Note — May 30, 2021

Green Utopias: Environmental Hope Before and After Nature

Technically, in this article Paul Graham Raven is reviewing Lisa Garforth’s book Green Utopias, which he does, but it’s also very useful on its own, read as a short analysis of the “dialectic of green hope in policy, in philosophy, in climate science, and in science fiction.” Years ago, sustainable development split into two conceptual camps, “strong” and “weak,” which might be framed as the “needed” and the “doable within the status quo,” very much like the Protopic progressives I outlined last week.

These days, the debate around carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies as well as Bill Gates’ adjacent claim that new tech is essential to reaching decarbonization goals follow in that fight of strong v weak. CCS would be great, so would new techs, but they push back the time to act, while system change and scaling of existing tech can do the job now.

But the review covers more and can be read as presenting the spectrum of thinking and action between the two conceptual camps, all the way to the creation of related utopias, and how both concepts have affected which utopias have been created, and which potential ones were never contemplated.

[C]orporations today are feverishly at work implementing their novel Net Zero strategies, no doubt innovating exciting new forms of heel-dragging, buck-passing, subterfuge, and slipshod dei ex machina as they go. […]

[T]his is still very much the technological utopian mode in action, whereby innovative new technological “solutions” and market forces will somehow save us from the accumulated consequences of earlier technological “solutions” and market forces. […]

[A]n avowed and self-identifying utopia is a rhetorical and a political statement above and beyond its story and its worldbuilding: it doesn’t just make a claim about the value or virtue of the particular future or way of living it portrays, but also makes a claim that fictional futures can (and maybe should) do this sort of work: the work of imagining that we might find better ways to live (if never perfect ones). […]

This is the hope of hopes, then: that the existence of competing hopes is an advance upon the myopic we’ll-innovate-our-way-out optimism of market fundamentalism.