Hopium, Apocaloptimism and Hausfather
I was in a Twitter discussion recently with Dr. Zeke Hausfather, a well-known climate scientist & IPCC author. Hausfather is a top-notch, first-rate guy in every manner. He is well-educated, thoughtful in his comments, well-respected by his peers and a great science communicator. Here was our Twitter exchange, in part.
I’m thinking that 2022 is going to be the most f**ked up
year on planet Earth since the year -65,000,000.
Depends on ones definition of f-ed up. I’d rather be born in
2022 than in any other year in human history given my odds
of surviving childhood, getting access to education, and
having a long fulfilling life.
There is plenty of data to support the first two quoted facts Hausfather cited. First, childhood mortality and disease has decreased. Kids worldwide are healthier and getting better healthcare. For example, from the IHME: (Click on the image to make it larger)
The second fact Hausfather claimed is that access to education has improved. While this is a broad statement and COVID certainly has caused recent issues, the long-term trends support his statement. For example, see the “All in School” initiative:
Hausfather’s third claim is that a child being born in 2022 is more likely to lead to a long and fulfilling life than at any other point in human history.
Certainly as diseases find treatments and cures, as healthcare improves, and assuming no pandemics, asteroid strikes or other non-man made catastrophe decimates humanity, the average human lifespan should continue to increase. It should be noted that the bulk of this increase comes from the decrease in childhood mortality, not from an ever-lengthening expected lifespan for a healthy adult.
Likewise, as oil-fueled wealth trickles down, many formerly impoverished populations are now getting more of the basics to support a decent life. Food, water, sanitation, housing have all greatly improved in many third-world nations. While the vast wealth and rampant materialism of first-world countries may not have lead us to feeling more fulfilled, and while sugar/fat-caused diseases may have shortened first-world lifespans marginally, that is more than made up for by the improvements in developing countries.
So, yes, Hausfather is right. Start to finish, he is right.
Except, all of these statements require a world that is human-habitable. They need a planet Earth with less CO2, less CH4 and more resources. They require a planet that is not over-populated with hungry and horny homosapiens. Hausfather’s claims require the future to be more or less similar to the past.
Hausfather’s vision requires infrastructure that can survive ever greater calamities, supply chains that function to allow production and delivery of necessities and food growing regions that aren’t flooded or dustbowls. Hausfather’s statement requires every element of the architecture of civilization that has allowed us to create this moment in history when 2022 is indeed the best year ever for a child to be born. Unfortunately, as I described in this post, there are at least 40 reasons why the future will be nothing like the past.
There are two words that describe the disconnect between the incredible successes of humanity’s past and the catastrophic reality of humanity’s future. These terms are defined many places on the Internet (Google is your friend). I’m going to quote the definitions from the Universal Map of Doom by Gail Zawacki.
The first word is “apocaloptimist,” which is defined as follows:
23. Apocaloptimist – A person (or organization) that makes a powerful case that Armageddon is nigh, but posits unsubstantiated hope that human ingenuity will solve the problems in time.
Hausfather is an apocaloptimist. He is brilliant enough to clearly see where humanity is headed and has documented some of the facts of our apocalyptic trajectory in his own research and writing. But, as implied by his Tweet, he also strongly believes that the climate-saving processes and social movements already in place will be sufficient so that a child born today will live a long and fulfilling life.
The second word is “hopium,” which is defined as follows:
24. Hopium – arguably coined by Lonewolf back in 2000 on the Survival Acres forum, designating that deranged condition in which a person is deluded into thinking humanity will survive omnicide.
Hausfather uses the word “hopium” in his Twitter Bio, describing himself as a “Dangerous hopium peddler.” Hausfather’s use of quotes indicates he is including the words of someone who previously called him this. I agree that this assessment of Hausfather’s hopium is spot-on. Having “hopium” is having a deranged condition in which a person has a certain type of delusions. Hausfather’s view about long and fulfilling lives is pure hopium. Human civilization will not survive the massive destruction of life on planet Earth that is already well underway.
The sixth great extinction is not a joke to be mocked in the Twitter bio of a climate scientist, even if by self-deprecating humor, even if quoting someone else. The collapse of this planet is a tragic truth. I am so sad about humanity’s collective future and the suffering that is to come. It is heartbreaking. Losing everything means losing everything.
We are on the same side. We see the same facts. However, the future and the past have become disconnected. The current stability, wealth and health of humans all over the planet has been created by centuries of innovation and scientific discovery. And in the last 200 years, humanity’s success has also been driven by extracting material wealth from fossil fuels while choking our planet with poisonous gasses.
Global industrial civilization is coming to an end. And with it, our long and fulfilling lives.
23 thoughts on “Hopium, Apocaloptimism and Hausfather”
Not sure he is a victim of hopium, since he knows what it is. I prefer to think he is a victim of our evolved ability to deny reality. He surely sees the overshoot we are in but unconsciously chooses to deny that and see instead a bright future. My experience shows me many brilliant people who do the same. Sadly you (and I) see the future we are heading for.
An excellent article, fair to all sides.
However, Hausfather is also cherrypicking his data. Malnutrition (over and under) is rising globally, water scarcity is rising, soil loss is increasing, US life expectancy is now in decline, human IQ appears to be falling (making education so much less useful), environmental chemical deaths have reached an astounding 13.7m a year (WHO), environmental indicators are all pointing south (eg extinction, forest area, ocean fish catch). Wanting to be born now is a bit like wanting to be born Roman, shortly before the Goths arrive.
As someone who has been branded an ‘apolcaloptimist’ (by hardened doomsters), I admit to a need to try to find solutions to the ten megarisks which constitute our existential emergency, though I acknowledge the probability of failure. Various scientific projections put the loss in human population at between 50-90% due to the confluence of these threats – which is from 4 to 10 billion lives, depending on timing and sequence – and how many nukes we release in our frustration. So I consider there is value in trying to save human life by solving the megarisks to whatever extent is possible. However I eschew the term ‘optimist’.
Humans have the brains and technology to overcome our problems – but neither the will, nor the institutions. Which all makes Leo diCaprio’s latest movie more prophecy than satire.
Humans will perhaps become the first Earth species abolished by its own ‘intelligence’. Perhaps we need a name change to bring it home to folk.
Hi Julian, thanks for your great comment. I just want to confess to scrubbing the links out of your post. Thanks for understanding.
And yes, I think most with any sense of how things are going do think of the movie as prophecy. My blog is not about hope.
Yes! I don’t think this is the best time ever to be alive. My three year old grandniece will never know a world less destroyed as it already is by us billions of adults. With plastic pollution in literally every corner of the planet, fish stocks severely depleted, trees dying from ozone pollution and drought, topsoil eroded away, aquifers drained dry, etc. etc. Yeah, fun times on planet earth. We fucked it up. I really appreciate Elliot’s brave honesty.
This was one of the most intelligent, spot-on analyses of the plague of Hopium sweeping this planet that I have ever read. Period. Keep up the good fight, amigo.
Great to have you reading my blog, Sam, and thanks for your kind words.
Hi, new to your blog and you’re right that Hausfather is victim of Hopium. He maybe a top notch guy but Hausfather is affiliated to the Think Tank Breakthrough Institute. This Think Tank pushes strongly the Ecomodernist agenda and has controversial people in it such as Michael Shellenberger and Bjorn Lomborg. They have ties to Industry and Climate Denial. And the Ecomodernist approach has been critizised for its cotradictions.
[links removed by EJ]
Yes, current human Global Industrial Civilization is 100% doomed within the next several decades. But that does NOT mean that humanity is doomed, or that life on Earth is doomed. We are simply going to have a severe crash. The challenges we face are the form that crash will take and what will rise from the ashes.
The growing psychological impact of this will be that we are solely responsible for causing a 6th mass extinction, (maybe including us), that could potentially dwarf most of the others. Our presense on this garden paradise, in the apparently special “goldilocks zone”, is a curse to most other life forms. That will be our legacy, despite our finer qualities, and sweetness.
We are doomed specially when one big dissaster occurs and 400+ nuclear powerplants start melting or explode,and as a result of that the ozon layer resolves.
That will be some kind of challenge,ain’t it?
Wow, “apocaloptimist” is a cool word. I wonder if I can use that for myself. I think that the extinction of our species before 2040 is most likely, but not a certainty. I think there is still a =chance= that we will wake up, start doing the right things on a very large scale, survive this bottleneck, and continue doing amazing things for many more millennia. This hope of mine is grounded firmly on ignorance: I don’t know enough of geophysical and climate science to see a =proof= that we are doomed. As long as some of us are still alive, there is a chance that we’ll figure a way out of this. Do I qualify to call myself an “apocaloptimist”?
Apocaloptimist? More like a honey-baked hopium addict. 🙂
I am not in agreement with your 2040 extinction prediction. Collapse will be going on for a long time and a lot more humans are going to be born than die in the near-term.
Addressing the “First Use” of the word “Hopium”: I was offering “Hopium” in one-thousandth of an ounce packages in return for the buyers delivering to me, in Cambodia, 10 lbs. of their BEST Weed! Some of those messages are available on Twitter. The poems “Life’s Dusty Passing” in Spring 1985 & “Hum Low The Bells Of Kyoto” on Dec 8, 1997, (Minutes AFTER “The Kyoto Protocols” were FOISTED on the world!) prompts a vague recollection that “I” was the first to use that word. Possibly wrong, (1940!) but otherwise sure!
However! As we’ll soon be DEAD, by “Exit Pills” or whatever, I smile at remembrance of when I chased after Happy Faced Hens . . . @RealityDictates / Twitter
Ah yes because a retired mathematics and computer science person knows SO MUCH more than an eminent climate scientist about the climate
Hausfather is very much NOT an apocaloptimist, you are misinterpreting him here. For one, he has never said anything about extinction nor collapse, and I think due to climate science as a profession he has thought through all of the 40 risks you state, plus a 100 more. I really don’t get how you feel like a climate scientist is less competent than you.
Please do not include links in your posts.
And yet you still haven’t commented on my reply itself. My question is are you really qualified to say climate stuff?
Yes, I am.
More so than a climate scientist who’s entire life is dedicated to it?
Also, proof of qualification beisdes informal reading of reports?
Sorry, checked up and it seems you do know quite a bit about climate science. However, although you do know graphs and models, you also know that they have no certainty whatsoever, and going against someone whose whole field is this stuff while you claim to follow the science, is well…
Thanks! I appreciate your position on non-experts voicing criticism of experts. If I saw what I viewed as outrageous opinions from someone who was quoting what I thought was misinformation, I’d be right there with you. In fact, I have made several posts on this blog about exactly this.
I voluntarily gave up tenured faculty positions at two different universities (Math at Ohio University & C.S. at UCSB). I understand the pressures that scientific researchers experience first hand. My disrespect for the IPCC’s conclusions comes from personal academic experience. I’d say if you want to know what climate scientists really think, look at what those who are retired are saying.
I updated my bio and uploaded my CV so that in the future people can check me out with a little less effort.
Making new thread as I can’t reply on an old one
See, the IPCC does not do its own research and then release it, it only compiles the data from studies made and releases it. I keep trying to say it there’s a difference between being conservative and being totally off.
You are very skilled in terms of models, but your facts are a bit off. For
Example, did you know that
Global dimming is countered by the decay of methane, especially if we slowly turn them down?