Ecomodernism and the Anti-Politics of Prometheus

I have taken the liberty to reblog this new post by Bill Adams. I encourage readers to visit his blog “Thinking like a human”, which I personally find one of the more inspiring blogs out there. Personally, I had not got around to blogging about the Ecomodernist Manifesto — actually, I had decided it was not worthy of being given attention. However, Bill’s thoughts struck a chord with me, and so I decided to share them on this blog, too. Go visit the original, too! — Joern

Thinking like a human

Prometheus is the man (or immortal, depending who you read) from Greek myth who stole fire from the Gods and gave it to humanity. Like other tales from the classics, this one has been co-opted in many different ways. In this case, Promethean fire has most often been taken as symbolic of the development of technology and industrialism: Blake’s ‘dark Satanic mills’ in all their forms, from eighteenth century English mills to twenty first century sweat shops.

Classically, environmentalism is painted as a reaction against industrialism, a Romantic call for nature untainted by human artifice. Reflecting another Classical trope, much Western environmental thought has been seen as Arcadian, comparing a dystopian urban and industrial present with an idealized rural past.

But not all environmentalism is Arcadian. In his 1992 book Green Delusions, Martin Lewis criticised ‘radical environmentalism’, and its calls for a return to a simpler, rural, way of…

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2 thoughts on “Ecomodernism and the Anti-Politics of Prometheus

  1. I would actually urge people to read the manifesto. While Bill Adams provides a powerful, thoughtful and polite critque. I am a bit more blunt in my assessment. The manifesto is utter bobbins. I think it is only by reading the original that you can see quite how bad it is. Here I mean bad in two senses.

    Firstly in the poorly written/argued sense. At one point they state “Cities occupy just one to three percent of the Earth’s surface and yet are home to nearly to nearly four billion people. As such, cities both drive and symbolize the decoupling of humanity from nature, performing far better than rural economies in providing efficiently for material needs while reducing environmental impacts”. The number of logical fallacies in this statement alone is staggering. It is based, as is the entire document, on argument by assertion. It implies that cities are somehow separate systems, unconnected to the broader environment from which the draw resources and into which they pump out waste. How exactly have they measured the relative ‘efficiencies’ of cites and rural economies? and how do they draw the boundaries between the two? Can they actually back up this wild claim? The manifesto is littered with stuff like this.

    Secondly it is bad because it is premised on what I call Deus ex machina technological optimism – literally “god from the machine”. The term comes from an ancient Greek plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention (in classical Greek plays this was often a mechanical depiction of a Greek God descending from the top of the stage, hence the name)… At least the Greek dramatists bothered to say what the Deus ex machina was and how it saved the situation. Here we have essentially an argument that we should do more of what we have been doing for the last 100 years and somehow it will all work out (technology will save us!). No discussion of the underlying drivers of these systems, no mention behaviour or politics (let alone changing behaviour or political systems). I see a divide more and more in the papers I read between those who see sustainability problems as simple technical hurdles to be measured and then leaped over with technological innovation and those who see sustainability as fundamentally a social problem of how we relate to each other and the environment, where technical innovations are neccesarry but whole insufficient for putting humanity on a more sustainable development pathway.

    It seems to be that the Deus ex machina technological optimists are winning, this makes me both sad and deeply anxious.

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