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Breakthrough Institute climate sceptics – Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger – ‘bright, shiny objects to some journalists’.

The New Denial Is Delay at the Breakthrough Institute, How ecomodernism’s attempt to revolutionize environmentalism became a tragic slide into techno-hype lobbying and endless bickering with “Big Green” The DisInformation Chronicle 5 May 21,

In 2004, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, the founders of a scrappy Bay Area think tank called the Breakthrough Institute, shot to prominence when they published “The Death of Environmentalism,” an essay that argued the environmental movement had failed……….

Because they ….. defined themselves against climate science deniers, they found a sympathetic audience among mainstream intellectuals……….

But it turns out they weren’t so different from run-of-the-mill climate skeptics after all……
Breakthrough’s antics and loose relationship with facts have caused most environmental groups and climate change experts to give them the cold shoulder.

“They had this idea of molding environmentalism to attract conservatives and what actually happened was they turned into conservatives themselves—writing for Forbes, Quillete, National Review, and the Wall Street Journal,” said Sam Bliss a graduate student in environmental economics at the University of Vermont. Along with research professor Giorgos Kallis, Bliss published a study in the Journal of Political Ecology that documents the Breakthrough Institute’s promotion of a strange idea called ecomodernism. Bliss describes it as a tragic tale, where Nordhaus and Shellenberger turn into exactly who they didn’t want to be: conservative lobbyists for techno-fixes who engage in endless battles with environmentalists. 

But while Breakthrough may have become a pariah in much of the environmental movement, ignoring them is not the smartest strategy. Most of their early critics have vanished after becoming exasperated at the group’s constant failure to correct errors, granting Nordhaus and Shellenberger an open license to peddle “ecomodernism” as a gadget to address the world’s environmental challenges. 

Indeed, while it’s been 12 years since Shellenberger and Lomborg shared a stage to promote their “alternative voices,” the veracity and quality of their scientific advice has not improved. Both Shellenberger and Lomborg released new books in 2020—and as in the past, experts immediately savaged them. In a review at Yale 360, Pacific Institute emeritus president Peter Gleick wrote, “Bad science and bad arguments abound in ‘Apocalypse Never’ by Michael Shellenberger.” Taking a pickaxe to Lomborg’s book “False Alarm,” Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote in the New York Times, “This book proves the aphorism that a little knowledge is dangerous. It’s nominally about air pollution. It’s really about mind pollution.”

But despite criticism of the Breakthrough Institute’s ideas and turmoil within it — Shellenberger left the group in 2015 — Breakthrough shows an uncanny knack to survive and spread bad ideas, even managing to attract the occasional reasonable scientist such as Steven Pinker, an attention-starved Harvard professor, who is sometimes touted as one of his generation’s leading minds.

Neither Nordhaus nor Shellenberger responded to detailed questions sent by e-mail.

……………….. A recently retired Hill staffer, who did not want his name in the media, said he worked for decades on appropriations for the House but never heard of the Breakthrough Institute. He wondered how Shellenberger—or anyone—could claim personal credit for passing billions of dollars in renewable energy policy with just one or two meetings, when the Hill is swarming with hundreds of professional lobbyists working around the clock.

“He’s constantly reinventing his story to build the appearance of power and access,” said Kert Davies, who spent 13 years at Greenpeace examining energy policy, before founding the Climate Investigations Center in 2013. Davies said he first met Shellenberger in the early 2000s, when Shellenberger was vying to get a communications contract with Greenpeace.  “He takes credit for things [that happened] years after he was boosted from the Apollo Alliance. He can say whatever he wants, and it’s all vapor because the organization is now gone.”

“They aren’t players up here on the Hill,” said a senior Democratic Committee staffer, who has spent decades working on climate policy and is not authorized to speak to the media. “They spend most of their time shooting spitballs at mainstream environmental organizations and that makes them a bright, shiny object to some journalists.” 

………. Shellenberger’s denial that Exxon suppressed or spun what it knew about climate change is now referenced by mainstream climate denialists,

……….. since launching the Breakthrough Institute in 2003, Nordhaus and Shellenberger have generated gigawatts of media buzz — along with a pile of disapproval taller than a West Virginia coal mountain. Scientists and environmentalists have noted the duo’s penchant for portraying the fossil fuel industry as a tiny corporate Goliath picked on by David, the environmental giant. But Breakthrough’s counterintuitive narratives, headlined with sparkly buzzwords and backfilled with selective facts, make sense when you remember that Nordhaus and Shellenberger forged their expertise in public relations.

In the tech-crazed, libertarian San Francisco of the early 2000s, Breakthrough’s ideology perhaps made sense to those who saw the environmental movement as stuck in the past, unwilling to embrace necessary technology, and too resistant to corporate solutions. This has caused a few moments of public embarrassment for Breakthrough such as promoting fracking as a “clean energy” alternative.

Last year, medical experts writing in the New England Journal of Medicine dismissed fracking as a clean energy false promise that data show is less a bridge to future, than a tether to the past. Today, Breakthrough promotes fracking and eagerly embraces nuclear and solar energy, while cheerleading for GMO agriculture, as preferred technologies to electrify and feed the world. 

……….. over the years, Breakthrough also began defending oil companies and cozying up to climate contrarians. Denying that they traffic in climate denial, while constantly ending up in the same room with contrarians and climate denialists, is a constant dilemma for the Breakthrough crowd, as are spine twisting arguments to soften human impacts on the planet and to hype technology solutions.  It’s a subtle, more modern version of denial and catnip to some journalists. When celebrated data cruncher Nate Silver relaunched his 538 website in 2014, one of his first hires was Breakthrough Fellow Roger Pielke Jr. 

A professor of science policy at the University of Colorado, Pielke Jr. has a long track record of wildcat contrarian writing on climate change and receiving invites to promote his views at congressional hearings from Republicans who deny climate science. 

……… It’s a subtle, more modern version of denial and catnip to some journalists. When celebrated data cruncher Nate Silver relaunched his 538 website in 2014, one of his first hires was Breakthrough Fellow Roger Pielke Jr. 


A professor of science policy at the University of Colorado, Pielke Jr. has a long track record of wildcat contrarian writing on climate change and receiving invites to promote his views at congressional hearings from Republicans who deny climate science. …… https://disinformationchronicle.substack.com/p/the-new-denial-is-delay-at-the-breakthrough

May 6, 2021 - Posted by | spinbuster, USA

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