Democracy in the Anthropocene

“Democracy, tolerance, and pluralism,” my coauthors and I wrote in early 2015 when we published An Ecomodernist Manifesto, hold the “keys to achieving a great Anthropocene.” At the time, it was the notion of a great Anthropocene that seemed preposterous to some. In the face of looming ecological catastrophe, the only choice, according to many critics, was between a future that would be bad and one that would be worse. But today, it is our faith in democracy, tolerance, and pluralism that perhaps seems more audacious.

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Nature for the People

Toward a Democratic Vision for the Biosphere

Imagine a planet without wild places. A planet so covered with aquaculture, plantations, rangelands, farms, villages, and cities that wild creatures and wild places, if they still exist at all, linger only at the margins of working landscapes, cityscapes, and seascapes.

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Can We Love Nature and Let It Go?

The Case for Interwoven Decoupling

In Davis, California, a young couple are opening the cupboards of a model home in a new development — the Cannery — built on the site of a shuttered tomato packing plant. The Cannery has everything from townhouses for downscaling retirees in the mid-$400,000s to sprawling homes well above the million-dollar mark. The various tracts have appealing names — Sage, Heirloom, Persimmon. There’s something very culinary about these brands, and that’s no accident. The Cannery is billed as a farm-to-fork lifestyle destination. All along one side of the development runs a skinny parcel of land that is actively under cultivation by the Center for Land-Based Learning, crowned by an elegant 5,200-square-foot barn that I assumed was restored, but turns out to be brand new and artfully distressed. Residents can buy the farm’s produce at a mini farmers’ market on-site or subscribe to a weekly box. The farm is not terribly active when I visit in February, but it is studded by bee boxes and bat houses and I see jackrabbits, bluebirds, ground squirrels, and other wildlife frolicking under the late winter sun.

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Leapfrogging Progress

The Misplaced Promise of Africa’s Mobile Revolution

Within two years of its launch in 2007, money transfers through M-Pesa, a cell-phone-based mobile banking application, already equaled the equivalent of 10 percent of Kenya’s GDP. What started as a local system to serve populations too poor for traditional banking has since grown into a global industry, one that threatens to disrupt traditional banking systems around the world. Today, M-Pesa’s network includes 30 million users across 10 countries, and its services have expanded to include international transfers, loans, and even health care.

The wide adoption of mobile phones in Africa, along with applications like M-Pesa that it has enabled, has created remarkable technological enthusiasm on the continent. But while cases such as M-Pesa offer inspiration, the promise of leapfrogging remains largely unfulfilled.

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On Mother Earth and Earth Mothers

Why Environmentalism Has a Gender Problem

Not so long ago, technologies like microwaves and frozen foods were understood to be liberatory. Along with washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, and a host of other inventions, these household innovations allowed women to unshackle themselves from many of the demands of domestic labor. It didn’t all work out as hoped. With labor-saving technology at hand, cleanliness and other domestic standards rose. Today, women still perform the lion’s share of domestic work, even among affluent couples, and even within a rising share of dual-income households.

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Untapped Potential

Hydroelectricity Reconsidered

A biodiversity hotspot blessed with tropical rainforests and nearly 5 percent of all terrestrial species living on Earth, Costa Rica is held up today as a paragon of environmental virtue. With more than 50 percent of its land covered in some kind of forest, and as much as 30 percent officially cordoned off in the form of parks, reserves, and other protected areas, the “Green Republic” features abundant forest conservation in tandem with “sustainable development,” its high score on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index matched only by its spot at the top of Yale’s Environmental Performance Index. Greener still, renewable sources provide more than 80 percent of the country’s electricity.

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