Excerpt from Novel Ecologies (forthcoming 2025)

Located in Mountain View, California, the two interconnected buildings that constitute Google's Bay View campus—which total over one million square feet—look from above like a space station that has landed on the marsh. The compound has been envisioned as a model for ecologically attuned engineering. Its architects tout the ninety thousand solar panels that make up the metallic canopy roofs and power the “all-electric, net water-positive” buildings, which are heated and cooled by “the largest geothermal energy system in North America” (McLaughlin 2022; Studios Architecture 2023). The embodiment of state-of-the-art construction, Bay View also showcases biophilic design: a central atrium is called the mothership, corridors and common spaces are lined with plants, and exposed elevator shafts are painted with original murals inspired by California’s endemic ecosystems (“Dunes,” “Scrubs,” “Oak Savanna,” and “Tidal/Marsh”). This is more than a workplace. It’s a whole world, a utopia wherein nature seamlessly melds with technology. Driving this idea home, a promotional video for the campus opens with a close-up shot of reeds on a pond overlaid with ducks quacking and seabirds taking flight—a visual reference to the salt marsh on which Bay View sits. Into this ordinary ecological scene, a narrator’s voice proclaims: “The one thing we know about the future is we have no idea how we will be working” (Google Real Estate 2022). Making Google synonymous with the brightest possible such future, the video presents Bay View as a prototype for a “hybrid world” constituted by both digital capitalism and regenerative nature (Google Real Estate 2022). Sidestepping the ecological impacts of computing itself (silicon wafer manufacturing from the 1960s through the 1980s gave the region its name, and Google’s former headquarters sits on a Superfund site), the campus promises to "breath fresh life into the landscape" (Google Real Estate 2022)

This is the audacious environmental imagination of the tech industry (or tech for short). Novel Ecologies: Nature Remade and the Illusions of Tech takes this imagination to be pervasive and powerful in contemporary US society. . . . This ascendant paradigm for what self-branded eco-optimists call next nature is at once nostalgic about wilderness and deeply invested in engineering of all kinds and orders. Welcome to the age of Nature Remade, a time when “engineering has firmly taken root in the entangled bank of biology even as proposals to remake the living world have sent tendrils in every direction,” to quote to a collection of essays on the nature-making work of molecular genetics and geoengineering (Campos, Dietrich, Saraiva, and Young 2021, 1). Nature Remade is the organizing concept of Novel Ecologies, capitalized throughout the book to invoke a patented technology or intellectual property. . . . Regressive and speculative at once, Nature Remade takes up values that have long led environmentalists to advocate for and seek refuge in wild nature and assimilates those impulses into a techno-utopian embrace of “the Earth we have created” (Marris, Kareiva, Mascaro, and Ellis 2011). The recognition of anthropogenic climate change and kindred ecological and planetary crises ignites, for such thinkers, “a heretofore unthinkable, exciting, and energizing thought . . . we can make more nature” (Marris 2011, 56 [emphasis added]).

Novel Ecologies defines Nature Remade as a twenty-first-century formation with especially strong roots in American histories of empire and invention rooted in California. This center of gravity will shift in and out of focus as Novel Ecologies follows the threads of its argument from California to the Arizona desert, the Pacific Northwest, and the Pacific islands of Hawaii, Japan, and Micronesia as well as to speculative futures in fictional worlds. Across its six chapters, Novel Ecologies brings scrutiny to Nature Remade as a charismatic meganarrative (a phrase adapted from the scientific keyword of charismatic megafauna) that obscures the planetary impacts of tech as well as the ecological, ethical, and social issues with ever-larger scales of environmental design and engineering. In developing this thesis, the book alternates between ventures that “advance the story” (Brand 2013) of Nature Remade and the ecological speculations of novelists, poets, and other artists who contest the premise that "technology and technologists are building the future and the rest of the world. . .needs to catch up" (O’Mara 2019a, see also O’Mara 2019b).

On one track of its project, Novel Ecologies explores three case studies in Nature Remade: (1) the ecological self-image as compared to the planetary footprint of the tech industry itself, from the rise of the Internet through the dawn of AI; (2) the science and the story of so-called de-extinction as a solution to biodiversity loss and a blueprint for what I call wilderness by design; (3) and, finally, this century’s billionaire-led race to explore space and terraform other worlds. These case studies feature a cast of characters that includes the tech juggernauts Google, Meta, Open AI, Amazon, and SpaceX and their founders alongside a constellation of lesser-known start-ups, labs, and science organizations, such as the de-extinction funder Revive and Restore and the Mars simulation sited on Native Hawaiian (Kanaka Maoli) ground known as HI-SEAS. Each puts Nature Remade in conversation and confrontation with writers and artists who envision environmental futures to come while refusing to forget the histories that have made the Anthropocene what it is today: among them, Saya Woolfalk, Jennifer Egan, Craig Santos Perez (CHamoru/Chamorro), Natalie Jeremijenko, T. C. Boyle, Tracy K. Smith, and Octavia Butler. On a parallel track, the book dwells on three works of environmental fiction: Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, which presents a multispecies multiverse that toggles between Silicon Valley, the Pacific Northwest, and Japan; the California-based sci-fi writer Becky Chambers’s Monk and Robot stories, which envision a post-tech future led by robots called the wild-built; and Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne series, which takes readers to a speculative world remade by climate change and bioengineering but also by nonhuman people and their evolving multispecies society. As the novels, poems, installation artworks, and expressive media I contemplate thus delineate and disrupt the paradigm of Nature Remade, a radically different future-oriented environmental imagination from that paradigm coalesces, one that orients around collective life rather than capitalist venture and around livability over profiteering.