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The Curious Case of Environmentalist Mike Shellenberger

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

On a recent episode of my podcast District of Conservation, environmentalist Mike Shellenberger shared what’s on his mind regarding the current state of environmentalism.

An admitted moderate Democrat, the bestselling author of the summer breakout book, Apocalypse Never, discussed his findings from the book and why he’s speaking out.

Unbeknownst to many, the Environmental Progress founder and president had a reckoning about climate alarmism and apologized for contributing to any past fear mongering. In a June 29th blog post entitled, On Behalf Of Environmentalists, I Apologize For The Climate Scare, he wrote: 

On behalf of environmentalists everywhere, I would like to formally apologize for the climate scare we created over the last 30 years. Climate change is happening. It’s just not the end of the world. It’s not even our most serious environmental problem. 

Why Nuclear is Only Clean Energy That Makes Sense

During a 2017 Tedx Berlin Talk, Dr. Shellenberger confessed he was wrong about nuclear energy. He said

 “I started out as an anti-nuclear activist and I quickly got involved in advocating for renewable energy. In the early part of this century I helped to start a labor union and environmentalist alliance called the Apollo Alliance and we pushed for a big investment in clean energy: solar, wind, electric cars.

I’d like to close with a quote from somebody else who changed his mind about nuclear power, and somebody else who was a huge childhood hero for me, and that’s Sting: “If we’re going to tackle global warming, nuclear power is the only way to generate massive amounts of power.”

Renewables like solar and wind are romanticized, Shellenberger noted. However, their production will “exacerbate mining threats” per a recent Nature Communications study

“There’s a kind of romantic love of renewables,” the environmental activist noted. 

“There’s two cognitive errors. The first is sort of the naturalistic fallacy that’s deriving an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’.That’s sort of imagining it [and saying] ‘well, because there’s climate change we should go back to living like we did before there was climate change’...But the other is the appeal to nature fallacy. That’s like the person that goes into the grocery story and goes, ‘oh, this brand of peanut butter is better because it says natural on it.”

“Solar panels are no more natural than nuclear power plants.”

Climate Change Isn’t Outright Cause of Wildfires

In his recent Forbes columns, Shellenberger emphasized climate change does precipitate California wildfires but isn’t the outright cause of them. 

“Climate change is happening,” the activist noted. “It’s real. It’s something we should deal with. It’s something, I think, we are dealing with. But nonetheless, climate change is extending the fire season and resulting in a higher temperature—so that is contributing.” 

“However, you could have had this amount of warming and not had these fires. And the reason we know that is because the forests that were well-managed...have survived the megafires.”

He also stressed  climate change and lack of forest management cannot be viewed as equal causes of the problem.

“It’s not obvious that there’s more fires now then there were in the past,” he said. “This year, we know it’s a historic fire year.”

“Fires are not bad. Fires are a natural part of every forest ecosystem in California.”

He noted two different forest types: mountain forests (high elevation with cooler temperatures, like the Sierra Nevadas) and chaparral (shrub land defining much of Southern California). 

“Both need fires,” he stressed. “They both have different fire regimes.”

Climate Change is a Concern, But Not Biggest Environmental Threat 

“This focus on climate change has distracted us, I think, from dealing with many of these more pressing [environmental] issues,” Shellenberger noted.

Climate change, he said, should be dealt with but isn’t the most serious problem out there.

Alternatively he said poverty, underdevelopment, the continued expansion of the human footprint (mostly through agriculture) and “the outright killing of wild animals” should concern people more. 

He also noted certain achievements, including less exhaustive land uses for meat production, can be celebrated too. 

Finding Common Ground on Environmental Issues 

“I wrote Apocalypse Never in part for my Republican friends,” the moderate Democrat noted.

 “I would love to see Republicans picking up a kind of environmentalism that I describe in the book or what I call a kind of “environmental humanism” (or a pro-human environmentalism) because I think if we’re not challenging the radical Left—if the Right is not challenging the radical Left—then those of us who favor a more humanistic environmentalism on the Left are not going to be able to succeed.” 

Town Hall readers can learn more about Dr. Michael Shellenberger’s work here.  Bookmark his Forbes column and connect with him on Twitter. And be sure to get his bestselling book, Apocalypse Never

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