An Ecomodernist Manifesto

In this step, Matthew Kearnes introduces An Ecomodernist Manifesto — a statement penned by an influential group of environmental thinkers — to explore anthropocentrism through a contemporary example of a nature-culture dualism.

Humans vs. non-humans: The Great Decoupling?

The most powerful versions of the nature-culture dualism are the ones that are taken for granted and are simply implicit in environmental practices and politics.

Occasionally, however, we are given a more explicit illustration of the nature-culture dualism.

Take for example the recently released An Ecomodernist Manifesto.

The manifesto is an intriguing read. It was written by a group of leading environmental thinkers including the author of the Whole Earth Discipline Stuart Brand, renowned environmental commentator Mark Lynas and the co-founders of the Breakthrough Institute, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger.

Of course as it is a manifesto, its raison d’être is to be provocative. With its support for nuclear power, intensive agriculture and genetically modified crops — together with the suggestion that “positive decoupling trends offer hope for a ‘good Anthropocene’” — the manifesto certainly delivers. It questions many of the core issues that have galvanised contemporary environmental campaigns and concerns.

It is worth thinking about how the manifesto works conceptually. Its central claim is that humans need to de-couple from nature. The authors open with a striking claim:

We affirm one long-standing environmental ideal, that humanity must shrink its impacts on the environment to make more room for nature, while we reject another, that human societies must harmonise with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse. (p. 6)

In place of a notion of harmony or environmental balance — the kinds of ideas that have influenced environmental thinking for nearly forty years — the authors recommend that

Intensifying many human activities — particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry, and settlement — so that they use less land and interfere less with the natural world is the key to decoupling human development from environmental impacts. (p. 7)

Further into the manifesto the meaning of this notion of decoupling becomes clearer as the authors outline that

Decoupling raises the possibility that societies might achieve peak human impact without intruding much further on relatively untouched areas. Nature unused is nature spared. (p. 19)

This claim is perhaps one of the clearest expressions of the modernist concept of nature: that the intensification of human activities will enable humans to extricate themselves from relations with nature.

Discussion:

  • What do you make of the manifesto? Who is it addressed to? What is its central argument?
  • Are you persuaded by it?
  • Can ecomodernism decouple itself from environmentalism?
  • Can humanity decouple itself from nature?
  • Do you view the manifesto as a contemporary example of a human focused, anthropocentric, understanding of the world?

Want to read more?

In a recent issue of Environmental Humanities, five scholars were invited to give their short responses to An Ecomodernist Manifesto:

If you have time, we recommend you read An Ecomodernist Manifesto before reading these optional readings.

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Environmental Humanities: Remaking Nature

UNSW Sydney

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