Tuesday, May 5, 2015

#125 / An Ecomodernist Manifesto

The Ecomodernist Manifesto, published for the first time in April 2015, is well worth reading. But you might also want to read an opposing view.

In many ways, the Ecomodernist Manifesto is a statement that human beings can "have it both ways." As in the illustration above, we can have a vibrant, urban-based civilization coupled with our commitment to a large-scale preservation of the Natural World, in its wild and natural state. That's the claim. The eighteen authors of the Ecomodernist Manifesto, whose number includes three women, are seeking a "good" Anthropocene

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.

No "harmonization" with Nature, then, which I think it's fair to say means no submission to the primacy of Nature as against the world of human creation. In the end, the "ecomodernist" vision is that the mobilization of human technology will allow humans to leave a good part of the Earth wild, and natural:

Urbanization, aquaculture, agricultural intensification, nuclear power, and desalination are all processes with a demonstrated potential to reduce human demands on the environment, allowing more room for non-human species.

The ecomodernists call this a "decoupling" of the human world from the Natural World that sustains it:

Decoupling of human welfare from environmental impacts will require a sustained commitment to technological progress and the continuing evolution of social, economic, and political institutions alongside those changes.

The authors are convinced that a "deep love and emotional connection to the natural world" will be fostered by an ever greater "decoupling" of our human world from Nature, and by an ever greater commitment to what they call the "synthetic world" of human creation: 

Humans will always materially depend on nature to some degree. Even if a fully synthetic world were possible, many of us might still choose to continue to live more coupled with nature than human sustenance and technologies require. What decoupling offers is the possibility that humanity’s material dependence upon nature might be less destructive.

For someone like me, who believes that "anything is possible" within our human-created world, it is hard to argue that the kind of civilization that the ecomodernists advocate is a world impossible to create. Nothing is "impossible," but it is hard to see how the "deep love" for the natural world that the authors profess will be fostered generally by the kind of "synthetic" technologies that would become the foundation of our existence (even more than they already are), should humankind pursue the Ecomodernist vision. 

At one point in the Ecomodernist Manifesto, the authors fault the native peoples that were inhabiting North America when the first white Europeans arrived. Those native peoples weren't all that careful about the natural environment, the Manifesto claims.

Well, maybe they weren't (though who are we to talk?), but thinking back to that first encounter of European "civilization" with the wilderness of our American continent, I can't help but remember how Bob Dylan characterized the encounter in his song, Bob Dylan's 115th Dream. In that song, Dylan arrives in America with "Captain Arab" (obviously a close relative of the seriously deranged, monomaniacal, and overbearing Captain Ahab of Moby Dick fame). Once here, Dylan has many misadventures (all of them reflecting the significant deficiencies that we have created with our civilizing works, here in what was once the American wilderness). Dylan ultimately seeks his escape from what is, without doubt, a very "bad dream," and the comment he makes, as he is leaving the continent behind, summarizes my own thoughts about the likely success of the program prescribed in the Ecomodernist Manifesto

But the funniest thing was
When I was leavin’ the bay
I saw three ships a-sailin’
They were all heading my way
I asked the captain what his name was
And how come he didn’t drive a truck
He said his name was Columbus
I just said, “Good luck”

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  1. I've been railing against this trend for some time, as you might imagine. It started out as "ecopragmatism, and then, suddenly it morphed into "ecomodernism."

    It's nonsense, post-modernism run rampant. I'm not sure if the protagonists are trying to fool us or themselves.

    Notice that there are no environmentalists authoring this "manifesto;" they're economists, social advocates, journalists and "sustainable" developers. This is an anthropocentric, social agenda that has nothing to do with environmentalism.

    Whenever I see an "eco-" tacked on to the front of noun my bullshit detector goes off, especially when that noun has nothing to do with ecology: psychology, socialism, modernism, etc. It's obvious that the proponents are trying to pull their wool over my eyes.

    Ecomodernism is yet another attempt to escape from the reality of human society in a finite world.

  2. Yep! Your last line sums it up, and you and I are in total agreement there. Let's keep on pointing out the problem!! Hubris kills! Too bad all the other species go before we do, granted that it's likely that life will rebound!

  3. This seems to me to be part of a larger movement to co-opt environmental objections to continuing growth and development by adopting pseudo-environmental rhetoric. I see it coming out of pro-growth "think" tanks (if that's what they do) and funding foundations.

    Once you start pulling on this thread, the facade unravels pretty quickly.

  4. The authors reject harmonization with nature because it's never been necessary for environmentalism. The later simply means protecting the health of the environment. People don't need to live in tree houses or eat foraged vegetables, etc. in order to care about protecting the health of the environment. In fact, living off the land, as it were, isn't necessarily sustainable. Consider Easter Island, Mega Fauna in the Americas (as the authors note but you seem not to appreciate), and slash-and-burn agricultural, for example. In order to minimize environmental harm caused by human life we need to get past ideological myths like the idea of harmonizing or submitting to the primacy of nature.

  5. I've found quite the opposite to be true. In my experience, those who don't have a direct experience with the natural world for a sustained period, never develop a strong commitment to preservation of the natural world.

    You don't get it in a weekend trip to the Catskills, or a guided river trip down the Colorado. It takes at least a week to shed the habits and trappings of civilization and its fast pace of life to get in tune with the natural world.

    If you came back to the human material world and you're not bewildered by the dazzling speed and complexity of its life, you've not been away long enough.

    This is one of the main reasons that "environmentalism" has become a career corporate activity aimed at influencing politicians, economists and news organizations, rather than a calling that must be engaged because one can do nothing else.

    This is not about living off the land, living in caves or on Easter Island (which the authors and you have all wrong), slash and burn horticulture or any other form of primitivism. This is about living such that we do not consume resources faster than they are natural replenished and not producing wastes faster than they are naturally dispersed. This is about living within naturally occurring cycles of resource availability and not taking more than our share.

    This is not about protecting the environment (from What? Ourselves?) or protecting Nature. That's not our job. This is about BEING the environment and Nature. Our job is to NOT destroy Nature that is ourselves.

    We cannot separate ourselves from Nature and be Nature at the same time.

    We must Grok Nature.

  6. Your experience is anecdote, not evidence. If you have actual evidence to back it up, please share. It's pretty clear that "harmonization with nature" means living like people did several thousand years ago. What do you mean when you say "being" the environment and nature? The man who dumps his used car oil down the storm drain is as much a part of nature as the man who has his used car oil safely recycled. The difference isn't in being. It's a difference in action and intention. No, we cannot separate ourselves from nature. This entire blog is an exercise in false dichotomy. What does grocking nature have to do with living the way Gary wants, without technology?

  7. We can consume fresh water faster than it would naturally be replenished by filtering the salt out of seawater. We generate nitrogen in a form plants can use faster than it would naturally be replenished in the soil using the Haber process. These seem consistent with your definition of environmentalism.

  8. Here's a cogent response to the "manifesto."

  9. What do you mean when you say "being" the environment and nature? What does grocking nature have to do with living without technology?

  10. No one has said anything about living without technology. This is impossible. Technology is is not just tools. Technology is the way humans do things, material tools or empty hands.

  11. What does submission to the primacy of nature mean, if not living without technology?

  12. What do you mean when you say "being" the environment and nature?


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