A group of scholars, scientists, campaigners, and citizens – many of which are associated with The Breakthrough Institute in the US – have released a new “ecomodernist” manifesto (available here).
It’s an interesting document which is sure to spark debate. In the preamble they state that “we 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”. Various distinctions are made such as: between “decoupling” humanity from nature (e.g. via lower per capita use of land such as via more efficient and intensive agriculture, etc) and “harmonising” with nature; between aesthetic or spiritual arguments for this “decoupling” and more material or utilitarian arguments; and between climate change mitigation as a technological challenge or as a task of limiting per capita global consumption – the manifesto itself focuses on decoupling, argues that decoupling efforts must primarily be motivated more by aesthetic and/or spiritual arguments and emotional connections with nature, and they argues that climate change mitigation must primary occur through technological change.
Related goals include reducing the dependence of humans on natural environments, reducing the totality of human impacts on the biosphere, and the conservation of nature.
The manifesto also aims to challenge views that are held by others within the environmental movement and related sustainability movements. For example, they challenge “the idea that early human societies lived more lightly on the land than do modern societies”, arguing that early human societies “had far larger individual land footprints than societies have today”. They also assert that “the degree to which there are fixed physical boundaries to human consumption, they are so theoretical as to be functionally irrelevant”, e.g. arguing that “human civilization can flourish for centuries and millennia on energy delivered from a closed uranium or thorium fuel cycle, or from hydrogen-deuterium fusion”.
Regarding the preference of some environmental activists for “low-tech” approaches such as those based on going back to pre-industrial technologies and practices they argue that “absent a massive human dieoff, any large-scale attempt at recoupling human societies to nature using these technologies would result in an unmitigated ecological and human disaster”.
The broader normative vision is one of “putting humankind’s extraordinary powers in the service of creating a good Anthropocene”. The whole manifesto appears to have been conceived, in part, as a challenge to those who view the notion of a ‘good Anthropocene’ as an oxymoron such as people like Australian public intellectual Clive Hamilton and many (most?) environmentalists.
Manifestos are generally political documents and this “ecomodernist” manifesto is arguably a political document. It is motivated by, and seeks to advance, particular values (e.g. conservation values, principles like pluralism) which remain widely contested values. Whilst the authors “reject the planning fallacy of the 1950s” they also argue that the accelerated technological progress they wish to see will require the active, assertive, and aggressive participation of the state and civil society as well as private sector entrepreneurs and markets. Overall, they are committed to advancing modernisation processes on a global basis which they see as necessary for achieving ecological outcomes.
Linked with this they contend that modernisation is wrongly “conflated, both by its defenders and critics, with capitalism, corporate power, and laissez-faire economic policies”.
See the related website www.ecomodernism.org for more information including a range of interesting responses to the manifesto.