The Demise of Hopium
- Irrational or unwarranted optimism. [YourDictionary.Com]
- That deranged condition in which a person is deluded into thinking humanity will survive omnicide. [DoomforDummies.blogspot.com]
I am not here to re-litigate the inevitability of the near-term collapse of global industrial civilization and the obvious consequence that billions of humans will suffer terribly as a result. Collapse is the endpoint of overshoot and overpopulation and it has already begun. While the speed of this collapse may be altered by various projects, plans and efforts, the end result will not change. Exponential growth on a finite planet is unsustainable, period. (If you need a reminder of what’s coming, review this article.)
Hopium pervades the climate change and environmental movements. It festers in every green industry, boils in the rhetorical language of world bodies like the UN and IPCC, is demanded in academic journal articles and grants, and lands like a heavy-handed thud as a tool of suppression by the media and popular authors. Hopium is a psychoactive medication, an addiction, a coping mechanism and a group therapy session. Hopium offers escape from the nightmarish reality the planet is plummeting towards. Hopium is a delusional distraction, fostered by mass media, politicians and academics. And hopium is harming us by creating more suffering and restricting free choice.
The rhetorical catalog for hopium includes the use of a phrase like “we need to …” or “we must …” or “if we don’t …”. These phrases divide humanity into “we” (good) and “others” (bad). The point is to identify a goal or policy that if achieved will mitigate collapse, a group who are willing to pursue the goal and a group who are obstructing the goal. Implicit in all such rhetoric is the belief that mitigating collapse is possible. That if “we” do this thing then humanity will be better positioned to continue on its merry way, basking in eternal sunshine, rainbows and unicorns. That’s the hopium part.
Hopium comes in a variety of toxicities, from the virtually non-toxic single line adenda at the end of a research article (usually included at the insistence of some editor) to the most toxic form wielded as a weapon to silence rational discourse and deceive for profit. Examples of the barely-toxic variety of hopium are ubiquitous. Here are two examples, linked to their source if you want to read more:
- “we desperately need transformative change to avert the worst of the climate and ecological crises”
- “We must reign in corporations and the rich, who have learned over the centuries how to capture media and politics, entrenched, and are now much harder to reign in.”
Examples of the worst form of toxic hopium include the most insidious and darkest gaslighting employed by cynics and profiteers. For example, Exxon’s doublespeak in their document “Our position on climate policy and carbon pricing,” making the naive reader believe that Exxon gives a f**k about something other than profit.
- “We think it’s vitally important for the cost of reducing carbon to be more transparent to enable comparisons of the various options to help policy makers reduce emissions at the lowest overall cost to society.”
Or this bit of toxic hopium in the COP-26 final Glasgow Pact, asserting credibility that simply does not exist:
- “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”
So what’s actually wrong with hopium? What damage does it really do?
The suffering brought on by overshoot and collapse is evident everywhere. Species in record numbers are going extinct. Our fellow humans are dying from heat, starvation, thirst, floods, fires and disease. Human culture and legacy are becoming historical relics. Quite simply, many of us would make different choices if we knew with absolute certainty that this shit was coming down soon to where we live, our home, our life.
The constant drumbeat of the hopium big lie is keeping people from taking actions they might otherwise take. On being told the truth about our collective future, some folks might clear the air with family members, others might find themselves having deeper conversations and connections with friends. Some might volunteer to help those in greatest need or make substantial donations. Some would quit their jobs, cash in their savings and party as much as they could in the time remaining. Some would continue their efforts to delay collapse and lessen the full impact of the ongoing sixth great extinction. Some may join adaptive communities or survivalist cults. Some may commit suicide. Some will still have hope. And one person will be the last person to plant a tree.
In short, if the truth about climate change and collapse was widely addressed by politicians, media and scientists, societal norms would quickly crumble. Right now, hopium is the glue holding the wreck of our failed society together. Hopium is what is staving off chaos and anarchy.
It is worth considering the possibility that one or more elite climate scientists understand the necessity of hopium to maintain social order and are making an active choice. A few have huge media platforms and appear to be pushing hopium to the masses at its full meta-level. Are these climate scientists acting out of kindness? Are they expressing love for our human legacy and all mankind has accomplished? Or is it just ego and greed? After all, without a functioning society, you can’t sell many books and those TV appearances are going to dry up fast.
This oddly benevolent possibility is acknowledged in this remarkable attack on doomers by Michael Mann, published in The Guardian in 2021:
Doom-mongering has overtaken denial as a threat and as a tactic. Inactivists know that if people believe there is nothing you can do, they are led down a path of disengagement. They unwittingly do the bidding of fossil fuel interests by giving up. What is so pernicious about this is that it seeks to weaponise environmental progressives who would otherwise be on the frontline demanding change.
Mann also attacked doomers in this 2021 article in Scientific American:
I call it “climate doom porn.” It’s very popular, it really sells magazines, but it’s incredibly disabling. If you believe that we have no agency, then why take any action?
In Mann’s war, the environmentalists are his unwitting soldiers, his “we,” fighting his meaningless battles to preserve a failing civilization. His “others” consists of oil companies, climate deniers and doomers. Preservation of the status quo is the goal of the hopium he weaves, allowing the elite to enjoy their wealth and privilege for one more day.
The demise of hopium is coming one way or another because collapse is already here and is accelerating. Unfortunately for Mann and others like him, the demise of hopium will cause many to rightfully lose their credibility. For others, their admission would be a noble act or even an act of martyrdom. And for some it will be an act of desperation, or required by a boss or simply a primal scream. More are screaming every day.
But most of all, the demise of hopium will allow humans to regain their agency, even if it happens at a time of great suffering. This brainwashing, greenwashing f**king lie that pervades every aspect of culture, media and politics will be gone. Yes, some people will go down a path of disengagement, as Mann says, but that will be their choice. And disengagement will not be wrong just because it doesn’t fit Mann’s agenda for what they should be doing.
The truth will allow every one of us to be free to think and talk about our near future unencumbered by hopium-laced falsehoods, to re-evaluate life and re-assess our values and plans. Contrary to what hopium peddlers believe, most people are capable of having competent moments of rational thought. The demise of hopium will be the beginning of the freedom to regain our critical judgment about the most important moment in our lives and in the history of humanity and the planet. It can’t come soon enough.
Be kind. Be generous. Be of service.
[With gratitude to my sister Hilary for sharing her deep insights on hopium. A few of the best sentences in this article are directly hers. Awesome sister.]
23 thoughts on “The Demise of Hopium”
Another wonderful and thoughtful essay on our abysmal prospects Eliot, thank you. I love the name of your blog, btw. “Watching the World Go Bye”. Such a tender, wistful, clever and sad play on words that conveys the pathos we need and deserve for creating our own insolvable predicaments. Mann’s premise that loss of hope leads to inactivism is absurd since inactivism – in the sense of actually sacrificing anything substantive to improve the future – is, has been, and always will be the default position of politics and society and the economy, hope or lack of it notwithstanding. Clinging to hope is so intrinsic to the paralysis of humanity. Forgive me for linking to my thoughts on this topic, back in 2014. http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2014/07/a-fine-frenzy-universal-dance-of.html
Hi Gail, Thanks you for the link to your beautiful essay. I’ll be reading it a couple of times today. Dance of Delusion, yes indeed. So much newly minted insanity raining down on us every hour these days. Thanks for being a clear voice of reason.
Well-said, amigo. Now, this hope-less old Doomer is gonna go feed Big Oil by gassing up my gas-sucking truck, and head out into the Florida swampland to find another piece of soon-to-be-underwater wilderness to buy, and flip to some clueless moron who has no clue of, or interest in learning about, the biggest story in the history of humanity. Onward through the fog…
Always a pleasure to have you stop by my little piece of real estate here in the land of tubes and Internets.
I don’t judge or begrudge anyone their choices in doom-time, with the exception of lying about doom-time. You want to party. Good. Make money. Good. Live off-grid. Good. For me, my choices are three-fold, to be kind, to be generous and to be of service. Oh, and to drink ample amounts of good whiskey.
Great new post, Eliot. Love how you frame the agentless royal We of hopium and the real agency of people deciding what to do with themselves at the end of hope. Keep up the good work.
And get some sleep!
Another excellent post. Your latest stuff is extremely powerful and absolutely right on. Now I understand your comments to me about “no hopium.” I was actually trying to describe things that wouldn’t work, so I’ll make that more clear. I’ll be working in my spare time to make my article more in keeping with your style, but most of the time I’ll be using my terrific new card counting method for Baccarat to make big money to invest in a new solar powered truck factory that removes CO2 from the air with a new advanced technology. That was a run on sentence, but the comma makes it OK!
It was your post that inspired this one — the problem with hopium really needed a clear explanation and I obsessed for a few hours (including a great call with my sister) to better understand the issue. Thanks for understanding! And yeah, perhaps baccarat is the best way to save the planet.
Re Baccarat: I’ve already made $1.87. It only took 2 hrs, not 3. PS, what does Arlene thing about my commas? I hope you enjoy my jokes because its all I have left. I am more and more in agreement that 2022 is going to be a year like nothing else. The heat records coming out of the southern hemisphere just take my breath away, and I expect exactly the same is coming for us.
When I published my first book on blackjack, my editor took out at least 1/3 of all the commas I used. So I have scars. May the baccarat gods shine their light upon you.
I heard about all this in elementary school. 50 years of complacency has led us here. “Hopium” is just another word for complacency. Sarah Kendzior says, “There is a difference between expecting autocracy and accepting autocracy. It is necessary to expect it so that you can plan how you will fight.” Replace “autocracy” with “collapse” and now that we find ourselves staring into the void, replace “fight” with “live.”
Great quote, love your analysis.
What amazes me is that Tom Hartman seems to love the thrash Mann spits out on his show. I am beginning to think Tom has a forked tongue like Biden.
Hi Eliot, What is SRM re: Zeke ?
SRM = Solar Radiation Management
Thanks Elliot. Your defiant refusal to be lured into the stupor of Hopium is a refreshing change to the vast majority of weak kneed academics and thus is greatly appreciated.
Thanks! I think academics owe their allegiance to physical truth more than any other single group in society.
Use of the term “hopium” has become part of a cult-like ideology. Adherents must accept as dogma that humanity is doomed, or that at least any technological approach to reducing harm and living sustainably must be false. There’s an irrational dualism (as often with religions), categorizing every viewpoint as either understanding “the truth” or deluded by false hopes. It seems the purpose is not really to have a true understanding but to feel wiser than others despite strong bias and limited knowledge.
One example of false dichotomy is the belief that people hoping to stop climate change and live sustainably all believe humanity can “continue on its merry way” if we develop “green” technology. There are many ideas about how to live sustainably (including various possible governments, economies, technologies, and value systems). Many hope NOT to continue merrily with a high-consumption society or even with any sort of capitalist consumer society.
This generalized categorizing of all non-doomer views as “hopium,” as “a delusional distraction, fostered by mass media, politicans and academics,” is lazy, egoistic, and self-deluded reasoning. Urging people to just enjoy their lives by doing whatever “brings…the most pleasure” is certainly egoistic and irresponsible, suggesting that the main appeal of “doomerism” is to justify continuing a privileged lifestyle of careless consumption and waste even while accepting that it’s destroying the habitability of the planet.
You wish to believe that spreading your “enlightened” despair is moral and beneficial (by spreading this vague “truth,” somehow lessening suffering and increasing free choice), but it is actually as toxic as other dogmatic dualistic ideologies.
Still, like the often deluded hopes you deride, “catastrophism” is an understandable psychological response to the situation of our societies’ continuing to live unsustainably and destroy the biosphere–despite repeated warnings, increasing damage, and worsening climate disruption.
I’m not sure what approach might work best for uniting people to stop the insanity and build a better society, but dismissing everyone trying to do so as having “hopium” delusions is ignorant and counter-productive.
Well said Steve. I too am not sure what, if anything, can be done. But accepting the comfort and relief of the Doomer position isn’t one of them. When I am dying I want to know I tried to avert this catastrophic trajectory. I didn’t give up hoping we, the human species, could be better.
Thank you for taking the time to express your important and well-considered thoughts about doomism. While other doomers may fall into the paradigm you describe, I can only assume you did not read my essay “On Being a Doomer,” where, among many other things, I write,
“Doomers support 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.”
You are quite thoughtful in your critique, I appreciate that you care enough to share that here. Do you have a blog or other online resource where you discuss these topics? Glad to allow a link.
Well reasoned. You acknowledge the complexity and perilous nature of the situation we face. Dogma and labels don’t help. It may be that we are building the bridge while we are crossing it — to a very different future with changes for all, some worse, some better. Doom is one valid perspective; others are more complex. Thanks, Steve.
I posted a counter to doomism and Pete Soderman commented on it with a reference to this Demise of Hopium here. Here’s a copy of my thoughts, both my original and my response to Mr. Soderman and Ted Rees. [link redacted]
Climate Apocalypse? Are We Doomed? No! Follow John Paul Jones!
Wildfires, droughts, floods, drenching hurricanes, and killer tornadoes are increasingly deadly. At least one foot of sea-level rise cannot be stopped; the oceans are too big. In the climate-metaphor movie, Don’t Look Up, we all die. Climate change is getting worse and Governments throughout the world are not fixing it. There are people who say we all will go extinct, there’s not a thing we can do about it, so we shouldn’t even try. Climate scientist Michael Mann calls such people doomists. But are the doomists right? Is fighting climate change an exercise in futility? Are we fighting a battle we know we are going to lose? Is it too late? Do we give up? No!
WE HAVE NOT YET BEGUN TO FIGHT!
In the American Revolutionary War, a U.S. boat fought a stronger British ship of war. The American captain and his crew were outgunned. His ship was losing and appeared likely to sink. Asked if he would surrender, the captain, John Paul Jones, is famous for replying, “I have not yet begun to fight.” He was a brilliant captain. His crew fought on, until an American grenade caused a gunpowder explosion on the British ship, and the British surrendered. John Paul Jones won. He is known as the father of the American Navy.
That is the attitude that will save mankind.
It is undeniable that climate disasters are getting worse and are killing people at an ever-increasing rate. But we will beat this. Even if the very, very worst happens, we will come back and win. In what is called “The Great Extinction Event” (the end-Permian), ninety percent of all life on Earth died, but it came back. If the climate apocalypse should get that bad, so there are only a few human couples left alive, we will fight and rebuild. But we will not let it get that far. Young people are urging us to begin to fight, and we will. To begin to fight, we must vote for carbon taxes. We must stop subsidizing the fossil-fuel industry and strongly subsidize sustainable industry. We most vote to fund climate-technology innovation and greenhouse-gas draw-down innovation. We must vote to change industrial farming to become regenerative farming. We must stop investing in corporations that destroy us and start investing in companies that save us. As John Paul Jones said,
WE HAVE NOT YET BEGUN TO FIGHT, BUT WE WILL FIGHT. AND WE WILL WIN
I’ve exchanged emails with Jim Hansen about this. He agrees that drawdown is a must, he agrees that saving civilization will be very expensive and very painful, but he’s far more optimistic than you are. So are Kim Cobb, Katherine Hayhoe, Michael Mann, and other scientists that I read and communicate with.
And I’m also keeping my fingers crossed (wishful thinking) that small, light, easily built and safe fusion that can power airplanes, as well as drawdown, might make it not too painful. There’s an Australian company that says they will have that in less than five years.
Humans are resourceful and innovative; If the Australians (HB11-Energy, is the name of the company), don’t prevent major disaster, I’m optimistic that some other humans will.