The Power of Progress

“To make a better future, you have to believe in a better future”

In his magisterial book The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, the economic historian Benjamin Friedman considered the historical relationship between economic growth and social values and identified a clear pattern. During periods of rising economic prosperity, people tend to be more tolerant, optimistic, and egalitarian. Periods of stagnation and recession, by contrast, have been characterized by pessimism, nostalgia, xenophobia, and violence. During times of scarcity, people are more likely to look for scapegoats than to pull together, more prone to zero-sum thinking, and more susceptible to the appeals of populists and demagogues.

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Decoupled, Not Detached

How Making Nature Useless Can Help Us Love It More

In the months after the publication of the Ecomodernist Manifesto, a curious agglomeration of environmentalists attacked the manifesto for its call to decouple human societies from dependence upon nature. The idea seemed calculated, nature writer Michelle Nijhuis suggested in the New Yorker after interviewing a number of prominent conservationists, “to alienate.” Ecomodernism leaves “no room for enjoyment of hunting and fishing, botanizing and birdwatching,” Joshua Halpern, a chemistry professor and climate activist at Howard University, wrote in the Guardian. “No backyards to grill in and mow, but all must move into the megopolis. No place for wild pollinators.”

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Global Conservation on a Used Planet

A Democratic Vision for the Anthropocene

For over a decade, landscape ecologist Erle Ellis has marshalled an enormous trove of archaeological, paleontological, and historical evidence to demonstrate that humans have been terraforming the Earth for many, many millennia. A planet that once could support perhaps a few million humans today supports seven billion. Humans today use over half the terrestrial planet, mostly to grow food and raise livestock but also for settlements, mining, energy, and timber production. Even the areas of the planet that haven’t been intensively managed by humans bear the signature of our presence and our impact in one way or another.

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In Search of a Feminist Environmentalism

What Would Environmentalism Look Like If It Took Women's Realities Seriously?

“Not so long ago,” Jennifer Bernstein begins her important new essay in the Breakthrough Journal, “technologies like microwaves and frozen foods were understood to be liberatory.” Along with other modern conveniences, those devices dramatically reduced domestic demands upon women’s labor, opening theretofore unheard-of possibilities for women to enter the workforce, get educated, and achieve personal and economic autonomy.

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Demons Under Every Rock

The Ever-Expanding Definition of Climate Denial

In his 1993 New Yorker story about recovered memory and “Satanic Ritual Abuse syndrome,” Lawrence Wright tells the story of Paul Ingram, a Pentecostal and Thurston County, Washington, sheriff’s deputy accused of ritually abusing his daughters in a Satanic cult that he had allegedly started with his poker buddies. Ingram had no memory initially of the events that were alleged to have happened. But he didn’t unambiguously deny them either. After hours of interrogation, and thanks both to leading questions from his interrogators and a shared Manichean worldview, Ingram begins to recover memories of the abuse. His daughters, too, begin uncovering new memories. 

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Balancing Clean Energy Costs and Green Jobs

Green Growth Reconsidered

What’s more important—creating jobs in the energy sector or creating jobs in the rest of the economy? In some cases, energy transitions can do both, when new energy technology both results in expanding employment within the energy sector and drives economy-wide job growth as well. But that’s not always the case. In an interesting new post on “green jobs” at the Haas School of Business Energy Institute blog, Andrew Campbell points out that we frequently highlight the jobs created by the growth of clean energy while ignoring those that have been lost.  

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The End of the Nuclear Industry as We Know It

Toward a 21st-Century Model of Nuclear Innovation

News last month that Westinghouse is facing crippling losses due to cost overruns and delays at four new nuclear reactors under construction in the US are but the latest evidence that the nuclear power industry in developed economies is in deep trouble. China, South Korea, and Russia continue to build new nuclear plants. But in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, the nuclear industry, as we have known it for over a half-century, is coming to an end.

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About Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger are leading global thinkers on energy, environment, climate, human development, and politics. They are founders of the Breakthrough Institute and executive editors of Breakthrough Journal.

Click here to view their recent articles.