Michael Shellenberger: Myths, Media, and Nuclear Energy


My guest today is Michael Shellenberger, the Founder and President of Environmental Progress. Michael is one of the world’s leading pro-nuclear environmentalists. He’s been an environmental and social justice advocate for over 25 years. In the 1990s, he helped force Nike to improve factory conditions in Asia and in the 2000s, Michael advocated for the expansion of federal investment in renewables and energy efficiency.

In this episode, Michael and I talk about the virtues of nuclear energy and tackle the big misconceptions surrounding it. We explore how media narratives have shaped nuclear energy perception, the virtues and drawbacks of wind and solar energy technologies, why 17% of teachers in California can’t afford a home, the problems with anonymous lawsuits, and the fascinating impact of Proposition 13 on housing in Silicon Valley. 




1:34 - Michael’s experiences in Nicaragua and Guatemala in 1988 and the effects of culture shock on his sense of gratitude and wealth. David’s own experiences with culture shock here, as well.

5:15 - Discussing activism and scholarly work. Michael’s first degree (peace and global studies), his early traveling experiences, him working at a left-wing activist group, and then a few of the campaigns he’s done. Then, how he formed a coalition to push government investment in renewables and clean energies.

8:17 - Some of the technical issues with renewable energies. Also, discussing nuclear energy and fossil fuels. Detailing the story of environmental progress and the power of uranium (a can of it will produce enough energy for your life).

12:12 - The common perspective on nuclear energy and waste (weapons, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and other negative connotations). Michael clearing up some of these common misconceptions. Also, some facts on why solar and wind power aren’t as effective and efficient as most people think.

23:26 - How nuclear power gained its negative view over time. The idea that the more countries with nuclear weapons, the safer the world is. Detailing the nuclear left and the nuclear right perspectives.

31:52 - The range of unexpected things that may happen with nuclear weapons and a few close calls in the past. How the more experience with these devices, the more manageable people are with them.

34:30 - How Michael views changing people’s perspectives with rhetoric. Instead of telling someone what or how to think, rather tell them your experiences.

38:40 -  Michael’s perspective on using the media to share his ideas. How people want to follow people, instead of companies. The more personal aspects of social media.

42:29 - How changes with the media influence other things, such as politics. Discussing the benefits that come with being aligned with a particular party. A few of Michael’s favorite role models.

48:09 - How 17% of teachers in California cannot afford to live there and some details on this. The high levels of inequality there and common viewpoints from the homeowners there.

53:24 - Examples of changing human consciousness with images rather than rhetoric and some thoughts on this. Discussing the rate of improvement and development of the world over the years.

59:20 - The change in optimism for the future now compared to the high level that it was in the 1930s. Speaking on a few anxieties that we may have for the future. Also, a bit on unemployment and the replacement of jobs by technology.

1:08:20 - Michael’s idea of extending the time spent in education by a year, removing homework, and extending the school day. Also, improving the social aspect of education and improving the amount of physical activity in schools. A few extra ideas for improving education here, as well.

1:14:59 - What proposition 13 is and how it’s impacting numerous things in negative ways.

1:19:39 - A few things we can learn from Michael. How he filters information to get a higher level of truth than he would otherwise. The adjacent possible and how learning on your own can be much better than how it would be in a traditional setting. Also, a bit on what Michael’s goal is (nature and prosperity for all).

1:26:22 - What Michael does to make sure he’s producing at a consistent pace and producing quality work.

1:29:00 - Michael’s favorite story regarding nature and what inspired him to do so much with the environment and nature. Some powerful closing thoughts from Michael here, as well.