I guess the current entertainment in the climate world relates to Michael Shellenberger’s new book, Apocolypse Never, which is due to come out next month and is already doing well on Amazon. In a somewhat amusing twist, Michael wrote a Forbes article to promote his book, which was fairly quickly removed for reasons that are not entirely clear. What was slightly more amusing was the article itself, which Michael chose to frame as an apology, on behalf of environmentalists, for the climate scare. This is now being framed as a reformed climate activist condemning alarmism.
The problem is that nothing I’ve seen being presented by Michael Shellenberger in this context, is particularly different to what I’ve seen him present before. One of the chapters in his book is called Greed saved the Whales, not Greenpeace. The title would suggest that it’s just a variant of what he presented in his 2015 TED talk about how to save nature, that I discussed in this post. The basic argument is essentially that we didn’t save the whales, we simply stopped needing them. Not only is it somewhat disturbing to think that we shouldn’t explicitly try to save nature, the argument is apparently also wrong.
Michael Shellenberger is also an author of the Ecomodernist Manifesto, which Eli dissects quite nicely here. When he and Ted Nordhaus came to the UK to promote this in 2015, they invited Owen Paterson and Matt Ridley to join them at the launch event. Neither are typically regarded as Environmentalists, and Owen Paterson even used the event to bash what he calls the green blob .
If you go back even further, Shellenberger’s 2004 book with Ted Nordhaus is called The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World. There’s a 2007 book called Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility. There’s even a recent paper on the origin and evolution of post-environmentalism that focuses on the Breakthrough Insitute, formed by Shellenberger and Nordhaus in 2003. Shellenberger did leave the Breakthrough Institute a few years ago, though.
If Michael Shellenberger was ever what would be regarded as a climate activist and ever an environmentalist, as is commonly understood, it doesn’t seem like it was recently. Apologising on behalf of environmentalists, for the climate scare, would then seem a rather bizarre thing to do. On the other hand, it’s very clever. It certainly gets the media’s attention. It also seems to make some people think that – if Shellenberger is changing his mind – maybe the climate scare is overblown. Not many seem to be actually considering whether or not he really is a reformed climate activist. Essentially, he’s managed to undermine a movement he’s trying to challenge, by apologising on their behalf, while also getting lots of coverage for his book.
Although this all seems rather cynical, and disingenuous, you do have to give Shellenberger credit for his ability to get media attention. If this wasn’t such a serious topic, it might even be quite funny.