One of the pluses of having a blog is that you can be self-indulgent from time to time, and use it to let off a little steam.
Derailing a conversation of substance
A short while ago I was informed on Twitter that I'd derailed a "conversation of substance". I thought I'd merely commented on a tweet from Roger Pielke Jr, which wasn't a reply to anything that I could see. Though looking again now, Roger was talking to quite a few people, so it's quite possible he was engaged in a conversation. Therefore I suppose my comment could be considered a rude intrusion on a cosy chat (oddly enough, by @MichaelBTI who, as far as I could tell, was never a part of that conversation either).
This is the entirety of the conversation of substance as I saw it at the time, which was considered "derailed", together with my first reply:
Unpopular data, I know. But there it is, again. @bradplumer @Revkin @borenbears @NateSilver538 @portereduardo pic.twitter.com/E3yd65w2wB— Roger Pielke Jr. (@RogerPielkeJr) July 14, 2015
.@RogerPielkeJr @bradplumer @Revkin @borenbears @NateSilver538 @portereduardo Let's hope GDP keeps rising as fast. pic.twitter.com/uZxjlFfbqo— Sou from Bundanga (@SouBundanga) July 14, 2015
Anyway, it got me thinking. It's a while since I've written about the cost of climate change. And so far, I've never written about the fad called "ecomodernism".
And if you're wondering how I got from commenting about the increasing trend in disasters to ecomodernism, well, it happened like this. The person who accused me of derailing a conversation of substance is a champion of the "ecomodernist" movement, if you can call it such. I only came across Mike Shellenberger for the first time the other day, though I became aware of the ecomodernist fad a while ago now. (I don't have time to track down every fringe group that pops up from time to time.)
Mike also thought that my saying I go to climate scientists, rather than political scientists, for climate science was an "ad hom", which is strange. Then again, I consider ecomodernism strange too, so maybe it's just me. It could be that I misunderstood. He might have been saying that referring to Roger Pielke as a political scientist (which is his background) was an "ad hom". Mike might not think very highly of political science as a discipline.
Ecomodernism and the Cornwall Alliance
Thing is, though I'd come across ecomodernism (and heard vaguely of the Breakthrough Institute bunch) a while ago, I'd never given it more than a passing thought. Rather like how my thoughts only rarely pass to Roger Pielke Jr's attempts to minimise the increase in weather disasters, and don't linger long. Or how my thoughts are occasionally diverted to the Cornwall Alliance, which has some similarities to ecomodernism.
One of the most striking similarities is that both have statements. The Cornwall Alliance calls them declarations, while the ecomodernists call theirs a "manifesto". I think aligning with a statement or declaration or manifesto fulfils the very human need to belong to something - whether it's a cult or religion or political party or movement or aerie of (climate) hawks.
Barry Brooks, the nuclear campaigner, who is quite a bit more famous (to me anyway) than Mike Shellenberger, is a signatory of the ecomodernist manifesto, but not (as far as I know) of the Cornwall Alliance's declaration. (I'm kidding, really. I couldn't imagine Barry Brooks signing the Cornwall Alliance.) Here is part of what he wrote at The Conversation a while back:
In a newly released thesis, “An Ecomodernist Manifesto”, I join with 17 other leading environmental scholars to advocate for an alternative, technology-focused approach to conservation. We stress the need to embrace the decoupling of human development from environmental impacts, by seeking solutions that intensify activities such as agriculture and energy production in some areas and leave others alone.
Yes, there really is a manifesto. And it has overtones of religious fervour, just like the Cornwall Alliance's declarations. For example, both put humans as the centre of Earth, if not the universe.
From the Ecomodernist Manifesto:
To say that the Earth is a human planet becomes truer every day. Humans are made from the Earth, and the Earth is remade by human hands. Many earth scientists express this by stating that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans.
From the Cornwall Declaration On Environmental Stewardship:
The past millennium brought unprecedented improvements in human health, nutrition, and life expectancy, especially among those most blessed by political and economic liberty and advances in science and technology. At the dawn of a new millennium, the opportunity exists to build on these advances and to extend them to more of the earth’s people.
At the same time, many are concerned that liberty, science, and technology are more a threat to the environment than a blessing to humanity and nature. Out of shared reverence for God and His creation and love for our neighbors, we Jews, Catholics, and Protestants, speaking for ourselves and not officially on behalf of our respective communities, joined by others of good will, and committed to justice and compassion, unite in this declaration of our common concerns, beliefs, and aspirations.
Ecomodernism worships technology:
As scholars, scientists, campaigners, and citizens, we write with the conviction that knowledge and technology, applied with wisdom, might allow for a good, or even great, Anthropocene. A good Anthropocene demands that humans use their growing social, economic, and technological powers to make life better for people, stabilize the climate, and protect the natural world.
From the Cornwall Alliance's Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming
We believe abundant, affordable energy is indispensable to human flourishing, particularly to societies which are rising out of abject poverty and the high rates of disease and premature death that accompany it. With present technologies, fossil and nuclear fuels are indispensable if energy is to be abundant and affordable.
While there are similarities like the above, the Ecomodernists diverge from the Cornwall Alliance when it comes to climate science itself. The former know that human activities are causing global warming. The Cornwall Alliance people reject science:
Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.
Decoupling humans from nature
The Ecomodernist manifesto is all about separating humans even further from nature. Cordoning people off from the rest of the planet. Like the Cornwall Alliance cult, the motives may be honourable if misguided. I don't think we can or should separate ourselves from nature, just like I don't think that some God will step in to mend everything we break on earth.
The manifesto talks about reducing our impact on the environment, which is sensible, but doesn't want humans in harmony with nature, which strikes me as odd.
In this, 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.
What is more contentious is that they propose it be done by decoupling human development from environmental impacts:
Intensifying many human activities — particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry, and settlement — so that they use less land and interfere less with the natural world is the key to decoupling human development from environmental impacts. These socioeconomic and technological processes are central to economic modernization and environmental protection. Together they allow people to mitigate climate change, to spare nature, and to alleviate global poverty.
It can be argued that decoupling is what we've been doing over the past couple of centuries. We've been building cities and roads, covering up soil with tar and cement. Piping energy and water directly into homes and factories and offices - a far cry from going into the forest to chop wood to light fires for warmth and food preparation. And far enough away from cows and sheep that children nowadays have to be taught where their food and clothes come from.
Just the same, there are still a lot of people who live on the land, who plant and nurture trees to protect waterways and wildlife habitats, while growing food, feed and fibre. People who are even more primitive and harvest wild fish from the oceans. If too many of us lose touch with nature, where would that lead?
The seventeen people who signed the manifesto have labeled themselves "ecopragmatists and ecomodernists". The latter label looks like it will stick. The former sounds a bit too calculating, probably.
A waste of time
I've got a lot of sympathy with what Joe Romm, of Climate Progress had to say, in an article exhorting his readers to not waste their time on such silliness:
Other time wasters include the latest George Will Washington Post column, “‘Sustainability’ gone mad on college campuses” and a rare double time-waster in the New York Times business section, “A call to look past sustainable development.”
The Times piece is a double time waster because not only is the piece itself anti-informative but one of its goals is to get you to read an even longer, even more anti-informative essay, “An Ecomodernist Manifesto,” which is “A MANIFESTO TO USE HUMANITY’S EXTRAORDINARY POWERS IN SERVICE OF CREATING A GOOD ANTHROPOCENE.” Not!
In the interest of time, let’s cut directly to the second most important thing you’ll read on climate change this year, the time-saving secrets:
- Skip climate articles by people who think the problem is hopeless or intractable — because it most certainly is not.
- Skip articles written by George Will and his ilk.
- Skip articles — especially longer climate essays — by authors who don’t explicitly tell you what temperature target or CO2 concentration target they embrace and how they’d go about attaining it.
- Skip articles embracing Orwellian terms like “good Anthropocene.”
He was referring to the ecomodernist/ecopragmatist cult when he wrote of the "good Anthropocene". In another article, from June last year, Joe wrote: "Words Matter When Talking Global Warming: The ‘Good Anthropocene’ Debate", quoting the Australian ethicist, Clive Hamilton:
Australian author, climate expert and Professor of Public Ethics Clive Hamilton wrote, “those who argue for the ‘good Anthropocene’ are unscientific and live in a fantasy world of their own construction.”
By now you've probably guessed that I don't think much of the ecomodernists and ecopragmatists view of the world. You'll make up your own mind of course. To help you decide, here are a few more snippets from The Ecomodernist Manifesto (honestly, it really is called that).
On their optimism that technology will save humanity:
To the degree to which there are fixed physical boundaries to human consumption, they are so theoretical as to be functionally irrelevant. e amount of solar radiation that hits the Earth, for instance, is ultimately finite but represents no meaningful constraint upon human endeavors. Human civilization can flourish for centuries and millennia on energy delivered from a closed uranium orthorium fuel cycle, orfrom hydrogen-deuterium fusion. With proper management, humans are at no risk of lacking sufficient agricultural land for food. Given plentiful land and unlimited energy, substitutes for other material inputs to human well-being can easily be found if those inputs become scarce or expensive.
On their optimism that we'll not use up finite resources:
Indeed, in contradiction to the often-expressed fear of infinite growth colliding with a finite planet, demand for many material goods may be saturating as societies grow wealthier. Meat consumption, for instance, has peaked in many wealthy nations and has shifted away from beef toward protein sources that are less land intensive.
On "plausible pathways" to climate stabilisation and decoupling of us from the rest of nature:
In the long run, next-generation solar, advanced nuclear fission, and nuclear fusion represent the most plausible pathways toward the joint goals of climate stabilization and radical decoupling of humans from nature. If the history of energy transitions is any guide, however, that transition will take time. During that transition, other energy technologies can provide important social and environmental benefits. Hydroelectric dams, for example, may be a cheap source of low-carbon power for poor nations even though their land and water footprint is relatively large. Fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage can likewise provide substantial environmental benefits over current fossil or biomass energies.
Apart from the above, the manifesto doesn't offer any practical suggestions. It's mainly just a lot of words. It takes a few pages to emphasise just how much the seventeen authors really do love nature, despite wanting to decouple from it, and how morality and concern for the environment drove them to write their manifesto. That and:
Too often, modernization is conflated, both by its defenders and critics, with capitalism, corporate power, and laissez-faire economic policies. We reject such reductions. What we refer to when we speak of modernization is the long-term evolution of social, economic, political, and technological arrangementsin human societiestoward vastly improved material well-being, public health,resource productivity, economic integration, shared infrastructure, and personal freedom.
I think that's code for "we're a bunch of right wingers who don't reject science and are grappling with how to fit its implications into our view of the world".
Since all this started because of a couple of tweets to Roger Pielke Jr, here are a few HotWhopper articles that relate to him and his ideas. (By the way, I never got around to figuring out what the rest of the conversation was that I derailed, or who was involved - apart from the people Roger tweeted to, maybe).
- A skilful counterstrike? John Holdren speaks and Roger Pielke Jr squirms - March 2014
- Roger Pielke Jr sez we can still afford more weather disasters and WUWT protests at all and sundry - December 2013
- Downside of the Conservative Brain - February 2013
- Dismissives Still Furious with Marcott et al - April 2013
- Is Anthony Watts denying the flooding in Phoenix? - September 2014 - with another example of how Roger Pielke Jr hides extreme weather - by averaging extreme wet areas with extreme dry areas and effectively saying "hey look, no extremes on average"!
- How To Tell If The Article About Climate You Are Reading Is B.S., In Four Easy Steps - ClimateProgress April 2015
- Breakthrough Institute does the full Charlie Sheen: After months of attacking clean energy standards and efficiency, now they flip-flop to defense - ClimateProgress March 2011
- Does Africa need telephone poles - Eli Rabett October 2014
- My issue with Ecomodernism - And Then There's Physics - June 2015