Rebuttal to Michael Schellenger’s The Bigotry Of Environmental Pessimism

First off, I am pro nuclear. Why do I say this? Because it was a Michael Shellenberger essay that convinced me to change my mind on the issue.

In his piece, The Bigotry of Environmental Pessimism, Shellenberger (thanks to a forum provided by Quillette) seeks to capitalize on both the contentious immigration debate in the West and the spate of recent mass shootings to achieve what has long been his primary directive: to sell a skeptical public on nuclear power.

Though I personally agree with Schellenger that energy harnessed from renewables (I live in a solar RV) will never be enough to stave off climate change–and that adding lots of new nuclear could provide an answer–I am appalled when someone seeks to use horrific events like mass shootings or a genuine good faith debate on a difficult subject to smear those whose environmental stance—even if reflexive–prompts them to stand in opposition to nuclear power.

His self-touted “Environmentalist of the Year” award (and the MD in his Twitter handle aside), Shellenberger is a straight up lobbyist for nuclear. And, though I yet to comb the books of his organization, I’m convinced he makes his present living through direct and/or in-direct contributions from the nuclear industry. Every piece he pens—and he’s a prolific and persuasive writer—is ultimately a nuclear sell job—including this piece. It goes without saying that Quillette should know better than to provide a platform to an obvious industry lobbyist, no matter how cogent—and perhaps even vital—his arguments.

Shellenberger begins by associating the El Paso gunman with Donald Trump (they both use the word “invasion” with regards to illegal immigration.) Then he quickly (and rather unconvincingly) shifts the blame for El Paso from Trump to American environmentalists who argue that ““our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country.” He then seeks to tie environmentalism to the anti-immigrant sentiment attributed to Trump, who most of us are aware is about as far from an environmentalist as one could imagine.

Though he deftly moves the rhetorical cup on top and over the balls, it is clear Shellenberger is playing an accomplished shell game here. After more paragraphs where he links the El Paso shooter (via the name of his manifesto) to environmental icon Al Gore, he arrives at his main thesis: that environmentalism—at least as inspired by politically-incorrect 19th century economist Thomas Malthus–is bigoted towards poor folks and non-whites, who it incorrectly views as depleting resources and being responsible for overpopulation.

This lobbyist-for-new-nuc would have you believe that narratives like the Dr. Seuss children’s story “The Lorax” (cited by the El Paso’s shooter in his screed) are not only false but racist–that environmental devastation and pollution driven by corporate greed and over-population are not only non-issues but might be solved if we would only kick out the bigots of environmentalism and instead replace them with the woke-ees of new nuclear. 

And why not? Environmentalists are compulsive bringers of bad news. And—inconveniently–they remain the fiercest (and stubbornest) opponents of nuclear power. And nuclear, according to its PR man Shellenberger, is the magic panacea that will render overpopulation mute and provide as much food and energy as is required by an ever-expanding populace.

Thus—should Shellenberger be able to successfully demonize environmentalists using the same bigotry argument waged so effectively against Trump in the wake of the fight over immigration and the recent rash of shootings–he might be able to use that demonization to break down the prejudices of a public still wary of nuclear’s much maligned—if misunderstood–record on safety. (This skepticism can be seen in the popularity of HBO’s recent, superb docudrama Chernobyl, which overexaggerated the contagiousness, and so virulence, of nuclear radiation—though not that of bureaucratic socialism.)

In what is perhaps the most dishonorable of his arguments, the author attempts to link mainstream environmentalism with the deeds of the El Paso and New Zealand shooters—and then to link all three to the atrocities committed by the Unibomber, Ted Kaczynski. We recognize this tactic, however, for what it is: guilt-by-association.

We know, of course, that many an insane individual has expressed legitimate ideas as rationalism for barbaric deeds. But it is those deeds that are injurious, not the ideas used to rationalize them. Kaczynski’s societal analysis, as expressed in his manifesto, is considered by many to be brilliant. It is not this analysis that we protect ourselves from by keeping Kaczynski behind bars—it is the cowardly acts he committed in misguided service to that, however trenchant, analysis.

But Shellenberger knows this only too well, as he is someone who makes his living with words, with ideas–often waging a war against prejudice and misinformation with regards to his single, overriding focus: nuclear power. (As I mentioned before, it was a Shellenberger essay that convinced me personally that we need nuclear along with wind and sun power if we are to stave off the worst effects of climate change and ensure a sustainable environment for our children.)

While I consider Shellenberger to be sincere in his belief that nuclear is the only thing that might save us (and he might well be right), I also believe that he has seriously lost his way if he believes a potential end to public skepticism towards nuclear power justifies any—and every–means to get there—including smearing environmentalists as racists.

Perhaps the author should take some time away from the word processor to meditate on what is needed (besides polarizing demonization) to bring good folks who care deeply about the fate of the planet–but who might be honestly mistaken about nuclear–over to his side.

For Schelleberger is a more than a good enough writer to make a strong case for nuclear without stooping to the level of those who would attempt to smear their adversaries instead of seeking to best them with superior ideas.

–Nitram Nosirrag (a pseudonym) is a conservative writer and film editor who lives in a tiny solar house on wheels in left-wing San Francisco, California.

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