Viridian Manifesto Technoprogressive and Ecological Proposals

A technoprogressive future will only be possible in the decades ahead given an indefinitely sustainable relationship with the environment. The change necessary, such that any change is for the better, requires broad technological progress and profound societal shifts. To this end, deepening our humanity by improving ourselves is an asset.

Publié le 25 juin 2020, par

Original text in French adopted by the AFT Technoprog 

(January 2020)

A technoprogressive future will only be possible in the decades ahead given an indefinitely sustainable relationship with the environment.

The change necessary, such that any change is for the better, requires broad technological progress and profound societal shifts. To this end, deepening our humanity by improving ourselves is an asset.

A « viridian » option, which is to say, one that is ecological, technological, and non-destructive to humanity, presupposes radical transitions.

Technoprogressive transhumanists consider that it is essential to change our behavior collectively and individually in order to stop global warming, the loss of biodiversity, and the consumption of non-renewable resources.

Here is a summary of the propositions in this manifesto:

  • Collective research
    • Invest massively in sustainable development research, first and foremost publicly funded.
  • Renewable energy
    • Improve our ability to capture and store abundant renewable resources,
    • Limit nuclear power in a pragmatic way.
  • Reuse and remediation
    • Limit pollution at the source, ensure recycling, develop remediation technologies.
    • Reduce drastically the use of non-renewable and polluting resources.
    • Considerably increase prevention, initially through research on sources of pollution.
    • Use geoengineering only when we know that the means envisaged are reversible without new technology.
  • Collective reflections and decisions
    • Develop automation, robotization for targeted and diversified crops, reuse of biocompostable waste, off-soil culture, clean meat without animal suffering,
    • Promote the effective use of artificial intelligence and 3D printers.
    • Restrict business practices that encourage over-consumption.
    • Choose knowledge sharing in an open source knowledge economy.
    • Invest in radical life extension, which can slow or even reverse the growth of the population, and thus of consumption.
    • Expand education programs that promote women’s liberation as well as transhumanist awareness of environmental issues.
    • Develop neuroscience so that everyone can choose to better control the predispositions that tend to make us ecologically irresponsible.

Homo sapiens has been roaming the Earth for about 300,000 years. It has probably always dreamed of « mastering » nature. It has probably been responsible for the disappearance of animal species since the beginning of its development. This began even before humans were fully human. Pollution, in the contemporary sense, has been significant in some aspects for millennia. Lead pollution created during the Roman Empire can still be measured today in the glaciers of Greenland.

Whether we like it or not, we have totally changed the world. Nothing is more artificial than our typical 19th or 20th century countryside landscapes. Even a good part of the Amazonian rainforest had been cultivated centuries ago, and the plant species that grow there are partly a result of agriculture.

Collective research

What is new, of course, is not only the magnitude of our impact, but also the extent of awareness of it and, thanks in particular to technological progress, the accuracy in measuring it. For example, the atmosphere is much less radioactive than it was 50 years ago when China and France were still conducting open-air nuclear tests, but the instruments for measuring radioactivity are much more sophisticated and sensitive today.

However, despite the scale of the research and because the obstacles are considerable (notably fraud and green washing, but also sometimes the desire to frighten people for one end or another), considerable investment is needed for scientific studies. This must first be done with public resources so that transparency and efficiency are guaranteed, and with the most effective means (including artificial intelligence).

The need for research cannot, however, be a substitute or excuse for slowing down behavioral change. There is no doubt about certain realities, for instance:

  • the rapid disappearance of many living species, starting with insects,
  • global warming; more specifically, there is no doubt about the impact from the release of greenhouse gases as a result of human activity,
  • the high rate of consumption of non-renewable resources.

Renewable energy

With regard to the question of energy, we must first of all be aware that each renewable source of energy: wind, tidal, hydroelectric, solar and geothermal, is released in nature in vastly greater quantity than what is needed for human activities. The example often cited is that of solar energy arriving on the surface of the Earth, one hour of which would be enough to supply the needs of the entire human population for a year.

The two major questions are:

  • How can we capture these energy sources in a more efficient way and at scale for all human needs?
  • How do we store energy?

The choice regarding nuclear power is a complex one. On the one hand, technoprogressives know that the proven risks, in the short to medium term, are lower than those of many other energy sources (particularly fossil fuels) and lower than those perceived in public opinion. On the other hand, some short- and medium-term dangers of nuclear energy remain, and from military use. The decommissioning of power plants is an expensive and complex process, rarely carried out to date, and requires management of waste, some of which will persist for tens of thousands of years. Finally, although research into fusion must be pursued with a long-term vision, it is a distant prospect at a time when energy challenges are urgent.

Reuse and clean up

With regard to raw materials and future pollution, the first question is: How can we ensure a transition towards the recycling of all products that reach the end of their lifecycle, starting with the most environmentally harmful and scarcest materials? Of course, care must also be taken to limit the production of single-use goods with low social utility and/or high ecological cost.

In this area, as in others, recent developments are positive, but not fast enough.

Alongside the question of future implementation, there is the management of the backlog of existing pollution. The aim is to determine, as quickly as possible and as objectively as possible, which products released into the atmosphere, water, and land are the most toxic. In order to determine the level of hazard and then eliminate the most harmful ones, significant public resources are necessary and scientific research is needed to reduce these costs.

Scientific research is particularly necessary in all matters concerning:

  • « toxic cocktails » (several products, each minimally or not harmful separately, but which become so in combination)
  • nanoparticles (because they are little understood, generally of recent production, and can traverse across and accumulate in all human tissues)

Pollution, particularly air pollution, could be a major factor in the stagnation of life expectancy in the richest countries.

In all environmental fields, research must obviously address humans first, but immediately afterwards other living beings. In particular, there is an urgent need to understand, and then to find ways of compensating for, the rapid disappearance of birds (especially the decrease in the number of individuals per species, in addition to the disappearance of species). The same applies to the even more rapid and worrying disappearance of insects. Finally, in certain rarer but equally important cases, substances or consequences of human activities may also be positive, in a collateral way, i.e. without this effect being intended. These effects must also be understood so that they can be replicated.

With regard to the management of global warming already under way, the question of geoengineering arises. Should we try to change the climate in the other direction? Given in particular the degrees of uncertainty on this subject, in the short to medium term, only those means that we know can be reversed without new technology are reasonable (e.g. the effect of planting on the albedo…). The massive injection of CO2 into the atmosphere was a kind of blind anti-geo-engineering. Carbon capture is a way we can engineer to reestablish better balances.

Collective reflections and decisions

As Michel Serre wrote, pessimism sells, optimism (and concrete proposals) is for the struggle. Collapsology (or, how the industrial world is setting the stage for its own collapse) is a useful exercise in thinking, when collapse is not believed to be inevitable. Although many past catastrophic predictions have proved to be wrong (overpopulation, acid rain, nuclear pollution), this does not mean that the risk of future catastrophe is low. Catastrophic environmental breakdowns cannot be ruled out, including « snowball » type effects, in particular the risk of an exponential runaway of global warming.

In agriculture, technology has created food miracles and ecological disasters. A return to the agriculture of « our grandparents’ time » would almost certainly mean the death of tens or even hundreds of millions of people, starting with the poorest! We need modern organic agriculture. Among the means to feed citizens while leaving space for biodiversity we can list automation, robotization for targeted and diversified crops and to facilitate the reuse of all biocompostable waste, soil-less cultivation, and the creation of food (« clean meat ») in vitro and without animal suffering. 

Other collateral effects, other unintended modifications of the environment are not necessarily damage. Both for novel effects and for consequences already in progress, it is useful to analyse whether, in some cases (which will not be the most frequent), there are not also positive consequences that can lead to therapeutic progress, to an increasingly long and healthy life.

As transhumanists, we believe that a world in which women and men could live much longer and be more in control of their bodies and feelings (cognitive improvements) would be a planet where individuals would demonstrate much more concern for the environment, because they would know that they could still live there well beyond the century. Let us also remember, with regard to the question of the risk of overpopulation, that at the beginning of the 21st century, it is in those places where humans have the shortest life expectancy that there is very strong population growth (people who live longer have fewer children).

Moreover, the idea of transforming the human species to adapt it to a changed environment does not seem desirable in the foreseeable future. But above all, it is absolutely impossible to implement this approach in the short to medium term, when the changes are already underway. Firstly, humans just as they are can live in an extremely varied temperature range; secondly, to adapt would be to « encourage » even more dangerous changes; and thirdly, the prospect of coercive policies to achieve such an outcome quickly would be unacceptable to democratically-minded people.

On the other hand, there are two other areas in which our societies have an interest in working to improve their readiness for environmental issues. These are education and neurobiology.

Quality education for all is important, particularly for women’s liberation, and therefore for their reproductive rights, which generally translates into a lower birth rate, and therefore lower consumption and the associated environmental degradation. But it is also necessary to start educating from childhood on how to think about technological issues, including aspects related to transhumanism, so that such considerations are included in the environmental discourset.

Many transhumanists also consider that we must not neglect the path of neuro-improvement. It seems likely that part of our ecologically irresponsible behavior (tendency toward accumulation of material possessions, toward a mentality of ownership, the limits of our capacities for projection or empathy, etc.) stem from mental predispositions that we have inherited from living conditions during the Paleolithic. If we manage to develop neuroscience sufficiently, we might be capable of offering to each person the choice, of their own free will, to better control or even improve these predispositions.

Finally, « The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one does not spend one’s whole life in a cradle » wrote Konstantin Tsiolkovsky more than a century ago. One day we might leave this planet, but this prospect is so remote today that it should in no way be an excuse for not caring about the environment. On the contrary, if we wish to envision one day the achievement of moving into the frontier of space, it will first and foremost be by way of our ability to keep our current environment viable. Even the prospect of procuring raw materials in exploitable quantities from space is still very hypothetical. Thinking about these questions in a forward-looking way, with a desire to go beyond, yes. Seeing them as a solution to contemporary difficulties, no.

Decreases in non-renewable resources and a more collective future

A radical decrease in the use of non-renewable resources and sources of pollution is needed. This radical decrease must be global. A situation in which we consume less of polluting products but with a strong growth in consumption is harmful to the environment (this is known as the Rebound Effect). In this sense, in the short to medium term, any technological solution is insufficient. A political dimension is equally necessary. Incentives are not sufficient. Collective behavioral changes are needed to ensure that globally, for each state and for each citizen (except the poorest), there is a radical progressive reduction in the ecological footprint. This means, in particular, less aggressive commercial and consumerist approaches.

The effective use of artificial intelligence allows the automation and optimization of production processes for industrial and consumer goods with lower energy and raw material demands and better recycling. The well-managed use of 3D printers reduces the need for user inventory.

It should be noted that gains in longevity, contrary to what some people think, allow a decrease or even reversal of population growth (and thus consumption). For example, Japan, the nation with the highest life expectancy, has had the largest decline in population growth among the world’s major countries.

Technological mastery, with a collective dimension, through the common sharing of knowledge and myriad resources, particularly in an open source knowledge economy, is an indispensable component for deepening our humanity in a sustainable fashion with the environment. As a positive collateral effect, political and environmental choices could generate more equality by requiring less effort from the less advantaged. All this will allow a transition that will not be without difficulty, but which can combine a decrease in the ecological footprint with an increase in well-being.