Shellenberger’s “Apocalypse Never” Lessons for VA

HarperCollins, 2020

“Climate change is real but it’s not the end of the world.  It is not even our most serious environmental problem.”

By Steve Haner

That statement opens the dust jacket summary for “Apocalypse Never:  Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All” by Michael Shellenberger, once named “Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine. It remains the number one best-seller in Amazon’s Climate or Environmental Policy category, competing with alarmist sermons such as “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells and “How To Avoid A Climate Disaster” by Bill Gates. Anybody interested in the topic should seek it out.

The themes of the book also align well with views previously featured from a 2019 newspaper column by retired University of Richmond biology professor, R. Dean Decker. Both are totally at odds with the wild predictions of Climate Armageddon that drive the Virginia Clean Economy Act, the upcoming Virginia debate over the Transportation and Climate Initiative carbon tax, and just about every Democratic political campaign in the Virginia and the U.S.

Shellenberger’s book is particularly important for the debate over carbon taxes such as the TCI compact, and the VCEA’s energy cost inflation, because with his worldwide experience and perspective he has seen the interrelationship of income poverty, energy poverty and damaging environmental exploitation. Saving the Earth and its flora and fauna require energy sufficiency – from more than just renewables – and energy-intensive modern agriculture.  It requires wealth and economic growth. 

Poor people cannot afford not to do what they must to survive, which too often means burning wood as their primary fuel, seeking more and more land for their low-yield agriculture, and supplementing their diet by hunting even endangered species.

Probably the most powerful section on that topic is Chapter 11: The Denial of Power. He dismisses the claims the impoverished nations can leapfrog past traditional electricity sources using fossil fuels or nuclear directly to wind and solar, pointing to the example of an Indian village that

“made worldwide headlines after it rebelled against the solar panel and battery ‘micro-grid’ Greenpeace had created as a supposed model…’ We want real electricity’ chanted villagers at a state politician, ‘not fake electricity’… By ‘real electricity’ they meant reliable grid electricity, which is mostly produced from coal.” (p.248)

Shellenberger’s book is readable, heavily sourced and indexed, and with his movement credentials it has drawn less opposition than others that challenge the Established Orthodoxy. His 2019 YouTube recording of a TEDxTalk on “How renewables can’t save the planet” doesn’t have the usual obnoxious disclaimer that the outlet often attaches to messages it deems heretical.

He reports he will be among the reviewers of the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and goes into depth about that process. The less dramatic and more balanced climate predictions were usually included in the past IPCC reports, along with the end of the world scenarios, but not highlighted in the executive summaries or news coverage.

It was surprising to come across this:

“Environmentalism today is the dominant secular religion of the educated, upper middle-class elite in most developed and many developing nations… It designates good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains. And it does so in the language of science, which provides it with legitimacy.” (Chapter 12: False Gods for Lost Souls: p.263)

But I found Shellenberger’s discussion of the Malthusian roots to modern environmentalism more enlightening:

“(Thomas) Malthus professed concern for the poor while advocating policies that would keep them poor…. Malthus came of age in what historians call the ‘advanced organic economy,’ which, due to its reliance on renewables, namely wood fuel and waterwheels, ‘condemned the majority of the population to poverty’ for inherently physical reasons.” (Chapter 11: The Denial of Power: p. 231)

He traces the intellectual history up to modern Paul Ehrlich, quoted as worrying that “…giving society cheap, abundant energy at this point would be the moral equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.” (P. 239) The modern Malthusians favor energy scarcity, even poverty, such as we are setting about with a will to create here in Virginia (my statement, not Shellenberger’s).

Shellenberger is now a strong advocate for nuclear as the ultimate carbon-free energy source, and also devotes space in the book to addressing the economic motivations behind the anti-nuclear movement. (Chapter 10: All About the Green). Again, this will matter in Virginia because it may take a battle to extend the operating licenses of Dominion Energy Virginia’s four reactors at North Anna and Surrey.

In other states, the oil and natural gas interests, often with liberal investors (such as California’s two Governors Brown, p. 209-217), have teamed with the environmentalists in killing nuclear plants. Will the advocates of carbon-free power lead the charge to shut down Virginia’s most successful carbon-free generators in a few years?

Next on the reading list, Bjorn Lomborg’s “False Alarm:  How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor and Fails to Fix The Planet.” If anybody has read this, but not yet Shellenberger’s book, it would be interesting to compare notes. The dissenting voices with strong credentials are out there, despite the best efforts to cancel them. You can get the gist of Lomborg’s arguments on YouTube as well, but in his case often with that disclaimer against climate dissent.

Shellenberger’s dust jacket statement should be the standard response. As a thought experiment, imagine it attached as a disclaimer to the climate Jeremiads that fill the media or flow into our inboxes from Virginia’s Democrats:

“Climate change is real but it’s not the end of the world.  It is not even our most serious environmental problem.”

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29 responses to “Shellenberger’s “Apocalypse Never” Lessons for VA

  1. Sounds like a bit of promotion, but, then, the idea of “green nukes” is not exactly new:

  2. Thanks, Larry. The piece came out just before the fracking craze came.

  3. Having lived through Three Mile Island (literally, we lived 30 miles downstream), and with the more recent examples of Chernobyl and Fukushima, I would prefer we try to do better when it comes to carbon-free energy. There are real reasons nuclear power plants face opposition.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    “Poor people cannot afford not to do what they must to survive, which too often means burning wood as their primary fuel, seeking more and more land for their low-yield agriculture, and supplementing their diet by hunting even endangered species.”

    This is so true. Virginia has an experience to share in this story. 3,000 tracts of lands were bought be the federal government to create Shenandoah National Park. One of the arguments for seizing the land was to resettle the impoverished residents of the Blue Ridge Mountains, eliminate threats to habitat/resources, and practice soil conservation by stopping poor agricultural methods.

    Of course, if you ask the residents and descendants of those property owners you get another story.

  5. Thanks for the review, Steve. I’ll be sure to read the book.

    The environmental issue that worries me the most is the loss of wildlife habitat and the pressure on endangered species, especially the large mammals. I’m sure Shellenberger addresses that issue. As you laid out clearly, poor people scrabbling to survive don’t give a bucket of warm spit for wildlife habitat or endangered species! They encroach on shrinking wildlife habitat, and they poach. The only long-term solution is to create more prosperous societies that give them alternative ways of making a livelihood.

  6. So if someone does not believe that fossil fuels contribute to global warming then why support Nukes which have significant impacts of their own as well as being expensive ?

    There are “other” reviews of this book. They are very mixed with the folks on the right loving it – as usual.

    • Shellenberger certainly believes fossil fuels contribute to global warming. He just doesn’t see it as a threat to human existence in the next 10 years, or whatever the BS line is now. And moving undeveloped economies even to fossil fuel production would be great progress over burning wood and dung.

      Here’s a thought Larry: YOU read the book.

      • He definitely has an opinion but he has no background in science. He’s just yet another guy who thinks he knows while just ignoring what real scientists – around the world – 98% of them are saying.

        This one guy knows more than science so of course he appeals to those who think the same way.

        If he really thinks that fossil fuels are harmful – why doesn’t he say what will happen if we continue to burn them as we are now?

        He just says nothing bad will happen and ..oh yeah, we ought to switch to nukes, just in case?

        yet another smart ass making money on a book for rubes.

  7. In America and to some extent Europe we have entered a period of extreme chemophobia. It has been proven by the liberals that all human disease, suffering and war is the result of pollution at sub-atomic levels of the tiniest traces of pollution. Apparently US liberals consider it morally acceptable for China and Mexico to have pollution, so they should make everything that we will no longer tolerate here. As a society USA has risen above the need to make stuff and share that burden.

  8. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    I remember the story of David Hanh, the Radioactive Boy Scout. 17 year old whiz kid came close to building a breeder reactor in his mom’s backyard shed. That was over 20 years ago now.

    I don’t see a third reactor happening at North Anna or a long term nuclear license deal either. Lake Anna is very different now than in 1980.

    • Yes. Dominion creates the lake to cool the reactor, and recruits the mob of lake-dwellers who then seek to kill the reactor. Ironical that….

      • As far as I know , there is no big opposition to North Anna from the folks that live on the lake. The Nukes are down the lake near the dam on an arm of the lake. All the lake upstream is away from the reactors. They actually have a different problem with algae – the kind that harms humans… and are trying to figure out the cause and get back to a cleaner lake.

  9. Bill McKibben, whom Time said “is the world’s best green journalist” actually penned an approving blurb for the front page of the hardback for my book on coal.

  10. I am a fan of Gershwin award winning songwriter Paul Simon. I am reminded of a line from his song The Boxer:
    “Still, a man hears what he wants to hear And disregards the rest.”

    Here is another review of the book:

    Fifteen years ago, back when both conservatives and liberals had consensus on how to proceed regarding Global Climate Change, prior to the major campaign by the well-funded “Merchants of Doubt” kicked in their campaign of denial, following the playbook of the similar campaign regarding cigarette smoking and cancer, enlisting the same marketeers, the generally accepted solution was the need to implement an aggressive mix of renewables, nuclear, as a transition approach, with heavy investment in completely new sources of energy to replace fossil fuels.

    The modern economy runs on energy, and this has been the case for 150 years. If we are going to keep a semblance of a modern economy, we need an energy policy that recognizes the issues with Oil/Gas/Coal, and the extractive, polluting nature of it (See the excellent history of this highly subsidized industry in the 600 Page book: “Oil, Power, and War – A Dark History.”

    Each industry within this broader industry has fought to deny/counter/offer their component of the solution as the answer. There has been no coherent energy policy from the American Government, every faction, and that includes utility companies like Dominion Energy, has done their part to capture the authorizing/regulating environment – that means state/federal legislators and their executives.

    So, go ahead and continue to promote “what you want to hear, and disregard the rest.”

    • At first I thought you were referring to Larry, but actually that line from the song is standard practice with these comment strings…

      I must have missed that consensus in 2005, or even before. Bit of a myth, really. But at that point I started working for a nuclear company, and considered it then as I do now the technology we should be pursuing. While at the shipyard I watched the conversion of the power plant from burning oil to burning gas, a major reduction in CO2 output for which the EPA cheered. Remember Boiler MACT? Is it not true that the U.S. basically has met the Paris standards? Blown past the clean power goals Obama sought? The advocates for the coming transportation carbon tax admit things are already moving in the right direction without it. People move the goalposts….

      The greed argument works both ways, and the investors/advocates for solar and wind are as easily swayed by profit as anybody else.

      Not sure why I care, given it won’t ruin me if the price of electricity doubles, the price of gas triples….I can afford it. But lots of people cannot, and nobody seems to speak for them.

      • Baconator with extra cheese

        You hit the nail on the head there.
        I too can afford the increase in oil, gas, and electricity.
        I can’t wait to see what it does to those driving trucks or making less than say $100k a year and/or have to heat/ cool more than 1,400 sq ft. Then add that on top of peeling back the Trump tax breaks and peeling back the increased standard deduction. Not to mention the new state / local taxes including increased property tax assessments…. screw ’em.

        • It will just remove a checkmark in the box called “Reasons to Stay in Virginia” and put it into the box called “Reasons to Leave Virginia”.

    • You got it. They hear what they want to hear and the rest goes into the bit bucket!


      • Lookin the mirror.

      • Oh, and if a large number of scientists AGREE and agencies like NOAA and NASA – then it’s a “leftist” conspiracy… 😉

        Better to listen to some wise ass who has no degree in science much less climate science pontificate from on high like he knows science.

        I’ll take the science and the scientists.. no matter if I like what they say or not… and no matter whether it’s about Cancer or infectious diseases or weather, hurricanes and climate.

  11. As Virginia (and perhaps the nation) abruptly fractures and comes apart, Steve Haner and I this morning appear to have had a paranormal experience on a singular frequency so I’l post my share of it here as well as under “What’s Worse for the Environment: Natural Gas or Rare-Earth Metals?”

    Reed Fawell 3rd | October 26, 2020 at 9:54 am | Reply

    “Tom Hadwin is one of the smartest, most well-informed commentators in Virginia on the subject of the electric grid, utility regulation and Dominion Virginia Energy. He sets a high standard for the discussion about energy policy in Virginia. He is calm, rational and fact-based, he refrains from ad hominem attacks and does not engage in partisan hysterics.”

    At the risk of more hominem attacks and partisan hysterics upsetting Jim’s hyper sensitivities, and as regards matters of serious consequence, I disagree with most everything Tom Hadwin has had to say on energy policy on this blog. I consider his policies to be highly partisan, totally anti gas, nuclear, and anti fossil, while blindly pro-renewable to the point of absurdity. I believe that had we adopted his policies 1o years ago, we would today as a nation confront a energy disaster, similar to the one California now confronts. A gross and growing failure of energy supply at an ever increasing cost on consumers, the California economy, and its environment that quite literally is going up in flames. The reasons for California’s abject energy failures are simple and well known. The State has prematurely substituted proven technologies (nuclear and gas) for highly inefficient, expensive, and unreliable technologies (wind and solar). In short California has combined a religion (wind & solar) with crony capitalist greed to create and build a failed energy policy and grid. This gross failure threatens now to spread through out America today as the new oligarchy of environmentalists, leftist politicians and crony capitalists have signed onto a joint venture worthy of Satan, one designed to make mountains of money at public expense while it does great damage not only to our economy and our national security but to our environment as well. Just like has already happened in California, for all to see. These groups now are working hard to shut down our national conversation on the subject, and to hide the facts behind it from the American people. Hence, I largely disagree with Jim Bacon on most of these subjects was well, if only because he is so lost in the weeds of the conversation, he can’t see the burning forests, and never has, best I can discern.

    I have expressed these views at length on this blog for years. A most recent and highly intelligent podcast edition of these issues can be found below. I (along with Steve Haner) also suggest Mike Shellenberger’s new book Apocalypse Never.


  12. Some of us readers here at BR provide full service in our educating our ill-informed BR readers.

    Here is a link to a free 11/19 webcast to educate all on the challenges of decarbonizing our power grids, brought to you by Green Biz, a good source to keep up with trends in Sustainable Business across all industries.

  13. And, the latest from the President and CEO of the state’s largest utility. This is the roll-out of the circa 2005 strategy, in 2020 with a blue governor and state legislature.

    What could have been holding this up?

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