Ecomodernism: A Third Way

Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Ecomodernist Movement

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October 08, 2015 | Alex Trembath

"During a presidential election year, the eco-modernists have a prime opportunity to advance their agenda on a national level. Is it possible for candidates to actually move beyond the question of who’s to blame for climate change and make this about sound environmental and economic progress instead?"

So asks Julie Kelly, a food writer and teacher, in a great op-ed in the Hill last week. Kelly hopes that ecomodernism can be a "third way" forward on climate change, in contrast to the doctrinaire climate denial by most Republican politicians and the no-doubt-thrilling-but-counterproductive catastrophism on the Left. Obviously we join Kelly in working towards that third way (not least by partnering with our colleagues at Third Way!).

Likewise, An Ecomodernist Mom recently wrote that "Ecomodernism is just a framework to me, not dogma, but it's a framework that could realistically engage a larger part of the general, voting population." I love that: "A framework, not dogma."

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It's always good to see President Obama continuing to advocate for next-generation nuclear power. "My Administration will continue supporting technology," he said in a proclamation this month, "including new and advanced nuclear technology, that moves us closer to a brighter energy future, advances energy efficiency, and develops cleaner fuels." Read the whole proclamation here.

If politicians are serious about addressing climate change, they'd do well to follow President Obama's recommendations -- as well as those of the Breakthrough Institute, Third Way, the American Energy Innovation Council, and others -- in pushing for major increases in federal energy RD&D.

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Obviously I want to highlight this terrific rebuttal to George Monbiot's criticisms of ecomodernism by Ben Heard because, well, I am a proud ecomodernist. But I would also recommend it to anyone who has ever debated anyone about anything. It's a case study in substantive and respectful engagement. As Ben writes, "Criticism, when properly weighed and measured, can only make this discussion better." Be sure to read Ben's whole post, which eloquently walks the reader through an explanation of agricultural modernization and intensification.

Head over to the manifesto website for more criticism

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Peter Mellgard published a great write-up of Nature Unbound at Mongabay, complete with great insights from Rockefeller University's Jesse Ausubel and Breakthrough's Linus Blomqvist. Nature Unbound of course outlines the ecomodernist framework for conserving wild nature. As Linus told Mr. Mellgard, “Impacts in total have grown but they’re growing more slowly now...If these declines in the per capita impacts can continue, that creates the possibility of total impacts actually peaking and declining.” 

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The Schamper, the student newspaper at the University of Ghent in Belgium, published this recap of a talk given last month by Linus Blomqvist and Ted Nordhaus. It's actually better researched than a lot of environmental reporting I come across, so kudos to the student journalists at Ghent.  

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Last week Breakthrough received a leaked letter, signed by Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, and the United Methodist Church. The letter urges Congress to maintain restrictions on US energy investment in Africa, for instance by capping the greenhouse gasses associated with US-supported energy projects in African countries. Breakthrough has long opposed such unjust and hypocritical policy restrictions for some of the poorest societies on Earth, and Michael Shellenberger made sure that Oxfam et al knew that on Twitter. CGD's Todd Moss also pointed out the fundamental problem with strategies to restrict energy consumption in poor countries:

#highenergyplanet

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I don't often agree with Justin Guay, program officer at the Packard Foundation (see this post for a window into our past disputes). But I was happy to get together with him this week to agree that this is a...very bad idea

To elaborate, the CEO of 5-Hour Energy has a plan to power India with...stationary bikes.

I can't even with this.

For starters, it is "paternalistic and out of touch," as Justin said, a condescendingly small-scale vision for the global poor who themselves desire cheap, abundant electricity. As India's Lydia Powell stated in this article about the bikes, "The poor...want grid-based power like urban households that can run TV sets at the flick of a switch."

But more than that, the plan is absurd on the technical merits. Berkeley Earth's Zeke Hausfather helpfully calculated the cost of electricity powered by humans pedaling bicycles, and came up with a rough estimate of $4.30 per kilowatt-hour. That's 4,300 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to the 12 cent average cost in the United States. Moving right along...

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Lest my readers think that all I do on Twitter is start fights, I'm happy to report my discovery last week of the passionately pro-GMO group March Against Myths, the source of the header photo for this post. MAMyths' slogan is "Science activism against pseudoscience injustice." It's always nice to see the people behind the movement. 

MAMyths tweeted this ad from the synthetic food company Soylent, which is the kind of advertising I can get behind:

See more on MAMyths at Pythagorean Crank, another awesome blog I discovered this week by a pro-GMO vegan. 

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I'll wrap up this week by noting that I was tickled by this criticism of the manifesto by Diederik van der Hoeven at a website called Bio Based Press. As van der Hoeven writes,

So, the idea is great, but then we read that ‘plentiful access to modern energy is an essential prerequisite for human development and for decoupling development from nature’ (p.19). And we even come across support for ‘unlimited energy (p.10). I had not thought ever to come across this concept again. I pray that the good Lord will protect us from it. Unlimited energy would mean that we could perform all the mischief that we ever dreamt of, without suffering the consequences (for we could clean up the damage at no cost). Our main task as mankind with regard to energy is to use it in a responsible way, i.e. as efficiently as possible.

It's one thing to argue that Earth is too finite to support unlimited growth and energy consumption (although many do argue this, erroneously). It's quite another to argue against those possibilities in principle. van der Hoeven's argumentation recalls the famed Amory Lovins, who in 1977 said that "If you ask me, it'd be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it."

That's always a good quotation to end on. Till next week...

Photo Credit: Pythagorean Crank


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