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Lots to dislike in the “Eco-Modernist” Manifesto

Lots to dislike in the “Eco-Modernist” Manifesto

In order to solve our global environmental and inequality crisis we must go deeper into the wormhole; more of the same is the cry is the cry of the Ecomodernist Manifesto.  The Ecomodernist’s reject any notion that we should pull back from our model and breakneck pace of development.  The notion that we should harmonize or even mimic natural systems is false; as now we are now firmly in the era of human led planet; we should embrace it and leave nature behind.

The statement came signed by some well-known thinkers, like Ted Nordhaus and Stewart Brand, but was received with somewhat muted response by the media.  Although they reported it, journalists seemed unable to parse out the significance of Eco-modernism.  For people concerned about the state of world and the state of inaction, it is a somewhat tempting argument to throw up our hands and give into the logic of no turning back.  But no turning back also means that solutions we have relied on in the past – like nuclear energy – are probably not going to get us to the secure future we seek.  Here are a few quick summaries of responses to the Manifesto:

Degrowth Critique

Georgios Kallis, author of a Vocabulary for Degrowth, writes that the authors have presented a false choice.  It’s not either a natural world or a human world; it’s both.  He calls their vision an oxymoron because there’s simply nothing ecological about the modernism they present. Kallis pokes that its not really much of a manifesto if you’re arguing for the status quo.

Moving into substantive aspects, Kallis believes the Ecomodernists confuse efficiency with scale, citing the example of cities – which yes, are more efficient – but still consume more absolutely relative to rural societies.  He gives the example of China which has industrialized as people are consuming more efficiently, but also consuming much, much more than before; offsetting that efficiency.

Eco-modernists have a conflicted relationships with nature he claims, unsure whether “nature” exists and what they value about it.  They also have a rosy view of modernism which has wrought some of the most horrific events in world history.  Finally, Kallis concludes, they simply failed to show the intrinsic or substantive value of growth.

Sustainable Consumption Critique

A number of academics within the Sustainable Consumption Research and Action Initiative (SCORAI), wrote their owne critique, also citing Degrowth, but with a slightly different framing of the term.  The SCORAI team, led by Jeremy Caradonna, take issue the logic of the Eco-modernists.   At a base level, they claim that there is no concrete, scientific evidence that economic growth can be decoupled from its harmful consequences, let alone that it could somehow be the solution to our environmental woes.  Furthermore, Ecomodernists fail to consider that a solution may not lie in a lie in the realm of technology.  Like Kallis they criticize that eco-modernism seems to have little understanding of ecology and fails to look under the rug of development and its legacy of violence and exploitation and gives no space for values of non-modern societies.

Clive Hamilton

Hamilton is a public intellectual in ethics and philosophy troubled by the Manifesto’s techno-optimism; that strangely embraces nuclear energy will not even considering renewable energy sources.  He slams the group for their political nativity and alignment with climate deniers.  Perhaps his greatest insight is how the piece repositions the Anthropocene, originally intended to alert humans that they are fundamentally changing earth’s systems, into something to celebrate, rather than a cause concern.  In a response an Eco-modernist highlights the obsession with renewable energy as a parallel techno-optimism.

Sustainability Science, Practice & Policy (SSPP)

Ethan Goffman, Associate Editor of SSPP questions the Ecomodernists appreciation of nature.  He implies the authors perhaps have not been reading their mutual fund prospectus, which clearly state that past performance is not necessarily indicative of future performance.  Goffman believes the divergent options on this piece are rooted in two different the worldviews of human existence, one rooted in growth and another in sufficiency.  Sufficiency is the prudent course he argues.

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