The Guardian released a piece yesterday written by a chemistry professor (who blogs and tweets as a grumpy rabbit because why not?) called The Brave New World of Ecomodernism, where he gives the concept of urbanization a good beat down. I don’t know how old this stuffed rabbit is but something tells me he’s in the Boomer demographic because he had the exact same reaction to An Ecomodernist Manifesto that my husband’s boomer stepfather, Michael, did, right down to the Adolf Huxley reference.
Michael, like the rabbit, is a man of science and is very much on the same page as I am when it comes to climate change, GMOs, and nuclear energy so it was surprising to me that some aspects of the manifesto were chilling to him. To boomers, the word ‘manifesto’ may be something that will forever be associated with Marx and Stalin. They were raised in a time where totalitarianism was a very real threat. Their parents had seen the rise of the Soviet Union. They were born just as Nazism was defeated and they witnessed the technology explosion of the space race, not to mention the threat of a seemingly inevitable nuclear war. So, it may be that urbanization, advanced technology, and totalitarianism are inextricably linked in the minds of baby boomers. After all, they grew up seeing nothing of the Soviet Union but the grey, grim cities and they watched many of the technological predictions of 1984 and Brave New World come true. They were also the first generation to push back at technology and romanticize an idyllic agricultural past.
If I’m putting myself in their shoes and looking at the manifesto through that lens, I can see why boomers could have a dark interpretation of ecomodernism. Technology(nuclear and genetic engineering in particular) and urbanization could set off deeply ingrained fears that we were heading toward The New World Order or that Oceania and Fordlandia were becoming a reality. I really do get it and I don’t want to mock or dismiss their reservations because it’s an important discussion to have.
This is where I want to reassure Michael and the rabbit that I don’t think totalitarian city states are what the authors of the manifesto had in mind. You can tell by my header how much I love mountains. I love being in those mountains and I don’t want to lose that. The whole motivation for me getting involved as an environmental activist is that I think that nature is beautiful and I love being in it. I see ecomodernism as a way to preserve that beauty so that my kids and I will always have that. I see ecomodernism as a framework for saving nature not as an edict for a “social monoculture” or a techno-utopia.
Urbanization and technological advancement are happening with or without ecomoderism. Nobody is calling for an organized herding of humanity into city slums. Likewise, nobody is calling for social engineering or specific social structures. (One could even argue that the Deltas and Epsilons are already supporting the Alphas but that has nothing to do with ecomodernism.)
The move toward urbanization and the good news of the slow (too slow) eradication of global poverty are happening with or without ecomodernism. Where ecomodernism comes in is addressing the massive energy and food needs that will come with these trends. Ecomodernism is about how to meet these needs without decimating nature and destroying the climate further. Saving nature is the point, not walling humanity off from it or stopping rabbits from “birdwatching and botanizing.”
I think I understand where Michael and the rabbit are coming from though and I hope that they can get past the visceral reaction they have to the language in the manifesto and look at ecomodernism in terms of the suggested pragmatic approaches rather than as a sinister doctrine.
And rabbit? If you read this, I’m really sorry if I’m wrong about your age and I called you old.