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What's the difference between Green Capitalism and Ecomodernism?

Ted F

DK posed this question over on the SCNCC listserv. I think this deserves to be a public discussion so I'm responding here:

Google “Ecomodernist Manifesto” and you will see a wealth of materials, ranging from the Manifesto that kicked things off in 2015 to critiques from degrowthists, George Monbiot, and so on. Ecomodernism is heavily identified with, if not an invention of, the Breakthrough Institute, which identifies itself as “a global research center that identifies and promotes technological solutions to environmental and human development challenges.” The institute shills for the nuclear and gas industries. I believe Breakthrough organized an unsuccessful effort to keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California open and has campaigned to keep other nuclear plants open in the Midwest. I don’t know how many people beyond those on the payroll of the Institute actually call themselves “ecomodernists”. They are good at getting op ed pieces placed like any halfway competent lobbying group, but the intellectual level of their documents is not very high.

See this from Wikipedia:

Climate scientist Michael E. Mann questions the motives of the Breakthrough Institute. According to Mann the self-declared mission of the BTI is to look for a breakthrough to solve the climate problem. However Mann states that basically the BTI "appears to be opposed to anything - be it a price on carbon or incentives for renewable energy - that would have a meaningful impact." He notes that the BTI "remains curiously preoccupied with opposing advocates for meaningful climate action and is coincidentally linked to natural gas interests" and criticises the BTI for advocating "continued exploitation of fossil fuels". Mann also questions that the BTI on the one hand seems to be "very pessimistic" about renewable energy, while on the other hand "they are extreme techno-optimists" regarding geoengineering.
As I understand it, the term “Green Capitalism” refers to a much broader and deeper phenomenon that includes numerous schools of thought, more or less any view that suggests the climate and other ecological crises can be resolved under capitalism. Some believe in geoengineering and don’t give a whit about inequality. Others believe in radical social change within a capitalist framework and think geoengineering is stupid. I would defer to Richard Smith, who wrote the book on Green Capitalism, if he wants to swoop in with a better analysis.

Kamran Nayeri

Hi David:
The two overlap somewhat but are also different. Green capitalism came earlier and less-malignant. Here is one definition of Green Capitalism from the International Socialist Review of 2009. In short, it is the view that through the use of capitalist market and state ecological crisis can be successfully addressed.
Ecomodernism is a more recent current and it has an explicit philosophy of nature which is a modern version of the philosophy of nature implied by the Genesis in Bible, that God has created the world for men. Ecomodernism celebrates that Anthropocene. It is self-consciously anthropocentric. See, for example, An Ecomodernist Manifesto. A leading proponent of ecomodernism is the well-heeled Breakthrough Insitute (see, Shellenberger, Michael, and Ted Norhaus. “Nature Unbound, A New Paradigm.) For more about the Breakthrough Institue see, Ian Angus' “Hijacking the Anthropocene.

I discuss ecomodernism my essay on the Sixth Extinction. In my view, ecomodernism is anthropocentrism of late capitalism and the mirror image of my view of ecocentric ecological socialism.
I hope this helps.

Addendum: I did not say it in my response sent earlier, but it is a crucial aspect of the ecomodernist thesis: the economy can be decoupled from nature, economic growth from "natural resources' use. For a paper that disputes this claim see, Trainer, Ted. “The Extreme Implausibility of Ecomodernism.” K.

Ted F

For those interested in digging deeper into Ecomodernism, John Foran provided the following list of articles critiquing Ecomodernism from various points of view:

‘An Ecomodernist Manifesto’: Truth and confusion in the same breath

Kurt Cobb, originally published by Resource Insights | May 3, 2015

Meet the ecomodernists: ignorant of history and paradoxically old-fashioned
George Monbiot, originally published by The Guardian | Thursday 24 September 2015

Remembrance of Things Yet to Come: An Anti-Modernist Response to Ted Trainer
Erik Lindberg, originally published by transitionmilwaukee.org | April 19, 2016

Ecomodernists Spark Rhetorical Heat
Matthew C. Nisbet | May 11, 2015

Love your symptoms: A sympathetic diagnosis of the Ecomodernist Manifesto
Paul Robbins and Sarah A. Moore entitlefellows | June 19, 2015

Can a “Green Growth” Strategy Solve Climate Change?

Ian Sinclair, originally published by OpenDemocracy | Aug 17, 2016

Dark Thoughts on Ecomodernism
Chris Smaje, originally published by Dark Mountain | August 14, 2015

Ecomodernism: a Response to my Critics
Chris Smaje, originally published by Small Farm Future | September 10, 2015

Chris Smaje, originally published by Small Farm Future | March 15, 2016

John also provided the attached document that includes 30 comments from across the political spectrum that were posted on the Ecomodernists own website in April-May 2015 shortly after their manifesto was published. More recent responses can be accessed online.

As a political stunt, the Ecomodernist Manifesto was a grand success. Many felt a need to respond thoughtfully to relatively small number of undistinguished lobbyists and their fellow travellers in the professoriat. If only the Ecosocialist Manifesto of 2001 had gotten similar attention. I think it's fair to say that one reason the Ecomodernist Manifesto was taken seriously was that the fellows at the Breakthrough Institute have found a way to monetize their embrace of the Good Anthropocene.