, I used to tease my Silicon Valley friends by saying "Pangloss is alive and well and living in California." Their optimism conceded no downside to the march of progress that internet-bubble America seemed to represent. But, it turns out, there were a lot of village idiots in the global village. The bubble machine is broken and things are going backwards, at a time when the biggest crisis to face us since we left Eden - catastrophic climate change - looms large.
Amid all this I'm surprised to find myself drawn to Pangloss. I feel more optimistic than I have for years, which is why I plan to write a small column each month with some reasons for optimism. Why do I feel this? Partly because climate change is a crisis that we're at last acknowledging: more especially because we've realised that we have to solve it together, all of us.
My friend Stewart Brand - one of the godfathers of environmentalism - has just written a book, Whole Earth Manifesto (Penguin, forthcoming) which lays out the problems, and what might be the solutions. The problems are shocking in their scale, the solutions mind-boggling in their ambition. What we're going to start thinking about soon are global projects: like salting the stratosphere with sulphate crystals to increase the albedo (reflectivity) of the planet; millions of "umbrellas" floated at the Lagrange point (the null-point where the sun and the Earth's gravity cancel each other out) to shade us from the sun; the oceans seeded with iron filings to draw carbon out of the air and into the depths; and many more.
Some of these projects require new technology, some of them just involve scale: to pull them off will require cooperation at a global level, and that in turn will entail whole new systems of governance, consensus creation and enforcement. It won't be a pretty or dignified process, it will be rough and ready. It will sideline many of the currently "great and good" and find its heroes and heroines among the can-do technologists and will-do eccentrics. It's a many-generation project, which, if we pull it off, could reinvent civilisation in a new, co-operative, form.