For some years now, Michael Shellenberger has been trading on his past credibility as an environmentalist by criticizing environmentalists, as part of a strategy to promote fossil fuels and nuclear power. His latest effort is a book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, that he’s promoted with a blog post claiming to apologize on behalf of environmentalists for the “climate scare.” In the post, which was removed from Forbes due to its self-promotional nature and then reposted in a variety of climate denial blogs, he makes a number of unsubstantiated, false and misleading claims.
Shellenberger has used a variety of conspiratorial, rightwing and fossil-fuel-funded climate denial organizations and media outlets to promote his book, which his publisher said is meant for deniers to use to argue that climate change is a problem for 100 years from now. The book, according to a review by Dr. Peter Gleick, “is deeply and fatally flawed… a polemic based on a strawman argument.” While noting that “a comprehensive catalog” of the errors and logical fallacies with the book “would require its own book,” Dr. Gleick summarizes Shellenberger’s argument as “what is new in here isn’t right, and what is right isn’t new.”
Climate Scientists Rebutt Michael Shellenberger’s Arguments
In addition to the many experts who weighed in on social media to contest Shellenberger’s claims, climate scientists contacted by ClimateFeedback thoroughly debunked his argument (leading to the latest of many examples of Facebook carving out a loophole for climate disinformation.) Both of the respectable climate scientists who had initially given his book a positive review expressed concern to the Guardian about Shellenberger’s opinion piece getting the facts wrong. In response, Shellenberger went on a Twitter rant accusing the news outlet of providing “public relations services to the renewables industry in exchange for money for its apocalyptic, heliocentric sect.”
As for the substance of the Forbes op-ed, Shellenberger opens with a dozen of what he considers “facts” that “few people know.” Here’s a look at a few, with the actual science-based fact in bold:
- We ARE driving species to extinction: Shellenberger denies that humans are causing a “sixth mass extinction,” but as Professor Gerardo Ceballs explained to ClimateFeedback, “in the last century we lost in one year the same number of species that would have been lost in 100 years!” Whether or not losing a century’s worth of species every single year for 120 years qualifies as a mass extinction event on par with a meteor strike is beside the point: human activity is destroying ecosystems at a worrying pace.
- Climate change IS MAKING extreme weather worse: Multiple points Shellenberger puts forth are dedicated to denying the fact that climate change is making natural disasters worse, with wildfires being a particular focus. But there is a massive body of scientific evidence showing the fingerprint of climate change on extreme weather events, and wildfires in particular have been made significantly worse by warming. A major government review of climate science in 2018 found that in the western US, twice as many acres were burned between 1984 and 2015 than would have in the absence of climate change, and that warming and not forest management was to blame, debunking several of Shellenberger’s points at once.
- Environmentalists ARE NOT making other false claims he attributes to them: Not all of Shellenberger’s claims are false though. But the things he’s right about, for example that “the Amazon is not ‘the lungs of the world” or that rich nations are reducing carbon emissions, or that “direct killing of wild animals” is a bigger threat than climate change, are not actually things that climate groups and environmentalists would contest anyway. They’re straw man arguments he’s using to pad out the list. For example, we actually published a debunking of the Amazon meme that went viral, and while emissions in some countries are going down, even with the coronavirus pandemic’s impact they’re nowhere near the trajectory needed to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5C. And yes, of course directly killing animals is a more direct threat than climate change! Who would ever argue that killing an animal is less of a threat to it than literally anything else?
Although Shellenberger’s past as an environmentalist may mean he’s not a typical climate change denier, in light of his use of false and misleading arguments made in climate denial blogs and hyperbolic “heliocentric sect” attacks on the press, all in order to sell a book to climate deniers, he may as well be.