In 2015, 19 scientists and thought leaders published “An Ecomodernist Manifesto” with “the conviction that knowledge and technology, applied with wisdom, might allow for a good, or even great, Anthropocene.” Like degrowth, ecomodernism criticizes mainstream environmentalism, considers “human prosperity and an ecologically vibrant planet inseparable,” and aims to shrink aggregate environmental impacts while eliminating poverty and enhancing well-being. These two movements diverge completely, however, in their strategies for achieving these goals. In contrast to previous critiques, we aim to challenge the foundational claims underlying the ecomodernist agenda.
Ecomodernists advocate substitution and intensification to enable decoupling. For them, substitution means moving up the “technology ladder” from wildlife harvesting to controlled biomass appropriation to fully synthetic production. Intensification refers to increases in land efficiency such as augmented agricultural yields or denser human settlement. Ecomodernists promote decoupling not just in the traditional sense — increasing material living standards while decreasing environmental impacts — but also physically decoupling humans from nature. They believe that we save nature by not using it.
Yet both substitution and intensification rely on ever greater energy inputs; thus the ecomodernist proposal requires an abundant, cheap, clean energy source. Modernization has not merely left some people behind, but has actively created winners at the direct expense of billions. Producing and consuming less unequivocally reduces environmental damage. Humans are nature as such, inextricably integrated with the web of life.
This media entry was a contribution to the special session „Ecomodernism and degrowth“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.