Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ecomodermism: One new manifesto, one less blog

Earlier this month I read "A Farewell Post" from Keith Kloor regarding his Collide-a-Scape blog. Kloor and Brad Plumer are two writers that I enjoy because they feed biggish concepts succinctly but in a way that is digestible. Events the same week made this section of the farewell post notable:
...there are some ideas (or at least a term–eco-modernism) that germinated at my blog which I elaborated on elsewhere at Discover and atSlate several years ago, and which seems to have now been picked up on.
It's notable because the same week that was written a collective released An Ecomodernist Manifesto.

Reportedly Frank Lloyd Wright's Manifesto for his apprentices
Just by the gravitas of words, manifesto seems the opposite of blog;
The Communist Manifesto was the only other manifesto that came to mind upon seeing this one. Through googling I found many; Lulemon's is currently one of the more popular ones.

I'm inclined to support the Manifesto as it's signed by many people I've read or listened to: Barry Brook (who has written on it at his Brave New Climate blog), Stewart Brand, David Keith, Ted Nordhaus, Roger Pielke, Jr., Michael Shellenberger, and Robert Stone - as well as people I should get better acquainted with including Rachel Pritzker, Joyashree Roy, Christopher Foreman, Ruth Defries and John Asafu-Adjaye. Additionally, I'm "eco", having added a lot of insulation to my home and planted dozens and dozens of trees,and I exist right now, which is surely modern. Ecomodernism sounds like it might be me.

An Ecomodernist Manifesto is quite readable. I'll boil it down to 3 points:
  • people will continue to move to cities
  • affluence requires power and sustainable affluence require power that is "cheap, clean, dense, and abundant"
  • biodiversity, and related wild nature, are desirable and worthy of encouraging
I share these desires, to a point. I wouldn't agree human activity need be excluded from areas for wildlife to thrive in those places. However, I don't see that there's much in the Manifesto to attract people more motivated by other desires.

There's been feedback from such people. Eric Holtaus covered the topic at Slate in Manifesto Calls for an End to “People Are Bad” Environmentalism - which quotes tweets disdainful towards the Manifesto, and Robert Bryce included the conflicting outlooks in The Environmentalists’ Civil War.

Matthew Nisbet tweeted a simple graphic (and link to a paper) for those looking to compare Ecomodernisis to other "public intellectuals and their arguments for action on climate change." 

I like real politics, so I appreciated the framing of issues in the introduction of Eduardo Porter's A Call to Look Past Sustainable Development in the New York Times:
The average citizen of Nepal consumes about 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity in a year. Cambodians make do with 160. Bangladeshis are better off, consuming, on average, 260. 
...A typical 20-cubic-foot refrigerator — Energy Star-certified, to fit our environmentally conscious times — runs through 300 to 600 kilowatt-hours a year.
American diplomats are upset that dozens of countries — including Nepal, Cambodia and Bangladesh — have flocked to join China’s newinfrastructure investment bank, a potential rival to the World Bank and other financial institutions backed by the United States. 
The reason for the defiance is not hard to find: The West’s environmental priorities are blocking their access to energy. 
A typical American consumes, on average, about 13,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. The citizens of poor countries — including Nepalis, Cambodians and Bangladeshis — may not aspire to that level of use, which includes a great deal of waste. But they would appreciate assistance from developed nations, and the financial institutions they control, to build up the kind of energy infrastructure that could deliver the comfort and abundance that Americans and Europeans enjoy.  
Too often, the United States and its allies have said no.
I don't think it's possible to communicate the requirement for power that is "cheap, clean, dense, and abundant" to people comfortable with what they have and functionally disinterested in the lot of others. I've read strong arguments that coal brought hundred of millions out of poverty in recent decades, and while there remain billions in poverty that is the relevant yardstick measuring energy policy in jurisdictions looking to move people out of poverty.
There is a practical requirement for cheap, clean and abundant.

The Manifesto adds the requirement for dense, as it cherishes biodiversity.

I'm not convinced many people to. The United Nations declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity and it seemed to me not many people paid any attention at all.

It's not that I dislike any part of the Manifesto, I'm just not sure the statement of beliefs will be impactful in gaining broad acceptance of the beliefs.

This is also true, for me, on the assumption people will continue to move to cities. Many of the comfortable among us, including me, are quite happy with lots of space located on a clear road. I don't expect my Manifestos to include every detail, but something on making cities desirable places to live might have been beneficial - and then something on how to nurture a concern for biodiverstiy in a democratic society where most are isolated from nature.

I'm o.k. with the ecomodernist manifesto, but I think I'd go with Frank Lloyd Wright's if I had to pick one to follow.


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