How Humans Saved Penguins

by Leandro Narloch

My favorite example of innovation in favor of nature has to do with penguins. In the 19th century, a way to make money was to arrange a boat trip to Antarctica and return with a cargo of oil - either whale oil or oil penguin. These animals have a thick layer of fat to protect them from the cold, so people hunted them and boiled the fat for fuel for lamps and street lamps. In 1867, an expedition of four British ships manufactured 200,000 liters of penguin oil. As each bird yielded a pint of oil, you can estimate that in one expedition in that year alone killed about 400,000 penguins.

Because of commercial hunting, the population of penguins was disappearing in the late 19th century. But suddenly fishing boats left the dock in Antarctica. No one else was interested in hunting penguins, as a cheaper and more efficient fuel was gaining market share in Europe and the United States. That's how the invention of kerosene, a fossil fuel, saved millions of penguins in Antarctica.

The original article, in Portuguese, can be found here.

The Ecomodernist Movement

by Martha San Juan França

Unlike traditional environmentalists, ecomodernistas are characterized by their belief that technology can be harnessed to improve the quality of life of people and to save the environment. They are not opposed to large-scale agriculture, fertilizers and with modern production techniques, using less land and water, and they believe that nuclear energy is needed to tackle climate change.

"Much of what is now called sustainable development is actually harmful for the environment," says Shellenberger in an interview with Valor. "Life in the countryside and many renewable energy forms require more land, forests, and resources and leave less space for nature conservation."

Read the full article, in Portuguese, here.

Keeping Humans From Nature Would Harm, Not Heal

by Fred Pearce

In the Anthropocene, there is no pristine nature. Even the rainforests of the Amazon and the Congo have been cleared by humans in centuries past. What we imagine to be pristine forest is recent regrowth, often deliberately planted.

Nature today is not very natural. The world is dominated by what some ecologists call "novel ecosystems" – partly random collections of species that are far removed from anything remotely pristine, and usually well endowed with invasive species brought in by humans. This is good news. It shows that nature is evolving and adapting to the world we have created.

I believe there is no going back. And I find it surprising that the ecomodernists don't agree. Instead, they seem to be hooked on outdated notions of nature as passive, pristine and only able to prosper apart from us. We cannot have the Anthropocene on one side of the fence and the landscape of the Holocene – shaped by 11,000 years of early agriculture – on the other side.

The ecomodernists should banish their quest for some halcyon vision of rewilding. Of course we need to reduce our footprint, but a "good Anthropocene" will achieve that not by cutting us off from nature but by better integrating us into it. As the world's most successful invasive species, we must take this path if we are to make the best of the age of humans.

Read the full article here (subscription required).

In the Anthropocene, Can Wisdom Overcome Instinct?

by David Ropeik

It is true and encouraging that, if applied with wisdom, a range of incredible technological tools can help us live in more sustainable ways; cleaner energy (nuclear as well as renewables), biotechnology to increase food production in ways that use less land and do far less environmental damage, all sorts of technologies that allow each unit of economic production to cause less and less environmental damage.

But the Ecomodernist case rests on the shaky belief that we can act ‘with wisdom’. This presumes that we can use our conscious brains to overcome the far more powerful subconscious animal instincts that compel consumption in the name of comfort and safety. It presumes that we can use conscious reason to prioritize the long-term greater global good over the deeply embedded instinct to care more about the now and the local and ourselves.


The Ecomodernist Manifesto offers a wise argument that technology can help us live more sustainably and in many ways improve human and environmental well being. But given the intrinsic limits on the ability of the human animal to ‘act with wisdom’, the best life on earth overall can probably hope for in the future is a less bad Anthropocene, rather than an Epoch that historians will look back on and call good, or great.

Read the full article here.

A Brilliant Plan to Go Green

by Matt Ridley

The Ecomodernist Manifesto promises a much-needed reformation in the green movement. Its 95 theses should be nailed to the door of the Vatican when the pope’s green-tinged encyclical comes out next month, because unlike the typical eco-wail, it contains good news for the poor. It says: no, we are not going to stop you getting rich and adopting new technologies and leaving behind the misery of cooking over wood fires in smoky huts with no artificial light. No, we do not want you to stay as subsistence farmers. Indeed, the quicker we can get you into a city apartment with a car, a phone, a fridge and a laptop, the better. Because then you won’t be taking wood and bushmeat from the forest.

The G7 host Angela Merkel says it should be possible to achieve steady global growth without dangerous climate change, and points out that Germany has managed to “decouple” economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions. She is an ecomodernist already.

Read the full article here.

Global Prosperity on a Human Planet

by Thilo Spahl

The ecomodernist vision shows us a human-made and thus also artificial world that enables global prosperity. It shows us a nature that people no longer use for exploitation, but for pleasure. This is an idea that almost everyone should be excited about. But those who feel that ecology and conservation are connected will be doubtful and struggle to move away from the false idea that growth and nature preservation are irreconcilable. The path to these goals may be dominated by disagreement. The authors of the manifesto call for a role for the economy, citizens, and also an active state. 

There are still many open questions. But in any case, it is worthwhile to promote the debate begun here more widely, so that it can animate the current green movement, which has been dominated by pessimism, technology skepticism, and hostility to growth. 

The European is an online opinion and debate magazine. Click here for the original article in German. Thanks to Marian Swain for translation help. 

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.

Atomkraft? Ja bitte! Manifesto Featured in Top German Newspaper

by Winand von Petersdorff

In mid-April of this year a group of scientists, journalists, and environmentalists went public with the Ecomodernist Manifesto. It is a call for a pragmatic, technology-oriented politics of environmental protection. The authors break away from the romantic perception of human lives in sustainable harmony with nature. Instead, the key is to decouple the environment and humans. The simple, good idea is to intensify agriculture, energy and human settlement so that humans require less land. Land productivity becomes a holy duty in order to protect parts of nature from human influence.  

There is a solution for this kind of highly-intensive, emissions-free energy supply. It's called nuclear power. "Most forms of renewable energy are, unfortunately, incapable of doing so," argue the Manifesto authors. The scale of land use and other environmental impacts that are associated with biomass and many other forms of renewable energy arouse major doubts that they can bring the world closer to a solution. 

The major exception is a new generation of highly efficient solar cells in combination with new storage technology. This all may be difficult to swallow for large portions of the German environmental movement. They prefer to stay in their ideological antinuclear backwater.


Note: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is one of Germany's top newspapers, with the second largest national circulation. The original article is in German. Thanks to Marian Swain for translation help.

Manifesto Coauthor Barry Brook Interviewed on ABC

If someone said they wanted to make cities bigger, intensify agriculture, embrace nuclear power, and expand genetic engineering –– would you consider them an environmentalist?

Manifesto coauthor Barry Brook was interviewed by Fran Kelly on ABC Radio out of Australia. Listen to the full episode here. 

Also on ABC, journalist Sara Phillips breaks down the "7 Ways Environmentalists Have Had it Wrong," including fear of technology and opposition to GMOs. Read the full article here.

Energy is at the Heart of 'An Ecomodernist Manifesto'

Excellent story on An Ecomodernist Manifesto on ABC Radio out of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. Click here to listen to the full broadcast.

An Ecomodernist Manifesto is upbeat, it’s high-tech, but interestingly, it has history on its side…[Joseph Tainter] made the point that every major transition in human history has involved humans consuming more energy, not less: the industrial revolution, the agricultural revolution, the shift from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. We have enormous challenges ahead of us, but one thing [Tainter] says is that to assume that we will voluntarily choose to use less energy assumes that we will not confront problems. We’ve got huge problems and energy is at the heart of this manifesto.