Michael D. Shellenberger (born June 16, 1971) is an American author and journalist who writes about politics, the environment, climate change, and nuclear power. He is a co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute and the California Peace Coalition.[1] Shellenberger founded the pro-nuclear non-profit Environmental Progress in 2016.[2]

Michael Shellenberger
Shellenberger in 2017
Born (1971-06-16) June 16, 1971 (age 53)
Colorado, U.S.
EducationEarlham College (BA)
University of California, Santa Cruz (MA)
Political partyDemocratic (before 2022)
Independent (2022–present)
SpouseHelen Lee
AwardsStevens Institute of Technology’s Center for Science Writings Green Book Award (2008)
Writing career
SubjectEnergy, global warming, human development
Official website

Shellenberger disagrees with most environmentalists over impending threats and the best policies for addressing them.[3][4][5] He argues that global warming is "not the end of the world,"[5] and that GMO, industrial agriculture, fracking, and nuclear power are important tools in protecting the environment.[4] His writing on climate change and environmentalism has been criticized by environmental scientists and academics, who have called some of his arguments "bad science" and "inaccurate".[16] Response to his work from journalists has been mixed.[21] In a similar manner, many academics criticized Shellenberger's positions and writings on homelessness, and he has received a mixed reception from writers and journalists on the topic.[25] Shellenberger ran unsuccessfully for governor of California in 2018 and 2022.

Early life and education


Shellenberger was born and raised in Colorado to Mennonite parents.[26]

He is a 1989 graduate of Greeley Central High School.[27] He earned a BA degree from the Peace and Global Studies program at Earlham College in 1993.[28] Subsequently, he earned an MA degree in anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1996.[29]



After graduation, Shellenberger moved to San Francisco to work with Global Exchange, where he founded a number of public relations firms, including "Communication Works," "Lumina Strategies" and "American Environics" with future collaborator Ted Nordhaus.[30][31][32][33] Shellenberger co-founded in 2003 the Breakthrough Institute with Nordhaus.[34] While at Breakthrough, Shellenberger wrote a number of articles with subjects ranging from positive treatment of nuclear energy and shale gas[35][36][37][38] to critiques of the planetary boundaries hypothesis.[39] He worked to burnish the reputations of prominent clients including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.[40]

In February 2016, Shellenberger left Breakthrough and founded Environmental Progress,[41] which is behind several public campaigns to keep nuclear power plants in operation.[42][43][44][45][46] Shellenberger has also been called by conservative lawmakers to testify before the U.S. Congress about climate change and in favor of nuclear energy.[47]

In December 2022, Shellenberger was one of the authors who released sections of annotated internal Twitter Files authorized by new owner Elon Musk.[48]

As of December 2022, he is a writer for The Free Press.[49]

In October 2023, Shellenberger was among the signatories of the Westminster Declaration,[50] warning the public of theoretical increasing censorship by governments, media companies and NGOs, that signatories alleged would endanger freedom of speech and undermine the foundational principles of democracy.

As of November 2023, Shellenberger is the CBR Chair of Politics, Censorship and Free Speech at the University of Austin.[51] "By exposing students to historical and recent manifestations of censorship, the Chair will facilitate the responsible exercise of free speech in a pluralistic society."[51] University of Austin is not a school recognized by the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics.[52]

In that same month he was the key note speaker at a Genspect conference. In this speech he emphasized on the current increase of gender dysphoria being the result of the gender affirming culture: “We are creating, through ideological means and social media, gender dysphoria. … These are ideologically driven failures of civilization”.[53]

Shellenberger is the co-founder of "Public", a newsletter on Substack that covers "… stories on the most important issues of the day, from censorship and cities to mental health and addiction to energy and the environment."[54] In January 2022, the San Francisco Chronicle credited Public with breaking the story that illegal drug abuse was being tolerated at a recently-opened San Francisco social services facility.[55] In December the same year, having become became de-facto a federally prohibited supervised injection site and failing at its mission of linking people to housing and treatment, the facility closed.[56][57] In 2023, Public was credited by the Wall Street Journal for publicly identifying three scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who were allegedly working on Coronaviruses and had taken ill near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.[58]

On April 3, 2024, Shellenberger published the “Twitter Files – Brazil,” resulting in dozens of news stories in Brazil, a formal Congressional inquiry, and two Congressional hearings, at which Shellenberger testified.[59][60][61][62]

Writing and reception


The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming in a Post-Environmental World


In 2004, Nordhaus and Shellenberger co-authored "The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World."[63] The paper argued that environmentalism is incapable of dealing with climate change and should "die" so that a new politics can be born.

The paper was criticized by members of the mainstream environmental movement.[64] Carl Pope, the former executive director of the Sierra Club, called the essay "unclear, unfair and divisive," stating it contained multiple factual errors and misinterpretations. However, Adam Werbach, another former Sierra Club president, praised the paper's arguments.[65] John Passacantando, the former Greenpeace executive director, said in 2005 that Shellenberger and Nordhaus "laid out some fascinating data, but they put it in this over-the-top language and did it in this in-your-face way."[66] Michel Gelobter, as well as other environmental experts and academics, wrote The Soul of Environmentalism: Rediscovering transformational politics in the 21st century as a response that criticized "Death" for demanding increased technological innovation instead of addressing the systemic concerns of people of color.[13]

Matthew Yglesias of The New York Times said that "Nordhaus and Shellenberger persuasively argue...environmentalists must stop congratulating themselves for their own willingness to confront inconvenient truths and must focus on building a politics of shared hope rather than relying on a politics of fear." Yglesias added that the "Death" paper "is more convincing in its case for a change in rhetoric."[67]

Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility


In 2007, Shellenberger and Nordhaus published Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility. 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. They were among 32 of Time magazine's Heroes of the Environment (2008) after writing the book[64][11] and received the 2008 Green Book Award from science journalist John Horgan.[3]

The Wall Street Journal wrote that "(i)f 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."[68]

However, environmental scholars Julie Sze and Michael Ziser questioned Shellenberger and Nordhaus's goals in publishing Break Through, claiming the "evident relish in their notoriety as the 'sexy'(,) cosmopolitan 'bad boys' of environmentalism (their own words) introduces some doubt about their sincerity and reliability." Sze and Ziser asserted that Break Through failed "to incorporate the aims of environmental justice while actively trading on suspect political tropes," such as blaming China and other nations as large-scale polluters. Furthermore, Sze and Ziser claim that Shellenberger and Nordhaus advocate technology-based approaches that miss entirely the "structural environmental injustice" that natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina make visible. Ultimately, "Shellenberger believes that community-based environmental justice poses a threat to the smooth operation of a highly capitalized, global-scale Environmentalism."[6]

Joseph Romm, a former US Department of Energy official now with the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, argued that "(p)ollution limits are far, far more important than R&D for what really matters -- reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and driving clean technologies into the marketplace."[69] Environmental journalist David Roberts, writing in Grist, argued that while the BTI and its founders garner much attention, their policy is lacking, and ultimately they "receive a degree of press coverage that wildly exceeds their intellectual contributions."[70][71] Reviewers for the San Francisco Chronicle,[72] the American Prospect[73] and the Harvard Law Review[74] argued that a critical reevaluation of green politics was unwarranted because global warming had become a high-profile issue and the Democratic Congress was preparing to act.

An Ecomodernist Manifesto


In April 2015, Shellenberger joined a group of scholars and Stewart Brand in issuing An Ecomodernist Manifesto. It proposed dropping the goal of "sustainable development" and replacing it with a strategy to shrink humanity's footprint by using natural resources more intensively through technological innovation. The authors argue that economic development is necessary to preserve the environment.[75][76]

According to The New Yorker, "most of the criticism of [the Manifesto] was more about tone than content. The manifesto's basic arguments, after all, are hardly radical. To wit: technology, thoughtfully applied, can reduce the suffering, human and otherwise, caused by climate change; ideology, stubbornly upheld, can accomplish the opposite."[77] At The New York Times, Eduardo Porter wrote approvingly of ecomodernism's alternative approach to sustainable development.[78] In an article titled "Manifesto Calls for an End to 'People Are Bad' Environmentalism", Slate's Eric Holthaus wrote "It's inclusive, it's exciting, and it gives environmentalists something to fight for for a change."[79]

An Ecomodernist Manifesto was met with critiques similar to Gelobter's evaluation of "Death" and Sze and Ziser's analysis of Break Through. Environmental historian Jeremy Caradonna and environmental economist Richard B. Norgaard led a group of environmental scholars in a critique, arguing that Ecomodernism "violates everything we know about ecosystems, energy, population, and natural resources," and "Far from being an ecological statement of principles, the Manifesto merely rehashes the naïve belief that technology will save us and that human ingenuity can never fail." Further, "The Manifesto suffers from factual errors and misleading statements."[10]

Environmental and Art historian T.J. Demos agreed with Caradonna, and wrote in 2017 that the Manifesto "is really nothing more than a bad utopian fantasy," that functions to support oil and gas industry and as "an apology for nuclear energy." Demos continued that "What is additionally striking about the Ecomodernist document, beyond its factual weaknesses and ecological falsehoods, is that there is no mention of social justice or democratic politics," and "no acknowledgement of the fact that big technologies like nuclear reinforce centralized power, the military-industrial complex, and the inequalities of corporate globalization."[9]

Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All


In June 2020, Shellenberger published Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, in which the author argues that climate change is not the existential threat it is portrayed to be in popular media and activism. Rather, he posits that technological innovation, if allowed to continue and grow, will remedy environmental issues. According to Shellenberger, the book "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."[80]

In his book, Shellenberger argues that people shouldn't need to be worried about climate change causing crop failure, famine and consequent mass deaths because he believes that when it comes to food production, humans will be able to produce more food despite the effects of climate change. Shellenberger cites an editorial that is published by a group led by Eric Holt-Giménez to support his statement, however Holt-Giménez later told Snopes that Shellenberger "has either misunderstood our editorial, or is purposefully mischaracterizing our points." Instead Holt-Giménez criticized the industrial farming that Shellenberger advocates, and says that such practices are using a model of overproduction that generates poverty. He explained that people typically don't become hungry because there is not enough food, but that instead they become hungry when they are too poor to afford to buy the food that is produced.[81]

Before publication, the book received favorable reviews from climate scientists Tom Wigley and Kerry Emanuel, and from environmentalists such as Steve McCormick,[82] but reviews after publication were mixed.[3] For example, Emanuel said that while he did not regret his original positive review, he wished that "the book did not carry with it its own excesses and harmful baggage."[83][84]

The book has received positive reviews and coverage from conservative and libertarian news outlets and organizations, including Fox News, the Heartland Institute, the Daily Mail, Reason, The Wall Street Journal, National Review, and "climate 'truther' websites".[3][4][17][18][85] In National Review, Alex Trembath generally praised the book, writing that "despite the flaws", "Shellenberger ... do[es] a service in calling out the environmental alarmism and hysteria that obscure environmental debates rather than illuminate them. And they stand as outliers in those debates for precisely the reason that they claim: Abjuring environmentalist orthodoxy carries heavy social and professional penalties, so few are willing to do so." However, Trembath criticized some of the book as "nuclear fetishism".[17] In The Wall Street Journal, John Tierney wrote that "Shellenberger makes a persuasive case, lucidly blending research data and policy analysis with a history of the green movement and vignettes of people in poor countries suffering the consequences of “environmental colonialism.”"[18] In the Financial Times, Jonathan Ford wrote that the book "provide[s] a corrective to many of the green assumptions that dominate the media. And if they make the world a little more questioning of the next polar bear story, that is no bad thing."[19] In the Scientific American, John Horgan said that "Apocalypse Never will make some green progressives mad. But I see it as a useful and even necessary counterpoint to the alarmism being peddled by some activists and journalists, including me", but Horgan criticized the book for arguing too "aggressively for nuclear power" and added that "my main gripe with Shellenberger isn't that he's too optimistic; it's that he's not optimistic enough."[3] The book also received a positive review from Die Welt.[20]

In contrast, in reviewing Apocalypse Never for Yale Climate Connections, environmental scientist Peter Gleick argued that "bad science and bad arguments abound" in the book, writing that "what is new in here isn't right, and what is right isn't new."[8] In a review for the Los Angeles Review of Books environmental economist Sam Bliss said that while "the book itself is well written", Shellenberger "plays fast and loose with the facts" and "Troublingly, he seems more concerned with showing climate-denying conservatives clever new ways to own the libs than with convincing environmentalists of anything."[11] Similarly, environmental and technological social scientists Taylor Dotson and Michael Bouchey have argued that as an "Environmental activist" and "ecomodernist", Shellenberger's writing in his books and on his foundation's website "bombards readers with facts that are disconnected, out of context, poorly explained, and of questionable relevance," and ultimately, his "fanatic, scientistic discourse stands in the way of nuclear energy policy that is both intelligent and democratic."[15]

A 2020 Forbes article by Shellenberger, in which he promoted Apocalypse Never, was analyzed by seven academic reviewers and one editor from the Climate Feedback 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."[7] Zeke Hausfather, Director of Climate and Energy for The Breakthrough Institute, wrote that Shellenberger "includes a mix of accurate, misleading, and patently false statements. While it is useful to push back against claims that climate change will lead to the end of the world or human extinction, to do so by inaccurately downplaying real climate risks is deeply problematic and counterproductive."[7] The Forbes article was later deleted for violating Forbes' policy against self-promotion. In response, Shellenberger called the deletion censorship and The Daily Wire, Quillette, and Breitbart News re-published all or parts of the article.[4]

San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities


In 2021, Shellenberger published San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities, a criticism of progressive social policies.[86]

Benjamin Schneider, writing in the San Francisco Examiner, described the book's thesis as "[P]rogressives have embraced 'victimology,' a belief system wherein society’s downtrodden are subject to no rules or consequences for their actions. This ideology, cultivated in cities like San Francisco for decades and widely adopted over the past two years, is the key to understanding, and thus solving, our crises of homelessness, drug overdoses and crime."[22]

Wes Enzinna, writing in The New York Times, charged that Shellenberger "does exactly what he accuses his left-wing enemies of doing: ignoring facts, best practices and complicated and heterodox approaches in favor of dogma."[23] Olga Khazan, writing in The Atlantic, said that "The problem—or opportunity—for Shellenberger is that virtually every homelessness expert disagrees with him. ('Like an internet troll that's written a book' is how Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of San Francisco's Coalition on Homelessness, described him to me.)". However, Khazan also noted that "some experts agree with some of Shellenberger's critiques of Housing First. Though they stop short of endorsing Shellenberger or his views".[5] Tim Stanley, writing in The Daily Telegraph, described it as a "revelatory, must-read book", but added "There is much in the argument for liberal readers to contest."[24]

Reporting on alleged U.S. government crash retrieval of non-human crafts


Shellenberger has claimed in interviews to have spoken to whistleblowers who alleged that the U.S. government possess at least 12 crafts of non-human origin, with six being in good shape. He stated that the sources are among those who also talked to David Grusch, who testified to Congress in July 2023 about the topic.[87][88][89]


Michael Shellenberger speaking at Alliance for Responsible Citizenship Forum 2023, 30 October 2023

Shellenberger worked with left-wing groups in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1990s but has since renounced the Democratic Party. On Twitter, he frequently criticizes "wokeism" and critical race theory.[5] Of his politics, Shellenberger has said, "I'm a liberal in my compassion for the vulnerable. I'm a libertarian in my love of freedom. And I'm a conservative in that I believe you need civilization to protect both of those things."[88] A self-described ecomodernist, Shellenberger believes that economic growth can continue without negative environmental impacts through technological research and development, usually through a combination of nuclear power and urbanization.

Along with employees and researchers, Shellenberger is credited by NPR and Politico for possibly preventing the closure of Diablo Canyon nuclear generating station.[90][91]

Shellenberger has publicly said "that he wants to end access to all gender-affirming surgeries".[92] He was the keynote speaker for Genspect's 2022 conference in Denver.[93] In 2023, Environmental Progress published "The WPATH Files", a leaked collection of internal discussions among people who maintain the medical standards of transgender health care.[94] The documents revealed discussion over whether very young people could reasonably consent to gender affirming care.[95][96] Critics accused Shellenberger of working with Genspect to release out of context and biased information about transgender people.[92]



In the 2021 California gubernatorial recall election, he backed recalling Newsom and endorsed former Mayor of San Diego Kevin Faulconer.[97]

2018 California gubernatorial election


Shellenberger was a Democratic candidate for governor in the 2018 California gubernatorial election, placing ninth in a field of twenty-seven candidates with 0.5% of the vote, with 31,692 votes (the winner was Gavin Newsom with 2,343,792 votes).

2022 California gubernatorial election


Shellenberger ran as an independent in the 2022 gubernatorial election on a platform calling for homelessness reform via removal of encampments and mandatory treatment for drug addiction and mental illness,[98] advocating for water desalination as an answer to California's water shortage,[99] and increasing use of nuclear power, specifically by keeping the Diablo Canyon Power Plant open and building new power plants.[100] Shellenberger placed third in a field of twenty-six with 4.1% of the vote. A HuffPost profile called Shellenberger a "Centrist": "Shellenberger instead is closer in character to figures like New York Mayor Eric Adams (D), a moderate critic of certain left-wing dogmas".[101] The same article noted his support for "abortion rights, universal health care, gun safety regulation, a $15 minimum wage, collective bargaining rights, and alternatives to incarceration for drug-related crimes".[101] The Wall Street Journal wrote that Shellenberger is a proponent of school choice initiatives.[102]

Awards and accolades


Shellenberger received the Dao Journalism Award from the National Journalism Center conservative political organization for reporting on Twitter Files. The reward was shared with Bari Weiss and Matt Taibbi.[103][104]

In 2008 Nordhaus and Shellenberger won a Green Book Award for Break Through.[105]

Personal life


Shellenberger resides in Berkeley, California, with his wife, sociologist Helen Lee.[101]

Raised by Mennonite parents[26] and a congregationalist mother, in adulthood, Shellenberger became irreligious and an existentialist. However, while writing his book Apocalypse Never, he returned to the Christian faith, seeing the religion as a solution to society's "intense hatred and anger".[106] He describes himself as a Protestant.[88]


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