Debating Ecomodernism

Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Ecomodernist Movement


'An Ecomodernist Manifesto' coauthor Mark Lynas presents on ecomodernism to students and professors at Oxford University in January, 2016

January 22, 2016 | Alex Trembath

Last week, 'An Ecomodernist Manifesto' coauthor and Alliance for Science visiting fellow Mark Lynas traveled to Oxford to present and debate ecomodernism. Respondents included Oxford geographers Constance McDermott, Richard Grenyer, and Paul Jepson. 

"Us ecomodernists are very enthusiastic about debate," says Lynas. You can watch the video of the event below or click here for a brief summary. 


Last month, Rose Richardson at The Planet Magazine published a piece titled "The Ecomodernist Dilemma." Richardson considers what make ecomodernism special on a planet full of people looking to protect nature and uplift humanity:

“We think we have the capability and responsibility to lower our impact as much as possible while continuing to deliver the capability of living a modern life to the billions of people who still live in poverty today,” said Alex Trembath, senior energy analyst at the Breakthrough Institute.

Remedying the loss of natural places is one of the core values of the ecomodernists, Trembath said.

If the goal is the same, then what makes the ecomodernist theories so different?

“You might have to challenge a bunch of basic identities, and a bunch of your assumptions of what’s good for the environment,” Nordhaus said. “I think at the end of the day people care more about their environmentalist identities than they care about the environment.”


Ecomodernist debate also touched down in Switzerland this week, where Energy for Humanity and Swiss ecomodernist Urs Bolt participated in Zurich Salon's "Are greens friends or enemies of progress?" 


Obviously as an ecomodernist I care a lot about nuclear power, so I've read a fair bit about it. That being the case, I was extremely impressed by this great piece of reporting on nucelar from Maggie Koerth-Baker at Popular Mechanics:

Look abroad and there's even more reason for nuclear advocates to be hopeful. China is leading a renaissance in nuclear energy: Today that country gets only 2.5 percent of its electricity from nuclear, but it has 21 reactors under construction, more in the works, and a growing business selling reactors to countries like Pakistan, Argentina, and the United Kingdom. This vigor marks a level of nuclear investment the world has not seen since the heyday of American atomic enthusiasm, when 58 reactors came online between 1965 and 1980.


I really enjoyed this interview with Teryn Norris, a friend and former US Department of Energy advisor (and co-founder of Breakthrough Generation). Teryn also had a positive reaction to Paris:

The Gates coalition is especially significant when combined with the commitment that 20 countries made to double their spending on energy research and development. Together this was one of the most significant announcements made during the Paris climate negotiations.

I wouldn’t say it’s going to be the be all, end all, but if Gates and his co-investors can demonstrate a better model for investing in clean tech that’s more patient and accounts for longer-term higher-capital intensity, they might be able build a new wave of investment that will be longer lasting and more impactful.


'Ecomodernists without permission' continue to crop up everyhwere, to our surprise and joy. Apparently there's a couple dozen ecomodernists in New York hosting a meetup on February 22, led by former IEA researcher Cesar Penafiel. Check it out if you're in town! 


Northeastern University's Matt Nisbet wrote one of the first academic papers on ecomodernism, part of a systematic reflection on public intellectual movements within environmentalism. That paper, published in 2014, was the second most read paper in WIREs Climate Change last year. Congrats to Matt.


Part of an ongoing series at Slate's 'Future Tense,' last week 'Manifesto' coauthor and Harvard professor David Keith spelled out why solar geoengineering research is so important:

Perhaps you are already convinced that solar geoengineering is an idea we should abandon for good. Whatever you or I think, however, the next generation will be faced with the decision to implement these technologies. They cannot be un-invented.

If we have no research program, then we give our children the gift of ignorance. If climate change is worse that we expect, they will have to make decisions about geoengineering on that basis.


You may have already seen what, for instance, Ted Nordhaus and I took away from the Paris climate neogtiations last month. Ed Crooks at the Financial Times weighed in last week as well, interviewing myself and EDF's Gernot Wagner.


Don't miss Australian ecomodernist Ben Heard on Paris, nuclear power, and Joe Romm.


The Long Now Foundation, a spectacular organization cofounded by 'Manifesto' coauthor Stewart Brand, is now on Medium.


Speaking of Stewart, check out this interview with him where he reflects on the 50 years since he attended the infamous Trips Festival and founding of the Whole Earth Catalogue. 


I was pleased to find this post on ecomodernism by Michael Roberts:

Many criticise their split of intense human habitation and wilderness, where they argue agriculture should be intesive rather than centred on small farms and small-holdings. At first I baulked at that and then realised we have no choice if we are to feed the world, which I consider a moral imperative. As for wilderness, which I love, it is not suitable for much human habitation without wrecking it. 


Image Credit: Oxford University