My Moment In The ‘Spotlight’ – OpEd


On Tuesday, HarperCollins will publish my new book, San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities. Interest in the book is high. On Monday I recorded interviews with Jordan Peterson and Dave Rubin. Yesterday I recorded an interview with Joe Rogan. And The New York Times has told HarperCollins that it will publish a review of it.

Pre-publication sales of San Fransicko are four times higher than the ones for Apocalypse Never, but that is no guarantee the book will become a best-seller, like Apocalypse Never was. So please take a moment now to pre-order a copy for yourself, and a few copies for friends and family. If you’d like me to sign, dedicate, and mail a copy to you, please donate $100 to Environmental Progress, and we will get one out to you today.

If you liked Apocalypse Never, I promise you will love San Fransicko. The books are of equal quality and length. San Fransicko is darker than Apocalypse Never. But like Apocalypse NeverSan Fransicko delivers a big argument through compelling characters and dramatic stories. The two together constitute a sturdy foundation for Environmental Progress and the grassroots movements we are building.

The publication of San Fransicko is a spotlight moment for me, literally and figuratively. In the 2015 film, “Spotlight,” there is a powerful scene where the journalist character played by Mark Ruffalo makes a highly emotional demand of his editor boss, Michael Keaton, that they publish their bombshell findings that Catholic priests had been molesting children for decades. We see for the first time how impacted personally the taciturn Ruffalo has been by his reporting. The Keaton character says no — they aren’t ready. “I’m not going to rush this story… Barrett told us to get the system,” he says, referring to another senior editor. “We need the full scope. That’s the only thing that will put an end to this.”

The dramatic scene ran through my mind many times while reporting on and gathering the evidence my colleagues and I have assembled in San Fransicko. I was emotionally shattered at various moments reporting on the drug death, poisoning, and addiction crisis. I saw a young and frail mentally ill woman, alone, and vulnerable to rape on Skid Row, with a hospital band still on her wrist. I saw a psychotic man shooting drugs into his bare foot in the Tenderloin. I heard stories that were so depraved and sickening that I chose to keep them to myself.

But doing so had an impact. Invariably, after visiting Venice Beach, Tenderloin, or Skid Row, the following day I would need to take a long nap out of sheer emotional exhaustion. “It’s time!” shouts the anguished Ruffalo character. “They knew! And they let it happen! To kids!” The same can be said of the architects of America’s ever-worsening drug death disaster, which is not only killing kids in the streets but also in their bedrooms.

But the Michael Keaton voice in my head kept me from publishing the results of my research until I had what I felt was “the full scope.” Once I had it, I started publishing excerpts of San Fransicko, with the kind permission of my publisher, HarperCollins. I’ve also been supporting parents of kids killed by, and addicted to, fentanyl, to protest political officials, Snapchat, and everyone else with the power to do something to address the problem. But with the publication of San Fransicko, the whole world will get to see just how deep the problem goes.

I am proud of the many blurbs for the book from people I highly respect. But the word of praise that I feel most accurately describes the book comes from Michael Lind: “Devastating.” I’m proud that the book is as devastating to read as it was to write, because that’s what will be required to take down the system that is perpetuating the horror show of what we euphemistically call “homelessness,” and the broader drug crisis, which I believe are two of the greatest threats to our shared humanity, dignity, and integrity as a nation.

Will it? Not alone. Not long after I began my research, I read what I felt then, and still feel now, were the three best books on homelessness, all published in the early 1990s, and all authored by liberals or progressives. At first the books inspired me. I felt as though three wise elders had reached forward through time to pass along essential truths. But then it dawned on me that, despite those three books having been widely reviewed and well received, including by America’s most influential newspapers, the crisis of untreated mental illness and addiction, as well as what we call homelessness, had grown worse, not better. What would prevent San Fransicko from suffering a similar fate?

That night, I confessed to my wife, Helen, that all I might be able to do was write a book that warned other places what not to do. She grew quiet and looked away. After I asked her what was the matter, she said, “We live here.” I needed to be as constructive as I was critical, she felt. And so at the heart of San Fransicko is a positive proposal for how to restore human dignity, not just law and order, to progressive West Coast cities. At both philosophical and policy levels it will, I hope and believe, resonate with the heads, hearts, and guts of reasonable conservatives and reasonable progressives. Will it? I don’t know. But I promise to use every ethical means available to me to end the horror show unfolding every day in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other progressive cities around the U.S. That includes working with parents, recovering addicts, and community leaders who co-founded the California Peace Coalition to demand change.

Because she has been my moral compass on this and so many other things, I have dedicated San Fransicko to my compassionate, tough, and pragmatic wife. I am not the easiest person to be married to. I am thus especially grateful to Helen for her patience, intelligence, and love. And I am grateful to all of you for the support you have given me over the years. I couldn’t have written these books without your love and belief in me. I have some big, tough things to say, and am happy the day has finally arrived for me to say them. Progressives, including the people who write book reviews for The New York Times, aren’t likely to find them easy to hear. But they need to hear them.

So get ready for a rumble.

Michael Shellenberger

Michael Shellenberger is a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” and president of Environmental Progress. Follow him on Twitter @ShellenbergerMD and at

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