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The Death of Environmentalism at 20

The Death of Environmentalism at 20

Looking back at the impactful Shellenberger/Nordhaus essay

The bad boys of environmentalism

Twenty years ago, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus “dropped” (in Ted’s words) an essay at the annual meeting of the Environmental Grantmakers Association titled, The Death of Environmentalism (DoE). The DoE prompted a vigorous debate about environmentalism in the United States that continues today.

Here is how the New York Times characterized the reaction to the essay in 2005:

The leaders of the environmental movement were livid last fall when Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, two little-known, earnest environmentalists in their 30’s, presented a 12,000-word thesis arguing that environmentalism was dead.

The essay, and the reaction to it, led directly to the creation of The Breakthrough Institute, a small but influential Berkeley-based think tank that consistently punches well above its weight.1 After the DoE was released, Bill McKibben labeled Shellenberger and Nordhaus, “the bad boys of environmentalism.”2

The “bad boys” split a while back and have gone their different ways.3 Ted continues to direct The Breakthrough Institute, which today has established itself as a leading think tank on environment and technology.

As I write this I am in San Francisco, California at the well-named Breakthrough Dialogue — the 14th and final annual gathering of Breakthrough’s fellow travelers, constructive critics, and simply curious. Being the final Dialogue, it is focused on looking back at the past 20 years since the DoE.

With this post, I’ll share a few of my thoughts on the DoE and the very important debate that it started and continues to rage today over the meaning and future of environmentalism in the United States.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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