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Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management



The Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management program addresses intersecting challenges such as global climate change, natural resource depletion, financial sustainability, and innovative organizational change. Click here to find out more about the program, and visit the EPSM blog here.

Ecomodernism: A Call for More Technology to Address Climate Change

Blog post written by Professor Rick McGahey, Director, Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management, and SCEPA Faculty Fellow



Professor Rick McGahey

A provocative new document on global environmental challenges says that “climate change and other global ecological challenges are not the most important immediate concerns for the majority of the world’s people. Nor should they be.” Is this just the latest self-regarding propaganda from international agribusiness and oil companies? No, the statement comes from the new “manifesto” just released on “eco-modernism.” 

The ecomodernists are associated with the Breakthrough Institute, founded by activists associated with the Apollo Alliance and other thinkers who want a more dramatic move to clean energy to spur economic growth while reducing carbon release and environmental damage. Eduardo Porter has a positive piece on the manifesto in the New York Times

The manifesto calls explicitly for more urban development and growth, arguing that is the best way to increase the standard of living for the world’s population. They see the possibility of a greener, better managed way of living in a more urban-centered world. 

The manifesto explicitly rejects what they view as romantic visions of rural living and subsistence agriculture. The authors argue that “The average per-capita use of land today is vastly lower than it was 5,000 years ago, despite the fact that modern people enjoy a far richer diet. Thanks to technological improvements in agriculture, during the half-century starting in the mid-1960s, the amount of land required for growing crops and animal feed for the average person declined by one-half.”

So they want more intensified, productive agriculture and aquaculture, along with nuclear power, desalinization, and other technologies.  I think the manifesto is very hopeful to naive about our ability to manage some of these specific technologies (especially nuclear waste). But I’m drawn to their argument that says smarter and lower carbon technologies can help raise everyone’s standard of living, shifting our economy to less polluting and carbon-intensive services. 

In what seems a deliberate echo of Karl Marx, this manifesto says “The modernization processes that have increasingly liberated humanity from nature are, of course, double-edged, since they have also degraded the natural environment…It is also true that large, increasingly affluent urban populations have placed greater demands upon ecosystems in distant places — the extraction of natural resources has been globalized. But those same technologies have also made it possible for people to secure food, shelter, heat, light, and mobility through means that are vastly more resource- and land-efficient than at any previous time in human history.”

Marx of course argued that capitalism was historically necessary to assemble the productive forces of the modern economy on a scale that could vastly expand output and the potential standard of living. In the 1848 Communist Manifesto, Marx said “The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.”  But he also argued that the social and economic relations around those productive forces were in conflict, and needed to be overturned and transformed, or the promise of a better life for all through increased economic output would be lost in a series of inevitable economic crises rooted in the legal and property arrangements of capitalism.

The ecomodernists seem to echo that view, arguing that our hugely productive technologies had to be assembled to generate the rising global standard of living. But now new technologies and/or ways to manage the older ones are necessary, and they believe that can be achieved. 

They are much vaguer than Marx on the economic and social relationships surrounding these technologies, either deliberately or because they haven’t fully engaged the question of who profits from destroying the environment. The ecomodernists need a dialogue with thinkers like Naomi Klein, whose 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism and the Climate ties climate destruction directly to economic exploitation.

Perhaps the boldest thing the ecomodernists say is: “…any conflict between climate mitigation and the continuing development process through which billions of people around the world are achieving modern living standards will continue to be resolved resoundingly in favor of the latter. Climate change and other global ecological challenges are not the most important immediate concerns for the majority of the world’s people. Nor should they be.  Meaningful climate mitigation is fundamentally a technological challenge. By this we mean that even dramatic limits to per capita global consumption would be insufficient to achieve significant climate mitigation. Absent profound technological change there is no credible path to meaningful climate mitigation.”

 Agree or not, the manifesto will stir up debate among progressives devoted to stopping and reversing climate change. The explicit embrace of technological solutions to climate change and the endorsement of a higher global standard of living challenges environmentalists who believe reducing economic growth and fostering subsistence and rural modes of living must be part of saving the planet.

 I agree with the ecomodernists that if we pose the battle that way, the climate and the planet will lose. A higher economic standard of living can be compatible with a greener planet. But the ecomodernists need to analyze power and exploitation to understand why we have the technologies and economic arrangements we do. The solution is not reducing economic growth, but the movement needs an analysis of economic and political power to understand why we have the technologies we do, and what it will take to transform them.



Alumni in the News: EPSM Graduates Excel as EDF Climate Corps Fellows

milano-epsm“I’m always amazed by what can be accomplished when you throw a bunch of really creative and intelligent people into one room for just an hour—let alone for nearly a week,” says Lisabeth Tremblay. The newly-minted Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy alumna, along with fellow classmate Zachary Koser, recently spent four days in Chicago witnessing just that sort of brain power—at a training session for the highly selective Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps. The EDF Climate Corps is a summer fellowship that places specifically trained graduate students from a variety of disciplines in companies, cities and nonprofits as experts on energy efficiency and sustainable strategy. Tremblay and Koser, graduates of the Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management (EPSM) MS program, were among 117 EDF Climate Corps Fellows selected from over 700 applicants.

Read more on The New School NEW_S



Faculty Spotlight: EPSM Professor Ana Baptista Featured in the Huffington Post

anaEnvironmental Policy and Sustainability Management Professor Ana Baptista was recently featured for bringing “a passion to her work, and the knowledge of how living in a specific locale can impact health.” Professor Baptista has long been an advocate for alternative energy production as a solution to the problems of pollution associated with the production and use of fossil fuels. Baptista grew up in the Ironbound in New jersey, and continues to advocate for policies that will lead to cleaner air, waters, and soil in the area. One of the main drivers of her efforts is the understanding that “children of color are the most at-risk victims of pollution.”




Reflecting on Climate Action Week @ The New School

Peoples-Climate-MarchThe environmental movement is often oversimplified. Don’t litter. Recycle. Save the Rain Forest. Great campaigns are often reduced to catchy phrases that minimize the needs of underrepresented people and communities who have been systematically excluded from the protection of basic human rights. Challenging popular interpretations of climate change, The New School’s Climate Action Week successfully brought social equity to the core of the People’s Climate March by hosting events that assembled diverse viewpoints ranging from indigenous women and community activists to economists and film directors.

Looming science and political ambivalence have created hurdles to understanding the social implications of climate change.  Milano’s Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management (EPSM) program prepares students with skills to understand the science behind environmental issues and devise management techniques that will impact cultural change.

Simply put: Climate change is a “wicked problem.”

What is a “wicked problem?” A multi-layered problem, so large and complex in scale that it cannot be tackled by one solution; thus multiple solutions are implemented with the scant understanding of how parts of the problem will be affected by those attempts. Global poverty could similarly be considered as another example of a “wicked problem.”  

Highlights of the week included: the premiere of the documentary film Disruption and panel discussion, titled, “On the Rise: Global and Local Front-line Communities and the Climate Crisis.” These events leading up to the rally, gave voice to groups generally underrepresented in the conversation and shed light on the fact that those contributing most to the problem are the least affected by the overall damage. 

Bill McKibben of 350.org explains, “It’s totally an accident that we even think of climate change as an environmental issue. You can just as easily think of it as another example of what happens in an unequal society.” His thoughts coupled with other well known leaders like Naomi Klein (author of This Changes Everything), Carl Anthony (co-founder of the Breakthrough Communities Project) who conveyed the message that climate change is more than saving the earth, but it also means justice for people. And it is everyone’s problem.

To conclude the week’s activities, The New School took to the streets on Sunday with 300,000 other marchers. Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson joined New School marchers in an electric demonstration. The climate justice cause united people that represented diversity in race, age, religion and nationality.   

Climate Action Week marks the beginning of The New School’s work in climate justice. Under the leadership of Dean Michelle DePass, the Tishman Environment & Design Center (TEDC) was re-launched as a university-wide center tasked with advancing The New School’s sustainability agenda while also serving as a research hub for solutions to complex environmental problems. As a sponsor of Climate Action Week, TEDC interviewed many leaders and panelists with the goal of understanding how to support their front-line initiatives in climate justice. In an upcoming series titled #MarchOnward, TEDC will keep up the momentum from People’s Climate March by releasing content and creating programming to address those needs. For more information, keep in touch with us a @NewSchoolTEDC

Alexandria McBride is a first year M.S. candidate in Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management Program. Alexandria joined the EPSM program with seven years of experience in environmental and operational project management, community-based consulting and finance. With her passion for environmental justice, Alexandria is excited to examine and tackle challenging environmental issues with her EPSM classmates and professors.



Climate Action Week Kicks Off with “Disruption”

BM MJ Climate Action Week handout (Front)Climate Action Week @ The New School kicked off on September 7 with the preview event: the premier of the environmental documentary Disruption.

Joel Towers, Executive Dean of Parsons the New School for Design gave opening remarks, followed by a brief introduction to the movie by filmmakers Kelly Nyks (an alumnus of The New School) and Jared P. Scott of PF Pictures. A panel discussion following the film was moderated by Jamie Henn, Strategy and Communications director of 350.org. Panelists Keya Chatterjee, Director, Renewable Energy and Footprint Outreach, WWF, Eddie Bautista, Executive Director, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, and Ricken Patel, Executive Director, Avaaz.org were all interviewed in the film. Professors Charles Allison, Associate Professor of Practice in Finance at Milano, and Jean Gardner, Associate Professor of Social-Ecological History and Design at The School for Constructed Environments, Parsons The New School for Design were on the panel as well.

The New School hosted the marquee event as Disruption was screened at over 700 locations on 6 continents in an effort to build awareness and excitement leading up to the People’s Climate March on Sunday, September 21.


Disruption_New_School_Slide_2 REVISEDThe film unpacks the question ‘why have we done so little, when we know so much?’ by weaving together commentary and insight from some of the most renowned voices on climate change today including James Hansen, Naomi Oreskes, Senator Barbara Boxer, Bill McKibben, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Naomi Klein, Elizabeth Kolbert, Rajendra Pachauri, Justin Gillis, Michael Mann, among others.

The film takes an unflinching look at our unique moment in history – of tipping points and thresholds – as the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change and the last generation that can do anything about it. Taking the message of meaningful action beyond the climate choir, Disruption expands the understanding of climate change to encompass a broad range of social justice issues including equality, resource scarcity, independence and autonomy.

Ultimately, Disruption forces us to confront the greatest challenge of our time – whether we will be able to collectively learn from our past to save our future.