Thinking: Death Warmed Over

By Christine Thomas

Authors Nordhaus (left) and Shellenberger

Back in 2004, writer and social values researcher Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, an author and political strategist, released an essay titled “The Death of Environmentalism” at the annual meeting of the elite Environmental Grantmakers Association. The missive called on greenies to replace “doomsday discourse” with a powerful, positive vision like that in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The two authors hoped to ignite conversation among insiders. To their surprise, the pamphlet was debated by readers around the world, on public radio broadcasts and Internet forums, among corporate executives and university students alike. So they expanded the treatise. The result is Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s practical, optimistic new strategy for confronting the global warming crisis.
The book serves as a methodically researched and structured map of the cultural and philosophical underpinnings of today’s most pressing environmental issues. Rather than just telling people to do the right thing and calling for sacrifice, the authors set forth specific plans based on targeted politics. Among the strategies they espouse are a $300 billion government investment in energy technology innovation, and the Health Care for Hybrids initiative, which calls for the federal government to provide health care relief to Detroit automakers in exchange for production of fuel-efficient vehicles.

Now that they’re writing not for insiders but a general audience (think Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation meets Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope), Nordhaus and Shellenberger make their case elegantly and—with  Austen-ian chapter titles like “Greatness” and “Pragmatism”—unabashedly. They aren’t afraid to criticize environmental icons, and they don’t blame humanity for environmental problems—they’re grateful for our general prosperity and lifestyle and think we should be too. Whether or not you agree, expect to underline a lot and then grab a friend or co-worker and say, “Listen to this!” Instead of arousing guilt and negativity, Nordhaus and Shellenberger aim to inspire.

Issue 25

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