Watching the World Go Bye

Eliot Jacobson's Collapse of Everything Blog

Climate Change

The Demise of Hopium

Hopium (n)

  1. Irrational or unwarranted optimism. [YourDictionary.Com]
  2. That deranged condition in which a person is deluded into thinking humanity will survive omnicide. []

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:

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.]

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.

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