Snopes has published an article that claims that Apocalypse Never is being “challenged by scientists he cites.” The author, Alex Kasprak, claims scientists “say their work either refutes or is irrelevant to the broader points Shellenberger makes in his book.”
In fact, Kasprak quotes scientists who confirm several key claims of Apocalypse Never:
The most dramatic confirmation is around my debunking of the myth that humans are causing a “sixth mass extinction.” As background, Facebook censored my article announcing Apocalypse Never in part because an activist scientist writing for the web site Climate Feedback insisted humans were, in fact, causing a mass extinction. Kasprak quotes a scientist who admits that it would “require current rates to continue for several tens of thousands of years to reach the 75% species-level extinction characteristic of the ‘Big Five’” mass extinctions.
In response to my claim that “Preventing future pandemics requires more — not less — ‘industrial’ agriculture” Kasprak quotes a scientist who notes, “To the extent that agricultural intensification reduces pressure on wildlands, it can help reduce risk of future pandemics.”
And in response to my claim that ‘Most energy experts believe emissions in developing nations will peak and decline, just as they did in developed nations, once they achieve a similar level of prosperity,” Kasprak quotes a scientist saying, “it’s generally true that most energy experts expect developing countries’ emissions to peak and decline when they reach prosperity levels similar to the U.S.”
Elsewhere, Kasprak quotes scientists in ways that seem designed to be misleading. He quotes Amazon expert Dan Nepstad saying that his interview with me was “one of the most ill-advised interviews I ever gave.”
But Kasprak fails to note that Nepstad is upset not because I got any facts wrong but rather because I got them right.
In a long interview last year, Nepstad was shockingly candid with me about the harms perpetrated by the environmental NGO community in the Amazon, including how their efforts had contributed to the fragmentation of the rainforest.
Nepstad told me the day after our interview, after Forbes my article, that his colleagues in the philanthropic and NGO communities were upset by his comments. Notably, however, Nepstad did not request any corrections to my article in our conversation, nor has he since.
In response to Nepstad’s complaints last year, I published the transcript of our conversation on-line. Readers can see for themselves that I quoted Nepstad accurately.
Kasprak makes 17 false or misleading claims about Apocalypse Never, Environmental Progress, or me.
Kasprak falsely suggests Apocalypse Never makes accusations without evidence.
Kasprak writes, “Shellenberger… casts the demands of climate activists as oppositional to the economic needs of impoverished populations.”
In fact, Apocalypse Never describes at length how climate environmental activists have sought to restrict food and energy production in poor and developing nations.
The central drama of Apocalypse Never is how climate activists and renewables advocates have diverted World Bank funding from cheap and reliable sources of power like hydro-electric dams, which would benefit the book’s main heroine, Bernadette, a small farmer in the Congo.
2. Kasprak falsely claims that both Apocalypse Never and Environmental Progress promote nuclear energy above all other solutions to ending poverty and solving environmental problems.
Kasprak writes that Environmental Progress “was ‘founded to achieve two goals: lift all humans out of poverty, and save the natural environment,’ its website reads. “These goals can be achieved by mid-century — but only if we remove the obstacles to cheap, reliable and clean energy.” Nuclear energy is that solution, Shellenberger has long advocated.”
In fact, both Environmental Progress’ web site and the central argument of Apocalypse Never is that energy, environmental, and moral progress are united, e.g., that hydro-electric dams and coal are better than burning wood and dung, that natural gas is better than burning coal, and that nuclear is better than natural gas.
Kasprak either didn’t read Apocalypse Never, didn’t understand it, or chose to deliberately misrepresent it.
3. Kasprak falsely claims there was something misleading about including the decline of fires globally as part of a list of “climate alarmism.”
Kasprak misinterprets my inclusion of the fact that fires have declined 25% around the world since 2003 as my somehow challenging the severity of climate change, but I wasn’t, and indeed had made clear that it was a list of “some facts few people know” and not about climate change.
Kasprak writes, “As evidence regarding the severity of climate change, as fact-checkers pointed out, the fire statistic is useless.” I agree, of course, and never claimed otherwise.
After Kasprak told me that people might draw that conclusion and I, attempting to open-minded, said, “Now that you’ve unpacked it for me,” he said, “I could see why that is possible” for somebody to think that.
I was being nice. I don’t think anybody reading the text should draw that conclusion for the simple fact that I had said, quite specifically, that they were a list of “some facts few people know” and not a set of facts about why climate change isn’t severe or even about climate change.
4. Kasprak falsely claims, “Shellenberger places habitat loss and climate change as two largely unlinked threats to biodiversity.”
In reality I discuss the relationship several times in the book, including around the threats to the yellow-eyed penguin of New Zealand, one of the signature endangered species examined in the book.
5. Having acknowledged that Apocalypse Never is correct to debunk the “sixth mass extinction” myth, Kasprak falsely suggests that Apocalypse Never does not recognize habitat loss as a serious problem.
In fact, the book argues explicitly and repeatedly that it is, and indeed that the loss of habitat is a serious environmental problem and is being obscured by climate and extinction alarmism
Kasprak suggests there is something wrong by me not quoting a scientist saying “our results must not lead to complacency about extinction due to habitat loss, which is a real and growing threat,” but there was no point.
Apocalypse Never makes clear that we should not be complacent and that we should focus on habitat loss, not extinction when it comes to conservation. Kasprak falsely suggests that Apocalypse Never argues the opposite.
Kasprak further constructs a strawman of my position when he quotes scientists saying that “the failings of the species-area relationship are ‘not really very relevant to most contemporary conservation issues,’” “that increasing biodiversity in some areas, like islands, does not tell us anything about global extinction rates,” that “it is similarly problematic to use an increase in tree species in Europe as evidence against high levels of contemporary extinction.” But I don’t disagree with the scientists Kasprak quotes and never suggested otherwise.
6. Kasprak falsely suggests that I deny elevated extinction rates and confuse ecological and evolutionary thinking.
Writes Kasprak, “Thomas, who is the author of the paper Shellenberger cites regarding the increase in tree species in Europe, told Snopes by email that Shellenberger’s framing ‘mixes up ecological and evolutionary thinking,’ and that on a global scale, ‘there is no doubt that current rates of extinction are elevated.’” But nowhere in Apocalypse Never did I do either, and Kasprak, tellingly, provides no evidence that I did.
7. Kasprak misrepresents Apocalypse Never as an “optimistic” book of “philosophy.”
I use neither term to describe my views. Those words suggest that I merely make assertions of environmental progress when in fact the book contains hundreds of studies from leading scientific institutions and peer-reviewed journals.
Kasprak writes, “A large part of Shellenberger’s philosophy includes optimism in technology’s ability to lift populations out of poverty — specifically in the area of farming and food production.”
Apocalypse Never documents how, around the world, high living standards are achieved through industrialization of agriculture and manufacturing. This is hardly controversial among anyone other than the Malthusian activist scientists I explicitly criticize in Apocalypse Never.
8. Kasprak falsely claims that “Shellenberger explicitly conflates oxygen and the savanification concept.”
In 2019, after my article for Forbes upon which the Amazon chapter in Apocalypse Never is based, Nepstad complained to Mongabay, an activist web site, and again to Kasprak, that I didn’t write about the risk of deforestation leading to “savanification,” which is the transformation of rainforest into a savanna.
Nepstad is not suggesting a factual error, he is only raising an issue he wishes I had raised. But his point is irrelevant. The entire point of the chapter in the Amazon is to argue for a way to meet both human needs and protect as much for the rainforest as possible. I didn’t need to add another reason to save the rainforest, which is the goal that I and I assume my readers all share. The question is how.
Kasprak claims that “many scientists view” savanification as “the central concern regarding Amazon deforestation” but offers no evidence for this claim beyond quoting Nepstad. Indeed, for many other scientists, “the central concern” is loss of habitat and the fragmentation of habitat.
9. Kasprak falsely suggests that I am unconcerned about the impact of meat production.
Kasprak notes that I wrote, in my article announcing Apocalypse Never, that “The amount of land we use for meat — humankind’s biggest use of land — has declined by an area nearly as large as Alaska.”
Writes Kasprak, “It is true, based on data provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), that the amount of land used for meat has been declining and has, since 2000, ben reduced by an area comparable to 80% the size of Alaska. “That said,” wrote Hausfather, “there are large climate impacts of meat consumption apart from land use, and growing meat consumption is still driving deforestation in areas like the Amazon even as overall pasture use shrinks.”
Kasprak quotes Hausfather as though what he said somehow contradicts Apocalypse Never but it doesn’t. In four separate chapters of Apocalypse Never I address the impact of deforestation in destroying habitat, including in the Amazon but also in New Zealand and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
10. Kasprak uncritically quotes a scientist falsely asserting that “the industrial food system is effectively a poverty-generating machine.”
Industrial agriculture has played a major role in lifting nations out of poverty by reducing the share of the population that must farm from over 80 percent in poor nations to just two percent in rich ones. The notion that the industrialization of agriculture drove economic growth is only controversial among Malthusian scientists, several of whom are debunked in Apocalypse Never, and in ways that Kasprak never addresses.
11. Kasprak falsely suggests there might be some better way to determine whether or not natural disasters have become “worse” than death toll or property damage, even though that is how IPCC and others define disasters.
Kasprak quotes scientists suggesting that the 92 percent decline in deaths might have been even lower had temperatures not risen 1 degree, but if so we will never know. Huge reductions in deaths outweighed any increase in deaths from more forceful disasters.
Could future temperature increases reverse the trend of declining mortality? Perhaps, but the IPCC doesn’t predict that happening. That’s partly because — again — we are so much better at protecting people from natural disasters, climate-fueled or not.
To take just one example, France in 2006 had 4,000 fewer deaths from a heat wave than anticipated thanks to improved health care, an early-warning system and greater public consciousness in response to a deadly heat wave three years earlier.
Even poor, climate-vulnerable nations like Bangladesh saw deaths decline massively thanks to low-cost weather surveillance and warning systems and storm shelters.
12. Kasprak falsely claims that, “In terms of the economic argument, Shellenberger relies almost entirely on the work of Roger Pielke Jr.”
In fact, I point to the IPCC and FAO for the “economic argument” not just around disasters but climate change’s impact overall. Here are some examples:
“Food production, the FAO finds, will depend more on access to tractors, irrigation, and fertilizer than on climate change, just as it did in the last century. The FAO projects that even farmers in the poorest regions today, like sub-Saharan Africa, may see 40 percent crop yield increases from technological improvements alone.”
“Similarly, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization concludes that food production will rise 30 percent by 2050 except if a scenario it calls Sustainable Practices is adopted, in which case it would rise 20 percent. Technological change significantly outweighs climate change in every single one of FAO’s scenarios.”
“Researchers with the Peace Research Institute Oslo note, ‘Demographic and environmental variables have a very moderate effect on the risk of civil conflict.’ The IPCC agrees. “There is robust evidence of disasters displacing people worldwide, but limited evidence that climate change or sea level rise is the direct cause.’”
“In its fourth assessment report, the IPCC projected that by 2100, 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.”
13. Kasprak falsely claims that “Allowing developing nations access to some form of fossil fuel-based energy as a bridge, at least in the scientific community, is not as controversial as Shellenberger suggests.”
In fact, as I document at length, activist scientists, United Nations agencies, environmental NGOs, and center-left parties have effectively forced World Bank and other banks to divert lending from cheap and reliable energy sources like hydroelectric dams and natural gas power plants to expensive and unreliable ones like solar panels and industrial wind turbines.
14. Kasprak falsely suggests I am unconcerned about rising carbon emissions and climate change.
Kasprak quotes a scientist who, in response to my observation that global emissions will soon peak, says, “that’s not really saying much, because they could increase their emissions a hell of a lot before they get there.” But I discuss rising emissions at length, and what to do about them.
15. Kasprak falsely suggests that I suggest there is no difference between and two and three-degree temperature rise and falsely claims that it is not possible for temperatures to rise just two degrees.
My exact quote was “global temperatures today appear much more likely to peak at between two to three degrees centigrade over pre-industrial levels, not four, where the risks … are significantly lower.” I am not predicting temperatures will only rise two degrees and rather took that number from the IPCC’s climate sensitivity range.
16. Kasprak wrongly credits climate alarmism for declining emissions
Kasprak writes, With regard to the reduced emissions, Shellenberger rejects that ‘climate alarmism’ deserves credit for the reductions. In Apocalypse Never, he writes, ‘Can we credit thirty years of climate alarmism for these reductions in emissions? We can’t.’”
Kasprak fails to quote the rest of the passage, which read, “Total emissions from energy in Europe’s largest countries, Germany, Britain, and France, peaked in the 1970s, thanks mostly to the switch from coal to natural gas and nuclear — technologies that McKibbben, Thunberg, AOC, and many climate activists adamantly oppose.
Kasprak goes on to quote an activist scientist who asserts, without evidence, that energy efficiency and renewables, not nuclear and natural gas, are responsible for the big emissions declines. I debunk both claims in Apocalypse Never. Kasprak either didn’t actually read the book, didn’t remember or understand it, or is deliberately misrepresenting it.
17. Kasprak falsely suggests I am unconcerned about the coronavirus pandemic and that the pandemic is a good metaphor for climate change.
Kasprak suggests I writes, “it bears mentioning that the country hit worst by the COVID-19 pandemic at the time of this reporting is the United States, a notably developed nation whose leaders initially downplayed the severity of the threat.”
Kasprak’s observation has nothing to do with Apocalypse Never and suggests that I am broadly unconcerned about the problems of the world, whether coronavirus or the Amazon. Nothing could be further from the truth. I wrote Apocalypse Never to draw attention to problems I felt were being overlooked by climate alarmism. Moreover, I have been a “pandemic alarmist,” raising the alarm in February about the coronavirus and writing several pieces arguing for a strong state, federal, and global action.
Kasprak’s suggestion that climate change and the coronavirus pandemic are similar betrays his partisan and tribal orientation. One is a slow-moving event we have been studying for 120 years requiring energy transitions taking hundreds of years. The other was a fast-moving event requiring radical societal action within days.