by Judith Curry
The Case for Modernization as the Road to Salvation
Nordhaus and Shellenberger have published a new e-book, Love Your Monsters: Postenvironmentalism and the Anthropocene (Breakthrough Institute, 2011)
From amazon.com look inside, some text from the Introduction:
The last few years have been demoralizing for anyone who cares about the environment. Emissions continue to rise. Ancient forests continue to disappear. And the world appears unwilling or unable to do anything about it.
The ecological thinkers assembled in Love Your Monsters argue that environmentalism, in its failure to evolve, has become an obstacle to addressing these challenges. A political movement founded on shrinking the human footprint is doomed to fail in a world of seven going on ten billion souls seeking to live energy-rich modern lives.
But if this collection of essays delivers tough love to greens, it also offers hope. By 2100, nearly all of us will be prosperous enough to live healthy, free, and creative lives. Despite the claims of Malthusian pessimists, that world is both economically and ecologically possible. But to realize it, and to save what remains of the Earth’s ecological heritage, we must once and for all embrace human power, technology, and the larger process of modernization.
But if greens rejected technology and modernization in the 1960s, there is no reason they can’t embrace them today. One of the founders of science and technology studies, Bruno Latour, points the way. Through a novel reading of Frankenstein, Latour argues that we must learn to love our technologies as we do our children — not reject them at the first sign of trouble. And given the critical role played by tool use in human evolution, the two of us conclude, we must understand technology as natural and sacred, not alien and profane. A new, postenvironmental liberalism should thus, Sarewitz argues, understand technology as a public good — a way to achieve broadly agreed upon societal goals, whether for improved health or cleaner air.
Meanwhile, Kareiva and colleagues argue, for conservation to be relevant in this new world it must move beyond the old parks and wilderness model and find ways to shape development. We will not wall off the entirety of the Amazon or the rainforests of Indonesia from all development as if we were protecting Yosemite and Yellowstone.
Ultimately, if we are to be responsible planetary stewards, we need a new view of both human agency and the planet. We must abandon the faith that humankind’s powers can be abdicated in deference to higher ones, whether Nature or the Market. And we must see through the illusion that these supposedly higher powers exist in a delicate state of harmony constantly at risk of collapse from too much human interference.
All of this will require a new posture and a new paradigm. We must open our eyes to the joy and excitement experienced by the newly prosperous and increasingly free. We must create a world where every human can not only realize her material needs but also her higher needs for creativity, choice, beauty — and wilderness. In the words of the father of the modern Indian Constitution, Babasaheb Ambedkar, “The slogan of a democratic society must be machinery, and more machinery, civilization and more civilization” — the same tools needed, we might add, for planetary gardening.
The Scientific American has an article on Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s new book, entitled “Killing environmentalism to save it: Two greens call for postenvironmentalism.” Excerpts:
Now, I’m happy to report, Nordhaus and Shellenberger are back with an e-book, Love Your Monsters: Postenvironmentalism and the Anthropocene (Breakthrough Institute, 2011), in which they and other thinkers–including the French philosopher Bruno LaTour, whose riff on Frankenstein gives the book its name–re-envision environmentalism in upbeat terms. What I like best about the book is its optimism, which I’m coming to believe is a prerequisite for progress. What follows is my email interview with Michael and Ted about their new book (JC excerpts below):
John: But isn’t there much to fear about the Anthropocene?
Michael: There is, but what’s at stake isn’t the survival of the human race but rather the quality of the global environment, our ecological inheritance and the costs—moral and financial—of environmental degradation. In many ways, Monsters is an effort to reconstruct a non-apocalyptic grounds for taking environmental action.
John: Do you see environmentalism changing?
Michael: Absolutely. There is a new generation of environmentalists, and even some of the old guard has embraced this vision. We call them post-environmentalists in Monsters, folks like [Whole Earth Catalogue founder] Stewart Brand, [The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans author] Mark Lynas, and [The Guardian newspaper columnist] George Monbiot, who recognize that because human development is inevitable, we’re going to need lots of advanced technology, including nuclear, to reduce the risks of the Anthropocene.
John: How did you select contributors for Monsters?
Ted: After Break Through we discovered a much larger group of thinkers, mostly academics, some of whom knew each other and some of whom didn’t, who were working on similar problems. A big part of the reason we started Breakthrough Journal is because we thought their ideas deserved a larger audience, and because we wanted to be in a situation where we could work with these thinkers to fully develop our arguments. Monsters was an opportunity for us to take some of the best thinking we’ve come across on the new ecological challenges we face and put it all together in one place.
John: How does Love Your Monsters build upon the themes of Break Through?
Michael: One of the ways is Break Through‘s critique of the concept of nature as a closed, fragile system in a state of delicate balance, and constantly at risk of tipping into chaos. In Break Through, we observed that there is a difference between a false choice and a hard choice. In Monsters, the authors all in one way or another further elaborate what those hard choices look like.
John: When you think about the future of the planet, what is your biggest fear?
Ted: My biggest fear is that outmoded, irrational and self-defeating ideologies about nature and the market will get in the way of humans making the shared investments in technological innovation required to be responsible earth stewards. I worry that slow rates of innovation among renewables and popular fears of nuclear energy will mean continuing high uses of fossil fuels for decades to come.
John: What is your biggest source of optimism?
Michael: I think my biggest source of optimism is the progress made by the human species. We are a far more intelligent and humane species than we were 100 years ago—not to mention 200,000 years ago! When I hear people worry that because humans evolved on the veldt we don’t have it in us to manage large complicated systems, I think that’s ridiculous. We never stopped evolving—physically, culturally and intellectually. At bottom, I think humans are more than up for the task of being responsible Earth stewards.
Michael Lind has an article on the book at Salon entitled “Is it time to embrace environmental change?” Subtitle: “Some scientists believe we’ve already created a new geologic epoch — and it may not be a bad thing.” Some excerpts:
The best thinking about the implications of the Anthropocene idea that I have seen is found in a new e-book, “Love Your Monsters: Postenvironmentalism and the Anthropocene,” published by the Breakthrough Institute. The book’s editors, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, are no strangers to controversy. Their 2005 essay in Grist magazine, “The Death of Environmentalism,” later published as a book, stirred up passionate debate.
A similar spirit of iconoclasm animates the environmentalists, social scientists and philosophers who contribute essays to “Love Your Monsters” (the title comes from a revisionist reading of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” contributed to the book by the French philosopher Bruno Latour). In his contribution, “The Planet of No Return,” Erle Ellis challenges the spirit of Malthusian pessimism that has permeated the environmental movement in recent decades: “A good, or at least a better, Anthropocene is within our grasp. Creating that future will mean going beyond fears of transgressing natural limits and nostalgic hopes of returning to some pastoral or pristine era.” The idea of unspoiled wilderness is questioned in “Conservation in the Anthropocene” by Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz and Michelle Marvier. They point out that national parks and wilderness preserves have often been created by the expulsion of indigenous peoples who farmed and hunted in the regions. In “The Rise and Fall of Ecological Economics,” Mark Sagoff compares the idea of a self-equilibrating natural ecosystem to the market fundamentalist idea of a self-equilibrating free market.
While Sagoff’s contribution is likely to upset market fundamentalist conservatives, contemporary progressivism is challenged by other essays in the anthology. In “Liberalism’s Modest Proposals, or, The Tyranny of Scientific Rationality,” Daniel Sarewitz points out how the conventional green movement combines excessive faith that science can define the problem of harmful climate change with arguably excessive skepticism about the usefulness of technology in mitigating it or adapting to its effects. In “The New India Versus the Global Green Brahmins,” Siddhartha Shome points out that it was the affluent Gandhi who was drawn to idealized images of village life, while the leader of the low-caste Untouchables, Babasaheb Ambedkar, saw the salvation of the Indian poor in technological modernization.
JC comment: Climate Etc discussed previously the death of environmentalism by NS. Seems to me that this approach should make sense to all but hard-core greens?
Gotta love the “love your monsters” title.