The Case for Ecomodernism

by Michael Lind, author of The Promised Land: An Economic History of the United States

Many ecomodernists share the New Deal liberal tradition of support for state-sponsored technological innovation and public enterprise, symbolized by public agencies like the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The true “neoliberals” among Greens are those whose vision of environmental progress involves taxpayer subsidies to rich people who invest in uneconomical solar and wind power production, via crony-capitalist scams like “renewable energy portfolios” and “cap-and-trade” pseudo-market, in which the public absorbs the costs of more expensive energy and private investors reap government-guaranteed profits.

Nobody would accuse Franklin D. Roosevelt of being a “neoliberal.” Here is Roosevelt in a speech he gave at Milton Academy in 1926, before he became governor of New York and president of the United States, describing the promise of advanced technology.

Roosevelt mocked those in his day who predicted falsely that the world was about to run out of energy sources:

Do you remember that only a few years ago we were worrying about the day, soon to arrive, when there would be no more coal, and , therefore, no more power or light? Scientists told us not to worry, that a substitute would be found in plenty of time to save us from utter freezing and darkness. Yet, if you look back to the newspapers of the time, you will find volumes written and spoken in favor of the careful conservation of coal, with dire predictions of the fate ultimately in store for the world.

Roosevelt accurately predicted: “Power and light will cost less and less, and our lives will be altered to meet their new cheapness.” Back in 1926, FDR also foresaw the possibility that technology would transform or eliminate traditional agriculture:

Finally, chemistry is entering into a new realm — the production of food by synthetic processes. We dislike the thought of substituting a farinaceous pill for our morning cereal, or a tablet for our eggs: we shudder at an apple or a peach made in twenty-four hours in a laboratory. Yet chemistry is to-day developing efficient substitutes for the fruits of the field and the yield of animal life; and it is more than possible that economic law will force upon our race a synthetic diet….If science can make one acre yield what ten did before, and at the same time decrease the demand for agricultural produce, there seems little possibility of checking the flow of the human race into urban communities, for those cities will have solved at last the question of their food supply.

FDR was right then, and the ecomodernists are right now. The technological intensification of food production, including perhaps even what Franklin Roosevelt in 1926 called “a synthetic diet,” can feed a world of billions of city-dwellers — while allowing many former farms and pastures around the world to revert to the wild. That is a vision of a good Anthropocene worth fighting for.

Read the full article here.