A Climate Scientist Pushes Back on Doomism

April 12, 2022

This thread sheds light not just on how we process the climate crisis, but on who is processing what and how.

Jacquelyn Gill on Twitter:

Last week, I was quoted in an AP article interviewing scientists who are pushing back on the emerging narrative that there’s nothing we can do about climate change — that we’re doomed, no matter what. 

Since then, I’ve gotten phone calls, emails, and actual mail in response. 

Only one email was from a dismissive (informing me the climate has always changed, and I should learn about dendrochronology, LOL). I got several emails and one phone call peddling crackpot technological solutions to control the climate that absolutely would not work. 

I did get a handful of emails from folks asking what could be done, asking for a way forward through anxiety and hopelessness. These are hard emails, and I wish I could give them the time they deserve (I’m working on an FAQ with resources because I get them all the time now). 

The majority were from people who wanted to convince me that humanity is doomed. One guy sent me two self-published books on the meaninglessness of life. It was dedicated to the future humans who will unfortunately be born against their will (!?). 

One email challenged me to list one thing — ONE — that had been done to improve the climate crisis. Another told me that it’s immoral for me to give people hope, and I am no worse than fossil fuel companies. Another told me scientists are to blame for not doing enough. 

I share this not trying to center my personal feelings, though it can be tough to show up and do this work every day. The abuse, the parasocial relationships, etc., especially directed at white women and BIPOC folks, is a lot. And it’s infinitely harder when it’s “your team.” 

And I should note that all of these appeared to be from men. I honestly can’t think of a time when a woman has reached out (off Twitter) for help with emotional processing, or to fight me on the science, or sell me a carbon sucking machine, or call me a [redacted]. 

But mostly, I just want to point out — for myself, and for everyone else — that these harsh voices aren’t representative of the majority. Yes, the defeatists are becoming more vocal. We don’t know how prevalent they are, but I suspect they’re still a minority. 

You know how one negative comment, review, or evaluation sticks in your head longer than the rest? Or how people take the time to say mean things, but rarely nice things, so only the negative feedback comes through? 

This is like that. Don’t let the despair shape your narrative. 

The work we do is hard, and we have to take care of ourselves and each other. We have to learn how to be sustainable, and find the role models who show us how tp avoid burnout. We need to do the internal work of not allowing ourselves to brutalize others because of our own pain. 

And if you’re out there, worrying about the planet and the climate crisis and each other, just remember that it’s really easy to fixate on the doom, and forget about the determination. For every defeatist, there are a thousand doers. And the best advice I can give is: team up. 

16 Responses to “A Climate Scientist Pushes Back on Doomism”

  1. jimbills Says:

    We need to be realists here. We ARE doomed. We’ve already caused massive changes that we see right now, and we’re nowhere near doing what needs to be done to prevent further massive changes in the future.

    Honestly, I take all the bright and sunny hopey hope stuff that we can make the future a rosy happy place with EVs and recycling as just another delusion – and frankly, it’s a delusion that does far more harm than good, because it just makes us complacent in the present that everything will work out fine. Technology will solve it! Just wait!

    BUT, realizing we’re doomed is absolutely NOT a reason to not try to do something, anything at all, to reduce those massive changes in the future. It’s both the moral and rational thing to attempt to do so, because we CAN make the future just a little better than it would otherwise be for those that follow us IF WE TRY.

    “For every defeatist, there are a thousand doers.”

    Exactly.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I think there should be coverage on the feeling of resignation and the acceptance that it will be Very Bad, which is different than saying there’s no point in doing anything about.

      I do look forward to the collapse of the fossil fuel industries, even if it will be too late (IMO) to stop our coasting beyond +2°C.

      And we can always have a Plot Twist, like a mass aerosol event (Pinatubo or some level of nuke-tossing) or an even worse pandemic that wipes out a high percentage of the world population. Wouldn’t that be fun? 😦

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      What James William said.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      Sorry but it makes no sense to say we’re doomed, let’s keep trying. That’s different from saying it’s bad, let’s try to make sure it doesn’t get worse, which is the situation we’re in. We don’t know if we’re doomed, we do know it’s going to be bad and we can decide how much worse it gets. But nothing will change our course short of a revolution.

      • jimbills Says:

        Semantics. Nice.

        • J4Zonian Says:

          Not semantics at all. Completely different meaning.

          “We’re doomed” is the only part of the message many people will hear, because the rest won’t fit in the frame of “we’re doomed”, which has been irrevocably activated the instant it’s said. It makes no sense so it will be dismissed, & the message people come away with will be “We’re doomed”, or even more likely, We’re doomed. Give up.” It’s likely that a significant percent will even report that’s what was said. They will come to firmly believe the message was literally, word for word, “We’re doomed. Give up.” George Lakoff, Derrick Jensen & many, many other people & studies report similar phenomena.

          It’s somewhat related to the sleeper effect: Told something by a highly credible source, people believe it. As time goes by they remember the message & forget the source so fewer people believe it. Told something by an uncredible source belief goes up over time for the same reason. The right takes advantage of it constantly in climate denial, anti-renewablism, & other lies.

          • jimbills Says:

            We’re talking here to a select group of highly climate-literate readers that won’t running shrieking to the hills if I say on this climate blog that we’re doomed. You’re parsing language when there’s no need for it here.

            We KNOW that we already face incredibly tough circumstances in the future due to what we have already emitted and because our economic and political systems lack the flexibility to adapt more quickly than we are seeing now, so we also know it’s bound to be worse than what the optimists are saying we can do by stopping all emissions immediately and then building massive carbon capture projects for decades. It’s a fantasy that we’ll cap total warming at 1.5 or 2 (with only slightly better odds).

            In a very true sense, we are doomed, because we know some very bad things will happen as a result of that, and if we really want to face the future on better footing, we should acknowledge that and prepare for it – while also trying our best to replace fossil fuel usage as quickly as we can. I’m assuming we have adult readers here, and not children who will go catatonic because of language on a blog post from an obscure poster, and I also assume they realize that there’s a difference in capping warming somewhere in the 2-3 degree range rather than the 5-6 degree C range (which would be super-duper doomed instead of just doomed).

            If we’re talking outside of this blog, though, the “it’s bad” messaging HAS been playing in the media and from scientists for decades now. Has it worked?

            Fear is a motivator, not an obstacle. Look at Greta or the Extinction Rebellion. Our real problem when discussing humanity as a whole is that we don’t fear the future enough. “It’s bad” just bounces off us collectively and is replaced with “maybe it will be better”, and nothing happens. You end your comment above with the recognizing the need for a total revolution, but there is zero social impetus for it currently. We care more about Super Bowl ads than we care about climate change in the States.

            So, in effect, we are saying the same thing – we are doomed. You don’t see it because you insist on clinging to your revolution pipe dream.

  2. redskylite Says:

    I do not think that “doomism” is a problem anymore, if it ever was. More and more people are accepting that we do have a climate problem, if not an emergency, and we hear very little from the so called “doomists”, as many scientists go out of their way to avoid being labelled as alarmists, especially by the denial organizations.

    As someone who has spent many hours, days, months if not years posting information from respectable, mainstream media and organizations on social media, I have noticed it is getting much harder to obtain interesting and detailed information now, as more and more outlets go behind paywalls, and climate change news becomes a luxury for the rich.

    The rate at which humanity is responding to AGW is still far too slow and doomism is our very least concern.

    =====================================

    “Newspapers play a key role in shaping attitudes to climate change, communicating the latest science, reporting on environmental politics and, at times, promoting climate scepticism. ”

    https://interactive.carbonbrief.org/how-uk-newspapers-changed-minds-climate-change/?fbclid=IwAR2i9OmPkQ26r5rEZVKhEoMSjPOnNJ_1g-w_gL5Q3tGrBIIaU5AvydSX_D0

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I have noticed it is getting much harder to obtain interesting and detailed information now, as more and more outlets go behind paywalls, and climate change news becomes a luxury for the rich.

      Yeah, BS is much more accessible than expertly analyzed information, especially since the cranks and the grifters are happy to produce content for what they’re pushing.

  3. redskylite Says:

    And a reminder doom is relative. . . . . doom indeed for the Golden Toad.
    ====================================================

    “The golden toad was the first species where climate change has been identified as a key driver of extinction.

    Its fate could be just the beginning.

    For years, researchers have warned that the world is facing both a climate and a biodiversity crisis. Increasingly they say they are connected.”

    https://www.rfi.fr/en/lost-golden-toad-heralds-climate-s-massive-extinction-threat

  4. ubrew12 Says:

    I don’t think we’re doomed. But they are definitely doomed. We don’t know who they are, but we know that it’s no longer ‘nobody’. And we should know enough about the denial industry to know that, whomever it is that is doomed, will get blamed for it themselves, and any link to climate change will be downplayed. Because, for Libertarians, you are responsible for your own mess: especially if you’re not responsible for it. It’s 100% “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just need to outrun you”, and 0% “Hey, there’s a Valley full of bears over there, why don’t we travel through this other valley with fewer bears?”

  5. ocalicreek Says:

    In my former career I journeyed with people as they fought cancer. Every fight began with a difficult conversation and frank, straightforward information from a doctor, often with a realistic warning. People needed to know what they were fighting, what they could do, how they could expect the treatment to go, and what the odds were. Yes there was despair, sadness, anguish, but that soon turned to determination and hope. We’ve built such an amazing support system around cancer patients from churches and community groups to medical professionals and families. The prognosis improves when folks confront the data and take a positive attitude, with support, to fight like hell and never give up.

    I’ve been at those bedsides where a person can no longer use half their face, or only one arm. I’ve officiated at the gravesides of folks who didn’t take the warnings seriously. And yet, I didn’t take blood pressure medication, change my diet and lose 30 lbs until I knew the possibility of stroke was real – FOR ME. It has to be personal. Even the best of us can point to someone else and say it’s their problem, not mine, until it lands at our own doorstep.

    Unless climate scientists give the public a truthful worst-case-scenario, people will just shrug it off and hope for the best. Even then it may be too late. Not everyone beats cancer, even with the best of support groups and modern medical treatments. Likewise we need good futurists painting a picture of how amazing life will be on a greener planet. The stick and the carrot.

    But if the scientists spend too much time in the weeds trying to be accurate and parse out the details and distinctions, then yes, we’re doomed. If they hide behind fear of misunderstanding or losing the respect of their peers by being labeled “alarmist”, then we’re doomed. They need to scare the crap out of us before we’ll truly take action that stands any chance of success. So far they’ve failed.

    • jimbills Says:

      100% right.

      If someone knows, for certain, they face real and severe consequences in the future, almost all of them will take the problem seriously and try to do something about it.

      Some will just give up, sure, but the vast majority will not.

      Our main problem right now is NOT doomers. Our main problem is that, as a whole, humanity is not convinced, for certain, that we face real and dire consequences in the future for what we do now. Anything that erodes that certainty or minimizes our fear of those consequences, like denial, but also the tepid messaging from those that do take climate change seriously, or such things as the over-promising of future technological marvels, and so on, just leads to inaction in the present.

  6. Anthony O'Brien Says:

    Pick pretty much any well received theory of why civilizations collapse and we tick the boxes. The escape clause “but we are different” is used commonly. Or the obvious conclusion is ignored: In every mass extinction event the dominant species is wiped out, we are the dominant species and we are in a mass extinction event and then no conclusion.

    I am in the doomer camp that supports continuing action. Despite being labelled a doomer the climate has been changing faster than I expected. (Except for Arctic sea ice, I thought we would have seen a zero minimum by now)

    Nobody has told me where my logic is wrong. They tell me why the IPCC projections are conservative and then get upset when I conclude it might be worse. I would be more into activism, but it has been made quite clear I am not welcome.

  7. indy222 Says:

    The real point that’s missed – is there’s a critical difference between what PHYSICS can be done, and what HUMAN REALISM can be done. We’re a species bred for 10,000 generations to grow, personally, tribally, nationally. On a finite planet, that’s fatal. I’m not saying we’re in for near term human extinction. That’s nonsense. But a crash and harsh learning I do believe is likely. I’m fed up with all the Hopium being sold out there by $$$$grubbers and carbon-offset $$$seekers. It’s just Greenwash.

    NO ONE wants nor will accept the kind of hard de-growth together with harsh energy conservation and population global growth that’s necessary. So while no one wants to kill the planet, we’re all doing exactly that.

    Capitalism is like The Terminator. It didn’t cackle with glee as it crushed little trucks and whatever in its path. Similarly, no one wants to kill the Earth. The Earth just got in the way, of the NeoClassical Economists and all their ilk, suckled by their dopamine receptors for Mo’ Mo’ Mo’ and competitive advantage in all thinigs material – hence Energy-intensive. Doesn’t really matter in the end whether it’s vast solar farms across the landscape or fossil fuels. Nature is wrecked just the same.

    • jimbills Says:

      “Doesn’t really matter in the end whether it’s vast solar farms across the landscape or fossil fuels. Nature is wrecked just the same.”

      Not exactly. We know that rising global temperatures will affect the biosphere in particular ways. Growth itself, and I agree it’s a given that humans won’t voluntarily stop it, could technically continue given the resource availability with much less fossil fuel use than now. That would wreck nature in others ways, but not the same ways that continuing their use would. We’d reduce the amount of warming – habitat loss for species would be less, water shortages wouldn’t be as severe, global food production wouldn’t have as many difficulties, there’d be less ocean acidification, and many other effects.

      Continued growth WOULD mean biodiversity loss in other ways, but these individually could be handled far more easily than climate change itself – which is a systemic issue that goes the very heart of economies – its energy supply. An example of a tangential problem would be CFCs and the ozone. Pesticide use can be curtailed, and most of our agricultural land is actually currently being wasted on things we don’t actually need to survive.

      We’d still, continuously, find ways to screw things up, as we’re much dumber than we think we are, and we’d inevitably have a much less biodiverse planet (and we already do compared to 200 years ago), but isn’t it reasonable to consider that a 2.2 degree total warming would give us some chance, but a 5 degree C warmer world wouldn’t give us much chance at all?

      Plus, we’re talking about a dynamic system. Multiple things can affect predictions about the future – most of them we cannot know now. We could have a virus that wipes half the population out in a year. We could easily have a massive economic collapse that causes a 50 year regression in our footprint. Technologies (and I’m personally a huge criticizer of technology) can affect our impact in unpredictable ways. Given time, and likely a lot of damage to ourselves, it’s not impossible that humanity would replace capitalism with some other form of economic system. Capitalism works with massive flows of energy and resources – but what if that stops or reduces in the future (as I think we’re seeing even now)?

      I personally think humanity faces a far bleaker future than most realize. I don’t see how we don’t have severe economic crashes, global food and water shortages, and rising despotism and warfare. But, maybe it’s not realistic to say the future can be predicted with certainty, and maybe it’s not accurate to suggest a fossil fuel powered world in 2100 would be the equivalent to a renewable and/or nuclear powered world in 2100?


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: