Michael Shellenberger

Michael Shellenberger (born 1971) is an American author, environmental policy writer, cofounder of Breakthrough Institute and founder of Environmental Progress. He was named a Time magazine Heroes of the Environment (2008),[2] winner of the 2008 Green Book Award,[3] co-editor of Love Your Monsters (2011) and co-author of Break Through (Houghton Mifflin 2007) and The Death of Environmentalism (2004).[4] He and his co-author Ted Nordhaus have been described as "ecological modernists"[5] and "eco-pragmatists."[6] In 2015, Shellenberger joined with 18 other self-described ecomodernists to coauthor An Ecomodernist Manifesto.[7] On November 30, 2017, he announced during a New York Times conference that he would run for Governor of California in 2018[8][9]. Shellenberger is the author of Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All (2020).[10]

Michael Shellenberger
Michael Shellenberger in 2017
Michael Shellenberger in 2017
EducationPeace and Global Studies (PAGS) (1993)[1]
Alma materEarlham College[1]
SubjectEnergy, global warming, human development
Notable awardsHero of the Environment, 2008, Green Book Award, 2008


Shellenberger graduated from the Peace and Global Studies (PAGS) program at Earlham College in 1993.[1]


Early careerEdit

Shellenberger's early writing and activism focused on Latin America and he was introduced to activism and political direct action due to being raised a Mennonite.[11] That work included the founding of an Amnesty International chapter in high school in Greeley, Colorado, and debating Latin American policy, for which he attended the National Forensic League Championships. He traveled and worked in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s.[12]

In 1993 he moved to San Francisco to work with the progressive organization Global Exchange, authoring articles on Haiti,[13] Brazil,[14][15] Mexico,[16] Gulf War syndrome[17] and affirmative action.[18] At UC Santa Cruz he helped organize a graduate students union and defend affirmative action.[19] Later he co-founded Communication Works, an allied progressive public relations organization.[20] which worked on a wide range of campaigns, from challenging Nike over its labor practices in Asia to saving the Headwaters Redwood forest. In 2002 Shellenberger co-founded the consulting firm Lumina Strategies.[21] Its clients included Global Exchange, Americans United for Affirmative Action, the Ford Foundation, the Sierra Club and the Venezuelan Information Center.[22][23] In 2005 Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus co-founded American Environics,[24] whose clients include AARP, Earthjustice, the Ford Foundation and the Nathan Cummings Foundation.[citation needed]

Breakthrough InstituteEdit

Shellenberger was president and a senior fellow at the Breakthrough Institute, which he co-founded with Ted Nordhaus in 2003.[4] Today, Breakthrough Institute consists of a policy staff, an annual conference, a policy journal, and a network of affiliated fellows.[25][26][27] Breakthrough Institute's analyses of energy, climate and innovation policy have been cited by National Public Radio[28] the Wall Street Journal[29] and C-SPAN.[30]

As part of his role at Breakthrough, Shellenberger has co-authored analyses of cap and trade climate legislation,[31] of the "planetary boundaries" hypothesis,[32][33] energy rebound from energy efficiency measures,[34] carbon pricing,[35] renewable energy subsidies,[36][37] nuclear energy,[38] and shale gas.[37][39][40]

The Institute has conducted research showing that shale gas and other major technological innovations were created by American government institutions and public financing. The Institute advocates higher levels of public spending on technology innovation, which they argue will lead to higher environmental quality, economic growth, and quality of life.[37][39][40] The Institute argues that climate policy should be focused on higher levels of public funding on technology innovation to "make clean energy cheap," and has been critical of climate policies like cap and trade and carbon pricing that are focused primarily on raising energy prices.[41][42][43][44]

Environmental ProgressEdit

In February 2016 it was revealed that Shellenberger had relinquished his position as president of the Breakthrough Institute to run a new organisation, Environmental Progress,[45] which is behind several public campaigns:[46]

Save Diablo Canyon campaignEdit

In January 2016, alongside several other authors of An Ecomodernist Manifesto including Robert Stone, David Keith, Stewart Brand and Mark Lynas—as well as Kerry Emanuel, James Hansen, Steven Pinker, Stephen Tindale and Burton Richter, Shellenberger signed an open letter urging officials not to close the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.[46] It was addressed to California Governor Jerry Brown, the CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric and California state officials.[47]

Save Illinois NuclearEdit

In April 2016, Shellenberger, alongside other conservationists and scientists including James Hansen, Stewart Brand, Nobel Laureate Burton Richter, Kerry Emanuel and Mark Lynas, signed an open letter urging against the closure of the six operating nuclear power plants in Illinois: Braidwood, Byron, Clinton, Dresden, LaSalle and Quad Cities.[48] Together, they account for Illinois ranking first in the United States in 2010 in both nuclear capacity and nuclear generation,[49] and generation from its nuclear power plants accounted for 12 percent of the United States total.[50] In 2007, 48% of the electricity of Illinois was generated using nuclear power.[51]

Save New York NuclearEdit

In July 2016, an open letter[52] signed by climate scientists, scholars, environmentalists and concerned citizens was sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo and leaders within New York's Public Service Commission, urging them to support legislation that would protect New York's nuclear plants from closure, including the Indian Point nuclear power plant. In August, Cuomo announced[53] that the PSC had formally approved a Clean Energy Standard (CES) that explicitly recognises the zero-carbon contribution of nuclear power plants.

South KoreaEdit

In July 2017, Shellenberger, with colleagues and associates of Environmental Progress sent an open letter[54] to South Korean President Moon Jae-in urging him to reconsider his nuclear phase-out proposal, given the importance of South Korea's nuclear program to protecting the climate. In August 2017 a comprehensive report, "The High Cost of Fear[55]" was published, outlining the likely impacts on South Korea of that proposal. In October 2017, a South Korean citizen's jury voted[56] to restart the construction of two halted nuclear reactors.

Congressional testimonyEdit

In January 2020, Shellenberger testified before the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the U.S. House of Representatives.[57] In his testimony, he raised concerns about what he views as a growing alarmism in public discussion of climate change. "I care about getting the facts and the science right," he told lawmakers. "I believe scientists, journalists, and advocates have an obligation to represent climate science accurately, even if doing so reduces the saliency of our issue." Shellenberger also emphasized the importance of nuclear energy's role in addressing climate change. When Rep. Jim Baird (R-IN) asked him about its potential, he replied "I believe that eventually we will be 100% nuclear. It may not be for another two hundred years, but it's such a clearly superior energy technology, that's eventually what it will be."[57]

Position on renewable energyEdit

In 2017, Shellenberger told The Australian: "Like most people, I started out pretty anti-nuclear. I changed my mind as I realised you can't power a modern economy on solar and wind... All they do is make the electricity system chaotic and provide greenwash for fossil fuels."[58]


In 2004, Nordhaus and Shellenberger, both long-time strategists for environmental groups, co-authored a controversial essay, "The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World." The paper argues that environmentalism is conceptually and institutionally incapable of dealing with climate change and should "die" so that a new politics can be born. The essay was debated.[4][59]

In, 2007, Houghton Mifflin published Nordhaus and Shellenberger's Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Wired Magazine said Break Through "could turn out to be the best thing to happen to environmentalism since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring."[60] The book is an argument for what its authors describe as a positive, "post-environmental" politics that abandons the environmentalist focus on nature protection for a new focus on technological innovation to create a new economy. Time Magazine named Nordhaus and Shellenberger two of its 32 Heroes of the Environment (2008) calling Break Through "prescient" for its prediction that climate policy should focus not on making fossil fuels expensive through regulation but rather on making clean energy cheap.[2] Break Through was awarded the Green Book Award, 2009, whose other recipients include E.O. Wilson and James Hansen.[3]

Their writings have focused on the intersection of climate change, energy innovation, and politics. The two predicted the failure of cap and trade for its focus on making fossil fuels expensive rather than on technology innovation to make clean energy cheap.[61][62] They faulted the Kyoto climate treaty for being focused on what they called "shared sacrifice" rather than shared technological innovation.[63] They have criticized green cultural life as a consequence of status anxieties among Western consumers.[64] And they have argued for a "theology" of ecological modernization that embraces technological innovation and human development.[65]

Nordhaus and Shellenberger have argued for a "climate pragmatism" and an embrace of modernization and human development. They are co-authors of an alternative framework to the United Nations process focused on energy innovation, pollution control and adaptation.[66][67][68]

In 2011, Nordhaus and Shellenberger started The Breakthrough Journal, which The New Republic called "among the most complete efforts to provide a fresh answer" to the question of how to modernize liberal thought,[69] and The National Review called "...the most promising effort at self-criticism by our liberal cousins in a long time."[70]

An Ecomodernist ManifestoEdit

In April 2015, Shellenberger joined with a group of scholars in issuing An Ecomodernist Manifesto. This proposes dropping the goal of “sustainable development” and replacing it with a strategy to shrink humanity’s footprint by using nature more intensively. The authors argue that economic development is, in fact, an indispensable precondition to preserving the environment.[71][72]

The other authors were: John Asafu-Adjaye, Linus Blomqvist, Stewart Brand, Barry Brook, Ruth DeFries, Erle Ellis, Christopher Foreman, David Keith, Martin Lewis, Mark Lynas, Ted Nordhaus, Roger A. Pielke, Jr., Rachel Pritzker, Joyashree Roy, Mark Sagoff, Robert Stone, and Peter Teague.[73]

Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us AllEdit

External video
  After Words interview with Shellenberger on Apocalypse Never, August 1, 2020, C-SPAN

In June 2020, HarperCollins published Shellenberger's book Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, in which the author "explores how and why so many of us came to see important but manageable environmental problems as the end of the world, and why the people who are the most apocalyptic about environmental problems tend to oppose the best and most obvious solutions to solving them."[10][74]

In a book review, Peter H. Gleick, who was the president of the Pacific Institute and won the 2018 Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization, argues that "bad science and bad arguments abound" in 'Apocalypse Never'; Gleick writes: "What is new in here isn’t right, and what is right isn’t new."[75] Similarly, a 2020 Forbes article by Shellenberger, in which he promotes his book, has been analyzed by seven academic reviewers and one editor from the Climate Feeback fact-checking project; the reviewers conclude that Shellenberger "mixes accurate and inaccurate claims in support of a misleading and overly simplistic argumentation about climate change."[76] Shellenberger responded in a piece published at Environmental Progress, a publication he founded. He noted, "there is much that Gleick and I agree upon". He went on to identify areas of agreement including the knowledge needed to "provide safe water and sanitation to the billions we still lack it", he agreed with the premise that cutting of green cows emissions is necessary to "reduce the severity of climate change". He then went on to identify differences between them, specifically the while the goals may be the same, they differ on "how to get there". He noted several instances where Gleik asserts that Shellenberger denied something, and illustrated with quotes from his book that he had addressed the issue. For example, Gleik quotes the FAO, pointing out that "climate change already has negative effects on crop yields…" Schellenberger's response is that there is no contradiction. He agrees that climate change is a factor but he believes it is outweighed by other factors.[77]


The writings of Shellenberger have been praised and criticized. Wired magazine wrote that Break Through "could turn out to be the best thing to happen to environmentalism since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring."[78] The Wall Street Journal wrote, "If heeded, Nordhaus and Shellenberger's call for an optimistic outlook -- embracing economic dynamism and creative potential -- will surely do more for the environment than any U.N. report or Nobel Prize."[79]

Former Sierra Club president Adam Werbach, in a speech at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in December, 2004, called The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World a "seminal paper", adding "with fond memories, a heavy heart and a desire for progress, I say to you tonight that … Environmentalism is dead."[80] In reference to Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, he said about Shellenberger and Nordhaus, "they nailed it." [81][82]

Former Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope wrote "I am deeply disappointed and angered by The Death of Environmentalism," which he called "unclear, unfair and divisive." He said it contained multiple factual errors and misinterpretations but conceded the authors made "one extremely compelling point" that "the environmental community had still not come up with an inspiring vision, much less a legislative proposal, that a majority of Americans could get excited about."[83] In a 2007 review of Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, Pope walked his statement about Shellenberger and Nordhaus's legislative tact back, arguing that "Time has not been kind to their thesis" regarding the death of environmentalism. Pope argued that instead, environmental "politics have changed very dramatically" since their original essay's claims. [82]

Former Greenpeace Executive Director John Passacantando said, referring to both Shellenberger and his coauthor Ted Nordhaus, "These guys laid out some fascinating data, but they put it in this over-the-top language and did it in this in-your-face way."[84]

Michel Gelobter and others wrote The Soul of Environmentalism: Rediscovering transformational politics in the 21st century[85] in response, criticizing "Death" for not addressing the concerns of poor people who are not white.[86] In 2007 academics Julie Sze and Michael Ziser argued in "Climate Change, Environmental Aesthetics, and Global Environmental Justice Cultural Studies" that Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility continued this trend. They asserted that "technophilic approaches like those of Nordhaus and Shellenberger miss entirely" the "structural environmental injustice" that natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina make visible.[87]

Personal lifeEdit

Shellenberger was raised in Greeley, Colorado and attended college at Earlham College, a Quaker school in Richmond, Indiana.[88][89] He went on to receive a master's degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Shellenberger has two children and resides in the San Francisco Bay area.[88][89]

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit