Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All
By Jason Hayes, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
This year has been notable for its list of unusual and challenging events. Over a period of months, the coronavirus has dealt repeated blows to the entire world’s medical system and markets. Then, just as people began to take their first steps out of COVID-19 lockdowns, massive social justice protests, rioting and demands for fundamental reforms of policing rocked the nation as well.
At the same time, policy prescriptions like the Green New Deal have also demanded “climate justice” be achieved by completely reorganizing the planet’s energy supplies. Proponents justify their plans, claiming that settled science proves our emissions of greenhouse gases are risking the very existence of the human race. For example, the primary proponent of the Green New Deal, New York congressional Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — AOC — famously opined that, “the world will end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change.”
While a virus and protests are disrupting our everyday lives, Michael Shellenberger’s book, “Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All” is causing similar disruptions in progressive green demands that the world move away from reliable energy sources like nuclear and fossil fuels.
Lifelong environmental activist and former California gubernatorial candidate Shellenberger opens his book recalling how much of his early life was targeted at progressive politics and protecting the natural environment. He describes starting an Amnesty International chapter in his high school, traveling to Nicaragua to “witness the Sandinista socialist revolution” and living in Brazil to work with the “Landless Workers’ Movement and the Workers’ Party”.
Despite those early experiences — which should have firmly established his progressive green credentials — Shellenberger is now attacked by the same groups that he once worked with. That is because, while he personally believes that climate change is real, he argues that it will not mean the end of the world. In fact he clarifies that, “much of what people are being told about the environment, including climate, is wrong, and we desperately need to get it right.”
As a means of correcting the record, he fact-checks reporting on climate change and points out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has never predicted that the world would end or human civilization would collapse if global warming went above 1.5° Celsius. Just as author and researcher Bjorn Lomborg does in his new, and similarly focused book, “False Alarm”, Shellenberger explains that going above this point will only lead to a slight reduction in a rapidly growing GDP, meaning climate change is poised to make us all only a tiny bit less rich.
He has filled “Apocalypse Never” with many surprising facts, such as that climate-related death rates have dropped by 80 percent to 90 percent over the past four decades. He pokes holes in the alleged threats posed by rising sea levels and shows how extreme weather events are decreasing in both number and frequency. He describes how the Netherlands, a wealthy and developed nation, has progressed despite having one-third of its land below sea level, and shows the best defenses against flooding involve developing modern water and flood control systems.
Having lived and worked with desperately poor communities in South America, Shellenberger has seen first-hand how and why the developing world desires the same creature comforts and access to energy that we enjoy. He attacks the notion that well-to-do environmental campaigners from the developed world have the right to tut-tut, or work to stifle people’s desires for a better life. He critiques their paternalistic attitudes, pointing out that the places progressive elites reflexively castigate as sweatshops often provide people in developing nations with life-changing jobs and income.
Shellenberger explains that these jobs can provide people with the chance to escape a life of grinding rustic poverty, allowing them to move to urban areas with better education opportunities, better food and improved medical care. One anecdote describes how a young Indonesian woman had been expected to spend her life in a small, rural village where she would “do [her] chores, and wait for a good man to marry”. Instead, she chose to move to a city and find work that empowered her to live on her own, while purchasing amenities like a flat-screen TV, a motor scooter and even her own home by the age of 25.
Shellenberger also debunks the popular notion that renewable energy provides cheaper or better options for ratepayers, explaining how the construction of renewable energy inevitably leads to rising energy prices and less reliable electricity services. He disproves the notion that renewable energy will protect the natural environment, quoting his previous research that explains how solar produces 300 times more toxic waste than nuclear for each unit of energy produced.
Shellenberger capably demonstrates how our understanding of energy and environmental policy has become skewed by politicized misinformation. His story walks the reader through the revelatory journey of a progressive environmental activist who realizes that many of his early beliefs and causes actually harmed the things he had hoped to protect. “Apocalypse Never” is, therefore, a valuable addition to your library, if for no other reason than it demonstrates how reconsidering your sources and challenging your own beliefs can lead to immense personal growth.
It is also an important resource in that it shows, in significant and graphic detail, the contrasts between a life lived in the developing world and one lived in the developed world. On this issue, “Apocalypse Never” makes a strong case for allowing individuals to determine their own futures, instead of trusting those decisions to well-fed and well-funded environmental activists, who will not have to endure the outcomes of those choices.
Jason Hayes is the director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (https://www.mackinac.org/).