Toward a Half-Earth Future

How Agricultural Intensification Can Minimize Conservation Trade-offs

Over the last several years, a growing network of conservationists, through efforts like the Nature Needs Half network, has proposed an audacious goal for 21st century conservation: set aside half of the earth’s land area for nature. As an aspirational goal, the concept has inspired. Rather than framing global conservation as an exercise in damage control, the new effort offers a vision of an ecologically vibrant future in which people and nature thrive together.

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Using Technology to Address Climate Change

Oral Testimony to the House Science Committee

Introduction
Thank you for having me. It is an honor to testify before this committee. My name is Ted Nordhaus, and I’m the Founder and Executive Director of The Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think tank located in Oakland, California. My think tank counts among its senior fellows a number of prominent climate scientists, technologists, and social scientists. My testimony today will draw upon this work to present a synthesis — reflecting our assessment of the nature of climate risk, the uncertainties associated with action and inaction, and pragmatic steps that we might take today to address those risks.

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On Climate Hawks’ Revealed Preferences

What our actions tell us about how we think about climate change

I have long been a believer that the best way to ascertain people’s intentions is to pay attention to what they do, not what they say. This concept is known in the parlance of economists and political scientists as “revealed preference.” People’s priorities as revealed by their observed behaviors often diverge quite substantially from what they say those priorities are.

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The Power of Progress

“To make a better future, you have to believe in a better future”

In his magisterial book The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, the economic historian Benjamin Friedman considered the historical relationship between economic growth and social values and identified a clear pattern. During periods of rising economic prosperity, people tend to be more tolerant, optimistic, and egalitarian. Periods of stagnation and recession, by contrast, have been characterized by pessimism, nostalgia, xenophobia, and violence. During times of scarcity, people are more likely to look for scapegoats than to pull together, more prone to zero-sum thinking, and more susceptible to the appeals of populists and demagogues.

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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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About Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger are leading global thinkers on energy, environment, climate, human development, and politics. They are founders of the Breakthrough Institute and executive editors of Breakthrough Journal.

Click here to view their recent articles.