Passion and Pragmatism

Remembering David MacKay

I first met David MacKay in the summer of 2009 or thereabouts. Michael Shellenberger and I had just finished a talk co-hosted by Policy Exchange, a UK-based Conservative think tank, and IPPR, a think tank aligned with Labor. Afterwards, David was among the first people to approach me. He pushed a copy of Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air into my chest and told me, in his trademark manner (simultaneously respectful, polite, and direct) that while I was right that climate mitigation would require a clean energy revolution, I needed to stop banging on about renewable energy. 

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Bill McKibben’s Misleading New Chemistry

Separating Fact from Fiction in the Fracking Debate

One could be excused for concluding, upon reading Bill McKibben’s latest anti-fracking jeremiad in the Nation, that a new Harvard study released in February has found that US methane emissions over the last decade have risen due to increasing natural gas production.   “This new Harvard data,” McKibben writes, “suggests that our new natural-gas infrastructure has been bleeding methane into the atmosphere in record quantities.”

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Nuclear Costs Reconsidered

‘Negative Learning’ Not Inherent to Nuclear Power

Last month in Paris, the cognitive dissonance between environmental demands for immediate and rapid decarbonization of the global economy and the long standing rejection of nuclear energy by environmental NGO’s and advocates reached the breaking point. Four climate scientists, led by Dr. James Hansen, flew to Paris to reiterate their call for environmental leaders to reverse their opposition to nuclear energy. “The future of our planet and our descendants depends,” the four scientists wrote, “on letting go of long-held biases when it comes to nuclear power.”

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What to make of the COP 21 Agreement

On Saturday, bleary-eyed negotiators walked out of the Le Bourget conference center to announce a global agreement to fight climate change. Reactions to the agreement have generally taken two forms  - overheated claims about the historic nature of the agreement from many proponents and dismissal from both those demanding stronger action and those opposed to any action at all, on grounds that the agreement represents little change from business as usual. 

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A New Day for Ecomodernism

Big Changes at the Breakthrough Institute

Over a decade ago, the three of us created the Breakthrough Institute to help build a better environmental movement. The publication of “An Ecomodernist Manifesto” in April of this year represents the culmination of that effort. The manifesto has been translated by volunteers into 10 additional languages, and has become a touchstone for conversations about how to advance human development while protecting the natural environment.

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How to Strand Assets

Nature-saving Through Disruptive Technological Change

In 1849, the wife of an American entrepreneur named Samuel Kier was prescribed “American Medicinal Oil” — petroleum — by her doctor to treat an illness. The Iroquois Indians had used petroleum as an insect repellent, salve, and tonic for hundreds of years. The so-called “rock oil” that naturally seeped out of the ground was viewed as a blessing, and for hundreds of years they skimmed it off the surface of rivers and streams.

With his wife feeling better, Kier saw a business opportunity. He started his own brand, “Kier’s Petroleum or Rock Oil,” and sold bottles for 50 cents through a sales force traveling through the region by wagon.

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About Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger are leading global thinkers on energy, environment, climate, human development, and politics. They are founders of the Breakthrough Institute and executive editors of Breakthrough Journal.

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