‘Environmentalism is a false god for lost souls’

Michael Shellenberger talks to Brendan O’Neill about Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and the myth of the Amazon fires.

Michael Shellenberger, founder of Environmental Progress, joins spiked’s editor for the latest episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show. They discuss the apocalypticism of the environmental movement, the drawbacks of renewables, and how green opposition to nuclear power is hurting the fight against climate change.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Mike Atkinson

16th November 2019 at 10:16 am

Agenda 21 is one of key docs that dictates the IPCC’s etc behaviour.
Principle 15 of Agenda 21, the UN plan for the 21st century that enshrines this precautionary concept. In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
If any ‘approved’ person or group raises a concern about anything, it’s up others to prove they are wrong, not them to prove they’re right. Complete antithesis of the scientific principle.

Lord Anubis

17th November 2019 at 9:06 pm

Back when the Black Death struck, everybody knew that the disease was spread by witches. Since it was also well known that Cats (Particularly Black ones) were witches familiars. As an example of medieval “Precautionary Principle”, Cats were rounded up and slaughtered in great numbers.

Doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons doesn’t just run the risk of being ineffective and/or a waste of resources, It can actually make things worse.

David Britten

12th November 2019 at 11:14 am

The problem with Michael Shellenberger is the kind of things he says are usually fairly true but they don’t give you the full understanding.
So Nuclear energy is a good one.
What would happen if we moved over entirely to nuclear energy. So currently nuclear energy provide 14% of global electricity supply at this rate we have approximately 135 years of fuel reserves. Say we convert to 90% nuclear and 10% renewable. Well that drops us to 21 years, not even the lifespan of the reactors we are building. Even at 50% takes up to around 37 years. Even with the best cost benefit analysis this is not going to prove to be worthwhile investing in a large uranium based nuclear fission program. Now if we invested in a Thorium reactor program 20 years ago we might be on a better footing for nuclear.
However cost benefit is far in favour of renewables with investment in power storage. It’s safer and once we finally get fusion it’s easier to dismantle and remove the impact.

His comments on fires and storms are cherry picked and again not entirely correct.

Winston Stanley

12th November 2019 at 12:56 am

Agreed, “is” statements cannot be deduced from “ought” statements, a conclusion can contain only terms present in the premises. There is no “moral truth”, “truth” is a relation of accordance between a proposition and some entity in the world and there is no “ought” in the world, as Hume points out. All morality is “will to power” as FN puts it. The “good” is defined in the Scholastic philosophy as the “proper object of the will”, or better, it is what you want according to your instincts your sentiments and your social training, as Hume explains. Some objects we naturally incline toward like a good meal, or health, according to our instincts, and some things we either care about or we do not, according to our sentiments. Ultimately we do not have to care about anything, even about what is natural to us, and thus our radical freedom. It is for us to decide. BON was really on the ropes in that show, morality has no rational basis, it is “irrational” or non-rational. It has some basis in the will and some in reason in so far as reason may plot a course to show us how to get what we want. Reason cannot tell us what we want in the first place, only free will, influenced by instinct and sentiment, can do that. Of course “free will” is an illusion and it is better to speak of the autonomous will. We are “free” in so far as we make our own decision, which is not to imply that we “could have” made a different one, given our personality structure, dispositions and motives. The “good” is an act of will, it is subjective and it is a pretence to present it as objective or inherent to the nature of things. Morality is thus a lie. Anyways.

Winston Stanley

13th November 2019 at 4:52 am

* Agreed, “OUGHT” statements cannot be deduced from “is” statements


Winston Stanley

11th November 2019 at 11:48 pm

Hmmm, veganism is another religious tendency that is common among environmentalist types – ritual food purity. Many religions have it, eg. pork, halal, k osher, Hindus and Buddhists with vegetarianism etc. Christianity has some vegan tendencies, as in the old monasteries. The idea is that veganism was the original, pure, divinely ordained diet before the Fall, when the original couple were beguiled by the talking snake and ate of a forbidden apple, after which meat was allowed. Which seems an odd punishment, now they get to have a bbq, but it is a very odd story. Can you Adam and Eve it?

> And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food.
Now the snake was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
… Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.

bf bf

11th November 2019 at 11:20 am

XR et al. are about “feels” not facts. You can not reason with the unreasonable.
FACTS like:-
1. CO2 is only 0.04% of the atmosphere.
2. Increases in CO2 FOLLOW increases in earth temperature.
3. CO2 has been many many times the current level in the distant past with no run away “greenhouse” effect.
4. It was hotter in the 1930s than it is now.(using raw data from NOAA etc)

Jerry Owen

11th November 2019 at 12:40 pm

The points you raise are simple and valid, and cannot be disproven so they are ignored, I make the same points here over and over again.
We actually need more CO2
Some more info that no XR goof will challenge :-
Wales hottest day ever .. 1990.
Scotland’s hottest day ever 2003.
Ireland’s hottest day ever 1887 yup 1887 !

Jim Lawrie

11th November 2019 at 10:30 am

Their pontificating demeanour of the environmentalist marries well with the veggies’ superiority complex.
Their success in attacking nuclear power has stymied our progress in that field of engineering nd science to the extent that we are now being led by the Chinese and Russians. In the event of a revival, it is there for the winning.

In Sweden, the referendum decision 40 years ago to phase out nuclear power has been quietly shelved as The Swedes began to experience the cost of it. They have lost 50 years and are no longer at the forefront of developments in nuclear energy. The last poll done in March this year showed 66% in favour of nuclear energy. So the prophet Greta is not hailed in her own land.
Energy security was a factor in their thinking. Sweden has it own uranium. Attempts in 2018 by a minority in Parliament to engineer a ban on uranium mining are not what the Swedish people want and they certainly did not mandate this.

The 2019 poll – What is your opinion on the future of nuclear power in Sweden? (201903);

Cut off nuclear power completely: 19 percent
Maintain current nuclear power: 31 percent
Maintain and expand nuclear power: 35 percent
Doubtful, do not know: 14 percent

The results of the 2017 poll;

Dismantle nuclear power as soon as possible: 14 percent
Decommission nuclear power, but utilize the ten reactors we have until they have served: 44 percent
Use nuclear power and replace the current reactors with at most ten new ones: 17 percent
Use nuclear power and build more reactors than the current ten in the future: 9 percent
No opinion/don’t know: 16 percent.

BTW Swedes burn a lot of trees. The result of cutting them down, and the byproduct not suitable for paper, construction or furniture, or sometimes just surplus to requirements.

Tim Hare

11th November 2019 at 2:00 am

If environmentalism is wrong then say exactly what is wrong with it. Present a counter argument based on science and reason. Deriding the supporters of environmentalism and comparing them to religious zealots is petty. Surely there are better ways to respond to this apparent disagreement .

brent mckeon

11th November 2019 at 6:59 am

They are not saying environmentalism is wrong just worried about the ruling elites ‘nazi’ methods and how to solve the problems. By shutting up dissenting voices (what about diversity?) and shifting billions from the poor to the rich and powerful solves nothing.

Jim Lawrie

11th November 2019 at 9:20 am

It is for the environmentalist to prove their case, not for us to disprove it. The podcast demonstrates amply that environmentalists are not interested in solutions that eliminate the cornerstones of their grievance system. They do like to put a scientific veneer on their beliefs, but refuse to engage with real science. They are venomous towards the likes of Mr Sheeleneger, who having looked at the data, have changed their minds.
How else are we to treat them if they refuse debate and just scream irrationality?

Tim Hare

11th November 2019 at 11:53 am

“How else are we to treat them if they refuse debate and just scream irrationality?”

Ignore them. Insulting them and deriding them just brings you down to their level.

Jim Lawrie

11th November 2019 at 3:18 pm

Fair enough Tim. I occasionally have to socialise with some educated Scandinavian ones. It is an effort not to choke them.

Jerry Owen

11th November 2019 at 9:29 am

Tim Hare
You clearly don’t read much on this site, counter arguments or rather arguments (as you offer no science for your cause ) against environmentalism have been posted here with abundance, just go back through the articles history, I have posted many myself.
I asked another of your fellow AGWists the other where is the little ice age and medieval warm period shown in Michael Mann’s infamous hockey stick graph ?
he hasn’t come back to me. Maybe you can help.

Tim Hare

11th November 2019 at 11:57 am

Of course I did not include you in my general comments!
The headline of the piece calls environmentalists lost souls and seekers of false Gods. That is a put down and an attempt to belittle them. Don’t you agree?

Graham Woodford

11th November 2019 at 2:27 pm

Sorry I hadn’t replied to your post. I couldn’t be bothered, mainly because it’s clear that people who continue to raise (discredited) supposed counter arguments against the overwhelming reality of climate change evidently aren’t open to rational, scientific evidence. It’s not ‘environmentalism’ that in BO’s equally ‘rational’ opposition is ‘nuts’, but a refusal to read and understand the evidence. I suggest you go and do that rather than read crank websites and people, especially non-scientific journalists with no understanding of the subject, with a rather different agenda to the scientific evidence.

Jerry Owen

11th November 2019 at 3:25 pm

Graham Woodford
Give us the science .. we are still waiting ?

Jerry Owen

11th November 2019 at 4:59 pm

Graham Woodford
I asked you on another thread to explain the missing medieval warm period and little ice age on Michael Mann’s hockey stick graph, as it appears to be missing. Can you tell us what happened to them ?

Jeremy Bonington-Jagworth

25th November 2019 at 2:53 pm

Jerry Owen, Graham Woodford can’t give you an answer about the missing medieval warm period and little ice age on Michael Mann’s hockey stick graph, as his data and methodology appear to be missing.

Remember he only recently gave up stalling over them after eight years of a court trying to get him to tell us what happened to them!

He can’t and won’t release them despite the Global Warmers insisting they’ve been in the public domain since even before the first ClimateGate scandal.

So Dr Ball’s accusation that Mann should be in the State Pen not Penn State must be true!

Jeremy Bonington-Jagworth

25th November 2019 at 2:44 pm

“Deriding the supporters of environmentalism and comparing them to religious zealots is petty.”

It’s also a pretty accurate comparison and should therefore give you food for thought.

“The headline of the piece calls environmentalists lost souls and seekers of false Gods.”

A pretty reasonable argument given the above.

“That is a put down and an attempt to belittle them.”

And that is clearly mind-reading, or perhaps you use a crystal ball? Tarot?! Chicken entrails?!?!

Came to you in a vision?!?!?!

Perhaps there’s more to this religion parallel than you thought!

H McLean

10th November 2019 at 11:31 pm

This was a first class conversation. It the climate change conversation Shellenberger is a rare voice of measured reasonableness and sanity.

Dominic Straiton

10th November 2019 at 9:28 pm

The Greenham common women were still encamped long after the nuclear weapons had left. The left has no answers . They have protest, anger and failed miserable lives.

Mister Joshua

10th November 2019 at 9:43 pm

Well, their lives would be “failed and miserable” if they didn’t have jobs in academia and in government, courtesy of your hard work and taxes.

It’s long past time that we of the West – no matter which country we live in – start demanding our governments stop bankrolling this filth. Whether you have a congressman, member of parliament, or whatever, demand that all academic budgets be slashed by a minimum of 50% until the universities once are open to free speech, true debate, and are committed to the free and open exchange of ideas… even ideas the academic commissars don’t like.

This should have happened 50 years ago. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

Jeremy Bonington-Jagworth

25th November 2019 at 2:58 pm

Surely as the “science is settled”, in fact has been for over a century, we should be switching ALL the $TRILLIONS in grant funding from these Climate Social “Scientists” to proper ideology-free engineers and economists to research the solutions?!

And closing down the MMGW Studies departments and “Research” Institutes!

Brian Steere

10th November 2019 at 9:07 pm

Lots of good points.
Workability rising from an honest accounting of what is – rather than what we might wish it to be.
This is the core of spirituality – not belief systems.
However the way of damning those with condescension may not have been intended as such – but the counterpoint to a perceived arrogance can so easily be arrogant and this reactive mind is the easy bait to manipulators.
No mention of manipulative intent – as if all these political social shifts just happen.
Malthusian self-hate along with guilt for human existence that abnegates self to a deified victim – that is both Nature AND extinction, has been persistently propagandised through blanket media messaging as what can be seen as the creating of the Green movement. While this SEEMS to reek of ‘conspiracy theory’ it cant be because its all open fact.
Anyone who – unplugs from the ‘messaging’ or breaks the spell so as to read what its payload is – can simply observe. But like with a phishing ruse and identity theft – once we identify by emotional reaction we are ‘in’ the frame of the narrative and see or interpret in its terms.
So there is also an open network and trail of money and concerted influence to engineer society across the spectrum – and with technological extension fitted to both energy control and behavioural or thought control the prize may be irresistible to attempt – if only because NO ONE ELSE should get it – and that does bring up the issue of who gets to set the narratives or beliefs that effectively frame our sense of self and world. Clearly you are sovereign and it is up to you what you accept as true of you and so align in and step forth. But of course that is not clear, nor generally desired – or rather the true desire is associated with deep fears or separation trauma – we all have or we wouldn’t be here. So there are a number of references to patterns of self-sabotage that fit into this and merely judging that in others is still part of the pattern that puts down in order to self-justify. Learning to stand and extend who we are without justification or apology must of course be the extension of that freedom to others. I uncover these issues as part of a self-integrity that isn’t earned or lost so much as aligned in or lost sight of. Because What Is – is not as we manufacture or judge it but includes our awareness of existence as well as the capacity to notice wishful thinking given power or a sense of dissonance that speaks of our need to be fully present rather than reactive. So moral action is not about getting so much as giving and receiving in a true worth – which may be a recognition of another’s will as their freedom to choose and learn by consequence even when they choose to abnegate choice under a loss of full awareness to triggered fears that may be not at all in their current capacity of acceptance and so its no point increasing their fear and losing a channel of communication.

As I mentioned I see a shift from the old financial and political system to an energy currency – not in any pure sense but through false flagging CO2 as a threat to life on Earth, as a lever to set up global regulatory structures and enforcements on energy use – which uses the IoT and therefore control of terrestrial space.
While on the one hand world domination can seem a mad dream that only maniacal villains fail at in movies – it is simply the operation of the control mentality as a hidden hand working us all – because we reach for or invoke and give allegiance to ‘control’ in the sense I am using it – when we are triggered in fear (and fear’s progeny such as hate, shame, vengeance, heartbreak, rage, powerlessness etc).
Narrative control is not a willingness to look and listen and feel and notice and be curious – but a reaction to a past onto a present that is not seen excepting as framed by a past that we may have no awareness of any process – because we just reacted from learned habit.

As to Unclear power. No mention of Fukushima and of myriad leakages in USA.
I do wonder at whether radioactivity is a modern bogey man or boundary condition – as wildlife thrives without issue in Chernobyl. The need for radioactive horror may be greater than the willingness to heal (releasing grievance etc). Nuclear power has always meant an endless police state in my imagination. Although some of the results of the Safire Project hold a possible path to shorten the process of radiocative decay considerably. That brings me back to energy monopoly – and it is the suppression of rivals or changes that undermine control – UNLESS they are a token sacrifice into a deeper and more systemic capture – which I how I see AGW being leveraged. There could be so many new ways of energy generation – as well as more qualitatively aligned ways of living that do not draw on cultivated dependencies of a captive food source for corporate consumption. But the ‘Top Down canopy’ that I see embodied is not just on energy use but of regulatory captures and replacement algorithms that rule out freedom to live and learn by living a truly human culture, by the imposition of an increasingly monocultured human stock or systemic replacement of a kind of technocracy for any process of relational communication. All working via guilt and fear in a like manner to the weaponisation of climate – which of course can and does include life threatening events and challenges. And which we could address by adapting rather than engaging in futility.
There is a negative synergy of toxicities that are completely sidelined – and which are able to be persisted in without being held accountable. These have very tragic consequences – but are corporately airbrushed or plausibly denied.
I find opening awareness to some of what is really going on as a negative or denial agenda is potentially crushing – and so that becomes the recognition of the overriding need to be present, turn up and be curious as to what is true and how to act or align in what I now know or have opened in myself. This I see as an awakening responsibility for consciousnes – and is the counterpoint to a mind-capture of an emotionally reactive displacement and dissociation.
Finding these in myself is part of making or accepting a real choice rather than a self-reinforcing identification. We then start to meet in the resonance of who we are in a sense living up to – not in terms of a ‘should’ but without denying ourselves under all kinds of old scripts.
So reagrdless all the different facets here – we are in a realm of unfolding self-knowledge from which we can learn, change and grow. Most economic progress has been an inflation running ahead of its debts. the drive of the ‘control’ mind is also the attempt to escape a true reckoning by all and any means and therefore at any cost. But a true reckoning is the restoring of sanity and balance if it is brought to truth rather than usurped as if dealing out vengeance.
There are aspects to the evolution of consciousness and its world that are invisible because we think the world evolves and we only have a history of ideas in a world that otherwise hasn’t much changed over millennia or more. We do not recognise the ideas we live out from – and in trying to manipulate them will bring more to light than we expect. I see apocalypse as a self-revealing under compression in which dissonances can no longer be hidden or put out. Illusions can be that which simply isn’t workable because it isn’t shareable. I don’t mean as in sharing a cake – but in terms of coherent communication Fear may be contagious but it doesn’t truly share and need the enemy in order to seem to unite. Owned fears become a sort of calling or receptive that can also be simply true desire recognised.

Mister Joshua

10th November 2019 at 6:24 pm

He’s right about much of what he says, but it won’t make a g-damn bit of difference. We’re talking about years of failed climate predictions, and decades of falsity, a record that would make ‘end of days’ rapturists blush.


Religious fanaticism appears in all ages. Be worried. These people now dominate ALL our universities, their dogma is preached in ALL our schools, pop culture has embraced this, too, IN TOTALITY. No amount of reason, facts, or faith in the scientific method will change anything. You can’t reason with religious zealotry.

He’s right that Nietzsche diagnosed the mindset of the moralizer. But again, when the moralizers run the universities don’t expect Nietzsche’s diagnosis to get recognized.

The host mentioned how much environmentalism echos his traditional Catholicism. That’s right, too. The left is so uncreative and lacking in original thinking all it can do is revive the old moralisms and themes of Revelation. Nietzsche also said “God is dead, but his shadow will live on for 1000 years.

Brian Steere

10th November 2019 at 9:14 pm

Yes – its not about being right so much as aligning in who you are.

That has a sense of ‘rightness’ that can and does extend to others. Living our freedom to be who we are is also sharing or teaching by example. To do this any way – is to live the life that is yours to share in. there are always different ways to look on our world – and we can dispirit ourselves even without all the reason ‘out there’

Things do fall apart – and when they do it may be long and drawn out or suddenly all over in a way no one could have foreseen. Live this day well.

Trying to make a difference can be the protection of the problem from being addressed where it is.

Gerard Barry

11th November 2019 at 9:00 am

“The host mentioned how much environmentalism echos his traditional Catholicism.”

The funny thing is, environmentalists are usually secular types who tend to mock those with traditional, conservative Christian beliefs, failing to see that they are much more fanatical and dogmatic than those they are making fun of. The same applies to those who subscribe to all sorts of modern PC ideology.

Gareth Edward KING

10th November 2019 at 2:54 pm

Michael Shellenberger is just so spot on in so many ways (he’s also an extremely charming Californian to boot). In Spain there’s a need for a critical voice in a country with so few obvious fuel resources which has clothed the northern Ebro Valley (Bardenas, Navarre) with wind propellers which so obviously take up too much land and which result in the immediate death of enormous birds of prey on a protected list (‘Quebrantahuesos’=buzzards). Spanish electricity bills are amongst the highest in the EU (four times what they are in Germany) due in part to the electricity imported from across the Pyrenees in France, which of course, produces its electricity needs through nuclear fusion. The PSOE is aiming to close the two remaining nuclear power plants and for what purpose?

Mike Ellwood

11th November 2019 at 1:59 am

Erm, I think you mean nuclear fission, i.e. what we have been producing power with since around the mid to late 1950s (along with fossil fuels, of course).

Power from nuclear fusion is still some way off….some would say a long way off.

There is a nuclear fusion research programme going on in southern France, at ITER, Cadarache. This is an international co-operation on a huge scale, and will eventually replace the work that has been going on at the JET project (a European collaboration) in the UK. But it’s still only a research project.

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