Michael Shellenberger is many things: nuclear energy advocate, author, and contrarian. But as he argues in his contentious new book, Apocalypse Never, he’s also an apostate to an environmental movement that has become increasingly religious in its approach.

“The trouble with the new environmental religion,” he writes, “is that it has become increasingly apocalyptic, destructive, and self-defeating.” That’s why, he says, he’s “formally apologizing” on behalf of “environmentalists everywhere.”

Now, this is a bit like Donald Trump apologizing on behalf of all Christians for the behaviour of the Catholic church.

Shellenberger may have been an environmental activist as a teenager, and he has been willing in the past to acknowledge the threat posed by rising greenhouse gas emissions, but he’s been an advocate and lobbyist for the nuclear industry for the better part of two decades.

Rather than focusing on clean power regulations or carbon pricing, Shellenberger believes we ought to be betting on technology — and nuclear technology in particular. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the conflict of interest at work here.

In 2007, he co-wrote a book (along with Ted Nordhaus, the nephew of Nobel Prize winner William Nordhaus) called Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, which embraced a pro-growth, pro-technology vision for the future and took aim at the environmental movement’s willingness to trade prosperity for protection.

But Shellenberger's new book takes that vision a step or two further, and focuses far more on the alleged dangers posed by those fighting climate change than climate change itself. “Climate change is happening,” he writes. “It’s just not the end of the world. It’s not even our most serious environmental problem.”

His book, though, very much is a problem for the environmental movement he pretends to apologize for. It represents a strategic retrenchment for the industries and individuals who have long resisted any efforts to take climate change seriously, away from the forward ramparts of rank denialism and towards the higher ground of gradualism.

That ground will be far more difficult to attack, and attempts to overwhelm it more likely to get bogged down in technical minutiae and policy wonkery. His story will create a permission structure for those who don’t want to take climate change seriously, and force those who do to wade through his argument.

"For those looking for a reason not to take climate change seriously, Michael Shellenberger's argument is a compelling invitation to indifference."

That isn’t going to be pleasant work, either. As Peter Gleick, a MacArthur Fellow and winner of the 2018 Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization, noted in a recent review for Yale Climate Connections, “the book suffers from logical fallacies, arguments based on emotion and ideology, the setting up and knocking down of strawman arguments, and the selective cherry-picking and misuse of facts, all interspersed with simple mistakes and misrepresentations of science.”

In a world where science has become increasingly politicized, especially in the United States, those mistakes and misrepresentations could do meaningful damage to the public conversation around climate policy.

Shellenberger isn’t the first prominent environmentalist to have an apparent conversion on the road to Damascus.

Patrick Moore, an activist who was involved with Greenpeace in its earliest days (and who likes to describe himself as a “founder” even though Greenpeace has denied that many times), has dined out for years on his decision to turn his back on the organization in 1986. In the decades that followed, and particularly the decade that just passed, Moore transformed into a familiar critic of climate policy and even the reality of climate change itself. His explanation for the shift — that the environmental movement “abandoned science and logic in favour of emotion and sensationalism” — is eerily familiar to Shellenberger’s.

But if Moore invented the repentant-environmentalist shtick, Shellenberger has perfected it. His story is far more compelling than Moore’s, and he will almost certainly sell many thousands of books because of it. After all, it’s clear that he believes sincerely in the environmental virtues of nuclear power, and the role it can play in decarbonizing the global economy.

It’s also equally clear that he’s willing to overstate its potential benefits and undersell those of renewable technologies, such as wind and solar, in ways and with facts that the average person may not understand or appreciate. For those looking for a reason not to take climate change seriously, his argument is a compelling invitation to indifference.

The good news for climate activists is that Shellenberger is swimming against an increasingly strong tide.

Global financial institutions are not as easily swayed by rhetoric, and they are not about to discount the environmental and financial risks associated with climate change. Morgan Stanley recently announced that it would start reporting on how its loan book and other investments contribute to climate change, and it’s hard to imagine that other American banks won’t follow in its footsteps. It also is joining the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials, whose membership includes 66 financial companies that collectively manage $5.3 trillion US of assets.

And while Shellenberger may not believe in the economic and environmental benefits of wind and solar energy, others aren’t nearly as skeptical. Texas, of all places, recently joined the growing list of places that produces more energy from wind and solar than coal, and that list will only grow as the cost of wind and solar continues to drop. The European Union recently announced that 30 per cent of its nearly two trillion euro economic recovery plan will go to climate-oriented investments, while Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has pledged $2 trillion worth of spending on things like renewable energy and electric vehicles.

Polemicists like Shellenberger may be able to slow this progress, provided politicians are willing to listen to them, but they cannot stop it. His work will be welcomed by those who seek out reasons not to take climate change seriously, but their numbers seem to shrink with each passing day.

They’re now fighting a rearguard battle, whether they realize it or not. And while Shellenberger’s message will have its audience, it may not age as well as he hopes. In time, he may even find himself apologizing for his apology.

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I haven't read the book--and hesitate to purchase a copy and thereby increase its popularity. But just on the 'apocalyptic ' question, there is a concern that those who understand the science and the risks are focusing too much on the dangers and not enough on the solutions. If we are sounding too 'alarmist' it's because the situation is in fact becoming more alarming. So one important issues is how do we frame our narrative so we don't alarm people into denial or impotence. Particularly young people. The most important strategy is to strongly focus on the solutions to the problem and here renewable energy technologies should take centre stage. Most climate scientists are not engineers and don't have a good understanding of solar and wind. Nor are they tracking technical developments--which are moving fast. This means that they are not adequately emphasing the solutions to the climate crisis. This makes space for obsessively pro-nuclear advocates who see nuclear as the solution to all our energy problems. This is absolute and total nonsense.

"Michael Shellenberger is many things: nuclear energy advocate, author, and contrarian. But as he argues in his contentious new book, Apocalypse Never, he’s also an apostate to an environmental movement that has become increasingly religious in its approach."

Michael Shellenberger is many things: nuclear advocate, nuclear cheerleader, and nuclear shill. But as scientists point out, he’s also an apostate to science. Not the environmentalist he claims to be.
Nuclear salesman Michael Schellenberger says he is sorry for misleading us, yet continues to do so without shame. His grasp of science is laughable.
"Article by Michael Shellenberger mixes accurate and inaccurate claims in support of a misleading and overly simplistic argumentation about climate change" (Climate Feedback)

Shellenberger is not a (climate) scientist. He graduated from the Peace and Global Studies (PAGS) program at Earlham College.
He has been aptly described as "a nuclear salesman posing as a new generation environmentalist". "A radioactive wolf in green clothing."

Shellenberger believes the global poor can adapt to climate change through development and nuclear power.
How does Shellenberger expect starving people in Africa to cope with extended drought, more extreme heat days, increasing pestilence, and crop failures?
Does he suppose that everyone has access to air conditioning? Outdoors? In the fields?
Sea level rise and storm surge threaten coastal cities. Drought forces millions to migrate. Lethal heat makes outside work impossible. People around the world — even in First World developed nations — are failing to adapt.
How does he expect people to adapt to floods, inundation, soil salinization, and loss of infrastructure? Are the world's biggest coastal cities going to just pick up and move?
Who will foot the bill? Shellenberger?

The World Health Organization calls climate change "the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century."
Tens of thousands have died in recent heat waves.
The 2003 European heatwave killed around 70,000 people.
90+ people died in Quebec's heat wave in July 2018.
374 dead in Australia's 2009 heat wave.
People in First World nations failed to adapt.
Not Shellenberger's problem.

We've all seen apocalyptic images of wildfires in Australia, Greece, Fort McMurray, and California. The future is here.
Warming is just underway, and already we are witness to ecosystem collapse. Already the world has lost half its Arctic ice (three quarters of Arctic sea ice by volume), coral reefs, and kelp beds. Hundreds of millions depend on coral reefs and fisheries for food, livelihood, and erosion protection. Will Shellenberger feed them?
Glaciers are rapidly melting.
What about all the other species and ecosystems that cannot adapt fast enough? Shellenberger denies that humans are causing a sixth mass extinction. The modern extinction rate is at least 100 times the natural background rate. While there are many contributing factors, climate change is expected to become the main driver of species extinction.
An ounce of prevention...

Climate change and wildlife in the headlines:
• It's already happening: Hundreds of animals, plants locally extinct due to climate change
• Warming Planet Pushing Species Out of Habitats Quicker Than Expected
• Melting Arctic ice threatens ‘entire marine food web:’ Study
• Study finds bees, flowers wilted by climate change
• Warming oceans may cause the world's fish to shrink, study suggests
• Climate change could have devastating impact on global fisheries
• Chinook salmon at risk of 'catastrophic loss' under global warming, new study reveals
• Salmon may not survive warming in B.C. rivers
• Record North Pacific temperatures threatening B.C. marine species
• Warm ocean water triggered vast seabird die-off, experts say
• Climate change threatens birds, pushes them north
• Birds migrating at wrong time for warmer climate
• Climate change is turning some sea turtle populations 99% female
• Warmer weather, more killer whales bad news for Hudson Bay belugas
• Scientists say reindeer may be shrinking due to warming
• Caribou face major threat from climate change, study finds
• Gorillas, tigers at risk due to climate change-report
• Climate change driving 'ghost moose' calf mortality, say researchers
• Spread of 'zombie' disease killing off starfish linked to rising ocean temperatures
• The Ocean Is Running Out of Breath, Scientists Warn

To believe that Nuclear power is not part of the solution for large areas of the world shows a lack of understanding of the scale of energy requirements. ALL Wind and Solar projects require 100% backup to provide reliable supply. Even with storage systems (which yet need to be developed and scaled up to utility grade) they would need to be built so large to be able to provide the storage and base load at the same time. What sort of environmental nightmare will be created with tens of thousands of wind turbines and thousands of square kilometers of solar panels? This is for Canada only, and all of it still needing backup supply.
Hydroelectric is not feasible everywhere and how many practical sites are left. They also have their approval issues and have significant impacts.
Tidal sources are significant but also have their environmental impacts too and are easiest for coastal areas.
Nuclear is the safest, most versatile and reliable source. To not be included as part of the solution would be an extremely large mistake. The technology currently being has proven to be safe and reliable and is continuously being improved. The waste is minimal in comparison and uses for it is also being developed.
The solution is a mix of sources.

Very few people are saying that nuclear can't be part of the mix of solutions, and it should be presented as such -- only as part of the mix. Although it's zero-carbon (after all that concrete is in place), it's not renewable. We certainly shouldn't have been shutting down nuclear plants and replacing them with coal-fired energy, that's for sure. But Mr. S. is $#!†ing on renewable energy and scoffing at the climate emergency. I wish the National Observer hadn't given him this airtime. We shouldn't be uttering or printing his name. Like a certain president to the south, this is all about ego.

Yes solar and wind require storage--which is aleady being coupled in at utiliity (MWh) scale. Check out Florida and California. Renewables are less expensive (levelized cost) than CC gas and nuclear. Let nuclear run its course but why continue to spend when it is not the most cost effective option? Demand management, rooftop solar, behind the meter storage, and energy eficiency are all required. Then link hydro in with HVDC transmission if we are talking about Canada. Solving this puzzle requires lots of pieces, but nuclear is not the most important one.

I won't waste my breath disputing the apocalyptic label sprinkled about. You have to be buried by denialism - a new religion - or perhaps bought off by the deniers, to ignore the trajectory that becomes more obvious with evey passig decade. We are running out of decades to respond to the writing on the wall. How's that for apocalyptic?

Can't agree more! What is out there identified and explained on the internet are the physical facts describing the finite planet we inhabit. It is for practical purposes the sum total of the resource base and engine for life in it's Biosphere for us and all other organic life. Our collective drive for linear growth in our numbers and resource use will not go on much longer as deplete that base and have no way to add to it. We do however still have a closing window to open, change our destructive ways to a sustainable one. That must mimic the way Nature recycles ,permitting the reuse of the resource base with little to no waste. Look it up! One source is the Global Footprint Network. The book Ecological Footprint - Managing our Biocapacity Budget.
We can engineer our salvation as a species if we can be persuaded to do so. The information on what and how to do so is all out there for the taking. It might be done humanly over time. Otherwise Nature will attend to us as it has always done with species that got "too big for their britches" That is my understanding of the dilemma facing us all, where ever on this bit of space dirt drifting in space we call Earth.

On behalf all mothers and grandmothers, I would like to publicly apologize for Michael Shellenberger.