Conservation in the Anthropocene

Three leading conservationists argue for a new paradigm for nature protection, one that sheds a 19th-century vision of pristine wilderness in favor of one wherein "nature exists amidst a wide variety of modern, human landscapes."

Conservation's binaries -- growth or nature, prosperity or biodiversity -- have marginalized it in a world that will soon add at least two billion more people. In the developing world, efforts to constrain growth and protect forests from agriculture are unfair, if not unethical, when directed at the 2.5 billion people who live on less than two dollars a day and the one billion who are chronically hungry. By pitting people against nature, conservationists actually create an atmosphere in which people see nature as the enemy. If people don't believe conservation is in their own best interests, then it will never be a societal priority. Conservation must demonstrate how the fates of nature and of people are deeply intertwined -- and then offer new strategies for promoting the health and prosperity of both.

The Rise and Fall of Ecological Economics

Environmental philosopher Mark Sagoff offers a cautionary tale against monetizing nature to justify its preservation.

Ecological economists drew on the study of ecological systems -- systems ecology -- that developed after World War II in the context of Big Science and postulated that ecological systems or communities are unified or governed by a set of organizing principles. Nature itself, however, seems scandalously indifferent to this philosophy. Ecologists who engaged in empirical research found that the mathematical models devised by community and systems theorists were not supported by observation other than by examples cherry picked for the purpose. Had theoretical ecologists been interested in empirical evidence, according to ecologist John Lawton, they would have easily falsified any principle they tested; there are "painfully few fuzzy generalisations, let alone rules or laws."


On Justice Movements

Christopher Foreman on the failure of climate justice movements to help the poor. 

Environmental justice set a template that other postmodern justice movements would follow: take an issue previously defined as having broad or universal impacts upon everyone — environmental pollution, climate change, reproductive rights, obesity — and redefine it in racial terms. Justice, in this context, takes on a very specific meaning. Disparities between rich and poor are the result of active conspiracies on the part of the rich, powerful, and corporate. Complicated social phenomena — teen pregnancy and childhood obesity, even famines and civil wars — can be reduced to a single overriding cause, the exploitation of the poor and nonwhite by the wealthy and white.

Natural Products and the Destruction of Nature

More than 20 years, Stanford geographer Martin Lewis laid out a framework for decoupling environmental impacts from human development through "substitution," a process in which synthetic products replace organic ones, thus sparing land and natural resources.

A society based on the principles of Promethean environmentalism will cease as much as possible to provision itself through the killing of living beings, be they animal or plant. Instead, it will strive to rely on nonliving resources, whether formed of long-dead matter, like oil and coal, or simple inorganic substances, like silicon. Learning to build our material world out of nonliving resources will entail both high-tech and low-tech methods. Simple technologies using stone, brick, tile, and concrete have eventually been devised by all forest-destroying civilizations (Perlin, 1989), and they continue to be useful. More sophisticated approaches entail the development of superior composite materials and synthetic organic compounds. Many such products deliver additional environmental payoffs; certain composites, for example, are both strong and light, giving them profound advantages for energy-efficient transport systems. 


Breakthrough Institute cofounders Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger on the coevolution of technology and humanity. 

Modernization theology should thus be grounded in a sense of profound gratitude to Creation -- human and nonhuman. It should celebrate, not desecrate, the technologies that led our prehuman ancestors to evolve. Our experience of transcendence in the outdoors should translate into the desire for all humans to benefit from the fruits of modernization and be able to experience similar transcendence. Our valorization of creativity should lead us to care for our cocreation of the planet.

Why a Green Future Needs Nuclear Power

In light of the twin challenge of energy poverty and climate change, Mark Lynas changed his mind in support of nuclear energy, which many environmentalists continue to oppose or downplay as a necessary clean energy source in the future.

In the United States during the heyday of the antinuclear movement between 1972 and 1984, coal consumption by US utilities doubled from 351 million to 664 million tons. Although it is often claimed by greens that their antinuclear activities were less important than the 1970s oil shocks and economic slowdown in forcing the cancellation of planned nuclear plants, during the period 1972 to 1984 the US added 170 GW of fossil-fuelled capacity to its electricity grid, and consumed 74 percent more coal-fired electricity, hardly indicative of a major reversal in the growth of overall energy consumption.

Planet of No Return

Erle Ellis on how the history of human civilization can be characterized as one of transgressing natural limits and thriving.

The Earth we have inherited from our ancestors is now our responsibility. It is not natural limits that will determine whether this planet will sustain a robust measure of its evolutionary inheritance into the future. Our powers may yet exceed our ability to manage them, but there is no alternative except to shoulder the mantle of planetary stewardship. A good, or at least a better, Anthropocene is within our grasp. Creating that future will mean going beyond fears of transgressing natural limits and nostalgic hopes of returning to some pastoral or pristine era. Most of all, we must not see the Anthropocene as a crisis, but as the beginning of a new geological epoch ripe with human-directed opportunity.

The Liberation of the Environment

Environmental scientist Jesse H. Ausubel documents humanity's centuries-long history of liberating nature through the use of technology.

Environmental sins and suffering are not new. Humans have always exploited the territories within reach. The question is whether the technology that has extended our reach can now also liberate the environment from human impact--and perhaps even transform the environment for the better. My answer is that well-established trajectories, raising the efficiency with which people use energy, land, water, and materials, can cut pollution and leave much more soil unturned. What is more, present cultural conditions favor this movement.