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Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  214 ratings  ·  45 reviews
In this eagerly awaited follow-up to the original essay, the authors deepen their argument to give us an expansive and eloquent manifesto for political change.
Audio, 5 pages
Published October 1st 2007 by Blackstone Audiobooks (first published 2007)
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This was one of the single worst books I've ever read, and that's saying a lot. Between irrelevant parabels about Brazil, an almost complete absence of citation to actual scientific literature (rather than the popular non fiction it favors), an outright dismissal of environmental justice, a pointless chapter about Fukayama, and ample new age psychobable you almost miss the fact their overarching point is completely insane. Focusing on creating a dream and abandoning reality, which they find to b ...more
I found myself in the position of mostly agreeing with this book while being really annoyed with it at the same time.

I think their message has merit and their plans for how to get off our asses on Global Warming are right on. Unfortunately they spend almost no time in the book outlining the plan. Instead, they spend most of their time attacking their should-be allies in the environmental movement for being short sighted. I think that makes the book much weaker than it otherwise would be.
This is perhaps the most brilliant book I read all year. If you have felt that current politics are disconnected from your here-and-now concerns, this book will help you to imagine how they can be not only immediately relevant, but inspiring, unifying, and mobilizing. It offers a perceptive analysis of progressive politics in the U.S., what paradigms underlie them, and how those paradigms need to update themselves. The authors are astute about the sociological needs that political movements need ...more
This is pretty subversive, extreme left, high order political thought in a very good and measured way. I see the basic premise of this book being very constructively humanist. I like that. I like people who are advocates for a cause because they care about people and not because they are angry at something or someone. They don't end up alienating over half of the population in their consideration of possible solutions. Yes conservation is important and perhaps their work to get us to focus away ...more
Mark Victor Young
Jun 17, 2009 Mark Victor Young rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: environmentalists
If you consider yourself an environmentalist, which I do, this book will ask you to re-examine the approaches that the movement has taken lately to influence people's thinking about climate change. It has a lot of good examples of instances where the current approach of imposing limits and sacrifices hasn't worked. The author's hypothesis is that if people are going to be convinced to take action on global warming, it has to be because they are inspired by the economic possibilities of a new ene ...more
Todd Martin
A scattered critique of the current state of environmentalism as well as liberalism, poverty and post-materialism. There's a lot to disagree with in this book, but also a lot to consider for those frustrated with the limited success of environmentalism since its heyday in the 1970's.

The main point of the book is particularly salient. The environmental movement is negative in its outlook. It frames issues in negative language and seeks to solve issues in terms of limits, constraints, regulation
Feb 18, 2008 Katerlio rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Katerlio by: sb
this book fleshes out the authors' earlier essay of the same title - and as with the original essay, there are pieces of their argument i find compelling and pieces that seem too glossy. the touchstone argument is that "we" can be pro-growth and still care about the state of the world.

a higher-than-i'd-like percentage of the book deals with semantics (i like semantics generally, but i'm not much on wittgenstein-style "the way we say things makes things the way they are"), introducing useful but
Jan 24, 2008 Solidarity rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Green activists, community organizers
Recommended to Solidarity by: Ivan Handler You argue that global warming is a "monumental" crisis that demands a response beyond the more limited (and limiting) environmental policies of the past. On the other, you acknowledge that, despite a great deal of press attention, "global warming" still ranks at the very bottom of voters' concerns. How do you confront a crisis that voters don't care about?

Shellenberger and Nordhaus: By getting it out of the global warming/environmental ghetto. We know that things like energy independ
While sometimes reading books about super-philosphical topics like the purported "Death of Environmentalism" is painful and obnoxious, reading this book won't make you suffer at the mercy of too many large words but rather at the mercy of well-thought out arguments against the status quo. If you look at environmentalists today and see a bunch of goodhearted people who are not managing to effect much change and you want to know why, read this book. If you're interested in theories behind the envi ...more
Break Through is the book-length expansion of Nordhaus and Shellenberger's "The Death of Environmentalism" essay and a 270 page fulmination against the political paradigm of post-materialist environmentalists and liberals alike. Environmentalists, in their view, have been ineffective in summoning the collective will to combat climate change, because of their preaching a "politics of limits" and narrow, misanthropic interpretations of "nature" and "the environment." What N+S believe the American ...more
Micah Hanson
Dec 24, 2007 Micah Hanson rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: objective environmentalists
The basic proposition of this book is that environmentalists need to learn how to place their concerns in the bigger picture. The "environment" by environmentalists is seen as something "other" than us (humans, non-environment) and victim to abuse and destruction. The only way to fix our current crisis, according to most environmentalists, is to restrict or discontinue current human activities. In order to convince others of their convictions, most environmentalists employ doom and gloom and pre ...more
Everyone knows that carbon-based fuels are a limited resource, and that carbon emissions are warming the earth's atmosphere at an alarming rate, but the question is: how do we move past carbon? Nordhaus and Shellenberger believe that the only way to do so is to create fuel economies that are more affordable and convenient for the companies and consumers who use them, and create jobs in the process.

The authors take great pleasure in attacking some of the established stars of the environmentalist
Oct 27, 2007 Andrea rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: environmentalists who wonder why people don't care about global warming, etc.
Shelves: non-fiction
The main premise of this book was pretty good -- that the environmental movement needs to move away from limits and lists of no-nos and towards a more comprehensive vision including things like debt-relief for foreign countries like Brazil, and embracing (ie funding) the improvement of clean-energy technologies, etc. The main point was that people can only worry about improving non-essential things like environmental issues when they feel secure in quality-of-life issues.

This book also suffered
From a public policy perspective, this is a fascinating read. The primary argument that the authors try to convey is that environmentalism has evolved into a narrow special interest, and must redefine itself to adapt to a changing world. Some of the examples used are more effective than others. Highlighting the current situation in Brazil was effective, as it's difficult to ensure the integrity of the Amazon in a country with massive economic problems (vast international debt) coupled with socia ...more
Oct 03, 2007 Pat rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: environmental policy makers
This is an expanded critique of the green movement by the authors of the controversial essay "The Death of Environmentalim." The authors are public opinion researchers and political consultants and, frankly, it shows. Their criticisms are often valid but their prescriptions are too dependent upon dubious focus-group wisdom and their language is hopelessly mired in the jargon. Their favorite terms seem to be pre-political and postmaterial and the two concepts (I still can't tell you quite what th ...more
May 14, 2008 Rhys rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone interested in how politics and the environmental movement work
Shelves: true-stories
While I couldn't agree with everything in this book it was certainly very thought provoking and really got me going with a lot of their ideas and ways of looking at the politics of environmentalism and government. Basically they use the book to expand upon an essay they presented at a major environmental conference that was designed to shake things up a bit and get people thinking a little differently about how they approach environmental issues and activism.
Very enlightening and a fresh seemin
If you want a good dose of mainstream Internet Age progressive positivity then read this one together with Obama's Audacity of Hope. It's more an overall critique of the poor packaging of all of the Left's messages rather than a specific indictment of the environmentalist establishment. But I could see where it's bright-eyed optimism might sound a little smug to those in the trenches. Not too heavy on the policy specifics, but instead combines insights from philosophy, psychology, sociology, pol ...more
This book received a lot of well-deserved scorn from the environmental and progressive communities. I plan to write an extended review on soon, but suffice to say that a) it's often a good and clarifying thing to read something you disagree with, and b) some of their less obnoxious points have real value. What the environmental community rightfully objected to is actually a relatively small (though continually emphasized) part of the book; the theoretical examination of progressi ...more
Very interesting and readable. I tend to get bored with a lot of non-fiction where the author just throws fact after fact at you in service of their one argument. But I thought the authors here did a good job of supporting their argument without going on and on for too long.

This was a book club pick and at first everyone was groaning about reading another depressing book. But it's actually very hopeful.
Kiran Mukkamalla
Oct 18, 2007 Kiran Mukkamalla rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in possible ways of dealing with global warming
I am learning from this book that a politics of hope is necessary in creating new ideas and maintaining a sense that we can solve the current environmental crisis. I just started reading it and so far, appreciate the concise, cogent writing style, and the revealings of old historical moments with a new twist, like Dr. King's speech, for example. Inspiring, thought-provoking and worth the time to read.
Jul 29, 2008 Kemaki45 rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone concerned about climate change
Shelves: nonfiction
Fascinating book. Provides some possible explanations for why the environmental movement has succeeded in some ways and failed in others. Break Through goes on to describe how we need to consider a very different paradigm and set of ideas for dealing with climate change. Also worth checking out the website for the organization founded by the authors:
Potentially paradigm shifting if we could make it next month's subway read for damn near everyone. I used to be one of those people who gave the human race fifty, sixty years tops. No longer; or if the clock is still counting down I will cheerfully be contributing thought and action when it stops.
This is a superb look at environmentalism - where it came from, where its going, and how the path needs to change. It offers a new way of looking at things and offers many solid critiques of the current "environmental" movement.

Sometimes it is a little bright-eyed...but so am I, I guess.
Daniel M.
Even though it was written by liberals (who were shunned for their work) it is one of the great recent compilations of truly innovative thinking in the realm of political idealogy and democrat/republican mindsets.
Bill Scarvie
At first, I found the book provokative. The authors challenged the fundamentals of environmentalism and the stories we tell that are rooted in those fundamentals. I agree that we won't gain many converts by scaring them or by demanding profoundly unpalatable changes in behavior. But that doesn't mean that we environmentalists need to change the story about humanity's need to curb our appetite for converting the natural capital of the planet into money. What we need is not to find new technologie ...more
Erika RS
First things first, this book is not claiming that environmentalism is dead. It is making the equally contentious but distinct claim that environmentalism, as it currently stands, should die.

To understand why Nordhaus and Shellenberger make this claim, it is first necessary to understand what they mean by environmentalism. According to the authors, environmentalism today is based on a "politics of limits". The mode of operation for environmental organizations is to limit or prohibit activities t
Okay, here's my problem. They say that environmentalists focus too much on limiting humanity's effect on Nature, which makes them uninspiring. And they say that's stupid, because there's no such thing as Nature - the idea is just a human construct, and nature changes all the time anyway. There's nothing special about nature staying the same way it is right now, so it's okay for us to mess around with it if we want to.
Yet they talk about ecological crises. Isn't that a contradiction? If you think
Eric B. Kennedy
A refreshing, energizing deep dive into how we might make better progress on solving complex environmental problems. Labelling today's environmentalism as a 'politics of limits', they argue for a more pragmatic, innovative approach to rethinking environmentalism. While their prescriptions drum up controversy, even the most ardent environmentalist would benefit from considering with an open mind.
Shellenberger and Nordhaus wrote a controversial essay a few years ago called "The Death of Environmentalism." This book expands on the ideas they presented in the essay. It's a provocative book that makes the valuable point that the environmental movement won't thrive on pessimism and condescending injunctions to behave better. The authors favor (rather convincingly) the Apollo Project, a program of major investments in green technology and infrastructure. The book is, to my mind, weakened by a ...more
Amy D
I was told to like this book but i think most of what was written in here is bull shit. Also I know for a fact that while they spend chapters criticsizing other movements, their research on many (namely environmental justice) was shotty at best. They never even talked to the director of the organization they called a "one-trick pony" until after the book came out. Though both authors are quick to judge different prescriptive efforts with some good points, the solution they offer is still within ...more
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