Sunday 26 April 2015

'An Ecomodernist Manifesto' reviewed—Conclusion

The fourth and final part (1, 2, 3) of a review of the Ecomodernist Manifesto.

When criticising something, I think it's important to make a distinction between what that text is attempting to do and how well it achieves what it sets out to do. In other words, one can criticise a text's objectives, or its realisation of those objectives, or both.

The Manifesto, I think, can be praised on this basis: it achieves what it sets out to do. In response to Clive Hamilton's rather scathing critique, Matthew Nisbet replies:
History suggests that policy makers and their publics are far more likely to spare nature if options are available that allow them to meet their social development goals, than for any sacred, moral, or ideological reasons. 
Politics, argue ecomodernists, is about getting a diversity of people to act on behalf of the same goal but for different reasons. Politics is not about getting everyone to share the same belief, or vanquishing from politics those who disagree.
If that is what this text is about—presenting ecological imperatives in terms that well-meaning and more or less liberal politicians and bureaucrats can understand and make use of—then that's great. However, this cannot disguise the Manifesto's flaws.

My main constructive suggestion would be that the authors need to broaden their cohort to include anthropologists and postcolonial political scientists. The way in which liberal values are presented as obvious, incontestable and universal is a mistake. Perhaps that is what policymakers and business leaders need to hear so as to get their attention (and not scare them off with the idea that they might be part of the problem) but I, for one (and I'm sure I'm not alone), will never be satisfied with the sub-Pinkeresque verbiage that passes for their geopolitical analyses.

There are others than the ecomodernists doing similar sorts of work and doing it, in my opinion, rather better in some respects. Johan Rockström, for instance, in a recent article titled "Bounding the Planetary Future: Why We Need a Great Transition" writes:
Economic growth in the Global South and global sustainability are compatible aims. A world paradigm of abundance within planetary boundaries can be made plausible— if we act with sufficient rapidity, scope, and coherence to avoid crossing thresholds of irreversible change. But robust world development within [Planetary Boundaries] will need to ensure a fair distribution of this finite space among all nations and people. 
Sharing finite planetary budgets will require fundamental value changes. Planetary regulation needs to spur innovation and technological breakthroughs. Ethical norms need to evolve to embrace a universal belief that all citizens in the world have the right not only to an equitable share of the available environmental space, but also to a stable and healthy environment.
Rockström also utilises some of the tropes and traits that I've criticised; e.g.:
Our species [emphasis added] must thus give up the illusion that a heavy reliance on market-based policy measures—which can, at best, deliver relative, not absolute, improvements—can deliver a flourishing civilization in this century.
However, the emphasis on boundaries and limits moves away from any tendency towards excessively utopian optimism and his attention to non-Western peoples and the poor is far stronger.

I hope that others better informed that me (particularly in scientific and technical terms) will get their teeth into the ecomodernist claims as, for all their faults, I think that this is a movement worth engaging with.