Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All

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Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All

Post by Dave »

Hi all,

I want to share a book that came out a few months ago that may be of interest to those in the community:

Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, by Michael Shellenberger.

I just finished reading the book. I found it very interesting and found a lot of the claims surprising. The book touches many topics, and I included some of my notes below:

-the risks of climate change have been overstated by many (from the book, "...while the IPCC's science is broadly sound, its Summary for Policymakers, press releases, and authors' statements betray ideological motivations, a tendency toward exaggeration, and an absence of important context) and are largely addressable, same with many other environmental issues (conventional air pollution peaked in developed nations 50 years ago, carbon emissions have peaked/will soon peak in others, land use for meat production declining, forests growing back/wildlife returning in wealthier nations, cruelty to animals in meat production facilities declining, habitats for endangered species should increase), and in fact many environmental issues stem from improper policy pushed at times by certain environmental groups (e.g. favoring natural gas and even coal over nuclear) or countries held back from industrialization (e.g. if hydroelectric dams were allowed in the Congo there wouldn't be a need for so much forest to be cut for wood/charcoal fuel)

-related to the prior, more important than the effects of climate change on humanity going forward is focusing on industrializing poor countries and building wealth, improving production ability, and agricultural output via tractors, improved irrigation, and improved fertilizers - i.e. agricultural and industrial efficiencies will have a greater impact on the positive side than climate change effects will on the negative side as climate change issues are not all sudden and unmanageable (e.g. rising sea levels don't happen instantly and changing coastal development/infrastructure can occur to counter, but only if wealth is available to do so), and for those countries that are wealthy, better adapting to the effects of climate change by changing the way issues are approached (e.g. not allowing the unnatural build-up of forest growth next to large human developments)

-the rainforests are not the "earth's lungs" (they aren't net producers of oxygen, but rather about flat net of respiration) and we aren't at threat of losing the CO2 recycler, the earth's forests are not under threat of being all burned/cut (this trend has actually been reversing in developed countries), and environmental NGO policies of forced land set aside by farmers for conservation/the general "small local" farmer concept is actually counterproductive by requiring more land for farming that could otherwise be wild

-plastic waste is not as big of a deal as commonly discussed, recycling has largely been a failure in how much actually gets recycled, plastic was beneficial in reducing reliance on ivory/whale blubber/turtle shells and thus over-hunting so the benefits of plastic are generally ignored (substituting limited/valuable natural resources such as whales for created ones like plastic) as they are invisible while the costs are transparent, and most of the polluted plastic in the world is the result of poor countries not having garbage collection systems setup due to lacking the capital to do so, not Starbucks giving plastic straws (plastic straws are 0.03% of plastic waste in the ocean)

-factories and industrialization, due to efficiencies, reduce human land use and free up more land to be wild, in addition to lifting the world's most poor out of poverty/improving life expectancy/improving health/improving women's freedoms

-market forces have played a meaningful role in certain environmental issues (plastic substituting for ivory, vegetable oils substituting for whale blubber discussed above) being resolved, as noted above the benefits are often invisible while we see the costs

-extinction trends are greatly exaggerated and many conservation efforts have backfired and are worse than allowing market forces to operate (e.g. taking and setting aside reserve land in the Congo results in gorillas/monkeys being killed as farmers on the margins deal with wildlife eating their crops and threatening their food security and the use of wood from gorilla habitat being used for fuel rather than using available fossil fuels)

-factory farming is more environmentally friendly than the alternative (small, local, organic, free range, grass fed, etc.) given the reality of our population numbers and is far better than it used to be, due to more output on less units of land, water, fertilizer, and with less units of soil loss and pollution, in fact less land being dedicated to farming in developed countries as efficiency improves (a trend that would reverse with a return to small local organic etc.) and shifts occur (cows->chicken)

-reducing meat/animal products intake, largely due to the rebound effect, has a minimal impact on carbon emissions due to new emissions on other purchases, so the focus should be on the emissions from the energy behind those/other purchases (electricity, transportation, cooking, heating, etc.)

-nuclear energy is safe (extremely minimal injuries, deaths, cancer, etc.), clean(er), reliable and cheap, and environmental groups, due to fossil fuel/renewable conflicts of interest and conflation of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, have pushed nuclear out in a big way that's resulted in more carbon emissions at far higher cost

-getting the poorest countries wealthier, through industrialization and sliding up the energy scale (wood->coal->natural gas->nuclear), as quickly as possible will stabilize human population (wealthier nations flatline population growth), and an industrialized society uses less land and other non-energy resources to feed itself and create less waste in the process (e.g. a huge amount of plastic waste comes about because poor countries lack waste collection systems and dump waste, so as they become wealthier this would be addressed by being able to afford waste collection)

-environmental groups and first world countries have followed neo-imperialist policies that keep poor countries poor under the idea of environmentalism (but often for economic reasons, too), wealthy countries won't support poor countries building hydroelectric dams or coal plants/a couple countries in the EU whose local farmers most resisted free trade agreements with Brazil due to competition from lower-cost imports were most vocal criticizing Brazil for deforesting/fires

-"collapse" is a vague concept without clearly defined mechanisms and outcomes, and the idea that nature as a neat system with homeostasis/in equilibrium is not entirely accurate, but rather Earth's systems have always been in flux with things coming and going, and therefore there is no reason to think that certain changes such as rainforest->desert will cause widespread planetary ecological collapse (not to say it won't cause any problems, just that they aren't unsurmountable), as noted above it's not clear what exactly is going to cause widespread death and challenges from climate change as many of the issues experienced from climate change are by those who lack wealth to handle them rather than an inability to handle the climate change effects themselves

-environmental alarmism has become a sort of new religion, analogous to Judeo-Christian ideas of Eden (pre-industrial world) and Revelation (environmental collapse) and fills a similar spiritual, psychological void in people to have a purpose/be a hero, which has been especially sneaky as environmentalists tend to be non-religious and associate with "science", so many have taken up environmental causes with religious-like faith/zeal under the guise of science but in fact are doing the same as religions they criticize, but in some ways worse as religions come with a lot of positive mental and physical health benefits whereas environmental alarmism often comes with deeply negative views on people and the world and various mental health issues

-ultimately, the solution presented is to assist with and encourage developing nations to industrialize (rather than impose neo-colonialism shrouded in an environmental cloak) that will pull the world's poorest out of poverty, drive agricultural and industrial efficiency across the board which will reduce the amount of land and related resources used by humans (e.g. a single iPhone can replace a phone/alarm clock/newspapers/a calendar/a compass/a camera/a watch, etc., an industrial farm can produce far more food on far less land than the alternative, a nuclear plant can provide fuel for far more people using far less land than wood fuel), stabilize the human population, which will prevent population run-off, coupled with allowing and encouraging all nations to slide up the power density scale (knowing emissions/pollution will be worse before they get better, in some ways) to using nuclear in a very big way to reduce emissions, pollution, and land use, against the context that many environmental challenges, such as climate change, are manageable with sufficient wealth to do so.

Obviously I'm simplifying a lot of what Shellenberger claims, but these are my notes so you can determine your interest in the book. You can respond to my notes if you want, but it's probably better to read the book and respond to its claims, rather than my extremely simplified comments that lack context and nuance.

While there are a lot of books that discuss environmental issues, this one is particularly interesting as it is written by someone who has spent his whole life involved in environmental causes and eventually backed away from part of the mainstream environmental movement as he came to see things he believes are inaccurate and alarmist, while missing out on the human context of many of the issues.

I'm really interested in hearing from those who have read it what they think about it - what is accurate, what is not, etc. I don't consider myself especially informed on environmental issues, but I am trying to learn, so I would enjoy a discussion by those more informed talking about some of Shellenberger's claims in the context of what they know. Just wanted to share it to those interested and encourage discussion.

If you're interested in an interview of Shellenberger, the following gives a good taste of what the book is like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwgPRCcaYUE

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Re: Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All

Post by Alphaville »

interesting points, and thanks for the thorough summary. i’m curious about the book now, will add it to the wishlist.

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Re: Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All

Post by jacob »

Dave wrote:
Thu Nov 05, 2020 4:08 pm
I'm really interested in hearing from those who have read it what they think about it - what is accurate, what is not, etc. I don't consider myself especially informed on environmental issues, but I am trying to learn, so I would enjoy a discussion by those more informed talking about some of Shellenberger's claims in the context of what they know. Just wanted to share it to those interested and encourage discussion.
We've already "debated" this in four very long threads in the past. We're not doing it again!

Debating "claims" is a bad or even counterproductive to getting more informed. It would be far better to read a textbook to gain a coherent understanding as opposed to squabbling over a bunch of talking points, yet almost nobody is interested in putting in such an effort. I'm willing to host discussions of the policy implications of climate change such this viewtopic.php?f=20&t=11677 . However, I'm not willing to entertain non-expert challenges to the science from think tank economists or policy writers. That hat is getting too old.

I'm therefore shutting this one down.

For a non-STEM college-level introduction to the "greenhouse" effect, the carbon cycle, and forecasting, I recommend https://www.amazon.com/dp/0470943416/