The Whole Earth Catalog and American Environmentalism
Andrew G. Kirk
For those who eagerly awaited its periodic appearance, it was more than a publication: it was a way of life. The Whole Earth Catalog billed itself as "Access to Tools," and it grew from a Bay Area blip to a national phenomenon catering to hippies, do-it-yourselfers, and anyone interested in self-sufficiency independent of mainstream America.
In recovering the history of the Catalog's unique brand of environmentalism, Andrew Kirk recounts how San Francisco's Stewart Brand and his counterculture cohorts in the Point Foundation promoted a philosophy of pragmatic environmentalism that celebrated technological achievement, human ingenuity, and sustainable living. By piecing together the social, cultural, material, environmental, and technological history of that philosophy's incarnation in the Catalog, Kirk reveals the driving forces behind it, tells the story of the appropriate technology movement it espoused, and assesses its fate.
“A historically important book during this resurgence of green culture.”
“An important and original addition to the history of environmentalism in the United States.”
—HistorianSee all reviews...
“Kirk brings a sense of order and context to a notoriously decentralized and nebulous movement and deepens our understanding of postwar environmentalism.”
—Pacific Historical Review
“Kirk weaves together a number of fascinating themes—including the alternative technology movement, ecological design, outdoor recreation, space colony proposals, and the so-called greening of American business—to develop an original and persuasive argument about the larger significance of Whole Earth. . . . Kirk’s excellent blend of cultural, environmental, and intellectual history offers a novel and illuminating account of the counterculture's effort to foster environmental hope.”
—American Historical Review
“A well written, engaging narrative. . . . As the specter of global warming pervades more and more of the collective attention span, the pioneering efforts of the Whole Earth Catalog extended family—as well as its blunders—deserve a second look, and this clear-eyed examination is a worthy effort in that direction.”
“Kirk fully succeeds in creating a whole catalog of the Whole Earth phenomenon. It is a measure of his success that we yearn to know more.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Vividly written and deeply researched, Counterculture Green tells a big story about how a group of technophile hippies invented human-scale ecological living and helped to change the world.”
—David Farber, author of The Age of Great Dreams: America in the 1960s
“This is the story of America’s other environmental movement, one that promoted safe and small technologies, that celebrated human ingenuity as well as the human species, that fostered passionate thinking—and acting—outside the box. . . . Timely, informative, entertaining, and critically important.”
—Marcus Hall, author of Earth Repair: A Transatlantic History of Environmental Restoration
“A major work of environmental and cultural history.”
—Ari Kelman, author of A River and Its CitySee fewer reviews...
This book takes a fresh look at the many individuals and organizations who worked in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s to construct this philosophy of pragmatic environmentalism. At a time when many of these ideas were seen as heretical to a predominantly wilderness-based movement, Whole Earth became a critical forum for environmental alternatives and a model for how complicated ecological ideas could be presented in a hopeful and even humorous way. It also enabled later environmental advocates like Al Gore to explain our current "inconvenient truth," and the actions of Brand's Point Foundation demonstrated that the epistemology of Whole Earth could be put into action in meaningful ways that might foster an environmental optimism distinctly different from the jeremiads that became the stock in trade of American environmentalism.
Kirk shows us that Whole Earth was more than a mere counterculture fad. In an era of political protest, it suggested that staying home and modifying your toilet or installing a solar collector could make a more significant contribution than taking to the streets to shout down establishment misdeeds. Given its visible legacy in the current views of Al Gore and others, the subtle environmental heresies of Whole Earth continue to resonate today, which makes Kirk's lucid and lively tale an extremely timely one as well.