By Dave Dentel
You know an author is on to something when breaking headlines keep affirming the thesis of his latest work. Such is the case with Michael Shellenberger’s 2020 book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.
Only last week a report out of Germany underscored Shellenberger’s contention that climate disaster predictions don’t produce rational policies—just histrionics.
The news item noted that Greta Thunberg and other activists had been detained by police for trying to block the expansion of a coal mine.
Thunberg, you will recall, gained notoriety as a 16-year-old in 2019 when she scolded her elders at the United Nations for not doing more to halt climate change.
Her most recent exploits are aimed at preventing Germany from extracting and burning more of a type of fuel she and fellow protesters believe pumps carbon into the atmosphere and causes what they say is an ongoing “climate crisis.”
Dearth of Energy
However, German authorities insist they need extra coal in order to deal with a more pressing problem—the loss of natural gas imports from Russia. That nation drastically reduced sales of fuel to western Europe last summer for reasons likely related to its ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine.
Russia’s strictures prompted an energy policy reversal that has almost certainly galled the climate alarmists. Germany’s government had aimed toward producing 80 percent of its electricity through renewable methods—mainly solar and wind—by 2030.
Instead, as the BBC reported, German officials have now “delayed plans to shut down its three remaining nuclear power plants, and pushed to increase capacity to store natural gas imported from other countries such as Norway and the US.”
This reversal aligns with what Shellenberger argues is a sensible and humane approach to coping with the planet’s warming trend. Discarding proven technology and fuels in favor of risky solar and wind, he warns, removes access to the cheap and reliable power societies need to build prosperity and access the resources that will help them adapt to changes in climate.
He builds on this premise by extolling the virtues of nuclear and hydro-electric power, as well as industrialization and modern farming methods. It is these types of improvement, Shellenberger writes, that will provide genuine solutions to environmental and conservation problems even in underdeveloped nations.
As such, his treatment of these topics often runs counter to the prevailing narratives in popular culture and the media.
For example, Shellenberger writes that in places like Congo, burning coal would be preferable to the way many poor families currently provide for their energy needs—by harvesting trees in wildlife preserves for firewood. He also defends the use of plastic because it offers manufacturers a cheap substitute for materials that used to be obtained from animals.
When Doom Sells
Shellenberger’s most poignant discussion, however, deals with why some activists use fear to press for policies that would prevent people from enjoying the fruits of modern society.
In one chapter, he makes the case that some peddlers of apocalyptic scenarios may very well be motivated by bigotry. He cites activists such as University of California biologist Garrett Hardin, who in the 1970s revived the false prophecy that the planet’s population would soon outstrip available resources. Hardin insisted that, in the face of impending doom, the best policy would be to refuse aid to poor countries lest their people escape death and “diminish the quality of life for those who remain.”
Shellenberger goes on to suggest that many others who embrace radical environmentalism are actually seeking a substitute for religion.
He writes: “It provides a new story about our collective and individual purpose. It designates good guys and bad guys. And it does so in the language of science, which provides it with legitimacy.”
Though not necessarily original, this observation is not without merit. Human beings have an inherent desire to see their lives as part of an overarching narrative—one imbued with a meaning greater than simply struggling to exist.
But humans are also fallible. For this reason people who champion a cause need to examine whether they are doing so to forward ironclad truth—or merely to fulfill some personal need. Especially when their crusading threatens to consign a good portion of the planet to a new dark age.