It is difficult to listen to someone who is pushing an opinion that does not fit with one’s own worldview or, be it, one’s own preferred way-of-seeing. Michael Shellenberger, acclaimed environmental activist, a recovered vegetarian and proponent of nuclear energy, is the author of the book ‘Apocalypse Never’. The book, though chalk-full of reference notes and a one-hundred-page, full-size print and double-spaced bibliography (to prove his vast array of points), ‘wanders from topic to topic, jumping from personal anecdote to data and numbers carefully chosen’1 in accordance with the author’s proposed argument.
An article from Yale Climate Connections determines that Shellenberger’s ‘most serious flaw, is that he assumes a position and seeks data and facts to fit the position rather than, as science demands, using data and facts to develop, test, and refine a theory.’2 Ultimately, with this work, Michael set out not only to discredit his opponents, the soldiers of the climate change apocalypse and champion protectors of nature but to set at ease, all those who have been upset, and ‘put off’, by the message that environmental alarmism has perpetuated.
What we say and how we say it can have a big effect on people. I’m not too sure about Michael Shellenberger’s voice and tone; through his work I struggled to connect with his scientific attitude and deeper reasoning. Stopping for a moment to reflect on portions of his study, I think he likes mountain gorillas, yellow-eyed penguins and sea turtles because he mentions them often. Unfortunately, often enough to arouse the concern in me, like a red flag, that he could care less. For example, is he solemn and earnest when he connects our reason for saving these three endangered species, as that of love and not because we necessarily need them or depend on them.3 The existence of the gorilla, he refers to as having spiritual value, not material value; I do not know how to interpret this kind of language with regards to creation?
It is not an easy path to tread, that of an activist. I want to be open to the argument of the activist, the one that is presented with passion and care and sometimes accurate (respectfully introduced) science. I would like to learn more about what is the truth. When science is used in the conversation of the activist, it is vital that it is presented with humility and honesty. It seems that ‘Apocalypse Never’ interrupts the conversation, like a protest, with an attitude that is intended to denigrate and disregard the opposing argument.
Recently, my daughter has enlivened an awareness in me with regards to plastic straws. We have seen the video of the turtle that nasally inhaled a straw and we have seen the footage of the emaciated polar bear, wondering on the tundra. These videos have affected us and served to nurture an even deeper care for creation within us. I understand that environmental alarmism is affecting our younger generations, a vastly different attention and curiosity than the majority of the population.
When my daughter was in Kinder garden, she learned about a pipeline that was going to connect the oil sands of Alberta with tankers on the coast in order to ship bitumen for purification in Asia. A lucrative endeavour for various governments and money minds in so many places. Molly was curious about it, she asked questions, became concerned for the potential environmental impact and the lack of respect toward First Nations people. She drew up a poster. The little activist, eh! Recently, she has been inspired by Greta Thurnberg and David Attenborough, and for the last three months we have been journeying the vegetarian way together.
The author seems to dismiss over-spiritualized vegetarians and nature sympathizers as lacking substance, the way his ‘weaker self’ was twenty years ago when his ‘heightened anxiety about climate change reflected underlying anxiety and unhappiness in my own life that had little to do with climate change and the state of the natural environment.’4 To Michael Shellenberger, our various responses to the communication we’ve received regarding our ‘planet-groaning’, information that may have been conveyed with a flare of alarmism, arises from the feeling of a projected shame and impressed anxiety. In other words, our response is rooted in fear.
What if we dug really deep and found that our response has to do with love, a love that is more than a mere sympathetic sentiment or glorified pity (that love seemingly characteristic the author, as he reiterates the names of only a few endangered species too many times). The polarization felt in the opposing views of a ‘right’ expression of environmentalism and environmental activism, makes me anxious. In my opinion, both sides have veered off in the objectification, even commodification, of the environment5.
Gerald May, practitioner of medical psychiatry, contemplative theology and love of creation, writes in his book ‘The Wisdom of the Wilderness, ‘If something is just there, getting along fine without us, neither threatening us nor needing our help, it’s likely to drive us nuts.’6 Something pure and well-differentiated, creation unmanipulated and unobjectified makes sinful, self-absorbed humankind so uncomfortable. There it is, the quiet observer in the midst of the argument, perpetually innocent, this biosphere in which we sojourn together. You who exploit it for selfish and monetary gain, stop! God, help us to be good, ever-more conscious stewards of Your creation, listening closely to how it groans and willing to stand for its care and healing.
Spring is coming! I’m looking forward to planting some seeds in our little backyard boxes and seeing the Japanese Cherry trees that line our streets burst out their explosive bloom. Can you believe it, the blossoms on our Cherry Trees in Victoria bloom before their leaves bud.
- Peter H. Gleik, “Book review: Bad science and bad arguments abound in ‘Apocalypse Never’ by Michael Shellenberger,” Yale Climate Connections, July 15th, 2020, https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/07/review-bad-science-and-bad-arguments-abound-in-apocalypse-never/.
- Gleik, “Book Review.”
- Michael Shellenberger, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All (Broadway, NY: HaperCollins Publsihers, 2020), 282.
- Shellenberger, Apocalypse Never, 269.
- John Horgan, “Does Optimism on Climate Change Make You Pro-Trump?,” Scientific American, August 4, 2020, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-optimism-on-climate-change-make-you-pro-trump/.
- Gerald May, The Wisdom of the Wilderness: Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature (New York, NY: HaperCollins Publishers, 2006), 128.