Ecological Modernism Elucidated

Thanks  to Yale Environment 360 for this big mental poke:

New Green Vision: Technology As Our Planet’s Last Best Hope.

The concept of ecological modernism, which sees technology as the key to solving big environmental problems, is gaining adherents and getting a lot of buzz these days. While mainstream conservationists may be put off by some of the new movement’s tenets, they cannot afford to ignore the issues it is raising.

by Fred Pearce

There is a new environmental agenda out there. One that is inimical to many traditional conservationists, but which is picking up kudos and converts. It calls itself environmental modernism — which for many is an oxymoron.Wasn’t the environmentalism of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Greenpeace’s warriors against industrial whaling and the nuclear industry, and efforts to preserve the world’s last wild lands, meant to be the antithesis of the modern industrial world?

But the prophets of ecological modernism believe technology is the solution and not the problem. They say that harnessing innovation and entrepreneurship can save the planet and that if environmentalists won’t buy into that, then their Arcadian sentiments are the problem.

The modernists wear their environmentalism with pride, but are pro-nuclear, pro-genetically modified crops, pro-megadams, pro-urbanization and pro-geoengineering of the planet to stave off climate change. They say they embrace these technologies not to conquer nature, like old-style 20th century modernists, but to give nature room. If we can do our business in a smaller part of the planet — through smarter, greener and more efficient technologies — then nature can have the rest.

While many mainstream environmentalists want to make peace with nature through the sustainable use of natural resources, the modernists want to cut the links between mankind and nature. So the modernists are also the proponents of rewilding, the restoration of large tracts of habitat and the reintroduction of the species that once lived there. Rewilding is a popular theme in modern environmentalism. But the modernists say that without technology, it can only be done by culling humanity. With technology, they say, we can more painlessly usher in the return of the wild, because more land can be liberated.

This is deeply heretical for many mainstream environmentalists. So the question is how we should respond. Should we condemn the modernists for hijacking and subverting environmentalism in the name of capitalist and consumerist greed? Or do we concede they may have a point. The one certainty, I think, is that we cannot ignore it. The debate has to be joined.

The tension about how far technology can solve our environmental problems and how far it exacerbates them is not new. Didn’t the automobile stop our cities being knee-deep in horse manure? But the emergence of an agenda harnessing technological advance to the restoration of nature is newer.

It emerged prominently with the 2009 publication of Stewart Brand’s book Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands and Geo-engineering are Necessary. Holed up on his houseboat in Sausalito, California, the 1960s hippie guru who founded the Whole Earth Catalog, has morphed into a techno-optimist…

One thought on “Ecological Modernism Elucidated

  1. Pingback: Landscape Restoration | Raxa Collective

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