Inaccurate Ecotopias


I have been painted a rather vague and unrealistic picture of a positive future by environmentalists. They say:

1) our natural areas will be thriving, in balance, beautiful and untouched 2) our cities will be full of parks and we will be happy 3) besides that nothing will be different 4) perhaps we have chosen a life without devices, spending our days in leisure reading books and enjoying locally grown food

It’s quite unrealistic: Our natural areas will not be “in balance, beautiful, and untouched,” even without further disturbance. Happiness will not be solved by ecological harmony, but we will live more in synchrony and will be much better off for it. Lots of things will be different, not the least of which genetically modified species are going to be released into the wild. Demand will continue to grow, progress will march on, and we can enjoy it without damaging the ecosystems further.

The land has always been changing

And climate change is an even bigger change in scale and scope than usual. Species are appearing and disappearing in areas they have never (not) been in recorded history. Nature will be shifting, sometimes swinging wildly with mass death and population booms. I don’t think we can, nor should be hoping for a simple quiet version of nature. The unexpected changes are strange, astonishing, and discharge a kind of harsh beauty to me. We can view this as a sick, unhealthy symptom of a strained natural system. Or we can view this as natural adaptation to cataclysm. In short, nature’s half of the response to human disturbance can either be called an unnatural event or the natural course of things. 1 But it will NOT be untouched nor fit our normal definitions of balanced and beautiful.

Happiness will not be solved by ecological harmony

No, ecological balance and society-wide contact with nature won’t make civilization suddenly discover peace, forget jealousy, and stop wanting something more. Being in touch with the seasons will help us in a lot of ways, but it isn’t everything. I place great value on our culture, our science, our progress in civil liberties, our history, our arts, and every other great work we have accomplished. The best future is not one in which we perfect our ecological relationship at the expense of every other wonderful thing we do.

Humans will not be satisfied with quiet non-activity and they need not be.

Demand will grow as the world becomes ever richer, healthier, luxurious, and powerful. This is a good thing for us all. I suspect the world is large enough to support such frivolities as having metal carriages for when we’d rather not use our own two feet as well as healthy natural environments of every kind. I imagine the world is also large enough for pianos and tv’s for everyone. I think such things are affordable because historically clothes, cars, tv’s, wash machines, and cell phones were impossibly expensive. Time and time again, every demanded item becomes cheap and plentiful.

Physical problems can be solved by power, materials and ingenuity. We have technology that takes so much less land or so much less power to accomplish things that were once so much more wasteful and destructive. Technology makes things ecologically possible: Most anything can be redesigned until it takes the simplest acquired materials and spends resources with incredible efficiency. I can’t think of any material thing that is expensive besides limited editions or new inventions. In several centuries, I think all people will get to enjoy this bounty and it will be accomplished sustainably!

Nature does not have to be destroyed as civilization grows. Right now we are treating certain things as free and limitless (be it rubber plantations, oil, or copper mines). If we change our demands then technology will change to suit those needs just as agilely. It will reinvent and find alternatives until they are just as economical. We can use sustainable materials and forge them into the form we need. We can redesign crops to be space efficient or water efficient. We can find ways to use trace amounts and achieve the same results. Technology is the act of making more from less. Sorry to harp on this technology is often treated as the enemy when seems to me it is sister to sustainability and renewability!

Genetically modified organisms will mix into our wilderness

I don’t like it but I have to face the reality of it. I already covered why I am so sure GMO’s are going to escape into our natural in this short write-up.

Okay, so what does an eco-topia look like then?

I paint my own picture of a realistic eco-future here.

I’ve given up on some of their promises and I’ve rejected some of the idealistic vision. What I have in common is an expectation of greater sustainability, more natural living spaces, and a better world for both civilization and nature.

  1. (Categorization is human.) Furthermore we can either intervene to help heal and mitigate the convulsions, or we can “let nature take it’s course.” It’s not clear which action is “more natural,” especially in a situation like this! Depending on the situation I’m in favor of intervening, (degraded natural areas seem pretty miserable for everybody involved) but I also know that sometimes disturbance can help a system thrive and nature is not always beautiful. [return]