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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Ecomodernism - A New Ideology of the Anthropocene

Ecomodernism is a recently conceived movement that's been described as "an environmental philosophy which argues that humans can "decouple" anthropogenic impacts from the natural world."

These ecomodernists are featured often in the media, are part of academic institutions and even receive awards for their work. Their ideas are portrayed as the 'future of environmentalism' in the press, but is their philosophy one that will truly benefit humans and the environment, or is it just a lot of hot air?


The Manifesto

In April of 2015 the 'An Ecomodernist Manifesto' was released. The numerous authors include  controversial characters like Mark Lynas known for his almost religious 'conversion' to an aggressive promoter of conventional agriculture and his creative interpretation of history. Then there's aspiring politician and nuclear energy proponent Michael Shellenberger and Roger Pielke Jr. who was at one time part of a brief investigation by Democratic lawmakers (that never amounted to anything) for potential issues with research funding. And also David Keith who is a strong advocate for geoengineering.

The manifesto starts out acknowledging our impact on the planet, and stating their position on how best to manage it. In it they "affirm one long-standing environmental ideal, that humanity must shrink its impacts on the environment to make more room for nature, while we reject another, that human societies must harmonize with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse." They argue further that, "Natural systems will not, as a general rule, be protected or enhanced by the expansion of humankind’s dependence upon them for sustenance and well-being."

Few people will argue that humans are having a great impact on the planet, but many would question the wisdom of the Ecomodernists suggested approach to managing it. The idea that we must shrink our impacts on the environment is reasonable, but is that best achieved by rejecting the idea of harmonizing with nature? The Ecomodernists say the solution is "Intensifying many human activities — particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry, and settlement — so that they use less land and interfere less with the natural world is the key to decoupling human development from environmental impacts." The idea that we can 'de-couple' ourselves from the planet we live on is so far from reality that you have to wonder where this level of hubris stems from.

An over-simplified illustration to be sure, but it still provides some much needed perspective.

The Ecomodernists believe that we must reduce our dependence on natural systems yet at the same time recognizing that we are "completely dependent on the living biosphere." We are not able to decouple ourselves from nature simply because we came from it, we are a part of it, and we depend on it for our own survival.

This sort of inconsistency isn't unusual - the Ecomodernists have been called out before on their statements about Al Gore and climate, renewable energy, climate policy, climate scientists, their track record of bad analyses as well as the failures of the manifesto.


The Breakthrough Institute (TBI)

The Ecomodernist's progressive think tank organization founded in 2003 by Michael Shellenberger, describes itself as "a global research center that identifies and promotes technological solutions to environmental and human development challenges." Senior fellows include Pamela Ronald, queen of retractions, the aforementioned Roger Pielke Jr., and Stuart Brand, co-founder of the Long Now Foundation and unrepentant purveyor of played out DDT myths.

TBI has had it's fair share of criticism over the years from its messaging on climate change to the quality of the data they present. Their blatantly technocratic worldview is on display in their magazine The Breakthrough Journal where int heir latest issue they promote technofixes like geoengineering, nuclear energy and even become apologists for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO's).

'Science Mom' Jenny Splitter sings the praises of CAFOs.

Under their mission statement they proclaim that "We believe that technology and modernizations are at the foundation of human progress." and "We believe that...long-term government investment is required to accelerate technological progress, economic growth and environmental quality."

TBI is a wet dream come true for industry. At least the ones they promote anyway, like industrial agriculture, nuclear energy and the like. Let's look at one example.

Monsanto's Director of Millennial Engagement praises BTI award recipient Rachel Laudan, who "celebrates technological, industrial, “artificial” food."

Vance Crowe promotes ecomodernism quite often, alongside the other 'tribes' he is trying to connect on behalf of his employer's best interests. He is a member of Stuart Brand's Long Now Foundation (#5454) as he announces on his Twitter bio.

Vance wants to connect the Skeptic tribe with ecomodernism.


The cringey-named Trolling With Logic podcast starring Vance and Vice Chair of the Finnish Eco-modernists.

Clearly, Monsanto and the rest of the agrochemical industry is not what we'd think of as a leader in sustainability, or planetary health. Their love of all things ecomodernist should give us pause as to the direction the Ecomodernists would like to take us. Their promise of a 'great Anthropocene' is perhaps well-intentioned, but their sheer ignorance of ecology, inconsistent rhetoric, and distortion of statistics is something to be seriously wary of. Ecomodernism seems much more ideologically based than it is grounded in reality.

"Beware of people preaching simple solutions to complex problems." - Steve Herbert


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