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Sunday, April 28, 2024

Environmentalist? Technogaianists? Techno-Optimist?

Earth Day was last week. I think it's fair to say, everyone sane wants a world with clean air and clean water. To get there, I want to transition to a world that's powered by renewable energy rather than polluting fossil fuels, but I've never liked being called an "environmentalist."

That label has a stigma, connotation... baggage that I'm not interested in. The saying is Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. How far do you take Reduce? Do you just take it to the point of reducing waste? That seems reasonable. If a little is good, then a lot must be great, right? So do you take reduce to the point of self-deprivation? There it is. The idea that you have to deprive yourself to be a true environmentalist is the part that chafes.

I don't want to wear hemp and only travel on foot. If that's what makes you happy, you do you. I think there's a better way.

If I recoil at the term environmentalist, what term best fits the renewable energy abundance philosophy I hold? Technogaianists? Techno-Optimist? Maybe, let's explore these. 


Technogaianism is the idea that technology can be used to stop the damage that we're doing and even reverse past damages through advancements in technology. So far so good. However, this optimism can be taken to the wrong place. Some people calling themselves Technogaianists say there's no reason to change any of our current behaviors. Taking this idea to an absurd level, they argue that there's no reason to stop (or even reduce) fossil fuel extraction and use. Whatever problems these may cause will be solved by a yet-to-be-discovered technological breakthrough. This head-in-the-sand approach is not the way.
I don't want to gamble the future on the hope that a future technology will be able to undo our damage before it's too late.

My understanding is that the Technogaianism concept includes geoengineering, carbon capture, and the like. These seem more like bad ideas that are funded and promoted to allow us to continue down the status quo fossil fuel path with the promise that some future generation will invent the solution to clean up our mess. I don't want to burden the next generation with our mess. I don't want to gamble the livability of our planet on the hope that some technology will be developed. Wildfires are burning now. Hurricanes are making landfall now. The time to act is now; with the many technologies that we have today.

The time to act is now, with the technologies that we have today.

Let's look at one more term.


In a recent essay “The Techno-Optimism Manifesto,” the author, Marc Andreessen, lays out his vision of how technological advancement leads to to abundance, progress, and human flourishing. I agree with many of these ideas and have even written about how embracing renewable energy leads to a world of abundance. However, Andreessen’s view of techno-optimism is laced with his laissez-faire, no-regulation, market-driven, no-social-responsibility attitude. Portions of Andreessen’s manifesto seem unhinged once you walk down the path of his particular philosophy. 

Much like the Technogaianism philosophy, this brand of Techno-Optimist assumes the needed technologies will be developed when needed and it further assumes that the invisible hand of the market will make them readily available. I do not want to align myself with this kick-the-can brand of techno-optimism. Not that one person gets to define all of the aspects of the term, so Andreessen is not the final arbiter, but he is not the only one with this view of the term.

What's The Answer

Where does that leave me? I want to eliminate fossil fuel use. I want to deploy the renewable technologies that exist today, like solar, wind, battery storage, EVs, heat pumps, induction cooktops... I want to halt the damage we're doing, rather than burdening our children. I don't want to just ignore things and hope that the next generation will 'just figure it out.'  I don't want to count on a techno-miracle or on the "free markets" to save us. There is a role for regulation and environmental protection. 

So how would you label this "renewables now" attitude?

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