Few topics have sparked more disagreement than the debate over climate change. Even though it’s becoming more widely accepted that climate change is real, there still remain the questions of what steps we should take, whether they’ll be enough, and how drastic the environmental situation really is. Many scientists and activists warn that the Earth has already passed a point of no return and that climate catastrophe is imminent and inevitable.
In Apocalypse Never, published in 2020, Michael Shellenberger says that it’s time for everyone to take a step back and assess the climate crisis from a rational perspective. While acknowledging that climate change is taking place and that humans are having a negative impact on the environment, he puts forward the case that we’re in a much better position to curb climate change than the alarmists would have us believe. Furthermore, he insists that exaggerating the climate crisis is just as counterproductive as denying it entirely and that those who bend the scientific truth in order to ring the environmental alarm are actually doing more harm than good.
Shellenberger is an award-winning science writer...
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To begin, Shellenberger makes it clear that climate change is real and is primarily driven by the human race, but he’s dismayed at environmental doomsayers who he says spread misinformation just as much as climate change deniers. When climate activists fudge the truth for the sake of spurring people into action, they do their cause more harm than good. To demonstrate his point, Shellenberger discusses the warnings of environmental experts, the way that journalists selectively filter climate reports for the most alarming headlines, and the counterproductive psychological effects of presenting worst-case scenarios as unavoidable.
The leading source of information on the climate change problem is the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC produced a series of reports in 2018 and 2019 that predict irreversible harm to the ecosphere if current climate trends continue. IPCC scientists and others have warned that extreme weather events will endanger food and water supplies for billions of people, greenhouse gas emissions are out of control, and the cost of damage from disasters such as hurricanes and forest fires will continue to...
The primary driver of climate change, and the most important issue to tackle, is society’s ever-growing energy consumption. The trend throughout the history of civilization has been moving from weak, diffuse sources of fuel to more compact and powerful methods of energy use and generation. Shellenberger explains the concepts of energy density and power density while detailing the progression toward energy-dense fuels and how politics and emotion can get in the way of necessary and beneficial progress.
(Shortform note: Another important metric to consider in addition to energy and power density is the carbon footprint—the amount of greenhouse gas (primarily carbon dioxide and methane) released into the atmosphere by an energy source, organization, product, or person. There are several calculators available online that allow you to estimate your own carbon footprint.)
Energy density is the measure of how much energy is stored per volume in any given fuel source. For instance, a sugary snack is more energy-dense than a head of lettuce. Likewise, a lump of coal...
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When it comes to rescuing ecosystems, though, how we generate electricity isn’t the highest priority that comes to most people’s minds. The core of existential environmental dread revolves around the idea that humans are actively killing the planet. In order to remove a certain level of panic from the environmental discussion, Shellenberger addresses the issues and misperceptions around mass extinction of species, the loss of the rainforests, and the amount of non-degradable waste such as plastic that we release into the environment.
Conservationists warn that species are now going extinct faster than at any time in the past several million years. Authors who characterize this as the “Sixth Extinction” argue that mass extinctions are not only humanity’s fault, but that they also endanger the human race’s survival by toppling the delicate natural systems on which our civilization depends. However, Shellenberger claims that alarmist extinction rate projections are based on a flawed “species area model” developed in the 1960s that made faulty assumptions about how much habitat is needed for species to survive.
Human Activity as the Cause of Mass Extinction
Shellenberger argues that in order to effectively reduce our impact on the environment, society needs to transition to more energy-dense fuel sources, and that this requires a shift in attitude and awareness about the energy and resources we use. Many individuals are already taking measures to reduce their personal carbon footprint. Take a few moments to think about how your own lifestyle has an impact on the environment.
Suppose your power company announces a project to build a nuclear power plant within an hour’s drive of your home. Would you be for or against such a project? Would you prefer the implementation of renewable power generation in your area, knowing its costs and limitations? Why or why not?
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