We are frequently warned that humanity is beset by ecological catastrophes that could kill off civilization, perhaps even our species. Not so, insists environmental activist Michael Shellenberger in his new book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.
Shellenberger, whose activism led Time to name him a "Hero of the Environment" in 2008, argues that while significant global environmental problems exist, they don't constitute inexorable existential threats.
Shellenberger's analysis relies on largely uncontroversial mainstream science. He points out that climate change has not made natural disasters more harmful to human life and wealth, and that fires have declined 25 percent around the world since 2003. (They have become more frequent and dangerous in some specific areas in the past decade, though not to historically unprecedented levels.)
He uses data to question frightening predictions about species extinctions. Warming will affect sea levels and food production, he grants, but the problems thus caused would be manageable by an ever-wealthier human race.
Environmentalism fills a spiritual emptiness and gives meaning to many people's lives, Shellenberger suggests. "If the climate apocalypse is a kind of subconscious fantasy for people who dislike civilization, it might help explain why the people who are the most alarmist about environmental problems are also the most opposed to the technologies capable of addressing them, from fertilizer and flood control to natural gas and nuclear power."
The book is a sustained argument that poverty is humanity's most important environmental problem and that rising prosperity and increasing technological prowess will ameliorate or reverse most deleterious environmental trends.