We first mentioned nuclear power-lover and renewable-hating former environmentalist Michael Shellenberger back in 2015, when he accused the Pope of blasphemy (among other things). By 2018 his anti-renewable schtick was catching on with the paid-by-fossil-fuels denial crowd, for example in his embrace of pollution-publicist Steve Milloy’s argument that a little nuclear radiation is perfectly safe.
Now he has a new book out, and unsurprisingly, deniers who love any anti-climate argument they can get are eating it up while basically everyone else, including experts at Shellenberger's own former organization, are calling it out for being full of errors and otherwise misleading. (For example, one of his first points about how environmental alarmists are liars is that the Amazon isn’t "the lungs of the world" -- a short-lived viral meme that even we debunked!)
The marketing ploy started with a blog post at Forbes, in which Shellenberger claims to “apologize for the climate scare” on behalf of environmentalists. It was quickly removed removed from Forbes because they considered it too-self promotional, but that supposed censorship of course kicked off a repost-spree in denierland, with the piece getting published by such luminaries of the climate world as WUWT, Quillette and GWPF (twice!), with additional pieces at ClimateDepot and the Australian, and interviews with Glenn Beck, oil PR man Alex Epstein, and a podcast interview with the Heartland Institute, which also posted a piece threading together Michael Moore and Bjorn Lomborg’s recent anti-climate nonsense, making for a nice trifecta of people who supposedly aren’t deniers themselves, but whose work (on climate) is indistinguishable from rank and file climate denial.
As for Shellenberger’s book, that’s actually the point. It’s meant to appeal to deniers, so that instead of thinking, in the words of its publisher Eric Nelson to climate journalist Eric Holthaus, that “it’s a hoax,” they might instead come to accept that climate change “is a 100 year problem not a 10 year problem.”
So according to its publisher, the book is meant to give deniers a reason to believe we don’t have to take action on climate change until the next century. Responding to Nelson’s comment that he “feel[s] good” about publishing the book that “advocates allowing Africans and Asians [sic] people the benefits of energy that Europeans currently enjoy,” Holthaus did not mince words: “It’s not about you ‘feeling good,’ it’s definitely not about you ‘allowing’ exploited, colonized people to do anything. Reinforcing extractive capitalist white supremacy is indefensible as climate policy.”
But even if it weren’t a book written for and marketed to those with a financially- or ideologically-driven compulsion for climate denial, it would still be wrong about a lot.
In fact, Shellenberger’s “censored” op-ed was so rife with mistakes that even those couple legitimate climate scientists who wrote positive blurbs of their book were critical, according to a piece in the Guardian by Graham Readfern. Kerry Emanuel, for example, is reportedly reconsidering his involvement, and said that Shellenerger “gets a few of his facts wrong,” pointing to “plenty of evidence” that Shellenberger denies in claiming climate change isn’t making natural disasters worse. In response, Shellenberger behaved exactly how deniers behave, and claimed that “The Guardian isn’t a legitimate newspaper,” but instead “a renewable energy industry-funded religious organization” that “provides public relations services to the renewables industry in exchange for money for its apocalyptic, heliocentric sect.”
The sad part is that Emanuel was being generous, as a ClimateFeedback grading of the piece by actual climate scientists shows just how reliant Shellenberger’s argument is on misleading, cherry-picked or inaccurate claims.
Shellenberger responded with a lengthy post that amounted to “nuh uh!”, but sensing one of their own was in trouble, deniers swarmed twitter to defend him. One particularly rich vein of denial can be found in response to Zeke Hausfather, now at Shellenberger’s erstwhile organization BTI, who was one of the experts who contributed to ClimateFeedback’s debunking. There, you can find Judith Curry apparently criticizing the debunking without reading past the intro, Mike Bastasch claiming that Climate Feedback is “purely a platform for certain scientists to ‘cancel’ people,” and, somewhat bizarrely, Richard Tol scoffing at Roger Pielke Jr.’s insistence that there’s no climate signal in hurricane damages.
We could go on, for example Ketan Joshi’s comparison to Gamergate is very interesting, but this is already running long, and more importantly, The Guardian just sounded the gong that commands us to begin our daily heliocentric devotions.
May the ever-churning orbits of our celestial bodies bring you all the peace, energy and wisdom the eternal nuclear explosion in the sky has to offer.