Apocalypse Never by Michael Shellenberger – Book Review

As you might have guessed from the title of his book, Mr. Shellenberger, does not believe in a coming environmental apocalypse, but what you might not guess is he is a lifelong environmental activist, who has given the bulk of his adult life towards saving the environment. He hasn’t changed his desire to save the environment and to have a cleaner, greener earth, but after years of seeing bad data, deceiving documentaries and news reports and ineffective, expensive strategies, he has had enough. The Green New Deal is only one of the most recent faulty, unworkable plans in the news that he cites in his book.

This book documents him taking the time to look at the complex world we live in and come away with a different viewpoint. Unlike some environmentalists, Mr. Shellenberger is not anti-human. He has seen the good and the bad that humans have wrought on our planet and believes in the ability of mankind to solve many of the problems that they create. He sees human progress as moving forward in a way that provides varied outcomes for the environment. Because of this, human outcomes which are positive are encouraged and applauded by the author.

In an article that originally appeared in Forbes, shortly before the launch of his book, Mr. Shellenberger offered an apology for his years contributing to overstated environmental alarmism. “Climate change is happening. It’s just not the end of the world. It’s not even our most serious environmental problem.” What he discovered was the type of unfounded, apocalyptic end times scenarios being pushed by celebrities, the media and those who earned their living from this type of hysteria was damaging real world efforts that had a chance to be effective in helping the environment in tangible ways. As someone who deeply cared about solving environmental problems, he couldn’t be silent any longer.

Some highlights from the book:

  • Factories and modern farming are the keys to human liberation and environmental progress 
  • The most important thing for saving the environment is producing more food, particularly meat, on less land 
  • The most important thing for reducing air pollution and carbon emissions is moving from wood to coal to petroleum to natural gas to uranium 
  • 100% renewables would require increasing the land used for energy from today’s 0.5% to 50% 
  • We should want cities, farms, and power plants to have higher, not lower, power densities
  • Vegetarianism reduces one’s emissions by less than 4%
  • Greenpeace didn’t save the whales, switching from whale oil to petroleum and palm oil did
  • “Free-range” beef would require 20 times more land and produce 300% more emissions
  • Greenpeace dogmatism worsened forest fragmentation of the Amazon
  • The colonialist approach to gorilla conservation in the Congo produced a backlash that may have resulted in the killing of 250 elephants
Photo by Markus Distelrath on Pexels.com

The author spends much of the book addressing some of the false beliefs that have been spread regarding nuclear power. As a native Californian, he gives detailed accounts from the front lines of these battles there. The author points out how former governor Jerry Brown worked actively to kill and defund nuclear power projects in their state, all while he was receiving funding from oil and natural gas companies. Tom Steyer, who ran for president in 2020, is cited as having done more to kill nuclear efforts than almost anyone else. Mr. Steyer’s wealth is mostly derived from fossil fuels. Modern nuclear power is noted as the most “green” power source available and Mr. Shellenberger is an advocate of accelerating the adoption of nuclear power as one of the greatest potential solutions to environmental challenges.

“Environmentalism today is the dominant secular religion of the upper middle class elite of most developing Nations”

Michael Shellenberger

If there are real environmental problems with potential, tangible solutions, why are people so distracted by the extremes we see presented in the media. As stated in the quote above, this type of extreme viewpoint has become more of a religion than anything else. Religious themes are common in the modern environmental movement. Many are promoting an apocalypse and a doomsday that has been led by groups such as Extinction Rebellion, who the author refers to as, “an upper middle class death cult.” Mr. Shellenberger finds a strange blending of Judea-Christian myth mixed with secular humanism which are intended to bring environmentalists lives meaning, in much the same way you might find in conventional religions. They see a Apocalypse coming and are able to place themselves as the hero or savior of their own morality tale, all built on “science” rather than faith.

The irony is much of what they seem to be basing their religion on is more pseudoscience. The authors concern is that this use of pseudoscience and doomsday models will cause an growing number of people to dismiss legitimate concerns about the environment and climate. Mr. Shellenberger’s perspectives provide a helpful middle road for those who are willing to listen. He promotes human flourishing through what he calls environmental humanism. You might find that you don’t completely agree with him, but the road it presents is one in which it is much easier for people coming from opposing sides to have the potential to find a common ground.

In the world we live in now, whether the topic is the environment, politics or other current news items, we need more voices like Mr. Shellenberger to show us a way that is not reactionary and is seeking solutions that take the best interests of the multiple parties involved into consideration. His perspective is one that is balanced by a love of nature and a love of humanity. His desire is to engage people with stories based on science and reality and draw people together, not divide them and condemn them. It is refreshing to read a book like this that still contains some bad news about the environment, but balances it with encouraging updates on successes that have come about through the type of cooperation he calls people to.

I would encourage you to take the time to read Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All. Unlike some other movies or books about the environment, you won’t come away either hopeless or dismissive and with that I believe Mr. Shellenberger has truly accomplished his goal.

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