Can We Leave Nature Behind?

by Mark Buchanan

I'll admit that I find this view of “leaving nature behind” somewhat alarming. Living with nature has more direct emotional appeal to me. Even so, there's an undeniable coherence to the Ecomodermist arguments.  Preserving nature, while also ensuring that people thrive, would seem to require some kind of separation. Short of moving humans into outer space, it's hard to see how that can happen without human activities becoming more concentrated, intensive and contained.

On the other hand, I wonder if the Ecomodernists overstate the possibilities for leaving nature behind. Even if we do flock into cities, find unlimited, clean sources of energy, and learn to use energy more efficiently than ever, our total energy consumption may well keep growing as we find new ways to use it. Basic physics demands that more energy use always means more waste dissipated to the environment in one form or another -- heat, pollution, environmental damage.

So leaving nature behind, in the sense of freeing it from our impacts, might not be so easy. Can we really sequester all the damaging aspects of our activities, collecting them up like trash and neutralizing them in a set of small repositories, out of sight, and even outside of nature? That would be great. It also seems a little fantastic.

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