Why I am a “Doomer”

In liberal(ish) circles, it seems to be a popular new pastime to try to separate out different categories of people who are concerned about climate change, to label them, and try to dismiss their views if they are not the correct ones in the author’s opinion.

It’s sometimes accompanied with tone-trolling in the form of “don’t say ‘we are doomed’ because that just gives the polluters an excuse to shrug, ‘see, we are doomed!’ and keep polluting.” That is a bizarre argument because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe that the polluters have been shrugging just fine all along without the need for or benefit of an excuse. They have been subjected to plenty of protest, criticism, and attempts to regulate them, and have skillfully ignored them all and continued to pollute. In a few special circumstances they have used the apparently infinite pools of capital from their fossil fuels business to buy large stakes in renewable energy businesses, as a hedge, but that doesn’t mean they have suddenly switched to the side of righteousness – it just means they intend to profit no matter what happens. That should have also been obvious all along.

I’ve also noticed a distressing trend in some places to argue that criticizing Joe Biden on his unexciting climate record is tantamount to supporting Trump. That’s one of the most distressing failures of liberalism ever, since it ignores the fact that the only control a citizen can exert on the political process is to withhold support from a candidate they feel is not representing their interests. I’m going to go out on a limb and observe that using that false dichotomy to lock people’s political opinions out of the process is promoting radicalism – after all, “terrorism is the voice of the voiceless” and some of us are leaning towards the viewpoint that even violence may have to be put on the table as an option to get our political leaders to take climate seriously. On forums such as Daily Kos, there are cheerleaders for Biden who resolutely ignore the fact that he encouraged the Saudis to pump more oil, so as to lower gas prices and therefore inflation, in order to defeat a republican “red tide” in 2022 and increase his chance of winning a second term in 2024. Cheerleaders for Biden ignore the fact that the US is the world’s largest fossil fuel exporter, at this time, which Biden even patted himself publicly on the back, for. The Biden administration stealthily approved the construction of a new oil export terminal off the Texas coast, that will add 2 million barrels of oil/day to US export capacity [climate] oh, and we had to subject ourselves to the ridiculous spectacle of the democrats, who now control the senate, ceding that control to Joe Manchin and his fossil fuel investments while simultaneously turning a blind eye to his obvious corruption. The cheerleaders insist that this is all necessary political calculus, while deriding “doomers” who point out that this sort of thing runs exactly contrary to what many of us voted the democrats in to do.

Admittedly, the political calculus is complicated and full of gray areas: do we hold our noses and vote for the democrats, again, or do we actually raise climate change to a moral issue, and simply refuse to play along with this shit any longer? I am heartily sick of democrats telling me “we have to have Manchin, even if he’s a piece of shit, because he’s our piece of shit, but, oh, the republicans are morally flawed for not throwing George Santos out of their party because – don’t you know, he’s a piece of shit?” What this massive collection of pieces of shit don’t understand is that there are some of us who see them all as what they are, while accepting that some of them are dangerous fascist pieces of shit besides. That does not translate to my undying support for democrats, though – it translates to me expecting better of the democrats and wow are they disappointing.

Sure, Biden was able to pass a massive stimulus aimed toward renewables, but I can’t really calculate if that’s offset by the damage that US states are suffering right now from fires, hurricanes, and drought. Oh, wait, what did I just say? Of course I can calculate that. It is a moral issue. It does not matter whether a lying piece of shit has a -D or a -R after their name, on the rolls, it matters what they do. And, if we’re concerned about climate, that means ratcheting back on fossil fuel subsidies and spending that money on green energy. It also means ratcheting back on our absurd military budget and spending more money on green energy. It means promising to legislate against fossil fuels at the G7 meeting (which we did) and then – actually doing it. It means playing hardball with assclowns like Joe Manchin. What do I mean by “playing hardball”? As we saw from Trump and Mitch McConnell, motivated politicians can do all sorts of nasty things to jam an opponent’s agenda. How about “if you extort support for your fossil fuel projects from the government, the government will provide amicus support for every lawsuit trying to stop you”? Seriously, folks, the government has an utterly pathetic record of not attempting to interfere with fossil fuel exploitation, while standing back and letting the oil companies lobby and push legislation to their hearts’ content. Again, I am casting this as a moral issue.  A politician who is serving the current two party system, with its lock on military spending and fossil fuel exploitation is killing us in many ways. They are not, and never can be our representatives. Yes, that means that if Joe Biden is the alternative to Trump we should vote for him but only because the democrats and republicans are both holding guns to our head and are screaming they are going to pull the trigger, whatever we do.

And that is why I’m a “doomer.” The climate science speaks for itself. The remaining question is whether we are headed toward +2C and a couple thousand years of misery or +4C and extinction. I’m a “doomer” because I look at how the political situation around the world has locked the population into a fossil fuel death-spiral, and all the ways out look like they are synonymous with overthrowing capitalism (on the easy end of the spectrum) and overthrowing authoritarianism in China, India, and Russia (on the harder end of the spectrum). Anyone who can claim to be optimistic about that, simply does not understand the situation.

Wow, Marcus “overthrowing capitalism” sure sounds like a big ticket item! Yes. Here’s the problem. In some ways, capitalism has helped with the climate crisis – costs of solar panels have been driving down, costs of windmills driving down, technology improving, etc. But, at the same time, we have companies that have decided their capitalist interest is to just simply lie about what they are doing. Perhaps you are familiar with Exxon Mobil’s stated intent to go “carbon neutral in all operations” which is both a complete lie, and a really weird lie. First, the weird part: they’re not saying they are going to be carbon neutral about the vast amounts of fossil fuel they intend to pump and sell – just that the pumping and extraction will be carbon neutral. And, they’re not actually trying to be carbon neutral, anyway. Instead, they put up some nice ads and stuff, about technology that does not and will never exist. [greenwash] Exxon’s low-emissions investments amount to $3 billion, which sounds like a lot, unless you compare it to the $250 billion of polluting fossil fuels, as usual. There are also investigations trying to uncover whether Exxon actually spent any of that money on researching for carbon neutral extraction, or whether they spent it on trying to develop more efficient extraction, which would certainly save some fossil fuel use, while making a lot more fossil fuels available.

The reason I say capitalism is a problem is because Wall St., knowing full well that such chicanery is going on, continues to invest in the fossil fuel extraction companies because, well, they’re a good gamble. Basically, think of Wall St., as a bunch of inveterate gamblers who’ll place a bet on anything up to and including whether a given uranium atom will decay within a certain time-window. Naturally, they will argue that their investments are morally neutral, but that’s deceptive: they are investing in stuff that is killing everything and everyone on earth – is it plausible that “shareholder value” is the only moral dimension? Next up: investing in slavery as a morally neutral marketplace. No. Next argument: not investing in Exxon just means that British Petroleum will do better in the market. That’s the same argument as “if you don’t vote for Biden, you are voting for Trump” if you re-factor it a bit. None of this is acceptable. It’s all reality, but that does not make it right.

Capitalism and government go hand in hand: the capitalists finance the political campaigns that control the system, and in return the government loosens its controls over the capitalists. It is organized corruption on a mega-scale. The system has evolved to defend itself against outside challenges and threats, which co-incidentally makes it impossible for non-billionaires to have significant influence. The end result is that response to the climate catastrophe is slowed down. Fatally slowed down. The same politicians who were negotiating with Joe Manchin watched their districts go up in smoke, or crops fail, or citizens die of heat – but that is not their real consideration: getting re-elected, is.

So, I want to say to any of you who might criticize someone for being a “doomer” – projecting an attitude of doom and gloom is barely enough: we are just trying to get you to understand the fucking situation. This is not a situation that will be solved by running Biden again (though that will certainly happen unless he dies in harness and they run a wax effigy like they do in North Korea) and this is not a situation that will be solved by choosing recyclable paper bags at the grocery store. This is not a situation that will be solved by speaking kindly to our enemies, or, perhaps, speaking to them at all – they have been studiously arranging the situation so that they do not have to listen to anyone, why expect they are going to have a sudden moral turn-around? In other words, the details of the CO2 levels, and burn rates are interesting – perhaps hypnotizing – but what we should be looking at is for the necessary profound changes in the system that got us here. Profound changes that are notable mostly by being absent. Anyone who is thinking of criticizing someone for being a “doomer” ought to consider that by doing so, they are aligning themselves with the status quo – they are doing the equivalent of telling the other passengers on Titanic “stop worrying and sit down and have a cigar, the captain and crew have no doubt got the situation well in hand and your running about yelling about lifeboats is just going to depress people into stopping struggling.” Note, in that situation, who has stopped struggling – it’s not the “doomer” it’s the person advocating calm.

There are other consequences to treating climate change as a moral issue. For one, all advocating for business as usual is an immoral position, because business as usual got us into this mess. For another, we have to question the morality of bringing children into this world: how many of today’s generation are going to watch their children and loved ones die because of climate change. That sound extreme? Tell it to the elderly Texas couple who died of heat because they could not afford air conditioning. [abc7] This particularly applies to Americans – it’s a popular position for Americans to wring their hands and say “what is going to happen if India and China start exploiting fossil fuels as much as we do?” Good, question, but a better question would be “is it maybe time to stop making more Americans?” As a “doomer” I tend to just shake my head and walk on, because it seems to me that people utterly fail to understand that humanity has not merely fucked up the environment – they have fucked it up for thousands of years. We can argue about the estimates, but “thousands” is deliberately on the low side, it’s more likely to be tens of thousands. Your kids aren’t just going to have to worry about the price of Florida orange juice when Florida is a wreck, there won’t be enough orange juice to share around until “deep time” – longer than human history has been written. You know how we sometimes shake our heads in despair at the immoral stupidity of the founders of the US, who embedded slavery into the foundation of the society, gifting its future with a dividing line that would be paid for in blood over and over again? Future people, if there are any lucky enough to spare a thought for us, will think of us boomers as the worst monsters in history: the people who had ample warning of impending disaster, but valued their bread and circuses more than the future of their own children. We valued the political practicalities of having Joe Manchin (sort of) a democrat, more than the moral dimension of negotiating with an agent of the global disaster. They will have thousands of years to hate this generation, especially the last few generations of Americans.

I’m going to drop two links here. One is Carl Sagan’s 1985 testimony to Congress and the other is Margaret Thatcher in 1989 saying basically the same thing, except in an annoying British adenoidal drawl:


  1. says

    @Jazzlet, thank you.
    It’s interesting, the way freethoughtblogs readers respond to pieces like that, than readers at Daily Kos, who see things much more through a lens of the democrat machine.

  2. anat says

    We have to prevent a Republican trifecta for the next 10 years or so, because that’s the only thing that prevents federal abortion bans, federal anti trans laws and similar. Even if we are doomed to a terrible climate personal rights are crucial.

  3. GenghisFaun says

    We call them Blue MAGA in the social media circles I run in, and they are nearly as tedious to deal with as actual MAGAts, who at least have the excuse of being blisteringly ignorant of nearly everything.

  4. says

    It might be trite, but it is true that money is the root of all evil. Pretty much every effed-up thing in our society can be traced back to the fact the someone, somewhere in the society, wants more money. And for those things that can’t, it can instead be traced back to religion, which ultimately is about increasing someone’s power (and of course, money is just power abstracted).

    Having said that, I am not a person who promotes the idea of the good being the enemy of the perfect. Biden was not my first pick (or my second or my third or even my fourth), but for the love of all that is chocolately and delicious, were you going to vote for Trump? Were you going to sit it out? Biden clearly is not perfect and has done some bone-headed things regarding climate, but there have been some good things. Is it enough? No. But at least Biden gives us some time: Time to find solutions and at least attempt to improve things. You put any GOPer in the White House and you’re accelerating the problems. They’ll be taking precious time away from us. I guess that’s fine if you’re a nihilist, be me, not so much.

    The long term solution is an overhaul of our economic system, and we can start with getting money out of politics and removing the idiotic idea that corporations have the same rights as people. Things that are essential to a modern life should be held in common trust, in the public interest, and not part of any for-profit scheme. These sorts of changes are very long term, greater than a single generation (assuming you’re working within the system and not advocating all-out war). But amazing things do happen. Consider where we were just 20 years ago on gay marriage. At that time, you could’ve had a majority of Americans vote in favor of making it illegal, no problem. Today, it’s pretty much the exact opposite. A mere 200 years ago, chattel slavery existed the planet and had been so for millennia. Now it/s largely gone.

  5. outis says

    Concerning politics, as a non-American I’d say that however dopey and ineffectual Dems may be, the sane are pretty much forced to vote for them, no choice at all as Repubs are now a full-fat subversive+psychotic org. End of.
    As for the climate your comment is quite on the nose, including the pessimism, but consider what follows: when (not if) something really horrible happens, that may be enough to get humanity to take its collective head out of its ass.
    Dunno exactly what: maybe a few millions dying fried in a heatwave as you anticipated a few posts ago, or some major cities lost to mega-hurricanes, or a swift meters-high sea level increase.
    It would be a huge undertaking and would mean very large changes to many people’s way of life, but few things are impossible to the truly desperate.
    For instance actually getting that CO2 out of the air, even if it costs most of the future world’s energy budget (clean energy, mind you). Or shielding Earth with a shield in appropriate orbit – “2101 An Umbrella in Spaaace”.
    And yes, future generations will spit on our graves and the world will change in many ways, but as thing stand right now I feel myself doubting that that civilization is going to meet its end.
    A mighty wallop to be sure, but not the irrevocable end.

  6. says

    Meaning an absolute binary, or what???

    If you are not actively supporting climate causes, you are a bad person.

    Doesn’t mean that we won’t hold our noses and still vote for you, but no cheerleading for bad people. No nobel prizes, no unadorned praise – everything followed by “yeah, but…”

    I gotta admit it’s specific to Biden at this point. I’m sick and tired of reading stuff about how he’s cleverly doing this or that, or thinking about some other thing – it should all include a warning label in the form of “yeah, but he discarded his environmental policy pledges in a way that indicates that he never meant what he was saying.” He didn’t even wait for republicans to sabotage his efforts – he never tried at all. That tells me that he’s just another piece of shit who’ll say anything to get elected (including the old “I’m only going to run for one term…”)

  7. rrutis1 says

    It is weird that we are hoping for a truly global disaster to get humanity to wake up and actually do something about global warming, but here we are. I might even be more of a doomer than most because I don’t see a single or even several large events motiivating us to do anything

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    Marcus Ranum @ # 10: If you are not actively supporting climate causes, you are a bad person.

    Which prob’ly makes 99% of the planetary population bad people: downright Calvinistic.

    Still seems pointlessly binary, and driven more by emotion than constructive analysis. I think of a friend who has dedicated her life to improving the conditions of migratory farmworkers, and another who assists the mentally handicapped with the same commitment; neither touches directly on climate work, both have earned my admiration. “The Movement” cannot accomplish much with any one-issue yardstick.

    As for Biden, we could use his picture to illustrate any “shades of gray” definition, and apply that to every pixel of our political map. Do you really expect to find a White Knight™?

  9. klatu says

    Just in the last year, public support for climate activism has gone down from around 68% to around 34% in Germany. Just because a handful of people had the “gall” to glue themselves to the streets, hampering car traffic. Violence against cars is a very serious crime around here. You can starve refugees to death, but you don’t mess with cars, man. Cars are sacred.

    What does that mean? It means people are fickle. They may support any idea (and they still do), but only as long as it doesn’t cost them anything (like anything, no matter how litte). People have delevoped a bad fucking conscience about flying. Or eating meat. Or whatever. Some people call that progress. But it turns out that just feeling bad about a thing doesn’t stop people from doing the bad thing.

    Adaption (this should be a sad word to say now) is going to be our only strategy away from extinction now. Not because it’s a good strategy. It’s too late for good strategies. Adaptation (read: billions dead) is simply all we’ll be left with, as far as strategies go. Mitigation, not prevention. Floods and fires and droughts and tsunamis will just be “weather” in a few decades. Everywhere. Have fun extrapolating extreme weather from a fully fucky baseline.

    I think, once we reach more than 4°C, we will finally, collectively, understand just how much physics hates us. And then we will all die, because 4°C is a stupid value to expect to survive.

    That’s me doom-agreeing with your doom-assessment.

    What I don’t understand are the fundamentals at work in our global systems of governance. They don’t make sense from first principles. Money (or a lack thereof) isn’t killing us. A lack of money never actually killed anyone. What kills people is physics. Thermodynamics. Dying ecosystems. Dying systems, in general. Lack of food. Money is not actually real. It’s a made up idea. Reality, on the other hand, cannot be argued with nor printed more of. The resource we’re running out of is not money, and yet that’s where all politics always gets stuck at. Just why is it so difficult for us, as a species, to–just for a critical moment–suspend this common delusion so we can deal with a threat we can’t actually negiotiate with or buy our way out of?

    As for capitalism, yes it sucks. But really the issue isn’t capitalism per se. Capitalism is just an implementation detail. More precisely, it’s short-term accumulationism that’s fucking us over. The kind that derives value by extracting it from the future. The problem is the future, here. Or rather, that no one in power is willing to accept that the answer to the question “What happens when the future is spent?” is “Stop or die.”

    Yep. I’m a doomer too, strictly speaking. Not because I like doom and gloom. But because I can take our current algorithm and do a bit of intuitive worst-case analysis. Because it’s the worst-case we should be worried about, not the average or best case.

    On that note, Marcus, how do you feel when climate scientists say that there is time (approximately 5 seconds) to act, still? I feel like crap personally, because they’re either lying to me at this point, or to themselves, and I don’t know which is worse.

    That’s my round-about way of saying that I agree with you. Which fucking sucks.

  10. lochaber says

    Long been a “doomer”

    Most recently, I feel like the whole COVID-19 thing was a trial run for how humanity can handle an existential threat, and, holy hell, I’m not sure I could have handled that worse if I were personally in charge of things and trying to kill everyone.

    If we can’t handle a short-term problem, that has short-term solutions, we certainly aren’t going to handle a long-term problem that needs long-term solutions.

    For fuck’s sake, we’ve got a significant portion of the populace claiming that the Earth is flat, that wildfires are caused by “space lasers”, vaccines don’t work, drag queens are more dangerous than school shooters, and assorted other nonsense.

    I’m constantly thankful that I’ve never had any interest in reproducing, nor have I had it happen unintentionally. Even if I wanted to reproduce (nevermind not being able to afford it…) I would have serious qualms about bringing another person into this hellscape…

  11. brightmoon says

    I’m going to go with the lesser of two evils argument . The democrats are passive on a lot of these issues but the republicans are actively promoting denial and obstruction even though thousands of USA people have already died . I consider pandemics to be part of global warming as well and not just in our species . And while I love the fact that crepe myrtle can now grow in New York , I do know that it means that the entire climate of this area has changed and gotten a lot warmer

  12. brightmoon says

    This is the 1 st year that some of my houseplants actually died from the heat . I truly didn’t expect that because they were adequately watered. I’ve always been a weather watcher because I have too many houseplants to just pull them inside in about an hour so I’d like at least a couple of days heads up on bad storms , heatwaves and hurricanes during summer . Until I saw that heat related die off, I can say I had some hope that we’d be able to at least cope with extra heat stress . Now I’m not so sure .
    Especially if you get a fool like that Republican (it figures) governor who refused to allow mandatory water breaks for outdoor workers. High heat , hard work and humidity is a recipe for kidney damage and that even shows up in animals

  13. brightmoon says

    As far as the slavery issue, fundies have been saying for decades that “ biblical based” slavery is ok . Even some the Black preachers are spouting this nonsense. As a woman I’d never think being enslaved for life is a ok thing. Female slaves, whether women of girls , weren’t redeemed in the Bible , only the men or boys could be freed.

  14. says

    This is the 1 st year that some of my houseplants actually died from the heat . I truly didn’t expect that because they were adequately watered. I’ve always been a weather watcher because I have too many houseplants to just pull them inside in about an hour so I’d like at least a couple of days heads up on bad storms , heatwaves and hurricanes during summer . Until I saw that heat related die off, I can say I had some hope that we’d be able to at least cope with extra heat stress . Now I’m not so sure .

    I saw some dipschitte on the internet saying that people will be able to avoid the coming catastrophe by moving to higher altitudes – you know, where it’s not exactly rich arable soil?

    It’s just freakin’ weird to me that there’s a lot of thought going into how to remediate the problem, when the simple remediation would have been to stop burning fossil fuels back in the 50s. Then, all this weird crap would not be necessary. Sure, in the meantime we would not have had Facebook, Happy Days, Amazon dot com, print on demand, cheap imports built abroad by near slave labor, etc. Basically, the world would have been OK if they had aborted America in the 1950s. It’s a demon that Europe summoned with blood sacrifice to come get involved in WWI and WWII and unfortunately the containment circle broke and it’s loose and has taken over the world.

  15. flex says

    One thing I will say, however, is that the way Biden appears to operate is to not announce a goal, but an accomplishment. That is, he keeps the public in the dark until his administration takes some action or releases some new policy. It seems like he waits until he gets some commitment from other politicians/stakeholders before making a change. Maybe that’s how action needs to be taken these days. Maybe stakeholders are in some cases willing to take actions, but do not want to be seen to bow to public pressure and want to avoid being attacked by partisan commentators. I can’t say that I like being kept in the dark about public policy, but I can acknowledge that Biden has done far more than I expected.

    I expected Biden to be a caretaker President, and follow Clinton and Obama’s lead in kotowing to business interests. That’s better than Trump, or any republican (who appear to simply want to line their own nests), but definitely not a friend of labor or the environment. And by no means is Biden’s record on environment or labor spotless, but it’s better than I expected.

    Does that give me hope? Will Biden manage to do something to mitigate climate change? No. Because the major policy changes needed to actually do something about climate change is something which cannot be made through back-room deals. It will require public pressure, a great deal of public pressure, on all government policy makers. Changes need to be made at all levels, from local municipalities to all the federal elected officials, to all the appointed government agencies. Our stumbling, incoherent, piece-meal, efforts are insufficient even if they were not be sabotaged by people who fear a loss of their income.

    So, a realistic assessment is that we are looking at environmental catastrophe, mass migration and starvation, a mass extinction event which will eventually start impacting humans, leading to a massive reduction in the human population. This probably will not lead to the extinction of humanity, but may well leave large portions of the earth uninhabitable for tens of thousands of years.

  16. says

    So, a realistic assessment is that we are looking at environmental catastrophe, mass migration and starvation, a mass extinction event which will eventually start impacting humans, leading to a massive reduction in the human population. This probably will not lead to the extinction of humanity, but may well leave large portions of the earth uninhabitable for tens of thousands of years.

    That sounds about right.
    Although, the stuff I have read about the Permian sounds pretty damn grim: clouds of CO2 floating around land-masses killing everything that can’t get away, with occasional clouds of methane that do that, then explode. It’s like Mad Max was a documentary, except there won’t be as much tech after a few hundred years. Current humanity will become a legend that is told to kids, who grow up skeptical as usual and believe instead that “this is how it’s always been.”
    The kind of population bottleneck caused by that future will either mean mankind misses its saving throw, or evolves a bit faster.
    Let’s add a fillip to the story: a branch of humans escape and try to colonize the moon. Of course they die, because they forgot to bring along a bottle opener, or something important like that, but if humanity ever climbs the technological ladder again, it’ll be amazing to explore the remnants.

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    Marcus Ranum @ # 21: … if humanity ever climbs the technological ladder again…

    Except next time without surface-level ore deposits, accessible fossil fuels, large fractions of the biome, etc, and with heavy loads of both ambient and localized toxins, desertification and other degradation.

    Charles Darwin’s grandson, Charles Galton Darwin, wrote a 1953 book titled The Next Million Years opining that when humanity ran out of fossil fuels, civilization would revert to medieval levels and stay there until evolution transformed us into a different (& unpredictable) species. He was probably considered a “doomer” at the time; now we might call him an “optimist” (like flex @ # 20).

  18. says

    Meaning an absolute binary, or what???

    Moral issues are not necessarily binaries. Certain moral questions can be framed as such, but it’s easy to see several categories even for those who aren’t moral philosophers:
    Morally required
    Morally positive, but not required
    Morally neutral
    Morally negative, but not banned
    Morally banned

    And, of course, within those categories can be several gradations. Billionaire giving all their money save a tidy retirement sum of a couple million? Seems morally positive but not required. But of course much depends on where the money is given.

    => to their own children? Now it’s at best morally neutral.
    => to a non-profit dance academy that doesn’t have and has never had an annual budget over $1M? What will it do with all the extra money? This is morally positive, but barely so.
    => to a large non profit able and ready to make an instant impact on global emissions? This is now very morally positive.

    So you have 5 general categories, 2 of which have a obvious gradations, and with investigation we can even see that normally required actions can sometimes compete against each other (for instance stealing to feed one’s children might break a moral requirement to comport with another). Most people who study morality believe that even among requirements, there can be greater and lesser requirements.

    @Marcus: I generally agree here. There are quibbles I would make, none substantive, and I don’t have the time just now anyway, so just put me down as a solid agree.

  19. Alan G. Humphrey says

    As lochaber@14 said of our response to COVID-19 and rrutis1@11 said about not seeing what it’ll take to motivate action, I ask where is an acknowledgement that Hawaii burned? A tropical paradise on fire for days is not enough of a climate disaster to be recognized as a national if not world changing event, but sure is handy as a platform for political posturing. Biden is just another clown in the circus to keep the pitchforks dull accompanied by the latest Extra Spicy Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Nuggets for more padding on that bread gut – lucky for those going on that civilization-crash diet coming up. So, you can see that I’m definitely deep in the doomer camp. If supply chains can be affected so much by a measly virus just think what will happen if a billion people die in a year from a global famine with half dying in, so called, first world countries? Civilization is a goner, that’s my view. And if we don’t go extinct too, then it’ll be so long before another arises that no one will be able to ascertain the causes and it will all repeat until we do go extinct. Greed always Trumps[sic] wisdom. What hubris the Homo has, sapient my ass.

  20. springa73 says

    I don’t know whether humanity, or at least modern human civilization, is doomed or not. I will say, though, that I’m more inclined to be sympathetic with humanity than some of the other commenters here. The way I see it is that the root cause of climate disaster is simply the human desire for an easier, more convenient life, in which people can accomplish a lot more with less brute force effort. Fossil fuels have usually been the easiest, most straightforward way to achieve that goal, so most people are loath to give them up. I think this would be the case even under a socialist or other non-capitalist economic system.

    I can’t in any way blame people for wanting an easier, more convenient life in which they can do more with less effort, because I want the same thing. I don’t think that there’s anything inherently bad or evil or foolish about wanting this. I can’t blame people for being in denial about climate change when fighting it means giving up this easier, more convenient life. It’s a tragic situation that humanity is in, facing the loss of many or most of the gains in quality of life of the last several centuries both from the effects of climate change and the sacrifices needed to keep it from being even worse. No wonder so many people are in denial.

    It’s just a real tragedy all around – innocent desire for a better life leading to disaster.

  21. says

    they are investing in stuff that is killing everything and everyone on earth

    The trouble is that we have built a system where people can only survive if we continue down that same path. Stopping now would effectively mean dooming a large portion of humanity to a vicious death, anyway.
    This is the foundation of my personal “doomerism”; I don’t see how this civilization can continue to function without fossil fuels. I did a little rough calculation a while back and, just in my little neck of the woods, the amount of oil used corresponds to a work equivalent of about 20 times our actual population. Just to give some small idea of how far we’ll be set back if the oil stops flowing.
    Either we come up with some miracle technology that can take over, or our standard of living goes WAY down. And that’s before we factor in climate change; that’s just the effect of running out of fossil fuels alone. This whole thing just isn’t long-term viable and everyone is under so much pressure to get through today that nobody has the time to plan for next week, never mind next decade.

    humanity has not merely fucked up the environment – they have fucked it up for thousands of years. We can argue about the estimates, but “thousands” is deliberately on the low side, it’s more likely to be tens of thousands.

    This is an important point. We’ve never really had sustainable societies. It’s just that, back then, we were such a small part of the picture that it wasn’t as noticeable. If something went wrong in one place, we’d just move on to the next valley over and it’d be fine. But there are no more valleys to go to.

  22. Jazzlet says

    I’d go further and say that most humans are incapable of thinking in the long-term. I’ve been involved in organisations trying to do long term planning and so has Mr J, and in all cases geetting otherwise intelligent people to do serious long term planning was almost impossible. These were not stupid people, but very few of them could get past “where we are now” when thinking about where we could get in even twenty, thirty, fifty years if we started then. Which is infuriating as the earliest of those projected dates has come and gone because I was first doing this work back in the late 80s and onwards, and the organistions, which included a Local Authority with real power over things like roads and planning, could have made a real difference in the last thirty plus years. It is that repeated experience of my own, and of others I knew in similar situations that makes me so unhopeful. You could get the odd cosmetic change through, but nothing on the scale of what was needed.

  23. says

    A profound point. Our technologic civilization depends on massive disparities in work capability from fossil fuels. My recent Cutty Sark post is a case in point: the modern global economy could not tolerate the slowdown from switching to sail, nor would it pay for the additional work by sailors and skilled sailmakers, etc. It’s just unacceptable.

    Off and on for the last few years I have noodled about doing a post questioning the premise of “sustainability” but I’m afraid it would be too easy to challenge on interpretations of fact. [on the other hand: lively discussion!] But, when was human civilization last “sustainable”? Rome was not – the Roman silver mines left toxic atmospheric pollutants that are measurable in what’s left of Greenland’s ice. The 1800s British navy used so much wood they were importing it from North America because they no longer had trees for ship masts. Graphite supplies were consumed making pencils, etc. etc.

    I would guesstimate that ancient mediterranean cultures such as pre-600BC Greece may have been “sustainable” but maybe not. Steppe cultures were until they came to depend on raiding for manufactured goods. None of this even involved significant fossil fuels – which is the razor blade in the cupcake for me: if we could forgo fossil fuels would we be much past ancient civilizations? Epicurus said all we need is olives, olive oil, cheese, wine, and bread – but would anyone live like that anymore? Also, to what degree were ancient civilizations “sustainable” because they depended on slavery or peonage to provide their disproportional work? That question is a huge “uh oh…” to me.

    Of course there are renewables. So what if we dropped back to a civilization that was pre-Hellenic and had isolated centers of learning with a few solar powered wikipedias and an MRI machine or two? What if we had battery-powered ambulances but did not engage in high energy end of life interventions? What it travel was by sail and bicycle? Could we “sustainably” build bicycles and such? Horse-or-trebuchet-launched glider service would be skill intensive…

    For damn sure 7+billion humans is not “sustainable” though we could start by getting rid of the Americans, British, Germans, and French and work our way down the energy use curve from there. And by “getting rid of” I mean “do not let them breed” That last point is weird. Parents want their kids to have the luxuries of modern life even at the cost of … modern life. I cannot imagine for a second that a parent would be willing to tell their child “you’re going to live a pre-hellenic life” even if it means the kid will fucking die.

    Of course, it’s way too late anyway.

  24. ionopachys says

    What historians used to call “civilization” has never been sustainable long-term. Every time we get a dense population gathered into large, permanent settlements fed mostly by intensive agriculture, it eventually breaks down. Often they suffer societal/political/economic collapse, but environmental degradation has frequently been key factor.

  25. dangerousbeans says

    “Epicurus said all we need is olives, olive oil, cheese, wine, and bread”
    Iron to make banding for wine barrels, farming implements. Fuel for bread ovens, forging, pottery kilns. Small enough population that you don’t exhaust the available arable land.
    The pre-British invasion population of Australia was maybe half a million for 60,000 years, and I think that’s about the best mark for something sustainable.

    Frankly i think human extinction is optimistic. If we assume that deaths aren’t evenly distributed you can easily end up with 99.99% of humans dead and still have a group of 10,000 somewhere who can live on.

  26. Dunc says

    I did a little rough calculation a while back and, just in my little neck of the woods, the amount of oil used corresponds to a work equivalent of about 20 times our actual population. Just to give some small idea of how far we’ll be set back if the oil stops flowing.
    Either we come up with some miracle technology that can take over, or our standard of living goes WAY down.

    Yeah – I mean, if the USA were to cut its energy use by half, the inhabitants might have to endure the same standard of living as the poor, benighted people of Western Europe or Japan…


    Obviously there is a basic floor to energy usage beyond which things do get really much worse, but it’s quite a lot lower than you might think, and the USA is a long way away from it.

  27. says

    Hey now, here’s a fun thought for everybody that slides neatly into this discussion:

    Maybe the reason we haven’t see repeated visits by extraterrestrials is because by the time a society gets anywhere close to developing the technology needed to do so, it collapses from environmental degradation. End of story.

    To my fellow USAians, have a fine Labor Day and remember what it stands for.

  28. says

    Just to be clear, I’m Danish and we’re well ahead of the US. The energy use equivalent of the US is more like 70 times their current population; totaling more than double the world population. Even if the US were to halve its energy use, it would still require an entire second earth to make up the difference in human work.

    Now, energy use is obviously a bit more complicated than simply how many people in hamster wheels it would take to replace a barrel of oil, but I think it’s still a worthwhile comparison, just to make it clear how much we’re actually relying on fossil fuels to make our world go. It’s not a question of having to do without ski trips or avocados. It’s not even about reintroducing the 14 hour work day, because that won’t be enough.

    To turn off the refineries would be to turn off civilization, which is why I doubt we’ll do what’s needed to prevent climate change from screwing us over. A gradual transition might have been possible at some point, but I’m not sure how realistic that is now and once the wave of disasters really get started, people will cling that much harder to what little they have.

    But, hey, maybe that’s our function in the grand scheme: We’re here to get rid of all the fossil fuels so that in a few centuries when humanity tries again, they won’t be tempted by that easy solution. As they say, people always do the right thing, after first having tried everything else.
    Good luck to them.

  29. Dunc says

    @LykeX: fair enough, and you’re not wrong. However, I do think we need to be a bit careful about taking our current usage as the baseline, as a lot of what counts as “civilisation” these days is not only completely unnecessary, but positively undesirable. But I do certainly agree that anything that looks even vaguely like modern industrial civilisation is on borrowed time.

  30. says

    I’d go further and say that most humans are incapable of thinking in the long-term.

    I agree. Which (in my mind)(and probably only my mind) destroys most consequentialist ethics: the idea that humans can engage in “moral calculus” is shown to be absurd. The best we can hope for is “moral fudging and hand-waving” which is pretty much what we’ve got. It’s that point that got me toward thinking of explaining climate change as a moral issue. I think it is, but we don’t treat it at all that way – even though our problem is basically “how badly are we gonna fuck the kids?”

  31. Jazzlet says

    I don’t think any of you are going back far enough. Although the status of the Sahara as desert or not-desert is primarily influenced by variations in the axial tilt of Earth, the last not-desert to desert transition happened a lot faster that could be explained by axial tllt alone. However there is an hypothesis that starting around 8,000 years ago human pastoralists had sufficient impact to speed the process up, it is just a hypothesis at the moment and work is being done on it. Another hypothesis suggests that the removal of coastal tree cover by hominids – which reduces the rainfall inland from that coast – may also have had a similar effect. Both of those are big “if”s, but if either are found to be the best interpretation of the evidence we have been fucking things up for at least 8,000 years. Other ifs include that different regional climates may produce ecosystems less vulnerable to our meddling, but honestly I wouldn’t bet on it.

  32. says

    There is a common thread I see in many of these responses: We are doomed because everyone is an idiot. Except me, of course, and maybe a few others like me, but there’s too few of us to make an impact.

    You’re overwhelmed and feel hopeless? OK, but I’ve always thought that “futile gestures doomed to fail” are not always useless. Sometimes they can serve as excellent lessons to others down the road. If, for example, the USA were to utterly fail and descend to a third world country, at the very least that sends a message to other societies: “Don’t do what they did”.

    One of the problems that I see in society is the inability to see ourselves the way we really are (I do not exclude myself). Not surprising as it is difficult to just look at the data and jettison the ego. In Star Trek terms, we like to think that we’re as smart as the Vulcans but more compassionate. I think the reality is that we’ve created a society that is closer to Ferengi than Vulcan.

  33. sonofrojblake says

    jimf: We’re not the Vulcans. We’re not even the Ferengi. On a good day, we’re the Pakleds.

  34. springa73 says

    Jazzlet @38

    It wouldn’t surprise me if humans, or even earlier hominids, did some environmental damage much earlier even than 8000 years ago. As long as humans and earlier hominids have known how to use fire and good hunting tools, they’ve had the ability to alter environments in a significant way. Being able to alter environments also means being able to damage them if it’s taken just a little too far.

  35. Jazzlet says

    jimf @39
    I don’t think, and didn’t write that it is a matter of stupidity, I explicitly wrote “These were not stupid people”. It is my experience that different people have different academic/work subjects and physical skills that come easily to them while each struggles with their own particular selection of “tough” subjects and physical skills; it isn’t to do with intelligence or stupidity however you measure those. The reason I said these were not stupid people is that they each had areas of expertise, garnered over years of study and work, that could have been really useful in working out how to get the kind of transport system in the kind of city that we need now, and that had they been able to wrap their heads round the problem we could have been well on the way to having (with obvious caveats regarding the amount of control a Local Authority, even one that is also a Transport Authority, has in the UK). And this difficulty in looking at how we might make profound changes while still taking people along with us is still something far too many humans have, and that is what I fear will doom us. I am certainly not saying we should stop trying, I just don’t have any real hope that we can succeed, and at this point any success we do have will be at the cost of millions of lives.

    springa73 @ 42

    Oh absolutely, but the 8 000 years ago bit is one I know has some reasonable research to back it up, with further work being done to confirm or not. I try not to make totally unsubstatiated claims about matters other than taste ;-)

  36. StevoR says

    Where does defeatism get us?

    If we say and think everything is already done for and nothing will or can be done and then act accordingly, what then?

    That’s what worries me here.

    Okay, we’re past the point where we can avoid some pretty bad horrific consequences environmentally and for our planetary “civilisation” (for want of a better word) but still I think the more we do and the sooner we do it the better our chances of saving something and achieveuing somethinmg so I’m certainly not just giving up.

    I know there’s a slight difference between Doomer and Deafeatist but for me that line looks too thin.

  37. says

    If we say and think everything is already done for and nothing will or can be done and then act accordingly, what then?

    Giving up and going inert is not the human way. Humans tend to struggle fiercely even when it’s pointless.
    I’m the last of my blood-line, by choice, but I still have cut back massively on air travel* and have been making my property more energy efficient and saving as much as I can on local transportation. I may put in a solar roof even though I probably won’t live to be in the black on it, but whoever owns my house after I walk on will appreciate it, I’m sure. I think of this problem constantly, though I feel that politicians and the wealthy have checkmated me/us and we’re in for a horrible time no matter what. I’m probably going to be fine – I’m 60 and I can slip off and die quietly with some oxycodone and cognac whenever I want. But I still worry about the people that will have to deal with this. I’m a “doomer” but not a “defeatist”.

    There may be some people out there preaching defeatism, but my guess is that they’ll sound more like Elon Musk (“lets have tons of kids and go to Maaaaaars!”) than a rational doomer.

    (* I used to make 1 or 2 flights a week and in 1999 I flew over 1/2mn miles. The last time I was on an airplane was last fall and it was a short hop. Air travel is a problem of privilege and nowadays it sucks so much that giving it up was no hardship.)

  38. Ichthyic says

    Issues like Climate change are NEVER going to be solved by taking the government on as an adversary.

    They can only be solved by BECOMING the government ourselves. Stop letting those who rely on greed fulfillment run your government FOR you. Tear it down, build it on yourselves. It is the ONLY way. You know I’m right on this. Stop wasting time arguing with your government, and BECOME your government.

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