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Deep dive into eco-modernism

This article goes further to unpack the argument of eco-modernism and how it rationalizes how technology resolves the problems of climate change.
© Adam Smith Center, Singapore

In this article, we dive deeper into eco-modernism’s argument through two sections: (1) reducing reliance through decoupling; and (2) decoupling through technology and demography.

1. Reducing reliance through decoupling

As mentioned previously, a key tenet of eco-modernism is the reduction of human reliance on Earth’s natural environment. This logic behind this is that nature is threatened by humans because of our over-reliance on the environment. Hence, eco-modernism strives for humans to have less interference in the natural world. With this, human development can decouple itself from environmental impacts. This allows for the material needs of humans to be provided for sufficiently and effectively, while still minimizing environmental repercussions.

There are two types of decoupling: (a) relative decoupling; and (b) absolute decoupling. In relative decoupling, human environmental impacts still increase, just at a slower pace as compared to economic growth. On the other hand, absolute decoupling is when human environmental impacts reach its maximum and then decreases, despite the continued growth of the economy.

The argument follows that decoupling can occur through a combination of two factors (i) technological; and (ii) demographic trends.

2. Decoupling through technology and demography

The growth of technology has spurred increases in agricultural productivity. This means that the agricultural sector has improved its land and labor efficiency. Greater harvest is produced with less land usage and less manpower required. Hence, the space required for producing food for the average person today has dropped by 50%, as compared to the 1960s. This symbolizes the decoupling of humanity from nature – agricultural performance has improved drastically, making the provision of food more efficient while reducing environmental impacts. This achievement is credited to technological advancements in agriculture.

Additionally, eco-modernists posit that the human population will peak within this century and begin to dip afterwards. This is because the growth rate of the population that we see today is not a result of rising fertility rates. Rather, today’s population growth is largely propelled by prolonged life spans and reduced infant mortality. In turn, humans’ usage of natural resources will peak before declining. For example, the volume of water required to sustain an average person’s consumption has dipped by about 25 percent over the past five years.

In sum, this means that human’s total impact on the environment will peak and decline within this century. With this, human beings will have the chance to restore the wildlife and greenery of the Earth, even as societies continue to develop and advance. We see how the argument of the eco-modernist challenges fears that a society chasing infinite growth is incompatible with a finite planet.

© Adam Smith Center, Singapore
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Environmental Ethics

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