Michael Shellenberger is an American author, environmental policy expert, and cofounder of Breakthrough Institute. He was named a Time magazine Heroes of the Environment (2008), winner of the 2008 Green Book Award, co-editor of Love Your Monsters (2011) and co-author of Break Through (Houghton Mifflin 2007) and The Death of Environmentalism (2004). He and his co-author Ted Nordhaus have been described as "ecological modernists" and "eco-pragmatists." In 2015, Shellenberger joined with 18 other self-described ecomodernists to coauthor An Ecomodernist Manifesto.
Shellenberger's early writing and activism focused on Latin America. That work included the founding of an Amnesty International chapter in high school in Greeley Colorado, and debating Latin American policy, for which he attended the National Forensic League Championships. He traveled and worked in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1993 he moved to the San Francisco to work with progressive organization, Global Exchange, authoring articles on Haiti, Brazil Mexico, Gulf War syndrome, and affirmative action. At UC-Santa Cruz he helped organize a graduate students union and defend affirmative action. Later he co-founded Communication Works, an allied progressive public relations organization. which worked on a wide range of campaigns, from challenging Nike over its labor practices in Asia, to saving the Headwaters Redwood forest. In 2002 Shellenberger co-founded the consulting firm Lumina Strategies. Its clients included Global Exchange, Americans United for Affirmative Action, the Ford Foundation, the Sierra Club, and the Venezuelan Information Center. In 2005 Shellenberger and Nordhaus co-founded American Environics, whose clients include AARP, Earthjustice, the Ford Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation.
Shellenberger is a senior fellow at the Breakthrough Institute, which he co-founded with Ted Nordhaus in 2003. Today, Breakthrough Institute consists of a policy staff, an annual conference, a policy journal, and a network of affiliated fellows.
Breakthrough Institute analyses of energy, climate and innovation policy have been cited by National Public Radio the Wall Street Journal and C-SPAN.
Shellenberger has co-authored analyses of cap and trade climate legislation, of the "planetary boundaries" hypothesis, energy rebound from energy efficiency measures, carbon pricing, renewable energy subsidies, nuclear energy, and shale gas
The Institute argues that climate policy should be focused on higher levels of public funding on technology innovation to "make clean energy cheap," and has been critical of climate policies like cap and trade and carbon pricing that are focused primarily on raising energy prices.
The Institute has conducted research showing that shale gas and other major technological innovations were created by American government institutions and public financing. The Institute advocates higher levels of public spending on technology innovation, which they argue will lead to higher environmental quality, economic growth, and quality of life.
In February 2016 it was revealed that Shellenberger had relinquished his position as president of the Breakthrough Institute, to run a new organisation, Environmental Progress, which is behind several public campaigns:
Save Diablo Canyon campaign
In January 2016, alongside several other authors of An Ecomodernist Manifesto - including Robert Stone, David Keith, Stewart Brand and Mark Lynas - as well as Kerry Emanuel, James Hansen, Steven Pinker, Stephen Tindale and Burton Richter; Shellenberger signed an open letter urging not to close the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. It was addressed to California Governor Jerry Brown, the CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric and California state officials.
Save Illinois Nuclear
In April 2016, Shellenberger, alongside other scientists and conservationists - including James Hansen, Stewart Brand, Nobel Laureate Burton Richter, Kerry Emanuel and Mark Lynas - signed an open letter urging against the closure of the six operating nuclear power plants in Illinois: Braidwood; Byron; Clinton; Dresden; LaSalle; and Quad Cities. Together, they account for Illinois ranking first in the United States in 2010 in both nuclear capacity and nuclear generation, and generation from its nuclear power plants accounted for 12 percent of the United States total. In 2007, 48% of Illinois' electricity was generated using nuclear power.
In 2004, Nordhaus and Shellenberger, both long-time strategists for environmental groups, co-authored a controversial essay, "The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World." The paper argues that environmentalism is conceptually and institutionally incapable of dealing with climate change and should "die" so that a new politics can be born. The essay was debated, and continues to be widely discussed and taught
In, 2007, Houghton Mifflin published Nordhaus and Shellenberger's Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Wired Magazine called Break Through "the most important thing to happen to environmentalism since Silent Spring." The book is an argument for what its authors describe as a positive, "post-environmental" politics that abandons the environmentalist focus on nature protection for a new focus on technological innovation to create a new economy. Time Magazine named Nordhaus and Shellenberger two of its 32 Heroes of the Environment (2008) calling Break Through "prescient" for its prediction that climate policy should focus not on making fossil fuels expensive through regulation but rather on making clean energy cheap. Break Through was awarded the Green Book Award, 2009, whose other recipients include E.O. Wilson and James Hansen.
Their writings have focused on the intersection of climate change, energy innovation, and politics. The two predicted the failure of cap and trade for its focus on making fossil fuels expensive rather than on technology innovation to make clean energy cheap. They faulted the Kyoto climate treaty for being focused on what they called "shared sacrifice" rather than shared technological innovation. They have criticized green cultural life as a consequence of status anxieties among Western consumers. And they have argued for a "theology" of ecological modernization that embraces technological innovation and human development.
Nordhaus and Shellenberger have argued for a "climate pragmatism" and an embrace of modernization and human development. They are co-authors of an alternative framework to the United Nations process focused on energy innovation, pollution control and adaptation.
In 2011, Nordhaus and Shellenberger started The Breakthrough Journal, which The New Republic called "among the most complete efforts to provide a fresh answer" to the question of how to modernize liberal thought, and The National Review called "...the most promising effort at self-criticism by our liberal cousins in a long time."
An Ecomodernist Manifesto
In April 2015, Shellenberger joined with a group of scholars in issuing An Ecomodernist Manifesto. The other authors were: John Asafu-Adjaye, Linus Blomqvist, Stewart Brand, Barry Brook. Ruth DeFries, Erle Ellis, Christopher Foreman, David Keith, Martin Lewis, Mark Lynas, Ted Nordhaus, Roger A. Pielke, Jr., Rachel Pritzker, Joyashree Roy, Mark Sagoff, Robert Stone, and Peter Teague
The writings of Shellenberger have been praised and criticized. Wired magazine wrote that Break Through "could turn out to be the best thing to happen to environmentalism since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring." The Wall Street Journal wrote, "If heeded, Nordhaus and Shellenberger's call for an optimistic outlook -- embracing economic dynamism and creative potential -- will surely do more for the environment than any U.N. report or Nobel Prize.". Former Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, wrote, "I am deeply disappointed and angered by" "The Death of Environmentalism," which he called "shoddy" and "unclear, unfair and divisive.” Former Greenpeace Executive Director John Passacantando said, referring to both Shellenberger and his coauthor Ted Nordhaus, "These guys laid out some fascinating data, but they put it in this over-the-top language and did it in this in-your-face way."
Shellenberger was raised in Greeley, Colorado and attended college at Earlham College, a Quaker school in Richmond, Indiana. He went on to receive a master's degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Shellenberger has two children and resides in the San Francisco Bay area.