Counterculture Green
The Whole Earth Catalog and American environmentalism
Andrew G. Kirk
University Press of Kansas, Kansas (USA), 2007 (2007)
303 pages, including notes and index

In Counterculture Green, Andrew G. Kirk tells us about the birth and story of the Whole Earth Catalogue, founded by Stewart Brand, as well as its influence in both the counterculture and the environmentalist movement in the US. As explained towards the beginning of the book:

Whole Earth was one of the best examples of the changing world of magazine publishing and journalism in the 1960s and 1970s. Magazines like Sunset, Popular Mechanics, and Life set an early standard for popular general information magazines, with a twist that Whole Earth followed. Popular Mechanics featured the kind of how-to essays that would become a central feature of Whole Earth and, like Brand's later creation, it was archived and shared by a do-it-yourself-obsessed generation, giving it a readership that exceeded its actual print runs. Starting in 1898, Sunset became the leading voice for an emerging western regionalism and eventually an influential forum for regional design and nature appreciation aimed at middle-class readers who were immigrating to the region in large numbers during the twentieth century. Although intended for very different audiences, Whole Earth and Sunset shared a fundamental desire to link regional traditions to modern limitless recreationnal possibilities. Like Sunset's most dynamic regionalist, Laurence W. Lane, Stewart Brand provided countercultural information at a time when the publishing industry still had a decidedly East Coast bias.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 5)

The author stresses the pragmatic nature of a certain strand of the US environmentalist movement, which he traces back precisely to the Whole Earth Catalogue. That pragmatic approach can be seen, for instance, in their support to the concept of Appropriate Technology:

Whole Earth was a cynosure for the emerging appropriate technology movement that found its voice in the underground press before moving slowly toward the maintstream. The key insight of the appropriate technology movement was the idea that individuals working within specific local environments could make everyday choices to use small-scale technology, enabling, if multiplied across a nation, a sustainable economy. Appropriate technologists celebrated human ingenuity at a time when environmental advocates tended to draw a clear line between people and nature, with preference given to the latter. Many of the ecological arguments made through the choice of material presented in the catalogs, or explictly by the editors and contributors, were so far outside the mainstream of the environmental thought of the day that they were considered heresies. The environmental views of Brand and his publication alienated some who might have been allies and who would not remember Whole Earth as a voice of environmentalism, while creating a very strong bond with techno-ecological readers and contributors who found a welcome forum for their views in Brand's catalogs.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 6)

Thus, the Whole Earth Catalogue mixed environmentalism with the old concern to find an alternative lifestyle from the counterculture. Where tradional environmentalist organizations centered their attention on government policies, the counterculture green approach stressed the importance of changing one's own life. As such, they pioneered a good amount of work that was done in the field of renewable sources of energy or environmentally friendly designs.

According to Kirk, several different branches of the environmentalist movement could be identified at the time (some would argue that even to this day):

Not surprisingly, considering his reputation as an innovative scientist and holistic thinker, [Amory] Lovins crafted an environmental philosophy and plan for action that defy easy categorization. His wide-ranging research on energy,ecological design, "natural capitalism", and transportation reflects the curiosity and inventiveness that characterized the counterculture environmentalists. In his landmark book, Natural Capitalism (1999), coauthored with wife Hunter Lovins and longtime Whole Earth contributor and entrepeneur Paul Hawken, Lovins presents his perspective on the various environmental mind-sets. Borrowing from biophysicist Donella Meadows, the authors argued that four worldviews shape perceptions of the environmental/economic dynamic: "Reds, Blues, Greens, and Whites. To summarize, the Blues are "mainstream free-marketeers," who have a "positive bias towards the future based on technological optimism and the strength of the economy." The Reds are socialists. The opposite of the Blues, they focus on labor and human condition and rarely address the environment. The Greens are environmentalists who "see the world primarily in terms of ecosystems, and thus cocentrate on depletion, damage, pollution, and population growth." The Whites are the "synthesists", who "do not entirely oppose or agree with any of the three other views." This last category provides a useful way to think about the community of counterculture thinkers of the Whole Earth network. The synthesists shared an optimistic faith in human ingenuity and distrust of ideology, preferring, instead, "a middle way of integration, reform, respect, and reliance."

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, pp. 102-103)

This latter strand of environmentalists (i.e., the Whites) would gain importance once the energy crisis of the 1970s unleashed and there was a clear surge of interest in wind energy:

The energy crisis of the 1970s renewed the interest in wind energy. One reason that wind energy never went mainstream was because of an inability to regulate the source. The power from wind generators ebbed and flowed, and the fickle winds never maintained a schedule. This made wind a poor sole substitute for hydroelectric or coal turbines, which could sustain a constant and manageable flow of energy for large systems and power grids. Sof-path supporters, however, were unconcerned about the problems of wind power for large systems. On the contrary, they were looking for sources of power that were better suited to small systems.

Like E.F. Schumacher, Lovins and other sof-tech proponents believed that the ability to construct small-scale, self-sufficient systems provided individuals and communities with a closer connection to the earth and a greater degree of command over their lives. The windmill was the type of technology that could enable one to use the latest research in electric power generators and new materials like fiberglass to build machines that produced no pollutants and provided essentially free and limitless energy. For soft-path proponents, the potential of the windmill was both practical and political. Disconnecting yourself from the power grid was the first step toward a cleaner environment and a move forward reevaluating all of the large systems that dominated the economy and daily life of developed nations. The key to the politics behind soft-path and AT science was the insight that real change came not from protest, but from constructing viable alternatives to the status quo, starting with the basic elements of human life: food, energy, and shelter. Lovins was certainly an outlaw designer, but his remarkable résumé lent credibility to the AT movement and caused both opponents and supporters to articulate their energy positions carefully. Brand approved not only of Lovins's ideas but also his terminology: "'Soft' signifies that something is alive, resilient, adaptive," Brand mused, "maybe even lovable." In 1966, a band called the Wilde Flowers changed its name to Soft Machine and released a well-received album of the same title. The next year, poet Richard Brautigan published his poem "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace", which perfectly expressed the counterculture desire to unite nature and the machine: "I like to think (it has to be!), of a cybernetic ecology, where we are free of our labors, and joined back to nature, returned to our mammal brothers and sisters, and all watched over by machines of loving grace." By the mid-1970s, soft-pathy energy research into solar power, wind, geothermal heat, biogas conversion, and recycled fuels moved to the forefront of the environmental and alternative technology movements.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, pp. 105-106)

At the same time, towards the end of the decade, there was another revolution in the making that attracted the attention of this peculiar type of pragmatic environmentalists: the birth of the personal computer:

At the same time that a growing number of environmentalists were exploring different paths toward decentralization through renewable energy development, others were working within the second area of the outlaw edge: information technology. For Brand, alternative energy was important, but developing trends in information technology tapped a deep and consistent vein of interest that, at least early on, he saw as a point of convergence. As he later expressed it, "Information technolofy is a self-accelerating fine-grained global industry that sprints ahead of laws and diffuses beyond them." Brand was intrigued by what he called the "subversive possibilities" of technologies as diverse as recording devices, desktop publishing, individual telecommunicatins, and especially the personal computers (PCs). Moreover, his interest in information technologies meshed well with his environmental thinking. He came to equate the two in this way: "Rafting a wild river makes the body sing with the old dangers, gives the body a sure sense of itself and frees it to explore unfamiliar hazards such as immersion in computerized 'virtual reality'". In addition to his many accomplishments, Brands was a pioneering participant in the PC revolution and was one of the select group who were there at the creation. He was among a group of counterculturalists who had a deep respect for innovators like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who were designing and then using their computers to push what Brand referred to as "the edges of the possible and permissible". Like Lovins and the soft-path proponents, alternative information technology was viewed, perhaps somewhat naively at first, as a means of personal empowerment. Brand's own experiences with early desktop publishing and immersion into the early world of computer gamers lent credence to this optimism. The mandate at Apple was to "build the coolest machine you could imagine," something so different that people would rethink the role of the machine in modern life. The very naming of the products auggested that these machines were somehow more natural than the computers of old. Although innovations in computing facilitated the creation of alternative information networks like Whole Earth and greatly enhanced the impact of dispersed citizen environmental science, PCs became one of the most insidiously polluting technologies of the late twentieth century.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 106)

But why was this movement born in the USA, and not anywhere else? What is it that made it possible for at least a sizeable amount of the environmentalist movement over here to take on a far more pragmatic approach (an eclectic, idiosincratic approach that did not care about taking elements from different traditions and combining them into something new? To a great extent, of course, it was the long American tradition that promotes experimentation and prizes the unorthodox (the same tradition that sees the maverick as something that should be praised). People like Stewart Brand simply follow on the footsteps of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and, closer to our times, Buckminster Fuller, the creator of the geodesic dome and the World Game, among manhy other things:

Giant maps did spring up on college campuses, and Fuller founded the World Game Institutein 1972 to facilitate larger gatherings and advoate for the World Game scenario. Unfortunately, according to J. Baldwin, the high idealism of the game was often "smothered by a pleasant, utterly ineffective touchie-feelie crowd that felt personal enlightenment had to be realized before larger problems could be addressed." Of course, it is easy to criticize the whole exercise as the product of monumental political naïveté from someone who intentionally refused to acknowledge politics as a viable form of communication and management. On the other hand, it is hard to knock a project with such optimistic high morals so passionately and genuinely pursued on behalf of the greater good. Like many of Fuller's ideas, the World Game was a viable idea, but seemingly executed without any serious consideration of how to deal with the political or economic realities of the time.

Brand, too, was thinking hard about "how to be able to change the games that Peoples play." Like Fuller, Brand wondered how game scenarios might be used as an alternative to the political protest he so disliked. "The strategy of game change is: you don't change a game by winning it or losing it or refereeing it or observing it," he wrote in his preface to a large section on Liferaft Earth in the Last Whole Earth. "You change it by leaving it and going somewhere else and starting a new game from scratch." Between 1968 and the mid-1970s, Brand continued to work on ideas for how to use games to bring people together, release aggression, and facilitate a more authentic interaction than participatory politics could provide. The idea behind the Liferaft Earth game was to get a large group of players to sign on for a public fast. Participants would starve themselves for a week with the media providing a national "stadium" for a hunger Olympics. "How many of us arrogant world-shapers knew hunger?" Brand asked his friends. Filmmaker Robert Frank signed on to create a documentary of the event as he had with Alloy [an earlier gathering of environmentally-minded designers]. Brand's friend Wavy Gravy (Hugh Romney) organized entertainment for the volunteers while Brand wrangled with Bay Area municipal leaders unwilling to let him stage his event. Part of the problem was that fire marshals had issues with Brand's proposal for a huge polyethylene inflatable pillow as the center piece of the show. They were worried it might explode in flames, roasting the participants alive. Dick Raymond stepped in to ease the fears of the insurance company and "all the others who needed hourly placation." What they ended up with was a parking lot behind the Hayward, California, office of a poverty program ru by Bill Goetz, a man Brand had never met but who nonetheless turned out to be a generous and understanding host.

(Andew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, pp. 109-110)

One thing that definitely differentiated these counterculture environmentalists from the activists influenced by the New Left was their attitude towards capitalism:

In the Last Whole Earth Catalog, Brand clearly spelled out his philosophy on money and adminished skittish readers who thought that somehow they had removed themselves from the ugly world of capital. "You may not think capitalism is nice, and I don't know if it's nice. But we should both know that the whole earth catalog is made of it." "Why am I saying this?" he continued. "Because many who applaud the catalog and wholehearedly use it, have no applause for the uses of money, of ego, of structure (read uptightness), of competition, of business as usual. All the things, plus others, which make the catalog, and make the elective applauders into partial liars, and me one too if I aid the lie." The demise experiment was Brand's way of hindering the "lie" and forcing his counterculture colleagues to try to come to grips with money, possibly because he had seen the positive power of the emerging counterculture business model he helped create and hoped, contrary to what Moore thought, to share the power as much as assuage his guilt.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, pp. 117-118)

Hence their shameless association with people who, like Bill English, were directly involved in the world of business and the spread of the personal computer. If anything, they saw PCs as a tool. And a tool that had the potential to change the whole world, as a matter of fact. Sure, a whole group of newly formed companies (as well as quite a few old ones, to be fair) might be able to make a lot of money out of this up and comming revolution. But they did not care if it was also to bring about a higher degree of decentralization and personal freedom anyways.

Of the original board members, Bill English was the most articulate proponent of funding aimed at technologies that at the time would have seemed like pure science fiction to all but a handful of computer researchers and fellow travelers like Brand. English was a pioneering computer engineer with Xerox and working at the cutting edge of computing and communications technology in Palo Alto. His 1971 essay for Point, "A Cottage Industry", reads like the best sci-fi, except it is all based on actual research into how computers would shape the coming decades. English shared with fellow board members his belief that America was on the verge of an "information explosion" that would usher in "drastic changes" in American culture and life. These drastic changes would center, English argued, on communications technologies that would replace "the usual paper-oriented communications" and enable a "remote working" environment that would transform American corporate and work culture. English proposed several ways that Point funds could further this information revolution. Specifically, he wanted Point to fund individuals and small companies willing to experiment in using evolving computer networks to facilitate remote working or, as it would later be known, telecommuting. "The tools are here today," he wrote, and the "costs are not too high... and no doubt it would lead to good publicity." English's remarkably prescient discussion of the future of information technology accomplished, better than any could know at the time, Brand's request that the board members be "clairvoyant".

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, pp. 128-129)

It was this openminded attitude towards business and capitalism that allowed for the New Alchemy Institute and its influence on pragmatic environmentalism:

The New Alchemy Institute was one of the most celebrated efforts in AT and ecological design of the 1970s. In 1969, biologis John Todd and his wife Nancy Jack Todd founded the New Alchemy Institute to explore the question "Was it, in fact, possible to support Earth's population over time while protecting the natural world?" John Todd was frustrated with the "doomwatch biology" prevalent in university biology departments after the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964. After much soul-searching he decided to break out and, with his partner, form his own institute where ecological design pioneers could explore positive and proactive responses to environmental problems. The Todds shared with other ecological design proponents "an extreme sense of urgency that the system that we have created has the potential to undo everything that we would like to see happen". The name New Alchemy came out of thin air but perfectly captured not only what the Todds began working toward at their Cape Cod institute but also the core idea behind the alternative technology movement as a whole and the environmental program of Point in particular. John Todd could have been speaking for Point when he told a New York Times reporter, "I got tired of ringing the alarm bell all the time. I want constructive alternatives." Whole Earth's J. Baldwin worked extensively with the Todds on Cape Cod, as their soft-technology expert and later as part of the construction team for their ark on Prince Edward Island, Canada. At New Alchemy, the Todds recalled that Baldwin was an influential voice of pragmatism who grounded their sometimes utopian dreams of social justice: "He used to reind people at the Institute that, at the end of every wrench, not to mention far more imposing forms of technology, were the steel mills of Gary, Indiana: implying that social and technological issues were as old as our use of tools and are probably forever fatefully entwined." Baldwin's association with New Alchemy made the group a logical funding target for the Point Foundation.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 144)

Together with the New Alchemy Institute, the Point Foundation was actually far more closely linked to Brand's group:

The story of the Point Foundation demonstrates that even a steadfast proponent of individual agency and self-education like Brand was willing to intervene directly when he thought the cause and time were right. Point was designed to provide a loosely structured facilitation of a more direct advocacy than the catalog allowed, while avoiding the politics inherent in the foundation world. Point was one of the most significant efforts to fund and provide a more solid foundation for the grassroots AT movement along with a broader set of social and cultural concerns. Point's record, however, was somewaht dishearateninig. It did not succeed in changing the world or the American foundation system, but was significant nonetheless because of the philosophy of commerce and ecological design that the foundation board collectively formulated. Point provided seed money and major grants for a host of alternative environmental programs, and the board's philosophy of finance and simple living captured by the Briarpatch Network was internationally emulated in the coming decades.

Brand's intense three years establishing Point helped refine his environmental philosophy and shaped his new ventures in the publishing world. The in-depth debates that characterized the Point meetings inspired much of the content of the CoEvolution Quarterly, and Point members and agents formed a new core group of Whole Earth collaborators. The Point Foundation lived on into the early 2000s as the holding company for the various Whole Earth publishing ventures but never again participated in philantropy the way it had during those first years. Point may have failed to revolutionize American foundations or contribute to environmentalism on a par with the Sierra Club or other much larger advocacy groups, but the AT and ecological design movements were just gaining momemtum during Point's early years, and the work of this most unusual foundation provided an example for the types of support systems and advocacy networks that AT required to ease alternative businesses into the general marketplace. The next step was to build on the ideas of "right livelihood" and green commerce fostered by Point and the Briarpastch Network. Brand's next publishing venture, the CoEvolution Quarterly, codified the ideals of the Point Foundation and provided a captivating model for ecological living, hybrid politics, and green consumption.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, pp. 154-155)

This "environmentalism centered on tools" also found expression in the book Ecotopia, by Ernest Callenbach:

Callenbach's novel reveals much about the environmentalism of the early 1970s and the hoped-for potential of new green technologies. Although environmental utopia was the focus, there was much more at work in this fantastic tale than a fictionalization of environmentalist hopes. As with other American utopians, Callenbach spent a great deal of his book talking about markets, consumption, and the politics that he felt best facilitated each. He worked hard in his story to explain the connections between politics, environmentalism, consumption, and authenticity. Callenbach's western utopia was not about a return to wilderness as muhc as a vision for a future based on an urban/exurban landscape powered by ATs and earth-friendly economies and governments. The Ecotopian vision was aimed at city dwellers seeking a new type of enlightened consumerism that accommodated their environmental concerns, individual creativity, and social politics. The novel is an excellent example of the meeting of Left social values and Right distrust of big government that has played such a central role in the politics of the American West. Ecotopia melded the counterculture lifestyle and social values with a strange brew of libertarian thinking, collectivism, states rights, and technologically enthusiastic environmentalism in the same counterculture sci-fi tradition as Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966). Heinlein paints a futuristic western set on a lunar colony populated by innovative misfits ready to break from the tyranny of distant centralized authority and realize the potential of thoughtful anarchy. Their battle cry of TANSTAAFL! (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) captured the imagination of a generation of counterculture entrepeneurs who valued hard work and innovation and individuals who empowered themselves through actions rather than words. Heinlein's lunar libertarians shunned traditional politics, celebrated human ingenuity in the face of environmental challenges, and favored programs of action based on individual agency over the tyranny of the crowd —all familiar western and counterculture tropes.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture green, pp. 156-157)

Interestingly enough, all this connected (and, to a certain degree, spawned) a new type of rugged conservatism that was quite characteristic of the West and became identified with an increasingly popular politician at the time, Ronald Reagan:

The Republican Party did an excellent job of recognizing changing demographics and cultural trends in the 1950s and 1960s and capitalized on the growing power of the West. Just as important, conservatives recognized the power of western myths and symbols in political marketing. As historian Robert Goldberg has demonstrated, Ronald Reagan's presidential career epitomized the conservative use of the rugged individualistic iconography of the West as a political marketing tool. Reagan often staged press events where he dressed as a cowboy and demonstrated his riding skills. In so doing, he was participating in a long-standing American political tradition dating back to log-cabin campaigns of the 1800s. Traditional conservatives, however, were not the only politicians in the post-World War II era to use western iconography for political marketing. Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson was Reagan's equal at what historian Anne Butler has called "putting on the hat", the long-standing tradition of donning western wear to send a political message. The AT and green consumption that grew out of the counterculture in the West provided a powerful political legacy and new twist to the traditional conservative use of western mythology in marketing and politics. Central to this twist was the blending of green consumption into the intellectual tradition of a western libertarian sensibility. Consumption is political and so are the business philosophies and practices that drive and facilitate it. Most significantly, for this study, the connection between politics and consumption is not always driven by what we think of as traditional conservative or liberal politics. Starting in the 1960s, a generation of significant western entrepeneurs created a new economy and with it a new influential version of the regional libertarian sensibility that shaped both the Left and the Right. CQ became a leading voice for this distinctly western hybrid politics. Although it would never enjoy the popularity of Whole Earth, CQ presented readers with a much more thoughtful, politically engaged, and refined vision for sustainable ecological living than the Whole Earth format could achieve.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, pp. 160-161)

By the early 1970s, at least in Brand's mind, anthropologist and linguist Gregory Bateson replaces Buckminster Fuller as a source of inspiration:

Brand's Harper's article, "Both Sides of the Necessary Paradox", about British anthropologist and cyberneticist Gregory Bateson, was more suggestive of Brand's evolving environmental philosophy. Brand first met Bateson in 1960 at a Veteran's Administration hospital in Palo Alto, California. They did not encounter each other again until 1972, when Brand discovered Bateson's book Steps toward an Ecology of Mind and consequently found a captivating new muse at a critical moment in his personal life. Like most of the intellectuals who informed Brand and his publications, Bateson was an iconoclastic deep thinker who defied easy classification. Brand sometimes found Bateson a hard sell. "A good many people I know consider Bateson maddeningly obscure," he wrote in an introduction to an issue of CQ with Bateson on the cover. An anthropologist by trade, the imposing 6-foot-5-inch Bateson was best known for his relationship with Margaret Mead and for "conceiving the Double Bind theory of schizophrenia".

Brand found Bateson during a very tough period of soul-searching chronicled with remarkable honesty in the Epilog. He hailed Bateson's books as "strong medicine" for those like himself who were trying to link "intellectual clarity and moral clarity" and "evoke a shareable self-enhancing ethic of what is sacred, what is right for life." Bateson's particular take on cybernetics and whole systems that provided a method for linking "mysticism, mood, ignorance, and paradox" struck Brand with such force that he decided to seek the man out. The resulting conversations formed the basis for the Harper's article. More importantly, several meetings in 1972 launched a transgenerational friendship that profoundly influences all of Brand's work for the coming decade: "It was talking with Gregory Bateson... that gave me a thread to string my beads on." Bateson, with his deeply philosophical view of life and science, replaced Buckminster Fuller as the inspiration for Brand's publishing ventures, and he featured Bateson's work prominently in both the Whole Earth and CQ.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 164)

Very much in line with this sort of New Age approach, Brand offers also a far more optimistic look on "the problem" facing humanity:

Optimism was one of the things that made Whole Earth such a success. In CQ, Brand continued to present potential solutions to "The Problem" and introduce readers to thinkers who were optimistic about the ability of people to solve the issues plaguing the world in the 1970s. By the mid-1970s, Brand was thinking hard about the legacy of the sixties and the failure of revolutionary and utopian thinking. "People who organize their behavior around the apopcalypse," he argued, "are going to have a tough time knowing who they are when the apocalypse fails to show." Brand felt more than ever that in the post-cultural revolutionary seventies people needed to develop good tools and ideas to create realistic programs of change toward a future of ecological sustainability. "It's the good stuff you need when your idea fails," he advised, and CQ would be his new venue for bringing the good stuff to the public.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 167)

As a part of this new phase that emphasizes a more holistic approach, the Whole Earth Catalogue will also become a big proponent of the Gaia hypothesis:

The 1975 publication of Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis was one of the notable accomplishments of CQ. The Gaia hypothesis (Gaia is the Greek name for the "Earth") proposed that the Earth was a living organism or, as Lovelock explained it, the "biosphere is a self-regulating entity with the capacity to keep our planet healthy by controlling the chemical and physical environment." Margulis, a distinguished microbiologist, and Lovelock, a prolific British independent researcher, epitmozed the thoughtful environmental heretics that appealed to Brand. Margulis is best known for her theories of cell sumbiosis —the idea that organisms cooperate and coevolve— and for her work with Lovelock on the Gaia theory. She became an important contributor to CQ and advisor to Brand on the latest insights emerging from biological research. The more iconoclastic Lovelock epitomized the melding of biological insights and research with toolcentric pragmatic design science. In addition to his Gaia collaboration with Margulis, Lovelock was a designer of precision instruments, most notably a series of electron-capture detectors he developed in the 1950s that greatley enhanced the ability to record the distribution of chemicals in the atmosphere. This detection enabled researchers like Rachel Carson to understand the effects of pesticides on ecosystems. Brand appreciated the way these two "vaulted disciplinary barriers and dogmas," and CQ presented their work at a time when their ideas were greeted with skepticism at best by the academic community. The Gaia thesis sparked a protracted and engaging debate on the pages of CQ that filtered out into college classrooms and the media. Although the Gaia theory remainced controversial through the last quarter of the twentieth century, environmentally minded CQ readers accepted it with much less controversy than greeted another significant contributor to the magazine.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 169)

And finally, combining both their original pragmatism with the newly found holistic optimism, Brand breaks ranks with a good part of his fellow environmentalists by publicly defending the idea of space colonies as a solution to our problems:

The publication of Gerard O'Neill's proposals for space colonies in several issues of CQ and then as a special CQ book, Space Colonies (1977), surpassed Gaia in generating fruitful debate and controversy and offered Brand the best opportunity to push the boundaries of environmentalism he had been exploring since college. Nothing better illustrates Brand's willigness to explore emerging areas of technological research at the cost of infuriating loyal environmentally oriented friends and readers than his promotion of space colonization. Space colonies were the ultimate environmental heresy of their day, but thei fit perfectly with Brand's expanding conception of environmentalism and his particularly western viewpoint. Like Lynn Margulis, O'Neill was a traditionally trained scientist with excellent credentials: He was a physics professor at Princeton University and a researcher at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, who, nonetheless, found himself at odds with the scientific establishment after he became the leading proponent of space colonies. O'Neill envisoned massive, slowly rotating, self-supporting structures anchored in space as the future home of millions of people and launching pads for the exploration of the final frontier. Brand introduced him to CQ readers as a "high-energy physicist best known in his field for originating the colliding-beam storage ring, which has been used in nuclear accelerators throughout the world." Brand also pointed out O'Neill's military record and accomplishments as a pilot, which were backgrounds and interests they shared.

(Andrew G. Kirk:Countercultre Green, p. 170)

As it could not have been otherwise, the successor to the Whole Earth Catalogue, the CQ, would also become involved in politics, a big no-no to many in the environmentalist movement who trace back their philosophical origins to the Anarchist tradition:

A review of the full run of CQ reveals a remarkable list of first publications of insights and theories that went on to enjoy extensive coverage in the mainstream media. In their aptly titled book News That Stayed News, editors Art Kleiner and Brand demonstrated the extent to which the publication had served as a springboard for discussions that remained relevant in the 1990s, when their collection was published, and continued to command headlines in 2007. A key difference between Whole Earth and CQ was the way the two publications dealt with politics. In whole Earth, Brand followed Buckminster Fuller's advice to avoid politics, and overt politics were not featured. In CQ, politics were fair game and often front and center. Clearly, CQ had a very different position than the catalogs on integrating direct political discourse into the magazine. It seems unlikely, however, that reader of the catalog, who tended to be an eceptionally thoughtful group, never noticed the politics that were embedded in the publication from the beginning. CQ only brought the politics to the center in a way that demanded attention and raised very interesting questions about the ways that the counterculture built on and reconfigured the landscape of western American politics. Brand was engaged in political life during this period in a way he never had been before, and CQ became a thoughtful voice for an emerging hybrid politics that came from the western counterculture and drew inspiration from the pragmatic environmentalism promoted by Whole Earth.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 181)

John Perry Barlow is a good example of this so-called third-way politics:

No one better captures this world of hybrid politics and fusion of technophilia, environmentalism, and western regionalism than former Wyoming cattle rancher, Grateful Dead lyricist, and Whole Earth contributor John Perry Barlow. Except by Deadheads, Barlow is best known for his work as a pioneer for electronic freedom and his association with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He famously referred to cyberspace as the "Electronic Frontier" and was only one of many who framed the new world of Web-based economy and culture in terms of western history and the frontier mythology. Barlow penned the classic libertarian statement on cyberspace —"A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" (1996)— which was widely circulated on the Web and became a manifesto for free information and free markets. A classically western libertarian, Barlow nonetheless passionately avoided traditional politics, arguing that "to engage in the political process was to sully oneself to such a degree that whatever came out wasn't worth the trouble put in."

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 183)

Obviously, all these changes that brought the Whole Earth closer and closer to the mainstream world were seen by many others as a complete sellout:

The counterculture appears political in western history usually only when cast as a foil for conservatives like Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and Richard Nixon. The stoned hippies of Haight-Ashbury seemed to have almost as little in common with serious New Left activists as they did with Richard Nixon and his crew-cut cabinet. These characterizations gloss over the intense, if stealthy, politics associated with adherents of the counterculture. A more cutting critique of the counterculture comes from those who assume that their sensibility was nothing more than a sad sellout to savvy marketers who quickly co-opted the counterculture lifestyle and philosophy and turned it into a tool to get their hooks into the expanding youth market. In this telling, the counterculture is a frivolous false consciousness on the part of spoiled middle-class white kids and a distraction from real political contribution that helped cement the failure of the New Left and ultimately led to the rise of a powerful new western conservatism that enabled the careers of Nixon, Goldwater, Reagan, and the Bush dynasty. Dismissing the counterculture as the apolitical sellouts of the 1960s and 1970s misses the rich contributions this cultural mode made to politics and culture and leaves no room for protagonists like Brand and Barlow.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 186)

This criticism is obviously strengthened by the appearance of a new figure, the "counterculture entrepeneur":

Particularly in the West, the argument can be made that the counterculture entrepeneurs who skipped the protest movement and the polls were the ones who made the most lasting contribution to the politics of the last decades of the century. Their libertarian hybrid sensibility was not a fringe movement and this pragmatic philosophy, as historian Patricia Nelson Limerick reminds us, captured the spirit of western myth and updated it for a new generation who searched for individualism and community reinvention through the electronic frontier of cyberspace, the promising world of alternative technology, the freedom of small business, and the individualistic everyday environmentalism enabled by thoughtful green consumption.

In his role as adviser to California Governor Jerry Brown, Brand was able to provide political access for many of the influential environmental thinkers —those acting from within the counterculture or those who were exerting influence on the movement from outside it— whose work was published in Whole Earth and CQ. Brand arranged meetings between Brown and creative intellectuals like Herman Kahn and technologically enthusiastic environmentalists like Amory Lovins, as well as Gregory Bateson, Thomas Szasz, Marshall McLuhan, and Ken Kesey. Brand sent a strady stream of iconoclastic intellectuals to Brown's office, and Brown shaped California environmental and social policy partly according to their recommendations. By the late 1970s, Brand's political cache enabled him to move from the fringes of western politics to the center of influence, or off-center, given the politics and policies of Brown's tenure. Brand was valuable as a political adviser because he was not a traditional politician or supporter of the traditional political process; he remembered, "I was able to work directly with Jerry Brown because I was out getting experience and not marching." He added that there were "lots of examples of counterculture businesspeople who became very successful and have influence in many different ways."

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 187)

Like it or not, all this is nothing but evidence of a strong undercurrent of the environmentalist movement that had already been there since the early 1970s, at least in the US: a libertarian-leaning brand of environmentalism.

Much of what has been written about counterculture libertarian thought focuses on the role of libertarian politics in the business and culture of the Internet; thus the term cyberlibertarians. Counterculture libertarian thinking, however, was also evident in the contentious world of environmental politics. There was a grassroots libertarian strain of environmentalism that differed dramatically from the guardian model of government-legislated reform that so changed the landscape of the American West. Counterculture libertarian environmentalists like John Barlow focused their energies on grassroots and individual action and technologically sophisticated entrepeneurship to move environmentalism out of the wilderness and into the market and the home. Like Brand, these environmentalists were more likely to find inspiration from Frank Herbert's Dune or Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress than from John Muir or Aldo Leopold. As a rancher in Wymoing, Barlow could certainly identify with Heinlein's western themes of dependence and distant control so compellingly presented in his counterculture version of lunar colonies at the mercy of a distant government that undermined the rights of the inividual and the property owner.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 189)

All this is married to a quintaessential American phenomenon that would not take a foothold in other nations until a few years later: the hobby (and business) of outdoor recreation.

The history of American outdoor recreation in the twentieth century is, to a certain degree, a historyy of leisure-tool enthusiasm. Outdoor sports have always wielded influence inversely proportionate to their purity; in other words, sports with lots of tools tended to gain power because of the wider appeal and the marketing clout of outfitters. The tools of recreation linked constituents to the market and gave certain groups greater access to political power than the purists enjoyed. The mainstream environmental movement has been so influential that we tend to assume that most Americans must have envisioned a disconnect between nature and technology; however, in reality, the natural and technical worlds were very much entwined in American thinking, and Whole Earth, despite its seemingly eclectic mix, appealed to that latent connectedness —it struck a chord precisely because the incongruity championed by the wilderness crowd was not actually the mainstream of American thought. Because we assume that only environmentalists (and especially wilderness advocates) spend a great deal of time thinking about nature, we tend to make assumptions about the role wilderness proponents played in shaping American thinking about the relationship between nature (as sublime and natural) and technology (as intrusive and artificial); but, actually, most Americans probably think about nature a good deal and especially about ways to avoid being killed by it, enjoy it, adjust to it, and master it, and Whole Earth was a needle entering a rich vein of ubiquitous everyday nature thinking.

American tourists and outdoor recreationists, in particular, have long embraced the very ambiguities and contadcitions between technology, nature, and consumption that the history of Whole Earth reveals. And yet, in 1968, the same year that Whole Earth was founded to foster connections between technology, culture, and nature, the American environmental movement was beginning to distance itself from the recreationists and alternative technologists who constituted a key constituency of the movement thoughout the twentieth century. The beginnings of the break with recreation coincided with the culmination of the most dramatic expansion of recreatinal tourism in American history and the rise of the outdoor sports technology industry.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 191)

A clear example of this approach to outdoors from an environmentalist point of view are the Camp 4 entrepeneurs:

Chouinard in particular, along with several business-savvy partners, including climbing pioneer Tom Frost, linked extreme sports, environmental advocacy, and consumption in a manner similar to Whole Earth but aimed at a very different audience. Together, they founded the wildly successful outdoor apparel company Patagonia, and changed the dress code for the new West. Slightly older than Stewart Brand, Chouinard spent a good part of the fifties and sixties living a bohemian dropout life in Yosemite National Park's legendary climbers hangout, Camp 4. During this period, Camp 4 was full of young men and a few women who had given up on materialism and headed to the mountains in search of "authentic experiences". What separated this generation of wilderness truth seekers was their decidedly entrepeneurial genius.

It was while he was living in Camp 4 during the 1950s and into the early 1960s that Chouinard got his start in business. The dusty picnic tables of Camp 4 produced no less than three founders of internationally successful corporations during the fifteen-year period between 1958 and 1973 alone. These legendary pioneers of rock climbing, who were the first to scale the seemingly impossibly vertical granite of Yosemite's El Capitan, are signficant for their contributions to the worldwide evolution of rock climbing as a sport, as well as for their technical innovations and contributions to a major economic revolution in outdoor equipment and apparel. Chouinard, Frost, and Royal Robbins all founded companies that went on to great success and helped create the multi-billion dollar outdoor sports industry. Rock climbers like Royal Robbins and Chouinard are examples of bohemian extreme-sports enthusiasts who turned their passion into successful businesses and set the model for the conterculture entrepeneurs who followed.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 199)

These entrepeneurs made themselves a name by defending clean rock climbing:

Patagonia, which started as the Great Pacific Iron Works with $600 Chouinard borrowed from his mother, was the quintessential garage business running, even after great success, out of Brand's beloved "low road" buildings. Dissatisfied with the quality of European pitons (metal spikes that climbers use), Chouinard started making his own high-quality "chrommoly" units in his garage for his own use. Word spread and soon the demand grew and a business was born. Chouinard expanded his operation to include clothing and formed two companies: Chouinard Equipment and Patagonia. Both of these companies were successful almost from the start, in part because Chouinard found a real need and filled it, but more importantly because he built his business around a powerful set of political and social concerns. Early on, it was "clean climbing", the idea that rock climbing and other outdoor activities had to take care of the resources they used and do as little damage to the rock as possible. Clean climbing was a revolution that reshaped the sport worldwide and opened the door for the mass marketing of what had been up to that time a fringe sport for eccentrics and dropouts.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, pp. 200-201)

All this business success, married with an overly pragmatic approach to things, gained them plenty of political influence:

By the 1990s, Camp 4 alumni Frost, Chouinard, and Robbins wielded considerable political power and used their influence to help preserve the park they had grown to love as disheveled climbing bums. Like many of their generation, they had used their disengagement from politics very productively and found themselves moving to positions of political power from the most unlikely of trajectories. Like Brand, it was their lack of participation in traditional politics and their disengagement from the traditional political process during key periods in their lives that gave them political power and influence later in their careers.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 201)

At the same time, their old connections to the PC revolution also granted them plenty of support among the new Silicon Valley elite, to a great extent represented by the new and colorful Wired magazine:

The outdoor sports industry exploded in the late 1970s, and the American West was the focal point for much of the recreation and the business. The new western imagery of Patagonia tapped into western mainstream liberalism in a powerful way. At the same time, these trends pointed to a continued blurring of the lines between conservative and liberal. The Left/Right politics of counterculture libertarians coupled with thoughtful consumerism, innovation, and business acumen found its finest expression on the Technicolor pages of Wired magazine. In Wired, the libertarian new western politics reached its zenith of influence during the dot-com boom of the 1990s when flip-flop wearing Silicon Valley CEOs (chief executive officers) crashed the gates of the corporate world, average Americans felt empowered by purchasing business machines, and a powerful new voting block of what conservative critic David Brooks called Bobos (bourgeois bohemians) ushered in a new era of mass consumption. Brooks viewed the orgy of technonatural consumption of the 1990s as further proof that the counterculture was a fraud and that its adherents were dupes who didn't understand that consumption was consumption whether it was BMWs or bamboo floors for your home yoga gym. But this view missed the entrepeneurial spirit built into the fabric of the counterculture from the beginning and overlooked that the consumption trends of the 1980s and 1990s were not evidence of a liberal sellout as much as an example of the extent that hybrid Left/Right counterculture politics had always played in the countercultural sensibility.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 204)

While some might consider this the end of the road, a clear sign of a complete sellout to the economic establishment, Kirk disagrees with the premise:

While Whole Earth's readers learned about social, cultural, and technological alternatives, they also got an implicit and explicit lesson about green capitalism and green consumerism. Starting in 1968, Whole Earth and spin-off publications made significant contributions to the reevaluation of capitalism, consumerism, technology, and the environment. In the pages of the Whole Earth Catalog, appropriate technology, advice on business, and counterculture politics happily and effortlessly commingled. Had Daniel Bell studied the ideal of capitalism espoused in the catalogs or, more importantly, embodied by the project of making and selling the catalogs, he might have found a rough model for resolving the cultural contradictions of capitalism. In the Left/Right world of counterculture libertarianism, there were no contradictions of capitalism; it was all a part of the same sensibility.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 206)

In the end, their very pragmatic alliance with the new conservatism represented by Reagan appeared to end in a big disappointment with the Bush Administration:

The influence of the counterculture libertarians peaked with the dot-com boom of the 1990s. Their techno-utopian rhetoric and enthusiasm for the New Economy and the electronic frontier lost some of their luster in the stock crash and scandals of the early 2000s. The environmental version of the counterculture libertarian sensibility faded from view as the California ideology of the cybereconomy rose to prominence. The election of George W. Bush and rise of the social conservatives severed many of the tenuous ties between the hip Right and the Republican Party. John Perry Barlow had worked on Dich Cheney's Wyoming campaign when Cheney ran as a small government, pragmatic environmentalist (yes, he really did consider himself an environmentalists) and free-market fiscal conservative. Barlow especially appreciated Cheney's environmental views and policies and considered him an ally in his Wyoming environmental activism. Their alliance was troubled at times, most famously leading to the lyrics for the Grateful Dead song "Throwing Stones" (first performed in 1982). By the early 2000s, Barlow could not stomach the Bush administration's "very authoritarian, assertive form of the guise of libertarianism." For counterculture libertarians like Barlow, the Bush administration was a dangerous failure on two counts. First and foremost, the administration demonstrated "an unwilligness to engage in any kind of mitigation of the free market," and, second, they were intensely adversarial to the liberal social values that characterized the "hippie-mystic strain" of libertarianism that had contributed to the Left/Right fusion of cyberlibertarians and the environmental pragmatists. It is a fascinating moment in American history when hippies are saddened by the lack of core conservative values evidenced by fundamentalist Republicans.

But does that mean that their solution failed?

In fact, the counterculture's model of politically realistic, consumer-friendly environmentalism might provide the best hope for a future meeting of political minds in the West. Conservation and preservation evolved into environmentalism because of a collective realization that protecting the environment was a personal choice that influenced quality of life. Millions of Americans love the outdoors and go there as often as they can. A decent percentage of these outdoor enthusiasts support environmental protection and give money to groups that lobby on behalf of the environment and work toward Progressive legislation. Many average outdoor fans may even vote for candidates who have some sense of an environmental ethic, but are those actions more or less important than when they walk out of their way to recycle a can or reada the label of their new jacket to find out what it was made of, or give a few seconds of thought to how their consumption fits into the chain of ecology that we are a part of despite of how divorced we are from the production side of the capitalist equation?

Conservatives have done a good job of recognizing that personal choices and preferences for quality of life and values can, and often do, supersede American interests in policy plans and decisions. The counterculture libertarians recognized this also and helped shape a model of indirect political response based on individual agency. Reconciliation and meeting on middle grounds is always a laudable goal: Could this hybrid philosophy of politics be a model? Or is it just another utopian dream that played out on the well-used western stage? Poet William Carlos Williams famously said that "the pure products of America go crazy." Western environmental politics generally proves this true, which makes it likely that the future of western politics will be some hybrid of Left and Right. Understanding the pragmatic mode of environmental thinking that emerged from our very recent past offers a hope, if only a hope, for a practical new human —and community-centered environmental culture for the twenty-first century— an environmentalism reconciled with the market economy and distanced from the contentious political debates that characterized the movement in the past century.

(Andrew G. Kirk: Counterculture Green, p. 209)

Overall, there is something to say for the type of optimistic, pragmatic, tools-centered environmentalism that congregated around the Whole Earth Catalogue. Without a clear realization of new technologies and new lifestyles, all a new social movement does is limit itself to protesting the moves by Government and big industry and strike a pose. In this sense, both the American tradition of pragmatism and eclecticism have plenty to provide to the environmentalist movement in the rest of the world. And yet, I disagree with Kirk's overly tolerant position towards what ultimately represented, I think, a true sellout of the counterculture to capitalism and the mainstream. I just don't see how else any of this could be sugar-coated. Sure, they did bring about some changes, at least on the surface. However, the reality is that the core of our lives are still the same. Actually, the problems are perhaps even worse now than ever. I believe there is indeed something to the criticism that sees most of the counterculture in the 1960s as mere pose, superficial fashion that could be (and was) easily integrated into the mainstream. Steve Jobs could have been a very cool dude that "gets it", but that still didn't change the fact that he was a multimillionaire in a world with plenty of poverty and his company competed at least in part by enforcing deplorable labor practices that, on top of that, can hardly be considered environmentally friendly.

Entertainment Factor: 6/10
Intellectual Factor: 6/10