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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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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The Future of Food

Towards a Sustainable Food System for a Planet with 9 Billion People

Since the dawn of agriculture, humans have been converting forests, grasslands, and other ecosystems to farmland. While climate change, air and water pollution, and a range of other environmental challenges frequently get the headlines, food production without question represents the single largest human impact upon the environment. Land for crops takes up 12% of Earth’s ice-free land. Add pasture and that percentage climbs to 36%. The long-term conversion of land for agriculture has brought enormous losses to ecosystems and wildlife populations already. The climate impacts are also considerable—15% of global greenhouse emissions come from the agricultural sector. With global food demand expected to grow as much as 70% by 2050, those impacts threaten to grow substantially.

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What Is To Be Done?

Trump and Ecomodernism

This is the space where I am supposed to write about what a Trump Presidency might portend for climate, energy and the environment.  At present, I don’t believe I can in good faith do so.

Our view at Breakthrough remains that macro-economic conditions, technological change, and public investment in innovation and infrastructure are the primary determinants of global emissions. At least insofar as climate change is concerned, a Trump Presidency may not be much worse than a Clinton Presidency would have been, for the simple reason that explicit climate policy has had little impact upon the trajectory of emissions pretty much anywhere in the world.

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The Pope and Climate Change

Can Laudato Si Help Modernize the Catholic Church?

The following is an introduction to the recent Breakthrough Journal essay "Modern Pope" by Sally Vance-Trembath. To read the Journal piece, click here.

 

This month, Pope Francis again referred to climate change as a “sin.”

Recalling last year’s landmark encyclical Laudato Si (Our Common Home), Francis spoke of climate change as an unacceptable trashing of God’s creation, and as an unjust imposition of environmental devastation against the world’s most vulnerable poor populations. 

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Ecomodernization

Does Premature Deindustrialization Pose a Threat to an Ecomodern Future?

The release of “An Ecomodernist Manifesto” last year sparked a variety of critiques. Some took issue with ecomodernism’s embrace of large-scale agriculture. Others differed with the Manifesto’s focus on growth and modernization, arguing for the opposite: degrowth and lower consumption. And of course there are the traditional environmental bugaboos. Nuclear power. Industrialization. GMOs.

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Capitalism and the Planet

Can Growth and Innovation Lead to a Lighter Environmental Footprint?

The notion that high living standards and environmental protection represent a zero-sum game finds expression on both the left and right. On the right, the charge that environmentalists prefer trees and endangered species to people is a long-standing trope. On the left, the idea that humans must dramatically downscale consumption, lest the earth that sustains us collapse, has animated modern environmental thought since the early 1970’s.

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The Coming Baby Bust

Ecology and Politics After the Population Boom

Rising ethno-nationalism in recent years has many mothers. Migration, increasingly multicultural societies, economic dislocation and inequality in a globalized economy have all contributed to a role in a growing sense of alienation among populations whose demographic, economic, and cultural hegemony is in decline. But one factor rather less remarked upon is the population bust.

Among white Americans, fertility rates have fallen to 1.75, well below the replacement rate (around 2.1). Among native-born residents of the United Kingdom the rate is 1.76. In France, Austria, and other sites of prominent nativist ethno-nationalist movements, fertility rates have been well below replacement for decades.

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About Ted Nordhaus

Ted Nordhaus is a leading global thinker on energy, environment, climate, human development, and politics. He is the co-founder of the Breakthough Institute and a co-author of “An Ecomodernist Manifesto.