The end of ecomodernism

I was due to appear tomorrow before the Environment and Planning Committee’s inquiry into Nuclear Prohibition in Victoria, but I’ve just been advised that it’s been deferred until after the lockdown. I’d just finished writing a supplement to my earlier submission which concluded that there was no real support for the kind of ‘grand bargain’ I’d earlier proposed, combining a commitment to a rapid phase-out of coal with a removal of the prohibition on nuclear power. It’s over the fold.


The most important group of nuclear power advocates who have consistently promoted concerns about climate change as the main reason for their advocacy have been the self-described ‘eco-modernists’. The main organizational focus of ecomodernism is the Breakthrough Institute, established by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus in 2003.
Recently, Shellenberger has issued what he describes as ‘an apology on behalf of environmentalists everywhere’ in which he repudiates previous concerns about catastrophic climate change and indicates that he never sincerely shared these concerns. Other ecomodernists have demurred at some of his claims, but have not indicated fundamental disagreement. The result is that, as a movement combining a pro-nuclear position with a commitment to a serious response to climate change, ecomodernism has ceased to exist.


This outcome reinforces the conclusion drawn from my own experience that there is no political basis for a ‘grand bargain’ combining a commitment to rapid decarbonization with the removal of restrictions on nuclear power. I therefore see no merit in changing existing restrictions.

27 thoughts on “The end of ecomodernism

  1. I think Ecomodernism was always one part of a broader anti-climate action “movement” – one with a specific anti-environmentalist theme, that portrayed itself as presenting a better, more rational kind of environmentalism. It was never intended to fix the climate problem by better means and was always about opposing the things that were and are actually being used, to preserve the BAU status quo.

    Downplaying the seriousness of the climate problem was a built in feature, to reinforce conservative perceptions of the issue being driven by “alarmists” – no real attempt to “reform” environmentalism because the target audience are those opposed to fixing the climate problem, in order to confirm their prejudices. Ecomodernism needs the perception of environmentalism being the problem – for it being a serious concern at the same time as for failing to offer up the kinds of fixes that climate science deniers will accept. What Ecomodernism does is distract attention from climate science denial.

    Climate science denial, whether it is science outright rejected or, like the Ecomodernists, a deceptive mixture of outwardly appearing to accept the science whilst denying the likely consequences from the science being right, remains a serious and thoroughly mainstream political impediment to any and all effective actions. Ironically it hurts their (supposedly) preferred nuclear solution more than it hurts RE – because it’s victims are the powerful, influential business leaders who would back nuclear if they thought the problem were serious and had no choice but address it. They took up the cut price budget option of denial, that avoids any climate and emissions responsibility and accountability.

  2. The tragic thing about “Ecomodernism” is that it sucked in a whole heap of very well -intentioned people. It’s prime focus was to promote the nuclear industry – “new’ nuclear in particular. (Fossil fuel promotion has become a secondary aim). But, if you read the 7 page Ecomodernist Manifesto, http://www.ecomodernism.org/manifesto-english , nuclear power gets only ONE short paragraph, low down on page 4. It is all touchy-feeling lovely, seemingly pro environment stuff. It gently and subtly rubbishes any concept of energy conservation, and of renewable energy.
    This is the genius of the nuclear propagandists. Like Dr Joseph Goebbels, they know how to pitch their sales talk to which audience. They’ll come up with important sounding technical and economic jargon, to put it over politicians and other “important people. I do think that Australia’s Ben Heard deserves an acknowledgement for his sales pitching skills. He wouldn’t muck up his message, as Shellenberger has recently done, in revealing climate denialism

  3. […] Recently, Shellenberger has issued what he describes as ‘an apology on behalf of environmentalists everywhere’ in which he repudiates previous concerns about catastrophic climate change and indicates that he never sincerely shared these concerns. Other ecomodernists have demurred at some of his claims, but have not indicated fundamental disagreement. The result is that, as a movement combining a pro-nuclear position with a commitment to a serious response to climate change, ecomodernism has ceased to exist…..  https://johnquiggin.com/2020/07/09/the-end-of-ecomodernism/   […]

  4. Why bother linking the two? Sure, a commitment to decarbonisation would be good, but any increase in nuclear power would presumably contribute to decarbonisation. I agree with your arguments that removing restrictions is unlikely to make a difference, but why not remove them anyway? If it did result in decarbonisation that would be a pleasant surprise.

  5. Tgdavies: Your compromise continues the distraction of nuclear and continues the ecomodernist scam. Nuclear power sucks up the time of both supporters and opponents (including JQ – don’t you want to see his book on the covid economy?). Time to draw a simple line under the long and costly experiment, and move on to stuff that works. We are running out of time.

  6. My only problem with ecomodernism is the “eco”. The fact that people “left of centre” cannot simply say they support modern industry says something about the Zeitgeist. Most actually do, but they feel the need to sprout insincere sustainabable.

  7. The end of eco-modernism? I only just last week heard about these hippies and we are saying they are all done with? Shows how out of the loop I am. I thought they were just getting started.

    “Nuclear power sucks up the time of both supporters and opponents ”

    You only think that way because our society has degenerated into the sort of simple minded factionalism that was shown at some stages of the Roman Empire in the East: Byzantium. Constantinople…. Check this out:

    “The ancient Roman and Byzantine empires had well-developed associations, known as demes,[2] which supported the different factions (or teams) under which competitors in certain sporting events took part; this was particularly true of chariot racing. There were initially four major factional teams of chariot racing, differentiated by the colour of the uniform in which they competed; the colours were also worn by their supporters. These were the Blues, the Greens, the Reds, and the Whites, although by the Byzantine era the only teams with any influence were the Blues and Greens.”

    The point of this quote is that what ought to have been a minor sporting diversion ended up in rioting that lead to all manner of destruction under Justinian. Same with their theological disputes in other decades. We are witnessing the degradation of the rational man and the return of the boneheaded tribalist.

    So you see? Just stupidity. Fighting between the Blues and the Greens. Factionalism between solar advocates and nuclear advocates is unacceptable because its a descent into primitivism. What next? What is your next trick? Do you want to get advocates of mini-hydro to feel that they must denigrate advocates of the trompe? Any sane appraisal of the modern world would suggest we need every calorie, erg, joule or megawatt we can get from all of these sources. But we must see to it that they all are on the path towards being cost-effective. Each energy source cost-effective within its own niche.

    The best energy source is the productivity of energy. The productivity of energy is dependent on how settlement patterns dovetail with infrastructure. One of the factors which accidentally ruined our productivity of energy in the modern world was the peculiar patter of production that we got from the traditional oil-wells. You would tap these oil-wells and the energy would gush out at you and almost follow you home. What were once highly energy efficient settlement/infrastructure integrations became entropic, wasteful and unsustainable.

    If we got our settlement pattern and infrastructure perfectly integrated with a view to energy productivity we could run a modern economy purely on wood and hydro power. We would not choose to do this!!!! And it would not be right for us to do this. But we could do it in a pinch just the same. Once this integration had been fully established.

  8. This is weird. There must be going on something very particular in Australia. Who pays nuclear lobbyists there? The uranium mines or what? It´s not like theres anyone building or operating nuclear power plants. And still the wikipedia articles about non existing nuclear power plants in Australia seem to have epic lenghts aswell.

  9. The staggering amount of technical, managerial and political effort devoted to a single nuclear power station – Hinkley C – in the UK is a matter of record. Contrast the nearly invisible ban on onshore wind.

    It’s untrue that energy is naturally scarce. There is far more wind and solar energy out there for the taking than civilisation can possibly use. Besides, the far higher efficiency of a renewable plus batteries system means that we can enjoy the same lifestyle with half the primary energy input.

    The constraint on the transition is not supply but financing. That argues strongly for spending the money on technology that is cheap, reliable and safe. Very fortunately, that is happening.

  10. You start off saying that wind and solar are the bees knees and you end up claiming they need a subsidy. So there is a bit of funny business going on there. And a great deal of dishonesty. What will happen is if you use all this “finance” (ie red ink and subsidies) for solar and wind, out of some kind of fetish, then you will end up with an energy sink, and burn up a great deal of extra fossil fuels. It won’t increase the rate at which you can move away from hydrocarbons even a little bit. The wind and solar will become permanently addicted to more red ink and more hydrocarbons.

    So for example growing corn to make ethanol to make fuel can never get us off hydrocarbons. Thats an energy sink and will continue to be so forever as long as the subsidy lasts. Red ink, subsidies, and faster rates of hydro-carbon depletion are great for the debt merchants and the hydro-carbon people. Which turn out to be the same people. But debt peonage and energy deprivation is not good for the rest of us.

  11. What’s a radio? 😉 I guess it’s a place where you hear classic myth-stories.

    “Never mind the attack of the killer tomatoes! Sit down children, while I tell you the story of the attack of the killer red ink!”

    “Please sir, what’s ink?”

  12. “the attack of the killer red ink!”
    “Please sir, what’s ink?”

    Preacher teacher: “there is a bit of funny business going on there. And a great deal of dishonesty” so  “You will end up in “debt peonage and energy deprivation” if you keep listening to the squark box.

    Apologies to Iko & CRStories.

    Your pane is showing CRS. Orwell said: “It is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane.”
    View at Medium.com

    I’m learning.

  13. Classic Radio Stories – just to be clear, I think what people think about climate change is crucial in this. Do you agree with Shellenberger that climate concern about emissions is exaggerated and the issue is not driven by science but by Environmentalist alarmism?

  14. The question is not relevant since the people who oppose Shellenberger are advocating policies which require greater hydro-carbon usage. Shellenberger is advocating less hydro-carbon usage and is advocating an approach that will eventually deliver.

    His opponents are advocating higher hydrocarbon usage, either by way of not having enough alternatives to hydro-carbons, or more seriously by way of creating full-blown energy sinks via crude subsidies policies. The only way that the extremist crowd can reduce hydrocarbon usage, with their policies implicitly designed to increase hydro-carbon usage, is by sheer economic destruction.

    Are you in favour of economic destruction? Since that is what your policies imply. I am for greater energy productivity. By all an every means not excluding settlement policies. You can wish all you want to reduce CO2 output. But if your policies are designed to do the exact opposite, wishing and hoping and dreaming won’t get you anywhere. If you favour higher energy productivity, by all means necessary, eventually we will be able to exert actual control over CO2 output, supposing that this is a meaningful goal.

    But all this talk only handles one side of the balance sheet. We have a real crisis here in the soil crisis. In the green lands turning brown. The extremists are dogmatically averse to dealing with the soil crisis. The land hydration crisis. Such extremists are in the pocket of the bankers. They want to keep us dependent on hydro-carbons and they want to avoid dealing with real problems in a realistic way.

    You extremists are not sincere. For if you wanted to reduce the CO2 levels right away you could simply drive up royalties on coal exports. Too easy. And a windfall gain to the coal rich states. Immediate result. Next you could have zero interest loans to any land hydration spending. There is your medium run result. But you jive on and on about sovereignty killing, if not treasonous measures, that are never going to work. So you are not serious. Shellenberger is serious. You are an ideologically driven fool. Shellenberger is a rational man.

  15. This is too important for your terminal idiocy fella. And the rest of you have to sort your stupid ideas out also. Its like the yarn about a fellow going to a bordello with only two quid and the many ways that the staff find to not help him.

    You want less CO2 in the air? So can you increase coal royalties? Will you be happy with that? No can’t help you. How about land hydration? No thats no good. Then encouraging closer herding of animals? Don’t be silly. Well how about a revival of water transport? Getting a slow rail revamp going? Zero interest for any plausible energy reduction scheme paid out of government surpluses?

    Its all no no no no no no. Instead, just to suit your nihilistic mood we have to opt for these stupid ideas that create eternal energy sinks and industries that teeter perpetually on collapse, combined with wild eyed stupidity to do with joining international agreements that tie our hands. Or its just advocacy of endlessly destructive red ink.

    So its peak stupidity at these extremist sites. Or one would wish it were peak stupidity. Since everyone acts like they are looking for a cushy retirement part-time gig with Rothschild central, so fawning they be to oligarchical wishes and scams.

  16. @ akarog

    ” … your terminal idiocy fella. And the rest of you have to sort your stupid ideas out also.”

    In the case of a permanently banned GB (for childishly intrusive sock-puppetry, and maybe unparalleled NPD condescension), you might agree that hopes of exchanging empirical support for opinion, to generally progress humans (arm in arm) on the path to net zero energy, is not a happening thing.

  17. So what is your point J-D? You know something I don’t?

    Unless you know the answer to the security question for my bank account, I know something you don’t. That was a strange question for you to ask.

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