by John Horgan
For an in-class exercise, I like asking students: “What’s your utopia?” I tell them that utopias aren’t fashionable these days; “utopian” is generally employed in a derogatory sense, meaning naively optimistic. Some cynics, notably philosopher John Gray, insist that our utopian yearnings invariably lead to disaster.
That conclusion is far too pessimistic. We humans, in spite of our flaws, have achieved real progress, which makes it realistic to hope for more. Whenever you imagine, however fuzzily, a better world, that’s your utopia. Swapping ideas about our utopias can help us find solutions to our problems.
And that brings me to “An Ecomodernist Manifesto,” just published on the website of the Breakthrough Institute by almost a score of self-described “scholars, scientists, campaigners, and citizens.” The authors include Michael Shellenberger, Ted Nordhaus and several other members of the Breakthrough Institute, a non-profit think tank that reconsiders traditional environmentalism.
The manifesto picks up on the notion – floated by journalist Andrew Revkin and others – of a “good Anthropocene.” “Anthropocene” has become an increasingly popular descriptor of the modern era of massive human transformation of the biosphere. To many greens, “good Anthropocene” is an oxymoron.