Ecomodernism… and a plea for depolarisation

Remarks at ‘Eco-Modernism: Restoring Science to Environment Policy’, hosted by UK2020 & Owen Paterson MP, London
9.30am, 24 September 2015

Thanks to UK2020 and Owen Paterson for hosting this event. I think it’s safe to say that none of us visitors have a background as conservatives, either with a big or a small C so it’s a tribute to your open-mindedness and interest in new ideas that you generously hosted us today to share some thoughts on ecomodernism.

I’d like to start by emphasising what ecomodernism is not. One of the main reasons why we wrote the ecomodernist manifesto in fact was because so many people seemed determined to define us negatively – so we thought we’d better get a move on and try to define ourselves positively instead.

So here goes. Ecomodernism is not neoliberalism with a green tinge.
It is not a cover for business as usual.
It is not a free pass for corporate polluters to damage our environment.
Nor is it a simplistic knee-jerk rejection of traditional environmentalism, but more of an attempt to recognise its limitations and move beyond it. Michael, Ted and I all have long experience in the environmental movement. We celebrate its achievements, and they are many, but recognise that we now need something new in a rapidly changing world.

Here’s what ecomodernism is, in short.
It is progressive. It believes in equality, diversity and human rights and freedoms.
It is therefore humanist – we do not believe that humans are somehow the pre-destined pinnacle of evolution, but we do believe humans are special, giving us as a species special rights and responsibilities both to ourselves and to the non-human natural world. We don’t see humans as innately destructive or doomed and are enthusiastic about the human potential for innovation and problem-solving using technology. Technology is not a dirty word, it is what fundamentally sets us apart from other species.

One of the most fundamental human rights is the right not to suffer in extreme poverty in the modern world. Indeed it is the fundamental challenge of dramatically raising the consumption of people in the developing world to eliminate poverty within the context of addressing climate change, biodiversity loss and other planetary-scale ecological challenges that defines the Anthropocene.

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Peak Environmental Impact

by Linus Blomqvist, Ted Nordhaus, Michael Shellenberger

Note: Linus, Ted & Michael will be visiting London soon to launch their new publication Nature Unbound, and will be holding several events related to Ecomodernism. More details here.
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You won’t hear about it from green campaigners, but many of the key drivers of environmental destruction are slowing down. The rate of population growth is nearly half today what it was in 1970. The global population could peak as early as the middle of this century. By some calculations, the amount of farmland needed to grow food globally has already peaked. And per capita water use, food consumption, and material use have all already peaked in rich countries, and many developing ones as well.

Taken together, these trends suggest a truly remarkable possibility: overall human impacts on the environment could peak and then decline within the next several decades.

How soon we hit the peak, and how rapidly impacts decline, depends on how quickly key trends driving the slowing of environmental impacts can be accelerated. And therein lies the rub for environmentalists: to get to peak environmental impact quickly, we will need to accelerate key economic and technological processes that greens have long opposed.

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A good Anthropocene? – speech to Breakthrough Dialogue 2015

Speech by Mark Lynas at the Breakthrough Dialogue 2015, Cavallo Point, San Francisco
8.30am, 22 June 2015

Ladies and gentlemen,

“It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,

we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”


The words of Charles Dickens of course; the opening passage from a Tale of Two Cities.

At this session, the opening debate of the 2015 Breakthrough Dialogue, you will hear not a Tale of Two Cities but a Tale of Two Planets. You get to decide which one you inhabit, and which one you want to inhabit.

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A Pope Against Progress

By Mark Lynas, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger

In recent years, liberals and progressives have seen Pope Francis as a breath of fresh air — and with good reason. He has taken stronger action than his predecessors against child abuse by priests. He has toned down the church’s denunciations of homosexuality. And he has argued that the rich must do more for the poor.

It is thus understandable that so many on the left have praised the Pope’s new environmental encyclical Laudato Si. The document recognizes global warming as a serious concern, and calls for significant action.

Unfortunately, the Pope’s commitment to progress goes no further than that. While he takes care to celebrate science, reason and innovation, Laudato Si is at heart a book-length repudiation of just about everything progressives care about.

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Africa must modernise its farms in order to fight hunger and poverty

Africa desperately needs agricultural modernisation. With the most rapidly growing population in the world and hundreds of millions still suffering malnutrition, African leaders cannot afford to close the door to innovation.

Poverty is endemic and “yield gaps” mean that African farmers commonly harvest less than a tenth of the global average in maize and other crops.

Part of the problem has been political resistance to adopting new and improved technologies, particularly in seed breeding. Some of this unwillingness has been home-grown, but much has been imported to Africa by rich-country NGOs with a colonialist ideological agenda that see poverty as dignified and want to keep farmers permanently trapped in subsistence lifestyles.

For the full article, visit the website of the Daily Nation, Kenya

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