“If you make your graph tall enough and you cherry-pick a particular period of time, you can make anything look scary. It’s really what they don’t show you,” says longtime environmental activist Michael Shellenberger.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres recently said a new U.N. climate change report was a “code red for humanity.” How should people understand the findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report? When it comes to heat waves, forest fires, and sea-level rise, what are journalists today often not telling us?
Shellenberger is the founder and president of the nonprofit Environmental Progress and the author of “Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.”
Jan Jekielek: Michael Shellenberger, it’s such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Michael Shellenberger: Thanks for having me back, Jan.
Mr. Jekielek: Michael, there’s a lot of new information and new messaging out there around climate change and around rising temperatures. There was a USA Today article that I was reading several weeks ago that talked about NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] findings—that July was basically the hottest month on record, and this spelled some kind of doom. What are your thoughts here?
Mr. Shellenberger: Yes, climate change is real. The world is getting warmer. It’s gotten about one degree Celsius warmer since the pre-industrial period, but on so many other environmental metrics, things are going in the right direction.
The period of the worst heat waves, for example, was in the 1930s. It has been a hot decade, but the 1930s remain the highest magnitude of heat waves. The chance of dying of an extreme weather event has declined over 99 per cent for the average human being. Deaths from natural disasters overall are down 90 per cent.
We produce 25 per cent more food than we need. There’s no estimate of running out of food. Sea level rise is something that we’ve done a very good job adapting to, and we’ll continue to do a good job adapting to.
Netherlands is a country where many parts are seven meters below sea level. The median estimate for sea level rise by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, [IPCC] which just came out with a report, is about a half a meter.
So what I object to is the painting of humans as fragile or super vulnerable. We’re more resilient, we’re safer than ever, at least at a physical level—even though we see rising levels of anxiety and depression, particularly in young people, probably due to social media. The message that people need to hear that they’re not hearing is that the vast majority of environmental trends are going in the right direction, including climate change.
Mr. Jekielek: This is fascinating. Of course, we had a whole bunch of headlines when this new IPCC report came out. I immediately thought of you because there’s a report from FT [Financial Times] where they show a graph of this dramatic spike in temperature. I’ll quote something here. “Humanity stands on the brink of disaster, but with creative thinking and collective will, we may still have time to avert the catastrophe.” This is very, very different language and messaging than what you’re suggesting—polar opposites, actually.
Mr. Shellenberger: It really is. The communications from the United Nations have been irresponsible. The slogan they published the day of the IPCC reports publication was
“No one is safe.” Well, technically, I guess that’s true. We’re all going to die at some point, but it’s deeply misleading, because we’re safer than ever.
Nobody disagrees with this. The chances of dying from an extreme weather event are 99 per cent less today than they were in the past. Deaths from natural disasters have declined over 90 per cent. Just look around us. We have a built infrastructure. Go on YouTube and look at what life was like in 1800 or 1900. We were much more vulnerable to weather events back then.
The way that the Financial Times created a scary graphic is just through the magic of graphic arts. If you make your graph tall enough and you cherry-pick a particular period of time, you can make anything look scary. It’s really what they don’t show you. They don’t show you the big increases in food surpluses. They don’t show the fact that we have these incredible flood management systems.
To some extent, there are places in the world like Europe, where more people are vulnerable to floods. At the same time, vastly fewer people die of floods because they have really good flood management systems. To the extent to which there’s more people experiencing floods in Europe, it’s because more people live in areas where floods occur historically, namely on riverbanks. It’s not because of a modest amount of more rain. So we see with all these problems, whether it’s forest fires or floods or hurricanes, what humans do on the ground massively outweighs any increase in wind speed or precipitation or air temperatures.
Just look at forest fires in California. What determines whether or not you have high intensity fires is whether or not you’ve managed your forest to reduce the amount of wood fuel that’s accumulated on the forest floor over 100 years. So we see high intensity fires will arrive in a well-managed forest, and then those fires will drop to the ground and become low intensity fires, which are the fires that we want. So forest management outweighs the one or two degrees difference of temperature.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s a couple of really interesting vantage points here, because I keep seeing extreme weather events and these fires cited as direct evidence of the catastrophic results of man-made climate change.
Mr. Shelenberger: What climate alarmists are trying to do is to trick you into thinking that an increase in temperature is the same thing as a catastrophe. All else being equal, we’d rather not change the temperature very much on earth. That’s simply because we’ve adjusted our farms and our cities and our wildlife refuges to a particular temperature.
But if you had to choose, you’d rather get a little warmer than cooler, because many more people die of cold than heat. When it comes to heat, deaths from heat waves have declined between 50 and 75 per cent in the United States, strictly because of more air conditioning. There have always been places on earth that were too hot for humans to live. We’ve actually made much more of the earth habitable with air conditioning, and heating as well.
So what we know is that air conditioning is the main event. It might be one or two degrees hotter for longer parts of the year, in some parts of the world, but what will determine whether or not people die is air conditioning. On the issue of “safetyism,” Recently, I just spent a few days reading every single New York Times article about heat waves since the beginning of their archives, which I believe is in the mid-1800s.
And what was so striking is the 1930s was the worst period. By far the worst heat waves in the United States were in the 1930s. But the media coverage was so different. Reporters were still shocked by the heat waves, but they were shocked because they thought that things were getting better. And this was, by the way, in the middle of The Great Depression. It was shocking, but there was optimism.
What we see today is climate pessimism, and it’s very depressing by the way. It’s making children depressed and anxious. But climate pessimism is completely unfounded based on what’s happening in the physical world. In the physical world, there is only basis for climate optimism.
But what’s happened is really a change in the perception of journalists and other media elites from the 1930s to today—from a point of view, even during The Great Depression, of significant optimism and being surprised by the heat deaths in the 1930s, to today, where elites, basically in a religious fervor, believe that the world is coming to an end. Then they interpret the events around them within that framework.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about the IPCC report. I haven’t dug into it, but you’ve said that you feel what they’ve presented is accurate. It’s just that the summary suggests some sort of cataclysmic issues that need to be dealt with urgently. How can this be so different, if the content is actually in the realm of what you’re talking about?
Mr. Shellenberger: There’s a couple of things. First, for the most part, the natural science that’s reviewed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is accurate. They do a pretty good job of that. All of the vast majority of the distortions and the pessimism comes out in the summary that you described, and in the press release, and in the statements by the people that assemble the report. So it’s really in the public relations that the distortions are occurring.
However, in this most recent report, there was some bad behavior in the actual scenarios they constructed. About half of the scenarios assume much higher levels of emissions and therefore higher levels of warming in the future than any mainstream expert really believes is possible. The way that they do this is they assume that the amount of coal that humans will burn will be six times greater than today.
Nobody thinks that’s likely, because as you know, and most people know, natural gas has become much cheaper over the last 10 or 15 years, particularly due to fracking in the United States, but also around the world due to the success of offshore gas drilling. We just got really good at gas drilling. And when you hit a good reserve of gas offshore, that gas flowing in is just much easier and cheaper to harvest than coal.
Since coal creates twice as much carbon emission per unit of energy, the switch from coal to gas has been really good for the climate. What we know is that we’re almost certainly going to see temperatures peak between a two and three degrees Celsius increase over pre-industrial levels. Like I said, you’d rather not have any warming or cooling for that matter, but that’s much better than the three or four or even five degrees of warming that people had feared.
So many of the scenarios of the really scary picture of the future are based on assumptions around coal use that experts have roundly decided are not going to occur. So that is one area where the IPCC really failed in its mission to provide an accurate view of the best available science is showing.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about coal. I’m aware that China under the Communist Party is really ramping up its building of coal-fired plants. If China is investing so much in coal and of course is not accountable at present under the Paris Accords and other such efforts, could we not reach these kinds of coal-fired emission levels?
Mr. Shellenberger: It’s always hard to get a clear picture exactly of what’s going on in terms of China’s future energy. I’ve been there, and I speak to a lot of people that try to understand what’s going on, since it’s a planned economy. You have different interest groups that represent coal, who represent nuclear, and who represent solar and other renewables. We know that natural gas has become much more expensive this year towards the end of the pandemic. That means that there has been more of a switch towards coal in places like China. But China’s also doing a lot of nuclear.
From an environmental point of view, nuclear is best because it requires very little natural resources, and produces zero air and water pollution. And it’s the only way of making electricity whose waste is safely stored, and has never hurt anybody—in contrast to solar and coal and wind turbines which are just dumped into the natural environment or into landfills.
My concern about China when it comes to nuclear doesn’t have to do with the environment. It has to do with the fact that it is making alliances with our allies to build nuclear power plants. So this is obviously a problem because the truth about nuclear is that it’s a dual use technology. You can use it to make electricity in the most environmentally sustainable way possible, but you can also use the materials to make weapons.
So for that reason, the United States has always made it a priority to work with our allies to build nuclear power plants, so that we can be on the ground and be their partners. The United States has allowed China to work with Saudi Arabia, which is a country which I think a lot of us have concerns about in terms of its human rights record. But, nonetheless, it has been the way that the United States has balanced Iran in the Middle East.
By letting China work with Saudi Arabia to enrich uranium and build nuclear power plants, the United States is undermining our national security interests in a region that we know is extremely volatile and extremely important, particularly now that Afghanistan has fallen into the hands of the Taliban.
So my concern is that because of our obsession and our romantic love of renewables in the United States, particularly among progressives, and the fear of nuclear, we’ve actually been falling down in terms of what we need to be doing environmentally with nuclear. We’ve also been giving up a national security advantage to our biggest geopolitical rival, China.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned that the waste from nuclear power has never hurt anybody, I believe that’s what you said. Is that actually the case? I can think of examples where it has caused harm to people.
Mr. Shellenberger: By nuclear waste, we’re talking about the fuel rods from civilian nuclear power plants. During World War II when they were making nuclear weapons, and there were a lot of messes. Nuclear weapons are totally different animals. You’ve had cleanups of nuclear weapons production in Hanford, Washington, and in other parts of the United States and around the world, but that’s not from nuclear power. That’s not what we refer to as nuclear waste for the most part.
In terms of the accidents that we’ve had, it’s not related to the waste. It was just related to the operation of the nuclear power plants. So the handling of nuclear waste from nuclear power plants has really been amazing. And it should be, because it’s just the solid fuel rods that are done being fissioned, where the atoms have been split to give off heat, to create the power. They’re safely stored on site usually, or moved to a facility.
They’ve never hurt anybody. I don’t know how else to say it. They could fall over and crush somebody because they’re very big and heavy, but that’s not ever happened as far as I know. The reason nuclear is the safest way to make electricity according to every major scientific study, is because it doesn’t produce air or water pollution. The only by-product are those fuel rods, and a modest amount of low-level waste, which nobody cares about, and nobody worries about. Because it’s the same kind of waste we get from hospitals and other places that have radiological materials.
So the reason nuclear is so good for the environment is because of energy density. It produces such an intense amount of energy. This amount of uranium can provide me with all the energy I need for my entire high energy life, as opposed to many, many train cars of coal, many, many gallons of petroleum or the equivalent of gasoline or of natural gas.
So that’s what’s so special about nuclear. Obviously, the thing that makes it such a potent weapon is its concentrated form. But from an environmental point of view, what you want is to concentrate your energy, and other forms of production, because that’s how you reduce the impacts on the natural world.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m going harp on this a bit more. So in Japan, we had the most recent nuclear power accident. And I actually think that the fallout, to use a poor pun here, was that a lot of people were less interested in building nuclear. I think there’s a correlation there.
Mr. Shellenberger: For sure, you’re right. The 2011 accident in Fukushima, Japan, was scary for people and it was a big industrial accident. We also know that there’s not enough radiation emitted from that accident to cause cancer or to hurt anybody. Don’t take my word for it. You can read the reports on it. I’ve written extensively on it. I’ve been to Fukushima twice. I’ve interviewed all the top scientists. I’ve reviewed the literature for my book.
It’s the kind of accident you would expect from a technology that is still being developed. With nuclear, people think it’s been around for a long time because we don’t have very good historical memory. We’ve been using coal for 400 years. We’ve been using oil and gas for over 150 years. Nuclear is very young technology. It’s really only been around for 50, 60 years.
So you would expect to have some amount of accidents. But you have to remember that when Deepwater Horizon and offshore oil platforms explode, people die. When natural gas pipelines explode, people die. So what other accident could you have where nobody dies, nobody gets sick, and nobody has cancer?
The same thing happened with Three Mile Island in 1979 in the United States. Nobody was sickened or injured from any of the radiation. The worst nuclear power plant accident in history was Chernobyl. Fewer than 50 people died within the first few years of the accident. The best available science suggests that only 200 people total over an 80 year period will end up dying from the thyroid cancer that they got.
You have to contrast that to the 6 million people who die prematurely every year from air pollution. Because nuclear doesn’t produce air pollution, one estimate is that nuclear has actually saved 2 million lives simply by preventing the burning of fossil fuels and the air pollution that’s associated with it.
Mr. Jekielek: This is actually a pretty fascinating way to think about things, because the pollution is the real problem. It’s not the increase in temperature.
Mr. Shellenberger: It’s not like you breathe some pollution and die right away. But we do think that 6 million lives a year are shortened, according to the World Health Organization, from breathing air pollution. Humans can survive warmer temperatures. It’s all over the world, if you’ve ever been to the Middle East. I went to Dubai once and I had to be indoors the entire time. It was just too hot to be outside.
This safetyism, this painting of humans as fragile and vulnerable to every thing that happens in the world is really a psychological disorder. Paradoxically, it comes from being so safe. We just don’t have that much to worry about.
I was just at our family reunion in Indiana. My mom grew up on a farm, and they described their childhood in the 1930s and ’40s. People were dying, they got the measles, they got the mumps, people had fingers and hands cut off, babies died. It was like mayhem. And I was like, “But did you have a happy childhood?” “Oh yes, we had a great childhood.”
And now everybody’s unhappy, even though nobody ever gets hurt or harmed or gets their fingers cut off, or gets the measles or mumps. We should take strong action on pandemics like we have with coronavirus, but just look at the exaggeration of so much of it. That’s the safetyism, that’s the kind of paranoia or neuroticism that we see as one of the byproducts of having been so safe and so successful at protecting our children and ourselves.
Mr. Jekielek: When we spoke in the past, we’ve discussed the ideological interest in renewable energy, which you take serious issue with. You argue that renewables are actually the problem, not the solution.
Mr. Shellenberger: That’s right. Renewables, which refer to solar panels, industrial wind turbines, the burning of wood—they require more of the natural world. They require about 300 times more land to produce the same amount of electricity from a solar farm or from an industrial wind farm, than from a natural gas or a nuclear plant. They have very large impact on wildlife.
Last week, a lawsuit was filed to stop the construction of industrial wind farms off the East Coast, because they would threaten the existence of the most endangered whale species in the world, which is the North Atlantic right whale. It’s critically endangered. There’s only 400 of them left. There’s fewer than 200 breeding females. The science is very strong showing that anything that could hurt or harm or kill a right whale could imperil the entire species. It could go extinct. It’s the most endangered whale species.
And here they want to build these gigantic industrial wind farms off the East Coast with boats that could kill the whales with this special wiring, and cabling that could endanger the whale species. Similarly in California, we saw that dozens of endangered desert tortoises were killed after they were relocated from a big solar farm. Sorry, in Nevada, actually, in the Mojave in Nevada, there was a big article in the Las Vegas paper.
Now we’re seeing that in California the governor who may very well be recalled next month has been trying to shut down our last nuclear power plant, even though it has become habitat—I’m not kidding you—for sea lions and seals. When you visit the nuclear power plant Diablo Canyon on the central coast of California, you can see all these animals clustered around the plant because it’s clean, fresh water, it’s slightly warmer water.
The governor wants to shut down that nuclear power plant, which provides electricity for 3 million people, even though we’re at risk of blackouts for 2.5 million people. The governor has just announced emergency orders to allow the burning of diesel fuel, which is our dirtiest fuel. So one of the issues in the recall now is this issue of energy.
We’ve seen all of the opponents of the governor advocating to continue to operate Diablo Canyon Power Plant. The governor, really in a kind of ideology of harmonizing with the natural world, and that kind of fear of nuclear, is continuing to try to shut down the plant.
Mr. Jekielek: Michael, you say that a lot of these folks are into basically bringing things back to nature, and that offshore wind farms are a way to get there. Why is it that they’re insensitive to the reality of the right whale, for example? How does that work?
Mr. Shellenberger: Yes, it seems paradoxical for people who say they care so much about the natural world to promote energy sources, whether it’s a big solar farm in Nevada, or a big industrial wind farm off the coast of the East Coast, that directly kill endangered and threatened species. It seems paradoxical.
But it’s important to remember that the people that are advocating those projects are deeply ideological. They’re very disconnected from the natural world. I see this all over the place. For example, it’s very striking to me that the people that don’t live in California, the people who sometimes admit that they don’t hike or camp, are the people who absolutely freak out when there’s a forest fire.
And we have to remind them that fires are a natural part of forest ecosystems. Most forests require some amount of fire for seeds to regenerate, and for the soil to regenerate. Now we don’t want the high intensity fires. We want the lower intensity fires. But journalists, for the most part, don’t differentiate between those two things.
What explains a lot of it, Jan, is that the people who are journalists, who work in the media, the elite who live in places like New York or Washington DC, but even in places like Berkeley or Boulder, Colorado, are people who have very little connection to the productive sectors of the economy. Their parents and grandparents lived and worked in cities. These are people that are rarely in nature. They are attracted to the idea of nature, but they don’t actually spend much time in nature or working with nature.
They don’t understand how to manage a forest. They don’t understand that desert landscapes are full of life and are full of species. They don’t understand that the fishermen of the Atlantic coast make efforts to not harm whales. They have very sophisticated processes to avoid harming whales. You can’t just go and build big industrial projects in places of critical habitat without killing endangered species.
The life of progressive people tends to be very removed from physical reality, whether farming, fishing, hunting, manufacturing, trucking—just the basic physical functioning of society. And it’s only getting worse. Affluent people basically have all of their food and products delivered to them. It used to be that people thought that food came from supermarkets. They didn’t know that it came from farms. Now we think it comes from an Amazon delivery truck.
So there’s a disconnection there. The other is just from ideology, of people spending so much time online. People spend so much time in media that they become ideological. So their idea of nature is very different from what nature actually is. We also see also a forgetting of history. I pointed out we had our worst heat waves in the 1930s, but people just don’t care. They don’t have much of a memory anymore.
We don’t have much respect for our elders. We don’t listen to older people. Some of this is uniquely American. We’re very much a youth culture. We’re an anti-intellectual culture. We don’t have a lot of respect for the past. Some of it is just ideological. But some of it is on its way out.
It does matter to push back. I have seen a change in the media coverage just in the last few weeks where you finally start to see some reporters say, “Yes, if we manage the forests better, there would be fewer fires. Maybe we should worry about the right whale being hurt by these industrial wind turbines.” That did get mainstream news media coverage, as did the killing of desert tortoises on a solar farm.
You can, in these environments, push back against it. But we are dealing with some long-term trends that are in some ways, just side effects of our success. When you become affluent and safe and secure, it can make you a little paranoid. It can make you a little neurotic.
I’m in Berkeley, California. It’s an older population now. We don’t build enough houses to attract younger families. I’m on the hiking trails, and people are still wearing masks. That has to be considered some kind of a mental disorder. There’s no mechanism for people to be getting sick and they’re all vaccinated anyway. So even if they had a little coronavirus, they wouldn’t get very sick. These are the neuroses of modern life.
The good news is we can push back against them. The good news is media publications and outlets like yours provide a way to get the truth out in ways that many of the mainstream media have been censoring and excluding from view. There are new possibilities, and I’m finding a whole set of new friends these days with very different views on many different things. We are all coming together, pushing back against safetyism and victim culture.
Mr.Jekielek: Fascinating. And I appreciate your kind words.
Mr. Shellenberger: It’s been Epoch Times that has really covered these issues in depth. It’s shocking to me how superficial so much media coverage is, but it seems like Epoch Times has made a real effort to get to a more substantive, deeper look at these questions. So I’m grateful to you guys.
Mr. Jekielek: You’re hitting the nail on the head, because isn’t this what journalism is supposed to be about? Frankly, this is a fascinating discussion. It actually makes me think of one of your newer pieces about why you are no longer progressive. This safetyism thinking, as you described it, is a centerpiece of this.
Mr. Shellenberger: Yes, I have been a lifelong Democrat. I am no longer a progressive. I’m 50 now. When I was in my 20s and even in my 30s, there was still a sense among progressives of a we-can-do-it attitude, like the famous image of Rosie the Riveter. Even when Obama was running, it was, “Yes We Can.” The message was of empowerment, that humans are capable, that we achieve amazing things. We’re innovative. We’re adaptive. There was a celebration of our ability to do anything.
Now, people that call themselves progressives, and the progressive movement are really focused on victims. It’s really focused on rescuing victims, and playing the victim, which is pathological in many cases. It is determined to rescue people, which is the desire. In some ways it’s a power trip.
Insist that other people are weaker than you, so you can save them. There’s something deeply creepy about it. It’s really an anathema to traditional progressive Left-wing politics, which embraced human power. So I’m not a progressive.
Progressivism has become more of a pathological altruism, than an empowering framework. I’m not crazy about any of the labels available to us, but people understand what I’m referring to. I want to describe myself in the tradition of people that celebrate overcoming oppression, from Moses to Martin Luther King, to the people of Taiwan that are heroically resisting Chinese domination, and the people in Hong Kong, and the people that resisted apartheid. Those are the people and movements I support and valorize. I’m not on board with treating the Bangladeshis as helpless to deal with a half-a-meter sea level rise. It’s patronizing, and it’s insulting. It reflects something quite neurotic and hysterical.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s a fundamental shift in values, really. At the core of it, it’s enshrining the victim. Is that what you’re saying?
Mr. Shellenberger: Yes, it’s just that dumb. I wish I could say that there was something more intelligent behind it, but it really is that stupid. It’s the idea that victims are more moral than anybody else, and that we can categorize people as either victims or oppressors. We know that people are victimized. People are hurt. People are oppressed by other people, but that’s not the end of the story.
In the classic hero’s journey, which is the archetypal journey for many religions, and for many Hollywood movies, being victimized and hurt is part of the journey towards heroism. It’s how you overcome those external oppressors, and how you tap your inner resources. It’s about mentality. It’s about overcoming. It’s about belief.
And to some extent, it’s about having some faith in oneself and faith that you will overcome. That’s been at the heart of our greatest spiritual and political traditions for thousands of years. That’s the part that gives me some hope. This victim worship or victim ideology or victimology can’t last, because the vast majority of us don’t think of ourselves as victims. We don’t want our children to think of themselves as victims. We don’t want to associate with people that are going around labeling other people as victims and helpless.
We are starting to see a backlash against it and it’s notable. I had a very strong response to that article from many different people of many different outlooks saying, “Thank you. You’ve really tapped into something that I have felt.” We just got through a really terrible year with COVID. We’re still coming out of it. But people are not going to come out of that and want to continue to indulge in this really patronizing and neurotic ideology.
Mr. Jekielek: What’s really interesting is this outlook somehow fits into all of these questions that you’re exploring, whether it’s climate or COVID. And I’ve seen compelling arguments that it has something to do with how we’ve dealt with Afghanistan recently, too.
Mr. Shellenberger: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s fascinating, and obviously very deeply disturbing.
Mr. Shellenberger: Yes. For sure, I see it everywhere. I supported strong action to prevent this coronavirus, particularly at the beginning parts of the pandemic. But now we have a vaccine and we should celebrate our vaccine. This idea of masking children, that’s bonkers. They don’t do that in Europe. They’re not doing that in the Netherlands.
Look at how we couldn’t maintain, with 2,500 people, a modest presence in Afghanistan, and we had to flee like in a panic. We also see it in reaction to what is the biggest problem in America right now, drug addiction, and drug abuse. 93,000 Americans died last year from illicit drugs. It’s almost three times as many people as die from car accidents. It’s about four times as many that die from homicides, so it’s the number one cause of accidental death.
And the response from many people, many progressives, many people on the Left has been of helplessness, that there’s nothing we can do about this, which is completely absurd. We’ve been dealing with addiction for well over 100 years. We know that people will require some pressure, and some coercion to quit. I don’t think anybody, at least in California or the United States cares much about people that choose to be addicts in the privacy of their own home. But homeless street drug addicts are destroying California cities. It’s happening all around the United States.
I was just in Denver two nights ago, and I was appalled by what I was seeing on the streets. The behaviors were illegal and completely inappropriate by people that are addicted to hard drugs. And the response from any progressives is that there’s nothing you can do about it, that you just have to wait for people to decide on their own, and then giving permission effectively, and also not enforcing the law against people who have been categorized as victims.
This is really disturbing. We’re basically seeing progressive prosecutors saying and progressive city councils saying we should not enforce laws against things like public defecation, public drug use, the camping on sidewalks by people who have been determined to be victims, and allow them basically to self-destruct in public view and create public safety hazards, public health hazards, and public nuisance problems. This would look absolutely bizarre to our parents and our grandparents who had some sense of propriety, and some sense of personal discipline.
When people fell off the wagon, people had a hard time. I myself had a drinking problem that I ended three years ago with some pressure from family and friends. And I’m very grateful for that. We’re all familiar. We all have problems. But this idea that we should let people destroy themselves because they’re victims is bizarre, and obviously wrong.
The recall election is really heating up in California. It’s been very fascinating. You’ve seen the two progressive ideologies, victim ideology on the one hand and really pagan nature worship on the other, be challenged. I’m working on a column now about how much progressives hate the front runner, Larry Elder, an African-American conservative.
The reason they hate him so much is that he proves that racism is less of an issue in political life than it’s ever been. If it were more of an issue, then they would hesitate to hate him. They genuinely hate Larry Elder because he is a Republican and he opposes their views on so many things, and they’re not letting race get in the way. That plus the fact that Larry Elder is loved by so many people that voted for Trump, and by so many Republicans proves that racism is less of an issue than it’s ever been in American political life. That only feeds the hatred and upset among many progressives.
Mr.Jekielek: Then of course, for full disclosure, Larry has been on this show, and we have the Larry Elder Show on Epoch Times.
Mr. Shellenberger: By the way, I should say I’m lifelong progressive, but I actually endorsed a different candidate. So I’m not making a statement at all about Larry Elder. His main point, which is that racism is not the most important obstacle facing African-Americans or any other group in the United States is obviously correct, because it’s not the main obstacle facing Larry Elder. One of the most remarkable and under-discussed issues in the entire recall is that California could have a black governor.
That’s a historic event. When you have a first black anything—firefighter, president, senator, mayor, police chief, it’s major news. We talk about it. We celebrate it as we should, but the mainstream progressive media have basically said nothing about this fact. I find that very fascinating.
Mr. Jekielek: Michael, at the risk of getting you to reveal your whole upcoming book here, what are some of the solutions that you’ve been envisioning to this drug problem? You’re saying that it’s not necessarily rocket science and something new.
Mr. Shellenberger: Yes. Every country that has dealt with this problem of drug addiction, drug overdose, drug poisonings has done the same things, really three things. The first is that you must shut down the open air drug markets. You can’t allow the dealing and selling of drugs that are killing people. So we need to shut down the open air drug markets, and the open air drug scenes. That’s number one.
Number two is that we need to have a shelter-first, housing-earned policy. Right now, as official national policy, we just give away apartment units to people without condition, without requiring that they address their addiction or mental illness. That doesn’t work because the underlying reason that people become homeless is because of addiction and untreated mental illness.
So a better approach is to have enough homeless shelters to shelter everybody that’s on the street, require them to use it, and then let them earn their own apartment either through drug treatment, sobriety, or other progress on their personalized plans towards living a better life. That includes having a job.
Then the third part of it is that we need to centralize, make efficient, and make accountable psychiatric and drug treatment at the state level. This also needs to happen nationally. We just have a broken system. It’s broken in so many different ways.
We’re proposing in California something that we call CalPsych, which would basically take over from the failed counties and the failed nonprofit subcontractors the work of getting people into drug treatment, and getting people the psychiatric help that they need. Actually, we think it will save money, because right now we have so many duplicate efforts paying two different nonprofits or two different healthcare providers to treat the same person multiple times. It’s clearly not working.
The great news, Jan, is that we’ve created a coalition of parents whose kids have been killed by fentanyl, parents whose kids are addicted to fentanyl, former addicts who are in recovery, our incredible spokespeople, and neighborhood activists who are negatively by homelessness—we’ve all come together to see that we have the same interest in addressing this problem and fixing this problem. We’re calling ourselves, because there’s so much chaos, the California Peace Coalition, and now we’re broadening it into the American Peace Coalition.
Mr. Jekielek: Two things that just jumped to my mind. One, the keyword is accountability. It seems from what we’ve talked about, that’s not something that fits with the progressive ideology very well.
Number two, the elephant in the room, fentanyl. China, under the Communist Party, passed laws apparently to limit the production and export of fentanyl. 2020 was the banner year for these precursors coming in, people producing this stuff and working with the Mexican cartels to bring it into the U.S. How do you see that changing?
Mr. Shellenberger: The dominant characteristic of many progressive policies right now is getting rid of accountability, and actually eliminating accountability. That’s what the trend has been. So it’s been about not holding drug addicts accountable for their behavior. It’s been about not holding government officials accountable for their behavior. It’s been about not holding countries accountable for what they do.
China did not have 93,000 of its people die last year from illicit drugs—the United States did. And yet much of that fentanyl came from China through Mexico. It’s completely ridiculous. The U.S. government is acting helpless to stop fentanyl from poisoning our children. We’re getting kids who are suffering from anxiety and depression. They should have access to medical help, to psychiatry, maybe get on an antidepressant or have some therapy, exercise more, or be in community. They’re not getting that.
These kids are self-medicating. They’re experimenting with pills. Many of these pills are now being contaminated with fentanyl. These children, Jan, as young as 14-years-old are being found dead by their parents on their bedroom floors. This is absolutely unacceptable. We are losing our humanity. We’re losing our civilization. We’re losing our cities in progressive states like California, but we’re really losing our shared humanity.
Real civilizations, real societies, like Europe and Japan, simply do not allow for this kind of thing to continue. So we are building a movement to stop it. I am confident that we will stop it, but we really need to raise the alarm on this issue. It’s a much more serious problem, to put it mildly, than climate change.
Mr. Jekielek: Michael, any final thoughts as we finish up here?
Mr. Shellenberger: Just to say that we are in a transition period from a dying older paradigm to something new, something that doesn’t fit as easily into the categories of Left and Right. In some ways it’s a very dark time, but in some ways it’s a very exciting moment, because what’s going to come next over the next few years, and what it means for American political life could be very positive.
Mr. Jekielek: Michael Shellenberger, I truly appreciate your optimism in times which can appear to be very dark. It’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Shellenberger: Thanks for having me, Jan.
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