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jimmy m
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30 Jun 2020, 10:10 am

In recent days, former Extinction Rebellion spokesman Zion Lights has announced her conversion to the cause of nuclear energy, while so-called “eco-modernist” Michael Shellenberger has gone further, and apologised for the years he spent scaremongering over climate change in a long article at Forbes website.
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Michael Shellenberger wrote:

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

On Behalf Of Environmentalists, I Apologize For The Climate Scare

Image
MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER IN MARANHÃO, BRAZIL, 1995

I may seem like a strange person to be saying all of this. I have been a climate activist for 20 years and an environmentalist for 30.

But as an energy expert asked by Congress to provide objective expert testimony, and invited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to serve as Expert Reviewer of its next Assessment Report, I feel an obligation to apologize for how badly we environmentalists have misled the public.

Here are some facts few people know:

* Humans are not causing a “sixth mass extinction”

* The Amazon is not “the lungs of the world”

* Climate change is not making natural disasters worse

* Fires have declined 25% around the world since 2003

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

* 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

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

* Netherlands became rich not poor while adapting to life below sea level

* We produce 25% more food than we need and food surpluses will continue to rise as the world gets hotter

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

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

* Preventing future pandemics requires more not less “industrial” agriculture

I know that the above facts will sound like “climate denialism” to many people. But that just shows the power of climate alarmism.

In reality, the above facts come from the best-available scientific studies, including those conducted by or accepted by the IPCC, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other leading scientific bodies.

Some people will, when they read this imagine that I’m some right-wing anti-environmentalist. I’m not. At 17, I lived in Nicaragua to show solidarity with the Sandinista socialist revolution. At 23 I raised money for Guatemalan women’s cooperatives. In my early 20s I lived in the semi-Amazon doing research with small farmers fighting land invasions. At 26 I helped expose poor conditions at Nike factories in Asia.

I became an environmentalist at 16 when I threw a fundraiser for Rainforest Action Network. At 27 I helped save the last unprotected ancient redwoods in California. In my 30s I advocated renewables and successfully helped persuade the Obama administration to invest $90 billion into them. Over the last few years I helped save enough nuclear plants from being replaced by fossil fuels to prevent a sharp increase in emissions

But until last year, I mostly avoided speaking out against the climate scare. Partly that’s because I was embarrassed. After all, I am as guilty of alarmism as any other environmentalist. For years, I referred to climate change as an “existential” threat to human civilization, and called it a “crisis.”

But mostly I was scared. I remained quiet about the climate disinformation campaign because I was afraid of losing friends and funding. The few times I summoned the courage to defend climate science from those who misrepresent it I suffered harsh consequences. And so I mostly stood by and did next to nothing as my fellow environmentalists terrified the public.

But then, last year, things spiraled out of control.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said “The world is going to end in twelve years if we don’t address climate change.” Britain’s most high-profile environmental group claimed “Climate Change Kills Children.”

The world’s most influential green journalist, Bill McKibben, called climate change the “greatest challenge humans have ever faced” and said it would “wipe out civilizations.”

Mainstream journalists reported, repeatedly, that the Amazon was “the lungs of the world,” and that deforestation was like a nuclear bomb going off.

As a result, half of the people surveyed around the world last year said they thought climate change would make humanity extinct. And in January, one out of five British children told pollsters they were having nightmares about climate change.

Whether or not you have children you must see how wrong this is. I admit I may be sensitive because I have a teenage daughter. After we talked about the science she was reassured. But her friends are deeply misinformed and thus, understandably, frightened.

* 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

The news media have been making apocalyptic pronouncements about climate change since the late 1980s, and do not seem disposed to stop.

The ideology behind environmental alarmsim — Malthusianism — has been repeatedly debunked for 200 years and yet is more powerful than ever.

But there are also reasons to believe that environmental alarmism will, if not come to an end, have diminishing cultural power.

The coronavirus pandemic is an actual crisis that puts the climate “crisis” into perspective. Even if you think we have overreacted, Covid-19 has killed nearly 500,000 people and shattered economies around the globe.

Scientific institutions including WHO and IPCC have undermined their credibility through the repeated politicization of science. Their future existence and relevance depends on new leadership and serious reform.

Facts still matter, and social media is allowing for a wider range of new and independent voices to outcompete alarmist environmental journalists at legacy publications.

Nations are reverting openly to self-interest and away from Malthusianism and neoliberalism, which is good for nuclear and bad for renewables.

The evidence is overwhelming that our high-energy civilization is better for people and nature than the low-energy civilization that climate alarmists would return us to.

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Apology Accepted
jimmy m. - a former member of the Sierra Club


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CockneyRebel
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30 Jun 2020, 10:30 am

There was no need to apologize. He spoke his mind and stood up for what he believed in.


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shlaifu
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30 Jun 2020, 12:03 pm

I'll need to see his sources for almost every statement before it's even possible to engage with it.

"the Netherlands got rich adapting to life below sea level".
Yes, but the adaptation followed the getting rich.
The Dutch East India company colonized South East Asia and took over local spice trade through warfare.
Back home, capitalism was invented (i.e., investing money to make more money).
With the newfound wealth, the Durch built dikes to firm basins and windmills to pump the seawater out of the basins. -> "life below sealevel".

For almost everything else: yeah, you'll need to show me the data and the reasoning before I will take him for more than the nuclear energy lobbyist he officially is.
He's the first person I read about saying we're not going through a global extinction event, and the data I have seen are thoroughly depressing. Merely stating 'that's not really happening' isn't enough.


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The_Walrus
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30 Jun 2020, 2:52 pm

Michael Shellenberger is an anthropologist who has spent his whole career making provocative statements which turn out to be wrong, and clearly is in no rush to break that habit. It's a shame because some of his statements are important and incisive, but he seems to be too keen to shock to have bothered fact-checking them.

For example, he simultaneously claims that humans are not endangering wild animals and threatening mass extinction, while also claiming that habitat destruction and "direct killing of wild animals" are causing more extinctions than climate change. The second claim is true (although invasive species are a bigger problem than wild animals, and climate change is a big problem and helps to drive the other factors) but it contradicts the first. Shellenberger cites the IUCN as the source of his claims on extinctions, and, well... https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/im ... 5_2007.pdf

Quote:
But the rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1000 and 10,000 times higher than the “background” or expected natural extinction rate (a highly conservative estimate). Unlike the mass extinction events of geological history, the current extinction phenomenon is one for which a single species - ours - appears to be almost wholly responsible. This is often referred to as “the sixth extinction crisis”, after the five known extinction waves in geological history.
...
WHAT ARE THE THREATS?
Major threats to biodiversity are:
• Habitat destruction and degradation
• Over-exploitation (extraction, hunting, fishing etc.)
• Pollution
• Disease
• Invasions of alien species (e.g. cats and rats on islands)
• Global climate change (changes in migratory species, coral bleaching)

(my ellipsis)

I think his blanket statement that wood is worse than fossil fuels is far too broad a generalisation. Fossil fuels certainly have their uses, which is why we started using them in the first place, but specially grown bioenergy will particularly have a role if we can get BECCS to work. We should not be destroying important habitats either to burn the trees or to clear them for bioenergy farms.

Producing more food on less land is important. However, if we want to be carbon neutral then we're also going to have to reduce the ruminant population, particularly if Shellenberg is ruling out BECCS.

I think his comment on land use by renewables is probably off, but it's a moot point unless you're talking to the anti-nuclear nutters.

Carbon emissions have not been declining in Britain since the mid-70s. That's just complete balderdash. They peaked in the 1990s. As for Germany - not a particularly good example to prove his point, given that they have (stupidly) shunned nuclear power.

There is little that is Malthusian about mainstream environmentalism, and indeed it is no longer anti-nuclear (the arguments against nuclear power come down to cost rather than safety or environmental factors). There are some who complain about population growth but they are not in the mainstream, where it is much more common to see complaints about Western consumption levels.

The really disappointing thing about that screed is that he didn't throw in the killer "trophy hunting is good for conservation" point. Which it absolutely is.

I can't comment on the stuff about fires, the public health benefits of intensive farming (I can see the case both ways) or how Greenpeace destroyed the rainforest or colonialists saving gorillas led to elephants being killed. But based on the rest of that rant, I think each claim probably has about a 25% chance of being true.