Michael Shellenberger

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Michael Shellenberger
Book reading.jpg
Michael Shellenberger
Genreenergy, global warming, human development
Notable awardsHero of the Environment, 2008, Green Book Award, 2008
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Michael Shellenberger
Book reading.jpg
Michael Shellenberger
Genreenergy, global warming, human development
Notable awardsHero of the Environment, 2008, Green Book Award, 2008

Michael Shellenberger is an American author, environmental policy expert, and the president of Breakthrough Institute. He was named a Time magazine Heroes of the Environment (2008),[1] winner of the 2008 Green Book Award,[2] co-editor of Love Your Monsters (2011) and co-author of Break Through (Houghton Mifflin 2007) and The Death of Environmentalism (2004).[3] He and his co-author Ted Nordhaus have been described as "ecological modernists"[4] and "eco-pragmatists."[5]

Breakthrough Institute[edit]

Shellenberger is president of the Breakthrough Institute, which he co-founded with Ted Nordhaus in 2003.[3] Today, Breakthrough Institute consists of a policy staff, an annual conference, a policy journal, and a network of affiliated fellows.[6][7][8]

Breakthrough Institute analyses of energy, climate and innovation policy have been cited by National Public Radio[9] the Wall Street Journal[10] and C-SPAN.[11]

Shellenberger has co-authored analyses of cap and trade climate legislation,[12] of the "planetary boundaries" hypothesis,[13][14] energy rebound from energy efficiency measures,[15] carbon pricing,[16] renewable energy subsidies,[17][18] nuclear energy,[19] and shale gas[18][20][21]

The Institute argues that climate policy should be focused on higher levels of public funding on technology innovation to "make clean energy cheap," and has been critical of climate policies like cap and trade and carbon pricing that are focused primarily on raising energy prices.[22][23][24][25]

The Institute has conducted research showing that shale gas and other major technological innovations were created by American government institutions and public financing. The Institute advocates higher levels of public spending on technology innovation, which they argue will lead to higher environmental quality, economic growth, and quality of life.[18][20][21]


In 2004, Nordhaus and Shellenberger, both long-time strategists for environmental groups, co-authored a controversial essay, "The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World." The paper argues that environmentalism is conceptually and institutionally incapable of dealing with climate change and should "die" so that a new politics can be born. The essay was debated,[3][26] and continues to be widely discussed[27] and taught[28]

In, 2007, Houghton Mifflin published Nordhaus and Shellenberger's Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Wired Magazine called Break Through "the most important thing to happen to environmentalism since Silent Spring."[29] The book is an argument for what its authors describe as a positive, "post-environmental" politics that abandons the environmentalist focus on nature protection for a new focus on technological innovation to create a new economy. Time Magazine named Nordhaus and Shellenberger two of its 32 Heroes of the Environment (2008) calling Break Through "prescient" for its prediction that climate policy should focus not on making fossil fuels expensive through regulation but rather on making clean energy cheap.[1] Break Through was awarded the Green Book Award, 2009, whose other recipients include E.O. Wilson and James Hansen.[2]

Their writings have focused on the intersection of climate change, energy innovation, and politics. The two predicted the failure of cap and trade for its focus on making fossil fuels expensive rather than on technology innovation to make clean energy cheap.[30][31] They faulted the Kyoto climate treaty for being focused on what they called "shared sacrifice" rather than shared technological innovation.[32] They have criticized green cultural life as a consequence of status anxieties among Western consumers.[33] And they have argued for a "theology" of ecological modernization that embraces technological innovation and human development.[34]

Nordhaus and Shellenberger have argued for a "climate pragmatism" and an embrace of modernization and human development. They are co-authors of an alternative framework to the United Nations process focused on energy innovation, pollution control and adaptation.[35][36][37]

In 2011, Nordhaus and Shellenberger started The Breakthrough Journal, which The New Republic called "among the most complete efforts to provide a fresh answer" to the question of how to modernize liberal thought,[7] and The National Review called "...the most promising effort at self-criticism by our liberal cousins in a long time."[38]

Early career[edit]

Shellenberger's early writing and activism focused on Latin America. That work included the founding of an Amnesty International chapter in high school in Greeley Colorado, and debating Latin American policy, for which he attended the National Forensic League Championships. He traveled and worked in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s.[39] In 1993 he moved to the San Francisco to work with progressive organization, Global Exchange, authoring articles on Haiti,[40] Brazil[41][42] Mexico,[43] Gulf War syndrome,[44] and affirmative action.[45] At UC-Santa Cruz he helped organize a graduate students union and defend affirmative action.[46] Later he co-founded Communication Works, an allied progressive public relations organization.[47] which worked on a wide range of campaigns, from challenging Nike over its labor practices in Asia, to saving the Headwaters Redwood forest. In 2002 Shellenberger co-founded the consulting firm Lumina Strategies.[48] Its clients included Global Exchange, Americans United for Affirmative Action, the Ford Foundation, the Sierra Club, and the Venezuelan Information Center.[49][50] In 2005 Shellenberger and Nordhaus co-founded American Environics,[51] whose clients include AARP, Earthjustice, the Ford Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation.[citation needed]


The writings of Shellenberger have been praised and criticized. Time Magazine called Break Through "prescient" for its prediction that a climate politics focused on limiting emissions, energy consumption and growth would fail. Wired magazine wrote that Break Through "could turn out to be the best thing to happen to environmentalism since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring."[52] The Wall Street Journal wrote, "If heeded, Nordhaus and Shellenberger's call for an optimistic outlook -- embracing economic dynamism and creative potential -- will surely do more for the environment than any U.N. report or Nobel Prize.".[53] Former Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, wrote, "I am deeply disappointed and angered by" "The Death of Environmentalism," which he called "shoddy"[54] and "unclear, unfair and divisive.”[55] Former Greenpeace Executive Director John Passacantando said, referring to both Shellenberger and his coauthor Ted Nordhaus, "These guys laid out some fascinating data, but they put it in this over-the-top language and did it in this in-your-face way."[56]

Personal life[edit]

Shellenberger was raised in a Mennonite household in Colorado and attended college at Earlham College, a Quaker school in Richmond, Indiana.[57][58] He went on to receive a Masters Degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Shellenberger has two children and resides in the San Francisco Bay area.[57][58]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bryan Walsh, Time Magazine, September 24, 2008
  2. ^ a b Stevens' Center for Science Writing, January 8, 2008
  3. ^ a b c Felicity Barringer, "Paper Sets Off A Debate On Environmentalism's Future," New York Times February 6, 2005
  4. ^ http://e360.yale.edu/feature/new_green_vision_technology_as_our_planets_last_best_hope/2671/
  5. ^ Keith Kloor, "The Great Schism in the Environmental Movement," December 12, 2012
  6. ^ Joe Garofoli, "Thinkers Take Apart Liberalism in Order to Save It," San Francisco Chronicle, June 16, 2011
  7. ^ a b Mark Schmitt, The New Republic, "Has Liberalism Entered a Post-Obama Era?, June 30, 2011
  8. ^ The Breakthrough Institute
  9. ^ Christopher Joyce, "Nuclear Woes Push Japan into a New Energy Future," NPR News, March 11, 2012
  10. ^ Joseph White, Obama's Energy Shift: It's Not About Climate, Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2011
  11. ^ C-Span, "Role of Government in Energy Innovation," May 22, 2012
  12. ^ Bryan Walsh, "What the Energy Bill Really Means for CO2 Emissions," Time Magazine, June 27, 2009
  13. ^ "Boundary Conditions," The Economist, June 16, 2012
  14. ^ David Biello, "Walking the Line: How to Identify Safe Limits for Human Impacts on the Planet," Scientific American, June 13, 2012
  15. ^ John Tierney, "When Energy Efficiency Sullies the Environment," New York Times, March 7, 2011
  16. ^ Michael Totty, "Should There Be a Price on Carbon?" Wall Street Journal, October 5, 2012
  17. ^ "The End of Clean Energy Subsidies?" New York Times, May 5, 2012
  18. ^ a b c David Leonhardt, "There's Still Hope for the Planet," New York Times, July 21, 2012
  19. ^ Michael Totty, "Nuclear Energy's Fall — and Rise," Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2010
  20. ^ a b Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, "A Boom in Shale Gas? Credit the Feds," Washington Post, December 16, 2011
  21. ^ a b Kevin Begos, "Decades of Federal Dollars Helped Fuel Gas Boom," Associated Press, September 23, 2012
  22. ^ Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, "Second Life: A Manifeto for a New Environmentalism," The New Republic, September 24, 2007
  23. ^ Richard Harris, "Putting a Financial Spin on Global Warming," NPR News, June 24, 2009
  24. ^ Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, "How to Change the Global Energy Conversation, Wall Street Journal, November 28, 2012
  25. ^ "Fast, Clean and Cheap: Cutting Global Warming's Gordian Knot," Harvard Law and Policy Review, January 2008, Vol. II, No. 1
  26. ^ Katharine Mieszkowski, "Dead Movement Walking?" Salon, January 14, 2005
  27. ^ http://aaahq.org/AM2012/abstract.cfm?submissionID=1955)
  28. ^ http://www.skidmore.edu/~bturner/go231.htm
  29. ^ http://www.wired.com/science/planetearth/magazine/15-10/mf_burning?currentPage=all.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  30. ^ Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, "Getting Real on Climate Change, American Prospect, November 21, 2008
  31. ^ Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, "Cap and Charade," The New Republic, October 14, 2010
  32. ^ Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus "Scrap Kyoto," Democracy Journal, Summer 2008.
  33. ^ Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, "The Green Bubble: Why Environmentalism Keeps Imploding," The New Republic, May 20, 2009
  34. ^ Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, "Evolve," Orion Magazine, September/October 2011
  35. ^ Daren Samuelsohn, "Report: Treat climate change like 'Fight Club'," Politico, July 26, 2011
  36. ^ Lisa Friedman, "'Climate pragmatists' call for an end to Kyoto process" ClimateWire, July 26, 2011
  37. ^ Bryan Walsh, "Fighting Climate Change by Not Focusing on Climate," Time Magazine, July 26, 2011
  38. ^ Steven Hayward, "An Environmental Reformation," The National Review, July 18, 2011
  39. ^ http://www.greeleytribune.com/news/4684343-113/shellenberger-energy-gas-innovation
  40. ^ The San Francisco Chronicle. January 11, 1996 http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/LETTERS-TO-THE-EDITOR-3152700.php#page-2.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  41. ^ "Fed-Up Brazilians Want Political Change". The New York Times. December 27, 1993. 
  42. ^ "Has Brazil Earned Security Council Seat?". The New York Times. April 22, 1995. 
  43. ^ "Yoked by Debt, Mexicans Find a Voice : Economy: Hit by crushing financial burdens, middle-class citizens flock to a group fighting business-as-usual government". Los Angeles Times. April 22, 1996. 
  44. ^ Shellenberger, Michael (May 27, 1996). The San Francisco Chronicle http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/Remembering-the-Gulf-War-and-its-sick-vets-3141874.php.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  45. ^ "Affirmative Action Is No Bar to Ambition". The New York Times. May 6, 1996. 
  46. ^ http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=SJ&p_theme=sj&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&s_dispstring=allfields%28michael%20shellenberger%29%20AND%20date%281/17/1994%20to%202/1/2013%29&p_field_date-0=YMD_date&p_params_date-0=date:B,E&p_text_date-0=1/17/1994%20to%202/1/2013%29&p_field_advanced-0=&p_text_advanced-0=%28%22michael%20shellenberger%22%29&xcal_numdocs=20&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&xcal_useweights=no.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  47. ^ San Francisco Chronicle, 5 August 1997 Progressive PR: Communication Works joins the ranks of politically correct spin doctors
  48. ^ "New firm founded". PR Week. 2002-09-02. 
  49. ^ Collier, Robert (2004-08-21). "Venezuelan politics suit Bay Area activists' talents". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-02-09. 
  50. ^ "Schellenberger's filing to US DoJ Foreign Agent Registration Unit". Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  51. ^ Franke-Ruta, Garance (2006-01-18). "Remapping the Culture Debate". The American Prospect. Retrieved 2009-02-17. 
  52. ^ Mark Horowitz, Wired, 25 September 2007, Two Environmentalists Anger Their Brethren
  53. ^ Jonathan Adler, The Wall Street Journal, 27 November 2007, The Lowdown on Doomsday: Why the public shrugs at global warming
  54. ^ Bryan Walsh, "Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger,"
  55. ^ [1]
  56. ^ Barringer, Felicity (February 6, 2005). "Paper Sets Off a Debate on Environmentalism's Future". The New York Times. 
  57. ^ a b "Michael Shellenberger". thebreakthrough.org. Retrieved November 7, 2013. 
  58. ^ a b Mark Horowitz (September 25, 2007). "Two Environmentalists Anger Their Brethren". wired.com. Retrieved November 7, 2013. [dead link]

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