Henny Penny: A Response to Michael Schellenberger

By Dalen Ewald

My quick take away from Michael Schellenberger’s article “Why Apocalyptic Claims About Climate Change Are Wrong” is that environmental journalists and advocates have been playing the role of Chicken Little .

The difference is that this time, we are dealing with no mere acorn.

Despite good intentions, extremist advocates are inadvertently promoting anxiety and division. This isn’t the proactive attitude we need to stand up to climate change. Schellenberger has been in the field of ecological justice for over 25 years and has become frustrated with the melodramatic approach advocates have taken. Named by Time magazine as a “Hero of the Environment”, he is not a “climate denier” or “delayer” but rather one who supposedly notices the chaotic and inefficient methods of extremist advocates. In Christian evangelizing terms: he is the man spreading his faith by example, while extremists are shouting through a megaphone on a crowded street. 

The main takeaway from Schellenberger’s article is that exaggerated truths tend to cause one of two reactions: dismay or disdain. And neither one is productive in our pursuit of ecological justice. 

Dismay is the reaction we see in the first half of the Chicken Little story where he runs around the town fervently proclaiming “the sky is falling, the sky is falling”. Everyone spirals into hopeless chaos out of fear and panic caused by Chicken Little’s alarming announcement. 

Disdain is the reaction in the second half of the story where nobody takes Chicken Little seriously. He is the boy who cried wolf; nobody trusts him because of his demonstrated a tendency to spread chaotic rumours.

While there are similarities between our societal situation and the story of Chicken Little, there are two main differences:

First, in Chicken Little the whole community was unified in their seasons of dismay and disdain. In Canada these reactions are happening simultaneously, causing counter productively and a dangerous divide.

Second, while the sky may not be falling per se, climate change is no mere acorn. It is an eminent threat that needs to be approached in a well-informed and non-partisan manner.

Unlike Chicken Little’s delusive problem, society has a very real issue which needs our attention. However there are some important lessons we can learn from Chicken Little’s responsive actions. Primarily, melodramatic exaggerations only dampens our ability to proceed. As a nation, we need to be united to solve the problem of climate change. We know this as team players, family and church members, co-workers, and citizens. Unity is the only solution to progressive and sustainable development. Twisted truths and exaggeration only cause divisions, but factual conversations and respectful dialogue can unite us as a nation. Maybe it is my naivety talking, but I believe in Canada’s ability to face this issue united. 

Let’s do this right. Let’s transition together.

Dalen is a fifth year psychology student at Trinity Western University with a career interest in environmental law.