The Brave New World of Ecomodernism

Josh Halpern blogs and tweets as Eli Rabett

Recently the Guardian has featured a back and forth about Ecomodernism. Ecomodernism holds that not only are humans driving the future of our world, but through technology can decouple our future from natural ecosystems. In this process the world would turn into urban enclaves surrounded by mechanically farmed agricultural lands and islands reserved for nature. It is a vision of naive young urban professionals. 

George Monbiot touched on some of the practical problems of Ecomodernism and this paper published a response from the proponents. In the words of Mark Lynas, one of the authors of their manifesto, the British launch of Ecomodernism turned into “a screw up of epic proportions” used by Owen Patterson to bash environmentalists of all stripes. To date, the discussion about Ecomodernism has been based on considerations of practicality, but there are hidden depths which lead me to oppose this program on all levels.

When I was a young, being civilized by my teachers, there were two dystopian models of instruction used to warn against the future: George Orwell’s 1984, and and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. 1984 is a dark vision of perpetual war and oppression with obvious roots in Stalinism and Nazi Germany, a war just fought and a cold war starting, both with the potential of destroying the world. Marxists, particularly Stalin and Mao discovered industrial marxism and their many attempts to control nature produced only disasters. Their heavy handed attempts to create technology produced contaminated industrial wastelands. 

Brave New World is an exercise in Paradise Engineering and the best illustration we have to the darker implications of the Ecomodernist Manifesto. Ecomodernism revives the faith in technology of the late 19th and early 20th century, an optimism that found expression in our growing ability to shape the world coupled with hubris and belief that nature has nothing necessary to offer us.

The Ecomodernist Manifesto sees progress as a decoupling humanity from nature using technology as in Huxley’s vision. While one can quibble for or against the specific technologies that the Ecomodernists favor, one should first seriously consider the implications for the organization of society which make the Brave New World a model for how an Ecomodernist society must be organized to function.

Ecomodernism postulates movement of population to large cities, industrialization of agriculture and the isolation of areas for nature. There is no room for enjoyment of hunting and fishing, botanizing and birdwatching. There is no understanding of the ecological services that nature offers us and without which we could not survive. No backyards to grill in and mow, but all must move into the megopolis. No place for wild pollinators. It is not that we do not know where that vision leads, and we even have examples today of nations that are essentially single cities such as Singapore moving in that direction.

Huxley’s brave new world was based on genetically engineered social classes with the Alphas at the top and the Deltas and Epsilons at the bottom collecting the garbage and providing other services. Today’s city states and those of the Ecomodernists require vast numbers of Deltas and Epsilons to support the Alphas. They are ancient Greek city states with a small number of citizens benefiting from the labor of a large number of contract workers many on temporary visas. If you are an alpha, it is a good deal, if not, maybe not so much.

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Posted by Guest Author on Tuesday, 20 October, 2015

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