Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Are technological optimists too optimistic about technological sustainability?

Posted 23 Nov 2015 / 0

The Chronicle of Higher EducationEcomodernists Spark Rhetorical Heat

In my Ecology for Architects course I have students work on an activity that asks them to advocate one of four “extreme” environmental positions:

  1. Population bombers;
  2. Neo-luddites;
  3. Deep ecologists; or
  4. Technological optimists.

The extremity of each of these positions is intentional: I want students to push each of the ideas embedded in these stances to their limit. As I have talked about before [1, 2], students often gravitate to the population bombers’ stance that “everything would be fine if we just had fewer people”. But pushing this position to its limit allows us to look at the consequences of this stance critically; based on the values that most students maintain, they come to the conclusion that achieving sustainability solely by addressing population size may not produce the results we want.

This article in the Chronicle provides a great overview of the extreme technological optimist view, those who call themselves the “ecomodernists” (I may shift my lesson to take on this term!). The article also points out how the traditional environmental movements come out of deep ecology or population bomber approaches to lowering impact. Author Matthew C. Nisbet nicely points out the dynamic tension that each of these positions create.

Although different students often come to different conclusions about how we ought to reduce our ecological impact, the general consensus for most classes who have completed this activity is that none of these extreme positions provides a solution to our un-sustainable ways: we need a combination of these approaches in order to become sustainable, and ecomodernism is one of those approaches.

A Minor Post, Activism, Anthropogenic Change, Articles, Environmental Justice, MSCI-271, Ecology for Architects, Public Policy, Resource Consumption, Risk & Uncertainty, Sustainability, Sustainable Agriculture, Sustainable Energy, Sustainable Transportation, Sustainable Urban Design

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