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Introduction to eco-modernism

This article unpacks the definition of eco-modernism and how it answers some the problems that we are facing with the climate today.

In this article, we introduce what eco-modernism is all about through three sections: (1) our current reality; (2) the argument of eco-modernism; and (3) the counter that eco-modernism offers.

Eco-modernist city of Singapore Image credit: Kai on Pexels

1. Our current reality

The prosperity of humans has left its mark on natural environments, as well as the wildlife that has inhabited them. This is seen from how approximately 50 percent of the Earth’s ice-free land and 20 percent of land that was once flourishing with forests has been converted for human utilization. The populations of numerous sentient animals have also decreased by over 50 percent within the past four decades.

With this, a question then emerges: Given humans’ destructive impact on society, is human development and environmental sustainability incompatible?

2. The definition of eco-modernism

Eco-modernism argues that advancing technological powers is the key to make possible a world in which humans can modernize while still protecting the natural world. It desires for human life to improve, for the climate to stabilize, and for the natural world to be protected. This is to be achieved through the expanding social, economic, and technological power of human beings.

Notably, eco-modernism believes that humans must scale back its impacts on the environment so that there is more room for nature to expand. However, it rejects the notion that human societies must become one with nature in order to prevent economic and ecological collapse (think for example, deep ecology). Rather, the key to environmental protection is to reduce the interference that humans have on the natural world. This, according to eco-modernism, is enabled by technological development.

3. The counter that eco-modernism offers

Eco-modernism’s argument can be seen as a response to modes of thought which believe that since human activities are the main accelerators of climate change, modernization cannot go hand in hand with environmental sustainability. This is because development and its corresponding rises in incomes and living standards is highly correlated to rising energy consumption. These increases in energy consumption, in turn, has been matched by increases in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

While eco-modernism does acknowledge human activity as being a contributor in climate change, eco-modernism challenges the proposition that human development cannot exist in tandem with environmental sustainability. To eco-modernism, this paradox is resolved through technology that reduces human dependence on the Earth’s living biosphere.

© Adam Smith Center, Singapore
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Environmental Ethics

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