An Environmentalist Drifts Right

by Norman Rogers

Michael Shellenberger is a very talented environmentalist/journalist. For years his ideological outlook has been drifting right.

The bedrock of current day environmentalism is climate change — the belief that increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere due to burning fossil fuels will lead to an environmental and economic collapse. Climate change is the latest in a long string of pending catastrophes that last until everyone is bored and a new pending catastrophe must be wheeled in.

Shellenberger has written three books. His 2007 book, Break Through: Why We Can’t Leave Saving the Planet to Environmentalists, was written with Ted Nordhaus. Ted Nordhaus is the nephew of the Yale economist William Nordhaus who also writes about climate change.

Break Through is critical of environmentalism’s negative outlook. Shellenberger and Nordhaus advocate a more positive and optimistic approach. But the basic ideas of environmentalism and progressivism are not challenged. For example, this overwrought passage:

“The challenge of climate change is so massive, so global, and so complex that it can be overcome only if we look beyond the issue categories of the past and embrace a grand new vision for the future.”

Climate scientists rarely correct wild claims by environmentalists. Exaggeration by environmentalists helps promote the scientists’ importance without requiring them to commit scientific malpractice. Break Through repeats unscientific scare stories, for example increasing hurricanes, epidemics, and collapse of the Gulf Stream.

Shellenberger says that he wrote his 2020 book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, to combat exaggeration and alarmism. It is to his credit that he repents for the exaggerations and alarmism that characterizes the environmental movement and his first book.

Apocalypse Never points out some of the grossest contradictions in the climate change movement. For example, if you believe that CO2 emissions are leading to a climate problem it is rational to adopt nuclear power because it doesn’t emit CO2. But fanatical environmentalists oppose nuclear power and nuclear power stations are being closed in places like Germany. He also points out that the Left’s solution to reduce CO2 emissions, wind and solar, are not up to the job, although billions are being squandered on wind and solar.

Shellenberger clings to the idea that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a reliable source of scientific estimations of the effect of CO2 on climate. The IPCC doesn’t make predictions but projections. Projections are what the IPCC gets out of its computer models that typically use sketchy data as input to the models.  The various models used by the IPCC disagree seriously with each other and with the Earth’s climate.  Extremely important climate influencing agents are ignored or poorly handled by the models. It’s highly irresponsible to promote this science as foretelling an approaching cataclysm. It is also highly rewarding for the many stakeholders in climate alarmism.

The IPCC is a creature of the United Nations. The UN is known for its Human Rights Council filled with member states that are notorious violators of human rights. The UN is a political body and generally hostile toward the United States. Why should we think that the IPCC is a reliable scientific body that takes the interests of humanity to heart? There is extensive literature exposing the corrupt nature of the IPCC.

Organizations established to help humanity like all bureaucracies tend to put their existence and budgets ahead of the ostensible mission. This can lead to self-promotion and exaggeration. Self-promotion and exaggeration is a strong trend in bureaucratic science, be it the IPCC, or various American scientific organizations concerned with the study of climate. For example, at one annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, they ran a workshop on refuting critics of their climate policy. The object was to convert scientists into advocates spreading propaganda.

The Norwegian government gave the Nobel Peace Prize to climate catastrophe advocates Al Gore and the IPCC. Norway is a petro state with large offshore oil reserves showering money on the small population. Norway’s oil exports are responsible for vast emissions of CO2. But Norway gave the prize to opponents of burning oil. Neither Al Gore or the IPCC rejected the prize on the grounds that they shouldn’t embrace CO2 polluters.

Shellenberger is a humanitarian. He points out the lack of compassion that leads governments to deny fossil fuel stoves to impoverished Africans, insisting that they continue to burn CO2-neutral dung and wood in smokey huts to cook their food. Meanwhile climate bureaucrats and virtue-signaling celebrities fly in private jets to climate conferences at five-star resorts.

Shellenberger’s 2021 book, San Fransicko. Why Progressives Ruin Cities, is a frontal attack on progressivism as exemplified by the city of San Francisco. Chapter 16 is brutal. That chapter covers Jim Jones and the People’s Temple cult. Jim Jones had close relations with the progressive power structure of San Francisco. The temple moved to Guyana where Jones forced the suicide of 907 members, including many children, by drinking cyanide.

In the same month of November 1978, Dan White, a former policeman and a former member of the San Francisco board of supervisors assassinated the mayor, George Moscone, and the gay supervisor Harvey Milk. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, made the announcement. In keeping with the lenient view of criminality of the times, the killer Dan White served only five years in prison.

Chapter 16 of San Fransicko denounces the moral corruption of progressivism in San Francisco but it may also be a plea for return to traditional religion. Abandoning traditional religion leaves a spiritual vacuum often filled by a cult.

At the University of Austin, Shellenberger revealed that he had returned to his Mennonite faith. His talk was a ruthless attack on progressivism. It was also a tribute to America. In his younger days, like many progressives, Shellenberger was hostile to his country. Now he endorses America and the American people.

San Fransicko is primarly about “homelessness” or colonies of drug addicts living on the streets of major cities. Shellenberger’s solution is radically different from liberal ideology that often minimizes the effects of drug addiction and concentrates on providing housing. He favors the use of the police and courts to force the addicts into strict rehabilitation programs. He points out that this coercive approach has been successful in Europe.

Shellenberger gave an excellent presentation summarizing San Fransicko before the San Francisco Commonwealth Club.

When Elon Must took over Twitter he made Twitter censorship files available to a number of writers, including Shellenberger. The result was the Twitter Files, a series of reports showing how the government used Twitter to suppress information critical of the administration. That almost certainly caused Trump to lose the election in 2020 when the Hunter Biden laptop story was suppressed in establishment media.

After writing San Fransicko, Shellenberger changed his California voting registration from Democrat to Independent. He has even written an essay:  “Why I Am Not A Progressive. “

Why didn’t he go all the way and switch to Republican? Plenty of Republicans believe in the IPCC too. Probably because he might lose his following. He ran for governor of California and received 4% of the vote — a substantial fan base of mostly non-Republicans.

Ideological conversions from Left to Right or from atheist to believer are common. It appears that Shellenberger has taken both roads. He deserves our admiration for following his heart and risking his future.

This commentary was first published at American Thinker on January 27, 2024.

Norm Rogers educated as a physicist was a cofounder of Rabbit Semiconductor. He has written many articles concerning global warming and green energy. He is a member of the board of directors of the CO2 Coalition and was formerly on the board of the National Association of Scholars.  You can visit his website here.  

Photo credit: ARC Forum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michael_Shellenberger_speaking_at_ARC_Forum_2023,_30_October_2023.jpg

Subscribe to Our Informative Weekly Newsletter Here:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.