by Eric Holthaus
Thanks to abundant energy, the ecomodernists argue, humanity has done wonderful things: Life expectancy is on the rise, infectious disease risk has plummeted, natural disasters kill fewer people, and abject poverty is on the decline. Of course, those gains have not come without sacrifice: We’re losing species at an incredible rate, and climate change could add ever more stress on human and natural systems.
The answer, according to the authors of the new document, is to “liberate the environment from the economy.” Ecomodernists argue that by focusing the human footprint into cities and prioritizing high-efficiency agriculture and energy production, we'll be able to retreat from nature and let it recover. Now, that’s easier said than done, and likely to come with a whole set of unintended consequences, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for discussion purposes. They list “urbanization, agricultural intensification, nuclear power, aquaculture, and desalination” as technologies that can reduce the overall human footprint and leave “more room for non-human species.”
Whether humanity will decouple the economy from our environmental overreach in time to maintain a planet worth preserving is another question. Confronted with this reality, humans of the 21st century have a choice, according to ecomodernists: further intensify our low-carbon-energy use and hope for a technological breakthrough (like sucking carbon out of the air) or retreat from modernity and risk civilizational backsliding. Their choice is clear: “We embrace an optimistic view toward human capacities and the future.”