Michael Shellenberger’s pro-nuclear lobby group ‘Environmental Progress’

Michael Shellenberger ‒ Self-confessed liar; Dangerous promoter of worldwide nuclear weapons proliferation; Supports abolition of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Darling of the dishonest, far-right Murdoch media.

In this webpage:

A devastating three-part critique of Shellenberger’s behavior over many years

Articles in Nuclear Monitor — review of Shellenberger’s book ‘Apocalypse Never’

Articles published in Nuclear Monitor #888, July 30, 2020

Finally, Shellenberger admits to his long history of dishonesty — see the first of these articles:

Book review: Michael Shellenberger goes full Trump with reheated conspiracy theories: Shellenberger’s book Apocalypse Never serves up ‘luke-warmism’ ‒ downplaying the risks associated with climate change and attacking environmentalists for climate ‘alarmism’. But he has been misrepresenting and attacking climate science since 2010 if not earlier. His current luke-warmism is reheated, and there’s certainly nothing new about his demonization of environmentalists.

Shellenberger’s nuclear nonsense: economics, waste, radiation, disasters: Michael Shellenberger claims that his book Apocalypse Never is based on the ‘best-available science’. But the book’s many claims about nuclear issues are based on selective use of expert views, or attributed to anonymous ‘experts’ or even ‘friends’, or based on nothing at all.

Shellenberger’s nuclear nonsense: The myth of the peaceful atom: Shellenberger thinks nuclear weapons “make us peaceful” and he promotes nuclear weapons proliferation. Having previously written at length about the many interconnections between nuclear power and weapons programs ‒ and having criticized the “nuclear community” for its “increasingly untenable position of having to deny these real world connections” ‒ Shellenberger himself now downplays and denies the connections.

Questions Michael Shellenberger won’t answer, falsehoods  he refuses to correct

Here’s a list of questions sent repeatedly to Shellenberger in 2018. He has not responded. Questions 1 and 4-8 refer to falsehoods that Shellenberger refuses to correct. Questions 2,3 and 9 refer to some of his unhinged and conspiratorial attacks on NGOs.

  1. You state “One of FOE-Greenpeace’s biggest lies about nuclear energy is that it leads to weapons.”[1] Leaving aside the point that the connections between civil and military nuclear programs are well understood[2] ‒ and a number of the connections are openly acknowledged by nuclear industry bodies and supporters[3] ‒ can you cite any FOE statements about nuclear power/weapons connections which could reasonably be described as “lies”?
  2. You assert that FOE “oppose cheap and abundant energy”.[4] Do you have any evidence to justify that statement?
  3. You assert that the anti-nuclear movement has a “long history of Malthusian anti-humanism aimed at preventing “overpopulation” and “overconsumption” by keeping poor countries poor.”[5] Can you provide any evidence in support of that statement that doesn’t date from the 1960s or early 1970s?
  4. In an ‘investigative piece’ aimed squarely at FOE and Greenpeace, you list three groups which you claim have accepted donations “from fossil fuel … investors”[1]. However FOE and Greenpeace aren’t included in the list of three groups. Do you have any evidence of FOE or Greenpeace receiving donations from fossil fuel investors, other than the 1969 donation to FOE that you frequently cite?
  5. You assert that donors and board members of FOE “are the ones who win the government contracts to build solar and wind farms, burn dirty “renewable” biomass, and import natural gas from the United States and Russia.”[1] Do you have any evidence to support that statement?
  6. You insinuate in a newspaper article that FOE accepts funding from natural gas companies.[6] Elsewhere, your group asserts that FOE is “fossil fuel-funded”.[7] Do you have any evidence to support those claims?
  7. You assert[1] that FOE keeps its donors secret and in support of that claim you cite an article that doesn’t even mention FOE.[5] Do you have any evidence to support the claim?
  8. You claim that FOE has hundreds of millions of dollars in its bank and stock accounts.[8] Do you have any evidence to support that statement?
  9. You assert that FOE’s “agenda has never been to protect humankind but rather to punish us for our supposed transgressions.”[1] Do you have any evidence to support that statement?


  1. Michael Shellenberger, 16 Oct 2017, ‘Enemies of the Earth: Unmasking the Dirty War Against Clean Energy in South Korea by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Greenpeace’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/10/16/enemies-of-the-earth-unmasking-dirty-war-friends-of-earth-greenpeace-south-korea-nuclear-energy
  2. Nuclear Monitor #804, 28 May 2015, ‘The myth of the peaceful atom’, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/804/myth-peaceful-atom
  3. Nuclear Monitor #850, ‘Nuclear power, weapons and ‘national security”, 7 Sept 2017, https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/850/nuclear-power-weapons-and-national-security
  4. Michael Shellenberger, Mark Nelson, Madi Czerwinski, Michael Light, John Lindberg, and Minshu Deng / Environmental Progress, Aug 2017, ‘The High Cost of Fear: Understanding the Costs and Causes of South Korea’s Proposed Nuclear Energy Phase-Out’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/8/22/the-high-cost-of-fear
  5. Michael Shellenberger, 25 July 2017, ‘Greenpeace’s Dirty War on Clean Energy, Part I: South Korean Version’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/7/25/greenpeaces-dirty-war-on-clean-energy-part-i-south-korean-version
  6. Michael Shellenberger, July 2017, ‘Why the World Needs South Korea’s Nuclear’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/7/24/chosun-op-ed-why-the-world-needs-south-koreas-nuclear
  7. www.facebook.com/environmentalprogress/posts/1972320853034270
  8. Michael Shellenberger, Mark Nelson, Madi Czerwinski, Michael Light, John Lindberg, and Minshu Deng / Environmental Progress, Aug 2017, ‘The High Cost of Fear: Understanding the Costs and Causes of South Korea’s Proposed Nuclear Energy Phase-Out’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/8/22/the-high-cost-of-fear

Book review: Bad science and bad arguments abound in ‘Apocalypse Never’ by Michael Shellenberger

A new book that critiques environmentalism is ‘deeply and fatally flawed.’

By Dr. Peter H. Gleick, 15 July 2020


Think, if you will, of the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets in “Romeo and Juliet.” Or of the 1863-1891 classic American feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys, warring families in West Virginia and Kentucky.

In the decades-old tensions involving environmental science, population, resource dynamics, and ecology, it’s the Malthusians and the Cornucopians. Subscribing to the wisdom of English economist Thomas Malthus, Malthusians express concerns that exponential human population growth and economic demands will outrun global resources needed to support people, undermining long-term sustainability. Cornucopians, in contrast – with their nod to the cornucopia or “horn of plenty” of Greek mythology – hold that technological advances can sustain societal needs and that unbounded economic growth and increased population are positive, giving rise to more good ideas.


The historical tensions and intellectual debates between Malthusians and Cornucopians are now more than two centuries old and have evolved. In recent years, the public conversation around critical global crises like human-caused climate change, deforestation and species extinction, population pressures, and new and worsening public health threats has grown louder, harsher, and increasingly ideological. As the sciences have improved, the deep complexity and connections among these problems have also become more apparent, as have urgent calls to address them through local, national, and global actions.

A recent entry in this debate is Michael Shellenberger’s “Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All” (HarperCollins Publishers, 2020). Shellenberger explains in his introduction that he seeks to counter and dismiss what he considers irrational, overwrought arguments of pending Malthusian catastrophes; instead, he seeks to promote the Cornucopian view that environmental problems can be eliminated if we’d just pursue aggressive economic growth, simple technological advances, and increased tapping of abundant natural resources. In doing so, he echoes previous efforts of authors like Herman Kahn, Julian Simon, and Bjørn Lomborg.

Climate dialogue seen as ‘out of control’

Shellenberger self-describes as an environmentalist activist and a bringer of facts and science to counter “exaggeration, alarmism, and extremism that are the enemy of a positive, humanistic, and rational environmentalism.” He decided to write this book because he believes “the conversation about climate change and the environment has, in the last few years, spiraled out of control.”

Voices of reason and clear analyses in the contentious debates about how to tackle our global problems are welcome. Unfortunately, the book is deeply and fatally flawed. At the simplest level, it is a polemic based on a strawman argument: To Shellenberger, scientists, “educated elite,” “activist journalists,” and high-profile environmental activists believe incorrectly that the end of the world is coming and yet refuse to support the only solutions that he thinks will work – nuclear energy and uninhibited economic growth.

‘What is new in here isn’t right, and what is right isn’t new.’

But even if the author properly understood the complexity and nature of global challenges, which he does not, and got the science right, which he did not, a fatal flaw in his argument is the traditional Cornucopian oversimplification of his solutions – reliance on economic growth and silver-bullet technology. As the great American journalist and humorist H. L. Mencken said, “there is always a well-known solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.” Mencken also warned against those who know precisely what is right and what is wrong, a warning especially worth hearing in the highly complex and uncertain worlds of global climate, pandemics, and environmental change.

But the problems in the book go much deeper. The author wanders from topic to topic, jumping from personal anecdote to polemical arguments to data and numbers carefully chosen to support his views, making it difficult for the reader to follow his threads. The most serious flaw, however, is that he assumes a position and seeks data and facts to fit that position rather than, as science demands, using data and facts to develop, test, and refine a theory. As a result, the book suffers from logical fallacies, arguments based on emotion and ideology, the setting up and knocking down of strawman arguments, and the selective cherry-picking and misuse of facts, all interspersed with simple mistakes and misrepresentations of science. Distressingly, this is also an angry book, riddled with ugly ad hominem attacks on scientists, environmental advocates, and the media.

I provide just a few examples of these flaws here – a comprehensive catalog would require its own book. In short, what is new in here isn’t right, and what is right isn’t new.

Two Cornucopian ideas lie at the heart of this book: The first idea is that there are no real “limits to growth” and environmental problems are the result of poverty and will be solved by having everyone get richer. This idea isn’t original and has long been debunked by others (for a few examples see hereherehere, and here).

View that nuclear alone can address needs

The second idea – and the focus of much of Shellenberger’s past writings – is that climate and energy problems can and should be solved solely by nuclear power. He writes, “Only nuclear, not solar and wind, can provide abundant, reliable, and inexpensive heat,” and, “Only nuclear energy can power our high-energy human civilization while reducing humankind’s environmental footprint.” (“Apocalypse Never” – hereafter “AN” – pp. 153 and 278) The many economic, environmental, political, and social arguments levied against nuclear are simply dismissed as having no merit, for example: “As for nuclear waste, it is the best and safest kind of waste produced from electricity production. It has never hurt anyone and there is no reason to think it ever will.” (AN, p. 152) His passionate belief that nuclear is the only answer to our energy and climate problems (maybe along with a mega-dam on the Congo River in Africa) is matched by the corollary that renewable energy alternatives – he calls them “unreliables” (AN, p. 176) – are bad because he asserts they are small scale, intermittent, and their economic, environmental, political, and social problems disqualifying.

The argument that poverty and environmental threats are intertwined is both correct and not new. It lies at the heart of international development efforts, including the early United Nations Millennium Development Goals and the current Sustainable Development Goals, which state:

“The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. The 17 Goals are all interconnected.” (emphasis added)

Similarly, mainstream experts in environmental science and environmental economics have long acknowledged that all energy options have complex sets of environmental advantages and disadvantages. The fields of energy risk assessment, integrated environmental systems analysis, and ecological economics have addressed them for decades.

Using the facade of ‘strawman arguments’

Shellenberger regularly sets up other strawman arguments and then knocks them down. [A strawman argument is an effort to refute an argument that hasn’t been made by replacing your opponent’s actual argument with a different one.] One of the most prevalent strawman arguments in the climate debate is that scientists claim climate change “causes” extreme events, when in fact, climate scientists make careful distinctions between “causality” and “influence” – two very different things. This area, called “attribution science,” is one of the most exciting aspects of climate research today.

Shellenberger sets up the strawman argument that people are incorrectly claiming recent extreme events (like forest fires, floods, heat waves, and droughts) were caused by climate change, and then he debunks this strawman. “Many blamed climate change for wildfires that ravaged California” (AN, p.2) and “the fires would have occurred even had Australia’s climate not warmed.” (AN p. 21) He misrepresents how the media reported on the fires, describing a New York Times story on the 2019 Amazon fires: “As for the Amazon, The New York Times reported, correctly, that the ‘fires were not caused by climate change.’” But here Shellenberger is cherry-picking a quote: If you look at the actual article he cites, the journalist makes clear the “influence” of climate change just two sentences later:

“These fires were not caused by climate change. They were, by and large, set by humans. However, climate change can make fires worse. Fires can burn hotter and spread more quickly under warmer and drier conditions.” (emphasis added)

He also misunderstands or misrepresents the extensive and growing literature on the links between climate change and extreme events, saying “But climate change so far has not resulted in increases in the frequency or intensity of many types of extreme weather” (AN, p. 15) citing out-of-date research, including a workshop from 15 years ago. In fact, a large and growing body of literature already shows strong links between climate change and extreme events, including hurricanes, heat deaths, flooding, decreasing ice, and more (see, for a few examples, herehere, and here), and this literature has been expanding rapidly. For instance, in 2019, the American Meteorological Society, or AMS, published a summary – produced annually – with 21 peer-reviewed analyses of extreme weather in 2018 including the research of 121 scientists from 13 countries. The severe Four Corners drought in the U.S., intense heat waves on the Iberian peninsula and in northeast Asia, exceptional precipitation in the mid-Atlantic states, and record-low sea ice in the Bering Sea were all examples of extreme weather events “made more likely by human-caused climate change.” As Jeff Rosenfeld, the editor-in-chief of the AMS series, noted, “We’ve now published more than 100 of these attribution studies in this AMS series and can see how powerful this science is getting. Attribution studies increasingly yield useful, nuanced conclusions that embrace real-world complexity,” Rosenfeld wrote. “They collectively make an ever starker statement about the human influence on extreme weather.”

Another example of a serious conceptual confusion is his chapter dismissing the threat of species extinctions. The chapter is full of misunderstandings of extinction rates, ecosystem and biological functions, confusions about timescales, and misuses of data. For example, Shellenberger confuses the concept of species “richness” with “biodiversity” and makes the astounding claim that

“Around the world, the biodiversity of islands has actually doubled on average, thanks to the migration of ‘invasive species.’ The introduction of new plant species has outnumbered plant extinctions one hundred fold.” (AN, p. 66)

By this odd logic, if an island had 10 species of native birds found only there and they went extinct, but 20 other invasive bird species established themselves, the island’s “biodiversity” would double. This error results from a misunderstanding of the study he cites, which properly notes that simply assessing species numbers (richness not biodiversity) on islands ignores the critical issues of biodiversity raised by invasive species, including the disruption of endemic species interactions, weakening of ecosystem stability, alteration of ecosystem functions, and increasing homogenization of flora and fauna.

Another set of classic logical fallacies is the misuse, misrepresentation, and selective use of evidence. Shellenberger sees himself as the white knight bringing science and facts to emotional arguments. “Every fact, claim, and argument in this book is based on the best-available science … Apocalypse Never defends mainstream science from those who deny it on the political Right and Left.” (AN, p. xiii) But often, his arguments are based on inappropriate use of evidence, outdated or cherry-picked science, misunderstandings or misrepresentation, or just outright errors.

One of the most common flaws is his confusing use of the terms “can,” “could,” “will,” “will likely,” and so on. These grammatical choices usually reflect classic Cornucopian optimism and the advantage of telling the audience a positive story, rather than one based on the actual evidence. For example, he claims:

“When it comes to food production, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) concludes that crop yields will increase significantly, under a wide range of climate scenarios.” (AN, p. 6, emphasis added)

What great news, if only we knew for sure it were true and under all plausible climate scenarios. But in fact, this is a misrepresentation of the 2018 FAO report cited, which looks at possible futures and actually says:

“Climate change already has negative effects on crop yields, livestock production and fisheries, particularly in low- and middle- income countries. Such impacts are likely to become even stronger later in this century. (emphasis added)

“Unaddressed climate change, which is associated, inter alia, with unsustainable agricultural practices, is likely to lead to more land and water use, disproportionately affecting poor people and exacerbating inequalities within and between countries. This carries negative implications for both food availability and food access.

There are many other examples where his optimism (things “will” happen) overrides the scientific evidence and uncertainties about the future.

Misrepresenting what scientists actually say or said

Shellenberger’s discussion of nuclear energy and risk also misrepresents what scientists say. He states “mixing up reactors and bombs was, as we say, the go-to strategy for Malthusian environmentalists” (AN, p. 242), but to support this claim he offers the work of Drs. Paul and Anne Ehrlich and John Holdren in their 1977 book Ecoscience. Shellenberger quotes their factual statement that “A large reactor’s inventory of long-lived radioactivity is more than one thousand times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.” (Ecoscience, p. 445) But he then falsely says they are implying reactors can explode like bombs: “The implication was wrong. Nuclear reactors cannot detonate like bombs.” (AN, p. 242) Shellenberger was eager to set up the strawman that “Malthusian environmentalists” don’t know the difference between nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs, but in the paragraph right before the statement he quoted, Ehrlich, Ehrlich, and Holdren (the latter trained in part as a nuclear physicist, by the way) literally write: “It is physically impossible for an LWR [light-water reactor] or any thermal-neutron reactor to blow up like a nuclear bomb.” (Ecoscience, p. 444)

This is just one of a series of misrepresentations of the works of the Ehrlichs and Holdren. Just a few paragraphs later, for instance, he says “Holdren and the Ehrlichs had to claim fossil fuels were scarce to oppose the extension of fertilizers and industrial agriculture to poor nations and to raise the alarm over famine.” (AN, p. 242) This is the exact opposite of what they have long argued. To quote Dr. Holdren: “What environmentalists mainly say on this topic is not that we are running out of energy, but that we are running out of environment – that is, running out of the capacity of air, water, soil, and biota to absorb” the environmental, social, and health impacts of burning fossil fuels. (emphasis added)

Another example of the confusions running through Shellenberger’s narratives is the section “Greed Saved the Whales, Not Greenpeace.” His argument is that cheap oil, epitomized by the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania, saved the whales: “The discovery of the Drake Well led to widespread production of petroleum-based kerosene… thus saving the whales.” (AN, p. 111) Just a page later, however, he acknowledges “But then, whaling came back, and in a big way. Between 1904 and 1978, whalers killed one million whales, nearly three times more than had been harvested before.” He then claims that cheap vegetable oils (ironically in the form of palm oil from deforestation in the Congo) saved the whales, but then again has to acknowledge that massive whale kills continued.

What finally led to today’s almost near moratorium on whale hunts? Not just changes in market forces, not changes in energy sources, not “greed” and the growth in wealth and prosperity as he argues, but the change in public opinion pushed by environmental groups and the public. And oddly, his last sentence in this chapter acknowledges this: “When it comes to protecting the environment by moving to superior alternatives, public attitudes and political action matter” (AN, p. 125) – exactly the point of environmental advocacy groups like Greenpeace that worked to change public opinion.

Scientific uncertainty is not the same as ‘We don’t know’

Shellenberger misunderstands the concept of “uncertainty” in science, making the classic mistake of thinking about uncertainty in the colloquial sense of “We don’t know” rather than the way scientists use it to present “a range of possibilities.” In his discussion about catastrophic tipping points like loss of ice sheets, forest and species die back in the Amazon, and changes in ocean circulation, he says (AN, p. 25):

“The high level of uncertainty on each, and a complexity that is greater than the sum of its parts, make many tipping point scenarios unscientific … there is no scientific evidence that one would be more probable or catastrophic than other potentially catastrophic scenarios, including an asteroid impact, super-volcanoes, or an unusually deadly influenza pandemic.”

This is both wrong and hardly comforting. First, high levels of uncertainty are not “unscientific” and second, while most of the climate assessments of the IPCC and others generally do not assess the risk of global catastrophes like these, they do not rule them out, especially if we are too slow to act. The late climate scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider, in a critique of this same argument made by another Cornucopian, addressed the critical importance of looking at extreme risk probabilities at the “fat tail” of probability distributions and said:

“It is precisely because the responsible scientific community cannot rule out such catastrophic outcomes at a high level of confidence that climate mitigation policies are seriously proposed.”

Thus, when scientists discuss possible catastrophic climate risks, they are not being “apocalyptic” – they are responsibly identifying risks that must be evaluated and discussed in the context of science, economics, public policy, and public health.

Another classic logical fallacy is to try to discredit an opponent’s argument by attacking the person and her or his motives, rather than the argument – hence the Latin “ad hominem” (“against the man”). Ad hominem attacks are pervasive in this book and detract from its tone and the content. Shellenberger attacks “apocalyptic environmentalists” as “oblivious, or worse, unconcerned” about poverty (AN, p. 35) or for opposing a massive dam on the Congo river. (AN, p. 276) He attacks the finances of leading environmental groups and leaders like the late David Brower, arguing they have taken donations from fossil fuel companies to “greenwash the closure of nuclear plants.” (AN, p. 205) And he attacks the motives, reputations, and science of many individual environmental and geophysical scientists whose work contradicts his arguments.

Do media and environmental scientists have the opposite of a ‘love for humanity’?

But Shellenberger has a special level of animosity for the press:

“News media, editors, and journalists might consider whether their constant sensationalizing of environmental problems is consistent with their professional commitment to fairness and accuracy, and their personal commitment to being a positive force in the world. While I am skeptical that stealth environmental activists working as journalists are likely to change how they do their reporting, I am hopeful that competition from outside traditional news media institutions, made possible by social media, will inject new competitiveness into environmental journalism and raise standards” (AN, p. 277-278)

In the most disturbing examples of vicious personal attacks, he paints broad categories of people who disagree with him as motivated by a hatred of humanity:

“When we hear activists, journalists, IPCC scientists, and others claim climate change will be apocalyptic unless we make immediate, radical changes, including massive reductions in energy consumption, we might consider whether they are motivated by love for humanity or something closer to its opposite (AN, p. 275, emphasis added). We must fight against Malthusian and apocalyptic environmentalists who condemn human civilization and humanity itself.” (AN, p. 274) (emphasis added).

He argues in his closing sections that people worried about environmental disasters are playing out “a kind of subconscious fantasy for people who dislike civilization” (AN, p. 270) and suggests that people who oppose the solutions he prefers do so because they long for the destruction of civilization – a nasty attack on the motives of all those working in this field.

Finally, the book is riddled with a variety of simple errors. Any book with as many numbers, citations, and claims is at risk of having some mistakes, of course. But the number and scope of them here is problematic. A comprehensive catalog is well beyond the scope of this review, but one example is a massive misstatement of the amount of water required to produce energy. He says “And burning gas rather than coal for electricity requires 25 to 50 times less water.” (AN, p. 118) As shown by the actual numbers from the reference he cites, however, the difference is a factor of around two or less, not 25 to 50. And in an important omission, he fails to note that key renewable energy sources such as wind and solar photovoltaics require far less water per unit of electricity produced than all fossil fuel and nuclear thermal plants. In his discussion about climate change and extreme events, he leaves out extensive peer-reviewed evidence (like this 2015 paper, among many others) showing how fire seasons have gotten much longer as a result of rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns. He claims, twice (AN pp. 211 and 241), that nuclear power plants produce “zero pollution” – an inaccurate and unnecessary exaggeration.

A common shared goal for ‘a better future’

Shellenberger no doubt believes in, and supports, the goal of a better future. So do environmental scientists, activists, and any decent human. The disagreements we hear lie in different perceptions of the root causes of our crises and the choice of solutions to move our current world to that better future. But ideological polemics, misunderstandings and misrepresentations of science, and angry ad hominem attacks on others working in the field do nothing to move us in the right direction.

There is uncertainty about the best path forward. Those who believe the evidence shows our current path crosses dangerous planetary limits and may lead to severe environmental and social disruption can’t prove an apocalyptic future will happen – they’re arguing we must do what we can to avoid it. But neither can Cornucopians prove that narrow technological solutions and unconstrained economic growth will avoid those catastrophic futures. The imbalance of these viewpoints is key however: if Malthusians are wrong, all they would have done is made the world a better place. If Cornucopians are wrong, apocalyptic outcomes are indeed a real possibility.

Where does that leave us? Identifying, publicizing, and working to avoid future environmental and social disasters is vitally important. I’ve worked at the intersection of science and policy on issues of climate change, freshwater resources, and environmental conflicts for more than 40 years, and the good news is that positive, effective solutions exist. We know how to provide safe water and sanitation to the billions who still lack it. We know we must now work to both cut greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the severity of climate change and at the same time work to adapt to the impacts we can no longer avoid. We know how to improve agricultural efficiency to both grow enough food for everyone and to get it to hungry mouths.

What we lack are adequate efforts to prioritize solutions, fix governmental and institutional failures, motivate policymakers, and, sadly, talk rationally to each other about moving forward quickly and effectively. This book fails to contribute to those much-needed efforts.

Dr. Peter H. Gleick is president emeritus of the Pacific Institute, a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, a MacArthur Fellow, and winner of the 2018 Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization.

The four types of climate denier, and why you should ignore them all

Damian Carrington, 30 Jul 2020, The Guardian

A new book, described as “deeply and fatally flawed” by an expert reviewer, recently reached the top of Amazon’s bestseller list for environmental science and made it into a weekly top 10 list for all nonfiction titles.

How did this happen? Because, as Brendan Behan put it, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. In an article promoting his book, Michael Shellenberger – with jaw-dropping hubris – apologises on behalf of all environmentalists for the “climate scare we created over the last 30 years”.

Shellenberger was named a hero of the environment by Time magazine in 2008 and is a loud advocate of nuclear power, but the article was described by six leading scientists as “cherry-picking”, “misleading” and containing “outright falsehoods”.

The article was widely republished, even after being removed from its first home, Forbes, for violating the title’s editorial guidelines on self-promotion, adding further heat to the storm. And this is why all those who deny the reality or danger of the climate emergency should be ignored. Obviously, I have broken my own rule here, but only to make this vital point once and for all.

The science is clear, the severity understood at the highest levels everywhere, and serious debates about what to do are turning into action. The deniers have nothing to contribute to this.

However infuriating they are, arguing with them or debunking their theories is likely only to generate publicity or money for them. It also helps to generate a fake air of controversy over climate action that provides cover for the vested interests seeking to delay the end of the fossil fuel age.

But the deniers are not all the same. They tend to fit into one of four different categories: the shill, the grifter, the egomaniac and the ideological fool.

The book I started with has now been knocked off the environmental bestsellers list, fittingly enough by one published by the environmental hero Rachel Carson, in 1951. I can’t profess to know what Shellenberger’s motivation was, but one thing is clear: the egomaniacs and ideological fools will get the place in history they so lust for. It will be a small footnote marking the useful idiots of the climate war.

Book review: Michael Shellenberger’s reheated critique of climate ‘alarmism’

Jim Green, RenewEconomy, 7 Aug 2020


California-based Michael Shellenberger first courted controversy in 2004 with his ‘death of environmentalism’ critique of the environment movement and has continued to attract controversy by promoting nuclear power, demonising renewable energy (“renewables are worse for the environment than fossil fuels”) and demonising the environment movement that he claims to be part of.

Shellenberger’s is now into ‘luke-warmism’ — downplaying the risks associated with climate change and attacking environmentalists for climate and environmental ‘alarmism’. That’s the focus of his new book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All. In fact, Shellenberger has been downplaying climate risks since 2010 if not earlier — his luke-warmism is reheated.

A number of factual rebuttals of Shellenberger’s claims about environmental alarmism have been written, and more will follow (1,2,3,4,5). Climate Feedback asked six scientists to review Shellenberger’s lengthy opinion piece which promotes his book. They found its overall scientific credibility to be ‘low’ and most found it indulged in cherry-picking and misleading statements.

Shellenberger’s claim that “climate change is not making natural disasters worse” is inaccurate and contradicts numerous scientific studies linking climate change to temperature extremes, drought, precipitation patterns, and wildfires.

His claims about species extinction are wrong, his claims about fires and their connection to climate change are misleading and contradict scientific studies, his claim that 100% renewables would require increasing the land used for energy from today’s 0.5% to 50% is wildly inaccurate, and so on.

Daniel Swain from UCLA and the US National Center for Atmospheric Research said Shellenberger’s article “presents a mix of out-of-context facts and outright falsehoods to reach conclusions that are, collectively, fundamentally misleading”. Jennifer Francis from the Woods Hole Research Center said that “many statements are half-truths or based on cherry-picked information” and “some are outright false.”

Shellenberger’s luke-warmism reads like a PR campaign clumsily constructed by a fossil fuel company. In response to sea level rise ‘alarmism’, he reassures us that “Netherlands became rich, not poor while adapting to life below sea level”.

Right-wing, anti-environment supporters

Predictably, the right-wing, anti-environment media are amplifying Shellenberger’s messages. The Murdoch News Corp. press has been especially excited — Shellenberger is “News Corps latest golden ”environmentalist’ … pushing the Murdoch line against renewables” according to former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Ketan Joshi joined the dots:

“Shellenberger appeared three times on Sky News Australia, a News Corp outlet that relies heavily on major advertising dollars from several key fossil fuel companies and lobby groups; eg Hancock Prospecting and the federal and NSW Minerals Council. He wrote or featured in ten articles in The Australian, which regularly places full page advertisements from the coal lobby.”

Climate science-denying organisations, including those with links to fossil fuel industries, are also falling over themselves to promote Shellenberger and his new book. His interview with the far-right, fossil fuel-funded Heartland Institute — one of many such interviews — is mutual admiration from start to finish.

“Climate needs to have its importance diminished”, Shellenberger told the Heartland Institute. “The main function of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] appears to be to terrify people. I don’t know what else it does. … I’m not sure the organisation needs to exist any more,” he said.

Pro-nuclear frenemies

Shellenberger’s latest claims have attracted criticism even from some nuclear power advocates. Climate scientist Kerry Emanuel said he was “very concerned” about Shellenberger’s opinion piece and is reconsidering his position as an adviser to Shellenberger’s lobby group Environmental Progress. Emanuel said Shellenberger is “embracing disinformation” and that there is “plenty of evidence” that climate change is making natural disasters worse despite Shellenberger’s claim to the contrary.

Climate scientist Tom Wigley said “some damage will be done” as Shellenberger’s words “may be misrepresented by people who don’t believe in human-caused global warming”.

Zeke Hausfather from the Breakthrough Institute (which Shellenberger co-founded in 2007) said that Shellenberger’s opinion piece includes a mix of “accurate, misleading, and patently false statements” and that “inaccurately downplaying real climate risks is deeply problematic and counterproductive”.

Hausfather said the Breakthrough Institute and Shellenberger are “not on friendly terms” and Shellenberger “in no way reflects our views”, partly because of disagreements “about the role of nuclear as a climate silver bullet vs. part of a broader portfolio of decarbonization technologies”.

Nuclear engineer Katie Mummah said: “Michael Shellenberger is not the only pro-nuclear environmentalist and many of us do not share his views on 1. whether or not climate change is a crisis 2. the value of renewables 3. how to communicate about nuclear energy 4. nuclear weapons.”

Australian economist Prof. John Quiggin writes:

“Michael Shellenberger’s “apology essay” is the last gasp of “ecomodernism”. Although ecomodernists make a lot of claims, the only one that is distinctive is that nuclear power is the zero-carbon “baseload” energy source needed to replace coal, and that mainstream environmentalists have wrongly opposed it.

“Historically, there is something to this. It would have been better to keep on building nuclear plants in the 1980s and 1990s than to switch from oil to coal, and it was silly for Germany to shut down nuclear power before coal.

“But none of that is relevant anymore, at least in the developed world. Solar PV and wind, backed up storage are far cheaper than either nuclear or coal. As a result, there have been very few new coal or nuclear plants constructed in developed countries in recent years. …

“At this point, Shellenberger is faced with the choice between admitting that the mainstream environmentalists were right or explicitly going over to the other side. He has chosen the latter.”

Technically accurate nuclear snapshot

Strangely, Shellenberger provides a good snapshot of the current state of nuclear power in Apocalypse Never, followed by this caveat: “While all of the above is technically accurate, I carefully excluded key facts in order to be misleading …”

Here’s a sample of his technically accurate snapshot:

“Every effort to make nuclear plants safer makes them more expensive, according to experts, and higher subsidies from governments are required to make them cost-effective. Those soaring subsidies, combined with the financial cost of accidents like Fukushima, estimated to be between 35 trillion yen and 81 trillion yen ($315 billion to $728 billion) by one private Japanese think tank, make nuclear one of the most expensive ways to generate electricity.

“Meanwhile, from Finland and France to Britain and the United States, nuclear plants are way behind schedule and far over budget. Two new nuclear reactors at Britain’s Hinkley Point C were estimated to cost $26 billion but will now cost as much as $29 billion. Expansion of a nuclear plant near Augusta, Georgia, which was supposed to take four years and cost $14 billion for two new reactors, is now expected to take ten years and cost as much as $27.5 billion. All of this makes nuclear too slow and expensive to address climate change, many experts say.

“Nuclear has what energy experts call a “negative learning curve,” meaning we get worse at building it the more we do it. Most technologies have a positive learning curve. Take solar panels and wind turbines, for instance. Their costs declined 75 percent and 25 percent, respectively, since 2011. The more we make of them, the better we get at it and the cheaper they become. …

“Today, the developed world is abandoning nuclear. Germany is almost done phasing it out. France has reduced nuclear from 80 percent to 71 percent of its electricity and is committed to reduce it to 50 percent. In the United States, nuclear could decline from 20 percent to 10 percent of its electricity by 2030. Belgium, Spain, South Korea, and Taiwan are all phasing out their nuclear plants.”

That’s a good summary of the sickly state of nuclear power and it isn’t much changed by the “key facts” that Shellenberger “carefully excluded” – fringe claims about radiation and health, wishful thinking about nuclear economics, promoting nuclear weapons proliferation and celebrating the connections between nuclear power and weapons, etc.

Dr. Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter.

Is there a future for ‘pro-nuclear environmentalism’?

Jim Green, 30 Oct 2017, RenewEconomy

For a longer version of this article please click here.

Michael Shellenberger is visiting Australia this week. He has been a prominent environmentalist (of sorts) since he co-authored the 2004 essay, The Death of Environmentalism. These days, as the President of the California-based ‘Environmental Progress’ lobby group, he is stridently pro-nuclear, hostile towards renewable energy and hostile towards the environment movement.

Shellenberger is visiting to speak at the International Mining and Resources Conference in Melbourne. His visit was promoted by Graham Lloyd in The Australian in September. Shellenberger is “one of the world’s leading new-generation environmental thinkers” according to The Australian, and if the newspaper is any guide he is here to promote his message that wind and solar have failed, that they are doubling the cost of electricity, and that “all existing renewable technologies do is make the electricity system chaotic and provide greenwash for fossil fuels.”

Trawling through Environmental Progress literature, one of their recurring themes is the falsehood that “every time nuclear plants close they are replaced almost entirely by fossil fuels”. South Korea, for example, plans to reduce reliance on coal and nuclear under recently-elected President Moon Jae-in, and to boost reliance on gas and renewables. But Shellenberger and Environmental Progress ignore those plans and concoct their own scare-story in which coal and gas replace nuclear power, electricity prices soar, thousands die from increased air pollution, and greenhouse emissions increase.

Fake scientists and radiation quackery

Environmental Progress’ UK director John Lindberg is described as an “expert on radiation” on the lobby group’s website. In fact, he has no scientific qualifications. Likewise, a South Korean article falsely claims that Shellenberger is a scientist and that article is reposted, without correction, on the Environmental Progress website.

Shellenberger says that at a recent talk in Berlin: “Many Germans simply could not believe how few people died and will die from the Chernobyl accident (under 200) and that nobody died or will die from the meltdowns at Fukushima. How could it be that everything we were told is not only wrong, but often the opposite of the truth?”

There’s a simple reason that Germans didn’t believe Shellenberger’s claims about Chernobyl and Fukushima ‒ they are false.

Shellenberger claims that “under 200” people have died and will die from the Chernobyl disaster, but in fact the lowest of the estimates of the Chernobyl cancer death toll is the World Health Organization’s estimate of “up to 9,000 excess cancer deaths” in the most contaminated parts of the former Soviet Union. And of course there are higher estimates for the death toll across Europe.

Shellenberger claims that the Fukushima meltdowns “killed precisely no one” and that “nobody died or will die from the meltdowns at Fukushima”. An Environmental Progress report has this to say about Fukushima: “[T]he science is unequivocal: nobody has gotten sick much less died from the radiation that escaped from three meltdowns followed by three hydrogen gas explosions. And there will be no increase in cancer rates.”

In support of those assertions, Environmental Progress cites a World Health Organization report that directly contradicts the lobby group’s claims. The WHO report concluded that for people in the most contaminated areas in Fukushima Prefecture, the estimated increased risk for all solid cancers will be around 4% in females exposed as infants; a 6% increased risk of breast cancer for females exposed as infants; a 7% increased risk of leukaemia for males exposed as infants; and for thyroid cancer among females exposed as infants, an increased risk of up to 70% (from a 0.75% lifetime risk up to 1.25%).

Applying a linear-no threshold (LNT) risk factor to the estimated collective radiation dose from Fukushima fallout gives an estimated long-term cancer death toll of around 5,000 people. Nuclear lobbyists are quick to point out that LNT may overestimate risks from low dose and low dose-rate exposure ‒ but LNT may also underestimate the risks according to expert bodies such as the US National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation.

Attacking environment groups

Shellenberger reduces the complexities of environmental opposition to nuclear power to the claim that in the 1960s, an “influential group of conservationists within Sierra Club feared that cheap, abundant electricity from nuclear would result in overpopulation and resource depletion” and therefore decided to campaign against nuclear power.

If such views had any currency in the 1960s, they certainly don’t now. Yet Environmental Progress asserts that Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FOE) “oppose cheap and abundant energy” and Shellenberger asserts that “the FOE-Greenpeace agenda has never been to protect humankind but rather to punish us for our supposed transgressions.” And Shellenberger suggests that such views are still current by asserting that the anti-nuclear movement has a “long history of Malthusian anti-humanism aimed at preventing “overpopulation” and “overconsumption” by keeping poor countries poor.”

In an ‘investigative piece‘ ‒ titled ‘Enemies of the Earth: Unmasking the Dirty War Against Clean Energy in South Korea by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Greenpeace’ ‒ Shellenberger lists three groups which he claims have accepted donations “from fossil fuel and renewable energy investors, as well as others who stand to benefit from killing nuclear plants”. FOE and Greenpeace don’t feature among the three groups even though the ‘investigative piece’ is aimed squarely at them.

Undeterred by his failure to present any evidence of FOE and Greenpeace accepting fossil fuel funding (they don’t), Shellenberger asserts that the donors and board members of FOE and Greenpeace “are the ones who win the government contracts to build solar and wind farms, burn dirty “renewable” biomass, and import natural gas from the United States and Russia.” Really? Where’s the evidence? There’s none in Shellenberger’s ‘investigative piece’.

In an article for a South Korean newspaper, Shellenberger states: “Should we be surprised that natural gas companies fund many of the anti-nuclear groups that spread misinformation about nuclear? The anti-nuclear group Friends of the Earth ‒ which has representatives in South Korea ‒ received its initial funding from a wealthy oil man …” He fails to note that the donation was in 1969! And he fails to substantiate his false insinuation that FOE accepts funding from natural gas companies, or his false claim that natural gas companies fund “many of the anti-nuclear groups”.

Shellenberger’s ‘investigative piece‘ falsely claims that FOE keeps its donors secret, and in support of that falsehood he cites an article that doesn’t even mention FOE. Environmental Progress falsely claims that FOE has hundreds of millions of dollars in its bank and stock accounts.

Shellenberger claims that the “greatest coup” of FOE and Greenpeace in South Korea was an “Hollywood-style anti-nuclear disaster movie” which was released last year and has been watched by millions, mostly on Netflix. But FOE and Greenpeace had nothing to do with the production of the movie!

In light of all the above falsehoods, it seems a bit rich for Shellenberger to accuse anti-nuclear groups of being “flagrantly dishonest”. For good measure, he accuses anti-nuclear groups of being “corrupt” ‒ without a shred of evidence.

Environmental Progress has an annual budget of US$1.5 million, Shellenberger claims, and he asks how Environmental Progress “can possibly succeed against the anti-nuclear Goliath with 500 times the resources.” An anti-nuclear Goliath with 500 times their budget of US$1.5 million, or US$750 million in annual expenditure on anti-nuclear campaigns? Shellenberger claims that Greenpeace has annual income of US$400 million to finance its work in 55 nations ‒ but he doesn’t note that only a small fraction of that funding is directed to anti-nuclear campaigns. FOE’s worldwide budget is US$12 million according to Environmental Progress ‒ but only a small fraction is directed to anti-nuclear campaigns.

A future for pro-nuclear environmentalism?

The nuclear power industry is having one of its worst ever years. Environmental Progress is warning about nuclear power’s “rapidly accelerating crisis” and other pro-nuclear lobbyists have noted that “the industry is on life support in the United States and other developed economies“.

The biggest disaster for the nuclear industry this year has been the bankruptcy filing of Westinghouse and the decision to abandon two partially-built reactors in the US after at least A$11.5 billion was spent on the project. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg:

  • there has been a sharp down-turnin China’s nuclear program in the past two years;
  • Swiss voters supported a nuclear phase-out referendum;
  • South Korea’s new government will haltplans to build new nuclear power plants;
  • Taiwan’s Cabinet has reiteratedthe government’s resolve to phase out nuclear power by 2025;
  • Japan’s industry has been decimated by the Fukushima disaster;
  • India’s nuclear industry keeps promising the world and delivering very little;
  • France’s nuclear industry is in its “worst situation ever” according to a former EDF director and it faces crippling debts;
  • the UK’s nuclear power program faces “something of a crisis” according to an industry lobbyist(the estimated cost of the only two reactors under construction is A$40.4 billion ‒ and cost estimates have risen five-fold);
  • all of Germany’s reactors will be closed by the end of 2022 and all of Belgium’s will be closed by the end of 2025;
  • and last but not least, a High Court judgement in South Africa in April ruled that much of the country’s nuclear new-build program is without legal foundation, and there is little likelihood that the program will be revived given that it is shrouded in corruption scandals.

Industries tied to nuclear power are struggling. “It has never been a worse time for uranium miners”, said Alexander Molyneux from Paladin Energy in October 2016. He should know ‒ Perth-based Paladin was put into administration in July this year. Here in Australia, BHP produces uranium as a by-product of its giant copper mine at Olympic Dam in SA; Heathgate Resources operates the small Four Mile mine in SA; and Rio Tinto has finished mining uranium at Ranger in the NT and is processing remaining stockpiles before getting to work on a half-billion dollar rehabilitation.

Prices for uranium conversion (converting uranium to uranium hexafluoride) have been in freefall in recent years and the price for uranium hexafluoride has been in freefall. The price for uranium enrichment (increasing the ratio of uranium-235 to uranium-238) was at an all-time low last year and has fallen further this year.

The only nuclear industry that is booming is nuclear decommissioning ‒ the World Nuclear Association anticipates US$111 billion (A$145 billion) worth of decommissioning projects to 2035.

How much longer will the nuclear lobbyists keep flogging the dead nuclear horse? Perhaps not too much longer. It’s worth keeping in mind that nuclear lobbyists ‒ especially the self-styled ‘pro-nuclear environmentalists’ ‒ are few in number. David Roberts summed up the situation in 2013, when Robert Stone’s ‘Pandora’s Promise‘ propaganda film was launched:

“There is no budding environmentalist movement for nukes. Ever since I started paying attention to “nuclear renaissance” stories about a decade ago, there’s always been this credulous, excitable bit about how enviros are starting to come around. The roster of enviros in this purportedly burgeoning movement: Stewart Brand, the Breakthrough Boys, and “Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore,” who has been a paid shill for industry for decades (it sounds like the Pandora folks were wise enough to leave him out). More recently George Monbiot and Mark Lynas have been added to the list.

“This handful of converts is always cited with the implication that it’s the leading edge of a vast shift, and yet … it’s always the same handful. … In the movie, Shellenberger says, “I have a sense that this is a beautiful thing … the beginning of a movement.” I fear he has once again mistaken the contents of his navel for the zeitgeist.”

—- Dr Jim Green edits the Nuclear Monitor newsletter and is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia.

Nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger learns to love the bomb, goes down a rabbit hole

Jim Green, 6 September 2018, ‘Nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger learns to love the bomb, goes down a rabbit hole’, Nuclear Monitor #865, https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/865/nuclear-monitor-865-6-september-2018

In 2015, Nuclear Monitor published a detailed critique of the many ways nuclear industry insiders and lobbyists trivialize and deny the connections between nuclear power (and the broader nuclear fuel cycle) and nuclear weapons proliferation.1

Since then, the arguments have been turned upside down with prominent industry insiders and lobbyists openly acknowledging power-weapons connections. This remarkable about-turn has clear origins in the crisis facing nuclear power and the perceived need to secure increased subsidies to prevent reactors closing and to build new ones.2

One thread of the new sales pitch ‒ one which doesn’t fundamentally contradict long-standing denials of power-weapons connections ‒ has been a ratcheting up of the argument that countries with a thriving nuclear export industry, (necessarily) underpinned by a thriving domestic nuclear industry, are best placed to influence which countries can or can’t pursue weapons.3

Another thread of the new sales pitch ‒ and this really is new ‒ is to openly link to nuclear power to weapons, to celebrate the connections and to use them to lobby for greater subsidies for nuclear power.2 The US Nuclear Energy Institute, for example, tried in mid-2017 to convince politicians in Washington that if the AP1000 reactor construction projects in South Carolina and Georgia weren’t completed, it would stunt development of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex.4

The Nuclear Energy Institute paper wasn’t publicly released. But in the second half of 2017, numerous nuclear insiders and lobbyists openly acknowledged power-weapons connections and called for additional subsidies for nuclear power. The most important of these initiatives was a paper by the Energy Futures Initiative ‒ a creation of Ernest Moniz, who served as energy secretary under President Barack Obama.5

Even the uranium industry has jumped on the bandwagon, with two US companies warning that reliance on foreign sources threatens national security and lodging a petition with the Department of Commerce calling for US utilities to be required to purchase a minimum 25% of their requirements from domestic mines.6

Decades of deceit have been thrown overboard with the new sales pitch linking nuclear power and weapons. However there are still some hold-outs.7 Ted Norhaus, a self-styled ‘pro-nuclear environmentalist’, argues that to conflate nuclear power with nuclear weapons is “extremely misleading” because they involve different physics, different technologies and different institutions.8

Ben Heard ‒ a nuclear lobbyist in Australia whose ‘Bright New World’ lobby group accepts secret corporate donations9,10 ‒ attacked the Australian Conservation Foundation for its failure to acknowledge the “obvious distinction” between nuclear power and weapons and for “co-opting disarmament … toward their ideological campaigns against peaceful science and technology”.11

Heard wrote in December 2017: “Peace is furthered when a nation embraces nuclear power, because it makes that nation empirically less likely to embark on a nuclear weapons program. That is the finding of a 2017 study published in the peer-reviewed journal International Security.”11 In fact, that non-statistically significant finding sat alongside a contrary, statistically significant finding in the International Security journal article: the annual probability of starting a nuclear weapons program is more than twice as high in countries with an operating power reactor or one under construction.12

Until recently, another nuclear lobbyist continuing to deny power-weapons connections was Michael Shellenberger from the ‘Environmental Progress’ pro-nuclear lobby group in the US. He told an IAEA conference last year that “nuclear energy prevents the spread of nuclear weapons”.13 And he claimed last year that “one of FOE-Greenpeace’s biggest lies about nuclear energy is that it leads to weapons” and that there is an “inverse relationship between energy and weapons”.14 He concluded that article by asserting that “nuclear is our only source of energy with a transcendent moral purpose, to lift all humans out of poverty, reverse humankind’s negative environmental impact, and guarantee peace.”14

One of Shellenberger’s bright ideas was to launch a campaign to garner international support for the construction of nuclear power reactors in North Korea.15 That would ‒ somehow, magically ‒ curtail or end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. This “atoms for peace” initiative would be, in Shellenberger’s words, “one of the best means of creating peace with North Korea”.14 No matter that his “new framework” is much the same as the old 1994 Agreed Framework, which was a complete failure.16

Shellenberger’s backflip

In two articles published in August, Shellenberger has done a 180-degree backflip on the power-weapons connections.17,18

“[N]ational security, having a weapons option, is often the most important factor in a state pursuing peaceful nuclear energy”, Shellenberger now believes.19

A recent analysis from Environmental Progress finds that of the 26 nations that are building or are committed to build nuclear power plants, 23 have nuclear weapons, had weapons, or have shown interest in acquiring weapons.20 “While those 23 nations clearly have motives other than national security for pursuing nuclear energy,” Shellenberger writes, “gaining weapons latency appears to be the difference-maker. The flip side also appears true: nations that lack a need for weapons latency often decide not to build nuclear power plants … Recently, Vietnam and South Africa, neither of which face a significant security threat, decided against building nuclear plants …”17

Here is the break-down of the 26 countries that are building or are committed to build nuclear power plants:17

  • Thirteen nations had a weapons program, or have shown interest in acquiring a weapon: Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Iran, Japan, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, UAE.
  • Seven nations have weapons (France, US, Britain, China, Russia, India and Pakistan), two had weapons as part of the Soviet Union (Ukraine and Belarus), and one (Slovakia) was part of a nation (Czechoslovakia) that sought a weapon.
  • Poland, Hungary, and Finland are the only three nations (of the 26) for which Environmental Progress could find no evidence of “weapons latency” as a motivation.

Shellenberger points to research by Fuhrmann and Tkach which found that 31 nations had the capacity to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium, and that 71% of them created that capacity to give themselves weapons latency.21

Current patterns connecting the pursuit of power and weapons stretch back across the 60 years of civilian nuclear power. Shellenberger notes that “at least 20 nations sought nuclear power at least in part to give themselves the option of creating a nuclear weapon” ‒ Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, France, Italy, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Libya, Norway, Romania, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, West Germany, Yugoslavia.17

Nuclear weapons ‒ a force for peace?

So far, so good. The pursuit of nuclear power and weapons are often linked. That’s a powerful reason to eschew nuclear power, to strengthen the safeguards system, to tighten export controls, to restrict the spread of enrichment and reprocessing, and so on. But Shellenberger has a very different take on the issues.

Discussing the Fuhrmann and Tkach article (and studiously avoiding a vast body of contrary literature), Shellenberger writes:17

“What was the relationship between nuclear latency and military conflict? It was negative. “Nuclear latency appears to provide states with deterrence-related benefits,” they [Fuhrmann and Tkach] concluded, “that are distinct from actively pursuing nuclear bombs.”

“Why might this be? Arriving at an ultimate cause is difficult if not impossible, the authors note. But one obvious possibility is that the “latent nuclear powers may be able to deter conflict by (implicitly) threatening to ‘go nuclear’ following an attack.” …

“After over 60 years of national security driving nuclear power into the international system, we can now add “preventing war” to the list of nuclear energy’s superior characteristics. …

“As a lifelong peace activist and pro-nuclear environmentalist, I almost fell out of my chair when I discovered the paper by Fuhrmann and Tkach. All that most nations will need to deter military threats is nuclear power ‒ a bomb isn’t even required? Why in the world, I wondered, is this fact not being promoted as one of nuclear powers many benefits?

“The answer is that the nuclear industry and scientific community have tried, since Atoms for Peace began 65 years ago, to downplay any connection between the two ‒ and for an understandable reason: they don’t want the public to associate nuclear power plants with nuclear war.

“But in seeking to deny the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, the nuclear community today finds itself in the increasingly untenable position of having to deny these real world connections ‒ of motivations and means ‒ between the two. Worse, in denying the connection between energy and weapons, the nuclear community reinforces the widespread belief that nuclear weapons have made the world a more dangerous place when the opposite is the case. …

“In the real world, nuclear weapons have only been used to end or prevent war — a remarkable record for the world’s most dangerous objects.

“Nuclear energy, without a doubt, is spreading and will continue to spread around the world, largely with national security as a motivation. The question is whether the nuclear industry will, alongside anti-nuclear activists, persist in stigmatizing weapons latency as a nuclear power “bug” rather than tout it as the epochal, peace-making feature it is.”

Shellenberger asks why the deterrent effect of nuclear power isn’t being promoted as one of its many benefits. A better answer to the one he offers is that the premise is nonsense. Nuclear weapons can have a deterrent effect ‒ in a uniquely dangerous and potentially uniquely counterproductive manner ‒ but any correlation between latent nuclear weapons capabilities and reduced military conflict is just that, correlation not causation.

In a second article, Shellenberger offers the contrarian wisdom that “nuclear weapons make us peaceful”.18 He writes:

“The widespread assumption is that the more nations have nuclear weapons, the more dangerous the world will be. But is that really the case? … [I]t is impossible not to be struck by these facts:

  • No nation with a nuclear weapon has ever been invaded by another nation.
  • The number of deaths in battle worldwide [per 100,000 of world population] has declined 95 percent in the 70 years since the invention and spread of nuclear weapons;
  • The number of Indian and Pakistani civilian and security forces deaths in two disputed territories declined 95 percent after Pakistan’s first nuclear weapons test in 1998. …

“The division of the world into nuclear-armed and unarmed nations has long been arbitrary and unfair. Nuclear-armed nations, except for France, hypocritically punished India for decades with trade sanctions for acquiring a weapon. …

“[A] world without nuclear weapons would be a world where relatively weak nations ‒ like France and Britain before World War II and North Korea and Iran today ‒ are deprived the only power on Earth capable of preventing a military invasion by a more powerful adversary. Who are we to deny weak nations the nuclear weapons they need for self-defense? The answer should by now be clear: hypocritical, short-sighted, and imperialistic.”

So Iran should be encouraged to develop nuclear weapons ‒ or perhaps Iran should be gifted nuclear weapons by an enlightened weapons state. Shellenberger cites long-term nuclear weapons proliferation enthusiast Kenneth Waltz, who claims that the “decades-long Middle East nuclear crisis … will end only when a balance of military power is restored”.18 Dictators Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi ought to have acquired nuclear weapons, according to Shellenberger, not least because they were killed and their regimes overthrown after they gave up the pursuit of nuclear weapons.18 Shellenberger cites a German academic who argues that a nuclear-armed Germany “would stabilize NATO and the security of the Western World”.18,22 We “should be glad that North Korea acquired the bomb” according to Shellenberger.18 And on it goes ‒ his enthusiasm for nuclear weapons proliferation knows no bounds.

What to make of Shellenberger’s conversion?

No doubt there will be more acknowledgements of power-weapons connections by nuclear industry insiders and lobbyists. As Shellenberger notes, the nuclear ‘community’ today finds itself in an increasingly untenable position denying the connections.17

What to make of Shellenberger’s advocacy of nuclear weapons proliferation? There is a degree of domestic support for nuclear weapons programs in weapons states … but few people support generalized nuclear weapons proliferation and few would swallow Shellenberger’s arguments including his call to shred the non-proliferation and disarmament system and to encourage weapons proliferation.

Understanding of the power-weapons connections, combined with opposition to nuclear weapons, is one of the motivations driving opposition to nuclear power. According to Shellenberger, the only two US states forcing the closure of nuclear plants, California and New York, also had the strongest nuclear disarmament movements.17

There is some concern that claims that the civil nuclear industry is an important (or even necessary) underpinning of a weapons program will be successfully used to secure additional subsidies for troubled nuclear power programs (e.g. in the US, France and the UK). After all, nuclear insiders and lobbyists wouldn’t abandon their decades-long deceit about power-weapons connections if not for the possibility that their new argument will gain traction, among politicians if not the public.

The growing acknowledgement ‒ and public understanding ‒ of power-weapons connections might have consequences for nuclear power newcomer countries such as Saudi Arabia. Assuming that the starting point is opposition to a Saudi nuclear weapons program, heightened sensitivity might constrain nuclear exporters who would otherwise export to Saudi Arabia with minimalist safeguards and no serious attempt to check the regime’s weapons ambitions. Or it might not lead to that outcome … as things stand, numerous nuclear exporters are scrambling for a share of the Saudi nuclear power program regardless of proliferation concerns.

More generally, a growing understanding of power-weapons connections might lead to a strengthening of the safeguards system along with other measures to firewall nuclear power from weapons. But again, that’s hypothetical and it is at best some way down the track ‒ there is no momentum in that direction.

And another hypothetical arising from the growing awareness about power-weapons connections: proliferation risks might be (and ought to be) factored in as a significant negative in comparative assessments of power generation options.

‘Shellenberger has gone down a rabbit hole’

As for Shellenberger, Nuclear Monitor has previously exposed the litany of falsehoods in his writings on nuclear and energy issues.16 In his most recent articles he exposes himself as an intellectual lightweight prepared to swing from one extreme of a debate to the other if that’s what it takes to build the case for additional subsidies for nuclear power.

A dangerous intellectual lightweight. Responding to Shellenberger’s more-the-merrier attitude towards nuclear weapons proliferation, pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman puts it bluntly: “Here’s the problem. The more nations have nuclear weapons, the more dangerous the world will be. Sooner or later some tin pot dictator or religious zealot, is likely to push a button and send us all to eternity.”23

Shellenberger’s about-turn on power-weapons connections provoked a hostile response from Yurman:23

“Shellenberger has crossed a red line for the global commercial nuclear industry, which has done everything in its power to avoid having the public conflate nuclear weapons with commercial nuclear energy. Worse, he’s given opponents of nuclear energy, like Greenpeace, a ready-made tool to attack the industry. …

“In the end he may have painted himself into a corner. Not only has he alienated some of his supporters on the commercial nuclear side of the house, but he also has energized the nonproliferation establishment, within governments and among NGOs, offering them a rich opportunity promote critical reviews of the risks of expanding nuclear energy as a solution to the challenge of climate change. …

“Shellenberger has gone down a rabbit hole with his two essays promoting the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Given all the great things he has done to promote commercial nuclear energy, it is a perplexing and disturbing development.

“It’s ok to be contrarian, but I fear he will pay a price for it with reduced support from some of his current supporters and he will face critical reviews from detractors of these essays. In the end public support and perception of the safety of nuclear energy may be diminished by these essays since they will lead to increased conflating of commercial nuclear energy with nuclear weapons. The fatal attraction of the power of nuclear weapons has lured another victim. It’s an ill-fated step backwards.”


  1. Nuclear Monitor #804, 28 May 2015, ‘The myth of the peaceful atom’, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/804/myth-peaceful-atom
  2. Nuclear Monitor #850, 7 Sept 2017, ‘Nuclear power, weapons and ‘national security”, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/850/nuclear-power-weapons-and-national-security
  3. Nuclear Monitor #850, ‘Does the US need a strong nuclear industry to prevent proliferation abroad?’, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/850/does-us-need-strong-nuclear-industry-prevent-proliferation-abroad
  4. Amy Harder, 16 June 2017, ‘Nuclear scramble on tax credits’, www.axios.com/nuclear-scramble-on-tax-credits-2442400126.html
  5. Energy Futures Initiative, 2017, ‘The U.S. Nuclear Energy Enterprise: A Key National Security Enabler’, https://energyfuturesinitiative.org/news/2017/8/15/efi-releases-nuclear-energy-enterprise-study, https://energyfuturesinitiative.org/s/EFI-nuclear-paper-17-Aug-2017.pdf
  6. Nuclear Monitor #857, 14 Feb 2018, ‘2017 in review: Uranium is best left in the ground’, https://wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/857/2017-review-uranium-best-left-ground
  7. Nuclear Monitor #858, ”Pro-nuclear environmentalists’ in denial about power/weapons connections’, https://wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/858/pro-nuclear-environmentalists-denial-about-powerweapons-connections
  8. Ted Norhaus, 14 May 2017, ‘Time to stop confusing nuclear weapons with nuclear power’, http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/energy-environment/333329-time-to-stop-confusing-nuclear-weapons-with-nuclear
  9. Friends of the Earth, ‘Ben Heard and the fake environment group ‘Bright New World’ that accepts secret corporate donations’, https://nuclear.foe.org.au/ben-heard-secret-corporate-donations/
  10. www.brightnewworld.org/how-to-give-our-donations-policy/
  11. Ben Heard, 12 Dec 2017, ‘Australian Conservation Foundation leverages peace prize against peaceful technology’, www.brightnewworld.org/media/2017/12/12/acfnot4peace
  12. Nicholas L. Miller, 2017, ‘Why Nuclear Energy Programs Rarely Lead to Proliferation’, International Security 42, No. 2, pp.40-77, www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/10.1162/ISEC_a_00293, Appendix: https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/8EMSFK
  13. Michael Shellenberger, 30 Oct 2017, ‘Saving Power in Danger: Michael Shellenberger Keynote Address to IAEA’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/10/30/saving-power-in-danger-keynote-address-to-iaea-inter-ministerial-2017
  14. Michael Shellenberger, 16 Oct 2017, ‘Enemies of the Earth: Unmasking the Dirty War Against Clean Energy in South Korea by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Greenpeace’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2017/10/16/enemies-of-the-earth-unmasking-dirty-war-friends-of-earth-greenpeace-south-korea-nuclear-energy
  15. 1 June 2017, ‘US-Korea Letter’, www.environmentalprogress.org/us-korea-letter
  16. Nuclear Monitor #853, 30 Oct 2017, ‘Exposing the misinformation of Michael Shellenberger and ‘Environmental Progress”, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/853/exposing-misinformation-michael-shellenberger-and-environmental-progress
  17. Michael Shellenberger, 29 Aug 2018, ‘For Nations Seeking Nuclear Energy, The Option To Build A Weapon Remains A Feature Not A Bug’, www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2018/08/29/for-nations-seeking-nuclear-energy-the-option-to-build-a-weapon-remains-a-feature-not-a-bug/#4288de6e2747
  18. Michael Shellenberger, 6 Aug 2018, ‘Who Are We To Deny Weak Nations The Nuclear Weapons They Need For Self-Defense?’, www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2018/08/06/who-are-we-to-deny-weak-nations-the-nuclear-weapons-they-need-for-self-defense/
  19. Michael Shellenberger, 28 Aug 2018, ‘How Nations Go Nuclear: An Interview With M.I.T.’s Vipin Narang’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2018/8/28/vipin-narang-interview
  20. Environmental Progress, 2018, Nations Building Nuclear ‒ Proliferation Analysis, https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YA4gLOekXNXiwpggCEx3uUpeu_STBlN_gHD60B5QG1E/edit#gid=0
  21. Matthew Fuhrmann and Benjamin Tkach, 8 Jan 2015, ‘Almost nuclear: Introducing the Nuclear Latency dataset’, Conflict Management and Peace Science, https://doi.org/10.1177/0738894214559672, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0738894214559672
  22. Christian Hacke, 6 Aug 2018, ‘As America Becomes Isolationist Under Trump, Germany Should Pursue Nuclear Weapons for Self-Defense’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2018/8/6/as-america-becomes-isolationist-under-trump-germany-should-pursue-nuclear-weapons-for-self-defense
  23. Dan Yurman, 30 Aug 2018, ‘The Fatal Attraction of Nuclear Weapons Lures Another Victim’, http://neutronbytes.com/2018/08/30/the-fatal-attraction-of-nuclear-weapons-lures-another-victim/

‘Almost Trumpian in its incoherence’: Critical responses to Michael Shellenberger’s promotion of nuclear weapons proliferation

Jim Green, 6 September 2018, ”Almost Trumpian in its incoherence’: Critical responses to Michael Shellenberger’s promotion of nuclear weapons proliferation’, Nuclear Monitor #865, https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/865/nuclear-monitor-865-6-september-2018

Ironically, one of the most thorough critiques of Michael Shellenberger’s dangerous advocacy of nuclear weapons proliferation1,2 was written by Environmental Progress attorney Frank Jablonski and published on the Environmental Progress website.3 Shellenberger is founder and president of Environmental Progress.

Jablonski writes:3

“From Shellenberger’s article2 you would conclude that, for any “weak nation”, or for the “poor or weak” persons within such nations, things are bound to improve with acquisition of nuclear weapons. So, for humanitarian reasons, the imperialistic nations and hypocritical people standing in the way of that acquisition should get out of the way. No. The article’s contentions are falsified by … logical untenability, things it got wrong, and things it left out. While Shellenberger’s willingness to take controversial positions has often been valuable, a “contrarian” view is not always right just because it is contrarian.”

Jablonski draws a parallel with NRA pro-guns propaganda:3

“The article seems to presume that if the nuclear non-proliferation framework is eliminated, nuclear capabilities will be quickly equalized through some kind of dystopian Oprah episode in which “YOU get a weapon, YOU get a weapon, EVERYBODY gets a weapon!!!”. The resulting equalization of capabilities will lead to peace, kind of in the vein of the NRA slogan that “an armed (international) society is a polite society”.

“This is, quite obviously, not how proliferation develops. Allowing ready access to nuclear weapons likely spreads them first to relatively strong nations that are already feeling international pressure, likely because of disturbing human rights records, hegemonic ambitions, or both. It may be hypocritical to try to deny nuclear weapons to autocracies that aspire to them, but these nations themselves can be “imperialist”, i.e., aspiring hegemons seeking to dominate their neighbors.

“By introducing the possibility that a neighboring nation may seek nuclear weapons, making such weapons broadly available disadvantages nations that prefer to spend their resources on development instead of militarization. There are good reasons for nations not to want to be pressured into a nuclear arms race with aspiring hegemons. …

“Forcing the weakest nations to compete for nuclear weapons to keep up with stronger and more aggressive neighbors is a recipe for harming the “poor and weak”, not helping them.”

On deterrence, Jablonski writes: “the fact that deterrence works in some circumstances does not mean that removing barriers to acquisition of nuclear weapons will result in generalized deterrence and stability”.3

As for Shellenberger’s attack on the “hypocritical, short-sighted, and imperialistic” who would “deny weak nations the nuclear weapons they need for self-defense”2, Jablonski writes:

“Who are these “hypocritical imperialists” that want to deny nuclear weapons to “weak nations”? I suggest that they include a lot of people who don’t want autocrats to get nuclear weapons, who don’t want nations forced into regional nuclear arms races, who want nuclear technology directed towards human welfare, and who want no-one, ever again, to die in a nuclear war.”3

‘Almost Trumpian in its incoherence’

Sam Seitz, a student at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, takes issue with Shellenberger’s claims that no nuclear powers have been invaded (“a pretty misleading statistic” and “wrong”); that battle deaths worldwide have declined by 95% (“fails to prove that nuclear weapons are responsible for this trend … as we are frequently reminded, correlation and causation are not equivalent”); that Indian and Pakistani deaths in two disputed territories declined sharply after Pakistan’s first nuclear weapons test in 1998 (“doesn’t account for non-nuclear factors like the role of outside mediation and domestic politics”); and that Nazi Germany invaded France because the French lacked a credible deterrent (“makes very little sense and conflates several things … also silly”).4

Seitz attempts to decipher one of Shellenberger’s indecipherable arguments:

“Shellenberger then argues that nuclear weapons moderate state behavior because “History shows that when countries acquire the bomb, they feel increasingly vulnerable.” (quote from Waltz) This makes absolutely no sense. Either nukes ensure existential security, preventing great power intervention, or they make countries more vulnerable, but to argue that nukes simultaneously make countries more and less vulnerable is almost Trumpian in its incoherence. And sure, maybe nuclear weapons promote foreign policy moderation, but that isn’t the same thing as internal moderation: The Cultural Revolution occurred after China had nuclear weapons, after all.”

Seitz points to another problem:

“Shellenberger presumably is only advocating for American acceptance of proliferation. After all, forcing other countries to go along with Washington is the exact kind of interference and American bullying he seems to so despise. But not every country will agree. Israel has struck nascent nuclear programs on several occasions, for example, and the Soviets almost launched an attack on the Chinese nuclear program. So, even if nuclear weapons make conflict less likely, attempting to acquire nuclear weapons actually tends to precipitate conflict as potential adversaries try desperately to stop a proliferator before it is too late. This is, after all, the reason the U.S. and its coalition partners invaded Iraq.”

Shellenberger points to the same problem, asking whether latency could “also be a threat to peace?” and noting Israeli and US threats to take pre-emptive action against Iran.1 He doesn’t offer an answer or explore the issue further. He might ‒ but doesn’t ‒ explore scenarios such as multiple simultaneous Chernobyl- or Fukushima-scale catastrophes deliberately inflicted by warring nation-states.

Friendly fire

Even those who Shellenberger cites approvingly in support of his arguments differ with him on fundamental points. He describes Vipin Narang as an “up-and-coming star in the field of nuclear peace and security studies”, but Narang doesn’t share his sanguine view about nuclear weapons security.5 According to Narang:5

“Pakistan may be one or two senior radicalized officers from having a threat to, or breakdown of, command and control. We assume there will be continuity in government, and regular transitions. The trouble is chaos or irregular leadership transitions, and uncertainty about the control of nuclear weapons in the state. Kim Jong Un has signaled that he has sole authority over nuclear weapons. But when he flew Air China to Singapore to meet with Trump, what if there had been rumor the plane had been shot down en route? What is his command and control? What if he feared being shot down and put in place a “dead hand” procedure which means, “If I’m shot down, you fire a nuclear ICBM at New York?” Rumors can go viral and there have been no way for those in Pyongyang to reach Kim, and they may have assumed the worst. These are the kinds of things that scare me.”

Asked by Shellenberger if it is the case that the more nuclear weapons states there are, the better, Narang responded:5

“Nuclear weapons do deter. I understand why weak nations want them. They do provide deterrence against invasion. They do provide existential protection. The question is are there some states, with certain regime types or civil-military relations, where the risks outweigh the perceived deterrence benefits?

“But states like North Korea, Pakistan, and Egypt have potentially more volatile domestic political situations than, for example Japan or Germany or India. And even India is very opaque about its management and security procedures and the US has been concerned about lax oversight even there ‒ and even the US itself is not immune to the risks of accidents, having had quite a few snafus of its own recently.

“So even in the most stable of states, the risk of accidents is real. Add to that mix the potential for violent domestic upheaval and one has to question whether having nuclear weapons possessed by a state at risk of coup or revolution is a good thing. You start getting into a world where more countries have them, there’s simply more systemic risk.”


    1. Michael Shellenberger, 29 Aug 2018, ‘For Nations Seeking Nuclear Energy, The Option To Build A Weapon Remains A Feature Not A Bug’, www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2018/08/29/for-nations-seeking-nuclear-energy-the-option-to-build-a-weapon-remains-a-feature-not-a-bug/#4288de6e2747
    2. Michael Shellenberger, 6 Aug 2018, ‘Who Are We To Deny Weak Nations The Nuclear Weapons They Need For Self-Defense?’, www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2018/08/06/who-are-we-to-deny-weak-nations-the-nuclear-weapons-they-need-for-self-defense/
    3. Frank Jablonski, 24 Aug 2018, ‘Shellenberger Is Wrong About Proliferation’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2018/8/24/shellenberger-is-wrong-about-proliferation
    4. Sam Seitz, 6 Aug 2018, ‘The Nonproliferation Regime Exists for a Reason, Let’s Not Tear it Up’, https://politicstheorypractice.com/2018/08/06/the-nonproliferation-regime-exists-for-a-reason-lets-not-tear-it-up/
    5. Michael Shellenberger, 28 Aug 2018, ‘How Nations Go Nuclear: An Interview With M.I.T.’s Vipin Narang’, http://environmentalprogress.org/big-news/2018/8/28/vipin-narang-interview

Nuclear power’s weapons link: Cause to limit, not boost exports

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

By Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski, September 20, 2018


The criticism that supporters of US nuclear exports have found most difficult to counter has been that their wares give an importing country a big leg up on getting a bomb. For decades the exporters’ response has been to pretend this was not so. Now comes Michael Shellenberger, a prominent nuclear power advocate, who casts all this aside. Yes, he writes, there is a strong link between nuclear electricity and weapons, and in fact most countries that built nuclear power plants did so with weapons at least partly in mind. But this is not so much a confession as a sales pitch. He thinks the weapons potential of nuclear power plants actually prevents war—the weapons shadow cast by nuclear plants itself deters enemies—and that this attribute should be exploited as a sales advantage by US nuclear exporters.

Shellenberger’s assessment of the nuclear power-weapons link is important rhetorically because it comes from the nuclear side of the house. He has been celebrated by the nuclear industry and the conservative press as one of the new breed, “pro-technology,” environmental activists who joined the nuclear ranks and are not afraid to do battle with their colleagues over nuclear power. So, his admission about the closeness of civilian and military nuclear technology—realistically what lawyers call a declaration against interest—carries a certain weight and may convince people who have up to now resisted the notion.

But Shellenberger goes on. He was always a bit unrestrained in his advocacy of nuclear power, and in speaking of nuclear weapons he surpasses himself. In an earlier piece, he presents an anecdotal case on why nuclear weapons were a cure-all for world conflict.

He said if only “weak” France had nuclear weapons in 1940 then “strong” Germany would not have attacked. But what if Germany was the one with the bomb?

He also points to India and Pakistan: They had three large wars before they armed themselves with nuclear weapons but none afterwards, only “border skirmishes” with relatively low casualties. And if such conflicts got out of hand and led to nuclear weapon use, well, not to worry—Shellenberger cites an academic “expert” who claims that the nuclear conflict would surely be contained at the “tactical” level. In truth, of course, no one has any idea.

That the presence of nuclear weapons has reduced the frequency of war is an arguable proposition. But one only has to consider the experience of the Cuban Missile Crisis to realize it comes at the price of gambling on nuclear war. Most people have forgotten about them, but our nuclear forces are still on alert, and their use is not ruled out. The “experts” speak of deployment for deterrence only, but deterrence is predicated on use in certain circumstances.

All these inescapable uncertainties apparently got swept away in Shellenberger’s mind by the “Eureka” moment he describes in the latest article: Based on a paper by a couple of political science professors, he asserts that a nuclear power program itself provides a significant level of “deterrence-related” benefits — “a bomb isn’t even required.” He says that when he thought of this, he almost fell off his chair. Why, he wondered, was this fact “not being promoted as one of nuclear power’s many benefits?”

One reason is that it’s a ridiculous proposal based on half-baked ideas.

But there is a serious side to this too. Unfortunately, his views, foolish as they are, are not so different from primitive views privately held in high official and semi-official nuclear circles. It is useful to bring them out of hiding, and we have to thank Shellenberger for that.

Take the Bush Administration’s 2005 nuclear deal with India. It tore a gaping hole in the Non-Proliferation Treaty and yet was described as promoting nonproliferation. Is there anyone so foolish as to believe that hypocrisy? Or to doubt that India’s interest in the arrangement was mainly fortifying its nuclear weapons? And wasn’t the notion of supporting India as a strategic foil to China at the core of US interest?

Consider also the current administration’s efforts to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Saudi Arabia to facilitate nuclear exports to that country. One doesn’t even have to speculate about the Saudis’ interest in bombs—the Crown Prince famously made that clear. And from the US side, it is also clear that a reason to put nuclear technology in the hands of the Saudis is to frighten Iran.

The immediate nuclear issue now is what controls, if any, our government should impose on the proposed US-Saudi nuclear cooperative agreement. The sensible course from the security point of view, which Secretary of State Pompeo has publicly backed, is to make sure Saudi Arabia will not have the capacity to produce nuclear explosives—a controlling condition called the gold standard. But the Saudis are pushing back on that—for obvious reasons—and their supporters in the administration would like to relax the export controls that would apply, in part to get the business but also to have another stick to shake at Iran.

We should have none of this. It has been settled US policy for decades that we don’t want more countries with nuclear weapons or countries threatening to make them. Where we haven’t been consistent in applying that policy regarding nuclear power exports, we need to make corrections, not by exporting more, but less.

Film review: Michael Moore’s weird world of renewable energy haters

Jim Green, Nuclear Monitor #886, 4 June 2020, https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/886/nuclear-monitor-886-8-june-2020 or https://www.foe.org.au/planet_of_the_humans

This is a short excerpt – for the full article see the above links.

‘Planet of the Humans’ (POTH) has been watched by millions, and has attracted an extraordinary amount of commentary, since it was made freely available in April. …

Michael Shellenberger has enthusiastically promoted POTH, saying that it exposes “why renewables are worse for environment than fossil fuels” and using the anti-renewables diatribe to promote nuclear power.

Ted Nordhaus, a nuclear power advocate who collaborated with Shellenberger on the ‘death of environmentalism’ in the mid-2000s, criticized Shellenberger and some others for being “so single-mindedly pro-nuclear and anti-renewables that they have cheered the movie’s cherry-picking, exaggerations, and conspiracies while largely excusing its deep Malthusianism.”

Shellenberger has become a favorite of the far-right and the climate science deniers. He was interviewed by Tucker Carlson on Fox TV last year, attacking renewables and in particular the ‘green new deal’. Recently Shellenberger was interviewed by Andrew Bolt ‒ Australia’s version of Tucker Carlson ‒ to promote POTH and to promote nuclear power.

Shellenberger’s forthcoming book suggests his lurch to the anti-environment right is almost complete. The Harper Collins website provides this description of the book:

“The risk of Earth warming to very high temperatures is increasingly unlikely thanks to slowing population growth and abundant natural gas. Curiously, the people who are the most alarmist about the problems also tend to oppose the obvious solutions. What’s really behind the rise of apocalyptic environmentalism? There are powerful financial interests. There are desires for status and power. But most of all there is a desire among supposedly secular people for transcendence. This spiritual impulse can be natural and healthy. But in preaching fear without love, and guilt without redemption, the new religion is failing to satisfy our deepest psychological and existential needs.”

So climate change isn’t such a problem, and those who think it is should support nuclear power (and gas!) … but they don’t for quasi-religious reasons. Where have we heard that before? That’s right ‒ from Carlson, Bolt and the rest of the far-right.

One last observation about this weird world of renewable energy haters ‒ their extraordinary ability to turn on a dime and to contradict themselves. … Shellenberger told Tucker Carlson last year that one of the reasons people oppose nuclear power is that “they associate it with the bomb, which is wrong, they are two separate technologies.” But in 2018 Shellenberger argued that “having a weapons option is often the most important factor in a state pursuing peaceful nuclear energy” and that “at least 20 nations sought nuclear power at least in part to give themselves the option of creating a nuclear weapon”.