Meanwhile, bright green environmentalists often see themselves as pragmatists and support economic growth since low-income countries will not have their industrial development denied by people in the West. Rather, economic security is seen as foundational for developing post-materialist values such as environmental concern. Bright green environmentalists also pragmatically support free markets, but unlike most neo-liberals they insist that pricing must include eco-capitalist evaluations of the value of ecosystem services and the costs of pollution, meaning carbon dioxide pricing and emissions trading.
Part of the intellectual origins of bright green environmentalism go back to Fuller and his techno-optimist, commercial, and partially ecologically autonomous design ideas. During the second half of the 20th century, his ideas and those of his adherents nevertheless remained marginalized by technophobe dark green environmentalism on the one hand and mainstream developmentalist thought unconcerned with ecological footprints on the other.
During the 1960s and 1970s, global concerns about scientifically measurable environmental degradation supported the growth of both forms of environmentalism. In the 1970s, almost every state established an environmental ministry or agency, while intergovernmental organizations such as the UN also showed heightened concern, launching the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972.
During this rise of environmental concern in the United States, Fuller’s bright green ideas strongly clashed with those of the dark green persuasion. As I detail in a book on ocean industrialization and urbanization that I am currently finishing, during a presentation to HUD in the spring of 1968, Fuller clashed with Liz Carpenter, press secretary to US President Lyndon B Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird. Carpenter heavily criticized the high population density and shape (a truncated tetrahedron) of the design. She also regarded aquatic spaces as something of a pristine wilderness that should be conserved. Afterwards, HUD delayed issuing a press release concerning Fuller’s design for more than five months and did not provide additional support.
Fuller also clashed with US senator Gaylord A Nelson, a co-founder of Earth Day, who after the disastrous Santa Barbara oil spill in early 1969 was among those concerned about pollution and the uncontrolled and unregulated industrialization and urbanization of the ocean. In 1970, Fuller had a run-in with public intellectual Lewis Mumford, a historian of technology and urbanization, who stirred technophobia because of what he warned were the technocratic and anti-democratic tendencies of the US “military-industrial complex” to control and rationalize US society. Mumford saw Fuller’s Tokyo Bay proposal in this context.
The Busan pilot project, by contrast, is regarded by the government authorities as a techno-optimist solution to multiple environmental problems, including several kinds of pollution. During the early twenty-first century, growing concerns about climate change and environmental degradation meant that instead of technophobia, techno-optimist environmentalist ideas turned mainstream. No longer marginalized, they have gained substantial global influence in international organizations and national governments. Dark green environmentalism may have sunk Fuller’s floating city design, but today high-population-density multi-floor buildings that concentrate environmental footprints rather than have a horizontal urban sprawl have become a key element in the more ascendant bright green environmentalist approach.
Busan as benchmark
A manifestation of bright green environmentalism, the Busan project exemplifies techno-optimism in its application of ecological autonomy (or self-sufficiency) through carbon neutrality, freshwater autonomy and zero-waste systems. It represents market-based commercialization of affordable urban adaptation tools that could be adopted by other cities including those in the Global South or low-income countries. It is also a project predicated on economic development instead of degrowth, trading off the likely-to-be-limited environmental impact on the ocean – noise pollution, light pollution at nighttime, heat releases into the water column below it, and shade-casting during part of the day – for a larger ecological footprint reduction and resilience to floods.