Making room for nature

14 May 2015

The Ecomodernist Manifesto is positive, science-based, technologically upbeat and realistic in facing up to the expectations of 7+ billion people. And it isn't over the top, writes Ian Hore-Lacy.

The document was published on 14 April over the names of 18 individuals known for their environmental stance and writings. Mark Lynas, Michael Shellenberger, Linus Blomqvist, Ted Nordhaus and Stewart Brand are possibly the best-known internationally, along with Australia's Barry Brook, and filmmaker Robert Stone.

They wrote: "We affirm one long-standing environmental ideal, that humanity must shrink its impacts on the environment to make more room for nature, while we reject another, that human societies must harmonize with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse."

The notion of "decoupling" what are often assumed to be inexorable effects from developmental causes is central to their assertion: "Intensifying many human activities - particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry, and settlement - so that they use less land and interfere less with the natural world is the key to decoupling human development from environmental impacts."

The trend to urbanization (70% of world population in cities by 2050) coupled with enhanced agricultural productivity has been documented elsewhere, and here it "symbolizes the decoupling of humanity from nature".

"Taken together, these trends mean that the total human impact on the environment, including land-use change, overexploitation and pollution, can peak and decline this century. By understanding and promoting these emergent processes, humans have the opportunity to re-wild and re-green the Earth - even as developing countries achieve modern living standards, and material poverty ends." That is a broad and ambitious agenda, but one which deserves wide support if at all achievable.

Contra some views popular today, "The technologies that humankind's ancestors used to meet their needs supported much lower living standards with much higher per-capita impacts on the environment [...] Urbanization, agricultural intensification, nuclear power, aquaculture, and desalination are all processes with a demonstrated potential to reduce human demands on the environment, allowing more room for non-human species."

Addressing climate change concerns, "Transitioning to a world powered by zero-carbon energy sources will require energy technologies that are power dense and capable of scaling to many tens of terawatts to power a growing human economy." Since no form of renewable energy fills the bill, "Nuclear fission today represents the only present-day zero-carbon technology with the demonstrated ability to meet most, if not all, of the energy demands of a modern economy."

"The ethical and pragmatic path toward a just and sustainable global energy economy requires that human beings transition as rapidly as possible to energy sources that are cheap, clean, dense, and abundant. Such a path will require sustained public support for the development and deployment of clean energy technologies, both within nations and between them." A contrast to the confusion and contradictory energy policies in many countries today.

So far, a commendable utilitarian focus. But then a clear statement which will resonate well with other ethical concerns: "We write this document out of deep love and emotional connection to the natural world."

"Explicit efforts to preserve landscapes for their non-utilitarian value are inevitably anthropogenic choices. For this reason, all conservation efforts are fundamentally anthropogenic." This may be so, but I think many would describe them as anthropocentric.

Transcending economic and political systems, "modernization has liberated ever more people from lives of poverty and hard agricultural labour, women from chattel status, children and ethnic minorities from oppression, and societies from capricious and arbitrary governance."

One of the authors, Professor Barry Brook, calls it "a declaration of principles for new environmentalism". As such it will be vehemently opposed by the green lobby and by those who write environmental platitudes or advance ideological agendas divorced from consideration of the needs and aspirations of the less fortunate half of the world's population. It will be treated with suspicion by those who play down present environmental impacts. And its clear vision may be anathema to today's populist politicians driven by either environmental romanticism or their most selfish and short-sighted electoral constituents. But I hope that it gets strong affirmation from a wide gallery.

Ian Hore-Lacy

Comments? Please send them to

Ian Hore-Lacy is a Senior Research Analyst with the World Nuclear Association. One of the WNA's longest serving staffers, Ian is the author of the organisation's Information Library.