Techno-Optimism and Its Discontents
In 2020, Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping pledged to ‘transition to a green and low-carbon mode of development’, as well as to ‘peak the country’s CO2 emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060’. Xi’s pledge offered a tangible example of what has come to be known as the ecological civilisation (生态文明)—the idea of engineered harmony between humans and nature that was recently incorporated into the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. But what kind of engineering is required for sustainable transitions at this scale and pace? Through which political concepts and technical practices could such a harmonious rebalancing of China’s resource-devouring development be envisioned and achieved?
This issue of the Made in China Journal addresses these questions by borrowing political theorist John Dryzek’s rereading of the Greek myth of Prometheus. Inspired by the story of a demigod who stole the technology of fire for the sole purpose of human advancement, Prometheanism describes an eco-modernist orientation that perceives the Earth as a resource whose utility is determined primarily by human needs and interests and whose environmental problems are overcome through continuous political and technological innovation. In contrast with other environmental perspectives, Prometheanism prioritises human interests and needs over those of ecosystems or the individual needs of other lifeforms. Through this framework, we asked our contributors to offer their takes on the following questions: To what extent can Xi’s dream of an ecological civilisation be understood in terms of techno-optimism and the anthropocentrism that characterise Prometheanism? What price is China paying in its effort to transition towards a heavily engineered ‘sustainable’ market utopia?