Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Review: Apocalypse Never: How the Left's New Lies About Climate Change Hurt People and Nature

Apocalypse Never: How the Left's New Lies About Climate Change Hurt People and NatureApocalypse Never: How the Left's New Lies About Climate Change Hurt People and Nature by Michael Shellenberger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is an eye-opening book. Shellenberger takes on several sacred cows of contemporary environmentalism with detailed and persuasive arguments.

Shellenberger is not rejecting environmentalism. He is not denying climate change or other serious environmental problems. Not by a long shot. By all accounts he is a deeply committed environmentalist who wants to save the planet and cares intensely for animal and human life and its continued existence and flourishing.

What his goal is, and I think he largely succeeds, is to argue for these four main points.

1. Apocalyptic or alarmist accounts of environmentalism are not based on the best available science. It is more like religion than science. The end of the world is not nigh. Things have, on the whole, actually gotten better, not worse.

2. The people involved in the environmental alarmist movement are either severely hypocritical or corrupt, and frequently both.

3. There are mitigating strategies for most of the pressing environmental problems, but all of these are fundamentally based on economic growth, poverty reduction, and the policies that encourage and allow these.

4. The only way forward is to produce and use more energy (not less) and the only way to do that without causing more pollution and other environmental problems is nuclear power. Fears of nuclear power are largely unfounded, based on misconceptions and ignorance about how it works (and often those ideas are spread by those funded by producers of natural gas: see #2)

I am for the most part persuaded by Shellenberger’s arguments. He brings forward the evidence and discusses the counterevidence and counterarguments. He strikes me as honestly trying to evaluate and interpret the available evidence. That doesn’t mean he’s always going to get it right, but he is sincerely presenting how he has come to think the way he has. He explains his own mistakes and errors and what he learned that led him to correct those.

One doesn’t have to agree with all his arguments to see that this book is important for two main reasons (beyond the particular claims of its content): (1) we must challenge and criticize any and all views, no matter how “settled”. This is how we discover new truth, correct falsehoods and errors, and, just as importantly, come to better understand the grounds for these settled truth. So even when we are firmly convinced of the truth, we need to challenge it to understand it. (2) We must not mistake consensus and narrative for truth, knowledge, or understanding. The consensus might be true, the narrative might capture and express knowledge, but we have to do the work to discover that: we can’t just take it for granted. And we can’t assume we understand what the consensus seems to hold without really looking at it, challenging it, digesting it. This books helps us do that about environmentalism, and so if taken seriously, should help us better understand how to continue to make the world a better place for all us.

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