Stewart Brand is famous among people of a certain age and disposition for the Whole Earth Catalog, the oversize compendium first published in 1968 that’s been described as a forerunner of the Web browser. He ought to be famous for his idiosyncratic and astonishing 1987 book, How Buildings Learn. But these days he’d like to be famous for getting environmentalists to loosen up and embrace genetic engineering. He sees a world of green potential in it: “Grow commercial wood directly–so straight-grained and close-grained and beautiful and inexpensive that cutting a wild tree for lumber would seem ludicrous,” he urges in a 2006 interview with Conservation magazine, going on to cite thinkers like physicist Freeman Dyson, who once envisioned a plant whose trunk could be tapped for refined gasoline, and Craig Venter, founder of the Institute for Genomic Research, who’s proposed developing an organism that massively sequesters carbon and another that generates hydrogen. “Where are the green biotech hackers?” Brand asks. Maybe they’ll turn up at his talk Wednesday at the biennial meeting of the International Joint Commission on the Great Lakes. It’s free, though Friday’s science and policy conference is $100. Online registration at is required for the 5:30 PM reception and recommended for Brand’s speech. a Wed 6/6, 6:30 PM, UIC Student Center East, 750 S. Halsted.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Tom Graves.