Responses to the Ecomodernist Manifesto

Responses to the Ecomodernist Manifesto

(3/12/15:  I update this piece as new material comes in).

I recently came upon An Ecomodernist Manifesto, and was staggered by the scale of its unwarranted assumptions and errors. It argues that the malign human impacts on the earth can be turned benign through the application of technology and further economic growth. Yet its authors claim to be environmentalists (or rather post-environmentalists).

I thought of writing a rebuttal, as I did of the New Climate Economy’s problematic (if less so) report. But there was so much wrong with it, from denial of the linkage between GDP growth and emissions (or rather faith in yet to be demonstrated decoupling), via advocacy of nuclear power and unproven Carbon Capture and Storage, to a denigration of indigenous, pre-modern ways of life, that it was hard to know where to start.

Luckily four (now 8, see update at the end) diverse, but complementary critiques haven appeared. Two from the degrowth / ecological economics perspective, one is more centrally concerned with emissions and climate change, and the fourth covers climate and politics. I couldn’t improve on their collective voice, so here they are.

1) Giorgos Kallis: An ecomodernist mishmash

…..In an amazing mishmash of critical theory, political liberalism and technological cornocupianism [the ‘post-environmentalist’ think-tank the Breakthrough Institute] came up with a government-funded ‘Apollo plan’ instead. Not one that would fly us to the moon again, but to an earth powered by nuclear plants and fed with GMOs. Post-environmentalists’ preferred allies were Monsanto and the nuclear industry, it turned out. This mishmash full of contradictions continues in the new manifesto…..” read more

2) Jeremy Caradonna et al, A Degrowth Response to an Ecomodernist Manifesto

…..From a degrowth perspective, technology is not viewed as a magical savior since many technologies actually accelerate environmental decline.

With these disagreements in mind, a group of over fifteen researchers from the degrowth scholarship community has written a detailed refutation of the Ecomodernist Manifesto, which can be read here. The following is a summary of the seven main points made by the authors of this critique:….” read more

3) Joe Romm How To Tell If The Article About Climate You Are Reading Is B.S., In Four Easy Steps

….Lots of writers want the freedom to criticize those who defend the 2°C target and the very aggressive deployment of carbon-free power that such a target entails. But they know that if they actually put their own target on the table, they would be conceding humanity’s self-destruction, disputing the scientific literature or requiring the very aggressive deployment of carbon-free power they criticize.

A classic example of such an essay is the “Ecomodernist Manifesto” featured in the NY Times this week. Errors aside, this 31-page tome is a waste of time because it doesn’t tell you what the authors think should be our goal with climate action. They offer no temperature target, no CO2 concentration target, not even a broad one. The first and last mention of any target is on page 20 when the authors explain that while “Nations have also been slowly decarbonizing — that is, reducing the carbon intensity of their economies … they have not been doing so at a rate consistent with keeping cumulative carbon emissions low enough to reliably stay below the international target of less than 2 degrees ……..” read more

4) Clive Hamilton The Technofix Is In

….Describing themselves as “ecomodernists,” those gathered around The Breakthrough Institute are not anti-science; they are after all ecomodernists. But in order to maintain their belief in a bright new future, they must find ways to temper or reinterpret the increasingly dire warnings from the world’s scientists. The preferred strategy is to scan the world for good news stories and from them create an alternative perceptual reality. (The recently launched “Bright Spots” is a similar approach.)

And this has led them to their most audacious declaration to date: the publication, last week, of what they are calling An Ecomodernist Manifesto, a self-consciously provocative attempt to make sense of what some scientists are calling “the Anthropocene,” or the Age of Humans. In the end, however, the manifesto’s faith in technological breakthroughs means it substitutes a kind of Californian positivity for the hard reality of climate politics. As a roadmap out of our ecological and social predicaments it leads us nowhere…..” read more

Here are further responses:

Updated: 21/5/15 ,  7/6/15 and 8/10/15, 2/12/15,  13/12/15.

5) Bill Evans  Ecomodernism and the Anti-Politics of Prometheus

6) Ian Angus Hijacking ‘Anthropocene’: Anti-green ‘Breakthrough Institute’ misrepresents science via Links.

7) And an interesting perspective from the Global South: Chandran Nair  “Ecomodernism is Anti-Progress – A View from Asia” on the excellent German Degrowth site (in English) .I would personally “problematise” the notion of “progress”, which is integral to the modernist world view, but it is nevertheless a good piece.

8) Meet the ecomodernists: ignorant of history and paradoxically old-fashioned.
by  George Monbiot.

9) Josh Halpern likens the ecomodernist prospectus to Huxley’s “Brave New World” where people were decoupled from nature, with dystopian results:  “The Brave New World of Ecomodernism“.

And for some light relief – did you know that the ecomodernists share the “Can do “American” (sic) spirit with Bill Gates and Barrack Obama?  Liberals all, that’s part of the problem (and if you live in the US you probably won’t know what liberalism means).

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2 Responses to Responses to the Ecomodernist Manifesto

  1. Reblogged this on Steady State Manchester and commented:
    A brief note from SSM’s Mark Burton on critical responses to the “Ecomodernist Manifesto” that appeared recently.

  2. I was a member of the Institute of Engineers and Technicians (IET). The agenda constantly pushed forward, was that technology would save the day, so do not panic the children. New Nuclear, biomass incineration and carbon-capture and sequestration (CSS), were pushed as the technologies that would save us. If the money wasted on these technologies had been invested instead, in the UK’s wave and tidal potential. The UK could have possibly reduced there dependance on fossil-fuels. Unfortunately, our politicians are more inclined to listen to the nonsense from the ‘ecomodernists’, than those of us, trying to move towards a greener future.

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