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Shellenberger’s op-ad

Filed under: — group @ 9 July 2020

Guest commentary by Michael Tobis

This is a deep dive into the form and substance of Michael Shellenberger’s promotion for his new book “Apocalypse Never”. Shorter version? It should be read as a sales pitch to a certain demographic rather than a genuine apology.

Michael Shellenberger appears to have a talent for self-promotion. His book, provocatively entitled “Apocalypse Never” appears to be garnering considerable attention. What does he mean by that title? Does it mean we should do whatever we can to avoid an apocalypse? Does it mean that no apocalypse is possible in the foreseeable future? For those of us who haven’t yet read the book (now available on Kindle), Shellenberger provides an unusual article (at first posted on Forbes, then at Quillette and the front page of the Australian) which appears less a summary than a sales pitch, an “op-ad” as one Twitter wag put it.

It’s called “On Behalf Of Environmentalists, I Apologize For The Climate Scare”. In short, Shellenberger lands clearly on the naysayer soil. Not much to see, everyone. Cheer up, carry on, these are not the droids you’re looking for.

FEW PEOPLE KNOW THAT THE MOON IS MADE OF CHEESE

In support of this insouciance, Shellenberger offers twelve “facts few people know”. Most of the points are defensible to some extent, and most of them raise interesting topics. A main purpose of this article is to provide references to the relevant discussions. But in going through it, it’s worth keeping an eye on the rhetorical purposes of the items, which appear a bit scattershot, and to the rhetorical purpose of the list, which might appear rather obscure.

Clearly labeling the list “facts that few people know” implies that all these points unambiguously refute common beliefs that are widely. And the “apology for the climate scare” indicates further that these beliefs are widely held by a supposedly misguided community of “climate scared”. A defender of the list, Blair King suggests that “[Shellenberger] identified false talking points used repeatedly by alarmists to misinform the public and move debate away from one that is evidence-based to one driven by fear and misinformation”. That does seem to be a fair reading of the stated intent of the list, but it just doesn’t ring true as a whole.

Speaking as a verteran “climate scared” person, the items don’t seem especially familiar. It’s hard to imagine a conversation like this:“Gosh, climate change is an even bigger threat to species than habitat loss.”“I know, and the land area used for producing meat is increasing!”As Gerardo Ceballos said:

This is not a scientific paper. It is intended, I guess, to be an article for the general public. Unfortunately, it is neither. It does not have a logical structure that allows the reader to understand what he would like to address, aside from a very general and misleading idea that environmentalists and climate scientists have been alarmist in relation to climate change. He lists a series of eclectic environmental problems like the Sixth Mass Extinction, green energy, and climate disruption. And without any data nor any proof, he discredits the idea that those are human-caused, severe environmental problems. He just mentions loose ideas about why he is right and the rest of the scientists, environmentalists, and general public are wrong.

What causes the strange incoherence of these “facts few people know”? At the end of this review I’ll propose an answer. Meanwhile, I will consider several questions regarding each item:

  • VALIDITY Is the claim unambiguously true? Unambiguously false? Disputed?
  • RELEVANCE TO CLIMATE Is the claim directly relevant to climate concern/”climate scare” or is it more of interest to tangentially related environmental issues?
  • SALIENCE Is the contrary of the claim widely believed by environmental activists? Does widespread belief in the claim contribute materially to an excess of climate concern?
  • IMPLICATION What is the rhetorical purpose of the question?
  • REALITY To what extent is the rhetorical purpose justified?

THE TWELVE POINTS

1) Humans are not causing a “sixth mass extinction”

In a literal sense this claim has its defenders. See “Earth is Not In the Middle of a Sixth Mass Extinction”. The article quotes Smithsonian paleontologist Doug Erwin, who wrote to me in an email:.

Many of those making facile comparisons between the current situation and past mass extinctions don’t have a clue about the difference in the nature of the data, much less how truly awful the mass extinctions recorded in the marine fossil record actually were.

It is absolutely critical to recognize that I am NOT claiming that humans haven’t done great damage to marine and terrestrial [ecosystems], nor that many extinctions have not occurred and more will certainly occur in the near future. But I do think that as scientists we have a responsibility to be accurate about such comparisons…

I think that if we keep things up long enough, we’ll get to a mass extinction, but we’re not in a mass extinction yet, and I think that’s an optimistic discovery because that means we actually have time to avoid Armageddon

I leave it to the reader as to whether “not in a mass extinction yet” is reassuring. While there are several possible understandings of “mass extinction”, it’s generally agreed that we are indeed losing species at a rapid rate. Erwin is pointing out that the vast majority of life isn’t collapsing, that we aren’t collapsing into a nearly lifeless planet “Yet.” Will people reading Shellenberger’s quote get the message “we’re not in a mass extinction yet, … we actually have time to avoid Armageddon”? I venture that if they read about it in a book called “Apocalypse Never” they won’t. Is this related to something we might call “The Climate Scare”? Not yet. Climate is only a secondary feature of species loss so far, although there are plenty of signs of a climate impact in what’s left of natural ecosystems.

  • VALIDITY – Valid only provisionally and somewhat of a semantic quibble.
  • RELEVANCE TO CLIMATE – Speculative; if we don’t get a handle on climate change, climate change will make it worse.
  • SALIENCE – This one is genuinely scary, so it’s okay to be scared about it.
  • IMPLICATION – You are presumably meant to read this claim as “This talk about a sixth extinction is typical climate alarmist scaremongering”
  • REALITY – We are not literally in a mass extinction event yet but we are on the brink of one. It’s not really a “climate scare” topic but it’s related, and enormous. It seems utterly bizarre for someone claiming to speak “on behalf of environmentalists” to minimise it.

2) The Amazon is not “the lungs of the world”

It’s fair to say that “the Amazon is the lungs of the world” is an environmentalist talking point. It’s fair, I think, to say that some members of the public are afraid of killing enough trees that we run out of oxygen (never mind that lungs consume oxygen rather than producing it!). It turns out that what maintains the oxygen fraction in the atmosphere is a rather interesting question, but that there is no immediate risk of the oxygen going away. Here’s a paper (w/thanks to Chris Colose).

We have built up an enormous stockpile of the stuff. If we live long enough that the oxygen concentration changes appreciably, we will have survived the current century and many centuries to come. Is it a reason to NOT preserve the Amazon? Hardly. The Amazon is the repository for much of the land surface biodiversity. A better analogy would be that it’s more like our planetary gut than our planetary lungs. It would be stupid beyond belief to injure it, yet injure it we do. Does the fear of disappearing oxygen feed excessive “environmentalist” panic? Arguably so among the more excitable members of the general public sharing half-baked ideas on social media. But is it part of “The Climate Scare”? It’s a bit of a stretch. One could point out, though, that totally clearing the Amazon would have direct impacts on climate, according to several modeling studies, for instance.

  • VALIDITY – The claim is meaningless, so the counterclaim is meaningless
  • RELEVANCE – It’s a pretty muddled belief, but it could conceivably be seen as climate related.
  • SALIENCE – In fact there is baseless alarm about the Amazon’s ability to provide oxygen
  • IMPLICATION – “Don’t lose sleep about the Amazon; it’s not important.”
  • REALITY – The Amazon is the repository of an enormous amount of biodiversity that is at risk. Truly destroying it entirely would have climate impacts. Saving it is an important issue. But not because of oxygen!

3) Climate change is not making natural disasters worse

Roger Pielke Jr. enters the fray. This claim is obviously based on his position which Roger helpfully summarizes in a recent Twitter thread

This is a very specific definition of “disaster” which Roger defends vigourously. One suspects that he does so precisely because the signal is buried in the noise in his definition. It’s a definition that could hardly have been better designed to avoid statistical significance!

I wrote more about that here. Take note: Pielke only claims “there is no statistical evidence that disasters are getting worse” while Shellenberger states “disasters are not getting worse”. A classic conflation of “absence of evidence” with “evidence of absence”. In addition, Pielke’s claim only stands because the rising costs of disasters have been normalized by the rise in GDP. It is entirely unclear why this is the relevant metric. Shellenberger’s claim, despite Pielke’s defense of it, is not defensible by reference to Pielke.

  • VALIDITY: Shellenberger’s claim goes too far even based on Pielke’s significance-averse approach.
  • RELEVANCE: relevant to climate change impact
  • SALIENCE: Yes, people do worry about it a lot. Perhaps a bit too soon, but it’s not an unrealistic concern.
  • IMPLICATION: “No sign of a problem!”
  • REALITY: There are many signs that several types of severe events (notably heatwaves, drought impacts, and intense precipitation) are becoming more common and more severe.

4) Fires have declined 25 percent around the world since 2003

After the nitpicking of points 1 and 3, it’s very interesting to see the fuzziness here. It is true that total annual area burned worldwide has declined. But this is because grass fires have declined, because of increasing human appropriation of grasslands for agriculture. Forest fires, which are more ecologically damaging than grass fires, have increased.

While NASA’s new video does show regional upticks in certain parts of the world, scientists made clear that the total number of square kilometers burned globally each year has dropped roughly 25 percent since 2003. This has largely been due to population growth and development in grasslands and savannas, as well as to an increase in the use of machines to clear farmland. “There are really two separate trends,” said James Randerson, a scientist at the University of California, Irvine who worked on the new wildfire video. “Even as the global burned area number has declined because of what is happening in savannas, we are seeing a significant increase in the intensity and reach of fires in the western United States because of climate change.”

So, areas and intensity of forest fires have increased, and this claim is simply misdirection by mixing two phenomena, increasing forest fires and increasing human footprint on grasslands. The concern about increases in forest fires is valid.

  • VALIDITY: Misleading. Conflates two anthropogenic phenomena into one.
  • RELEVANCE: relevant to climate change impact
  • SALIENCE: Yes, people do worry about it a lot. Justifiably.
  • IMPLICATION: “See? Climate activists are deluded about wildfires.”
  • REALITY: Forest fires do appear to be increasing in frequency and severity. This is unsurprising as forests are exposed to warmer conditions that the ones for which they evolved, so are more prone to drying out.

5) The amount of land we use for meat—humankind’s biggest use of land—has declined by an area nearly as large as Alaska

This turns out to be a defensible claim. But it’s not such a happy result. “this contraction is mostly in arid regions where scrubland was used for extensive low impact grazing. Some of the declines in these regions have been offset by expansions of grazing in tropical regions where the environmental destruction is immense e.g. in the Amazon. This “livestock revolution” has come with consequences associated with the spreading of fertilizers, and the draining of ecologically sensitive wetlands.” Regardless, as a careful examination of the vertical axis on the graph shows, on a percentage basis it’s small.

Finally, from personal experience I would point out that. at least in central Texas, much pasture land has been abandoned because it was ruined by overgrazing. I expect it’s similar elsewhere. Returning denuded limestone to “nature” is not that great of a gift.

  • VALIDITY: Marginal. Made out as an important trend when it’s really not.
  • RELEVANCE: No obvious relevance to climate.
  • SALIENCE: I don’t think this is a prominent concern among environmentalists at large.
  • IMPLICATION: ??? (It’s unclear what purported “alarmist idea” this counters.)
  • REALITY: The impacts of meat production are elsewhere.

6) The build-up of wood fuel and more houses near forests, not climate change, explain why there are more, and more dangerous, fires in Australia and California

It’s undisputed that fire suppression has built up fuel in many places, and that people have built housing in dangerously fire-prone locations. It’s also undisputed that the recent fires in Australia, as well as spectacular events in Russia in 2010 and Texas in 2011, occurred in conditions of literally unprecedented heat and drought. Of course, fires happen in hot dry years. But we’re seeing an obvious trend in such outliers. Things can have more than one cause.

  • VALIDITY: As stated, literally false. Things can have more than one contributing factor.
  • RELEVANCE: climate impact relevant
  • SALIENCE: People worry about this, and they should
  • IMPLICATION: “Hot weather doesn’t make forests burn because fire suppression makes forest burn, so don’t worry about climate change!”
  • REALITY: Unsurprisingly, forests are more likely to dry out and burn when it’s hotter.

7) Carbon emissions are declining in most rich nations and have been declining in Britain, Germany, and France since the mid-1970s

This is true. In some countries it is quite substantial. It has two primary causes: 1) Recent declines in coal consumption, mostly replaced by natural gas. Since climate stability is only achieved at net zero emissions, investment in gas infrastructure is a mixed blessing. 2) Much industrial activity moving to Asia, especially China. This is just moving the problem, not solving it. It’s “global warming”, not “national warming”. If you look at the global trajectory rather than that of individual countries, emissions continue to burgeon. Even the recent pandemic related events appear so far to have been very temporary. If you compare what is happening now to the path required to limit warming to any particular target, especially 2ºC or better, it’s very hard to take this little bit of good news with too much jubilation.

Annual CO2 emissions by region

Sam Bliss points out that no rich country is reducing emissions fast enough to keep global warming under 2ºC — or even planning to.

  • VALIDITY: True, but something of a cherry pick
  • RELEVANCE: climate relevant, but the narrow claim is nowhere near as important as is implied
  • SALIENCE: I don’t know that people are worried about small declines in emissions records of particular countries. People are certainly worried about global totals, though.
  • IMPLICATION: “We’re already fixing the problem! Relax!”
  • REALITY: We are still very far from fixing the problem, and the hard-won but modest progress in a few wealthy countries is not reassuring.

8) “The Netherlands became rich, not poor while adapting to life below sea level”

First, we should probably neglect point 8 altogether, since it is commonly known that the Dutch have done well over the centuries, and that they have won back a fair piece of land from their continental shelf. So it doesn’t qualify as something “few people know”. It’s sloppy to include it on the list.

Clearly the implication that “alarmists say the Dutch are not wealthy!” is just nonsense. What about “alarmists say the Dutch are drowning”? I’ve not heard that one either. So logically speaking we can ignore this point. Is this merely silly? Can Shellenberger be claiming that bad news is good news? That we should embrace climate change because it will build character? Is this the quality of argument that we’re facing?

Homeowners in Ocean County, NJ are early recipients of the stimulus to creativity and economic activity of sea level rise, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. USGS

Let’s bend over backwards to consider the matter. It appears that the point is that at least one society has adapted to life below sea level; so we all can do that. But does that really mean that the Dutch are prepared to adapt to sea level rise of meters? There are two approaches to thinking about the Dutch situation in the future. Some are bravely advocating a “make lemonade” approach, inclining toward the insouciant “disasters are business opportunities” framing that Shellenberger implies. But others which look in deeper detail are more sobering:

Of course, dikes are being raised, and rivers given some room to overflow occasionally, but will that be enough? And more importantly: how long will it last? Sea levels have only just started to rise, and it may be going faster than we had initially thought. The big question is: will the Netherlands as we know it survive what’s coming?

In order to keep the seawater at bay, the dikes will need to be raised. As a result, the polders behind them will become relatively deeper, making them more vulnerable and more expensive to maintain. These higher dikes are also a problem in themselves: they prevent natural silting, which means our delta is unable to grow along with the advancing sea.

The experts share one concern: the Netherlands has no Plan B for a scenario in which sea levels rise faster than are accounted for in the Delta Programme. At the same time, there is no proper public debate about this issue, despite the urgent need for one. Not sometime in the future, but right now – because we need to make some important choices today. Especially if you consider how long it takes to develop and implement plans.

Reducing CO<sub>2</sub> emissions and reinforcing dikes is only half the story. The other stark reality is that even these measures combined may prove insufficient in the long term to preserve the lower-lying parts of our country. The polder model – in its literal rather than political sense – has its limits, some physical and some more subjective. The physical limits are based on hard science: how quickly will sea levels rise – and how much can we actually handle? The subjective limits are a question of taste: what kind of country do we want to live in (while we still have time to decide)?

Can we adapt to sea level rise? The implication of this point is that we can adapt like the Dutch. But can the Dutch, who are the world’s experts on managing land below sea level adapt? Only, it appears, within limits.

  • VALIDITY: Undisputed. Indeed, hard to imagine why this qualifies as a “fact few people know”!
  • RELEVANCE: relates indirectly to climate impacts
  • SALIENCE: People do worry about sea level rise, and they should
  • IMPLICATION: “Sea level rise is harmless since humans can rise to the occasion of great challenges.”
  • REALITY: Even the Dutch, wealthy and experienced in managing coastal flooding, are very worried.

9) We produce 25 percent more food than we need and food surpluses will continue to rise as the world gets hotter

This is a bit controversial, but I think Shelleberger is correct. Large scale agriculture can adapt to changing conditions. Crop failures in one place or another may become more frequent as climate becomes less predictable and in some ways more severe, but global production will probably remain adequate for a long time, provided the current economic and trade regime remains healthy. A survey article is here. The impacts of climate change on food supply, except on the poorest, is expected to be relatively modest, compared to other scenario variables:

Finally, all quantitative assessments we reviewed show that the first decades of the 21st century are expected to see low impacts of climate change, but also lower overall incomes and still a higher dependence on agriculture. During these first decades, the biophysical changes as such will be less pronounced but climate change will affect those particularly adversely that are still more dependent on agriculture and have lower overall incomes to cope with the impacts of climate change. By contrast, the second half of the century is expected to bring more severe biophysical impacts but also a greater ability to cope with them. The underlying assumption is that the general transition in the income formation away from agriculture toward nonagriculture will be successful.

How strong the impacts of climate change will be felt over all decades will crucially depend on the future policy environment for the poor. Freer trade can help to improve access to international supplies; investments in transportation and communication infrastructure will help provide secure and timely local deliveries; irrigation, a promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, and continued technological progress can play a crucial role in providing steady local and international supplies under climate change.

This said, climate change will have an enormous impact on traditional food-gathering and subsistence agriculture. Traditional methods will fail. Greenland is a harbinger. If traditional cultures and folkways are valuable, their food gathering and subsistence methods are central. These are being lost.

  • VALIDITY: Plausible
  • RELEVANCE: relevant to climate change
  • SALIENCE: I think there is a strong case that there’s too much public alarm on the climate- food security axis.
  • IMPLICATION: “Food is not a big climate issue!”
  • REALITY: If the international economic order holds together, enough nutrients to feed everyone will be produced in the foreseeable future. But climate change impacts on traditional cultures are already severe and will likely eventually be overwhelming. Distributional issues may leave people hungry even as enough food is produced in aggregate.

10) Habitat loss and the direct killing of wild animals are bigger threats to species than climate change

It’s not clear how to formally evaluate this claim. It is surely true of some species and not of others. Coral reef species, for example, are under direct threat from ocean acidification and local warming events. Habitat loss can certainly be exacerbated by climate change. Here, the recent example of Australian fires is instructive. These phenomena can’t be directly separated. Climate change causes habitat loss.

The main way in which climate stress affects natural species is through habitat loss via climate niche moves and disappearance. It isn’t at all clear that the comparison between habitat loss and climate stress, even if it were possible, would be very informative. You can’t really protect wildlife without protecting or creating stable habitat. Under rapid climate change that becomes impossible.

  • VALIDITY: The assertion is overly broad and probably untestable.
  • RELEVANCE: climate relevant
  • SALIENCE: People do worry about habitat and people do worry about climate; sometimes they get them confused, and sometimes they are related. It’s not clear concerns are excessive
  • IMPLICATION: “Climate change is not a problem for wildlife!”
  • REALITY: Climate change is a major driver of habitat loss, so if you care about habitat, you should care about climate policy.

11) Wood fuel is far worse for people and wildlife than fossil fuels

This conflates several issues.

  1. Wood-burning ovens and grills in wealthy countries are a carbon neutral luxury of no great biogeochemical importance. There is no controversy on this matter that I know of.
  2. Biofuels are carbon neutral. Although it is a relatively minor source of energy, extracting energy from burning wood waste is better than simply letting the waste decay, producing the same CO2 without capturing the energy. However, mis-designed carbon credit systems in Europe have been encouraging growing trees specifically for the purpose of burning them. While carbon-neutral in the long run, this use produces carbon in the short run and consumes it on a longer time scale, front-loading emissions. It is a carbon-overshoot strategy, and there’s a strong case to be made that given our present trajectory toward exceeding global warming targets, it’s a bad idea. However, on this matter, one would tend to see the most “climate alarmed” as aligned with Shellenberger, not opposed, so it doesn’t support his case.
  3. Wood-burning for home cooking in less developed countries is a real health issue. This is certainly true, but no important group is advocating household wood fuel as a mainstay for large populations that I know about. It’s possible to imagine an innumerate anti-technology Luddite advocating returning to wood-burning stoves, but it’s difficult to imagine that gaining much purchase, insofar as forests are greatly valued, if not even overvalued, by climate activists. So on these points, Shellenberger is probably better aligned with “climate activists” than against them.
  • VALIDITY: The claim is true, especially insofar as low-technology wood-burning is concerned.
  • RELEVANCE: Not first order climate relevant. Nobody is proposing replacing fossil fuels with wood burning on a global scale.
  • SALIENCE: The biofuel issue is a real controversy and second order relevant to the climate problem, but modern biofuel plants not a major health concern, certainly compared to coal plants. The use of wood-burning in households is a real health issue, but not climate relevant. Shellenberger is probably better aligned here with “climate activists” than against them.
  • IMPLICATION: Hard to know. Maybe “the environmental crazies want to take away your furnace and put a nasty sooty wood-burning hearth in your kitchen.”
  • REALITY: Poor wood burning practice in households is indeed unhealthy, but carbon neutral. The issue of biomass burning is complex; some uses are better than others. Growing wood specifically for fuel has deleterious impacts on the carbon trajectory, and is probably not a great idea, even though the strategy is basically long-term carbon neutral.

12) Preventing future pandemics requires more not less “industrial” agriculture

There seems to be a case being made that CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) are less dangerous than pastures on this account. My initial investigations on the subject turned up a lot of evidence against Shellenberger’s claim.

I finally turned up what must be Shellenberger’s source. This piece is attributed to the young Alex Smith – Alex joined Breakthrough as a research analyst in the food and agriculture program in 2019 after completing a dual MA/MSc in International and World History from Columbia University and the London School of Economics and Political Science. In his masters, Alex studied and wrote about American foreign policy, French colonialism, and environmental history.  In short, Mr Smith doesn’t seem to have much formal knowledge about pandemics or agriculture. He concludes:

With our global population set to increase by close to 3 billion by 2050, we must strive to construct a world that can provide food, shelter, and livelihoods to all 10 billion people, while reducing risk of pandemics akin to what we see today. Simply, the only way forward is forward. We must continue to develop agricultural innovations that can allow for increased intensification, and we must give these innovations global reach. It does not work to just intensify agricultural production in developed countries, given the dual role of land-use change and food insecurity. To combat the main drivers of zoonotic diseases, we must sustainably intensify our food system, not pine for a romanticized and inefficient production system that brings people and wild animals in closer contact.

Frankly, this reminds me of the Monty Python sketch that teaches you how to play the flute. Smith dismisses the obvious solution in his second paragraph:

But these claims offer no explicit argument for how a different form of agriculture — outside of calls to completely eliminate meat consumption — would reduce risk, and they often conflate intensive animal agriculture with intensive agriculture writ large.

I myself have indeed given up on animal products almost altogether (I do have a weakness for butter-based desserts at cafés that I occasionally indulge) so I can’t resist noting this dodge. I don’t see any reason meat can’t go back to being an occasional luxury as it was through most of human history. But this is hardly the place for that discussion. To the point, Shellenberger seems to be putting up basically a blog post by a young man with a history degree against the entire field of epidemiology, and declaring “a fact” on that basis. I’d call that a stretch.

  • VALIDITY: The claim is very weakly supported and probably wrong.
  • RELEVANCE: No obvious climate relevance
  • SALIENCE: I think people do, sensibly, worry about the way meat is produced
  • IMPLICATION: “Coop up animals in meat factories! It’s good for you and they don’t mind much.”
  • REALITY: Er, no.

CONCLUSION

It’s very hard to imagine a significant community of people adamantly holding to the contrary of Shellenberger’s points. They really aren’t core to any particular group.So what is he up to, if it’s more than just selling a book?

I think David hits the nail on the head. It’s a pitch to denialism, not to moderation. But why is is so strangely constructed, so uncompelling to some of us, and yet apparently convincing to others? There’s a provocatively titled article at The Forward that has an answer:

The fuel for this fire comes from something that anthropologists call the myth of outgroup homogeneity. We tend to believe everyone in our tribe is nuanced and diverse, while all the members of that tribe over there are uniform and zombie-like. This is how New York thinks of New Jersey, Lakers fans think of Clippers fans, Mac users think of PC users, and MSNBC viewers think of Fox News viewers. The outgroup homogeneity effect makes it easier to blame a whole side for their crazy fringe while barely acknowledging your own. You can march under a big dumb banner, saying you’re from the smart, nuanced part of your coalition, while believing everyone on the other side has no more profound beliefs than their big, dumb banner.

Shellenberger’s weird list makes no sense at all. It certainly doesn’t bear up well under close inspection. But it makes some sense to his readers, only because they perceive the world of the climate concerned as “uniform and zombie-like”. Every single point of contention he raises is viewed through that lens first.

Is Shellenberger really even a “former environmentalist”? Has he ever actually advocated a “climate scare”? Does he have anything to apologise for? The evidence for his (oddly un-contrite) apostasy is thin. His list, baffling to those of us it is meant to accuse, holds together as an example of “outgroup homogeneity”. Shellenberger’s capacity to frame a list this way depends on a capacity to grossly oversimplify his “climate scare” opposition. His baffling caricature of his opposition would indicate that he never really was part of a “climate scare” in the first place!
The article, remember, is entitled “On Behalf Of Environmentalists, I Apologize For The Climate Scare”. I suggest Shellenberger in innocent on that score. He may however owe us a different apology.

142 Responses to “Shellenberger’s op-ad”

  1. 51

    In considering the vegetarianism question, it’s good to recall basics.

    Everybody knows the term “food chain,” but most are a little fuzzy on the details. But basically, “primary producers”–plants–are at the bottom. Herbivores are one “trophic level” up on the food chain. Et cetera.

    The kicker to this is that “ecological efficiency” tends to run about 10% (except at the primary level, which is much lower). So, if you eat corn-fed beef, you have potentially ~10x more energy available to you if you instead eat the corn yourself. Basically, it’s the practical thermodynamics of food, and there’s really no getting around it.

    “The efficiency with which energy or biomass is transferred from one trophic level to the next is called the ecological efficiency. Consumers at each level convert on average only about 10% of the chemical energy in their food to their own organic tissue (the ten-percent law). For this reason, food chains rarely extend for more than 5 or 6 levels. At the lowest trophic level (the bottom of the food chain), plants convert about 1% of the sunlight they receive into chemical energy. It follows from this that the total energy originally present in the incident sunlight that is finally embodied in a tertiary consumer is about 0.001%…”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trophic_level

  2. 52
    russell says:

    43

    19 is hardly off topic, given what the Venezuelan Minister of Ecosocialismo said at COP 21.

    https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2015/12/dont-cryforthreenicaragua.html

    And the bizarre declaration of his Bolivian counterpart:

    https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2015/11/wheels-on-fire-on-road-to-paris.html

  3. 53
    Killian says:

    Re 47 Susan Anderson said b fagan, currently 36:

    “Moore’s buddy’s grudge flick” is wonderfully succinct.

    It’s terribly ignorant and biased. Even if that film had gotten even more wrong with details, not one person who has criticized the film has had the guts, the moral character, nor the insight, apparently, to address what the movie claimed: Population is a problem, solar and wind are not sustainable.

    Not one criticism addressed this, making every critical review not only a Straw Man, but outright dishonesty.

  4. 54
    Killian says:

    Re #46 Michael Tobis said I think it is possible to produce meat and dairy and eggs humanely.

    Whether it is possible for them to be healthy for consumption in anything like accustomed quantities is another question. I myself am convinced by the arguments of Dr. Michael Greger that it is not.

    Are you utterly incapable of googling “regenerative agriculture” or “permaculture?” Whomever Greger is, he’s wrong. Flatly wrong. And I guarantee you they are did not include regeneratively designed systems he used in their analysis. Given he’s vegan, I can guarantee it without reading a single word of his: The entire vegan argument rests on ignoring regenerative systems. Discuss food supply with a vegan and literally show them a regenerative system with humane consumption of animal products and they will literally keep yelling “CAFO’S!” or “Eating meat is immoral!” Veganism is not rational, it’s ideological.

    We are past the point where ignorance of regenerative practices among “Dr’s” is any longer acceptable. We are running out of time. If you can’t be bothered yourself, Tobis, you should not be speaking on the issue publicly.

    Whether it is possible to produce those animal products sustainably is, on the other hand, a suitable question for this discussion.

    People do all over the planet. How are you not aware of this?

    The answer to that is necessarily quantitative. Can meat, dairy, and egg production meet the level of demand that one would anticipate from ten billion people adopting the levels of consumption associated a standard western diet

    Why would that be an appropriate parameter? 1. Regeneratively produced produce has 40% more nutrition value. The lack of nutritional value is an important part of obesity as people must overeat to get the nutrients their bodies need. Ergo, healthier food equals less consumption per person equals more food, by weight and nutrition, for all.

    Also, we overeat. Why would we want to continue that? Further, food waste is increased in non-localized systems. Why continue that?

    if produced in traditional settings

    What does traditional refer to here?

    and in sustainable ways?

    Regenerative systems are more productive than their counterparts. This is at least partly due to drought resistance of regenerative systems due to organic carbon sequestration increasing soil water content, extensive use of mulching and cover cropping to retain water and shade soil, no tilling, etc.

    If we don’t avoid high animal product consumption, and we want to feed ten billion people, aren’t we stuck with CAFOs?

    How does that follow, even without my comments? Do you realize how much of the world’s food is produced in < 5-hectare farms? 40 – 75%, depending on whom you ask.

    If you only conceive of what is, Tobis, you're wasting everyone's time. What is does not function. It is complete dysfunction. There are analyses all over the place showing the current paradigm (whether Capitalism, 1% rulers, various injustices, extractive society, etc.,) cannot continue and *will* fail, so talking about food supply as if the entire system will stay the same except food is nonsensical.

    We change it all or we lose it all.

  5. 55
    Postkey says:

    #28 “We do produce more food than we need, yet growing millions are hungry.”

    “Cases of child malnutrition in England double in last six months
    Almost 2,500 children admitted to hospitals in England suffering malnutrition in 2020”

    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jul/12/cases-of-child-malnutrition-double-in-last-six-months

  6. 56
    Mal Adapted says:

    Michael Tobis:

    On a mailing list, Kerry Emanuel points out that there is an important distinction between these claims.

    1. Natural disasters are not getting worse

    2. Climate change is not making natural disasters worse (which is what Shellenberger claims)

    Heh. Dr. Emanuel is more direct in his Climate Feedback review:

    Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, MIT:
    In his article, Michael Shellenberger claims that “climate change is not making natural disasters worse”. This begs the question of what exactly is meant by “natural disasters”, but no matter how one defines them, this statement is patently false.

    Couldn’t have said it better myself 8^).

    Er – I’m having a little trouble parsing this part of your comment, Michael:

    Whatever the merits of Pielke’s disaster metric, it has little bearing on whether the events contributing to it weren’t worse than they otherwise would have been absent climate change!

    Are you saying RPJr fully accounts for all net climate-related disaster costs?

  7. 57
    JPC says:

    He has been pretty clear he is not a denialist so to speak. You know that. The alarmism industry has set itself up for this kind of populist takedown, sorry to say. If you can’t see why, look no further than the fawning over thevalarmism of Greta Thurnberg and AOC. That’s not science, but its warmly culturally embraced by most climate scientists. Also, bundling social justice with climate alarmism is another gigantic error. Be truthful, be smart, publicly reject exaggerated or false statements that further your personal political agenda. I don’t see much of that in climate science.

  8. 58
    Mal Adapted says:

    From the abstract cited by Sir Charles, from the Journal of Political Ecology:

    Through a discourse analysis of key texts produced by the primary actors of post-environmentalism, namely the Oakland, California-based Breakthrough Institute and its cofounders Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, we show how the theory behind post-environmentalism mixes a deconstructionist trope familiar to political ecologists with a modernization core from liberal economics.

    This academic debunking of a familiar denialist trope is gratifying to me personally, although there’s a “hall of mirrors” feeling about the whole notion of deconstruction. Important facts are nonetheless established, particularly Shellenberger’s status as a cofounder of the problematic Breakthrough Institute. It should be noted that Zeke Hausfather, a respected data scientist, is currently Director of Climate and Energy for the BI. His Climate Feedback takedown of Shellenberger’s book is pretty unsparing:

    Zeke Hausfather, Director of Climate and Energy, The Breakthrough Institute:
    Shellenberger’s article promoting his new book “Apocalypse Never” includes a mix of accurate, misleading, and patently false statements. While it is useful to push back against claims that climate change will lead to the end of the world or human extinction, to do so by inaccurately downplaying real climate risks is deeply problematic and counterproductive.

    I’m confident I don’t need to read the book (whew), but I’m reserving judgment about the Breakthrough Institute for now.

    Moving along, the JPE authors employ the language of literary deconstruction but depart from its practice, by settling on a meaning for their deconstructed texts (h/t Steven Mosher):

    We discuss the contradictions of post-environmentalist discourse and argue that despite its flaws, post-environmentalism can hold considerable sway because its politics align with powerful interests who benefit from arguing that accelerating capitalist modernization will save the environment.

    Well, that sounds about right too! Confirmation bias looms, however. Like zebra, I sometimes invoke or defend social science concepts, claiming no expertise in “Political Ecology” to be sure. I’ll reserve judgment about the academic discipline as well. Still, I’m skeptical that it isn’t just peer-reviewed ideology. Meh. The article is persuasive for democratic collective action against the petro-plutocracy, but I’m sufficiently convinced already.

  9. 59
    Dan Miller says:

    I debated Shellenberger in 2013 at a “BerkeleySide” conference. He wasn’t expecting anyone to push back on his semi-denialism. He was upset that I did and he stormed out of the hall at the end of our session. Like the article being discussed above, his approach was and is “I don’t deny that climate change is real, but…”. It’s the same approach that Bjorn Lomborg takes and I consider Shellenberger to be Bjorn Lomborg but with better branding.

    Even back in 2013, Shellenberger was using pithy sayings that were not relevant to climate such as “The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones!” (I think implying that the fossil fuel age will not end because we run out of fossil fuels… ummm, OK).

    But anyone can focus on issues that won’t necessarily kill us and simply leave the ones that will out of the discussion. It’s a means of distraction. Instead of focusing on things we don’t need to worry about so much, he could, for example, have instead talked about how Extremely Hot Summers are now occurring 200 times more often than 50 years ago:
    https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2020/7/10/1959697/–Extremely-Hot-Summers-Now-Happen-200X-More-Often-Than-50-Years-Ago

  10. 60
    Tom says:

    I’m glad to see a serious debate as opposed to outright mob-based censorship.

  11. 61
    nigelj says:

    JPC @57

    “He has been pretty clear he is not a denialist so to speak. ”

    Schellenburger treads a fine line and makes copious use of spin and misleading claims. He has certainly denied or diminished a number of climate related issues that are widely accepted in the scientific community, like whether storms are causing more property damage. He is in complete denial about renewable energy. Read his op-ad and other writings. I would say this adds up to make him a denialist of a sort.

    “The alarmism industry has set itself up for this kind of populist takedown, sorry to say. If you can’t see why, look no further than the fawning over thevalarmism of Greta Thurnberg and AOC. That’s not science, but its warmly culturally embraced by most climate scientists.”

    Thornberg is far more right than she is wrong so nothing wrong with supporting her on the whole.

    “Also, bundling social justice with climate alarmism is another gigantic error. ”

    Hard to say. I’ve tended to think keep the two things separate, because otherwise we run the risk of alienating the right wing of politics, and you need their support to get legislation passed. That said, nothing seems to get through to those people. There is an intersection between climate issues and social justice, so I don’t think we should pretend there isn’t.

    “Be truthful, be smart, publicly reject exaggerated or false statements that further your personal political agenda. I don’t see much of that in climate science.

    Climate scientists are truthful, far more so than the denialists. I agree exaggerations are not helpful, but Michael Mann has very strongly publicly rejected exaggerated statements or scenarios not backed by evidence as below. So have others. The IPCC take a measured tone, (if anything maybe a bit too measured). Not sure what else you expect.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/

  12. 62
    Michael Tobis says:

    #56 (Mal) “Are you saying RPJr fully accounts for all net climate-related disaster costs?”

    Nope.

    I am saying that the data is uninformative on the climate-related component of disaster costs.

  13. 63
    Michael Tobis says:

    #54 “Killian” is off to a bad start. Greger is an MD, not an environmental scientist. I don’t want to discuss the controversies regarding animal products and health here, but I do feel a need to note that they exist, and that these motivate my avoidance of animal-based foods. I am not a “vegan” and am not advocating a vegan ideology in this article.

    Regarding the rest of it, I’d love to see some effort on the part of that “meat is the answer, not the problem” crowd do some actual numbers regarding carbon reservoirs and carbon cycling. I’ve made efforts to get them to do this in the past, but they tend not to understand the question. To be specific, the question is “can the global soil carbon reservoir be made much larger than existed in the pre-industrial Holocene?”

    In any case, regarding how much meat can be produced and whether that amount can supply the foods that people demand, that flavour of “permaculture” is very much up against the obvious thermodynamic constraints raise by #51 Kevin McKinney (for which thanks). It would be nice if they would address that at least.

    If the idea of #54 is only that we can produce some meat sustainably and humanely, and that we shouldn’t consume more than we can sustainably produce, I would point out that that is exactly what I said.

  14. 64
    nigelj says:

    Killian @53 says “It’s (Michael Moores movie Planet of the Humans) is terribly ignorant and biased. ”

    It’s certainly utterly biased and ignorant in respect of renewable energy, as has been pointed out in numerous critical appraisals of the movie eg:

    https://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/articles/entry/why-planet-of-the-humans-is-crap/

    “Even if that film had gotten even more wrong with details, not one person who has criticized the film has had the guts, the moral character, nor the insight, apparently, to address what the movie claimed: Population is a problem, solar and wind are not sustainable….Not one criticism addressed this, making every critical review not only a Straw Man, but outright dishonesty.”

    Wrong about population. Almost every review I have read of the movie has acknowledged population is a problem, and we should try to reduce rates of growth as below.

    https://theconversation.com/3-times-michael-moores-film-planet-of-the-humans-gets-the-facts-wrong-and-3-times-it-gets-them-right-137890

    I and others like Zebra and KM have said the same numerous times on the forced responses thread that you post comments on.

    But some more enlightened reviews explained in detail why manipulating population growth trends cannot be a large part of the answer to climate problem and is only a small wedge measure, and so cannot be a replacement for renewable energy policies. Its been pointed out by people like KM (with calculations) and myself on the forced responses thread a dozen times. You read that thread. Nobody has been able to refute what we have said.

    Briefly, even if global fertility rates dropped to zero tomorrow (which obviously wont happen) it cant stop us breaching 2 degrees because of the demographics. At best dramatically slower population growth would help stop temperatures reaching something like 8 degrees as a helpful wedge measure but not as a replacement for renewable energy or nuclear power or whatever zero carbon source.

    As for solar and wind not being 100% sustainable, the reviews correctly pointed out that they are more sustainable than fossil fuels. Nobody claims renewables can be sustained literally forever, that is simple commonsense because eventually we will run out of some of the required materials, but we can sustain them for a long time provided we recycle them and get our use of energy to be more efficient, and avoid extravagant use, and we get population growth to stop, which is achievable.

    M Moore has done far more damage than good with his absurdly dim witted movie.

  15. 65
    b fagan says:

    Killian #53 “Even if that film had gotten even more wrong with details, not one person who has criticized the film has had the guts, the moral character, nor the insight, apparently, to address what the movie claimed: Population is a problem, solar and wind are not sustainable.
    Not one criticism addressed this, making every critical review not only a Straw Man, but outright dishonesty.”

    Sure. You demonstrate exactly how -current- wind and solar isn’t sustainable – and compare that to other energy systems, not simply returning to the dark.

    Regarding population, what, exactly, would you do about oversupply of our species, with a current average lifespan of over 70 years? Please explain how’d you’d accomplish something in several decades without the unlikely creation of strong global government or the slightly more likely appearance of one or more of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

    Here, to remove your outrage over so much -outright dishonesty-, is a critique of Moore’s buddy’s grudge flick, as presented by the President and CEO of the population action group Population Connection.

    His title for the review: “PLANET OF THE HUMANS SWINGS WILDLY, MISSES BADLY”

    https://www.populationconnection.org/planet-of-the-humans/

    Action on population takes generations, and is in progress. Did you know the rate of global population increase peaked in 1960?

  16. 66

    K: Population is a problem, solar and wind are not sustainable.

    BPL: They’re sustainable by any sane definition, just not by yours.

  17. 67

    JPC: The alarmism industry

    BPL: Which is a direct arm of the Illuminati–controlled, of course, by the Jews–who are in turn controlled by the Vatican–leading ultimately to the Reptoid rulers themselves!

  18. 68
    jgnfld says:

    JPC @57: “I don’t see much of that in climate science.”

    What journals do you read?

  19. 69
    Greg Guy says:

    Can anyone actually produce a quantitative model showing that it’s possible to have a planet of 8 billion people all driving Teslas powered by a renewables grid, and do this all by keeping the temperature increase below 2 deg with no appreciable environmental or pollution problems?

    People seem to be using weasel terms such as ‘it’s better than…’ and ‘compare it to…’, but this has nothing to do with any argument. It’s not a question of how much better a particular strategy is, but whether it achieves the goal. So far, I’ve yet to see that the techno-utopian strategy can get us to stay below 2 deg warming, meaning that as temperatures increase industrial and agricultural productivity will fall. So we can’t just keep building renewables forever.

    So far we appear to be on an ‘at least’ 4 deg warming trajectory. It doesn’t matter if the world population increases further or not if it’s already too large to carry on consuming at current levels.

  20. 70
    Karsten V. Johansen says:

    Based on my long experience as a teacher and as a political “grassroot”, I don’t think 1) That you can get any way with the payed propagandists of neoliberalist dogmatism (or any other political dogmatism for that matter) like Bjoern Lomborg. It’s like arguing with a vaccuum cleaner salesman about the qualities of other types than the one he is selling. 2) Therefore M. Tobis’ way of arguing with this is futile and naive. The sectarians listening to Lomborg et al. are just laughing like any other trolls, stalinists, neofascists etc. The arguments you are trying to counter are so obviously what you get from demagogues, they are foul tricks, statistical manipulation etc. and nothing else, and anyone familiar with the catastrophic climatic development already happening understand that immediatly.

    The time left to act is shorter than nothing. We are in an extreme emergency. To stand up now and still repeat “the time to act is now” like the UN leaders etc. have done now every year for forty years (!), just give the impression that you don’t believe your own words, and that from the leading people arguing for climate action is in fact far worse than anything coming from Trump/Twitler.

    Now is the time to say: the catastrophe can no longer be avoided, it has become inevitable during the last twenty years of business as extremely usual. We can now only try to limit the worst consequences by cutting all emissions as fast as possible. All talk about staying below 1,5 degrees etc. is nonsense, given what anyone interested can understand, when the CO2 level is now far above the levels twenty million years ago, and still rising relentlessly and far faster than ever in the whole known paleoclimatic past. Preaching the obligatory neoliberalist sermon of “optimism” is for idiots in the original greek meaning of the word.

  21. 71
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Shellenberger, Pielke and Lomborg are not climate denialists. Neither are they in synch with the scientific consensus. Rather they have adopted a “third way”–the Not-Even-Wrong camp.

    And JPC happily jumps into the same pool with his criticism of Greta Thunberg. Greta certainly is not out of synch with the consensus, but the source of her moral outrage–and the real threat–is that nobody is doing jackshit about the crisis. I think the real threat of climate change comes when we reach the point of no return–when there is nothing we can really do to make things better–and we as a species have to just watch things get worse and worse for hundreds of years, knowing our children and grandchildren and their grandchildren will all be worse off than we are. How do you think our species will deal with that?

  22. 72
    MA Rodger says:

    If you want to give a book the kiss of death, a bad/very-bad book review might help it on its way.
    Shellenberger’s grand work is not just branded “deeply flawed” but “fatally flawed” in this length (3,700 words) review by Dr. Peter H. Gleick in which Shellenberger is branded as a ‘Cornucopian’ who sees “environmental problems … eliminated if we’d just pursue aggressive economic growth, simple technological advances, and increased tapping of abundant natural resources.”

  23. 73

    JPC, #57–

    He has been pretty clear he is not a denialist so to speak.

    Ah, he denies denialism. Got it.

    You know that.

    Yes, indeed. But when he, well, ‘denies’ that climate change is a serious problem he stands convicted, out of his own mouth, of lying.

    The alarmism industry has set itself up for this kind of populist takedown, sorry to say.

    There is no “industry.” And I don’t for one moment believe your ‘sorry.’

    That’s not science, but its warmly culturally embraced by most climate scientists.

    Policy advocacy is not supposed to *be* science, although it’s well to have a basis in science. Those who can’t tell the difference between the two activities do not recommend their own acumen as commentators.

    Also, bundling social justice with climate alarmism is another gigantic error.

    Climate policy is inherently social policy, and climate change is inherently most dangerous to the poor. Ignoring these facts is foolish and self-defeating. So, no, you have it exactly backwards: ignoring the linkages between would be the “gigantic error.”

    Be truthful, be smart, publicly reject exaggerated or false statements that further your personal political agenda.

    Good advice. But I don’t see you applying it to yourself.

    I don’t see much of that in climate science.

    That’s because you, too, are a denialist, and you won’t take an honest look.

  24. 74
    Solar Jim says:

    RE: Kevin’s: “At the lowest trophic level (the bottom of the food chain), plants convert about 1% of the sunlight they receive into chemical energy. It follows from this that the total energy originally present in the incident sunlight that is finally embodied in a tertiary consumer is about 0.001%…”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trophic_level

    As fossil-carbon materials were assembled with about 1% energy efficiency (via photosynthesis), then would a globalized fossil-power system relegate the world economy to an “energy efficiency” of less than 1%? Or, is the social-political power of globalized economics just kidding us since fossil (and fissile) materials in the Lithosphere are not really “forms of energy” at all?

  25. 75
    Mal Adapted says:

    Michael Tobis:

    I am saying that the data is uninformative on the climate-related component of disaster costs.

    Thanks, Michael. FWIW, I agree.

  26. 76
    b fagan says:

    Again slightly off-topic (Lomborg rather than Shellenberger).

    Economist Joseph E. Stiglitz does a nice review of Bjorn’s latest rehash of his trademarked “of course it would be nice to do something about climate, but…”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/books/review/bjorn-lomborg-false-alarm-joseph-stiglitz.html

  27. 77
    nigelj says:

    New research related to the vegetarian issue and cattle and climate change: “Geoengineering super low carbon cows: food and the corporate carbon economy in a low carbon world” Has interesting perspectives.

    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-020-02766-7

  28. 78
    Piotr says:

    JPC (57) “If you can’t see why, look no further than the fawning over thevalarmism of Greta Thurnberg and AOC. That’s not science, but its warmly culturally embraced by most climate scientists.”

    Which would be a fair criticism, if either Thurnberg claimed to be a scientist, or if scientists didn’t have the right to have social/ethical views. I certainly can sympathize with a young person who sees her future as bleak, because you and I stole their inheritance – making the Earth biologically poorer and climatologically unstable, all because of our gratuitous consumption and our tendency to discount the rights of others. We discount the people in poor countries – to use Shellenberger’s own example: the Dutch have built their affluence on colonialism and free emissions of CO2, people in Bangladesh haven’t benefited from that, yet they will pay a bigger price, since they won’t be able to affrodr the Dutch seawalls and dikes. Similarly, we discount the value of life of future generations – me now, screw you: After us, the Deluge!

  29. 79
    Mal Adapted says:

    JPC:

    He has been pretty clear he is not a denialist so to speak. You know that.

    Michael Shellenberger is a lukewarmer, a species of global warming denier. Lukewarmers accept the consensus of working climate scientists that global warming is real and anthropogenic, but are unjustifiably confident it won’t negatively effect them or anyone they actually care about. Lukewarmers deprecate or deny the cost, in money and tragedy, that AGW is already causing around the world. Its ostentatious concern for the poor notwithstanding, lukewarmism is the secular expression of the Deacon’s Grace:

    “Lord, bless me and my wife, son John and his wife, these four and no more, amen.”

    JPC:

    The alarmism industry has set itself up for this kind of populist takedown, sorry to say.

    This is conspiracist ideation, or perhaps merely tu quoque rhetoric. Whatever “alarmism industry” may exist is negligible, compared with the robust market in bespoke science-denial built by fossil-fuel capitalists’ long investment campaign in public disinformation and political dominance. In the USA, the pseudo-populist backlash against “environmentalism” (i.e. public recognition of pollution, species extinction etc. as socialized costs of economic development) began in the 1960s with chemical industry attacks on Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, continued in the astroturf sagebrush rebellion of the late ’70s that helped elect Ronald Reagan POTUS, morphed into the Wise Use campaign of the ’80s and ’90s, and rose to dictate national climate policy in the 2000s.

    The investment by petro-plutocrats in today’s climate-science denial industry is abundantly documented in the public record, e.g. Institutionalizing delay (peer-reviewed) and Dark Money (verified by The New Yorker‘s famously stringent fact-checking). It’s all been judged legal by the Supreme Court of the United States. These facts are known to all but resolute deniers: they’re not conspiracy theories or “subversive esoterica” (h/t Cedric). Shellenberger’s claims, OTOH, don’t survive fact-checking on RC. Sorry to say, JPC himself seems a victim of professionally crafted lies.

  30. 80
    Piotr says:

    JPC (57) “The alarmism industry has set itself up for this kind of populist takedown, sorry to say.”

    I seriously doubt it (that you are sorry) – your denialists’ cliche (“the alarmist industry”) gives you away. But I always found your phrase intriguing – why anyone who wants to prostitute themselves for money – would offer their skills to the …. pauper and not to the filthy rich – surely there are ORDERS of magnitude more money to be made working in denial for the fossil fuel lobby for which taking climate change seriously would put at risk TRILLIONS of dollars in combined profits of oil and gas multinationals, coal industry, car industry, air travel industry, chemical and industrial agriculture, and all other industries heavily relying on fossil fuels for their bottom line, not mentioning entire petro-states, like Russia or Saudi Arabia, whose economy, ability to control their nations, and geopolitical influence (Russia’s sphere of economical, political and military influence; Saudi Arabia’s ability to finance radical mosques and radical islamic groups) would collapse without the ability to export their oil and gas.

    So if you were able to disprove climate change – those interests would pay you your weight in gold, and it would still be peanuts compared to their
    trillions in their profits you would have saved them.

    So please find a less laughable cliche, would you?
    ====
    Piotr

  31. 81
    Russell says:

    64:
    “As for solar and wind not being 100% sustainable, the reviews correctly pointed out that they are more sustainable than fossil fuels.”

    Lord knows how many Dyson Sphere civilizations have been save from close encounters with black holes by timely deployment of energy efficient and carbon fusion negative solar wind turbines .

    Somebody should commision an estimate of their numbers

  32. 82
    nigelj says:

    Greg Guy @69

    “Can anyone actually produce a quantitative model showing that it’s possible to have a planet of 8 billion people all driving Teslas powered by a renewables grid, and do this all by keeping the temperature increase below 2 deg with no appreciable environmental or pollution problems?”

    Firstly who said anything about 8 billion people driving all Teslas? Its a straw man: Families tend to typically have one car, and many people use public transport and hopefully more and more will. But given the difficulties making public transport work ideally well, we are going to need at least SOME cars for decades to come, and surely they are BETTER to be electric?

    And electric cars pollute a lot less than ICE cars, because they dont burn fuel. There are plenty of studies on this easily googled that look at the fuel emissions and emissions during manufacture and electric cars have a net advantage. I suggest employ your fingers.

    “People seem to be using weasel terms such as ‘it’s better than…’ and ‘compare it to…’, but this has nothing to do with any argument. ”

    Nothing is perfect. All we have are comparisons.

    “It’s not a question of how much better a particular strategy is, but whether it achieves the goal.” So far, I’ve yet to see that the techno-utopian strategy can get us to stay below 2 deg warming, meaning that as temperatures increase industrial and agricultural productivity will fall. So we can’t just keep building renewables forever.”

    Argument from incredulity ( a logical fallalcy). Try reading some of the many studies done on renewables implemented at global scale like by Mark Z Jacobson which show it is viable.

    Temperatures are unlikely to cause industrial output to fall dramatically provided we get moving and modernise our energy grid over the next twenty years or so. If we do that and a few other things we will not have a serious warming problem and drop in industial and agricultural output.

    And what is your alternative? Just go on burning fossil fuels? Because it sounds a bit like that. Do you work for the fossil fuels industry?

    “So far we appear to be on an ‘at least’ 4 deg warming trajectory. It doesn’t matter if the world population increases further or not if it’s already too large to carry on consuming at current levels.”

    That is very arguably true, but it does not mean we should give up on renewable energy and just burn fossil fuels, as the M Moore movie appears to imply, although nuclear power gets a positive pat on the back, but Moore cant seem work out it suffers many negatives of its own in terms of resource scarcity, costs etc. Hes done some great movies in the past but seems to be befuddled these days.

  33. 83
    zebra says:

    #69 Greg Guy, also B Fagan,

    Greg, I often point out that you can’t have a meaningful scientific/engineering discussion or debate if you don’t first agree what you are disagreeing about, or trying to achieve. So your

    “It’s not a question of how much better a particular strategy is, but whether it achieves the goal.”

    is not particularly useful here, since you haven’t gotten to that first step.

    I’ve been saying for a long time that it is unrealistic, given geopolitical and economic factors, to expect any technology, however brilliant, to be implemented rapidly enough to achieve whatever ‘utopian’ goal one might imagine.

    So yes, the world will not stop burning FF in the next 20 or 30 years… my estimate has been that any major reductions, if they actually occur, will be manifest in the 50 to 150 year range at best. It will not be a pleasant time for large numbers of people, as the energy in the climate system increases, whatever the exact degrees-C ends up.

    But now I pose the important question: What’s your goal?

    My goal is to minimize human suffering that results from energy increases in the climate system, reduce the probability of nuclear war, and, long-term, maximize the probability that in some future, humans will continue to be more than hairless apes.

    I’ve argued in the past that changing the population trajectory as rapidly as possible is as important to that goal as any technology. There is a powerful synergy in having both.

    So, 8 billion people will not actually be ‘driving Teslas’, but as a metaphor, that’s exactly what we need.

  34. 84
    Al Bundy says:

    B fagan: Please explain how’d you’d accomplish something in several decades without the unlikely creation of strong global government or the slightly more likely appearance of one or more of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

    AB: Cut Us some slack. Plague isn’t as devastating a trick nowadays. But that’s only the first of Our ponies.

    B Fagan’s link: Like it or not, it’s going to take much time and vast effort to achieve a sustainable world.

    AB: Yes. We’re laying foundations now. The infrastructure and tech that gets going will keep going (wind/solar?) and stuff that doesn’t (nuclear?) will struggle regardless of relative merits.
    Unless EP is correct in his analysis: ‘we’ll get to nuclear eventually. It would be prudent to start now, before too many ecosystems’ implosions get more noticeable.’

    Here in Omaha a good percentage (still small) of evergreens are dying.
    ____

    Ray: but the source of her moral outrage–and the real threat–is that nobody is doing jackshit about the crisis

    AB: Better wording would be that the untold millions who are struggling to help do jackshit about it are being marginalized by the big shits.

  35. 85
    Russell says:

    79.

    Mal needs to get out more, or watch more reruns of Mad Men and Thank You For Not Smoking.

    Whether the driving force is zeal or greed does not signify: even since the creatives came up with Earth Day, we’ve watched ideologues and executives hire industrial strength Advertising & PR firms to battle toe to toe in the service of discrediting policy prescriptions their clients dislike. Sometimes the propaganda and counterpropaganda descend into the realm of soap opera, and when the comedy of manners gets that bad it is time to laugh at it, whether it’s sound bites on the news, or self righteous cant in magazines small and large, right and left.

  36. 86
    nigelj says:

    BPL @67 “The alarmism industry….BPL: Which is a direct arm of the Illuminati–controlled, of course, by the Jews–who are in turn controlled by the Vatican–leading ultimately to the Reptoid rulers themselves!’

    Quite so. Interestingly and with some irony, as far as I can make out, the ‘Illuminati’ did exist and are not some evil devil worshipping cult intent on world domination but were a product of the enlightenment movement of the 1700’s and were founded by Adam Weishaupt.

    The Illuminati promoted science and reason, and opposed the stranglehold of the Catholic Church over knowledge. I think they did eventually drift into freemasonry. But the average conspiracy believing twit would not know any of that. At the heart of climate denialism is ignorance.

  37. 87
    Al Bundy says:

    Piotr: Similarly, we discount the value of life of future generations – me now, screw you: After us, the Deluge!

    AB: Grand post. The populations’ percentage of purely pre-deluge people is plummeting. Countering that is the vast wealth they’re holding. Which makes me wonder, why do they care about numbers in a computer that will never affect them physically? Running out of money as the mortician is paid is a financially efficient life, eh?

    But focusing intently on ensuring your spawn are on top of a pile, any pile, even a 10C hellhole, is crazy.

    And so, given our crazy society (the best one possible in the universe), Shellenberger takes in cash and accolades.

  38. 88
    Greg Guy says:

    nigelj @ 82

    ‘Firstly who said anything about 8 billion people driving all Teslas?’

    Let’s not play games. I’m not being literal, the techno-utopians insist that we can get to a world of billions with the consumption habits of Westerners. Surely there must be some studies to back this up?

    ‘Nothing is perfect. All we have are comparisons.’

    Thanks for that, Yoda. I wasn’t talking about perfection but about keeping warming below 2 deg.

    ‘Argument from incredulity ( a logical fallalcy)’

    What is this? A 12-year-olds debating club? You consider it possible to keep building and maintaining our infrastructure irrespective of the amount of warming? If this is true then why worry about Climate Change at all?

    ‘And what is your alternative? ‘

    How about not indulging in false dichotomies? If the billions spent on renewables are not going to keep warming below 2 deg then maybe that money can be better spent on adapting to a 4 deg world? Resources are not infinite, and neither is the time we have to implement viable solutions, surely it’s not too much to ask for people to have actual quantitative models to provide some confirmation that their strategies can work??

  39. 89
    Greg Guy says:

    zebra @83

    ‘But now I pose the important question: What’s your goal?’

    I thought it was obvious. I am talking about keeping warming below 2 deg. I am not interested in utopian goals, I am just responding to the criticism of Moore’s film. Everyone is so upset about the countless technical errors regarding renewables in the movie, or what they consider a Malthusian viewpoint.

    No one seems to address the main criticism, which is that the current world population consuming like Westerners cannot be reached via renewables. Now maybe the film is wrong on this point but I would like to at least seem some kind of serious scientific model showing this. How much and in what mix of renewables does this involve? How much money and resources and time will it take to build this? What will the CO2 emissions be in the meantime? What will be involved in maintaining this infrastructure? Do we have relevant expertise in the relevant numbers, or do we need to educate and train millions? How long will that take? Will there be any supply bottlenecks and how will they be dealt with? How much pollution will be released and how will this be dealt with> What will be the effect on the environment, and how will that be mitigated? etc…

    I see a lot of cute ‘takedowns’ of the false information in the movie, but no one seems to address the central point.

  40. 90
    zebra says:

    #89 Greg Guy,

    Greg, I must admit to some confusion… did you actually read my comment?

    I said that we are not going to stop burning FF in the next 20 or 30 years, which means we will not achieve a 2C goal. It’s really hard to figure out who/what you are disagreeing with here.

    Obviously, there will be some mix of energy sources, which would include renewables because of basic economics… e.g. they are cheaper than coal, even unsubsidized… and there will be some climate energy outcome (your metric is GMST; maybe it will be 4C, who knows).

    I really don’t see what you are trying to get at…??

    And FYI I think you may be confusing Malthusian with Cornucopian. I think the latter term is appropriately applied to Shellenberger; I would be labelled a Malthusian, I suppose, since my goal is to have a very high resource-to-population ratio.

  41. 91
    nigelj says:

    Greg Guy @88 and 89

    I’m not going to get into this in detail here. It is off topic, and belongs on the forced responses thread. I may post an answer in more detail there. Suggest you respond there as well.

    But briefly, you keep asking questions about studies to back up whether renewables are viable at scale, and can serve the current world population . I have ALREADY given you a lead with Mark Z Jacobsons work where he finds renewables are viable at scale, we have enough resources, renewables are affordable and can keep warming below 2 degrees. Google his work. There are many other similar studies finding the same result. Until you are able to falsify this work in detail, you have got nothing.

    You say “You consider it possible to keep building and maintaining our infrastructure irrespective of the amount of warming? If this is true then why worry about Climate Change at all?”

    I have already answered this! Just to clarify further, studies by Nordhaus and others do not find that climate change of 2 degrees would impact industrial production significantly and the building of a new energy grid. It will negatively affect a whole lot of other things. This gives us a window of opportunity of 30 years approx. to build a new energy grid and so stop the climate warming further. It’s doable if people like you would get out of the way.

  42. 92
    Al Bundy says:

    Greg Guy: Let’s not play games. I’m not being literal, the techno-utopians insist that we can get to a world of billions with the consumption habits of Westerners

    AB: that insistence (of techno-utopians) is crazy, unless their vision is nuclear powered. You can have a reasonable number of humans living within the biospheric constraints imposed by net primary productivity, or you can have a batshit crazy number of humans (billions!) supported by nukes.

  43. 93
    Al Bundy says:

    Piotr: So please find a less laughable cliche, would you?

    AB: Eyeroll. There is no less laughable cliche than to conclude that uber-braniacs are soooo greedy that even though they could easily take in billions in finance (where being so amazingly talented as to be able to use a calculator results in a seven-figure salary) but instead deviously study in poverty through grad school and claw their way to a covered cinder block office and then greedily fight for funding so their students get minimum-wage cutting edge research jobs.

    Such scum. Fighting to give grad students a minimum wage gig. They should be ashamed for their greed. No, imprisoned for helping grad students.

    Seriously, have you ever heard of such scum outside of climate science? To putridly refuse to earn billions. Talk about spitting in the eye of perfection (capitalism).

  44. 94
    russell says:

    Greg Guy says: 19 Jul 2020 at 12:51 PM
    nigelj @ 82

    ‘Firstly who said anything about 8 billion people driving all Teslas?’

    Let’s not play games. I’m not being literal, the techno-utopians insist that we can get to a world of billions with the consumption habits of Westerners. Surely there must be some studies to back this up?”

    Try The Economost, Bloomberg and The Finnmcial Times .

    The world sailed past your 1 Billion milestone some years ago.

  45. 95
    Piotr says:

    Greg Guy (88) “If the billions spent on renewables are not going to keep warming below 2 deg then maybe that money can be better spent on adapting to a 4 deg world?”

    _That’s_ your alternative? Let’s have a look at its implications:

    The most important thing renewables today are buying us is the TIME. Here why this time is important:

    a) it gives a chance for ecosystems and species to adapt, as this depends on the magnitude of change AND on the rate of change (your proposal would increase both – see below). Change too quickly pants and sessile animals spreading only between generations can’t migrate fast enough to keep up, and populations don’t have enough time to evolve adaptations to warmer/more acidic climate.

    b) it means more time to come up with new technologies to reduce emissions and increase anthropogenic sequestration (thus preventing extremes and the rates of change in a)

    c) it means more time for the natural C sequestration to take effect- at the moment out of ca. 10 Gt of C/yr emitted by humans, ocean and land) take up 5Gt.
    Let’s say that we increase our emissions to 15Gt with renewables and to 20 Gt without. The Earth ability to take up atm CO2 is likely at max. (if you want to discuss it we can do it separately) – so it will stay at 5Gt (or actually go down). Which means that by giving up on renewables you increased the amount of C staying in the atmosphere NOT by 5Gt, but by 10Gt.

    d) with disproportionally more human emissions STAYING in the atmosphere in your proposal, the increase in temp. will be much bigger and faster than you expect and budget for

    e) renewables give us also more time to develop technologies that are necessary for the adaptation

    f) renewables give us also more time to carry out the adaptation. Let’s assume 3% growth of inflation-adjusted GDP and two _hypothetical_ cases: 1) my: 10 units of GDP on renewables and 10 on adaptations, reaching 4C in 80 years; 2) yours: 20 units exclusively on adaptation, reaching 4C in 50 years. The results are:

    – I will face 4C in 80 years having built 3320 units of adaptations,
    – you will face 4C in 50 years having built 2340 units of adaptations.

    So you not only accelerated the rate of change in temperature, screwing up natural ecosystems not being able to adapt that fast, BUT ALSO instead of being TWICE BETTER in human adaptations for 4 , you are 40% WORSE.
    These are of course hypothetical numbers subject to change, but the qualitative conclusions illustrated by them – are not.

    And if these 6 points were not enough – her are some more:

    g) the technical and economic ability to adapt are limited – nobody can “adapt” natural ecosystems other than by slowing the change, and there won’t be money to adapt the poor people (what could be possible for Holland won’t be available for Bangladesh)

    h) in your scenario the temperature won’t stop at 4C but will blow through it – and adapting from 4C to 6C may be orders of magnitude more difficult than adapting from 2C to 4C

    i) and higher the warming the bigger the chance of the runaway warming where there won’t be adaptation since our civilization cannot adapt to such high and quick changes.

    So much for the value of your, ehem, modest proposal.
    Piotr

  46. 96
    nigelj says:

    Zebra says “I would be labelled a Malthusian, I suppose, since my goal is to have a very high resource-to-population ratio.”

    This is a very good statement, but we should still also go hard out promoting a new energy grid.

  47. 97
    Greg Guy says:

    zebra @ 90

    I wasn’t disagreeing, just clarifying as to what I meant by the goal. I am not certain how you think humanity will fare as temps go over 2 deg however. Do you think population will keep on increasing? Industrial productivity unaffected?

  48. 98

    R: Lord knows how many Dyson Sphere civilizations have been save from close encounters with black holes by timely deployment of energy efficient and carbon fusion negative solar wind turbines .

    BPL: I can’t think of a realistic scenario where “close encounters with black holes” would ever be a problem.

  49. 99

    GG 88: maybe that money can be better spent on adapting to a 4 deg world?

    BPL: Maybe we can prevent a 4 degree world by cutting CO2 emissions and finding ways of drawing down atmospheric CO2. That would be better than giving up, which is what “adapting” really means.

  50. 100
    zebra says:

    #97 Greg Guy,

    Greg, it sounds like you don’t have any kind of science or engineering background. The OP here is about the fact that the Shellenberger article is mostly rhetoric, not real science communication, and you seem to be engaging in (innumerate) rhetoric as well. With respect to your question:

    Increase in population or industrial production is not determined by the GMST; the GMST is the result of those factors. And those factors have a wide range of scenarios as to their specific characteristics.

    I’m always happy to try to help people clarify their thinking in science and engineering areas, but you need to make some effort yourself… do you really not understand the difference between cause and effect?

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