Technology: our saviour and the path to a Good Anthropocene or the source of the biggest threats to mankind?

This morning, the Guardian published an article about Stephen Hawking, in which he warns that most threats to humans come from science and technology (‘Most threats to humans come from science and technology, warns Hawking’, 19 January 2016).

In contrast, the Ecomodernist Manifesto, introduced to an Oxford audience at last Friday’s debate by one of its authors, Mark Lynas, takes a very pro-tech stance, portraying it as a panacea, the best (and only) route to a ‘Good Anthropocene’, a positive future for the Earth and everything that lives here.

Debate now available online

If you missed the lecture and ensuing commentaries provided by Paul Jepson, Connie McDermott and Richard Grenyer, you can now watch it online here:

Ecomodernism – an introduction

Mark provided the audience with whistle-stop introduction to the concept of Ecomodernism, starting with a persuasive look at why modern life is not rubbish, and why the past is not where we need to be looking for inspiration for the future.  From peak meat to peak fertility to peak homophobia and violence, Ecomodernism is based on the idea that in some ways at least, things may not be quite as bad as they seem – there is ample reason for optimism.  However, humans are flourishing at the expense of the planet.

With  plentiful access to modern energy as essential to human development, and with lifestyle change and dematerialisation happening too slowly to have the necessary impact on our fossil fuel use, the current situation is fundamentally a technological challenge – and one that can only be met by the likes of nuclear energy.

With slides titled ‘reharmonising with nature would be a disaster!’ and listing anti-nuclear and anti-GM campaigners as the top threats, along with IS and Putin, the presentation was bound to ruffle some feathers – and in my opinion, alienate and upset a reasonable proportion of the audience.

The verdict: thought-provoking and highly problematic

The Manifesto has proved contraversial (see, for example, ‘Ecomodernism launch was a screw-up of impressive proportions’, The Guardian, 30 September 2015), and Friday was no different.  From the problematic discourse used in the paper, drawing on the arguably false and dangerous dichotomy of ‘humans’ and ‘nature’, to the separation implied by, amongst other things, the constant repetition of the loaded word ‘decoupling’ and the choice of image on the front cover (that of highrise city seperated clearly from the green of nature around it), Mark’s presentation prompted troubled and hostile responses from the commentators.

Dr Paul Jepson [from 58 minutes in the video] said,

“The reason I have a negitive reaction to it is because it doesn’t chime with my values.”

Dr Connie McDermott [from 49 minutes in the video] was unsettled by the fact that the Manifesto singles out poor and marginal farmers as one of the culprits (in contrast with industrial agriculture), and said that is a discourse we need to move away from.  Regarding the suggested focus on technology, she said,

“Time and again I would argue that our technological development outpaces our social intelligence.”

She suggested that instead of using the lions share of energy to focus on developing new technology, we should instead shift the focus to improving governance and learning to better share the resources that we have.

Dr Richard Grenyer [1:06 in the film] said he had been excited to see the manifesto, as conservation as is, is clearly not working, so a big picture rethink is welcome, and the more radical the better. He had various positive things to say.  For example,

“Does it stand a chance of bridging the identity politics gaps?  This where I think for me it’s very valuable, as there’s genuine aspiration here, there’s a future here people can buy into… It’s aspirationa, it probably works better than what we’ve got at the moment.”

However, he criticised the paper for not being evidence-based, despite appearances, and lacking data and “empirical stuff” (“some citations would have been lovely, but that’s a tutor speaking”) and drew a textual parallel with the 1997 Labour Manifesto.

Curious?? Watch it now – above or on youtube.

And share your thoughts below – we’d love to hear what you thought of the talk if you were there or if you’ve watched the film.


Read Peter Lefort’s review of the event on the CAG Project’s website

Read responses to the Manifesto from others

Read George Monbiot’s critique of the Manifesto and see a response from some of the people behind the Manifesto

A list of suggested further reading from the Ecomodernist Manifesto team


For more Anthropocene-related content, head to the Anthropocene hot topic page.

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