Some like Shellenberger have the courage and profile to stand up to this ill-educated, ill-bred mob and prevail. But for the average person, including academics, it’s flat-out terrifying. So they stand mute and trembling as the tumbril passes by.
It’s big news when somebody prominent apologizes for being badly wrong on a major public matter, promises to do better going forward and urges others to do the same, right? Unless the person commits heresy like, say, Michael Shellenberger.
In case you missed it, and they did their best to make sure you did, Shellenberger is an excruciatingly woke environmentalist and progressive. By his own account “At 17, I lived in Nicaragua to show solidarity with the Sandinista socialist revolution. At 23 I raised money for Guatemalan women’s co-operatives. In my early 20s I lived in the semi-Amazon doing research with small farmers fighting land invasions. At 26 I helped expose poor conditions at Nike factories in Asia.”
His environmentalist credentials are equally solid beginning with raising money for Rainforest Action Network at 16. But in cancel culture, all that is solid melts into air … with a little help from a match. Including Shellenberger’s remarkable cri de coeur in Forbes starting “On behalf of environmentalists everywhere, I would like to formally apologize for the climate scare we created over the last 30 years. Climate change is happening. It’s just not the end of the world. It’s not even our most serious environmental problem.”
Sorry. Did I say “in Forbes?” Alas, if you go there now you get a terse “This page is no longer active. We regret any inconvenience.” In the fast-vanishing spirit of fair play, I contacted Forbes to see if it was just a technical glitch. Nyet, tovarisch.
Their initial wary response asked “the angle of your column” and suggested “a brief call for us to connect.” I retorted that “the ‘angle’ of my column has no bearing on the reasons for your decision” and asked bluntly “Was it because you discovered a factual error? Because of protests from subscribers? Because of protests from within the organization? Because something in it struck you as legally problematic? It’s a pretty major decision. I assume someone fairly senior in the organization took it, and that this person knows why. Please ask them, and tell me what they said.”
Their reply, which would make a seasoned politician or bureaucrat blush, read, in its entirety, “You can attribute the below statement to a Forbes spokesperson. Forbes requires its contributors to adhere to strict editorial guidelines. This story did not follow those guidelines, and was removed.”
I responded tartly: “Thanks. But obviously this statement raises fresh questions, particularly: 1. Which guidelines did it not follow? 2. In what way did it not follow them? 3. How often do you remove a story for violating those guidelines?”
As you may imagine, that inquiry went down the memory hole. I won’t say I became a non-person because I think I was one already. But Shellenberger sure did.
Except he didn’t, because for all its faults the internet is a really lousy place to hide things. People archived the piece (here for instance). And Shellenberger’s new book, Apocalypse Never, is Amazon’s “#1 Best Seller in Climatology.”
Since you can read it for yourself despite Forbes’ craven hypocrisy, I won’t spend much time on the column’s contents, including statements like “Climate change is not making natural disasters worse.” But let me quote one highly pertinent part.
“Until last year, I mostly avoided speaking out against the climate scare. Partly that’s because I was embarrassed. After all, I am as guilty of alarmism as any other environmentalist. For years, I referred to climate change as an ‘existential’ threat to human civilization, and called it a ‘crisis.’ But mostly I was scared.”
Yes. Scared. “I remained quiet about the climate disinformation campaign because I was afraid of losing friends and funding. The few times I summoned the courage to defend climate science from those who misrepresent it I suffered harsh consequences. And so I mostly stood by and did next to nothing as my fellow environmentalists terrified the public.”