Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Train 571

Shortly after 7 a.m. we took the high-speed train south. Five hours that could well have been fifty with uncountable books, stickers and pancakes.

Yesterday, the Breakthrough Institute published a great essay by Emma Marris, making the case for what she calls “intervowen decoupling”. In the essay, Marris addresses a staple criticism against ecomodernism, namely that humans will stop caring about nature if they no longer depend on it for their sustenance. These are debates that I have struggled a lot with myself, most recently when revising my co-authored article on ecomodern citizenship in the spring.

Personally, I have come to think that while ecomodernism points to the only realistic way that long-term sustainability can be achieve, there is a vast chasm of uncertainty separating our existing technologies from the technologies needed to make such a future attainable. It is thus not surprising that many people have come dismiss the idea of “technofix” as being unrealistic. Yet, what such a dismissal fails to recognize is that any “sociofix” may be even less realistic. To be clear, I would totally support the idea of “degrowth” if a ten, twenty or even thirty per cent reduction of current consumption rates would lead to long-term sustainability. If our current overshoot was so limited, then taking one instead of two flights per year would undoubtedly be an acceptable price for maintaining a stable climate. Yet, any quick look at the numbers reveals that, even if all emissions of greenhouse gasses would cease today, we would still be facing significant warming and sea level rise, especially beyond the year 2100.

What proponents of degrowth rarely admit is that nothing short of a complete deindustrialization of the planet as a whole, combined with rapid global depopulation, is the only way that the kind of low-density small-scale economy that they envision could be made “sustainable” and, even then, there would be massive displacement and suffering due to rising seas and extreme weather events. In my moral and political universe, such a cure is clearly worse than the disease. Even in the short run, basic air conditioning has proven to be crucial during heat waves (as witnessed right now with Lucifer in Southern Europe). In the long run, advanced nuclear technologies combined with technological breakthroughs in molecular engineering offer a path to both climate stability and a long-term sustainable socio-ecological regime.

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