Thursday, August 6, 2020

GWPF Newsletter: The Global Battle For Freedom Of Speech Intensifies

After Purging Mainstream Media, Climate Extremists Attempt To Censor Social Media

In this newsletter:

1) After Purging Mainstream Media, Climate Extremists Attempt To Censor Social Media
Brian Maloney, Real Clear Energy, 4 August 2020
2) Salman Rushdie Warns That Left-wing ‘Cancel Culture’ Is A Threat To Literature And Freedom Of Speech
Daily Mail, 4 August 2020
3) Vernon Bogdanor: Universities Are Failing To Protect Academic Freedom From The Anti-Free Speech Radicals
The Daily Telegraph, 3 August 2020
4) Kathy Gyngell: Would A Universities Academic Watchdog Have Teeth?
The Conservative Woman, 5 August 2020
5) Australian University In Censorship Row Over China’s Hong Kong Policy
Financial Times, 3 August 2020
6) Michael Walsh: About Those ‘Green Energy’ Unicorns…
The Pipeline, 2 August 2020
7) John O'Sullivan: The Case of the Unknown Dosage
The Pipeline, 4 August 2020
8) And Finally: Does Optimism on Climate Change Make You Pro-Trump?
John Horgan, Scientific American, 4 August 2020

Full details:

1) After Purging Mainstream Media, Climate Extremists Attempt To Censor Social Media
Brian Maloney, Real Clear Energy, 4 August 2020

Without the protection of free thought and discussion, scientific work cannot proceed. We need to share ideas, opinions, and perspectives to allow for the uncovering of truth, not suppress it.

As America’s political middle ground gives way to sharp left-right divisions and even violence, there are winners and losers in the war on ideas. What in the recent past would have been considered up for debate, now shifts firmly into the “settled science” category by those who are intolerant of differing viewpoints.

In 2020, “winners” consist of those who control social media networks, of which a mere handful now have a stranglehold on the national conversation. Because these firms are primarily located in the ultra-liberal San Francisco Bay Area, their hiring pool has long consisted primarily of left-leaning employees. 

With the inevitable temptation to use this incredible power to influence public sentiment and elections, leftists have had the inside advantage, leaving conservatives, moderates and others shut out of the debate almost entirely. 

Twitter, for example, is facing a public relations nightmare over recent revelations that 1100 insiders and contractors had access to the disturbingly-named “God Mode,” which allows almost total control over user accounts and content. As there was no internal oversight over such a powerful access level, this led to a major security breach affecting celebrities and political leaders.

No stranger to accusations of unfair control over user speech is Facebook, a platform originally designed to bring people together. It has recently come under fire for suppressing debate over so-called “climate change”. The dispute is over the ability of one group to control another’s free expression via the Menlo Park-based company’s Orwellian Oversight Board and moderation team.

Reeling from the 2016 election’s outcome and aftermath, Facebook began site reforms to regulate user content. That opened a Pandora’s box of criticism and scrutiny over censorship and the outright de-platforming of voices. A central target of that debate has become the suppression of voices that challenge left-leaning scientists’ prevailing opinions.

When it comes to climate change, Facebook has cared little for honest discussion and debate, instead tipping the scales in favor of alarmists. It has already banned site users from seeing and sharing factual content created by credentialed climate scientists. 

Even worse, in a recent open letter to former Denmark Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who now co-chairs the company’s Oversight Board, leftist zealots want Facebook to go a step further. They claim that “the integrity of the Oversight Board” is at risk unless they begin this troubled process again for opinion pieces that challenge the “progressive” climate change orthodoxy.

“When you were Prime Minister, you knew for certain that climate change was fact, not opinion, and needs to be treated as such,” wrote its signers, which included the Sierra Club,, and the Center for American Progress. “In your current role as an overseer of Facebook’s dangerous misinformation practice, our plea is grave: please, Ms. Thorning-Schmidt, take action now.”
Meanwhile, many of these same groups have endorsed legislators like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who proclaims that “the world is going to end in 12 years, if we don’t address climate change.” Despite sophomoric and outlandish assertions, they seemingly want to force a new Facebook policy that will prevent the public from ever countering radical viewpoints.
To say that energy science is settled law is not only untrue, it’s downright dangerous. On June 29th, for example, Biomass supplier Enviva revealed that a sizable portion of their product wasn’t carbon neutral as previously believed. This finding runs counter to the European Union’s longstanding belief that biomass is the prime option for reducing carbon emissions. Now, regulators must reassess their polices for a source that accounts for over 60 percent of their clean energy needs. But we would have never learned that if public scepticism were banned.

Without the protection of free thought and discussion, scientific work cannot proceed. We need to share ideas, opinions, and perspectives to allow for the uncovering of truth, not suppress it.

Perhaps the Sierra Club doesn’t want a debate because other groups within their school of thought could challenge them. Take, for example, the process of making EVs, which some have found can actually be highly destructive to the environment. Sierra Club has preached EVs for years and finds dissenting arguments “dangerous.” When the debate is shut down, the public fails to hear about the horrendous misuse of child labor at cobalt mines in the Congo and other disturbing details.

Full post
2) Salman Rushdie Warns That Left-wing ‘Cancel Culture’ Is A Threat To Literature And Freedom Of Speech
Daily Mail, 4 August 2020

Salman Rushdie has warned that Left-wing ‘cancel culture’ is a threat to literature and freedom of speech.

Responding to the idea that authors should write only ‘what they know’ or risk being ‘cancelled’, the Booker Prize winner said he could not accept that ‘there are areas in which censorship is acceptable’. 

He added: ‘I’ve always seen democracy as a public square in which everyone is arguing… The ability to have the argument is what I would call freedom because in countries that are authoritarian the first thing rulers try to do is to shut down that argument.’ 
The Anglo-Indian author has long been a staunch defender of free speech and his own life was under threat for many years after Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him in 1989, following the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses.
Most recently he joined more than 150 signatories of an open letter in US magazine Harper’s, objecting to ‘cancel culture’. 

Full post
3) Vernon Bogdanor: Universities Are Failing To Protect Academic Freedom From The Anti-Free Speech Radicals
The Daily Telegraph, 3 August 2020

Universities, Saul Bellow, the US novelist and Nobel prize-winner, once declared, were “anti-free-speech centres”. An absurd caricature surely. Yet in 2018, Christine Lagarde, former head of the IMF, and Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state, were forced to withdraw from US university commencement addresses for being too “controversial”.

Still, you might think, this could not happen in tolerant Britain. Sadly, a report published today by Policy Exchange, based on the largest poll of UK-based academics in recent years, warns that we are not exempt. It shows little support for dismissal campaigns against academics holding unpopular views, but “widespread support for discrimination on political grounds in publication, hiring and promotion”. The report finds no evidence that the “Left discriminates more than Right”. But there are many more academics on the Left in the social sciences and the humanities than on the Right, and around half of the Right-leaning minority have self-censored, reporting a “hostile climate” for their beliefs.

There is, then, a “chilling effect” whereby minority views are kept under wraps. At Oxford, my old university, Nigel Biggar, regius professor of theology, leads an inquiry on the ethics of Empire. He has been excoriated by colleagues, entirely without justification, as “racist” and “imperialist”. A younger untenured colleague would have to be brave to take part in such an inquiry, yet its intellectual value could prove great.

Among students, the “chilling effect” occurs through no platforming, whereby organisers of meetings are pressured to “disinvite” speakers with unpopular views. At Oxford, Amber Rudd was “disinvited” by the UN Women’s Society at 30 minutes’ notice; Prof Selina Todd was “disinvited” by an academic conference because of her views on transgender rights.

The effects of the “heckler’s veto” can be devastating. Instead of being able to sharpen their wits through a robust exchange of views with those with whom they disagree, students find themselves cocooned at university, in a hermetically sealed intellectual environment which traffics only in pre-approved ideas, where they must think twice before speaking out.

Biggar has rightly pointed to the discrepancy between what counts as common sense in a university and among the public; and indeed, one could get a more vigorous debate on Empire, or on Brexit for that matter, in a pub in Hartlepool, than in the average senior common room or student union.

In his defence of free speech, John Stuart Mill pointed out that the greatest threat to it in a democracy came not from government but from “prevailing opinion and feeling”, which could give rise to “a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression”. It was, Mill suggested, legitimate to avoid contact with someone whose views one finds offensive. What was not legitimate was to use social pressure or boycott to deter the expression of unpopular views.

When the 1988 Education Reform bill was debated in the House of Lords, liberals, led by Roy Jenkins, insisted on statutory protection of academic freedom. They feared that Margaret Thatcher would use the abolition of tenure to discriminate against radicals in the universities. Today, by contrast, we need government to prevent discrimination by radicals in the universities. The Conservatives, in their 2019 manifesto, promised legislation to strengthen it. But legislation is not enough.

For the universities have been the great exception to that central trend of postwar politics, the decline of the state. They are almost as much of a public monopoly today as they were in the days of the Attlee government. Indeed, when, in the late Eighties, Thatcher’s education secretary, Kenneth Baker, visited the Soviet Union, he was congratulated on the degree of central control that he had achieved. A public monopoly is always in danger of encouraging conformity. Freedom is best defended not by the state, but by a healthy diversity of institutions. We have, at present, just two private universities – Buckingham and the New College of the Humanities. We need many more.
4) Kathy Gyngell: Would A Universities Academic Watchdog Have Teeth?
The Conservative Woman, 5 August 2020

IT will come as no surprise to readers of TCW to hear that ‘Right-wing academics are ‘forced to hide views’ – the conclusion of a report entitled Academic Freedom in the UK, published by the think-tank Policy Exchange and reported in the Times on Monday.
However, the report is not the labour of some of the better-known ‘persecuted’ academics such as Professor Nigel Biggar, or those liberated to speak by their retirement. It is the work of three lesser-known names, Remi Adekoya, who teaches politics at Sheffield University; Eric Kaufmann, professor of politics at Birkbeck College, University of London; and Tom Simpson, associate professor of philosophy at Oxford. 

They are backed by the former Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, Trevor Phillips, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Lord Sumption, the former Supreme Court justice, and finally Ruth Kelly, the former Education Secretary. 
Based on a polled representative sample of UK- based academic opinion, designed to explore the concern that ‘strongly-held political attitudes are restricting the freedom of those who disagree to research and teach on contested subjects,’ it finds that nearly a third of those who say their political views are ‘Right’ or ‘fairly Right’ have stopped openly airing opinions in teaching and research, compared with 13 per cent of those in the centre and on the Left.

The authors recommend an Academic Freedom Bill to counter this self-censorship and an Academic Freedom Ombudsman ‘to ensure that a) universities support intellectual dissent, which drives progress and innovation and b) all lawful speech is protected on campus’.

The question is: Will this cut the mustard? The report barely touches the institutional bias that has become a structural feature of our universities, from their overpaid politically correct or worse, woke, vice-chancellors downwards. 

Do potential academic dissenters from modern orthodoxies get employed in the university sector any longer? Isn’t a self-perpetuating channelling of Leftist ideology preventing that? 

Can we expect an Academic Ombudsman to come down like a ton of bricks on the ‘Head of School’ that Dr Mike McCulloch, a mathematician and physicist at Plymouth University nearly fell foul of? 

Would such a figure if appointed stand up to University College retrospectively over the case of the made-to-apologise and made-to-resign Nobel Prize-winning Sir Tim Hunt?

Would the presence of an Ombudsman ensure the Universities would think twice before sacking a distinguished historian over an unintentionally received ‘offensive’ or supposedly ‘racist’ comment? Or would such ‘crimes’ despite apologies leave the offender forever outside the pale?
Finally how would an Ombudsman cope with Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, who thinks that ‘The idea that academic freedom is under threat is a myth?’
5) Australian University In Censorship Row Over China’s Hong Kong Policy
Financial Times, 3 August 2020
One of Australia’s most prestigious universities has been accused of censorship following its decision to delete social media posts promoting an article critical of Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong.

The University of New South Wales also temporarily removed the article headlined “China Needs International Pressure To End Hong Kong Wrongs” from its website at the weekend, following a backlash from Chinese students and state media. It later reversed the decision but the controversy has reignited concerns about academic freedom and foreign influence at Australian universities, which rely heavily on Chinese students for revenues.

“This latest incident indicates that the Chinese Consul-General in Sydney has more influence in the university [UNSW] than the minister for education. The latter ought to intervene decisively to protect free speech in this country,” said Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University and author of a book on Chinese influence efforts.

Intelligence agencies in the US, UK and Australia have raised concerns about Beijing’s efforts to interfere with free speech at universities and influence the millions of Chinese students studying abroad. Last year, Canberra set up a task force to protect universities from foreign influence following clashes between mainland Chinese and pro-democracy students from Hong Kong.

The article quoted Elaine Pearson, an adjunct lecturer at UNSW and director of Human Rights Watch in Australia, who called on the UN to establish a special envoy to closely monitor the decline of human rights in Hong Kong.

But it generated a furious response and the Global Times, the state-owned Chinese tabloid, reported students had demanded an apology from UNSW over its decision to publish the article.

UNSW said on Monday that freedom of speech was of the highest importance but that the social media posts were not in line with its policies, as “the views of an academic were being misconstrued as representing the university”.

UNSW did not comment on why it had temporarily removed the article or whether it had received a formal complaint from the Chinese embassy in Canberra. The Chinese embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

Ms Pearson said she was seeking clarification from UNSW.

“Clearly that discussion hit a nerve for some pro-Chinese Communist party (pro-CCP) supporters who aggressively and collectively pressured the university to remove the story,” she said.

Dan Tehan, Australia’s education minister, said universities should be institutions that protect freedom of speech, debate and the challenge of ideas.
Full post (£)

see also: Critical Test of Academic Freedom for Australian Universities
6) Michael Walsh: About Those ‘Green Energy’ Unicorns…
The Pipeline, 2 August 2020
You think those baby unicorns grow on trees? Better think again. “Green” energy, in fact, comes with a very high price tag as this report from the Manhattan Institute makes clear:

"As policymakers have shifted focus from pandemic challenges to economic recovery, infrastructure plans are once more being actively discussed, including those relating to energy. Green energy advocates are doubling down on pressure to continue, or even increase, the use of wind, solar power, and electric cars. Left out of the discussion is any serious consideration of the broad environmental and supply-chain implications of renewable energy.
"As I explored in a previous paper, “The New Energy Economy: An Exercise in Magical Thinking,”[1] many enthusiasts believe things that are not possible when it comes to the physics of fueling society, not least the magical belief that “clean-tech” energy can echo the velocity of the progress of digital technologies. It cannot.

"This paper turns to a different reality: all energy-producing machinery must be fabricated from materials extracted from the earth. No energy system, in short, is actually “renewable,” since all machines require the continual mining and processing of millions of tons of primary materials and the disposal of hardware that inevitably wears out. Compared with hydrocarbons, green machines entail, on average, a 10-fold increase in the quantities of materials extracted and processed to produce the same amount of energy.

Here’s the paper by Mark P. Mills: "Mines, Minerals and 'Green' Energy: A Reality Check."

It never seems to occur to the Reality-Based Community that in the real world one must think past “A, therefore B” to include many others letters of the alphabet as the variables pile up. In other words, if you think that by plugging your electric vehicle into a handy wall socket you’ve just put the fossil fuel and ancillary industries out of business while otherwise continuing your lifestyle and saving money to boot, think again.
As Mills points out, among the reality of “green energy” are:

* Building wind turbines and solar panels to generate electricity, as well as batteries to fuel electric vehicles, requires, on average, more than 10 times the quantity of materials, compared with building machines using hydrocarbons to deliver the same amount of energy to society.
* A single electric car contains more cobalt than 1,000 smartphone batteries; the blades on a single wind turbine have more plastic than 5 million smartphones; and a solar array that can power one data center uses more glass than 50 million phones.
* Replacing hydrocarbons with green machines under current plans—never mind aspirations for far greater expansion—will vastly increase the mining of various critical minerals around the world. For example, a single electric car battery weighing 1,000 pounds requires extracting and processing some 500,000 pounds of materials. Averaged over a battery’s life, each mile of driving an electric car “consumes” five pounds of earth. Using an internal combustion engine consumes about 0.2 pounds of liquids per mile.
* Oil, natural gas, and coal are needed to produce the concrete, steel, plastics, and purified minerals used to build green machines. The energy equivalent of 100 barrels of oil is used in the processes to fabricate a single battery that can store the equivalent of one barrel of oil.
* By 2050, with current plans, the quantity of worn-out solar panels—much of it nonrecyclable—will constitute double the tonnage of all today’s global plastic waste, along with over 3 million tons per year of unrecyclable plastics from worn-out wind turbine blades. By 2030, more than 10 million tons per year of batteries will become garbage.

Yeah, well, surely they’ve thought this whole “green” thing, right? 

Full post
7) John O'Sullivan: The Case of the Unknown Dosage
The Pipeline, 4 August 2020
This column is a second-hand mystery thriller on the lines of the Agatha Christie Poirot television series. 

It tells the story how a real-life scientific scandal that involved a Nobel Prize winner, great American and U.K. universities, the Manhattan Project, several expert U.S. government committees, and dirty work at the laboratory was exposed by an academic detective almost a hundred years after it was first committed. Maybe it’s a mystery that would be solved easily by Poirot or by anyone familiar with those civilized British murders which turn on how much arsenic was in the jam omelette. But no one knew there was a mystery to be solved. And even though billions of dollars may hang on their decision, the authorities have not yet agreed to re-open the case.
The Hercule Poirot in this case who’s seeking the truth, whatever the cost to distinguished reputations, is Edward J. Calabrese, Professor of Toxicology at the University of Massachusetts, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, at Amherst. As in the best thrillers, Professor Calabrese blundered into the scandal by accident when he attended a research conference that starred two different sets of elderly rats. He was struck by the difference in their appearance.

Some looked “remarkably healthy, showing a wonderfully shining coat of fur. They seemed to be in the prime of their adult life.” Others “looked unhealthy, very haggard, skinny, with very little fur, and that patchy and dull.”

Nothing odd there, you might think, because the study of the rats was being conducted to determine the effects of exposing them to high doses of background radiation, sometimes sixty per cent higher than the background radiation they had experienced throughout their lives. But something odd was there because the healthy, shiny-coated rats were the ones who had been subjected to massive doses of radiation while the ailing, haggard, and dull creatures were the control group living protected lives. And that comparison contradicted the orthodoxy of public health and regulatory authorities holding that any dosage of radiation, however small, was bound to inflict health damage on living creatures.

A dose a day keeps the doctor away.

That belief in turn was confined neither to scientists nor to health professionals but had spread throughout society to promote strong risk-averse attitudes across the board but especially on the topic of radiation because, like cancer, radiation was a silent killer that murdered us without our noticing.

Most of us might have reacted to the rats therefore  as if it were an anomaly we hadn’t yet detected with some such thought as “well, that’s odd, wonder what caused it, probably something in the water.” But chance favors the prepared mind, as Louis Pasteur once said, and Calabrese, who had written several books on the topic, looked at the data and concluded that it was hard to deny that radiation had exerted a positive healthy influence on the rats. And for him that meant the conventional theory had to be re-examined.

The theory he was challenging is described by Calabrese as follows: any dose of chemical carcinogen or ionizing radiation, no matter how low, has the potential to cause cancer and shorten our lives. He traces the origins of this theory back to 1920 and to a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Professor Hermann Joseph Muller, who in 1926 demonstrated that high doses of radiation could cause gene mutations in the fruit fly. That made him famous and won him the Nobel Prize in 1946.

But it was a limited scientific advance, and as interest in combating cancer grew, he sought to expand its application to consider the impact of X-rays on the health of the patients. He asked research students to test whether the gene mutation response was proportional to the dose of radiation administered in other cases. They found that it was. But the radiation dose was extremely high in their experiments—"hundreds of thousands to millions of times greater than background radiation.”

Rather than test what was the effect of very low doses of radiation, however, Muller extrapolated backwards or downwards to estimate the impact of such doses. He called these results the Proportionality Rule. And this linear no-threshold model or LNT (i.e., implying that there’s no threshold below which radiation is harmless or even beneficial) became over time the orthodox view—and so the basis of “precautionary” principles that sought to eliminate any risk whatever from radiation even at the cost of eliminating fuels and technologies beneficial to human flourishing.

It took time for the LNT to establish itself, however, because the LNT was controversial within medical science and because Muller and his colleagues found it hard to replicate the results in other experiments without heavy massaging of the data. In some cases Muller went beyond massaging data to outright misrepresenting it. When Muller received the Nobel Prize for his original research in 1946, he used his acceptance speech to claim that the “threshold model” had been definitively superseded by the LNT. As Calabrese says darkly in his essay in Reassessing Radiation Safety (The Global Warming Policy Foundation, London): “In effect, Muller deliberately deceived his audience in an effort to manipulate them into accepting his ideological perspective.”

That was a serious violation of the procedures and ethics of science. But it need not have been the end of the matter. There were many occasions after 1946 when the LNT theory was supposed to be reconsidered by different scientific authorities. Indeed, for more than half of his investigative essay, Calabrese is describing how on one occasion after another scientific authorities who ought to have discovered the errors underlying LNT failed to do so, from causes both shocking and comic. At one time Muller and a colleague successfully dismissed criticisms of their position because they knew the evidence against them was in research documents classified by the U.S. government and thus unavailable to reporters or the public.
From 1946 to the mid-nineties in Calabrese’s telling, the LNT becomes a plot device like Alfred Hitchcock’s McGuffin which, as it passes from hand to hand, escapes any number of threats of impending detection and discrediting until in 1995 an Oak Ridge genetics researcher in Tennessee discovers major irregularities in earlier researches that had apparently supported LNT. That leads to further investigations which themselves result in the conclusions that LNT was a mistake (even if its consequences remain to be buried), that those subjected to low-dose radiation did no worse than their control group, and that there was even a “hormetic” effect, i.e.,  low-dose radiation was beneficial, as with the rats which started Calabrese on his voyage of discovery.
Full post
8) And Finally: Does Optimism on Climate Change Make You Pro-Trump?
John Horgan, Scientific American, 4 August 2020
Apocalypse Never, a book by iconoclastic environmentalist Michael Shellenberger, triggers polarized responses

My views on climate change—and, more generally, on humanity’s future—have never been stable. Depending on what I’m reading, and perhaps shifts in my neural weather, I ricochet between optimism and dread.

Last spring I was feeling pretty glum about, well, everything when iconoclastic environmental activist Michael Shellenberger sent me a prepublication copy of his book Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.

Before I weigh in on the book, some background. Shellenberger is a controversial figure. For years, he has urged his fellow greens to adopt a more optimistic outlook, which he insists is more conducive to activism than fear. His influential 2007 book Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, co-written with his fellow activist Ted Nordhaus, accused environmentalists of being hostile to science, technology and economic progress.

We need economic and technological development to overcome climate change and other environmental threats, Shellenberger and Nordhaus insisted. People are unlikely to care about polar bears, they pointed out, when they’re worried about feeding their children. Shellenberger and Nordhaus also faulted the environmental movement for being reluctant to acknowledge its successes, as if doing so will foster complacency.
The book annoyed some greens, but I liked its can-do spirit, and I thought my students would too. So, in 2008 I invited Shellenberger and Nordhaus to speak at my school, Stevens Institute of Technology, and I gave them a $5,000 prize that I created, the Green Book Award. (I also gave the award to biologist Edward Wilson, oceanographer Sylvia Earle and climatologist James Hansen before my funding ran out.)

I chatted with Shellenberger on in 2008 and interviewed him and Nordhaus here at Scientific American in 2011. Later I attended conferences organized by their think tank, the Breakthrough Institute (see my reports here and here). These gatherings challenged conventional green thinking in ways that I found stimulating and healthy.

Some speakers critiqued the positions of Shellenberger and Nordhaus—for example, their support for nuclear energy. At a 2014 meeting, energy analyst Arnulf Grubler contended that nuclear power has a hard time competing with other energy sources, because, following a kind of reverse learning curve, its costs tend to rise over time. (Grubler lays out his arguments in this paper.)

Back to Shellenberger’s new book, Apocalypse Never. He asserts that human-induced climate change, while quite real, is less of a threat than many journalists and activists claim. He presents evidence that the risks of extreme weather events, wildfires and species extinction have been overblown, and that humanity is adapting to higher sea levels and temperatures.

In an online excerpt from his book, Shellenberger notes that according to a 2019 study death rates and economic damage from extreme weather events have “dropped by 80 to 90 percent during the last four decades.” He noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, estimates that by the end of this century “the global economy would be three to six times larger than it is today, and that the costs of adapting to a high (4 degrees Celsius) temperature rise would reduce gross domestic product (GDP) just 4.5 percent.” Shellenberger asked: “Does any of that really sound like the end of the world?”

Apocalypse Never cheered me up at a moment when I badly needed it. It serves as a counterweight to, for example, the claims of journalist David Wallace-Wells, a self-described alarmist. In his recent bestseller The Uninhabitable Earth Wallace-Wells contends, all too persuasively, that climate change is “worse, much worse, than you think” (see my review here).

Shellenberger asked if I’d write a blurb for his book, and I came up with this: “Apocalypse Never will make some green progressives mad. But I see it as a useful and even necessary counterpoint to the alarmism being peddled by some activists and journalists, including me. Let the arguments begin!” Shellenberger also got blurbs from heavyweights such as psychologists Steven Pinker and Jonathan Haidt and climate scientists Tom Wigley and Kerry Emanuel.

Apocalypse Never has indeed angered green progressives, as I predicted, and a mock “apology” with which Shellenberger promoted it unsettled some of his blurbers. The book has been criticized even by members of the Breakthrough Institute, which Shellenberger recently left. “While it is useful to push back against claims that climate change will lead to the end of the world or human extinction,” writes Zeke Hausfather, the institute’s director of climate and energy , “to do so by inaccurately downplaying real climate risks is deeply problematic and counterproductive.”

Conversely, the book has been praised in conservative media, such as the Daily Mail and the Wall Street Journal. In the latter, journalist John Tierney writes: “Mr. Shellenberger makes a persuasive case, lucidly blending research data and policy analysis with a history of the green movement and vignettes of people in poor countries suffering the consequences of ‘environmental colonialism.’” 

The polarized reactions to Shellenberger remind me of those to John Ioannidis, the Stanford epidemiologist who has warned that our reaction to COVID-19 might be overblown. People judge the claims of Shellenberger and Ioannidis based less on their actual merits than on their perceived political implications. Optimism, whether toward the pandemic or global warming, is viewed as a conservative, pro-Trump position. Now more than ever, political polarization makes it hard to have a rational argument about scientific issues.

Although I stand by my blurb for Apocalypse Never, parts of the book made me wince. Shellenberger argues so aggressively for nuclear power that a former colleague, Alex Trembath of the Breakthrough Institute, accuses him of “nuclear fetishism.” Shellenberger is so pro-nuclear that he even defends nuclear weapons. Dismissing the possibility of eliminating nuclear weapons, he suggests that they can serve as a memento mori, a reminder of death that makes us cherish our fleeting lives.

Shellenberger’s positions on nuclear energy and arms strike me as discordant with his optimism and faith in human ingenuity. If a nuclear-energy revival doesn’t happen in this country—and it probably won’t, not because of green opposition but because its up-front costs are too high—surely we will be smart enough to adapt, to fulfill our needs with other technologies. And surely we can find a way to get rid of nuclear weapons as part of a global movement toward demilitarization. In short, my main gripe with Shellenberger isn’t that he’s too optimistic; it’s that he’s not optimistic enough.

He and I recently talked on about climate change, nuclear energy, war, the Green New Deal and other issues, and he defended his positions energetically and eloquently. I urge readers to watch the video and check out his book and other writings. Please try to set aside your political biases before you jump to any conclusions.

The London-based Global Warming Policy Forum is a world leading think tank on global warming policy issues. The GWPF newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

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