The Truth about Plastics Pollution

Thank you for introducing me to an environmentalist who isn’t being alarmist.

I skimmed this: Apocalypse Never : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive for a bit but it’s too hard to read 450+ pages on a screen, so I’ve now watched an interview of him from Oct 2020 from CATO Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us | Michael Shellenberger - YouTube at 2x speed (because people talk too slowly).

Here are my thoughts on this man and his ideas:

  1. WTF about “already saving whales twice”? He seems to think that whales don’t need to be saved anymore because we found alternatives to whale blubber. But he ignores the fact that today, whales are getting caught in fishing nets and dying, not dying because we’re still hunting them for more or less worthless oils. Whales are also dying because ships makes noise at the same frequency that whales use to communicate and therefore can’t find their mates. Can’t find your mate and you can’t reproduce. I am glad he acknowledged that the Japanese and Norwegians still hunt whales for funzies. People need to know that. But no one is hunting whales for their blubber in the 21st century, and he ignores the fact that whale populations continue to decline precipitously.
  2. Somehow, he thinks that poor rural farmers living off of small plots of land has so much of a greater level of environmental destruction than mass corporate monoculture farming that he doesn’t even see the need to mention that corporate farming even exists, while also emphasizing that farming is destroying the planet. Offering poor rural farmers in developing countries jobs in the cities so they can eat meat substitutes instead of actual meat is a great way to destroy someone’s way of life and culture, not to mention it would have a greater overall environmental impact because now that farmer needs a safe place to live in a city and means to get around a larger area, when before they might have been living in a simple shack and walking everywhere. It’s dripping in irony that this is such a key concern for his environmental priorities, considering how many white middle class families in the US have moved onto rural farms to homestead because they were tired of the pace of city life and wanted to “go back to their roots”.
  3. He keeps saying that environmentalism is “anti humanitarian” but for the first hour of the interview, he doesn’t give any reason to back up this claim. When he does give a “reason”, it’s emphasizing again that there are people who hunt wild animals and use wood as fuel (other than cooking meals, what are you using wood fuel for in that case?) and live off the land instead of in cities. Yeah, not really a humanitarian issue if they’ve got food, shelter and safety, things not always available in cities.
  4. I agree that environmentalism has become a sort of religion, but he makes it sound like a bad thing. It’s like any of the other things have taken the place of praying to a god (in the West) in the past few decades – product/brand name worshipping, money worshipping, mindfulness, veganism, paleo, minimalism/ani-consumerism… It’s something to focus on since “god is dead”. All humans have a need for spirituality and if they place that in saving the earth in the way they see appropriate, who are you to judge?
  5. Nuclear energy: Somehow this is something that he’s decided to call out environmentalists for. Sure, it’s very efficient but let’s talk about why is it “bad”: Did you see what happened in Japan a decade ago? Have you heard of Chernobyl? The problem is that nuclear energy can be VERY safe and efficient if done right and deadly for the WHOLE WORLD if done neglectfully. There are other forms of energy that won’t blow up half the globe when one government inevitably decides to mismanage it, and we’re seen twice now that there are governments very good at mismanaging it.
  6. “nuclear waste is good because it means we’re not creating other forms of waste that are actually dangerous and harmful to people”. * deep breaths * I will not dispute that solar panels are actually really toxic to produce and breakdown, but I am going to need to look into non-partisan science (how and why is there even such a thing?) to be able to agree or disagree with what he’s saying here.
  7. Saying that people relying on wood for energy and wild animals for food “is a human problem” crosses the line for me. First of all, if you’re relying on wood for energy, the only thing you’re using it for is cooking, staying warm, and keeping away dangerous animals because ya ain’t got electricity or any of the appliances that use it. Like I said above about giving farmers jobs in the city, not everyone wants to live a “glorious life” in the city. Most Americans don’t even want to live in the city! There are plenty of people and cultures on Earth who are perfectly content to sleep in simple wooden/straw/mud structures, hunt for their food, and cook it over a fire. Their entire lifetime of waste (that lasts longer than it takes for a body to decompose) is probably equivalent to the first 6 hours of an American’s day. He’s taking about wild animal population decline as though people who live those simple lives are the ones who are causing the destruction. The threat to habitat comes exclusively from corporations coming in and logging and/or promoting mass farming in environmentally unsustainable ways, not the local hunter-gatherer/early agricultural society populations. What does this man think, that our job is to “civilize” these people? Sounds like the white man when he arrived in Africa, both Americas, and Australia. “These savages don’t know how to live life correctly! We must teach them how to be civilized like us! We must quash their backwards culture and teach them the correct way to live!” Does he know that there are whole cultures in South America and Africa that have never come in contact with the “outside world”? They are not responsible for killing off millions of endangered animals each year. The only humanitarian crisis you have when approaching them is the destruction of a culture that was getting along just fine before you came along. Back to dripping in irony, there are a lot of wealthy people who live in huge houses in former forests-turned-developments that cause noise pollution with their cars and lawn mowers and weed whackers and everything else, who pay a buttload of money to travel to places via airplane in order to spend a lot more money on a “simple” vacation in a simple cabin in the woods or a shack on the beach to “get away from the hustle and bustle”. But people who have lived that way for millennia? They are destroying the environment by hunting for their food and cooking it over wood fires so they need jobs in the city and meatless meat! Yes, because what we really need is for everyone on Earth to live like a Yuppie vegan in So Cal. That’s the clearly where we need to look. No need to worry about plastics getting swallowed up by all marine life or corporations intentionally setting fire to the Amazon when there are still people on Earth who hunt wild animals as food!
  8. He did acknowledge racial and social inequality in America. It’s good he is able to recognize this
  9. The developed world is not doing anything at all to hinder the growth of the developing world, other than pushing their plastic waste on them. I don’t know why people keep saying this. There have been proposals to limit carbon emissions, but no one has been held to any standards to date.
  10. Natural gas was formerly hailed as “better than coal”, but in the past few months, it’s become understood to be really bad for human health when burned in the home for gas ranges. Lung cancer rates among non-smoking women in Taiwan would seem to back up this theory. I can’t speak on the nuclear energy front, because, as I said above, I can’t find science that isn’t partisan and I don’t have the energy to read partisan nonsense. But to simply dismiss all other forms of “renewable energy” as the only reasonable choice for the future of energy is putting all the eggs in one basket and sounds like someone form the nuclear energy lobby speaking, not an environmentalist
  11. Just generally, he COMPLETELY ignores corporations in all of this. In over an hour, he manages to blame subsistence farmers and hunter-gatherer societies TWICE for environmental degradation, but not once does he mention the role of corporations in the destruction of the planet. “How’s the air in Kaohsiung right now?”

Look, I’m no environmental alarmist, but I am practical in how I look at the world. Michael Shellenberger, like anyone with a platform, has an agenda. And that agenda clearly revolves around the idea that human-caused climate change might be real, but it’s good to skirt around the idea that corporations might be responsible for it. It’s really hard to deny that manufacturing and corporate fishing are major contributors to the issue. To try shifting the blame elsewhere is just straight up irresponsible, even for a libertarian.


It’s a bit disingenuous to call the US’ plastic waste well-managed, when so much of it is (was) “managed” by shipping it to countries who don’t manage it well. And yes, I know he addresses that in the video, but without seeming to acknowledge the implications.

In 2016, the United States exported 1.99 Mt of plastic scrap to 89 trade partners ( 20 ). More than 88% was exported to countries with greater than 20% inadequately managed waste, with the vast majority exported to China and Hong Kong (table S1).

(via The United States’ contribution of plastic waste to land and ocean | Science Advances)

Also, hah:

the good news is we’ve already cut those exports by more than two-thirds in just the past five years

That’s an interesting slant on “China stopped accepting our plastic because so much of it was contaminated, and now it’s piling up in management centers that can’t figure out what to do with it”.


The EU seems to have some really good ways of holding corporations accountable for their waste. I got the impression when I was in Germany that the bottles were reused, because there were scratched up lines from the places they were put in the crates. I’m not sure what the health implications are of that though…

EU has really strict health codes, so if they are truly reused they are likely sterilized in accordance to EU laws.


It was an invitation, not a rebuttal. Nothing wrong with reading up.

Yeah, I’m going to go with no, he’s fairly well informed.

MOre desk jockeys?

Well, there’s only so much reading one can do. I read the article and was mightily unimpressed; he somehow managed to get from poor hygiene and village litter via wildlife poaching and coronavirus to the idea that some mysterious agency is “denying” poor people plastic, and that this is somehow holding back their development. I honestly can’t discern any thread of logic in there.

The thesis is easily disproved by noting that poor subcommunities in the first world have all the industrial plastics they could wish for, and yet remain poor (and have a scattering of plastic litter everywhere).

Anyone, anywhere, can pick up the phone and order a containerload of ABS pellets, or injection-moulded widgets, and the goods will magically appear at the factory gates in a matter of weeks. And indeed that happens all the time: you can go to any modest village in Asia, Africa, or India, and find the local store well-stocked with plastic tat from China. There is no shortage of plastic in the third world.

The fundamental reason poor communities are poor (and litter-strewn) is really pretty simple. That’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way their parents did things, and it’s the way their schoolteachers and local officials have told them it ought to be. If Shellenberger had bothered to get out there and ask some questions, he’d know this. It’s probably fixable and it would make a lot of lives better. But to fix it you’d need to win the hearts and minds of some unpleasant and ignorant people. It’s not as easy as just writing a prescription for more plastic.

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That’s not even what he is suggesting. :roll: If anything he is suggesting that building a sustainable middle class involves certain steps, manufacturing and industrial infrastructure being one of the crucial ones. There’s no jump to clean energy. It’s a process. He’s not saying send them Hefties. He’s saying build them roads, and help them build factories, raise their income level, educate their kids and move on up the ladder. My take is that if you don’t you get two very different parts of the world, the nice parks with dog walks and the garbage piles.

But they don’t want any of this stuff. It’s not relevant to their lives, and if they wanted it they would have done it already. I think he has a bit of a White Man’s Burden complex here, TBH. And anyway, if they go that route they’ll hit the same unsustainable dead ends that The West has.

It’s true, up to a point, that a culture can’t go directly to C from A without passing through B in between. But that doesn’t mean “there’s no jump to clean energy”. To suggest that poor countries have to first use fossil fuels before they can grok solar panels is a bit like suggesting that they have to first manufacture phonographs and thermionic valves before they’re allowed anywhere near smartphones and optical fibre. Shellenberg, AFAIK, is a journalist with a liberal-arts degree. He has had zero experience in engineering or manufacturing and therefore doesn’t understand what the missing prerequisites are.

I’ve spent most of my life among garbage piles and poor people. I suspect Shellenberg hasn’t been anywhere near them. Their concerns are not what he thinks they are.

I’d also add that, in our post-COVID world, the “middle class” is royally screwed. The cold war on the middle class (and the up-and-coming working class), particularly in the third world, just got hotter.

Awesome rant.

100% agree, except for two relatively minor issues:

  • Manufacturing silicon devices uses a lot of horrible chemicals, but silicon solar cells themselves don’t contain anything toxic. The module that they sit in is partially recyclable (you can recover the frame and the busbars pretty easily) but the plastic bits would probably end up getting burned. My preferred battery technology is nickel-iron, which is very easy to recycle and lasts a long time. It’s also pretty easy to manufacture.

  • Subsistence farmers, in the main, are environmentally destructive. They live at a subsistence level mostly because they’re clueless about farming and (like farmers everywhere) are pretty stubborn about what they know to be “correct”. This is fixable, and there are various organisations having a lot of success in that area … which results in farmers having a more comfortable lifestyle. But it’s an uphill struggle. Becoming a skilled farmer requires a great deal of effort and investment. “Poor” people are simply not best placed to do what needs to be done; bootstrapping a farm on degraded land, without money to spend, is difficult.

Of course, none of the above alters the fact that industrial farming is responsible for a lot more environmental destruction, precisely because more capital is available … which means bigger machines and more damage done in a short space of time…


Having a pile of plastic doesn’t generate wealth at all except processing all the waste plastic and selling it cheaper than what new plastic sells for. Reason they aren’t recycled is because the amount of work required to reprocess plastic is simply not worth it.

Plastic products have a VERY high startup cost. You might look at a simple 2L PET bottle, and think “man this is some cheap stuff people throw away”, but in reality it really isn’t. The packaging of soft drink actually costs more than the product itself, part of the reason why you get better deals buying soft drink (or whatever else beverage) in larger containers rather than smaller ones. 12oz cans are actually kinda expensive to make… but on the upside aluminum is recycled because they’re worth money and also because they require so much electricity to make. 15kwh per kg of aluminum, and 1 kg of new 6061 aluminum is about 120nt. You couldn’t even buy the massively subsidized electricity in Taiwan for that cheap.

But anyways in case anyone isn’t familiar with plastic production the mold that is used to make the 2L plastic bottle costs a LOT of money, somewhere north of 100,000 USD. That mold is used to produce millions of plastic bottles obviously but someone has to design that mold, then get a tool and die maker to make it, then fit it to a machine, and start making plastic. Some random African kid do not have the capital at all to make use of those plastic. They require talents and manufacturing capability to use them. It’s kinda like giving a caveman a lump of iron. Not much he can do with it until he knows what to do with it.

Africa is poor because of poor government, and colonial mentality, as well as Western countries simply not investing in them but rather exploits them. Most Western countries prefer just giving them cash aid that ends up being used by warlords to buy expensive luxury products in Europe and not used to better those countries at all. As no accountabilities are given and no logistical investments are made there with those money. As are the problem with COVID vaccination, they can’t get the shots in arms because vaccines sit in a warehouse to rot, as logistics needed to get them into people’s arm is simply not there.

One thing is certain: Technology do not win wars, logistics do. This is why the US Military is so strong.

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I would very much like to buy you a beer.

I suppose the one thing i disagree with you on is that people dont influence corporations. they absolutely do! This becones a chicken or the egg type debate fast. But again, it is very evident that if shit dont sell, shit dont get made. Its not black and white, all sides are to blame, but this fact remains solid. Until we are litterally farmed mindless morons, things ar simoly this way. Arguably we are already well on this journey.

But i would argue people can stop buying coke EASILY until they have GOOD packaging. Coke would have space age styled bottles with insanely eco methods made by weeks end if the masses did this. We dont. So they dont. BUT, and never forget, they dont cause we dont…care…


One of the very ironic parts of this reality is people are often building up poor areas with old tech, rather than starting new areas with the newest tech. there are numerous reasons why. Normally to do with human control over other humans. Which follows with greed, paranoia, selfishness, wars and etc… Its a non starter before the startup even started starting. Round and round the dumb fucks go.

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You missed the part where these are the companies that put the onus on the consumer to figure out a way to deal with their packaging. I know very few people who knew that “litter bug” and the whole concept of “responsibly putting trash in trash cans” was 100% made up by the corporations that invented trash. I have encountered very few people in my life who don’t respond to “we have a plastics problem” with “well, if people just put the plastic in the right bin like I do, we wouldn’t have this problem.” No one has considered that that’s what the corporations want you to run around saying so that there’s no legislation to force the corporations to take responsibility for their actions.

Some people are pushing for change, as I said above. It’s trendy to buy “package free” among the youths these days. The problem is that most people have more important things to think about and not enough spending money too. There’s a company called “Loop” that claims to be getting “all your brands without the packaging” or something, but they’re an epic fail. Their selection is limited and they charge easily twice what WholeFoods would charge for the same quantity of food before you pay a 2-5USD deposit on the packaging. And most of what they sell is available in the bulk section anyway. It’s stuff you can get completely package-free if you walk into any grocery store with your own containers (though COVID may have changed that option). They’re appealing to the wealthy suburban mom who wants to save the sea turtles but has too much else to do. Meanwhile, those brands continue to sell plastic-packaged items at 1/2 the cost. People aren’t going to pay almost three times as much (factoring in the deposit) when the exact same product is right there for less. And the brands know that. But the idea that there’s the “option” to get something package-free makes people feel better about themselves.

And who would give up their soda addiction to save the whales? I know people who drink an entire pack a day. It’s a drug that people “need”, same as cigarettes, and the beverage companies are very aware of that.

Right now, there is zero inventive for corporations to do anything. They want to make money and changing their packaging costs them money. As long as people help them push the narrative that “if you just put it in the recycling instead of throwing it by the side of the road” (not considering that it could blow off the recycling truck the moment it pulls away. No, everyone thinks the recycling bin is a black hole that makes everything disappear forever when the trash collection comes), there isn’t going to be change on a large scale.
It’s amazing to me that consumers think their fellow consumers are to blame. We are, in part. But what other options do you have? I don’t drink soda, but I need to buy cereal and milk and chicken and vegetables because I need to eat food to survive, just like every other human. Sure I can get some of it from a traditional market, but we’ve all seen how clean those are. Corporations know that and it gives them no incentive to change their packaging


Thanks for all the input folks. I promise to read it. I am an openminded ren. I see that Shellenberger is doing a bit of grassroots activism…as is his wont (He was a founding member of greenpeace or something) and that I may have had a bit of bias. I will dig up the sources of said bias, figure out why I think I think the way I presently do and get back to you. However, it will have to wait. Just drove to and fro Ithaca to visit my kid and am now enjoying a frosty, well earned brewskie. :beers: and I just messaged with Truant. ha. Some of y’all missed out. :happyrunningaround:


Well tere ya go. Thats my point. I am not defending shitty corporations. Merely poiting out the fact blame goes bith ways, legitimately. When people wake up and make better purchasing decisions, these things go aways just as they would if companies cared or governments did something.

I cant force a company to do anything. I dont write laws. But i absolutely control what i buy. And i take full responsibility for my actions even if they arent great.

Ps. I used to drink 12 to 24 cans of coke a day back in canada depending on the season. Back when flats were 2.99cdn. I get the addiction, but i changed. No reason others cant.


I always like to boil it down to the most fundamental and simplest of levels.

Most people are more likely to fix an immediate problem rather than to do something to prevent a problem in the future.

Immediate problem: Feeling tired
Immediate solution: Buy a sugar drink in a plastic cup

Future problem: Plastic pollution of the ocean
Solution to future problem: Don’t buy sugar drink in plastic cup

Immediate problem: Feeling tired
Immediate solution: Buy a sugar drink

Future problem: Diabetes
Solution to future problem: Don’t buy sugar drink

It takes a constant effort by experts to inform and convince to make people aware of future problems and change their behavior accordingly. It’s always an uphill battle, the hill made steeper by targeted misinformation and advertising by those special interests which benefit from people opting for the immediate problem solving option.

There is also the downhill spiral of:
Convenience - laziness - weakening - need for more convenience - more laziness - more weakening and so on, again often created and maintained by special interests, like the food industry in coordination with politicians.

Of course, no one can predict the future with certainty, so there is always the possibility of flat-out denial that any of the problems predicted by experts could actually become reality.

This is just the world we live in. Not going to change.

Often we end up trying to fix immediate problems, which in the past were the problems we could have prevented back then, and we are now so busy dealing with those problems, that we don’t have time and energy to prevent the problems we will have to fix in the future.

C’est la vie



Totally agree. but again, i must say the entitled way of thinking waiting for the expert/government/company/anyone else to do all the work so we can follow is really quite dispicable. They all SHOULD do something but so should you, me and everyone else. I understand it might be normal, but it is absolutely wrong. If we truly just settle on this being acceptable (the individual having no responsibility) we might as well just admit we are another farm product for profits and accept w have no voice anymore. I refuse to accept that is an ok situation and/or justification for not doing F all.

If you drink soda all day and diabetes…not much pitty. Sorry, but it was your desire to do so. i absoltely agree education in schools should be up to snuff, which it isnt, but parents as well have responsibilities. As do adults for their own bodies quite frankly.

In todays modern world there is very little excuses for not knowing the basics. Sugar is bad, certain anrcotics are bad, pollution is bad, smoking is bad etc.

99.9% of the time a persons reason for doing something they know is negative is really just an excuse. We are amazing justifiers. It is honestly getting tiring to listen to. the issue is they wont foot the bill once the energency point is reached and I knee jerk is required. typical hypocrite logic follows.

As everyone knows, better than the cure. But nearly everyone just fucks around until shit hits the fan and blames the government and corporations for not curing it fast enough. And repeat.

We, the people, really need to start organising ourselves and.makingbchange if we expect things to turn out alright. I fail to see a problem with improving the quality of environments, food, lifestyles and so on. Where is the drawback in taking action?

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“I am just one of a 100.000, what difference does my action make?”, said the first tile in the domino line.


Ab~so~friggen~lutely! You nailed it, no better way to say it :slight_smile:

Doesn’t the first guy into the mosh pit say the same thing?