Home » Books » Reference » Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All
Author: Michael Shellenberger
Publish Date: June 30, 2020
File Type: EPub
In early October 2019, a television journalist from Sky News in Britain interviewed two climate activists. Their group, Extinction Rebellion, was about to begin two weeks of civil disobedience in London and other cities around the world to protest lack of action on climate change.
A scientist and a professor had created Extinction Rebellion in spring 2018 and recruited environmentalists from across Britain to get arrested for the cause. In the fall of that year, more than six thousand Extinction Rebellion activists blocked the five main bridges that cross the River Thames, which flows through London, preventing people from getting to work or home.1
The organization’s main spokesperson made alarming claims on national television. “Billions of people are going to die.” “Life on Earth is dying.” And, “Governments aren’t addressing it.”2
By 2019, Extinction Rebellion had attracted the support of leading celebrities, including actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Stephen Fry, pop stars Ellie Goulding and Thom Yorke, 2019 Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman, Live Aid producer Bob Geldof, and Spice Girl Mel B.
While Extinction Rebellion may not have been representative of all environmentalists, nearly half of Britons surveyed told pollsters they supported the group.3
And the British were not alone. In September 2019, a survey of thirty thousand people around the world found that 48 percent believed climate change would make humanity extinct.4
But by the fall of that same year, public support for Extinction Rebellion, including the sympathy of journalists, rapidly declined after the organization shut down streets and public transit throughout London. “What about families?” the Sky News host asked the Extinction Rebellion spokespersons. “I remember back in July, someone saying that he missed being at his father’s bedside when he died in Bristol.”5
“And that’s really, really unfortunate,” said Extinction Rebellion’s Sarah Lunnon, putting her right hand over her heart, “and totally heartbreaking.”
It was easy to see why Extinction Rebellion leaders chose Lunnon as their spokesperson. When I watched her apologize for the inconvenience, I didn’t doubt she meant it.
“And when you think about it, it makes you feel absolutely dreadful,” Lunnon told Sky News. She then pivoted to the topic at hand. “The pain and anguish that man suffered from being unable to say goodbye to his father is the pain and anguish we are suffering right now as we look at the future of our children, because it’s very, very grave.”
Three days before the Sky News interview, Extinction Rebellion had driven an old fire truck in front of the British Treasury in London and unfurled a banner that read Stop Funding Climate Death.
The Extinction Rebellion activists then opened up a fire hose and sprayed fake blood, which they had made from beet juice, onto the building. But they immediately lost control of the hose and ended up drenching the sidewalks and at least one bystander.6
Eleven days after the Sky News interview, Lunnon appeared on This Morning, one of Britain’s most popular morning TV news shows.
By then, nearly two thousand Extinction Rebellion activists had been arrested; a few hours earlier, violence had erupted on the platform of a Tube station after Extinction Rebellion activists climbed on the roof of a train, forcing the conductor to hold the train in the station and evacuate the passengers.
“Why the Tube?” asked one of the irritated hosts of This Morning. “Why the cleanest way to travel across the capital?” The Tube is powered by electricity, which in Britain emits less than half the carbon now than it did in 2000.7
In the video, we see two Extinction Rebellion protesters climb on top of one of the train cars and unfurl a banner with white letters against a black background that read Business as Usual = DEATH.8
“One of the points of this particular action,” said Lunnon, “is to identify the fragility of the systems that we’re currently working with. The fragility of our transport systems—”
“But we all know that on a daily basis,” interrupted the host. “If there’s a power cut we know it’s fragile. We know that. You don’t need to prove that to us. What you’ve done is stop ordinary people going to work. Some of them are workers whose families will depend on an hourly rate by the money they make.”
Video from the Tube protest showed hundreds of angry people on the platform, who had emptied out of the train cars, yelling at the Extinction Rebellion activists who stood defiantly on top of the train. The commuters shouted at the two young men to get down. “I’m just trying to get to work,” one of the commuters said. “I’m just trying to feed my family.”9
Things quickly descended into chaos. Some in the crowd threw cups of coffee and something made of glass, perhaps a bottle, which shattered. A woman started crying. People tried to find shelter from the chaos. “It was quite scary and there were some people who were quite frightened,” recounted a reporter who was at the scene.10
A This Morning host said that 95 percent of people surveyed now said Extinction Rebellion was a hindrance to its cause. What was Extinction Rebellion thinking?11
In the video of the Tube protest, we see a commuter try to climb on top of the roof of the train to grab the Extinction Rebellion activist. The Extinction Rebellion activist responds by kicking the man in the face and chest. The man then grabs the Extinction Rebellion protester’s legs and pulls him onto the ground. We see an angry mob of commuters start kicking him.
Back in the studio, Lunnon emphasized that the video showed the kind of disruption climate change would bring. “And not just transport,” she said. “It’s also power and it’s also food. It’s going to be empty supermarkets. It’s going to be power systems turned off. And it’s going to be the transport system disrupted.”
Angry commuters at the Tube station descended into violence. In another video of the incident, we see a man knocking a man filming video of Extinction Rebellion action onto the floor and kicking him.12 Later, outside the Tube station, a “man in a red jacket was punching the face of a woman,” a man told a TV reporter, “who was calling on him to stop his violence.”
Toward the end of This Morning, the cohosts did something odd: they appeared to agree with Extinction Rebellion’s Sarah Lunnon about climate change.
“We are all hugely concerned and want to support you,” said one of them. “Without question there is an enormous crisis,” said the other.
Wait, what? I couldn’t understand what they were saying. If the television hosts agreed that climate change was an enormous crisis, one in which “billions of people are going to die,” how could they possibly be upset about commuters being late for work?
The Sky News host responded similarly. “I’m not trying to say that it’s not deeply concerning,” said the host. “The environment. But his very specific pain about not seeing his father. He might not think that’s comparable.”
But how could the disappointment of a single man possibly be comparable to “mass death, mass famine, and starvation”?
If “Life on Earth is dying,” why did anybody care that somebody got splashed with a little beet juice?
Even if climate change were “only” going to kill millions of people, rather than billions, then the only reasonable conclusion to draw from Extinction Rebellion’s tactics is that they weren’t radical enough.
To be fair, the ITV and Sky News hosts didn’t agree with Lunnon’s extreme statements. They simply said they shared her concern about climate change.
But what, then, did they mean when they said climate change “is an enormous crisis”? If climate change isn’t an existential crisis, meaning a threat to human existence, or at least to civilization, then what kind of a crisis is it, exactly?
At that moment, in the wake of a protest that could easily have resulted in the deaths of an Extinction Rebellion activist and videographer, it struck me that nobody was offering a particularly good answer to those questions.
I wrote Apocalypse Never because the conversation about climate change and the environment has, in the last few years, spiraled out of control, not unlike Extinction Rebellion’s beet juice firehose.
I have been an environmental activist for thirty years and researched and written on environmental issues, including climate change, for twenty of them. I do this work because I care deeply about my mission to not only protect the natural environment but also to achieve the goal of universal prosperity for all people.
I also care about getting the facts and science right. I believe environmental scientists, journalists, and activists have an obligation to describe environmental problems honestly and accurately, even if they fear doing so will reduce their news value or salience with the public.
Much of what people are being told about the environment, including the climate, is wrong, and we desperately need to get it right. I decided to write Apocalypse Never after getting fed up with the exaggeration, alarmism, and extremism that are the enemy of a positive, humanistic, and rational environmentalism.
Every fact, claim, and argument in this book is based on the best-available science, including as assessed by the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and other scientific bodies. Apocalypse Never defends mainstream science from those who deny it on the political Right and Left.
Apocalypse Never 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.
Along the way, we will understand how humans save nature, not just destroy it. Through the stories of people around the world, and the species and environments they’ve saved, we will see how environmental, energetic, and economic progress constitute, in the real world, a single process.
Finally, Apocalypse Never offers a defense of what one might call mainstream ethics. It makes the moral case for humanism, of both secular and religious variants, against the anti-humanism of apocalyptic environmentalism.
My hope is that, amid the often chaotic and confusing debates about climate change and other environmental problems, there exists a hunger to separate scientific facts from science fiction, as well as to understand humankind’s positive potential. I wrote Apocalypse Never to feed it.
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