Climate contrarians Michael Shellenberger and Bjorn Lomborg both got airtime on Fox shows this week to attack Joe Biden’s recent climate plan and promote their new books, which similarly downplay the seriousness of the climate crisis. This claim is wrong, of course, and plays right into the hands of the right-wing media which is all too eager to use their message to delay necessary climate action.
On July 14, Environmental Progress founder Shellenberger appeared on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss Biden’s new climate plan. With his recent book Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All in the background behind him, Shellenberger falsely accused renewable energy of being costly and inefficient, lamented why natural gas and nuclear power weren’t taken seriously by the Biden campaign, and accused “United Nations officials and some scientists” of wanting to “control energy and food production around the world.”
On July 15, Danish political scientist Lomborg appeared on Fox Business’ Varney & Co. to discuss Biden’s new climate plan and to promote his new book, False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet. He called Biden’s plan “a very poor deal” that is “phenomenally expensive,” stated that “we need to get out of this ‘it’s the end of the world’ sense” on climate change, and promoted continued investment in research and development of new energy technologies as the sensible solution to climate change.
On July 16, Lomborg appeared on Fox Business’ Making Money with Charles Payne. He referred to Biden’s climate plan as “a phenomenally large cost for not very much benefit” and dismissed dire climate claims, stating that “we've been so force-fed with all these stories that are a little true and a lot of false.”
Shellenberger is a pro-nuclear advocate who has a history of criticizing renewable energy, singing the praises of natural gas, and pushing contrarian and bad-faith views about the environmental movement. He’s espoused deliberately misleading claims on recent issues including the Amazon fires of 2019 and the recent Australia wildfires. Similarly, Lomborg has his own history of downplaying the dangers of climate change. As Media Matters wrote last year, he’s “been long discredited within the climate science community,” including being “caught downplaying the risks of sea level rise and even misrepresenting Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.” His claim to fame, the book The Skeptical Environmentalist, was so riddled with errors that a Danish government committee found him guilty of “scientific dishonesty,” and a website was created specifically to debunk these errors.
Neither of these individuals, of course, are climate scientists.
Their appearances on Fox shows, which have been notorious purveyors of climate misinformation, were the culmination of a slew of op-eds and appearances by Shellenberger and Lomborg in various right-wing media outlets. Although their arguments have been picked apart by actual climate experts, that won’t stop right-wing media from using their works to continue pushing for delay on climate action.
Both books are being heavily promoted by climate deniers and right-wing media
Shellenberger has claimed, “No book on the environment has ever been praised by a more prestigious group of scientists & scholars than ‘Apocalypse Never.’” However, a look at the discourse surrounding his book showed that the praise largely came from climate skeptics within right-wing media.
In the days before and after the release of his book on June 29, climate denier and Fox News staple Marc Morano praised Shellenberger, lumping Apocalypse Never, in with another set of contrarian climate works as “A Winning Trifecta for Climate Science & Rationality.” The conservative, climate-denying Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) shared an op-ed Shellenberger wrote for Forbes that teased some of the arguments made in the book -- the article has since been taken down by Forbes due to violating its standards of self-promotion (and not, as Shellenberger has claimed, due to censorship). The climate-denying CO2 Coalition also tweeted in support of his new book. Breitbart wrote an article on it, and noted how Shellenberger “issued a public apology for the unfounded panic caused by environmentalists over the fabricated horrors of global warming.” This was followed by a fawning profile of Shellenberger’s claims by James Delingpole, who has called climate change “the biggest scam in the history of the world.” Jack Posobiec, a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist with white supremacist ties, called Shellenberger’s book “really a big deal.” The Daily Wire republished an excerpt of his since-deleted Forbes article in which, “on behalf of environmentalists,” he apologizes for the “climate scare.” Zero Hedge, whose recent climate screeds have included “Global Warming Fraud Exposed In Pictures” and “Climate Change is real, but its manufactured. Weather is the new battlefield,” also tweeted about Forbes’ removal of Shellenberger’s piece. Finally, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who recently and falsely claimed that “the data are mixed” on climate change, tweeted a Wall Street Journal review that praised Shellenberger’s book, calling it “worth reading.”
Prior to appearing on Fox News, Shellenberger made the conservative media rounds, appearing on Glenn Beck’s right-wing BlazeTV, The Federalist Radio Hour podcast, the Murdoch-owned Sky News Australia, and the podcast of The Heartland Institute, a group that has “been at the forefront of denying the scientific evidence for man-made climate change.”
Lomborg’s book, published roughly two weeks after Shellenberger’s, has also run the right-wing media gamut. He published op-eds in both the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal. His book has been promoted by The Epoch Times, nihilistic Trump defender Scott Adams, and Climate Depot’s Morano. He conducted an interview with uber-conservative radio host and major climate misinformer Dennis Prager on July 16, and he is scheduled to discuss his book on July 23 with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a group with a long history of fossil-fuel backed climate denial.
Actual experts have thoroughly debunked Shellenberger and Lomborg’s arguments
Shellenberger’s Forbes article was admonished by seven climate scientists at Climate Feedback, which bills itself as “a worldwide network of scientists sorting fact from fiction in climate change media coverage.” They referred to many of Shellenberger’s claims as “inaccurate” and made “in support of a misleading and overly simplistic argumentation about climate change.” Climate scientist Peter Gleick reviewed Shellenberger’s book for Yale Climate Connections, calling it “bad science and bad arguments,” and noted its propensity for “strawman arguments, cherry-picking facts, and ad hominem attacks on scientists, media, others.”
Lomborg’s book was given a scathing review in The New York Times by Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, noting the “many contradictions within the book” and taking to task his “underestimation of the damage associated with climate change.” (Indeed, during Lomborg’s appearances on both Varney & Co. and Making Money with Charles Payne, he did not once mention the cost of inaction on climate change, which is estimated to be many trillions of dollars -- much greater than actually taking action.) The Times’ review closed by saying “Lomborg’s work would be downright dangerous were it to succeed in persuading anyone that there was merit in its arguments.”
Unfortunately, climate deniers within right-wing media are all too eager to use these false arguments to contradict the prevailing scientific consensus: Bold and immediate climate action is necessary if we want to maintain a livable climate.
These false claims play right into the hands of those who want to delay climate action
The arguments made by Lomborg and Shellenberger -- who both identify themselves as environmentalists and acknowledge the reality of man-made climate change -- represent a very insidious form of climate skepticism. Doubting the urgency of climate change is one of the three main themes of spreading climate misinformation.
Shellenberger here is just following in the footsteps of Lomborg, who has been at this schtick for years (and making a lot of money in the process). But Shellenberger’s case is particularly egregious because he took the authority to speak on behalf of the entire environmental movement. By painting himself as some sort of reformed environmentalist, he gains a lot of credibility and legitimacy with his readers who either outright deny climate change or are skeptical about it in the first place.
In fact, Shellenberger’s book was explicitly tailored for climate skeptics -- as journalist and meteorologist Eric Holthaus pointed out, Shellenberger’s publicist admitted that the book’s purpose was to get “people to think of climate change as a ‘100 year problem’ not a ‘10 year problem.’” Obviously, climate change is a serious problem that needs to be taken care of right now -- to argue otherwise is to encourage inaction on the issue.
By appearing on Fox to promote their books, they are just showing who their true audience really is -- those who want to kick the can down the road and avoid taking necessary action to address climate change.