Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A conversation of substance? Nope, it's about 'ecomodernism"

Sou | 11:11 PM Go to the first of 39 comments. Add a comment
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:

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:
  1. Skip climate articles by people who think the problem is hopeless or intractable — because it most certainly is not.
  2. Skip articles written by George Will and his ilk.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”

Waffle anyone?

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".

Further reading

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).

From other blogs - just a few


  1. From the 'manifesto':

    "... 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."

    This seems all too familiar to me. I see the once lovely town I live in being trashed by the humans who live in it every day. Front gardens are converted into car parks, back gardens are paved, gravelled or built over because the same people who complain 'there was nothing on TV last night' claim not to have the time to do any gardening. Or perhaps there was a very important episode of Top Gear that needed their scrutiny.

    There is no sane reason for any of this. Its lazy people living a slob lifestyle. I guess they need all the inane manifestos they can find to kid themselves that what they do is excusable.

  2. Roger like to repeat the "as a % of GDP" metric, but seems noticeably less interested in discussing the limitations of that metric.

    1. Does he recognise the existence of other metrics?


    2. He does. He wrote a couple of blog posts critical of such metrics...and I think makes some interesting arguments. In the end, he seems to think that GDP has more value...


      But I didn't only mean the limitations of GDP unto itself, but the limitations of using "% of GDP" as a measure of the impact of extreme events.

      For example, using that metric could obscure the significance of a rising GDP hiding a relative increase in people who incur death, injury, loss, from extreme weather even as a decrease when measured as a % of GDP. By aggregating data, that metric could hide disproportionately greater impact on poor people who are less well able to adapt. When used as a proxy for evaluating exposure to or impact from extreme weather - which is often the case - it hides the (IMO, unresolved questions) as to confounding variables (e.g., what is the impact of better infrastructure on losses as compared to the impact from amount of extreme events).

      But perhaps worst of all, his rhetorical approach reinforces a tribal, false dichotomy, where economic growth and mitigation against climate change are seen as somehow mutually exclusive.

      IMO, with Roger, it isn't so much the arguments in themselves that are problematic (for example, I think it is useful/important to consider trend losses as a % of GDP), but with his rhetorical approach where he deliberately fans polemics even as he claims victimhood because of the prevailing animus.

    3. Similarly, however, "Number of Loss Events" has limitations.

      An insurance company "Loss Event" is not so much a measure of every hydrological, climatological etc event which occurred, but of those which triggered claims.
      And, with increasing GDP and population, those claims (events) would escalate if the rate of occurrence of physical events remained flat.

      As an example, if a flash flood occurs in an area where nobody lives, no event is recorded.

      Decades later there is a nice village built there, and there occurs a damaging flood: 1 event has occurred.

      Similarly there will be ten new developments in other areas, and a flood damages 1, a fire damages another, etc etc: The number of claimable events is escalating.


  3. Bruno Latour, has an interesting critique of the manifesto that is worth a read. I am familiar with Latour, as any work in the sociology of science or science studies has to acknowledge his Actor Network Theory. I've been thinking over it, and as with any piece by Latour, I agree and disagree. :) http://bruno-latour.fr/node/639

  4. BTW - a good article, in which the use of "manifesto" is one of the issues discussed:



    The manifesto, as a form, has been diluted in recent years, used to advertise burritos from Chipotle and leggings from Lululemon. But it is, by tradition, an expression of frustration. “It’s a declaration, a polemic,” Janet Lyon, an English professor at Pennsylvania State University and the author of a book on the history of manifestos, told me. “It signals the end of a conversation, not the beginning of one.”


    1. Yes, that's my understanding of a manifesto as well. It's a statement of belief or philosophy, not an invitation to explore ideas.

  5. Some people, usually city dwellers, appear to get all they want from life by interacting with other people and surrounding themselves with human-made objects, visiting shows, concerts, art galleries, eating in restaurants and never having any sort of relationship with the natural world. On the other hand some other people -- and I include myself in this group -- enjoy being lost in the woods or up mountains, watching wildlife or growing their own food... and live in the countyside.

    The first group seem to think that everyone is like them and is able to exist without the natural world; they even think the second group is odd The second group can see what the first group get out of big city life -- who doesn't like the occasional visit to London? -- but prefers to return to their semi-solitude of life in the countryside.

    This is all fine so far; but the problem arises when the the first group, because they don't understand the needs of the second group, start dictating what the second group should want and how they should live. The second group -- some of whom at some time in their lives find themselves living in cities -- understand the big picture and the value of the natural world, but also understand the way of life of the first group and recognise that without that group living in cities, the planet couldn't support so many people. The first group because they don't understand what the environment does for us, have sidelined it and reduced it to a place that exists to provide them with what they want -- and that's just if they think about it.

    The ecomodernists are definitely self-recruited from the first group.

    I should hasten to add that there are some people who are city dwellers who do get the complete picture, so it's not quite as black and white as I paint it. There are also country dwellers who don't recognise what the environment does for them. But I am convinced that no ecomodermist has the group 2 mentality.

    1. They're aiming for a world safe for the sort of aspirations they think people should have. Which appears to be, in essence, a long healthy life of material prosperity. With parks.

      It could catch on. It seems, in fact, all too possible a future.

  6. A side note: they mention deuterium-tritium fusion as a possible energy source. There's a lot of effort going toward this, and it may possibly work someday, but from what I've heard and read over the years I think there's a good chance that it will never be practical. Certainly, no one should bet the future on it.

    1. D-T fusion is perhaps 25 years away. And it has been perhaps 25 years away for the last 50 years...

      I'm not holding my breath.

    2. D-T fusion is not a physics problem. It is an engineering, capital investment, fuel source and waste management problem in that order (assuming the political will is set to do it). A viable (and huge!) D-T reactor (NOT using an ITER tokamak approach believe it or not - it uses a linear accelerator approach) can be built today (the engineering problem) for a ~$50B investment each (the capital problem). Tritium has a half-life of 12.3 yrs (reason thermonuclear bombs need to be "recharged" ever so often) and must be made somehow as either part of the reaction process or mined continuously on the Moon (the fuel problem, a costly problem, too). And the whole T fuel and D-T reaction process makes a lot of radioactive waste (the waste problem). As much as it is an energetically and engineering(ly) viable option, current D-T is not worth the (combined) engineering and investment effort in my opinion. I'd rather we spend the intellectual and financial capital on other methods (including solar, wind, geo, etc.). You might be interested in a number of other "off-the-main-stream" but physics-proven (i.e., not cold fusion or LENR or other "new physics"!!!!) approaches to fusion. For example look up EMC2 (funded by ONR-Navy) and Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (private and "Kickstarter-funded"). There are 4 others across the US and Canada (including Lockheed Skunk Works) with physics-viable approaches (to be honest to varying degrees). But, the problem these approaches must solve is "can it be scaled from the computer model and lab demo devices to a viable (i.e., commercial) reactor that can compete with today's coal/gas-fired power plants? ITER will work but suffers the same fate as all tokamak-style approaches: the final reactor may end up being "100-meter in radius" and cost $100+B each. But, it will work and it will produce so much energy (in one place) we won't know what to do with it all. This later problem, producing too much energy (say a 100+ petawatts) in one place cannot be solved simply by a "grid". It might end up better to produce H2 to ship and store around the world. Nice idea, but consider the incredible infrastructure restructuring requirements for all energy use (including inexpensive H2 fuel cells) ... something the free market will allow, but only over 100s of years to recoup investments, etc., as is typical of a capitalistic economy, a time scale not consistent with the needs for avoiding the bad aspects of climate change. Unless someone makes an astounding break through .. which, as noted already, has been 25 years away ... for the last 50 years ...

    3. Fair enough. But paragraphs are wonderful things. ;-)

  7. I've resisted involvement in the ecomodernism conversations at Eli's and ATTP's because there's so much that could be said I know that I'd chew through much of my limited spare time.

    At a very general level though I'm surprised that apparently intelligent and knowledgeable people like Brooks can be so naïve about the 'glories' of technology. Or at least the impression that I get of where they place it in the overall response needed to live in balance with the ecosphere.

    I'm by no means a Luddite, and I've always been an early adopter, but neverthless it has to be said that technology itself is not a top-level answer to the problems we have, which are at their most basic a failure of management and manner of living. Technological products are tools and without a full and detailed understanding of how to apply those tools the underlying issues are simply moved to the new point at which the freeway is extended. They remain though, and compound, when many seem to think that they've been resolved.

    Resource use is one issue that illustrates this, and it came up in a discussion of ecomodernism at John Quiggins'. Even if our primary energy requirements could be completely, rapidly and cheaply replaced before too much damage was done to the climate, there are still fundamental structural problems that technology would fail to address, simply because there are so many problems that technology can't address but which are facilitated by the application of technology. And the platitudes of the ecomodernist manifesto don't adequately address them in any practical, palatable fashion as far as I can see.

    One of the most fundamental confounders is the issue of Jevon's paradox in a growth model of economy, to which John indirectly replied by suggesting that growth could continue in a virtual sense. This ignores several very different issues, the most basic of which is that humans don't currently and probably for a long time won't live primarily in a virtual world, and if we did we'd need a hugely resourced and energised support infrastructure to accommodate 9 billion+ if everyone was going to be offfered the same opportunities...

    That's ignoring the biospheric disruptions that are already inevitable with currently-entrained and near-future commitments for climate change, and it's also ignoring the cascading failure that can and inevitably will occur in complex systems.

    It all gets back to thermodynamics, to which I point at on occasion but which really needs an extended essay to properly put into context. One day when I have a month of holidays I might try to pen something (or look for someone who's already said it better), but for now I'll just repeat what I always say: there's about as much chance that technology alone will solve the issues of a finite planet as there is that we can take our planet's ecology and successfully seed a new planet somewhere else in the galaxy... which is to say - none.

    The true framework for a sustainable humanity should be able to stand without any reference to a specific technological application. If is can't be so constructed then any defaulted reliance on technology as an answer is as much an appeal to technofairies as praying is an appeal to sky fairies.

    1. I hope you do pen more on this, Bernard.

      I thought you might have been going to say something about their notions on biodiversity, which seem off to me. At one point they wrote that we could survive with much less diversity. I've a few problems with that.

      1. It assumes that we only need to be concerned about the next few centuries at most, and who cares what happens to people or the planet after that.

      2. it assumes that humans don't really need to be aware of or care about other life on earth, except to get the warm and fuzzies. We are free to be irresponsible (and immoral - despite their claims to morality. We're probably have a different set of morals.)

      3. I'd like to take a longer view, and consider Earth say, even just 200k years hence - which is only about the same time again since we evolved. What sort of world do we want to leave for our descendant species, whatever that may be like?

      4. We are intelligent creatures, which means it's about time we stopped thinking of ourselves as the centre of the universe who can stand alone independent of other life, and started thinking of ourselves as just one of many forms of life that rely on each other to exist.

    2. Oh, the biodiversity issue is one of the fundamental problems. Both in terms of the abstract ethics of human socioeconomic development, and in terms of the very long-term survival of humans.

      The whole development/technology/growth/sustainability/equity/ thermodynamics issue is a profoundly wicked problem, and one that would require a book or at least a fat monograph to thoroughly encapsulate. And I'm not sure that I'm well-placed to do it justice, but it's at least possible to detect when others have not included all relevant aspects in considerations of the issue...

    3. All of your points are pertinent Sou. There's also the point that future generations will place no value on the comfort of our current lifestyles, and will only be concerned with what we've left them. They may feel that wehave been supremely arrogant, selfish, and evil in driving so many species to extinction. Many people today would say "so what, we don't have an obligation to people a thousands years hence".

      But why not? Do we have an obligation to our children? Most would say yes. To our grandchildren? Surely. So when does this obligation evaporate? When no one is alive to remember the profligate way that we've lived today? This has two profoundly important ethical problems - that we value the future less than the present, and that we are living in the present in a way that is at odds to how we would live if were were the inheritors of our actions rather than the beneficiaries.

    4. A recent Phillip Adams conversation with Dan Barber that touches a little on this subject:


      The Mennonite quote was interesting.

  8. Many of those that reject AGW as a ongoing problem that requires a response claim that there is a underlying socialist conspiracy to impose a New World Order, an authoritarian take-over 'justified' by the fraudulent danger of climate change. The accumulation of wealth and human enterprise would be stifled by a centralised control on any and all activities that they could categorise as 'unsustainable' or damaging to the climate/biodiversity/environment. They resist what they see as a Orwellian '1984' type world imposed to save the climate.

    The Ecomodernists, in Eli's apposite description, are countering this perception by presenting a vision not of '1984' but of Huxley's 'Brave New World'. A techno-society with humanity divorced from the 'Natural' world, closely ordered to provide the maximum happiness for the greatest number.

    The novel 'Brave New World' does revolve around the encounter between this Ecomodernist techo-city people and small reservations of 'Natural' living people, perhaps for people like John Russell who commented up-thread!

    Replacing one dystopia with another as the probable future, or expected outcome of a response to climate change does not seem to advance the real issue of how human society CAN have a future that is not an authoritarian nightmare in response to resource wars in the wake of agricultural disruption, or a split into a techno-sustainable elite and an excluded population that cannot join the air-conditioned fusion-powered arcologies.
    Another dystopian novel comes to mind which had Morlocks and Eloi....

  9. >Shellenberger
    You should listen* to him -- downloadable audio file at this page:
    * I don't mean follow his lead, I mean it's revealing to listen to him avoid hard questions by characterizing questioners as enemies of freedom. Yeah, I exaggerate, slightly.

  10. Sorry, entirely off-topic but had to point out the latest stupid it burns over at the usual jaunt. Anthony is running a story about Karl et al. and announcing a record warm month when the press event brief he has copied and pasted (presumably not to NOAA's great joy) clearly states 'review of 2014'. I don't believe anyone has called him on it yet which makes his minions even dumber, no? Anyway, what it will actually be a press event on State of the Climate 2014 - the annual big piece in BAMS. I for one am eager to see how he attempts to spin his way out of this one. Epic fail.

  11. I never heard about the "ecomodernists" until recently. While I share views similar to much of what is above, I wonder if there's something useful to pull out of their stuff. For background, I am not a fan of assertion-based manifestos because it tends to force people into corners - you always need to be ready for new data to overturn your previous viewpoints. Second, I agree John Russell's comment that seemed to say ecomodernists are city mouse telling country mouse what to do (I'm a semi-country suburban mouse). Third, I've found the way the ecomodernists "discuss" on Twitter and elsewhere to be full of BS, tone trolling and dishonest spin. With that out of the way...

    We already do a bit of segmenting off some land (e.g. cities) to use and abuse so that we can leave other land (e.g. national parks) for pristine nature. Even ranches and farms are more functional and have non-native animals and typically non-native plants. So I think there's some validity to this point, if I understand it correctly. However, this thinking can lead to problems. For example, I noticed that it quickly leads you to love a centralized power grid. By the same token, you will then dislike (and even ridicule as they have) distributed power. The ecomodernists could be correct in doing so, but the data I've seen for some areas (at least Arizona and Hawaii for solar) show otherwise. In those locations, distributed power sources don't remove the grid, but you want to open fewer power plants. The point with the example is let the data decide not ideology in a "manifesto." Another way of saying it is - I like that they take a point of view, but from their comments and proclamations, it appears that their point of view is as much about excluding potential solutions as it is about suggesting solutions. That just seems backwards. Lastly, all their "positive" talk just seems a bit "Lomborg-y" It's like they don't want to solve the problem with insightful ideas but want their preferred ideas to sound insightful so they can do it their way.

    1. You make some good points, Joe. I particularly liked your last sentence :)

      Cities are clearly a good thing and much more efficient than sprawling suburbs. Technology is a real boon. Without it we wouldn't be as well off as we are today.

      What I don't like is the underlying assumption that technology will save us, and the way they talk about separating humans from nature. Or what seems to be an assumption that nature will look after itself. (A bit like how some people think that farmland will "revert" to it's prior state if left untended - which it won't. Or not in the medium term. Here in Australia it'd just turn into a giant rabbit warren, probably covered in blackberries and thistles, not native grasses and shrubs and wombats.) I doubt that all of the seventeen are as extreme as the most extreme of them. And I might be reading too much into their stance. But that's how it comes across to me.

      Also, they don't seem to have too many concrete suggestions, let alone a well-laid out plan or proposal. The bulk of it is waffle and self-justification and vague moralising.

    2. Yes, I agree with each of your points. I think there is a point to technology doing something (e.g., alternative power generation + electric cars), and I'm pretty sure everybody agrees on that. However, it will not reverse climate change on decade time scales because CO2 sits around for so long. And nature will not revert on its own either, as you point out.

      I'm guessing, but I think a lot of the 'technology and human ingenuity will save us' comes from the Simon-Ehrlich era. I found this video to be greatly enlightening to me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9JG02YRtOc
      I didn't realize how much of what I'd been hearing in debate (especially from the "let's do nothing crowd") stems from those two men and their bet. Going back to ecomodernism, I think they have this fundamental belief based on Simon's views that humans will recognize the problems and continuously solve them. I believe that's true, too, but as Sabin points out in the video, climate is a different beast than metal prices or food production. In short, the ecomodernists are just wrong on this point. Technology is extremely important, but we shouldn't fool ourselves.

  12. 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.

    I ran this through the Parse-O-Matic 3000 and got the following results:

    1 [glib] 2 [smug] 3 [gibberish]

    Ecomodernism is the natural heir of the Posts: Modern and Normal. Alan Sokal would have been proud of the paragraph above. 'Debating' this stuff is like punching a singularly pretentious blancmange...

    What it actually boils down to?: Some people really need to get out more.

    1. "...while we reject another, that human societies must harmonize with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse."

      This particular phrase astonishes me, and especially that Brooks appears to support it.

      Ultimately, if humans do not harmonise with nature, there will be both economic and ecological collapse. There's no fence between humans and nature, as much as many folk think and act as if there is: there is no having the cake and eating it too...

    2. I'm not that surprised.

      We must 'shrink impacts... to make room for' nature, but not 'harmonize' with it. Eh? I think this is merely the worst kind of semantic pettifogging. But if they honestly think there's something resembling content here the obvious first question is 'why?' given their own frame of reference. Why should anyone care given that only we matter? Seriously; we can't break nature, by their lights, otherwise we'd have to be concerned about 'economic and ecological collapse', which we very definitely ain't; so why the hell should we restrict ourselves at all? It's a HuMansMansMansMans World! This is the Cornwall Alliance's position with added humbug...

      That leaves us marooned in some bizarre 1950s sci-fi cornucopian utopia, which certainly fits with the blithe notion that we can just 'do without' some species. A world where challenges are best dealt with via corpspeak vapouring of the 'you have a dead horse? just redefine inanimation as the new standard' variety, and one in which Bjorn Lomborg would be completely comfortable. Which ought to be a sufficient indicator in itself, but apparently not...

  13. "At a very general level though I'm surprised that apparently intelligent and knowledgeable people like Brooks can be so naïve about the 'glories' of technology. Or at least the impression that I get of where they place it in the overall response needed to live in balance with the ecosphere."

    I place these technutopians in the same modern-is-always-better box as my born in 1896 grandfather. He sneered at and scornfully rejected any local or suburban refurbishment or renovation of older, historic buildings or whole streetscapes/ precincts. "They should knock down the lot." However, in my view his idea of modern was sterile 1950s brutalism. Though he was quite happy with tourist trap-style historical reenactment villages like Sovereign Hill - you just visit them, you don't live with them. He would certainly have thought that nuclear power was far preferable to anything else.

    They're also reminiscent of all those folks - of the same age as me as well as those older - who were and still are absolutely gob-smacked by various computer related processes. My reaction is and always was more along the lines of "what did you expect?" That's what computers are for!

    The other thing about "separating" from "nature" completely overlooks, maybe obliterates, the fact that cities are themselves ecological systems and occasionally havens or niches. Think of bees being much better off with constant access to varied, pesticide free, forage throughout the year because of parks, gardens and street trees as a prime example.

    Yesterday's Guardian had a great example of combining the reality of local city environment with _using_ computer based technologies to monitor trees. http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/jul/15/leaf-letters-fan-mail-melbourne-trees-pours-in-around-the-world

    Forget the trees-get-email jokey aspect. Look at the technological advantages they've got in mind.

    The project is part of a wider push to revitalise Melbourne’s greenery, with aims to double canopy cover from 20 to 40% by 2040. Wood believes this will cool the city’s summertime temperatures by 4C.

    Using computer-based technologies to map, monitor and manage trees and canopy cover may not equate to a lifestyle or environment like The Jetsons - which is what I see this crowd and the technutopians generally desiring - but it's certainly a much better approach to temperature and other environmental modifications than dreaming of large scale outdoor airconditioning or moving everyone underground to escape an intolerable environment.

    Large scale. Underneath all of this is a fundamentally authoritarian mindset which prefers centralised, sanitised, distant, bureaucratic _orderly_ provision and control of populations generally and individual choices particularly. Individual choices are strictly a consumer matter - tastes in clothing, choosing paint colours or selecting which supermarket to order your groceries from online. These people are, at base, deathly afraid of things like distributed power generation and local food production because it removes "control" from the knowledgeable, right-thinking kind of technocrat. The fact that modern technology actually makes such local control or individual decisions more possible and manageable gives them the heebie-jeebies.

    1. I live in an outer suburb, that was originally a small country town, now swallowed up by encroaching suburbia. The original town has so many street (and other) trees that you can't see roofs from the top of a nearly hill. The newest development (where the developer promised street trees and sensible water management and failed to deliver on either) is a scar on the landscape, with not a tree in sight, just a sea of roofs. As we already have the experiment, perhaps somebody might want to come and measure the temperatures of the old and new areas?

    2. Adelaide's outer northern suburbs ... Mawson Lakes ... that development at least did deliver on their water management claims. They were the first to have recycled water separately piped in to use in gardens. Unfortunately they used this as the basis to claim that this was an outstanding example of environmentally appropriate development. Along with advertisements emphasising waterside parks apparently unconnected to houses.

      Then came a hot summer. Hardly unexpected or surprising in Adelaide.

      Guess which suburb had the highest power use. Not hard to see why when you visit. Small dwellings crowded together, meagre - if any - exterior shade for walls, windows or doors, very small gardens dominated by driveways and other hard surfaces (exacerbated by the undeveloped street trees given the recent planting). Predictably these people had no way of getting or staying cool without running aircon for far more hours than better designed housing, better laid out or better established suburbs can make do with.

    3. Decent vegetative cover can also reduce heat loss by up to 40% in cold weather. Wind chill doesn't just affect lost hikers. Here in the UK energy costs are a big issue: but it doesn't occur to the typical numpty to do anything sensible themselves to reduce their energy bills.

    4. Re Mawson Lakes - and a sea of dark roofs! In sunny Adelaide. It ain't rocket science, people...

      This development is a classic 'Martian Colony', in that it pays zero regard to its environmental context and styles itself entirely on LA as re-imagined by The Truman Show. These things are going up everywhere; every country town of any note now has one or two of these palm bedecked cuckoos on its margins. They all have freaking lakes, because, after all, Australia = lakes! The trees are exotic, the houses have no yards, and the 'landscape' is sculpted turf adorned with some ornamental park furniture. Tell me how anyone growing up in one of these develops any appreciation for their local environment...

  14. At some point Barry got a little mouth-foamy about nukes, to the point that he'll take any ally he can and disregard the rest of the package. Too bad.

  15. Those remarking on the similarity of the Ecomodernist vision to the dystopian Brave New World perhaps miss an important point: for its advocates, this is not a bug but a feature.

    Of course, the advocates are all Alphas and Betas, aren't they? And the Epsilons? Well, they're just Epsilons, so who cares?


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