Learning Curves

Dispatches from the Front Lines of Ecomodernism

Last week, Energy Policy published a peer-reviewed paper by my colleagues Jessica Lovering, Ted Nordhaus, and Arthur Yip.

The paper argued against the notion that nuclear power exhibits an inherent 'negative learning' effect. Ted blogged about the paper here, and you can read a nice writeup by Ron Bailey at Reason.


In other nuclear news, last month saw the debut of a new campaign to #SaveDiabloCanyon. California's last remaining nuclear power plant generates over a fifth of the state's zero-carbon power on only 1000 acres of land. Signatories include famed climate scientist James Hansen, Harvard sociologist Steven Pinker, ecomodern philanthropist Rachel Pritzker, the Long Now Foundation's Stewart Brand, Breakthrough cofounder Michael Shellenberger, and many others. Check out the letter and the facts here. David Baker also wrote up the campaign for the San Francisco Chronicle.


The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in DC has a new report on the harm done to emerging economies by limiting access to GM crops:

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) estimates that the current restrictive climate for agricultural biotech innovations could cost low- and lower-middle-income nations up to $1.5 trillion in foregone economic benefits through 2050. In short, anti-GMO activists have erected significant barriers to the development of the poorest nations on earth.


India is likely to double domestic fossil fuel power capacity over the next 15 years -- that's hundreds of gigawatts of coal-fired power yet to be built. In addition to the renewables already being deployed in India, natural gas and nuclear offer the obvious alternatives to a coal-fueled future. Samir Saran and Aniruddh Mohan, writing for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, are much more sanguine about natural gas:

India’s second option is to significantly scale-up nuclear power. Nuclear energy has the advantage of being both carbon free and, like gas power, available all the time. It’s therefore the only clean energy option to substitute coal in the electricity grid. However, India’s tardy rate of growth in the nuclear sector so far, with only 5.8 GW of current capacity, as well as issues with the liability law, procurement of technology and long construction times, mean that gas remains the only viable and cleaner option over the short term.


Can biotechnology solve public health crises in developing countries? Andrew Maynard, director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State, explains how genetic modification of disease vectors like mosquitoes can help prevent the Zika virus from spreading.


In a beatiful piece of writing for Aeon, Frank Bures examines the modern obsession with the apocalypse and the attendant cultural despair and resignation it induces:

Humans have always been an organised species. We have always functioned as a group, as something larger than ourselves. But in the recent past, the scale of that organisation has grown so much, the pace of that growth is so fast, the connective tissue between us so dense, that there has been a shift of some kind. Namely, we have become so powerful that some scientists argue we have entered a new era, the Anthropocene, in which humans are a geological force. That feeling, that panic, comes from those moments when this fact is unavoidable. It comes from being unable to not see what we’ve become – a planet-changing superorganism. It is from the realisation that I am part of it.

Be sure to read the whole thing. Apocalysm, and the constituencies that thrive on it, is a powerful post-modern impulse that ecomodernism needs to counter.


Finally this week, here's an excellent essay by Brendan Foht at New Atlantis contrasting 'An Ecomodernist Manifesto' to Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change:

So the ecomodernists’ proposals to use technology to clean up the planet and alleviate the plight of the poor give those of us in the wealthiest parts of the world practical ways of solving environmental problems that go beyond the moralistic posturing of declaring opposition to fossil fuels. Likewise, Pope Francis’s exhortation to care for our common home and for the poor provides the “spiritual and aesthetic” motivation that ecomodernists acknowledge to be necessary if we are to deliberately substitute ecologically friendly technologies for those that destroy natural environments. Despite some of the tensions between their positions, the moral seriousness of Pope Francis and the technological ingenuity of the ecomodernists will both be needed to move us beyond the fruitless debates that characterize so much of environmental politics today.