The Case for Modernization as the Road to Salvation

Sometime around 2014, Italy will complete construction of seventy-eight mobile floodgates aimed at protecting Venice's three inlets from the rising tides of the Adriatic Sea. The massive doors -- twenty meters by thirty meters, and five meters thick -- will, most of the time, lie flat on the sandy seabed between the lagoon and the sea. But when a high tide is predicted, the doors will empty themselves of water and fill with compressed air, rising up on hinges to keep the Adriatic out of the city. Three locks will allow ships to move in and out of the lagoon while the gates are up.

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Love Your Monsters

Why We Must Care for Our Technologies As We Do Our Children

Environmentalists chastise humanity for transgressions against Nature. We are told that by creating technologies, we have sinned. But if humanity has sinned, it is not through the act of creation. Instead, we sin when we fail to care for our technologies. We should not stop creating; rather, our goal should be to never stop innovating, inventing, creating, and intervening. Instead of turning our backs on modernization, we must learn to modernize modernization. This challenge demands more of us than simply embracing technology and innovation. It requires exchanging the modernist notion of modernity for one that sees the process of human development as neither liberation from Nature nor as a fall from it, but rather as a process of becoming ever more attached to, and intimate with, a panoply of nonhuman natures.

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Conservation in the Anthropocene

Beyond Solitude and Fragility

Conservation is losing the war to protect nature despite winning one of its hardest fought battles -- the battle to create parks, game preserves, and wilderness areas. The worldwide number of protected areas has risen dramatically, and yet we are continuing to lose species and wild places at an accelerating rate. In spite of these failures, most conservationist organizations have chosen to double down on the parks model. This constitutes a failure of imagination. Conservation must seek a new vision, a planet in which nature exists amidst a wide variety of modern, human landscapes. But for this to happen, conservationists will have to jettison their idealized notions of nature, parks, and wilderness and forge a more optimistic and human-friendly vision.

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The Planet of No Return

Human Resilience on an Artificial Earth

Over the last decade, the idea that we have entered the Anthropocene, the age of humans, has become inappropriately entangled with the belief that human civilization is fundamentally unsustainable. We are transgressing "planetary boundaries" it is said, and thus must return to natural, Holocene-era limits. Yet the history of human civilization is also a history of changing nature to support human populations. Just as the Stone Age did not end due to lack of stones, hunting-and-gathering was not displaced for lack of wild animals and foods, but due to the superiority of agriculture. Humans have no more reason to return to the Holocene than early agriculturalists had to return to the Pleistocene. The true significance of the Anthropocene is not that we must return to the Holocene to survive, but rather that the continuation of Holocene-era nature depends on human civilization.

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The Rise and Fall of Ecological Economics

A Cautionary Tale

Ideas about ecological collapse, earth in the balance, and nature batting last exert great influence in popular culture, and yet mainstream ecology and economics have rejected the theories upon which those concepts rest. Ecological economics was born in the 1980s in reaction to Reagan's use of cost-benefit analysis to attack environmental laws, and as a reconstruction of neo-Malthusian warnings against economic growth, which were discredited by the agricultural Green Revolution and the work of economist Amartya Sen in the 1960s and '70s.

The ecological economists argued that economic growth wore out the potential of ecosystems to sustain life, and that only an economic steady state (no growth) economy could save human civilization. They used the laws of thermodynamics to misdescribe the earth as a closed system. And they relied on highly abstracted cybernetic "systems" theory of the fifties to dress up an old religious idea that all of nature exists in a Great Chain of Being where every piece is perfect and necessary, and that any alteration of it could cause the system to collapse. The rise and fall of ecological economics is a call for greens to abandon religious conceptions of nature and stop using scientism to justify political and moral preferences.

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Liberalism’s Modest Proposals

Or, the Tyranny of Scientific Rationality

Liberal devotion to scientific justification for social intervention seemingly knows no end. And yet, time and again, scientific rationality has proven to be a terrible foundation for progressive politics. By focusing on rationality above all, liberalism has pursued policies that are, in fact, anathema to liberal values. At the same time, liberals have increasingly turned away from technology, which, as opposed to science, might actually be the best way to advance our aspirations for a more equitable society. Indeed, for the Left to truly achieve liberal values, liberalism may have to give up the mantle of science and learn to embrace technology and the fruits therein.

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Modernizing Conservatism

A Case for Reform

Anti-government conservatism is ascendent. Republicans will likely retake the Senate and may take back the White House in 2012. The Tea Party is the most significant social movement since the anti-war movement of the late sixties. But, warns Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute in an article for the Fall/Winter issue of the Breakthrough Journal, conservatives have plenty of reason to worry. The 50-year libertarian project to shrink the welfare state is a manifest failure. Government is bigger than ever. Tax cuts didn't "starve the beast"; -- for decades, the evidence shows, they grew it. What is a serious conservative to do? Rethink everything.

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The New India Versus the Global Green Brahmins

The Surprising History of Tree Hugging

On March 26, 1974, dozens of women from the small village of Reni in the Uttarakhand Himalayas confronted a crew of out-of-town loggers. Accounts vary as to whether the women actually hugged the trees, but they successfully prevented the loggers from chopping them down. In the years that followed, the Chipko movement would become an international media sensation. "Tree hugger" entered the lexicon as an all-purpose signifier for environmental sympathies. But the Chipko movement became iconic in rough proportion to the degree to which it became detached from the actual events that transpired in Uttarakhand. From the start, Chipko was driven by a desire among villagers for local autonomy and economic opportunity.

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Gardening the Climate

A Thought Experiment

The growing sense that we will not be moving away from fossil energy any time soon has motivated a search for other ways to cool the planet. The most-discussed proposal is to blow sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, like volcanoes occasionally do. But doing so risks myriad downsides, including ozone depletion and crop failure. Another way to cool the planet is to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide can be captured inside of coal plants or from the ambient air, but doing so is expensive, and significant innovation is required to make it much cheaper.

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