Environmentalist Michael Shellenberger got off to a rocky start with his book launch when Forbes deactivated his column apologizing for the “climate scare,” but the magazine may have done him a favor.
The backlash prompted a host of feisty contrarian websites, including Quillette, Zero Hedge and Watt’s Up With That, to reprint his Monday column, providing a spate of publicity in advance of Tuesday’s release of “Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All” (HarperCollins).
“Forbes apparently doesn’t want you to know that team climate has lost Michael Shellenberger,” said the free-market Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), which runs the Climate Depot website.
That said, the word is out. Already climbing the Amazon bestseller charts, “Apocalypse Never” threatens to hit the climate movement harder than a wind turbine colliding with a bald eagle.
“Apocalypse Never” represents a rarity, a major release by a prestigious publisher that refutes widely repeated environmental talking points; accuses climate activists of misleading the public, and contends that policy solutions such as green energy are making matters worse.
“I actually argue that renewables are worse than fossil fuels,” Mr. Shellenberger told The Washington Times. “It’s a physical manifestation of lower power densities. More land, more materials, more mining, more metals, more waste. This is very well understood in the scholarly literature.”
Among activists, however, the strategy is to win over people with what he calls the “appeal to nature fallacy, which is the idea that some things are more natural than other things, and by being more natural, they’re better.”
In the case of energy, he said, so-called natural solutions are worse for the environment. Solar and wind energy require vast amounts of land and play havoc with bird and wildlife species. Biomass essentially means burning wood and other plants, which chews up forests and produces carbon emissions.
For the last five years, Mr. Shellenberger, 49, has been a prominent nuclear energy advocate — he heads a group called Environmental Progress — but before that, he was a self-described “radical,” moving to Nicaragua when he was 17 to show support for the Sandinistas, then fighting to save the California redwoods and championing renewables.
A Time magazine “Hero of the Environment,” he has testified before Congress and was enlisted as an expert reviewer for the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change.
“Until last year, I mostly avoided speaking out against the climate scare,” Mr. Shellenberger said in his column. “Partly that’s because I was embarrassed. After all, I am as guilty of alarmism as any other environmentalist. For years, I referred to climate change as an ‘existential’ threat to human civilization, and called it a ‘crisis.’”
But mainly, he said, “I was scared,” worried about losing his friends and his funding. What helped change his mind was the impact of rising climate alarmism on children and teens.
“Definitely a big part of this is that my concern that the mental health of adolescents is being harmed by this apocalyptic alarmism, but it’s also hurting other things,” said Mr. Shellenberger, who has two children and lives in Berkeley, California.
The climate movement is “obviously anti-nuclear, even though nuclear is the only way to reduce emissions significantly,” he said. “And it’s being used to deprive poor countries of fossil fuels and frankly hydroelectricity and nuclear, because it comes from this Malthusian agenda that says there’s too many people in the world and everyone has to massively become much poorer.”
Mr. Shellenberger said climate activists have the cash advantage: The two biggest green groups, the National Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund, have a combined annual budget of $384 million, dwarfing that of the two largest skeptic groups — the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Heartland Institute, which combine for about $13 million, according to the book.
“Climate activists massively outspend climate skeptics,” Mr. Shellenberger said.He traces the climate-change uproar to the zero-population movement, which was itself an outgrowth of theories promoted by Thomas Malthus, the 18th century economist who warned that population growth would lead to starvation.
“It’s the same people, the same movement,” said Mr. Shellenberger. “Climate emerges at exactly the moment when it was clear that overpopulation wasn’t going to be the big concern everybody thought it was. When climate goes away as an apocalyptic concern, something else will emerge. No doubt about it.”
He said the “demands are the same: Don’t let poor countries have fossil fuels, for heaven’s sake. Don’t let them industrialize. How terrible. Don’t let them move to cities, keep them in the villages, let’s give them a solar panel and a battery, that ought to be good enough. It’s pretty dark stuff.”
The apology column met with some snark from climate activists. “I had a couple of guys say ‘you don’t speak on my behalf.’ Okay, sure. Well, do you speak on behalf of environmentalists?” said Mr. Shellenberger.
Despite the blackout, he remains a columnist for Forbes, and was back at it Tuesday with an article alleging that the House Democrats’ Climate Crisis Action Plan would be a disaster for endangered species.
Forbes said that Mr. Shellenberger’s apology column failed to follow the magazine’s editorial guidelines without offering details.
“Forbes requires its contributors to adhere to strict editorial guidelines,” said a Forbes spokesperson in an email.” “This story did not follow those guidelines, and was removed.”
Like Patrick Moore, the former Greenpeace leader who was vilified after turning against the movement, Mr. Shellenberger will undoubtedly make some enemies — he anticipates an “intensely negative reaction” to the book — but he believes the time is right for a fresh take on the climate.
“Nations are reorienting toward the national interest and away from Malthusianism and neoliberalism, which is good for nuclear and bad for renewables,” he said in his column. “The evidence is overwhelming that our high-energy civilization is better for people and nature than the low-energy civilization that climate alarmists would return us to.”