I notice that Matt Ridley has a recent Times article, (here) in which he weighs into the debate about Ecomodernism. He thinks – as one might imagine – that it is a great idea. I noticed, though, some pointing out that when he’s said similar things in the past, he’s been vilified, and yet this is now being taken seriously.
I’ll give a hint as to why that might be. Matt Ridley, in his article, says
The ecomodernists rightly favour nuclear power, but partly because they think that cutting CO2 emissions is urgent. I disagree. On current trends — the rate of warming over the past half century is about 0.12C per decade — it will be about another century before the world hits the much-vaunted two degree threshold above pre-industrial temperatures, which is when climate change may turn damaging.
Firstly (as should be obvious) the rate at which we will warm in the future depends on our future emissions, not on past warming trends. To have a reasonable chance of keeping below 2oC by 2100 would require following something close to an RCP2.6 emission pathway. This involves rapid/urgent emission reductions and is, therefore, inconsistent with Ridley’s suggestion that this isn’t necessary in order to stay below 2oC. If he wants to be taken seriously, maybe he should stop writing things that appear to suggest that he doesn’t really understand this topic particularly well.
However, rather than delving more into Matt Ridley’s apparent confusion, I thought I might write something about Ecomodernism, which I have discussed before. I haven’t fully understood the premise behind Ecomodernism, which could be because I haven’t been paying attention, or because it’s all still rather vague. I can see three possible basic scenarios.
- Technology is a fundamental part of the developed world. It has played a massive, and very positive, role in improving standards of living and allowing us to do so in a way that can minimise our impact on the natural world. Extending the use of technology is, therefore, going to be the optimal way to improve living standards in the developing world, and allow us to address other issues like climate change. However, we should still do so in a way that recognises the impact that technology can have (both positive and negative) on the natural world.
- Technology is inherently good. This seems to be the theme of Matt Ridley’s article. There seems to be a suggestion that because technology has played such a positive role overall that – by definition – any technology is good. This may be true relative to having no technology, but it’s hard to see how it’s true relative to all possible technology options.
- The most extreme form of ecomodernism seems to be a suggestion that we essentially completely decouple from nature. The idea seems to be that that would leave some parts of the natural world relatively untouched, but also seems to suggest that technology can address any possible scenarios that we might encounter in future. The problem I have with this is that it seems to suggest that we essentially completely ignore our impact on the natural world. Given that we live on the only known naturally habitable planet in the universe, that would seem to be an extremely risky strategy.
As I said above, I still don’t have a complete understanding of the basic idea behind ecomodernism. Option (1) above seems so obvious that if it is the basic idea behind ecomodernism, it’s hard to see why it’s regarded as some kind of new and innovative idea. Options (2) and (3), however, seem to be suggestions that we largely ignore our impact on the natural world and simply rely on the power of technology which – according to some at least – can only do good. Technology has clearly had a very positive impact, and can clearly continue to do so, but ignoring the negatives seems naive and simplistic. There may, however, be other variants that I haven’t really considered, so if anyone else has a better understanding of the basic premise behind ecomodernism, maybe they can explain it in the comments.