On Being a “Doomer”

Let’s start with the obvious.  The word “doomer” is a word with horribly dark connotations.  The obvious interpretation is that a doomer believes life is hopeless, they might as well give up trying; there is no value in being alive.  But that is emphatically not the doomer’s perspective. Doomers understand that life is a terminal disease for all of us, that any objective examination of one’s life should include the inevitability of death.  Yet, even with this universal existential dilemma, doomers still enjoy sunsets and friends, they work towards goals, they have families, they celebrate births and mourn deaths, and they struggle on.  Most of all, doomers recognize that humanity has a collective terminal illness here and now, not at some unimagined future time.

Doomers do not believe climate change is going to end well for the natural world or for humanity. Doomers are saddened by the innumerable losses that are taking place in the natural world, including plants, animals, oceans, ice and ancient physical processes. Doomers are saddened by losing all the achievements of humanity, including art, literature, science and philosophy – the totality of humanity’s legacy. Doomers are saddened by the human suffering already taking place and the massive suffering of all species, plant and animal, that lies ahead. Doomers are saddened by the prospect of losing friends and family, what’s going to happen to those they work with, those they play with and those they love.  And doomers are saddened by the shortening of their own lives, the fear that comes with having an unexpected terminal illness.  In short, doomers are saddened by their profound understanding that it’s the near-term loss of everything.

Most doomers are not invested in finding the causes of the planet’s demise. Those who want to argue if our collective crisis is due to greenhouse gas emissions, overpopulation, peak oil, or something else are still playing the game. Engaging in blame and finger pointing creates anger and anxiety.  Doomers are not looking for a fight and will deescalate when confronted.

On the other hand, doomers are curious about what the future will bring and the full scope of events to come.  They want to know the consequences of climate change, what could happen, what is likely to happen, what is on the speculative bubble and they want to know an approximate time scale. The doomer is invested in education and scientific discovery and wants to follow the best road map for what will be possible and what will be necessary as the planet dies.

And doomers understand taht sadness is not depression, nor is it an excuse for non-action. Doomers support education, service and environmental activism.  They encourage positive and progressive action and understand that such action has positive benefits. As has been said, if environmental activism allows one butterfly to live one more day, then it is worth it.  Doomers are conscious of their own actions and their impact on ecosystems and the planet.

There is another perspective that the doomer’s awareness brings.  It means doomers don’t have to compete anymore.  They don’t have to win.  They don’t have to be right in every argument they make.  The world becomes non-political. Religious beliefs lose their importance. They realize they are part of the human family on a dying planet and that everyone is experiencing a singular and tragic death together – the sixth great extinction – in their own way.

Doomers grieve.  There is no linear roadmap for processing this grief, nor is there a catalog of the emotions the doomer might experience in the context of their grief. The doomer accepts the cycle and range of emotions that are theirs to bear.  In my case these include denial, anxiety, sleepless nights, anger and depression.  My grief has also led me to learn more about climate science, to listen to and read what the experts have to say and to engage with online communities.  The doomer does their best to not judge their experience or the experience of others, but also understands that judgment is its own type of coping and relief.

And doomers believe that in this particular crisis there is an opportunity.  They can use this common moment of suffering to find ways to be kind to others. They can use whatever personal abundance they might have to be generous as much as they are able. And while they still have the energy and mobility for action, they can look for ways to be of service.  Volunteering is the greatest honor they can gift themselves in the limited time they have left.

Having no hope for the long-term future of human civilization smacks of cults, fringe religious beliefs and mass suicides.  But this lack of hope is now mainstream.  We hear and read about the reality climate change brings every day.  From fires to floods to droughts to heat waves; from the Arctic ice melting to the weakening of the gulf stream to rain falling on the highest peak in Greenland to the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef; from failing crops to the scalding alive of salmon as they attempt to swim upstream to the decimation of rainforests; from Madagascar to Lytton to Paradise, disaster is the reality on planet earth today.  “Doomer” is not the right word for someone who is simply paying attention.  “Doomer” is not the right word for someone who looks at the jigsaw puzzle pieces laying on the table and understands the final and inevitable picture they will become.

In these remarks I have used the word “doomer” freely to express my own philosophy about end-times in a way that many people who consider themselves to be doomers may not subscribe.  I do not pretend to speak for all doomers, nor wish to constrain the beliefs and methods of other doomers to the scope of what I’ve written here. As one well-known doomer says, “If you ask 30 of us to define what it means to be a doomer, we would give 31 different answers.”

Likewise, the word “doomer” may not be the right word to describe my own perspective on life during the planet’s transition.  Maybe there is no right word. Maybe there are no universals. I don’t know.  But this is really hard and I am profoundly sad.  We have never been here before.  No one individually, no society and no other generation of humans on earth has ever had to process events of this magnitude or attempt to express thoughts like these in the context of overwhelming scientific evidence backing this view.

I am not going to propose another word to replace “doomer” in the way I’ve used it here.  I don’t know a word that is more suitable.  But the other way to look at this is that the word “doomer” captures all the positive perspectives that come with understanding the inevitability of death.  Life is short, sadly much shorter for many than we expected it to be when we were younger.  But that’s where we are.  Doomer or not, whatever word makes you most comfortable, what we all can do going forward from here is to act with kindness, be as generous as we are able and find ways to be of service.

Eliot Jacobson, Ph.D.

Retired professor of mathematics and computer science, retired casino consultant, now a full time volunteer, husband and grandfather. Know-it-all doomer. Born in the year 316 ppm CO2.

25 thoughts on “On Being a “Doomer”

  • December 29, 2021 at 9:04 am
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    I think you may be thinking of the word, “bloomer.” I am a full-fledged Doomer doing whatever I can to still getting out there and enjoying it while I still can.

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  • December 29, 2021 at 2:57 pm
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    Thank you for this piece. I have never actually called myself a doomer, but I see myself in nearly every aspect of what you describe in this piece.
    Connecting the dots.
    Feeling immensely sad.
    No longer finger-pointing or fighting.
    Doing regenerative agriculture and food aid deliveries where I live in Cambodia because both activities make our community better.
    Intensely loving my days and those I share them with.

    Thank you for your writing and caring.
    David

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      • December 30, 2022 at 11:08 pm
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        Hi, I saw your thoughts on soft white underbelly. I had a general question, and maybe you can point me in the right direction.
        The general vibes that I get from people is that it’s inevitable and someone should be dealing with this, and with you having a career in mathematics, is there something that people can do to help slow the climate crisis down? Let’s say hypothetically, if every person knew that planting 1 tree in their life time would slow this, would that help? I don’t know if I am a ‘doomer’ but I am a realist. I give a large portion of my time to helping people, specifically older and younger people, but the general consensus I receive, is that there is no direct direction people should do to help out. For example, electric cars, a lot of people cannot afford it, so they stay on the train bound to using all of the oil in the world, before a vast change would dictate a change in everyday routines.
        I may be naive but if we could break it down to individual responsibility, we might have a chance for change.
        If my comment has come off as naive or unintelligent, my apologies because that is not my intention. I just wanted to ask if there was a way we could do just 1 thing, hypothetically would it ever help? I would imagine since you do have a talent and knowledge in mathematics, if it could be possible to change 1 thing (in the beginning) to help curb the oncoming disaster that we all will face if we don’t act soon.
        I really appreciate your thoughts and this is the first article I have read of yours. I will dig deeper into this and was just wondering if there is information that breaks down the responsibilities of each person, to start making a vast change.
        I also can accept that this may be too little, too late. I have been noticing a huge movement in the newer generations of personal responsibility and how some people even work out of changing the planet, I believe you are correct that there has been a change in awareness. This whole pandemic has really opened a lot of people’s eyes to the fact that life should not be just work, it should be about family, nature, and balance.
        I truly appreciate what you are doing to help people understand the impact and bring awareness to the human situation concerning the planet. It’s finally starting to be seen by all people and not just the scholars who study it.
        Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for speaking out. In the end, we are all humans and we are all one family. It breaks my heart to see nature being destroyed and other life on the planet sharply decrease. I am blessed to live by a forest and see deer daily, and it hurts my heart to think they might not have a home soon.
        Do you think if there was an organization willing to buy up land and making it protected, would even make a dent in our situation? In my mind, and of course I could be wrong, if my fellow humans could see a plan that actually involves them, perhaps it may help? Idk, I am willing to try anything at this point, because I feel that even trying would be better than putting the blinders on and quickly descending into ignorance, to at least attempt to make a change.
        Once again, thank you so much for your thoughts and knowledge. It came at just the right time, in my life, where I am increasingly concerned about the world we are leaving our children.
        Sending you light and love.

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        • December 31, 2022 at 5:53 am
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          Thank you for your comments and sharing your thoughts and asking some tough questions.

          You ask: is there something that people can do to help slow the climate crisis down? Let’s say hypothetically, if every person knew that planting 1 tree in their life time would slow this, would that help?

          Well, yes — hypothetically. We would need to roughly cover 70% of the arable farmland on the planet with trees in order to sink the excess carbon. In practice, this is not a solution. Here is some reading:

          https://climate.mit.edu/ask-mit/how-many-new-trees-would-we-need-offset-our-carbon-emissions

          You ask: Do you think if there was an organization willing to buy up land and making it protected, would even make a dent in our situation?

          There are many organizations doing just this. Yes, it will make a dent, helping to preserve some habitats and species for whatever comes after us.

          Thanks again for your very kind and thoughtful post.

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  • January 12, 2022 at 8:29 pm
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    ‘While we are here, while we are among human beings, let us cultivate our humanity’ (Seneca, On Anger).

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  • April 10, 2022 at 7:53 pm
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    Exactly my sentiments! Thank you for writing this and for all you do on climate awareness!

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  • May 1, 2022 at 3:31 pm
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    Thanks for this. I’ve not come across another author who better explained what is in the hearts of “Doomers” like myself.
    In 2009, Joe Romm’s Climate Progress site was a prominent hotbed of controversy between the we’re-done people & the we-can-still-do-this people, until Joe got tired of the rancor & took the comment section down. At that time I was in the later group, still hopeful. I helped organize EarthDay/Week 1970, stayed plugged in ever since and was not ready to give it up, still counting on a growing movement that would effectively cause a political & popular wakeup. Boy, was I wrong about that.

    Doom was a word getting a lot of ink, especially if Guy McPherson was mentioned. So in one of the most heated threads I coined the word “doomer” as a pejorative. I think that was the seed of the usage, though I would not be surprised if others came up with it independently. It’s a pretty obvious jump from “doom”.

    You may not speak for all doomers but you speak for me. I am now everything you describe. It’s been rough. I can’t not grieve deeply over the end of Nature; the end of so much beauty, the child of time & complexity; the chaos thats around the corner. But I am meeting it with resolve for all that needs to be done to save what can be saved and to help others with compassion. So, again, thanks. I don’t have a website but I’m on FB, Brian R Smith

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    • May 1, 2022 at 5:44 pm
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      Wow — thank you for this insightful reply, Brian! I would say that Catherine Ingram is very similar in her view, if you have not yet read her essay “Facing Extinction.” Getting away from GM is a big step in the doomer path, as NTHE is very easy — just assume everyone is going to die really soon and get it over with. But the hard part is that the path is most likely long and very painful and very sad.

      Glad to meet you!

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  • May 30, 2022 at 10:55 pm
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    If not for this post I would have never realized I am a doomer. Finding such kinship here through the comment section. I believe Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction was the beginning of my doomer beliefs. It was strengthened by extreme weather patterns in the eastern Delta region of India where I live with frequent cyclones, flash rains, heat waves, and phenological mismatch. The phenological mismatch of flowering trees was so glaring to me that I was quite amazed the others around me didn’t notice at all. My resentment and anger towards such ignorance turned to acceptance and silence in the last few years. Thank you Prof. Jacobson for penning this post. Are we members of the Doomer Society? I would very much like to be part of something like that.

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  • June 14, 2022 at 4:27 am
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    This is a very beautiful essay. Often pessimistic positions and ‘doomer’ stances are associated with an angry misanthropy (which imo, is not unjustified position – we should be misanthropic) and presented as the byproduct of spiteful, damaged people. But this is an excellent example of the burden of knowledge ‘doomers’ bear against a tide of optimists who deny reality in favour of a delusional cheery view of the world. Have you read any David Benatar?

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  • June 25, 2022 at 5:47 am
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    A more apt term than doomer is ‘realist.’ That is, a clear-eyed, honest assessment of our predicament — based on all the information that’s out there — results in a dire forecast for the future of complex life on this planet. As has been pointed out, the process of collapse has already commenced. The only question now is how quickly things will devolve and humans (and most other complex life forms) go extinct.

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  • July 27, 2022 at 10:00 pm
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    A butterfly only lives for 24 hours so it doesn’t need an extra day!! Great piece of writing. I’m still invested in holding fossil fuel corporations accountable for their murderous actions. I’m not going quietly!!

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  • August 16, 2022 at 2:31 am
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    I’m not confident in the inevitability of human extinction yet. Collapse? Yes. End of technology, intensive agriculture, civilization-building? Yes, and thank God. But definite extinction? I have not seen the proof. There may be a window to return to primitive ways and ve ecologically balanced… for a few of us… after a lot of turmoil.

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  • January 1, 2023 at 5:39 am
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    I also found you through soft white underbelly.
    Thank you a lot for sharing your thoughts. I always thought to be odd because I know nobody with a similar outlook and if I talk about the collapse with friends I could see they think I’m going weird or overly pessimistic. At the same time it feels like they have a gut feeling about what’s going to happen but want to ignore it. Through you sharing your thought I don’t feel as odd anymore.
    I’m almost sixty and feel grateful to having grown up and living in mostly optimistic times but also a bit guilty ignoring the facts for too long and not acting accordingly.
    What’s sad that my niece, 20, is into ecological activism and is slowly realizing that it’s too late. What bleak outlook on life if you’re young.

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  • January 1, 2023 at 5:53 am
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    And a question, what’s you’re plan for you personally when the shit hits the fan?

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    • January 1, 2023 at 11:39 am
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      I have about 2 months supplies here — water, rice and a few other things. Beyond that, no idea. I am in that huge 99.99% of people who don’t know how to survive with zero modern industrial civilization in existence.

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  • January 1, 2023 at 8:16 am
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    Dr Jacobson, that was incredibly on-spot. Thank you.

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  • January 3, 2023 at 7:01 am
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    Hi,

    I saw you on SWU and I kinda liked many of the things you had to say.

    I’m 66, about the same age as you. In the ’70’s and early ’80’s I was involved in, concerned about, various environmental issues. I got a degree in environmental enginering in 1980. I worked primarily on ground waterwater remediation and solid waste disposal issues, which are interrelated in many ways. Of course, I soon became disillusioned with my own efforts. Primarily my efforts resulted in a kind of sweeping the issues under the rug. A kind of cleaning up of, maybe hiding, the most obnoxious results of industry and consumerism. I was simply allowing, enabling, the system to continue. I was another cog in the machine, and it bothered me. I could go on in this vein, but I won’t…

    In maybe the year 2000, I stumbled upon Jay Hanson and dieoff.org. Jay’s message hit me like a ton of bricks. I was devasted for a while, and, of course, I’ve been a Doomer, in one form or another, ever since. After many trials and tribulations, activist, prepper, survivalist, anger, denial, blame, etc., etc, you name it, I guess that I have arrived at point of a kind of calm acceptance. I guess, and I don’t want to claim, or imply, perfection in any manner, that I have accepted that humans are just going to do what they been designed to do, which is to consume the world to the best of their abilty. This is no different than any other creature out there. I’d say.

    In adition to accepting humanity for what it is, I guess that I have learned to accept myself as part of this event, this phenomenon, that is sweeping over the Earth like a hoard of locusts. This is not inteneded as a perjorative. It just is what it is. I think it was Terrance McKenna who likened humanity to a “gene swarm” traveling through time and space. I’ve often thought this to be an apt analogy.

    I also am “sad”, but that’s just part of being alive. It has little to do with being a Doomer, per se.

    Best of luck you. Yours in doom.

    Dave

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  • January 4, 2023 at 8:19 am
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    Hi Eliot!
    I enjoyed your post, and was wondering if you had any philosophical commitments in the background? It sounds like you are a consequentialist.

    I am a professional philosopher, and I appreciate the depth of your insight! Glad to have you on planet earth!

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    • January 4, 2023 at 1:37 pm
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      Answer — not that I know about, nothing religious or political, though one could argue that the social constructs of Western civilization are a philosophical commitment for almost all of us.

      I would say I lean more towards nihilist than consequentialist.

      But I am not a professional philosopher and you will quickly get way over my head here, just hoping you don’t ask me a follow up question.

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  • January 17, 2023 at 7:03 pm
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    Thank you Dr. Eliot for your refreshingly clear comments and analyses.

    Here is an associated thought which puts a subtle positive spin on the doom:
    – Just like lichens, ants, and elephants…., Human activity has transformed, displaced, and blended the land, water and sky ….but at a toxic scale. We are agents of entropy, and our Work is nearly complete.

    So we are soon to be retired, like so many others, from the eons-long list of resident species. It is hubris to believe that evolution was “intended” to end with Humans. Perhaps our modifications and transformations are setting the stage for the next evolutionary leap.

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