Everything you wanted to know about Ecological Modernisation but were afraid to ask

1. What is Ecological Modernisation?
According to wikipedia, font of all reliable information, Ecological Modernisation (EM) is “an optimistic, reform-oriented school of environmental social science that has gained increasing attention among scholars and policymakers in the last several decades in Europe, North America, Japan, and elsewhere.”

For a coupla hundred years now humans have really really loved their technology (1). So ecological modernisation is a new name for an old impulse. The concept was “first developed in the early 1980s primarily in a small group of western European countries, notably Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.”(2) The label really gained prominence with the 1995 publication of Maarten Hajer’s The Politics of Environmental Discourse: Ecological Modernization and the Policy Process, which, as the name suggests, is light bed-time reading.

2. Why is it so attractive?
EM tells us we can keep on going pretty much as we have been. All we have to do is use our brains a bit better, and come up with some Great New Technologies. Like thorium reactors. And genetically modified food. Carbon Capture and Storage. We can continue to have growth, as long as we use the word “sustainable” a lot. As such, policy makers and politicians love it, because it tells us that the way to get out of our hole is to keep digging. We don’t have to re-arrange the political or economic furniture, or take a close look at the tenancy arrangement– a new damp course and a lick of (green) paint will do the trick.

3. What is wrong/dangerous about it?
EM tells us we can keep on going pretty much as we have been. All we have to do is use our brains a bit better, and come up with some Great New Technologies. Thorium reactors et cetera. You’ve read this already. As some guy once said, “Problems cannot be solved by the level of awareness that created them.” But thinking is painful, especially when it pushes against the room to manoeuvre of the rich and powerful.

We’re in the Anthropocene (3) now. We are most definitely going to need all sorts of technology to survive the 21st century. It’s a question of resilient and distributed technologies. You might almost say that we need mastery, not control (4). Both EMO and EM are teenage mindsets, and it’s time to grow up.

See also:
Jevons’ Paradox – the basic point of which is efficiency gains, so beloved of the owners of airports and leaders of councils, can lead to more of a substance being used up rather than less, because the price drops and demand goes up.

Post-ecological thinking– the subject of next month’s didacticism. Betcha can’t wait.

The Emperor’s New Clothes– we all know this one, right?

(1) Or, to be more accurate, those humans on the “doing to” end have loved technology. The opinion of those – humans, other animals and eco-systems – at the business end of the technology is usually lukewarm at best, and rarely recorded. Anyoneseen “Avatar”?

(2) http://www.tricity.wsu.edu/sonn/ecomod_intro.htm

(3) The Anthropocene is the era of the Earth’s history where humans have been an impact on the climate and biosphere. Two hundred years? Eight thousand? Debate rages. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropocene

(4) It’s a fine distinction. Ask me after a pint, but not after four.

Further Reading

The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology by Langdon Winner

All that is solid melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity by Marshall Berman

Vandana Shiva and other eco-feminists

 Marc Hudson

Do you have a favourite concept – be it scientific, sociological, political or economic – that you’d like to see given the treatment? Just cross our palm with silver, and we’ll see what we can do… mcmonthly@gmail.com


About arwafreelance

Freelance journalist based in the UK with an interest in the Middle East, environmental issues, Islam-related topics and social issues such as regeneration.
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