I went to see Stephen Pinker on Monday night, interviewed by Decca Aitkenhead of the Guardian, talking about his latest book, Enlightenment Now, an argument for science, rationalism and humanism. Bill Gates’ new favourite book apparently, knocking his previous favourite, Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature, off the top spot.
There’s a budget tomorrow, and as we reported recently, some energy companies have been putting pressure on the chancellor to increase the carbon price floor, the UK’s carbon tax, currently set at £18 per tonne, which has helped us reduce the proportion of our electricity we get from burning coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel of them all, though if we want to completely phase out coal burning by 2025…
Some of us, maybe all of us to some extent, like our principles to be pure, unsullied by the messiness of reality.
Suppose you accept the idea of the singularity, that we’ll pretty soon come to a point where machine intelligence equals and then surpasses human intelligence (or if not pretty soon, then at some point in the future if we don’t first destroy ourselves), what would the consequences of that be?
Who would be running the world? Who, or what, would be generating the wealth, and who would be claiming benefits?
And what’s this ecomodern one mean anyway? The eco suggests ecology, but the idea grows out of a disillusionment with the current environmental movement in that the solutions it’s offering up are simply not viable and their approach is often counter-productive, alienating large sections of the public with their finger-wagging, telling us all how we should be living. There’s also the aversion so many have to technologies that could reduce our impact on the planet, such as nuclear power and genetic engineering.
The ism that underlies ecomodernism is rationalism. It’s about finding rational solutions to the problems we face. Of course, many traditional environmentalists would argue that the solutions they propose are entirely rational, that to go for nuclear power or genetic engineering would be insane.
This was a very graphic thought that came to me the other day, which looked like an X-rated party political broadcast, though shot on a Hollywood blockbuster budget. The camera glides around a city, eavesdropping on bits of conversation. We’re drifting upwards, passing through clouds, seeing the coastline of Britain through the gaps, then seeing …
This term gets used a lot in stats: how much of our energy is green? How much of Denmark’s or Germany’s or China’s or France’s? It depends what you consider green.
Most people would I think imagine that green energy means renewables. If a company said it invested in green energy projects, would you be surprised if you found out they’re investing in a nuclear startup that wants to build small modular reactors (SMRs)?
I watched the most frightening panorama programme I’ve ever seen just now on the possibility of Donald Trump becoming president. Hillary Clinton may have many flaws but I think she’s very much the one on the side of rationalism in this election. Trump could become the most powerful person in the world ffs and what can we do about it? We just have to sit by and watch it happen, hoping that it doesn’t.
I remember drafting a letter to some Ohio resident as part of the ill fated Guardian campaign to stop Bush being re-elected (but I never sent the letter). I thought that was a pivotal election, that if Bush won it would be a calamity, but here we are twelve years later and the world didn’t end, did it? I was worried that if Bush won it would be game over for the climate, and maybe one day some post-cataclysmic historian will conclude that the Bush-Kerry election of 2004 was as much a turning point for the climate as was the 2000 Bush-Gore election.
Please bear with us while we sort things out on here. You can find the ecomodernist manifesto at http://www.ecomodernism.org – that’s something that inspires us but that we did not write. We’re an independent group, open to all who believe we need to encourage human ingenuity and creativity if we’re to get through the problems our species faces.
Traditionalist greens, with their obsession with human numbers and their technophobia, seem to see people as part of the problem. We see people as the solution.
I suppose the question most greens would ask is why would anyone in their right mind be in favour of fracking? Haven’t they heard of climate change? (And perhaps some young greens, whilst agreeing with the sentiment, would suggest we shouldn’t use the term right mind as that’s a slur on the mentally ill (And some other green would criticize that stereotyping of young greens.))
Sometimes I think of myself as a green and sometimes I don’t. When I hear some of the anti-science nonsense some greens come out with then I find it hard to identify with them. I start to think that the common perception of greens as well meaning but clueless might be true. Then I identify more with the ecomodernists – environmentalists but not greens.