By: John Gilleland, Ph.D, Chief Technology Officer
As a scientist in the business world, I try to stay attuned to the many theories circulating in the public policy arena about how to solve the world’s poverty and energy issues. An idea put forth by a collection of forward-thinking academics has caught my attention. They propose that urbanization and technology are the solution, not the problem, for those suffering from energy poverty.
This movement, dubbed “ecomodernism,” holds that humans do not have to be at odds with nature, and that development does not have to be detrimental to the environment. As many as 20 scientists and public policy professionals from many different countries and disciplines have published their recommendations in The Ecomodernist Manifesto. They propose a way for humans to develop the material world while at the same time preserving much of the planet’s wild space.
The ecomodernists say urbanization is a good thing. It takes people out of the forests, grasslands and deserts where they currently scrape a subsistence living, burning wood for heat and killing wild animals for food. In cities, people can benefit from technological advances that allow for a more predictable and safer existence – and a more environmentally sensitive society. Why more environmentally sensitive? Because the wild spaces are left alone. In the ecomodernist vision, the wild spaces are preserved, not developed relentlessly as cities expand.
This is what distinguishes the ecomodernist vision from the traditional environmentalist movement. Most traditional environmentalists have advocated a turn away from technology and a return to a lifestyle from an earlier age.
In the era we live in, it is unrealistic to expect humans to reject modern technology. Instead, people living in developing countries want access to electricity for power and light, cars for reliable transportation, and access to modern appliances and computing technologies.
Just as important, ecomodernists recognize that climate change is a key concern. The more humans with energy needs, the more our climate changes. The authors of the Ecomodernist Manifesto firmly believe climate change can be solved by embracing carbon-free energy sources. Since that agrees with our mission at TerraPower, I think that makes us ecomodernists as well.