Rising global temperatures is among the environmental issues addressed by Shellenberger in his book

Rising global temperatures is among the environmental issues addressed by Shellenberger in his book

Green  |  Focus On  |  Sustainability

The 'ecomodernist' perspective on the environmental issue

Technological innovation and economic growth can coexist alongside the ecological transition, accompanying and indeed supporting it, under the banner of a renewed humanism. Michael Shellenberger presents his divergent theory from traditional environmentalism in his book 'The Apocalypse Can Wait'

"I wrote this book because in recent years the discussion on climate change and the environment has gotten completely out of hand...": with these words, Michael Shellenberger, American author, justifies his reasons for writing his latest volume on the subject, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All. The book, published in the United States by Harper Collins embraces the 'eco-modernist' perspective, which thus advocates the so-called eco-economic decoupling thesis: by separating economic growth from environmental impacts, technological progress would be able to protect and defend nature, while ensuring a high quality of life for individual human beings. 

In the almost three hundred pages that make up this volume, Shellenberger addresses the most debated and commented upon environmental issues of recent years, proposing an alternative, less defeatist and emergency reading. The chapters are all devoted to environmental issues on the agenda: from the risk of extinction of living species to the use of plastics, from meat consumption to the increasing frequency of devastating fires, from rising global temperatures to the almost unequivocal use of fossil fuels. The author devotes to each of these topics a narrative aimed at demystifying the most tragic and distressing features, downplaying their significance without, however, falling into denialism.

Shellenberger's aim is to defend official science against this latest trend by taking some environmental problems usually portrayed as 'apocalyptic' and assessing them as 'serious but manageable'. The writer says he is tired of 'exaggerations, alarmism and extremism, which are the enemy of a positive, humanistic and rational environmentalism' of which he is a spokesman. Scientific data, independent academic research, reports from official bodies such as the IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations' intergovernmental group of experts on climate change - are cited in support of this ecomodernist view, defined by the author himself as a sort of "prevailing ethics, in a moral opposition between humanism, both secular and religious, and the anti-humanism of catastrophist environmentalism". 

Shellenberger emphasises how, in his 30 years as an activist, he has moved towards a dual purpose: protecting the environment while aiming to achieve the global well-being of the entire population. According to the author, it is indeed possible to safeguard the planet's natural ecosystems and biodiversity without curbing the economic growth of individual states. The solution would lie in technological innovation, capable of enabling a careful, intelligent and widespread use of the resources, especially energy resources, available, first and foremost the nuclear one. Environmental, energy and economic progress should not be interpreted as separate moments of development, but compose a single process with human input at the centre, capable not only of destroying nature but also of 'saving and defending it', in the name of that humanistic environmentalism embraced by Shellenberger.

Upon publication, the book provoked mixed reactions and certainly did not go unnoticed by critics and scholars alike for its divergent positions from traditional environmentalism. In general, the author has, however, been credited with bringing to the centre of the public debate, not only the most relevant environmental issues but also the very manner of the debate. "The global system is undergoing a transformation", Shellenberger concludes. “This brings new risks, but also new opportunities. The challenges ahead do not call for panic. With care, tenacity and, dare I say it, love, I believe we could tone down the extremism and deepen mutual understanding and respect”.

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