Standing Athwart Apocalyptic Visions Is Useful but Not Enough

My review of Michael Shellenberger's Apocalypse Never


There is a consistent apocalyptic strain in modern environmentalism. This is a feature and a bug. On the one hand, sounding ecological alarms has, at times, seemed to spur policy responses. On the other hand, when exaggerated appeals are proven false, it can undermine environmentalists' credibility and discourage environmental concern.

Apocalyptic environmentalism is the primary target of Michael Shellenberger's Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All. This book, which I reviewed for the Winter issue of Regulation, is very effective at debunking alarmist scares and identifying actual environmental problems, and is appropriately bullish economic and technological development. This makes it worth a read. Unfortunately, it is unduly focused on the promise of nuclear power to deliver a low-carbon future, and spends too little time exploring what sorts of policies and institutional reforms are most conducive to technological innovation and ecological conservation.

Here is a taste of my review:

Growth and technology are often conceived as environmental problems. In a famous formulation, humanity's environmental effect is the product of population, affluence, and technology, with each variable magnifying the effect of the others. Shellenberger challenges this formulation, arguing that technological advance and the wealth to deploy it are essential to the preservation of nature and controlling pollution, while still making room for people. Economic growth and technological advance have the potential to increase humanity's ecological footprint, but they also can increase resilience to ecological threats and make it easier to meet human needs with less ecological effect. "For poor nations, creating the modern infrastructure for modern energy, sewage, and flood water management will be a higher priority than plastic waste, just as they were for the United States and China before them," Shellenberger writes. In much of the world, industrialization, urbanization and the proliferation of modern technology are more environmental boon than bane. Increased agricultural productivity and energy density leave more room for nature and help generate the wealth necessary for environmental improvements. Those of us in developed nations should "feel gratitude for the civilization we take for granted, put claims of climate apocalypse in perspective, and inspire empathy and solidarity for those who do not yet enjoy the fruits of prosperity." More plainly, "rich nations must support, not deny, development to poor nations." . . .

Apocalypse Never is clearly intended to provoke as much as persuade. Shellenberger is correct that economic development and technological advance are essential for successful environmental conservation, and he properly excoriates those environmental activists who obstruct such developments. Yet, the book provides minimal exploration of the sorts of policies and institutional arrangements necessary for such changes to take place.

Economic growth and innovation are necessary, but insufficient, for continued environmental progress. Neither is automatic. The broader legal and institutional framework in which technologies are developed and deployed often determines
whether they are used in ways that enhance or undermine ecological sustainability. The environmental horrors of former Soviet countries were not due to a lack of industrialization or urbanization. Nor are the ecological problems in developing nations solely a consequence of poverty. Legal institutions, and the incentives they create, channel human ingenuity. Fulfilling Shellenberger's vision of a "high-energy, prosperous world with flourishing wildlife" will ultimately require attention to such concerns. It cannot be just willed into existence. Shellenberger has stood athwart the visions of apocalypse, yelling stop. The next step is to chart the course for a new destination.

NEXT: "[T]he Bible ... Says 'Ask and You Shall Receive,' but I Did Not Receive"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Sometimes, you have to just show everyone that the emperor has no clothes before you can start fixing what he’s messed up.

    1. But everybody can already see the emperor has no clothes, but social media will censor you if you actually point it out.

  2. You know who is vehemently anti-fracking because it’s “bad for the environment”?? None other than Vladimir Putin!! All of the progressives that are anti-fracking got duped by Putin…and Cuomo is a Putin stooge for banning fracking in NY.

    1. That probably had more to do with maintaining Russian leverage over Europe the anything else.

      1. I agree, but there is a video with Putin clearly trolling America AND looking smug taking satisfaction in the success of his disinformation campaign in Europe and America.

    2. The hysteria over fracking may also derail a promising new carbon-free energy source. Using fracking to unlock geothermal energy could supply about 10% of US energy needs. The problem with conventional geothermal is that it requires not only hot rocks, but it also requires the rock to be permeable in order for sufficient water to come into contact with enough rock to superheat it and make it into steam.

      Of course that’s where the fracking comes in to make the rock more permeable and inject the water in the cracks too turn it into steam.

  3. As recently as 300 years ago, vast swaths of the globe were in near-pristine natural condition. Regarding that not at all, Adler says this:

    Economic growth and innovation are necessary, but insufficient, for continued environmental progress.

    It was, of course, economic growth and innovation which inflicted world-wide environmental decline. Given the direction—straight down—of, “continued environmental progress,” it is peculiar indeed that Adler peddles economic growth and innovation as an environmental nostrum.

    1. I love going to the prairie and watching the mastodons graze.

    2. Sigh….

      “As recently as 300 years ago, vast swaths of the globe were in near-pristine natural condition….It was, of course, economic growth and innovation which inflicted world-wide environmental decline. ”

      So, there are a few misconceptions here, mostly revolving around “environmental decline”.

      1. The environment changes. It’s not static. And it’s gone into periods of natural “decline”, periodically, throughout history, depending how you define decline. Whether it be asteroid strikes or the African humid period ending. Are these “natural” economic declines acceptable? Or are they OK, because they are “natural”

      2. The “pristine environment” is not a nice place for humans long term. If you can about humans, and human poverty, then humans, like many other animals (and other species), adjust the environment to suit their needs. Does one complain about the destroying the “natural environment” when they see a termite mound in Africa?

      3. A more pro-active concept is the development of an environment which continues to sustain and allow for humans to excel and thrive on long term basis. By its very nature, this will not be a “pristine” environment. Moreover, this will allow for the protection of many other species from long term “natural” causes of environmental destruction, and may allow for the expansion of life to other, non-terrestrial areas.

      1. Armchair, a corollary of your, 1… 2… 3… , is a successful and sustainable engineered ecology. Humans will not be able to accomplish that until quite long after they master the simpler rudiments, such as undoing gene escapes consequent to failed GMO experiments. Or learning to design and build a swallow from scratch, given a few ounces of insects for raw material.

        Until skills like that have been mastered, utopian environmental designers will be working without erasers on their pencils. Inevitable, indelible blunders will bring catastrophe.

        1. ” such as undoing gene escapes consequent to failed GMO experiments”

          Oh dear god… Seriously? Of all the things to seriously be concerned about and we’ve got an anti-GMO bit?

          Yes….organisms have genetic codes. And “natural” modifications versus “unnatural” modifications…it isn’t a big deal.

          1. Armchair, really? Every natural gene modification is pre-tested for ecological success, via natural selection. The chance of some run-wild misfit organism which wipes out stuff interdependent organisms need is not high.

            With GMO organisms you have no such assurance. You can do anything. You can put codfish genes in tomatoes. Consequences are unpredictable, and may be bad. Maybe you can manage that in a laboratory, or a test plot. Once the gene escapes into the wild, management may prove impossible.

            Understanding that part is kind of like understanding one of the big benefits of a free market economy. No person or committee knows enough about something as complex as the whole economy to manage it successfully. Same with ecology. Natural selection manages the wild ecology, and tends to exclude organisms which prove too destructive. Destructive genes are selected against. No person or committee will ever be smart enough to anticipate how to do that.

            GMO is central planning for ecology. It’s an even worse idea than central planning for an economy.

            1. 1. “Armchair, really? Every natural gene modification is pre-tested for ecological success, via natural selection. The chance of some run-wild misfit organism which wipes out stuff interdependent organisms need is not high.”

              This statement is incorrect. Example 1 for a wild misfit organism that wipes out stuff… “homo sapiens”. Of course, I can keep going for a while beyond the obvious example. Oxygen producing bacteria is another huge example. Any invasive species…ever. and so on and so on. “Natural variation and mutation” can provide just as much (if not more) upheaval when compared to anything genetically modified. Natural selection promotes the survival of the new SPECIES, often at the expense of the rest of nature.

              Point 2:
              GMOs are a key example of the type of technological advances that allow for minimization and reduction of environmental harms. GMOs allow for higher yields of crops, with less fertilizer and pesticide use, in the same given amount of cropland. By arguing AGAINST such technology, you paradoxically hurt the environment far more. You argue for inferior techniques that require more land, more clear cutting, more fertilizer and pesticide use.

              1. Armchair, you haven’t thought that through.

                The point of GMO agriculture, mostly, is to achieve more poisoning, less expensively, than you can get any other way. Comprehensive poisoning, total poisoning, is what the GMO farmer is after. The objective is to be sure that everything which might compete with a GMO crop is killed. And that is what happens. Everything is killed, non-crop plants and animals die together—the plants get killed directly, the animals die mostly because they can’t live without the missing plants. The way it looks when you see it, is that the GMO crops look vibrantly alive, in a field which otherwise looks mysteriously sterile.

                It doesn’t matter if you use less pounds of pesticide, if the result is even more widespread and indiscriminate killing. Indiscriminate killing is the big reason why the pesticides are bad for the environment in the first place. Pollution suffered by humans is usually minimal, and a lesser concern.

                So please, keep in mind, pollution is bad because it kills things. On that basis, it is not a plus for GMO agriculture that it kills much more than mere pesticides. Just the opposite.

    3. Thats really not true at all. Probably every bit of ‘wilderness’ on land you see outside of maybe arctic wastelands is almost as much a product of human activity as your typical skyscraper line. Precolumbian Americas? You think just because there are only teepees there that its ‘unspoilt wilderness’? Nope place used to have tons of tigers and lions and weird creatures and probably vastly different flora assemblages before the so called nature loving indians came. Ye old forests in Europe are the latest in a cycle of successive waves of human activity from modern times to medieval to roman to bronze age and on and on. Many times deliberately planted by humans themselves. The actual ‘primeval forests’ being gone for millennia.

      The last major landmass was colonized 700 years ago and humans have been working most of the land on this planet long long before that. There ain’t an inch of this globe above the water that hasn’t been somewhat shaped by humans or so called ‘pristine wilderness’ and hasn’t been for probably thousands of years.

      So the popular idea that everything was just peachy and ‘pristine’ wilderness until the big bad white man stomped over everything with his industrial machine is utterly ludicrous but sadly mainstream among ignorant people who are too lazy to think for themselves and get all their knowledge about ecology from tv and communist professors.

      1. AmosArch, no TV and communist professors needed. Read some early colonial history of North America. However modified the landscape may already have been at that time, descriptions of its diversity, profusion and abundance of natural resources—plants and animals especially—fill the diaries, correspondence, and commercial records of the colonists.

        Over the 400 years since, massive local extinctions followed one after another. Probably most were due to habitat modifications, but many came as the result of bounty hunting and deliberate eradications, and many others resulted from market hunting and over-fishing. None of that can reasonably be in question.

        Anyone with a historical sense of the productiveness of the marine environment of the Atlantic seaboard can only weep at the pitiful remnant which mismanagement of that formerly-astounding natural resource has left us. A great deal of that degradation has occurred within living memory, caused by reckless mismanagement and cynical policy. That wrecking process continues to this minute.

        Anyone would have to be insane not to prefer as it was the natural environment of what became the United States, even insofar as it could be practically preserved—which it has not been. For instance, essentially all of New England, up to northern-most Maine, was first converted to European-style agriculture, and later mostly abandoned for that purpose. When that happened, not a thought was given to the opportunity to work toward restoring the original natural values of that multi-state landscape. It is not too late to start in that direction now—not only throughout New England, but wherever in the U.S. land is not actively in intensive use, and especially across public lands in the West.

        What is mysterious to me is why people like you would oppose correctives, given that present policies are making everyone materially poorer than they need to be. Not saying this applies to you, but ignorance and greed, expressed politically, are obvious factors.

    4. Everything was good in the garden until man decided to be sinful.

      Totally not a religion though.

    5. As recently as 150 years ago, the continent of Europe and America east of the Mississippi was effectively deforested. The advent of coal and oil heating and the green revolution drastically reduced the amount of land needed for farming and the sheer volume of trees that needed to be harvested annually despite the number of people growing exponentially.

      Even today, economic growth is the only way to improve the economy. Why does America have near-pristine wilderness compared to Southeast Asia? We can afford to care about trash collection and sewage processing. Why does America have our endangered species recovering while Africa’s are being whittled down despite billions being spent? Two reasons. Most Africans are too poor to care, and they will gladly poach an antelope in order to feed their family for a week or a rhino in order to feed their family for life.

    6. It was certainly growth that caused worldwide environmental decline, but it was population growth, economic growth and innovation not so much. The dirtiest filthiest most unhealthy places on earth are the most technologically backward. Even Tokyo the largest metropolitan region in world has much more pristine air and water than cities 1/100 of Tokyo’s size because Tokyo’s economic growth and innovation has mitigated much of its population growth.

      A clean environment is a luxury good, economic growth and innovation is what allows people to purchase the luxury of a clean environment.

      Plus it’s pretty clear over the last century that economic well-being leads to much slower population growth, even population declines, and that will be more beneficial to the environment than prosperity killing carbon bans.

      1. Kazinski, focus on pollution is useful, even important, but less important for environmental assessment than focus on species diversity, profusion, and abundance. Those axes are vital in themselves—notably more important and revealing than simple pollution measures—but also, they turn out to be valuable indices of what to worry about pollution-wise, and how much to worry.

        The U.S. is indeed doing a bit better than previously with regard to some kinds of pollution—while steadfastly refusing to measure other kinds, many of which are inherently devastating, uncontrolled, and rapidly increasing—the U.S. agricultural sector is a disaster in that regard. Too many would-be environmental utopians take that news as good, and suppose it to be all the news they need. Your comment is better than others, but still joins them in that vein.

        Note also, none of my critics above registered any informed concern about ecological considerations. Note that their comments ignored the marine environment totally.

        That level of slap-dash non-awareness shows abysmally low environmental insight. It takes that kind of ignorance to stay optimistic, or to range far beyond optimism—as commenters above have done—and venture into the province of environmental utopianism. The notion is madness that humans can ignore dramatic evidence of snowballing environmental failure, and proceed instead to concentrate on re-structuring the natural environment to suit their wildest preferences. Without even an inkling of empirical constraint, programs of that sort promise catastrophe.

        I should mention in passing that I wish the notion of global warming had never been heard from. Not that I don’t think it is a real threat, or hugely important. The problem is that it has proved too vulnerable to ignorant attack. It depends too much on speculative modeling, which can never be shown sufficiently reliable.

        The modeling is not needed. Concentration on measurable changes along the axes I mentioned above—species diversity, profusion, and abundance—would provide all the guidance needed to mount sane environmental policies, if anyone would pay attention. But it is hard to get folks to pay close attention to stuff they have ignored as trivial for their entire lives—or likely just haven’t noticed at all.

        Ignoring stuff is the road to ignorance, but no one can afford to be informed about everything. Most ignorance is pretty harmless—correcting it costs more than suffering it. The question I wish I had an answer for is, how do you make people care enough about species diversity, profusion, and abundance to pay attention to them? Ignorance about those threatens to cost us everything.

    7. Stop talking. Stop thinking, everyone. You are bad at it. You listen to descriptions of worldviews. Instead look at measurements of actual human health and wealth and longevity.

      Freedom from government command and control maps proportionally to progress and falling prices of resources. Hundreds of century-long experiments with billions of test subjects show this relationship is as rock solid as relativity and quantum mechanics.

      Let people figure out solutions rather than using it as a political argument for command and control, which serves no purpose than to give politicians yet another argument to get in the way so their waggling fingers can fill even more.

      1. Krayt, your free-market allies commenting here are positing command and control solutions for the world’s ecology. Those will prove just as effective as command and control solutions for the economy, but potentially more deadly.

        1. No. Your argument is like saying that WalMart is a “command and control solution for the world’s economy.” It’s a category error. That an individual actor’s behavior may affect others does not make it “command and control” for other people.

          1. Nieporent, the nation’s policy on GMO agriculture stands in exactly the same posture toward the nation’s ecology as state-mandated picking of winners and losers stands toward the economy. There isn’t a lick of difference between them. It may be that to understand that, you have to understand ecology about as well as an informed layman can understand the economy. Failure to achieve that kind of ecological understanding strikes me as a big part of the problem.

    8. to find even a tiny speck of “near-pristine natural condition” you would have to go back 10s of thousands of years before the first hominid climbed down from the trees and stood upright on the ground.

    9. Start with a false premise, Stephen, and it’s not surprising that you reach false conclusions. 300 years ago, vast swaths of the globe were depleted farmland with significant erosion problems. Other than oceans, very little habitable land was “near-pristine” or “natural”. Sure, the deserts and tundras were close to “pristine” but nobody lived there – and that’s still pretty much true.

      The direction of the environment has been anything but “straight down”. More to the point, the only thing that has ever been positively correlated with environmental improvement has been economic growth and innovation. People don’t spend money on saving the environment until after they’ve made sure their children have enough to eat.

      1. No, Rossami. A policy of maximally leaving natural resources untouched—or less imposingly, simply not destroying them on purpose—is far-better correlated with environmental improvement than economic growth and innovation is.

        For instance, your canard, “People don’t spend money on saving the environment until after they’ve made sure their children have enough to eat,” is specious. Saving the environment costs money only because policy in favor of destroying the environment ranks conservation as an opportunity cost. It’s another way to say reckless development is cheaper than mindful development. That is a policy choice, not a fact of nature. “Saving” the environment mostly comes for free, by leaving it alone.

        But take your “enough to eat,” nonsense at face value, for the sake of argument. GMO agriculture—as we are constantly reminded by its advocates—posits some ability to do less environmental damage, by using limited resources more productively. Do we see that? Of course not, because it is against policy. Policy instead favors using improved economic agricultural productivity to expand environmentally damaging agriculture use into formerly-fallow, less productive lands. GMO agriculture is not in fact shrinking environmental damage, it is expanding it. See other comments here about destruction of edge lands, for instance, and expansion of rural road networks.

        It is tiresome to constantly receive ideologically-founded attacks from people who seem not to have much first-hand experience actually looking at the phenomena they talk about.

  4. We could all just live our lives free from the incorrect and destructive apocalyptic doomsday nonsense. Why isn’t that enough? Why does a book also have to (pretend to) have the answers that will fix the entire world’s (perceived) problems?

    If and when free people want, and can afford, an improved environment, then people will make choices that bring about those improvements. If it didn’t happen sometime before, it was because people either didn’t want it, couldn’t afford it, or weren’t free to do it. Economic growth and technological progress helps with affordability. The rest is up to people to choose, if they are allowed to.

    1. If and when free people want, and can afford, an improved environment, then people will make choices that bring about those improvements.

      This. As imperfect as they were, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act represented those choices in ’70 and ’72. The U.S. was way, WAY more polluted before then; and even though EPA has weaponized its power for the typical petty tyranny, a great deal of environmental good has been done in 50 years.

      1. I don’t think that’s what Ben had in mind…

        1. No, that’s exactly right. You’re a silly person.

          They might have done some things better, but that’s exactly what people in the US did. There were real problems, people got enough to afford to fix them, people decided to fix them.

          The current environmental religion doesn’t resemble the problem-solving approaches that got us here. They didn’t have to imagine pollution in 1972, they could look outside and see it.

          I’m walking outside right now. I can see for miles in a couple directions. No visible pollution. Nor can I smell any.

          1. Ben, it’s what you don’t see that ought to disturb you. Sixty years ago, most street lamps in America were mobbed by night-flying insects, patrolled on the periphery by bats. Each lamp. You couldn’t drive down most country roads without stopping every 30 miles or so to clean the dead bugs off your windshield, so you could see again.

            I haven’t seen those phenomena anywhere in decades. Probably there are a few places where you will still see them, but the size of the loss is gigantic—and, of course, goes totally unnoticed by everyone too young to have seen them when they were normal. I doubt we can live long-term without paying a steep price for the loss of those insects.

            I know insect-eating birds can’t live without them. They are in sharp decline too. Do you even know which birds eat insects, and which depend on other foods? If you don’t, you are unlikely to notice the sharp declines among bluebirds, warblers, swallows, and other insect-dependent species. You literally can’t see changes in environmental factors you never previously noticed. Boasting about what you don’t see is not a wise response to that.

            1. Yeah, the bogeyman is out doing random evils in the land and we should all be afraid. Always afraid.

              1. Ben_, it’s not that evils can’t be seen. Plenty of people do see them.

                I was trying carefully not to call you ignorant, but about ecology you are ignorant. That is the only reason you don’t see. Learn to look around.

                1. Everyone who doesn’t spend every minute terrified of unseen evils is ignorant.

                  All you ignorant people out there need to learn to obey your betters, such as Lathrop here. You don’t know what’s good for you. There are unseen evils out there and only your obedience to Lathrop and The Good People will save you from them.

            2. Ben, it’s what you don’t see that ought to disturb you. Sixty years ago, most street lamps in America were mobbed by night-flying insects, patrolled on the periphery by bats. Each lamp. You couldn’t drive down most country roads without stopping every 30 miles or so to clean the dead bugs off your windshield, so you could see again.

              I haven’t seen those phenomena anywhere in decades

              You understand that you are Dr. Edding this discussion, right? It’s complete fantasy on your part.

              1. How old are you, Nieporent? When you were young, did you ever live anywhere outside a city?

                I described two phenomena which were commonplace, widely noted, and discussed by nearly everyone when I was 9-years old, circa summer of 1955. The fact you think they are made-up is evidence for at least half of what I said. Those bugs are gone now—so thoroughly gone that you think what I said must be fantasy.

                The part of the country I was familiar with was the Atlantic seaboard, from New Jersey down to Florida, and west to the Appalachians. I hadn’t traveled yet outside that region. There, it was exactly as I said.

                I have no reason to suppose it was any different elsewhere in the nation, except maybe in desert regions, but on that I am speculating—speculating partly on the basis of what I did see when I traveled the nation extensively from the 1970s onward.

                1. Are you even listening to yourself? You are basing a fantastical claim on 65 year old memories of what someone told you when you were 9 years old.

                  1. No, Nieporent. Not something someone told me. First-hand knowledge. Direct observation, at sites too numerous to count—basically, everywhere I went. So common knowledge. Day-to-day reality for millions of people. And, of course, broadly and consistently confirmed by evidence today—evidence such as drastically declining numbers of insect-eating birds.

                    What did I say about insect populations which you think is, “fantastical?” Do you suppose street lamps along the eastern seaboard were not mobbed by night-flying insects during the mid-1950s? Why would you think that? The phenomenon was not subtle, nor in need of fine-grained statistical analysis. It was as widespread, obvious, and pervasive as sunset, every warm-weather night.

                    Do you think routine stops at short intervals to clean bugs from windshields didn’t happen? They happened to everyone who ventured down any country road, everywhere that I lived or visited, from New Jersey to Florida. As you drove along, you started to get anxious, lest before you found a place to swab the windshield, you couldn’t see at all.

                    Do you think those things didn’t happen because you don’t see them today? That just confirms what I have been telling you. I saw them. Everyone I knew saw them. Everywhere, and especially including places I knew well and have returned to, to take a look.

                    You apparently don’t see any of that. That means it has changed, and it is no longer possible to see. Or it means you really don’t know how to look around, which is possible. Maybe you just prefer sneering to seeing.

                    By the way, when population patterns among migratory birds take a turn for the worse, you can be pretty sure the problem causing the decline is serious. Birds have wings. They can go where they want, and they do. And especially in their breeding behavior, birds tend to go to remote locations featuring the best feeding opportunities on earth. If their extraordinary ability to move around is proving insufficient to ameliorate change, the change must be widespread and stressful.

                    Perhaps you do not know that bird populations have been more extensively and continuously sampled and recorded than perhaps any other kind of wildlife data. Insect-eating birds are in sharp decline, across species. That is not in question. Look it up.

                    Also, answer my questions. How old are you? And where did you live growing up? If you were born after the mid-1950s, that was probably too late. Pesticide use was becoming widespread and general after that. By the time someone born then was old enough to notice, much of the damage had been done. You would have to go out of your way to find examples of how it had been before then, just as you must do now, but more so.

                    Still, maybe you can see it. Tell me what state you live in. If I can help you, I will. We could even meet somewhere, and I would bring the bug repellent, which you would need far more than you seem to suspect. I know one great spot—not much more than a few acres of trees—where even saturated in bug repellent, you can barely stay put long enough to watch the crop dusters laying down insecticide on adjacent fields. Needless to say, if you get out of those trees and wander down the farm roads, you won’t encounter any bugs at all, nor any sign of any wildlife which eats bugs, either.

                    Too much of the nation is now like those fields, not like the trees. It is beyond me why anyone would suppose you can poison everything, and then live in the aftermath, when nothing else can.

            3. Btw, Lathrop: I have good news for you.

              I visited my brother in the Midwest last year in early June. Weather was ok, but spending any time outdoors was extremely annoying because there were always clouds of bugs flying around in our faces. I had to wave them away constantly, and they’d fly in my eye and in my mouth.

              Clouds of bugs. Last year. The bogeyman didn’t get them. So no need to be so afraid all the time.

              1. Here’s an article:


                But you can Google “2019 gnats” and read all the articles about them throughout several states.

                Hope that helps with your fear problem. Bugs: there’s still a lot of them, despite what that fund-raising letter from that environmental group led you to believe.

                1. It’s the better aerodynamics of car windshields, actually. It’s absolutely amazing how many fewer bug splatters you get on a windshield when it’s not perpendicular to the direction of motion.

                  1. Yeah, Bellmore, that’s what I thought too, at first. But then I noticed that motorcycle face shields haven’t changed. Same shape as always. Back in the 60s, you had to clean your face shield, just like your car windshield. Now you don’t. It may be a factor, but it doesn’t explain away the missing bugs.

                2. Ben, Ha! Ha! Gnats. Gnats may be the reason I never became a baseball star. My talents pointed to right field. There were gnats in the outfield. I decided to become a swimmer.

                  But next time the gnats devil you, try this. Cut yourself a little leafy branch, about 12-inches long. Stick the base of it in the adjustment strap on the back of your baseball cap, so it pokes up above your head. The gnats always fly for the highest point, so they go right up to fly around the branch, instead of into your eyes and nose.

                  Once you learn about some other insects, let me know.

            4. The “windshield” hypothesis has been empirically tested and rejected. Your memories of anecdotes are not data.

              Windshield shape and driving speed have a rather a lot to do with the percentage of insects that hit your windshield. Both have changed drastically during the periods of your anecdotes. (There is also an interesting though still unconfirmed hypothesis that cars might be driving local evolution by culling the species that tend to fly where cars are.) The point is that the “windshield test” is not properly controlled.

              Re: street lamps – you answer the question yourself. 60 years ago, when streetlamps were relatively new, they were mobbed by insects that were preyed upon by bats. Why do you consider it a big surprise that insects no longer do that?

              Re: the declines in insect-eating birds – The changes you note are better explained by the loss of habitat than loss of insects. Edge-to-edge farming has eliminated the hedgerows they used to live in. Other species will only nest in forests a half mile in from the edge. Roads and firebreaks are reducing the places they can live.

              By relying on bad data, you are blinding yourself to the real problems.

              1. Yup. Three major indicators point to the same conclusion. Three disparate hypotheses minimize the claims. What ties the minimizing mechanisms together? Desire to minimize unwanted experience ties them together.

              2. Re: street lamps – you answer the question yourself. 60 years ago, when streetlamps were relatively new, they were mobbed by insects that were preyed upon by bats. Why do you consider it a big surprise that insects no longer do that?

                Maybe because insect-eating bats don’t use light to hunt, and avoid well-lit environments. Except maybe in your house, by accident, when was the last time you saw a bat flying around in a well-lit area? By your reasoning, the insects ought to be flocking even more densely to the street lamps, to avoid the bats.

    2. Do I really need to explain the concept of a tragedy of the commons to you?

      1. Save your breath. I can see the commons right now. It looks nice.

        1. Especially compared to 30 years ago.

      2. Citing the tragedy of the commons means you believe in central planning, and overlook that central planning always ends badly. I can almost hear you say “But this time we’ll do it right “.

        1. Jerry B., 160 years ago, when market rationalism was busy blowing up every commons it could find, there was plenty of push-back from folks who had depended on those commons, and managed them successfully since, in some cases, time immemorial. They became casualties of course. Let’s not ignore that, because to ignore it is to say, on behalf of your own preferred program, “But this time we’ll do it right.”

        2. I think it’s not even that. It’s always the same thing with these people:

          We have this theory about what will happen under certain conditions. It sounds good. Therefore, any action we do is justified regardless of actual reality or any actual need to do it and regardless of the harm it might cause.

          And if it works and solves a problem once, that means we have to do more of it to solve problems we imagine might someday happen.

          It stops being about solving problems for people and becomes a faith motivated by moral vanity. What’s good for people is forgotten, and then later actively pushed against as the schemes turn toward punishing us all for our impiety and our original sins against The Earth.

        3. Citing the tragedy of the commons means you believe in central planning,

          TF? The tragedy of the commons is a free market argument for private property.

  5. “To chart the course for a new destination” presupposes that the way we were doing things before the environmental movement began needs to be changed at all. I see no evidence that it does. The environmental movement has been one false alarm after another and nothing but since its beginning with Silent Spring in 1950.

    1. The apocalypses were wrong, but the general issues of pollution were on the money. The Houston Ship Channel used to look like and smell like battery acid. Now, the city is having problems keeping people from fishing in it.

      Acid rain never was going to kill us all, but reducing sulfur emissions did eliminate the yellow smog problem.

      Let’s not pretend they didn’t have successes.

    2. jdgalt1, to believe what you say is to believe that localized environmental catastrophes which everyone can see at a glance will somehow become invisible and unimportant if multiplied without limit. That seems unlikely.

    3. jdgalt, Silent Spring was published in 1962, not 1950. I remember that well, because I had spent most of the 1950s noting closely—however youthfully and unsystematically—many of the phenomena Carson described. I remember wondering why that book was being treated as a revelation.

      To me, then, the lavish credit Carson got seemed misplaced. I thought she was merely stating the obvious. I had had the observational advantage of living in an area which was fast transitioning out of a relatively more-natural state—giving way under suburban development pressure. Now I understand better why Carson deserved credit. Ignorance of the most common-place natural phenomena has remained so widespread that large majorities don’t even know the phenomena exist, so can’t notice at all when they change for the worse.

  6. Apocalyptic predictions, original sin, virtue signaling, buying of indulgences. What more does the left need to do to make it obvious its a modern day religious cult?

    1. Satan? Nope. They have one of those too.

    2. Modern environmental activists are effectively modern luddites leveraging the legal tools originally designed to protect the environment to stop all development.

  7. Economic growth and innovation are necessary, but insufficient, for continued environmental progress. Neither is automatic.

    The “neither” implies the first two are not automatic and we should look elsewhere for environmental progress. This is horsepucky.

    “Environmental progress” is such a vague term that there’s no telling what any one means by it, but if it starts with less raw sewage in rivers and streets, those were only capable of being cleaned up by having the excess wealth that comes from economic growth and innovation. Same with every other luxury of “environmental progress”. First comes the economy, then comes the excess wealth, and innovation is a natural part of life, inseparable from it, stifled and suffocated only by government.

  8. “it is unduly focused on the promise of nuclear power”

    I have read a tremendous amount on this topic and have yet to see anyone successfully address the issue of spent fuel rods and radioactive waste. I lived near West Valley NY where a great project was going to solve this problem. The facility there would rehab spent fuel rods.

    After the failure of the technology, the leakage of radioactive waste into the ground and water and the $200 million plus attempt at cleanup the area around the facility might be habitable in, say, a couple of thousand centuries.

    Tell us how to solve the nuclear waste problem and us skeptics are all on board.

    1. Recycle them. “Spent” fuel rods from current reactors can by recycled to create new fuel rods as well as other useful materials, such as plutonium, americium, or other radioactives not found naturally.

      Breeder reactors can reduce the waste produced by more than 99%, and generally limit the unusable waste to those less dangerous elements.

      However, they are more expensive to build and run than LWR, and worse – they can be used to create the materials for nuclear weapons. When uranium was thought to be quite limited, there was a lot of work done, but when we discovered exactly how common and cheap uranium is, the security and cost concerns took front stage.

      We could get rid of most of the world’s nuclear waste, power the US electric grid, reduce emissions, and produce the necessary products for satellites or medical machinery, all at the same time! But it would require the government, all three branches, not giving in to the anti-science environmentalists and allowing the reactors to be built.

      1. It has nothing to do with “anti-science” but with cost and the increased risk of freeing plutonium. During my time on the Yucca Mountain Project, this option was studied (scientifically even) and rejected. The French tried this and there is plenty of data on the cost. The major benefit of nuclear power is the relatively low cost–provided one not include the costs associated with waste, cleanup, and security.

        Meanwhile, the cost of solar plus batteries is lower still than nuclear–even considering the mining and manufacturing of lithium and other chemical battery formulations.

        1. Your final paragraph defies the reality that if solar were truly cheaper than anything else, it would not need subsidies.

          1. His comment defies nothing. He noted that nuclear power accounting always leaves out the long-term safety and disposal costs it cannot figure out how to reduce. Account for those honestly in the nuclear picture, and every other kind of power generation, including solar, would be cheaper, even without subsidies.

            1. It’s not a matter of “can’t figure out”, it’s a matter of, “politically prohibited from dealing with”.

              1. Brett, figuring out how to deal with the problem means:

                1. Making the solution less expensive than alternatives which are already competitive, and still riding toward lower costs in the future.

                2. Making the solution safe against accidents, and safe against deliberate attacks.

                3. Solving waste disposal problems realistically.

                4. Mastering the politics.

                You don’t get to look at any of that and just say it can’t be an objection, because you suspect nuclear opponents are doing the objecting. I get that may seem unfair to you.

                Nuclear advocates made things hard for themselves, when they repeated bad faith assurances—sounding just like your assurances, by the way—and those assurances repeatedly went bad. Turns out that lying is a counter-productive way to promote marginally-viable, dangerous technology. With so much lying already poisoning the market, why continue with apparently hopeless advocacy? Why not switch to advocating comparably-costly, less-dangerous renewable energy, for instance?

                1. Look, do you understand that nuclear power doesn’t have to spend any extra money to dispose of the waste? They’ve been paying into a fund for that all along, by law. The government just sits on the money, instead of disposing of the waste.

                  In fact, the nuclear industry started suing the federal government for breach of contract after the Obama administration canceled the Yucca Mountain depository, and they keep winning the suits, too. They’ve already paid for the waste disposal, the government kept the money and refused to dispose of the waste.

                  1. Brett, you are ignoring the, “Mastering the politics,” part. The politics are out of control because the nuclear industry began in a torrent of lies about safety and impacts, and kept it up. Probably, the last big lie about nuclear risks was told yesterday. So the politics became impossible.

                    Three-mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima amply demonstrated consequences which follow when policy makers get duped. The public refuses anymore to back politicians who believe proven, serial, consequential liars from the nuclear industry.

                    I remember vividly interviewing Idaho Senator Jim McClure, who was at the time the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (Idaho features, in its southern desert, a numerous collection of research reactors—probably the nation’s largest collection of reactors). McClure was a really nice guy. Very open, and very easy to get along with. We talked for hours. And he knew not one thing about nuclear reactors. He thought you could turn off a nuclear plant—and make it completely safe—by throwing a switch. He thought that, because that was what the nuclear industry had told him. He was a perfect dupe. Core cooling? What’s that? I was flabbergasted.

                    By the way, did you know that Fukushima was built to the same blueprints that were used to build several reactors in the U.S.? One of them is located not far from me. It’s not generating power anymore, but of course its nuclear waste is still on site. See the problem? To trust assurances I get about safe disposal of nuclear waste, I have to trust the political assessment that nuclear waste disposal somewhere in the U.S. is politically feasible. Nobody thinks that anymore. As you pointed out, the politicians have given up on it.

                    Be realistic. Find something else to advocate.

        2. Breeder reactor costs are estimated to be 75% to 100% higher than LWRs. A lot of money, yes, but still orders of magnitude less than the money proposed to deal with nuclear “waste”. Not to mention that costs for reactor are driven up massively by the government’s anti-nuclear position – and no, when the NRC is run by a vocal anti-nuke activist, it is not anything other than anti-nuclear.

          As for plutonium, the stuff is amazingly useful outside of weapons. Especially in spacecraft!
          The risk is mostly political fear mongering. If you can point to any attacks on breeder reactors – or ANY reactors – I’d be interested to hear about it. Other than ones carried out by anti-science greenie terrorists, of course. There have been a number of those.

          The main reason NOT to have breeder reactors everywhere is economic – namely, that uranium is cheap to mine and refine. This is why the US stopped running them, and why France did too. If you want to include the cost of waste in your pricing for nuclear power, then you also need to address the fact that solutions to that problem exist.

          1. Toranth, breeder reactor solutions may exist, but does anyone suppose those solutions will stay competitive over time against renewable energy? Are they even competitive now?

            1. Competitive, with or without government interference?
              Competitive, with or without “externalities”?
              You’ll also get different results if you use actual vs nominal values.

              When you compare actual generation to costs, you get that hydro is best. Next, home solar is slightly cheaper than nuclear. Industrial solar and wind do much worse, and offshore generation (wind or tidal) is absolutely abysmal.
              However, you’ll discover that almost every ‘cost’ estimate for nuclear includes the disposal costs of waste, the very problem breeder reactors would deal with.

              Would new modern breeder reactors be cost effective? It’s hard to tell – how much would they get by way of installation subsidies or R&D grants? How much would they need to spend during the 10-20 years of harassment lawsuits designed to bankrupt the nuclear plant developers?
              In theory, the plans put forward by the people trying to build these breeder plants, yes, they would be competitive in just electrical generation, even before the benefits of the byproducts are included.
              In fact? Who knows.

        3. BUT shawn, the costs of the associated storage to make availability equate to other baseload power is not included. Nor are any decommissioning costs nor the environmental costs of sequestering 10,000 sq. km of land to field enough solar and wind to power the plant.

    2. Thorium reactors are a huge step forward for solving the waste problem, the waste has a half-life 5% as long as Uranium’s, and it only produces .1% as much waste as a uranium reactor.

    3. “I have read a tremendous amount on this topic and have yet to see anyone successfully address the issue of spent fuel rods and radioactive waste. ”

      You can read an awful lot on the topic, and if you’re reading from the wrong sources, you’ll never see such issues addressed.

      Most of nuclear “waste” is just unspent fuel: Fuel rods that have been isotopically poisoned by neutron absorbing isotopes that terminate chain reactions, but still have most of their fuel. Reprocessing can solve that, while dramatically reducing the amount of “waste”. Right now the amount of “waste” is artificially inflated by the lack of reprocessing, (This is a result of a deliberate policy of suppressing nuclear power by choking the system on wastes that aren’t allowed to be dealt with.) and the inclusion of materials that are barely more radioactive than background as ‘waste’.

      Helpfully, the non-fuel ‘waste’ isotopes break down into two groups: The long half-life isotopes that are responsible for the waste being technically “radioactive” for geological times, but which have such low levels of activity that they’re not actually radiologically dangerous. And the short half life isotopes that are responsible for the waste initially being extremely dangerous, but which go away relatively quickly.

      They shouldn’t be stored together. One needs to be comprehensively isolated, but not for a crazy long time, the other isn’t a big deal in terms of isolation.

  9. In the 1880s, there was concern that our cities would be buried in six foot high horse manure by the 1960s. when i studied geology in college in the early 70s, the concern was global cooling.

    the idea that we can accurately predict the precise year or precise temperature when we reach the point of no return for climate change is the height of arrogance. the climate is complex with feedback loops we dont completely understand.

    after awhile, these predictions begin to sound like the boy who cried wolf which is unfortunate since there are real issues that need to be addressed today like contaminated drinking water.

    1. It’s hard to tell for sure, but if you are arguing categorically against environmental predictions being used as an input to policy, you are in effect placing a bet that addressing problems only when they are too obvious to ignore will always be the best path. That is not a wise long term approach.

  10. “There is a consistent apocalyptic strain in modern environmentalism. This is a feature and a bug. On the one hand, sounding ecological alarms has, at times, seemed to spur policy responses. On the other hand, when exaggerated appeals are proven false, it can undermine environmentalists’ credibility and discourage environmental concern.”

    Announcing in the first paragraph that one’s attitude toward truth is utterly utilitarian also undermines credibility.

    1. When reasoned discussion gives way to hysteria the first casualty is truth.

  11. It’s doesn’t matter if you are hair-on-fire-apocalyptic, raising your voice only a little, moderately scolding, or diplomatically subtle. The same forces will oppose you with the same vehemence.

    1. Not really, because the hair on fire apocalyptic guy is trying to push solutions to solve the CMIP5 RCP 8.5 scenario, which is physically impossible, let alone a likely scenario. Solutions than will condemn the 3rd world to generations more of energy poor poverty, and push the standard of living in the first world back a generation or more.

      Whereas the non-apocalyptic who does think global warming is a problem will push solutions that are more realistic, and have a better chance to be implemented.

      The real science supports that at least 25-50% of warming in the last century is human caused, but TCR is almost certainly only 1-1.5C, and we have already ‘banked’ about .7c of that. That isn’t even as warm as it’s been in the last 5000 years. We know that because every time a glacier has unprecedented melting in Europe we find Neolithic hunter gatherer artifacts, or remains of trees on the tundra where it’s been too cold to support trees for thousands of years. We also know from fossil records that CO2 levels and temperatures were higher 4 million years ago, about the time ‘humans’ started walking erect.

  12. “The environmental horrors of former Soviet countries were not due to a lack of industrialization or urbanization. ”

    You are right, the environmental (and human rights) horrors of the former Soviet (and all communist) regiemes was caused by too much state control, with a myopic concentration of effort on state priorities to the exclusion of all else. And now these apocalyptic environmentalists are proposing unprecedented powers for the government over people, property, and even proposing to censor or criminalize thought crimes like saying climate change isn’t serious enough to give governments the power they seek.

    Maybe reinstituting central planning and total government control over the economy won’t result in the same environmental horrors we’ve seen before, but there will be other horrors to replace them, including human rights abuses.

Please to post comments