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

Ecomodernism is an environmental philosophy which argues that technological development can protect nature and improve human wellbeing through eco-economic decoupling, i.e., by separating economic growth from environmental impacts.


Ecomodernism embraces substituting natural ecological services with energy, technology, and synthetic solutions[4] as long as they help reduce impact on environment.

Among other things, ecomodernists embrace agricultural intensification (intensive farming), precision agriculture, vertical farming and regenerative agriculture, genetically modified foods and cellular agriculture (cultured meat), fish from aquaculture farms, desalination, waste recycling and circular economy, sustainable forestry and ecological restoration which includes a wide scope of projects including erosion control, reforestation, removal of non-native species and weeds, revegetation of degraded lands, daylighting streams, the reintroduction of native species (preferably native species that have local adaptation), and habitat and range improvement for targeted species, water conservation, resource efficiency, urbanization, urban density and verticalization, adoption of electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles, use of drone light shows, projection mapping and 3D holograms to provide a sustainable technological alternatives to fireworks, automation, carbon capture and storage, energy storage, alternative materials such as bioplastics and bio-based materials and high-tech materials, clean energy transition i.e. replacing low power-density energy sources (e.g. firewood in low-income countries, which leads to deforestation) with high power-density sources as long as their net impact on environment is lower (nuclear power plants, and advanced renewables), 3D printing, digitalization, miniaturization, servitization of products and dematerialization. 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.[5][6][7][8]

Debates that form the foundation of ecomodernism were born from disappointment in traditional organizations who denied energy sources such as nuclear power, thus leading to an increase of reliance of fossil gas and increase of emissions instead of reduction (e.g. Energiewende).[9] Coming from evidence-based, scientific and pragmatic positions, ecomodernism engages in the debate on how to best 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 ecological economics, degrowth, population reduction, laissez-faire economics, the "soft energy" path, and central planning. Ecomodernism draws on 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.[10]

Ecomodernist organisations have been established in many countries, including Germany,[11] Finland,[12] and Sweden.[13] While the word 'ecomodernism' has only been used to describe modernist environmentalism since 2013,[14] the term has a longer history in academic design writing[15] and Ecomodernist ideas were developed within a number of earlier texts, including Martin Lewis's Green Delusions,[16] Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Discipline and Emma Marris's Rambunctious Garden.[17] In their 2015 manifesto, 18 self-professed ecomodernists—including scholars from the Breakthrough Institute, Harvard University, Jadavpur University, and the Long Now Foundation—sought to clarify the movement's vision: "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."[18][10]

An Ecomodernist Manifesto

In April 2015, a group of 18 self-described ecomodernists collectively published An Ecomodernist Manifesto.[19][20][21]

Reception and criticism

Some environmental journalists have praised An Ecomodernist Manifesto. At The New York Times, Eduardo Porter wrote approvingly of ecomodernism's alternative approach to sustainable development.[22] 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."[23] The science journal Nature editorialized the manifesto.[24]

Ecomodernism has been criticized for inadequately recognizing what Holly Jean Buck, Assistant Professor of Environment and Sustainability, says is the exploitative, violent and unequal dimensions of technological modernisation.[25] Sociologist Eileen Crist, Associate Professor Emerita, observed that ecomodernism is founded on a western philosophy of humanism with no regard to "nonhuman freedoms". Of the Manifesto Crist says

the mass extinction of life forms that the human enterprise has set into motion receives no mention in the Manifesto. (And extinction of species is mentioned once.) This is a startling omission for an eco manifesto: mass extinctions are geologically rare and catastrophic events; following such past cataclysms, it took millions of years for biological diversity to rebound—a timescale irrelevant for all future human generations. And yet the omission of mass extinction makes sense from the Manifesto's point of view.[26]

Human Geographer Rosemary-Claire Collard and co-authors assert that ecomodernism is incompatible with neoliberal capitalism, despite the philosophy's claims to the contrary.[27] By contrast, in his book "Ecomodernism: Technology, Politics and the Climate Crisis" Jonathan Symons argues that ecomodernism belongs in the social democratic tradition, promoting a third way between laissez-faire and anti-capitalism, and calling for transformative state investments in technological transformation and human development.[14] Likewise, 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.[28]

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."[29]

At the Breakthrough Institute's annual Dialogue in June 2015, several environmental scholars offered a critique of ecomodernism. Bruno Latour argued that the modernity celebrated in An 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.[30]

See also


  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. ^ "The Breakthrough Institute".
  5. ^ Lynas, Mark (2011). The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans. Washington: National Geographic. ISBN 978-1426208911.
  6. ^ Breewood, Helen; Garnett, Tara (2022). Fraanje, Walter; Carlile, Rachel (eds.). "What is ecomodernism?". TABLE Explainer Series. doi:10.56661/041dba86.
  7. ^ Kallis, Giorgos; Bliss, Sam (2019). "Post-environmentalism: origins and evolution of a strange idea". Journal of Political Ecology. 26 (1). doi:10.2458/v26i1.23238.
  8. ^ Brand, Stewart (2010). Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0143118282.
  9. ^ Brand, Stewart (2010). Whole Earth Discipline.
  10. ^ a b Nisbet, Matthew (2018). "The Ecomodernists: A New Way of Thinking about Climate Change and Human Progress". Skeptical Inquirer. 42 (6): 20–24.
  11. ^ "Ecomodernist energy transition 4.0 – Investments in a modern future".
  12. ^ "In English – SUOMEN EKOMODERNISTIT" (in Finnish). Retrieved 2020-09-02.
  13. ^ "Svenska Ekomodernisterna". Retrieved 2020-09-02.
  14. ^ a b Symons, Jonathan (30 July 2019). Ecomodernism : technology, politics and the climate crisis. Cambridge, UK. p. 56. ISBN 978-1-5095-3119-6. OCLC 1061731179.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  15. ^ "Sustainable design education rethought: The case for Eco-Modernism". 2010.
  16. ^ Lewis, Martin W. (1992). Green delusions : an environmentalist critique of radical environmentalism. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-1257-3. OCLC 25552831.
  17. ^ Marris, Emma. (2011). Rambunctious garden : saving nature in a post-wild world (1st U.S. ed.). New York: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1-60819-032-4. OCLC 639161286.
  18. ^ John Asafu-Adjaye et al (April 2015). "An Ecomodernist Manifesto."
  19. ^ Nijhuis, Michelle (2 June 2015). "Is the "Ecomodernist Manifesto" the Future of Environmentalism?". The New Yorker. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  20. ^ Monbiot, George (24 September 2015). "Meet the ecomodernists: ignorant of history and paradoxically old-fashioned". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  21. ^ "An Ecomodernist Manifesto". Retrieved April 17, 2015. A good Anthropocene demands that humans use their growing social, economic, and technological powers to make life better for people, stabilize the climate, and protect the natural world.
  22. ^ Eduardo Porter, The New York Times, April 14, 2015. / 'A Call to Look Past Sustainable Development."
  23. ^ EHolthaus, Eric (2015-04-20). "Manifesto Calls for an End to "People Are Bad" Environmentalism". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2023-09-19.
  24. ^ "Decoupled ideals: 'Ecomodernist Manifesto' reframes sustainable development, but the goal remains the same." (21 April 2015). Nature.
  25. ^ Buck, Holly Jean (2019). After geoengineering : climate tragedy, repair, and restoration. London. ISBN 978-1-78873-036-5. OCLC 1121092956.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  26. ^ Crist, Eileen (2016-05-01). "The Reaches of Freedom: A Response to An Ecomodernist Manifesto". Environmental Humanities. 7 (1): 245–254. doi:10.1215/22011919-3616452. ISSN 2201-1919.
  27. ^ Collard, Rosemary-Claire; Dempsey, Jessica; Sundberg, Juanita (2015-03-04). "A Manifesto for Abundant Futures". Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 105 (2): 322–330. doi:10.1080/00045608.2014.973007. ISSN 0004-5608. S2CID 144993321.
  28. ^ Paul Robbins and Sarah A. Moore (19 June 2015). "Love your symptoms: A sympathetic diagnosis of the Ecomodernist Manifesto."
  29. ^ Orphan, Kenn (2015-05-06). "A Degrowth Response to an Ecomodernist Manifesto". resilience. Retrieved 2023-09-19.
  30. ^ "What is Modern in Ecomodernism?". The Breakthrough Institute. Retrieved 2022-08-02.