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Greenhouse, Beeston, Leeds: a building professed by its developers to be 'eco-modernist'.[1][2][3]

Ecomodernism is an environmental philosophy which argues that humans can protect nature by using technology to "decouple" anthropogenic impacts from the natural world. Ecomodernism is a school of thought from many environmental and design scholars,[4] critics, philosophers, and activists. Ecology-based Modernism is the most direct way to define this movement. It embraces the most successful aspects of the Outlaw Designers (Jay Baldwin, Buckminster Fuller and Stewart Brand) from the 1960s and 70s with the reform-based hopeful pragmatism of the Modernists. It demands a more detailed understanding of the discipline's history and encourages designed objects and systems created with the logical inspiration of nature's cycle built in to its goals. The resulting material and immaterial creations hope to better unite technology, humanity and nature. Eco-Modernism urges designers to unplug from their world of pixels and reconnect with the nuances of our natural environment so as a collective we can better understand the materials we use, processes we employ and appreciate the importance of our natural resources. Instead of a linear approach to a design process, based on Fordism and Taylorism, Eco-Modernism embraces nature's model of "waste equals food" (William McDonough and Michael Braungart) and cradle-to-cradle coined by Walter R. Stahel in the 1970s (during the Outlaw Design Movement) where design and manufacturing aim to "close the loop". To achieve this component of the movement designers must minimize their environmental footprint by utilizing local and renewable resources for all of our future endeavors. In their 2015 manifesto, 18 self-professed ecomodernists—including scholars from the Breakthrough Institute, Harvard University, Jadavpur University, and the Long Now Foundation—enlarged the scope of Eric Benson's and Peter Fine's 2010 original definition as such: "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."[5]


Ecomodernism explicitly embraces substituting natural ecological services with energy, technology, and synthetic solutions.[6] Among other things, ecomodernists embrace agricultural intensification, genetically modified and synthetic foods, fish from aquaculture farms,[7] desalination and waste recycling, urbanization, and substituting denser energy fuels for less dense fuels (e.g. substituting coal for wood, and preferably getting all energy from progressively lower carbon technologies such as fossil fuel power plants equipped with carbon capture and storage,[8] nuclear power plants, and advanced renewables).[9] Key among the goals of an ecomodern environmental ethic is the use of technology to intensify human activity and make more room for wild nature.

Ecomodernism emerged from the academic design writing of Eric Benson and Peter Fine in an article published in 2010,[10] as well as a number of articles, policy papers, and books, including Brand's Whole Earth Discipline.[11] Various debates, including the debate over when Homo sapiens became a dominant force acting on Earth's ecosystems (proposed start-dates to the so-called Anthropocene range from the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago to the invention of atomic weapons in the 20th century). Other debates that form the foundation of ecomodernism include how best to protect natural environments, how to accelerate decarbonization to mitigate climate change, and how to accelerate the economic and social development of the world's poor.

In these debates, ecomodernism distinguishes itself from other schools of thought, including sustainable development, ecological economics, degrowth or the steady-state economy, population reduction, laissez-faire economics, the "soft energy" path, and central planning. Ecomodernism considers many of its core ideologies borrowed from American pragmatism, political ecology, evolutionary economics, and modernism. Diversity of ideas and dissent are claimed values in order to avoid the intolerance born of extremism and dogmatism.[11]

Eco-Modernism embraces the basic tenets of sustainability where all design is created to: respect and care for the community, improve the quality of life, conserve Earth's vitality and diversity, minimize the depletion of non-renewable resources, and change personal attitudes and practices to maintain the planet's carrying capacity. The designers and artists working in this movement seek creative fulfllment within larger systemic design problems in order to elevate the profession from the bottom rung of the corporate ladder to respected leaders and innovators across the culture. They embrace Modernist logic and reform-based initiatives, but reject universal solutions and instead utilize local materials and gender/culturally sensitive ideas that create what Jorge Frascara believed the best design to be: to facilitate, support and improve life.

An Ecomodernist Manifesto[edit]

In April 2015, a group of 18 self-described ecomodernists collectively published An Ecomodernist Manifesto.[5] The authors were:

The authors wrote:

Although we have to date written separately, our views are increasingly discussed as a whole. We call ourselves ecopragmatists and ecomodernists. We offer this statement to affirm and to clarify our views and to describe our vision for putting humankind's extraordinary powers in the service of creating a good Anthropocene.[5]

Reception and criticism[edit]

Prominent environmental journalists have praised the Ecomodernist Manifesto. At The New York Times, Eduardo Porter wrote approvingly of ecomodernism's alternative approach to sustainable development.[12] In an article titled "Manifesto Calls for an End to 'People Are Bad' Environmentalism", Slate's Eric Holthaus wrote "It's inclusive, it's exciting, and it gives environmentalists something to fight for for a change."[13] The science journal Nature editorialized the manifesto.[14]

Common criticisms of ecomodernism have included its relative lack of consideration for justice, ethics, and political power. In "A sympathetic diagnosis of the Ecomodernist Manifesto", Paul Robbins and Sarah A. Moore describe the similarities and points of departure between ecomodernism and political ecology.[15]

Some environmentalists[who?] have also characterized ecomodernism as an excuse to continue the exploitation of natural resources for human gains.

Another major strand of criticism towards ecomodernism comes from proponents of degrowth or the steady-state economy. Eighteen ecological economists published a long rejoinder titled "A Degrowth Response to an Ecomodernist Manifesto", writing "the ecomodernists provide neither a very inspiring blueprint for future development strategies nor much in the way of solutions to our environmental and energy woes."[16]

At the Breakthrough Institute's annual Dialogue in June 2015, several prominent environmental scholars offered a critique of ecomodernism. Bruno Latour argued that the modernity celebrated in the Ecomodernist Manifesto is a myth. Jenny Price argued that the manifesto offered a simplistic view of "humanity" and "nature", which she said are "made invisible" by talking about them in such broad terms.[17]

Open letters[edit]

Save Diablo Canyon campaign[edit]

In January 2016, several authors of the Ecomodernist Manifesto as well as Kerry Emanuel, James Hansen, Steven Pinker, Stephen Tindale, and Nobel Laureate Burton Richter signed an open letter urging that the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant not be closed.[18] The letter was addressed to California Governor Jerry Brown, CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric and California state officials.[19]

Save Illinois Nuclear[edit]

In April 2016, Ecomodernist Manifesto authors Shellenberger, Brand, and Lynas, alongside other scientists and conservationists such as Hansen, Richter, and Emanuel, signed an open letter urging against the closure of the six operating nuclear power plants in Illinois: Braidwood, Byron, Clinton, Dresden, LaSalle, and Quad Cities.[20] Together, they account for Illinois ranking first in the United States in 2010 in both nuclear capacity and nuclear generation,[21] and generation from its nuclear power plants accounted for 12 percent of the United States total.[22] In 2010, 48% of Illinois' electricity was generated using nuclear power.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'Developer homes in on eco-scheme', The Express (28 September 2007), 72.
  2. ^ 'Housing plan's Greenhouse effect', Yorkshire Post (27 December 2007).
  3. ^ 'Leeds 'unique' green flats', Yorkshire Evening Post (23 September 2010).
  4. ^ Prof. Eric Benson, University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign and Prof. Peter Fine, University of Wyoming
  5. ^ a b c John Asafu-Adjaye et al (April 2015). "An Ecomodernist Manifesto."
  6. ^ Decoupling from nature
  7. ^ Ecomodernism embracing aquaculture
  8. ^ Fossil fuel Power Plants with Carbon Capture and Storage promoted by ecomodernism
  9. ^ Vincent Ialenti "Generation (Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen, Cultural Anthropology)"
  10. ^ "Sustainable design education rethought: The case for Eco-Modernism". 2010.
  11. ^ a b Nisbet, Matthew (2018). "The Ecomodernists: A New Way of Thinking about Climate Change and Human Progress". Skeptical Inquirer. 42 (6): 20–24.
  12. ^ Eduardo Porter, The New York Times, April 14, 2015. / 'A Call to Look Past Sustainable Development."
  13. ^ Eric Holthaus (20 April 2015). "Manifesto Calls for an End to "People Are Bad" Environmentalism." Slate.
  14. ^ "Decoupled ideals: 'Ecomodernist Manifesto' reframes sustainable development, but the goal remains the same." (21 April 2015). Nature.
  15. ^ Paul Robbins and Sarah A. Moore (19 June 2015). "Love your symptoms: A sympathetic diagnosis of the Ecomodernist Manifesto."
  16. ^ Caradonna et al (May 2015). / "A Degrowth Response to An Ecomodernist Manifesto."
  17. ^ "What Is Modern In Ecomodernism?" (14 July 2015). / "Breakthrough Institute."
  18. ^ McDonnell, Tim (3 February 2016). "Closing This Nuclear Plant Could Cause an Environmental Disaster". Mother Jones. Foundation For National Progress. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  19. ^ "Open letter: Do the right thing — stand-up for California's largest source of clean energy". Save Diablo Canyon. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  20. ^ Conca, James. "Illinois' Nuclear Dilemma Embroils Famed Climate Scientist James Hansen". Forbes. Forbes Inc. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  21. ^ "Nuclear State Profiles". Retrieved April 29, 2012.
  22. ^ "Illinois – State Energy Profile Overview – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)". 2015-03-19. Retrieved 2016-02-27.
  23. ^ "State Nuclear Profiles: Illinois". U.S. Energy Information Administration. 26 April 2012. Retrieved 7 April 2016.

Further reading[edit]