On Wednesday, June 26, 2022, TABLE hosted a panel discussion on the topics of ecomodernism and degrowth. This discussion accompanied the release of TABLE’s new explainer: “What is Ecomodernism?” and sought to highlight key debates between the ecomodernist and degrowth movements.
Ecomodernism is an environmental movement that emphasises the role of technology in enabling material prosperity while also protecting ecosystems. It stands in contrast to the degrowth movement, which challenges the current economic paradigm, and emphasises the need to reduce global consumption and production in ways that tackle inequality and foster environmental sustainability. The two philosophies paint different visions for the future of humanity and the planet.
The event was Chaired by Dr. Tara Garnett (Director at TABLE and Researcher at the University of Oxford). Helen Breewood (Research & Communications Officer at TABLE) presented a summary of the new explainer, which she co-authored with Tara, and highlighted some key principles of ecomodernism and the contours of the debates surrounding this philosophy. Guest speakers Linus Blomqvist (a PhD candidate in Environmental Economics and Science at University of California, Santa Barbara, former director of the Conservation and Food & Agriculture programmes at the Breakthrough Institute, and co-author of the Ecomodernist Manifesto) and Sam Bliss (a PhD candidate in natural resources at the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Environment) shared their perspectives on ecomodernism and degrowth.
We welcome your thoughts and reflections on this event! Here are some questions we think are particularly important to discuss further:
- How reliant should governments be on nascent or emerging technologies (as opposed to behavioural and economic changes) to combat climate change?
- To what extent does ecomodernism support the material and lifestyle ambitions of people in the Global South? Or is it a ‘free pass’ for the wealthiest countries to maintain current levels of consumption which drive emissions that disproportionately harm people in the Global South?
- In contrast, can degrowth support the material and lifestyle ambition of people in the Global South? Or does it deny them the material conditions that people in the Global North are accustomed to?
- The degrowth perspective positions the technological development that has occurred over the past century as a driver of and inherently linked to rising emissions and loss of biodiversity. Yet, the degrowth movement has few concrete examples of societies that have achieved ‘degrowth’ without some precipitating event such as an economic recession. How can degrowth gain popular support - particularly in an era of intense inflationary pressure?
- Linus suggests that the Ecomodernist Manifesto does not focus enough on inequality, and that he would include more about inequality if he were to co-author the Manifesto today. How can ecomodernism or degrowth reduce inequality?
- A key question that remained unresolved by the panellists is the question of governance - how should ecomodernism or degrowth be governed? Who gets to be represented in decision-making?
- If we accept that ecomodernism represents one of humanity’s best options for mitigating climate disaster, what is the role of intellectual property? Is it possible to maintain property rights and current modes of economic governance while simultaneously implementing a rapid, large-scale technology transfer, at a scale and pace not yet seen?
- What lessons have we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and the development and distribution of vaccines globally? Does this experience lend credence to ecomodernism - rapid technological development as a solution to a global crisis? Or, does the unequal global distribution of vaccines serve as a cautionary tale about how technology can entrench, rather than ameliorate, inequality?
- As acknowledged by the panel, there are significant risks associated with both ecomodernism and degrowth. What are the relative risks and benefits of ecomodernism vs. degrowth? How should these be weighted, especially if the alternative is the status quo?