Document Type

Book Review


The Consultants’ Republic, 121 Harv. L. Rev. 2041 (2008) (reviewing Ted Nordhaus & Michael Shellenberger, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility (2007))


According to Nordhaus and Shellenberger, the future of environmentalism, and of American politics more broadly, lies not in stronger evidence, better science, or more reasoned appeals to the public, but instead in sheer marketing acumen, in forming and framing policy goals in a manner that activates the deeply embedded values and cognitive metaphors of the public. To Nordhaus and Shellenberger, environmentalists currently suffer from a form of “policy literalism” that leads them, like liberals more generally, to vastly overstate the significance of science, empiricism, and means-ends instrumental reasoning within American politics. Against this rational positivism, which Nordhaus and Shellenberger regard as philosophically untenable (not to mention passé), the authors argue for a more visionary yet practical metaphysics, one in which science and other depictions of reality are assessed, not for their supposed truthvalue in corresponding to the world as it is, but rather for their qualities of social usefulness. Invoking the romantic pragmatism of Professor Richard Rorty, Nordhaus and Shellenberger contend that environmentalists “must no longer put concepts like nature or ‘the environment’ at the center of [their] politics”. Instead, they must move “beyond environmentalism” to become culturally and linguistically savvy promoters of an actively imagined social future, one that works to embody the values and enable the policies that environmentalists desire. Nordhaus and Shellenberger argue that environmentalists will not succeed by emphasizing the rude facts about climate change, browbeating the public with the dire anticipated consequences of its profligacy. Instead, environmentalists must deliberately frame the meaning of the global climate change issue in a manner that resonates, rather than reasons, with the public.

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