Their input messages might be different, but both lead us to inaction.
You miss that many, perhaps most so-called doomers can accept that it is highly likely that humanity will face near term dystopia and still act to reduce harm, bring joy and even work on mitigation.
People are complex and go through cycles as I have experienced and witnessed. One could be a doomer for one day or one year, and then be hopeful, optimistic, in different despairing and most every other emotion over time.
I strongly disagree with your superficial analogy between doomers and deniers. As others have pointed out where is the data to support your simplistic conclusion?
To be truly informed about the climate and ecological crisis, without having feelings of despair and hopelessness, is a willful and perhaps unhealthy denial of reality.
I expect there is a difference: doomers will be hard at work preparing for the end of the world; while deniers would continue their other projects without a care. There might be social and environmental consequences to prioritizing the end of the world, especially if the doomer does not expect consequences to matter at all.
I would classify myself as a lukewarmer. Yes, the climate is warming, yes anthropogenic CO2 has something to do with it, but I don't think a degree or so of warming per CO2 doubling is a particularly big problem. There are far bigger problems in the world. However, I don't like pollution which is why I am not a fan of coal as a fuel: too many particulates and too much SOx and NOx emissions.
I have two big problems with the alleged solutions to the problem.
The first is strategic. What if warming is caused by factors other than CO2? Things like solar and ocean cycles, the things that caused the Medieval Warm Period and the LIA? Yet, we are spending most of our efforts on mitigation and virtually nothing on adaptation. Adaptation has the advantage of protecting us, regardless of cause.
The second problem is that the solutions we are working on like wind, solar and biomass cause bigger problems than those they are supposed to solve. Biomass involves clearing rain forest to make way for palm oil plantations and burning trees at Drax produces more CO2 and particulates than burning coal.
Then we go on to the land and mineral requirements for grid scale wind, solar and battery storage. Not much in the way of CO2 emissions, but still a massive environmental footprint and still intermittent energy.
If we must decarbonise, the only high density, high EROEI, reliable solution is nuclear power. It has the problem of not yet being very flexible to cope with peaks in demand. But wind and solar can't be relied upon for that either. So David Mackay had it right years ago when he proposed nuclear plus gas. Low, but not zero, CO2 emissions, but relatively cheap, reliable energy with a small environmental footprint. We need to get better at building nuclear plants faster, which will bring down the LCOE.
I am neither a Denier nor a Doomer, and I am happy to see the chart which shows both are marginal outliers on the circular spectrum.
But there is also another group that deserves recognition—Decarbonizers—for their blind dedication to delusion and dogma, driven by the belief that simply reducing fossil fuel emissions by absolute decarbonization or its faux twin Net Zero will suffice.
For those of us dedicated to restoring a Holocene (or a close approximation) for future generations’ flourishing survival, there is another “D”—I’d call us Disciplined Doers, deliberating and deploying demonstration test outside-the-box innovative projects based on unbiased and unconstrained scientific understanding complex Earth Systems.
To make a complex long story short, yesterday, I discovered (thanks to a friend) PBS's movie "Beneath the Polar Sun" (pbs.org/show/beneath-polar-sun) which illustrates my point: There is no way to mitigate what the movie graphically shows but to #CoolTheArctic. Thirty years is all it took to get the Arctic ice cap to this point, and it will take another 30 years to decarbonize (or reach delusional Net Zero) and by that time the dreaded tipping points will have come and gone, irreversibly. If we just wait for CO2 and CH4 emissions to cease, it will be way past TOO LATE.
EMERGENCY TRIAGE INTERVENTION (think CPR and tourniquet) is required to directly cool the Arctic to restore the sea ice albedo. All while we #RemoveCO2 and #RemoveCH4 to get atmospheric concentration back to pre-industrial concentrations and survivable sustainable 300ppm (Dr. James E. Hansen et al. suggested 300ppm but at least no greater than 350ppm), which is less than 0.5°C, far away from 1.5° or 2°C, levels that are a death sentence to humanity). That was the basis for the group named 350.org.
As always, Hannah, thanks for such clear thinking.
I had assumed that the anti-vegan sections of my latest book (https://www.amazon.com/Losing-Religions-half-failed-airplanes-basketball-ebook/dp/B0BGJGC5D3/ ) would get the most pushback, but it has been my chapters about environmentalists that have caused the most anger. (That and my pro-AI chapter.)
But still, no one has answered me on points like this: https://www.mattball.org/2021/11/the-world-of-tomorrow.html
Imagine that tomorrow, we discovered a world orbiting the Sun directly opposite of the Earth. It has the same inclination and the same size moon. It has an average temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with oceans covering 73% of the world, and ice covering 7% of the world. It is teaming with life, although there are no humans or similar species.
It would be a miracle, no? We would definitely stop planning to go to Mars, with its average temperature of -81 degrees Fahrenheit.
The mirror Earth described above is what our world will be under climate change (except for the no-humans part - there will be lots of humans still). ...
I think it can be safely stated there are different kinds of 'doomers'. One kind, not me, see a collapse of society as the planet becomes unsuitable for human life. Another kind, more like me, see a changing planet where a moment is coming. This moment as I see it will be a future global catastrophe where going forward life on this planet will be different for everyone. Then and unfortunately only then will decisions necessary for survival on a now permanently changed planet. I think governments will be forced to give up some of their soverign powers to global supranational environmental management.
Excellent post. The tendency to exaggerate a problem is universal and almost always destructive.
There is something appealing in the simplicity of exaggeration that inspires an almost religious fanaticism. It is partly a consequence of the effectiveness of virtue signalling to achieve social status in some circles.
I think your discussion might have been helped if you'd done more to describe what you mean by a 'doomer'. I've been something of a radical environmentalist for most of my life, but I'd never seen the damage done by real doomerism until I saw my fiancee--now wife---fall for Guy MacPherson's crackpot ideas about "near term human extinction" (all people on the earth dead by 2026) and the descent of earth into becoming something like Venus within 30 years after that. (Yup, that's right---no multi-cellular life left on the earth within what used to be considered one generation.)
I had to go through a labour of Heracles to convince my significant other that this was nonsense of the first order. And it says something about her love for me that she was willing to stick with me and finally see how crazy his ideas really are. These ideas are tremendously damaging to people with frail psyches.
I wonder if you think that there might be another category beyond the Guy MacPherson cesspool. Call it 'doomer light'. That would be people who say that our present style of civilization is doomed, or, if we pursue the path we are on right now, it will lead to our doom. Perhaps not as a species, but as a civilization.
I don't believe in the personal automobile---I want good public transit. I think far, far too many people are flying around the world---I see tourism as a blight on the environment. I think that economics needs to envision an end to economic growth and embrace some of the ideas of misfits like Herman Daly.
Do these ideas of mine make me a 'doomer light'? I've certainly been involved in a great many projects to make the world a better place (as I see it), but I've always worked outside of the political, economic mainstream instead of as a paid employee of an environmental organization. This was something of a conscious choice, because I've always felt that the pursuit of funding and that paycheque always involves a serious watering-down of the message.
Is being too pure to bend your ideas to the point where you are always an 'outsider' mean that you aren't actually doing anything except futile, empty gestures? I've done many things in my life (successfully sued Walmart, organized bio-regional Congresses, built a strong local Green Party, and, much more), but all the time supported myself with blue collar work. But is that sort of activism just 'empty nonsense' compared to someone who's really a part of society---flogging electric cars, jetting around to international conferences, meeting with government ministers, etc?
There are a lot of nuances, and I'm aiming this comment at your readers as much as you. Consider it something to think about.
Love your Substack. I find lots of useful, thought-provoking stuff on it.
Wow, insult the Doomers much?
As usual, a "Techno-Optimist" gets it completely wrong and craps on people who could be allies. Hannah, do you actually know any "doomers" or are you just blindly repeating the "Techno-Optimist" talking points?
I am a Doomer. Hell, I'm a "Doomer" from the freaking 80's. I have been a "Global Warming Evangelist" most of my adult life trying to rouse people to action. But, I guess I am part of the "problem" now because I don't buy into the "solutions" the Optimists are pushing these days.
I see you and the other "Optimists" as cowards and fools. You don't want any real change to the way the world works. You just want to electrify it.
You want personal cars.
You want travel on demand.
You want cheap consumer goods.
You want everyone to be "vegan".
You don't want to give up anything.
You want a "high energy" lifestyle without guilt and you are pushing the FALSE narrative that this is possible in an attempt to get people to "buy in" to this wonderful FUTURE and start voting Green. Optimists are willing to "lie" to people if that's what it takes.
"Because, “Telling everyone the world as they know it is over and that they’re going to die isn’t an effective communications strategy, even if it’s true.” - David Finocchio
Moving Beyond Doomism: Data-Driven Strategies for Effective Climate Content
Or maybe you BELIEVE that the FUTURE you want is possible and you have convinced yourself of it. As someone who has studied the issue and watched it unfold my entire life, I think you are wrong. I think that the Optimists are the problem now because you are in denial about what the newest Climate Science findings are indicating.
Doomers, real doomers, want ACTION.
We want Air Travel shut down. We want CH4 (methane) shut down. We want ALL the remaining Oil and Coal to stay in the ground. We want a Global Emergency declared and a new Global Treaty that will punish any nation that engages in "ecocide". We want all of the worlds 18-24 year Olds drafted into a Planetary Conservation Corps "right now" so that they can be put to work on the massive infrastructure projects that will be necessary to keep our civilization going.
Does that sound like "do nothing" to you?
The issue is complicated. It takes a serious effort to dig down into all the propaganda to find the basic issues. After reading 20 books on the subject and brushing aside the fantasies, I have come to the conclusion that (a) 8 mm of sea level rise per year cannot be stopped (b) Most warming will happen in the North, opening the Arctic Ocean to shipping.
It will be a new planet but a habitable one.
Do you have a good (or, as the case may be, bad) example of doomerism of this kind?
I have finally pulled together my thoughts on all this in a new substack published today. What should our energy policy be in the face of geological, geopolitical and physical reality? The short answer is Nuclear Power Everywhere All at Once. More detail here:
My sense is whether climate denier or doomer, in both cases the realm is uncertainty. Even the deniers (unless they believe in the 6000 yo earth) seem to accept that the climate has pivoted radically at least five times we can pinpoint (from fossil records) and cascaded into a mass extinction. There is likely not enough accuracy/certainty to know when/if current trends might tip the planet in unforseen ways. The change in albedo over a 30 year period is readily observable and hence for the zealots (both sides) fuel for conjecture. It seems to me the "big signals" of concern seem to be polar ice melts (and their predictable rates), subsequent albedo changes, sea level rise. The outsized risk in these cases is inadequacy of modeling to foresee a more rapid tipping point. Articles that report (1) last 20 years as outlier hot (2) melt at the polls wildly unpredictable for myriad reasons (3) mixing beneath the ice in places like Greenland changing the gradient and predictability of currents are all in the infancy of predictability. Donald Rumsfeld might have called these unknown unknowns. It seems likely if you introduce an energy gradient into a VERY COMPLEX system, it is likely to have lots of unanticipated consequences. It is not irresponsible, as a result, to at least buckle up.
This great series in Orion Magazine digs deeper: https://orionmagazine.org/?s=Deny%20and%20delay
I just put up a post that touches on this.
Since around 2000, starting with BP's carbon footprint calculator, industry has been shifting tactics away from outright denial towards delay. My making us feel that it's all our fault, but that there's nothing we can do about it, they are feeding the doomers while greenwashing themselves. The marketing campaign is working as intended. It's a feature, not a bug.
Some doomers I know have tried to get goverments and companies to act for 30 years... and are now giving up. I would say the biggest problem in society is people that recognize the problem but think that somebody else will solve this for them. Especially if these are people with a lot of resources and power.