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Where’s the “eco” in ecomodernism?

Where’s the “eco” in ecomodernism?

Image: Richard Walker

If you hadn’t heard, despair is old hat. Rather than retreat into the woods, now is the time to think big, to propose visionary policies and platforms. So enter grand proposals like basic income, universal healthcare, and the end of work. Slap big polluters with carbon tax, eradicate tax havens for the rich, and switch to a 100% renewable energy system.

But will these proposals be enough? Humanity is careening toward certain mayhem. In a panic, many progressive commentators and climate scientists, from James Hansen and George Monbiot to, more recently, Eric Holthaus, have argued that these big policy platforms will need to add nuclear power to the list.

In a recent issue on climate change in the Jacobin, several authors also suggested we need to consider carbon capture technologies, geo-engineering (the large-scale modification of earth systems to stem the impacts of climate change), and even GMOs make an appearance. What’s more, one of the contributors, Christian Parenti, actually proposes that we should increase our total energy use, not reduce it.

Any critique of this kind of utopian vision is often dismissed as green conservatism. In her article, “We gave Greenpeace a chance”, Angela Nagle argues: faced with President Trump promising abundance and riches, greens can only offer “a reigning in of the excesses of modernity”. Despite all its failures, modernity freed us from the shackles of nature. Modernity promised a world without limits—and the environmentalist obsession with limits, she says, amounts to “green austerity.”

This argument is associated with an emerging body of thought called ecomodernism. Ecomodernism is the idea that we can harness technology to decouple society from the natural world. For these techno-optimists, to reject the promise of GMOs, nuclear, and geo-engineering is to be hopelessly romantic, anti-modern, and even misanthropic. An ecological future, for them, is about cranking up the gears of modernity and rejecting a politics of limits.

 

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