Shellenberger on Colbert Report

Breakthrough Cofounder Talks Climate, Nuclear, and Frankenstein with Stephen Colbert

Michael Shellenberger, president and cofounder of the Breakthrough Institute, made the case for a new environmentalism on the Colbert Report last week.

The new environmentalism is defined by its embrace of technology as essential to human progress and overcoming environmental challenges such as climate change.

“That’s why we wrote this book — it’s called Love Your Monsters. It comes from this idea that we should treat our technologies like our children, like our creations,” Shellenberger explained. “When they fail us — when they disappoint us — you don’t abandon them, you improve them. You make them better.”

One of the essays in that book is by a very good French thinker [Bruno Latour] who says that we’ve misunderstood Frankenstein. The lesson is not that we shouldn’t try to create new technologies — or create life, even — the lesson is that we never abandon our creations,” Shellenberger continued. “That’s what Dr. Frankenstein did. He saw the creation, it wasn’t like he expected it, and he abandoned it. That’s what turned his creature into a monster.”

It is technology innovation that has advanced humanity’s centuries-long energy transition from wood and dung to coal and gas to renewables and nuclear. Through successive waves of innovation, we have produced energy technologies that are increasingly cheap, reliable, and clean.

The fact that energy demand is expected to double by mid-century — as China, India, Brazil, and other developing countries increasingly enjoy living standards similar to the United States and Europe — means that the world needs a lot more innovation if we are to avert catastrophic levels of global warming.

“The big idea is that we spent 20 years on global warming trying to make fossil fuels more expensive. And that has not worked,” Shellenberger said. “There’s an important shift that needs to be made from making fossil fuels more expensive to making clean energy cheap.”

Watch the full video below.