Controversial author talks global warming

The discussion, called Policy and a Pint, was held at the Varsity Theater.

Ahnalese Rushmann

University classes and curious Twin Cities residents came together for a sold-out event at the Varsity Theater on Tuesday evening to listen to one man’s controversial ideas about environmentalism.

Author Michael Shellenberger was the guest at the hour-long Policy and a Pint discussion, co-sponsored by 89.3 The Current and The Citizens League.

Shellenberger, along with writing partner Ted Nordhaus, recently released their book, “Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility.”

The book follows their 2004 essay, “The Death of Environmentalism,” which drew criticism for arguing that old environmental movements and models had to “die” in order to facilitate real change.

“There’s no kind of inexpensive technological fix,” Shellenberger said of modern environmental problems.

Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute think tank, focused much of the dialogue on global warming issues.

“We can overcome global warming if we put our minds to it,” he said, adding that global warming issues can’t be approached in the same way acid rain and pollution problems are.

Environmental groups haven’t been honest about the enormity of the global warming task, Shellenbeger said.

He said people should look at moving toward a clean energy economy rather than be intimidated by talk of a “global warming apocalypse.”

Shellenberger said there should be $30 billion put toward these efforts – or about $100 for every man, woman and child in America.

Bob Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences, said Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s ideas take a unique approach grounded in economics.

“If you look at the dollars gathered and spent, it’s not been as effective as you might’ve hoped for,” he said of past environmental efforts.

We are a market-driven society and there needs to be better ways to replace what’s on the market with sustainable options, Elde said.

He said businesses are catching on to greener methods.

“All kinds of business entities see a market in becoming greener,” he said.

“Renewable research was not a glamour field in research 10 years ago,” Elde said. “Even five years ago.”

Shellenberger said he is pro-solar power and emphasized that a move to solar power can be mathematically equated so as to provide an idea of what needs to be done.

Bryan Jake, a fifth-year bioproducts and biosystems and global studies student, said he attended the event with fellow members of the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs.

He said he agreed with Shellenbeger’s assertion that there are quantitative measures showing the realistic potential of solar energy.

“It would be cool to see more of these events,” Jake said.

He said he’s been to environmental policy discussions in Japan and Australia. It was great to attend a similar one in Minneapolis, Jake said.

Deb Swackhamer, interim director of the University’s Institute on the Environment, compared Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s message to the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

“I felt that they stood up and said, ‘The emperor is naked,’ ” she said.

The authors’ essay was perceived as offensive and threatening to some mainstream environmental organizations, Swackhamer said.

“The message was a little painful to hear,” she said. “To be told it didn’t work very well, you can get defensive.”

Victoria Ford, policy manager for The Citizens League, said event organizers knew about the authors from research for a past Policy and a Pint event.

“They’re going against the grain on the environmentalist movement,” she said.

Julia Nerbonne said she took her environmental ethics class of 70 students to the event. She said she planned on having further discussion about the event in the classroom.

Elde said overall, Shellenberger and Nordhaus’ work has had a positive impact.

“In a certain sense, they made their point and now it’s exploded,” he said. “The world has shifted pretty dramatically since that paper was written and it’s really a new day.”