In a previous piece for C3 Magazine, I characterised the history, ideology, and problems with socialist approaches to environmentalism. But another cultural malaise ails the minds of some who would address a climate crisis: eco-postmodernism. As Stephen R.C. Hicks explained, eco-postmodernism is the transposition of the class-consciousness and accusations of exploitation of Marxism onto environmental issues, as “a new weapon in the arsenal against capitalism.” Postmodernists like Simone de Beauvoir personified the planet as Gaia, being violated by masculinist agricultural instruments — and suggested socialism as the only viable methodology of liberating women and our planet from the burdens of property, patriarchy, and parenthood. But what is the solution to this strain of suicidal anti-humanism which has taken hold in modern environmental activism?
Eco-postmodernism is the radical offspring of the nihilistic counter-Enlightenment. Nick Land’s Dark Enlightenment recognises how the evolutionary cycle of capital development proposed by Marxist materialism inverts Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum, which stated science will be an instrument to service man’s abolition of privation, and evolve us “as the minister and interpreter of nature,” to its master under a global “Empire of Man.” Eco-postmodernism pushes past the scientific advancements which enable man’s liberation from the constraints of nature, toward nature’s liberation from man via the automation of production and abolition of waste.
Many are taken in by this inversion of individual autonomy to “save The Planet”. Succumbing to the Dunning/Kruger Effect, eco-postmodernists have been presented with a worst-case-scenario narrative about climate change, and the Earth-shattering effect of this information disintegrates their everyday status quo. Rather than reconstituting their life’s mission to seek new information and practical solutions to the issues they care about, they become the street-level foot soldiers of eco-socialism.
We see this sacrifice of individuality to an abstract ideological goal with the pernicious anti-natalism of collectivist environmentalist movements. An Extinction Rebellion chapter covered the East Midlands in stickers that read “Earth is healing. The air and water is clearing. Corona is the cure. Humans are the disease!” Angela Ruskin University academic, Patricia McCormack, has authored The Ahuman Manifesto: advocating political veganism, and eventually “human extinction” through voluntary depopulation, to erase humanity’s collective carbon footprint.
These insane ideas have been mainstreamed. Articles in The Guardian, The Daily Mail, CNN, The New York Times, and more have argued that “The environmental toll of having even one child is enormous – 58.6 tonnes of carbon each year”, and proposed “going child-free [is] the answer to our climate crisis”. Prince Harry & Meghan Markle are limiting their family size due to climate change. This has contributed to the record majority of women over thirty being childless in England.
Going one step further, at a CNN townhall, socialist Bernie Sanders endorsed making abortion access more widespread to reduce the carbon emissions produced by the population increasing — particularly in developing countries. These environmental eugenics are reprehensible, but far from new. Jonathan Swift’s satirical Modest Proposal endorsed the Irish devour our children like the Titan Cronus to avoid overpopulation and famine. Thomas Malthus’ infamously incorrect predictions of overpopulation inspired scaremongering in the 1970s: with Paul Ehrlich’s equally wrong Population Bomb, and the utilitarian Lifeboat Ethics used in President Johnson’s state of the union address, calling for “population control.”
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It is not an act of intellectual Ludditism to reject the devolution of caring about conservation into the species-wide suicide of anti-natalism. Reasserting Popperian positivism, and the exaltation of both truth and beauty by the English Enlightenment, provides us with an alternative path to ethical and aesthetic environmentalism.
Modernism was a post-Enlightenment rationalist philosophy rooted in the Vienna Circle’s theory of logical empiricism: an attempt to achieve a holistic assessment of objective truth, by scrutinising hypotheses in tandem with the biases and epistemological tools of the rational actor proposing them. Eco-Modernism iterates on the empiricism of modernism, by recognising individuals as the only legitimate moral legislators: devolving power and decentralising knowledge to harness each person’s potential to innovate and implement technological solutions to conservation challenges.
As human ingenuity advanced societies beyond absolute privation, toward prosperity, we have crested the Environmental Kuznets Curve, and moved from extraction and exploitation toward ecological consciousness alongside economic growth. The percentage of the global population in extreme poverty decreased by eighty in the last two-hundred years, thanks in part to a three-hundred percent increase in food production. Our widespread abolition of hunger and disease in the West has afforded us a new ecological consciousness — and we export these technologies to other countries playing catch up to our level of infrastructural development.
But eco-modernism moves beyond markets to morals: articulating our subjective, but shared, aesthetic appreciation of nature as a motivation to conserve the environment through innovative technological solutions. Rather than abolishing empiricism for radical subjectivism, as eco-postmodernists do, eco-modernism recognises our affective attachment to nature constitutes a shared human experience — one which is contingent on both our objective dependency on nature for survival, and the human activity which enables nature to flourish.
The venture to minimise our disproportionate impacts on global ecosystems is a continuation of the conservative covenant with our ancestors and the unborn, as articulated by Edmund Burke. As Tyler Cowen points out, the likelihood that solutions to climate change will arise is most probable within the developed West; and therefore increasing domestic populations through native educated families increases the probability of these solutions being created. Furthermore, the expansion of the Western population increases demand for these solutions, as the present is given a greater stake in the sustainability of the future. After all, what good is a planet saved from climate change, if there is nobody around to live in and appreciate it? Isn’t it solipsistic to hoard the beauties of the natural world to yourself?
Human ingenuity in the face of privation and adversity produced our appreciation for nature, and our ability to use nature-based solutions to offset disproportionate environmental impacts. Our species are stewards of ecosystems, beyond being mere observers. We should not allow the eco-postmodernism of professional and perpetual climate apocalypse activists to minimise or erase that meaningful role. Our environmentalism must increase human prosperity if it is to work and to make a world worth living in.
Connor Tomlinson is the Head of Research for the British Conservation Alliance and a political commentator for Young Voices UK. He appears regularly in American Spectator and on talkRadio. Follow him on Twitter: @Con_Tomlinson