Thursday, 3 December 2015

Eco-modernism - I've been mugged!

As an academic who has written widely about ecological modernisation - essentially how business can combine ecological protection and development - I feel thoroughly mugged by the recent launch of the so-called 'eco-modernist' agenda. It ended up being associated with people like Owen Paterson, who wants to scrap the 2008 Climate Change Act, and one of so-called eco-modernism's founders, Mark Lynas seemed surprised by this.

But you shouldn't be surprised if you do read the so-called eco-modernist' agenda. Essentially it rubbishes renewable energy, organic farming and generally green movement preferences for tackling environmental problems and proposes as the solution, well, business-as-usual industrialism. Of course it is very pro-nuclear power. So what is new about this version of eco-modernism? Not much it seems.

But ecological modernisation, an academic tradition stretching back to Germany in the 1980s is about reforming industrialism, not beefing up some of its worst attributes. The founder of the school (and those who have written about it since then including myself) are not noted for their pro-nuclear credentials, and they are of course generally highly supportive of renewable energy.

Renewable energy is. of course, at the cutting edge of ecological modernisation. Nuclear is something that is not happening very much, in fact in the UK not at all! All the British state, for example, seems to be able to do at the moment, is to stop the delivery of renewable energy but it cannot, as much as it tries, manage to deliver nuclear power (except in press releases). The Paris COP21 involves nations pledging to pursue supply side measures through renewable energy and to redouble demand conservation through energy efficiency. Those are the things that business can get along with. Nuclear power, at the fringes of developments now, only seems to get anywhere where the private sector is displaced by the state who ends up backing nuclear schemes which come very slowly at great cost.

I certainly don't claim to be  the leading theorist of ecological modernisation - there are a few I could name who are ahead of me on that - but amongst my writings on ecological modernisation I have written a book about  about ecological modernisation and renewable energy (see details on my profile). It is quite theoretical, I suppose, but the 'eco-modernist' manifesto seems to neglect some basic fundamentals of what ecological modernisation is about, according to the established literature. It seems to avoid engaging with serious thought and relies on what seems to me to be an arrogance of a disappearing mid-twentieth century industrial paradigm. I feel like I have been intellectually mugged and I am not at all surprised that the so-called eco-modernist manifesto crashed. That's because it is junk.

See the report in the Guardian on the 'launch'
the so-called eco-modernist manifesto and one of its leaders:

A few more words that I wrote during the course of a debate on this subject:
Contemporary Ecological Modernisation (EM) theorists like Mol and Janicke claim that they describe and analyse processes of ecological reform rather than make normative prescriptions. They argue that environmental objectives are defined through processes centrally involving environmental NGOs (especially emphasised by Hajer) and responses to consumers, but implemented by business. This excludes the so-called  'eco-modernist' project by definition since it leaves out, indeed excoriates, environmentalists and presumes what consumers want. 
I argue that In the case of renewable energy (see my Palgrave book and paper in Environmental Politics) this extends to identifying with renewable energy as a key solution; - with environmentalists helping make technological choices; in early stages as an active social movement, more recently as environmental groups in alliance with renewable industrial trade associations.
Nuclear power won't be a part of change precisely because it is not promoted by environmental groups or social movement organisations (however much the industry describes itself as 'green'). 
Although EM is implemented by business, in practice it can only do so in response to environmentalist/consumer preferences. This limits the extent to which it can be a purely top down process, and is one of the reasons why the recent claim of eco modernism being the way forward is misplaced.
NOTE: There are still some (used) copies of my book 'Ecological Modernisation and Renewable Energy' (Palgrave 2011) available from amazon for under or around £20!

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