The Stories Michael Shellenberger Tells

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER WANTS US to believe environmentalists are impeding our ability to solve environmental problems. This has long been the position of Bay Area ecomodernists, who argue that technology and growth, not limits, will save the planet. Now, in his best-selling new book Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, Shellenberger goes further, claiming that climate change and species extinction are not terribly threatening anyway. Lest we infer that this means environmentalists are off the hook, since the problems they’re preventing from being solved aren’t even that dire, Shellenberger tells us that poverty is actually our most urgent threat, and environmentalists, by blocking industry and artificial technologies, are working to keep the poor forever poor. He is contemptuous of anti-nuclear activists as well, who fight against what he claims is the only source of energy that is “abundant, reliable, and inexpensive,” and able to “power our high-energy human civilization while reducing humankind’s environmental footprint.” Along with his newest organization, Environmental Progress, he has spent the last four years trying to save nuclear power plants as if they were endangered species.

Shellenberger has a history of anti-green contrarianism.

. . . .

After their confrontational essay made waves, he and Nordhaus co-founded a think tank, the Breakthrough Institute, and another PR firm, American Environics. By 2008 they had published a book that landed them among Time’s 32 “heroes of the environment” alongside the likes of Van Jones and Alice Waters. Their position was that if environmentalists want to win politically, including with fence-sitting conservatives, they have to invent and tell better stories. The story Shellenberger has stuck with is that the things environmentalists resist — nuclear, GMOs, fracking, industrial agriculture, and so on — are actually good for the environment.

In a 2019 academic article about ecomodernism’s history, Giorgos Kallis and I wondered whether denialists might soon take up these ideas. This is exactly what has happened with the publication in June of Apocalypse Never. Climate change deniers and delayers have eagerly embraced a self-declared environmentalist who says that global warming is real but no big deal. In July, Shellenberger talked about his new book on Fox News and a Heartland Institute podcast. Right-wing newspapers and climate “truther” websites praised it. When Forbes took down Shellenberger’s provocative piece plugging Apocalypse Never — an “apology” for the “climate scare” on behalf of environmentalists (whom he’s denounced since 2004) — because it violated their policy against self-promotion, Shellenberger tweeted on June 29 that he was censored. The Daily Wire, Quillette, and Breitbart quickly published all or part of the article. Conservative media can’t get enough of this story: the born-again whistleblower bashing scientists and environmentalists who want to cancel him for it.

. . . .

The book itself is well written, with more nuance than the promo piece. This said, it is full of moral condemnations of movement leaders and generic greenies alike. It presents environmentalism as a nature-worshipping religion that has devolved into fanaticism about the apocalypse. Environmentalists find existential meaning in the idea of apocalypse, Shellenberger claims, and therefore reject obvious solutions. He writes,

When we hear activists, journalists, IPCC scientists, and others claim climate change will be apocalyptic unless we make immediate, radical changes, including massive reductions in energy consumption, we might consider whether they are motivated by love for humanity or something closer to its opposite.

His factual arguments often miss the point environmentalists are making. He argues, for instance, that humans are not causing a sixth mass extinction, and then leaps — illogically — to the conclusion that extinction is thus hardly a problem.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

Earlier this week, PG was trying to remember when he had last heard a public figure say, “I respectfully disagree.”

PG wishes he could claim to have purposely included the post that preceded this one about cognitive dissonance with this one from the LARB, which includes a feast of disparaging adjectives, but PG’s basic method of exploring for materials that might be of benefit to authors and others who visit TPV is best described as electronic stumbling-about.

4 thoughts on “The Stories Michael Shellenberger Tells”

  1. Historically speaking, Shellenberger is correct; developed countries pollute way less than the under-developed ones, in reverse proportion to their technology level (not their activists or politicians) but also in direct proportion to their population size.

    The worst polluters, as the asian brown clouds prove, are high population under-developed countries. This isn’t to say the proponents of a culling of human populations are right, rather that further technology-based development is needed. And soon. Because nothing leads to a decline in population like economic development.

    The ideal solution would be an off-planet diaspora but the tech for that is still a ways off, unfortunately.

  2. Environmentalists find existential meaning in the idea of apocalypse, Shellenberger claims, and therefore reject obvious solutions.

    Meanwhile the debris protected by environmentalists continues to provide wonderful kindling for the California forest fires.

    However, we should remember that this year’s level of burn is well within the historical norms when nature had complete control. Lightening plus accumulated kindling did a wonderful job of resetting a forest cycle. So, we have the situation as nature intended. All of it, including the apocalypse part.

  3. Climate change is real, because climate is real, and change is real. Change is arguably the most real thing of all, though we could argue on what real means? Here I mean something that is measurable.

    As for our response to climate change, the answer is… it’s complicated.

    Anyone who says they have an easy answer is probably more likely to be wrong than right. Realistically, again what can be measured, humanity can do a bunch of stuff, but the results will take years (century counting time) to see the results of.

    So, humanity needs to adapt, improvise, and overcome the problems as they present themselves. This will be difficult, and a lot of people are not going to like what happens (insert reasons du jour). The planet will go on, humanity – bar a Black Swan event – will go on.

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