Reviewed in the United States on March 30, 2013
[Here's an excerpt from a published review of LYM (see "Saving nature in the Anthropocene," Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, January 2013). Ultimately, those of us comfortable letting go of the gospel of Nature nonetheless fret a bit about what sort of gospel of Progress would be its rightful replacement...though certainly we can only move forward in the Anthropocene.]
The editors, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of "Death of environmentalism" fame (2005), worry little about challenging the current state of environmental thought: "[W]e need a new view of both human agency and the planet. We must abandon the faith that humankind's powers can be abdicated in deference to higher ones, whether Nature or the Market. And we must see through the illusion that these supposedly higher powers exist in a delicate state of harmony constantly at risk of collapse from too much human interference" (93--Kindle locations used throughout for this e-book). Love Your Monsters was coined from the work of Bruno Latour, one of the contributors. Latour clarifies this odd little phrase by invoking a famous book (and perhaps even more famous movie): "Dr. Frankenstein's crime was not that he invented a creature through some combination of hubris and high technology, but rather that he abandoned the creature to itself" (271-273).
Even in the above, we already have more than one spin on the Anthropocene: for Shellenberger and Nordhaus, it is a mandate to move forward ("to save what remains of the Earth's ecological heritage, we must once and for all embrace human power, technology, and the larger process of modernization" [61-62]), but for Bruno Latour, it is more a duty to love our creation, "...a process of becoming ever more attached to, and intimate with, a panoply of nonhuman natures" (292-293). All told, there are seven contributed essays in Love Your Monsters, each engaging with the Anthropocene in particular ways. The opening essay by Shellenberger and Nordhaus, "Evolve: The case for modernization as the road to salvation," points out the hypocrisy of the current state of affairs: "In preaching antimodernity while living as moderns, ecological elites affirm their status at the top of the postindustrial knowledge hierarchy" (188), and recommends a "modernization theology" to replace nature-based ecotheology as a more effective and coherent response to ecological change. Latour's essay is next: he refers approvingly to Ulrich Beck's notion of "modernizing modernization" (Beck 1992), linking it with his own compositionist manifesto (Latour 2010): "If the older narratives imagined humans either fell from Nature or freed themselves from it, the compositionist narrative describes our ever-increasing degree of intimacy with the new natures we are constantly creating" (343-345).
Following Latour's essay are two that explore the ecological dimensions of the Anthropocene. In the first, "Conservation in the Anthropocene: Beyond solitude and fragility," Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz, and Michelle Marvier contrast two geologic epochs: "Conservation's continuing focus upon preserving islands of Holocene ecosystems in the age of the Anthropocene is both anachronistic and counterproductive" (579-580). In the second of these ecologically oriented essays, "The planet of no return: Human resilience on an artificial earth," Erle Ellis makes the bold (to environmental ears) claim that "The history of human civilization might be characterized as a history of transgressing natural limits and thriving" (795-796); thus "There is no alternative except to shoulder the mantle of planetary stewardship. A good, or at least a better, Anthropocene is within our grasp." (800-801).
The next essay, "The rise and fall of ecological economics," by Mark Sagoff, attends to nature's epistemological ally, science. Sagoff argues that, by promoting abstract mathematical modeling of thermodynamics and equilibrium states in natural systems, and eventually caving in to more mainstream cost-benefit and willingness-to-pay economic methodologies, ecological economics "finds itself at a political and academic dead end," suggesting the weakness of appealing to "scientific theories, rather than to popular concerns, to provide an intellectual and political basis for an effective green politics" (928-930). If there was once a moral power sustaining environmentalism, it will only come back if "environmentalists employ science not to prescribe goals to society but to help society to achieve goals it already has" (1198).
Sagoff's essay is followed by one authored by Daniel Sarewitz, "Liberalism's modest proposals," whose subtitle, "The tyranny of scientific rationality," echoes in part Sagoff's claims. Sarewitz's title itself echoes the famous essay of Jonathan Swift, who also set to condemn "scientific rationality unchecked by experience, empathy, and moral grounding" (1357-1358). Sarewitz focuses on an interesting contradiction in that American liberalism accords scientific rationality a "tyrannical role," yet eschews technological solutions to problems: the pro-science stance resonates with its stance favoring government oversight, but has ironically become the justification for a "risk- and scarcity-based liberal politics" (1437-1438) that prioritizes regulation over technological innovation.
The title of the final Love Your Monsters (herewith LYM) essay, "The new India vs. the global green Brahmins," suggests its similar displeasure with the mainstream green agenda. The author, Siddhartha Shome, begins by reworking India's iconic environmental tale: "The actual history of the Chipko is the story of rural Indians' efforts to establish local control of resources, first by fighting the outside forest contractors who wanted to log their trees, and then by fighting outside environmentalists who wanted to protect them" (1592-1594). Shome challenges well-known green elites like Vandana Shiva, who "naturalized poverty and invoked the interests of the rural poor as justification for their antimodern ideas" (1621-1622), and reminds us that the Indian ascetic tradition went hand in hand with caste.
Do these arguments mutually hold together? The e-book endleaf proclaims this as the common thread: "a vision of postenvironmentalism for the Anthropocene....where all 10 billion humans achieve a standard of living that will allow them to pursue their dreams....if we embrace human development, modernization, and technological innovation" (1719-1721). And indeed there are points of resonance in all essays: for instance, Sarewitz supports a "public goods-public works approach" to technological innovation, Kareiva and coauthors support conservation via "embracing development and advancing human well-being," and Shome is thankful that "modernization and urbanization" are finally breaking down the caste system in India. But what is the necessary link between acknowledgment of the Anthropocene and a progressive/innovative outlook? Only if, by looking backward, we erroneously see a once-pure nature in perfect equilibrium--an Edenic narrative (Merchant 1995)--and the analogous social generalization of peoples in harmony with this nature. If the past becomes more variegated--if nature never was entirely natural, nor unnatural--then the future does too, and no simple nod toward tradition nor progress will do. Clearly there are more questions to be asked: what sort of modernization, by whom and for whom? Perhaps LYM rightly shakes up the gospel of Nature, but the gospel of Progress is not an untainted substitute, as any student of the 20th century may observe.