Shellenberger makes these statements in an article “apologizing” for the “climate scare.” Although he himself used to call climate change an “existential crisis,” he no longer believes that. In fact, he hasn’t believed it for awhile, but didn’t say so publicly because he feared “losing friends and funding.”
Shellenberger says he has been an environmentalist for 30 years, which means he joined the movement just as it was being taken over by socialists. As I describe in The Education of an Iconoclast, the environmental movement in the 1980s was tolerant of a wide range of views.
We had nuclear engineers fighting logging working side-by-side with loggers fighting nuclear power plants. We had free-marketeers working side-by-side with Marxists. The goal was to save the environment, and most activists didn’t care how it was done.
That changed when the Soviet Union fell. Polls showed that Americans were strongly anti-government, but the environment was one of the few fields in which most Americans still believed that government action was needed. Suddenly the movement had an influx of people we had never seen before. They called themselves “progressives,” but that was just another word for socialists.
Their tactics were to take extreme positions and then attack other environmentalists who refused to support those positions. They didn’t engage in debate; instead, they relied on personal attacks. All of their positions were designed to make the growth of government inevitable.
The progressives got a boost when Clinton was elected president. For the previous twelve years, the nation’s main environmental groups had raised money by telling people that the environment was threatened by the Republicans in the White House. When a Democrat was elected, their revenues took a sharp decline. The gap was filled in by foundations that suddenly became interested in the environment. The foundations sided with the progressives, so any activists who didn’t agree with the progressives had a hard time supporting themselves.
Climate change was an issue tailor made for the progressives. Free-market environmentalists in Bozeman, Montana had demonstrated that almost all environmental issues — water, air, wildlife, wilderness — could be solved with the proper infusion of markets. But it wasn’t obvious how markets could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so the progressives made them into a huge crisis so that everyone would have to fall in line behind their plans to do everything from shutting down the oil industry to densifying cities and building light rail, all of which required bigger government.
Shellenberger wasn’t in the environmental movement in the 1980s so he didn’t see the change. But eventually he realized that what the progressives were saying about the climate weren’t true and decided to write a book about it, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.
A couple of months ago, Michael Moore was criticized and attacked for daring to say, in Planet of the Humans, that so-called renewable energy wasn’t working. Now Shellenberger is also under attack. Among other things, environmentally correct leftists have convinced Forbes to take down Shellenberger’s article (which is still available elsewhere). This is typical of the progressives: attack the person, not the idea; deny that there is any dissension; insist that only the progressive way is correct.
I am not a climatologist, but I’ve been skeptical of the climate change narrative because it is based too heavily on computer models, which I learned when studying the Forest Service can be made to say anything the modeler wants; because it is too convenient for the big-government advocates dominating the environmental movement; and because the tactics they use to shut down debate are typical of socialists and not of real scientists. Shellenberger’s article and book — and the progressives’ response to them — confirm these reasons for skepticism.
Randal O’Toole is a land-use and transportation policy analyst. A version of this article originally appeared in his blog, TheAntiplanner.