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Climate Change

Choking on Hope*

Hope. Hope. Hope. Hope. Hope.

Hope for a better tomorrow.

A kernel of hope.

Hope against hope.

Keep hope alive.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

Hope springs eternal.

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

Cross my heart and hope to die.

Collapse, collapse, collapse, collapse, collapse.

If you watched the Jeopardy episode that aired on October 3, 2022, you would have seen this clue, “This was all that was left after Pandora opened her box releasing all the evils into the world.”

In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman Zeus created. Being molded from clay must have been a tough start to life, especially when your reason for existing is as punishment for the actions of another god, namely Prometheus’ theft of fire. It is no wonder Pandora’s self-esteem was so low. So after being given a box containing all the evils of the world and ordered never to open it, naturally she opened it. And all the evils escaped into the world, including pain, disease, war, vice, toil, sickness and death — all the evils, that is, except one. She managed to close the box with one remaining evil left inside. That evil? It was “hope.”

Written over 2700 years ago, the story of Pandora suffers from the challenge of interpreting original meaning. Among the possible translations for this particular final evil is “deceptive expectation,” though that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue or sit well on the page. No doubt the Jeopardy judges would have been more than puzzled if a contestant gave “What is deceptive expectation?” as their answer instead of answering, “What is hope?”

Pandora’s unreleased evil of “hope” is the modern English equivalent of “deceptive expectation” — a way of pointing towards some moment in the future when a problem has been solved, all the while knowing that the odds against that future are astronomical. Hope is a way of challenging our perceptions of reality and replacing them with a gaslit delusion. Hope keeps us locked away inside the depths of Plato’s Cave. Hope forces us to live inside the matrix where we are never offered the “red pill.” Hope means being shut off from learning the most profoundly eye-opening and life-changing truths.

Politicians, doctors, religious figures, entrepreneurs, revolutionaries and sociopaths all preach deceptive expectations. For a better tomorrow, a wall to keep them out, social justice for all, a chicken in every pot, a cure for cancer, the deaf to hear, better sex, a longer life, to kick addiction, lose weight or get a great deal on a car. Above all, a deceptive expectation to create a new society where nature is respected as a partner on the planet and all humans live bountiful, just and equal lives. You would think this crush of deceptive expectations would sooner or later make us realize the massive delusion that is known as modern industrial civilization. Instead, to live in modern society is to be deceived by expectations that we pay for with our most precious possession, our short time on this planet as living conscious beings.

And Pandora’s “hope” leads to a paradox. Hope means understanding our powerlessness in a situation. It means trusting that some other individual, group or spiritual entity will take an action that we are unequipped or unprepared to take ourselves. If we knew what to do and could do it, we wouldn’t need hope. No one hoped the great pyramids into existence. It wasn’t hope that invented the internal combustion engine, fracking, cigarettes, whiskey or industrial farming. Hope didn’t write this blog post or make my morning coffee. Action doesn’t require hope and hope isn’t action. Hope can’t do a damn thing. When we hope, we are really hoping something happens so that we no longer need hope. We hope to have no hope. Hope is an ouroboros, a snake that eats its own tail.

The current rhetoric surrounding climate change and collapse is filled with hope manifested as deceptive expectations: that humanity will keep global temperature change below 1.5C, 2.0C, or wherever the goalposts are currently set; that humanity will bring down anthropogenic methane by 30% by the year 2030; that green energy solutions like solar, wind, geo-thermal and nuclear will replace fossil fuels; that new technologies to sequester carbon dioxide, to produce clean hydrogen, to re-freeze the Arctic are just around the corner; that we will achieve re-forestation, soil regeneration, climate justice and de-growth; that humans will somehow save the planet over the next years and decades.

I want to share a few uses of “hope” by some climate scientists with you, so you can more easily see just how deceptive they are.

First, as Michael Mann expressed it, “hope” just means that the error bar in the climate simulations still allows for outcomes where humanity survives the apocalypse:

I can say in good faith that the science does indicate that there is still hope for averting the worst impacts. And because of that, it would be so tragic if we fell into doom and despair at the very moment where we most need to act.” — Michael Mann, March 1, 2022

And now I’m wondering what Mann means by “in good faith?” Does he sometimes speak “in bad faith?”  Why does he need “faith” at all? Do we doubt his credibility and he wants to reassure us? His language reads like the poker player who acts as-if his hand is really strong; it’s a trivial tell that what he’s really holding is pure crap. Mann is acting like his cards are pocket Aces, when his true cards are the collapse of global industrial civilization and the 6th great extinction. Mann’s final sentiment about doom and despair is also of note, as he falls for the common fallacy of believing that the opposite of hope is hopelessness. More on this below.

Next up, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe wrote a recent book with the word “hope” in its title, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World. At least she’s letting us know her intentions are to deceive right up front and her methodology is quite seductive.

“But hope is that faint, small, bright light at the end of the dark tunnel that we head for with all our might and all our strength. And when we get dragged down, when we get discouraged, when we get anxious and depressed…we take a breath, we fix our eyes on that hope…  What’s at stake is literally us.”  — Katharine Hayhoe, October, 2021

Other than writing in a style that resembles a football coach’s locker room speech before the big game, I am not sure what any of this means. How does focusing on a light that doesn’t exist at the end of an imaginary tunnel keep a blue ocean event, or any number of other civilization-ending tipping points that have already been triggered, from coming to pass? Gooey sticky deception is the ice cream cone that melts long before you get to enjoy it.

Then there are those who say we can blame inaction on hopelessness.  Oh, ya gotta’ have hope!

“At this point, inaction due to uncertainty is scientifically unjustifiable, and inaction due to hopelessness is indefensible. We can still make a difference, but we must act now.”Will Turner, September 30, 2021

An important distinction has to be made here, which should clear up my comment about Mann’s use of “doom and despair” as well.  If we understand hope as deceptive expectation, then the opposite of hope must be “reasonable expectation.” In other words, the opposite of hope is a view of the future based on a full understanding of the present, including all the available science, deep knowledge of history and human nature, and an honest assessment of what is possible given the current political, social, geophysical and monetary constraints on action. Hopelessness is an entirely different concept — it is existential angst, a type of depression that arises from knowing we are born to die and our lives are ultimately meaningless. Finding personal meaning in the face of a finite existence on a very small planet has very little if anything to do with collapse or climate change; the conversation about our common existential dilemma is much better suited for the couch of a psychiatrist’s office.

Creating a meaningful life and finding ways to be proactive environmentally is not the same as having hope. Hopelessness does not imply inaction. It is simply incorrect of Mann and Turner to suggest, however tangentially, that doomers support sitting in front of a computer monitor, smoking joints and ignorantly complaining about climate scientists on YouTube and Twitter while waiting for the world to end. To me, being a doomer means being an activist, just with more reasonable expectations than those expressed by Mann, Hayhoe and Turner.

I could go on just as long as my fingers hold out, but right now it has become tedious debunking uses of the word “hope.” And so, here are a few more, left as an exercise to the reader:

Going forward, whenever you see the word “hope” used in the context of collapse or climate change, replace it with “deceptive expectation” and re-read the passage. Consider what your reasonable expectations are for the situation and base your activism on reality. Understand how you are being lied to, gaslighted and manipulated to stay inside the delusion.

Hope is not a good thing. Hope is not something to wish for yourself, others or the planet. It is perhaps the most evil of all the evils, so much so that even the innocent and curious Pandora was wise enough to not release it. And yet here we are, 2700 years after Pandora opened the box, on a dying planet, in the last great days of modern human civilization. Here we are, hoping to avert the worst impacts of collapse, hoping to see that faint, small, bright light at the end of the dark tunnel, hoping for “hope” to have meaning, hoping to not be hopeless, hoping for someone to tell us there is no hope.

*A note about the origins of this essay with a dedication.

After I posted my essay, “Your Moment of Doom,” I was overjoyed to discover that Sam Mitchell read it on his YouTube channel Collapse Chronicles.  I posted a link to his reading to my Twitter account and very quickly got this reply on Twitter:

Sam has a very hard time articulating the word “hope” for reasons I suspect are purely artistic. So I sent an email to Sam quoting the Tweet above for his amusement.  Soon after, Sam replied: “‘Choking On Hope’ would be a great title for your next sermon. If you write it, I will read it, with appropriate choking at every mention of the H-word.”

Sam and I both wanted to know who this anonymous Tweeter was, and on request he identified himself as Dr. Ian Dillon. Here’s to you, Dr. Dillon, with gratitude for your contribution to the doomisphere!  As Sam said, “Choking on Doom” makes a great bumper sticker.

This one’s for you two, Dr. Dillon and Sam!

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.

21 thoughts on “Choking on Hope*

  • John Mallon

    Excellent post. Thanks!

  • Barbara CS

    “Here we are, hoping to avert the worst impacts of collapse, hoping to see that faint, small, bright light at the end of the dark tunnel, hoping for “hope” to have meaning, like there’s no tomorrow.”

    Tough stuff indeed but needs to be said as the world sleepwalks into Collapse. Can’t help thinking about Jared Diamond’s early warnings. Was agog at the time that the Easter islanders cut down the last tree for firewood. How could they have got to this point of no return was my argument?

    And here we are.

  • 6

    Ronald Wright made a similar observation about hope, in “A Short History of Progress”. He quotes one of Margaret Atwood’s books: a character disparages hope as dangerous and destructive, because it essentially makes people keep digging the hold deeper. Hoping for a better future is different than optimism; hope has no balance, just the Pollyana-ish faith that things will be all right.

    I understand that people need to get through the day, and if more people actually understood what was in store it would be tough to manage given how the world is just stepping on the gas. But the truth really does set you free, and *exactly* that. No promises about happiness, or things being better. Just the truth of seeing things how they really are.

  • 2

    Replace Hope with deceptive expectation. A while ago I replaced the word “believe” with “think”. There is a fair difference between thinking there is a God and believing there is one. The former, in my opinion, keeps the mind open, the latter shuts it. Hopium – a collection of deceptive expectations.

  • 1

    Hope is the sister of fear. Live in the present. Virtue prepares us for the future whatever it is and virtue leaves no room for troubling doubt. We can’t control the future. We must accept whatever it brings. Worry will accomplish nothing. What is hope bur worry in disguise.

    We know what we should be doing. Doing it well leaves no time for worry.

    “Desire and happiness cannot live together.”

  • 1

    Fascinating read.

    Why am I hearing a George Michael song now playing in my head
    ” Praying for time ” ? I think it was called.

  • Joe Schonbok

    I love this essay so much – it helps me to process the information and emotions that swirl in the widening gyre of these times.

    My wife an I recently binged Ted Lasso – before I read this – then re-binged it after I read this. It was a different experience the 2nd time – especially the “Hope that kills you” episode.

    Anyway, thank you for writing this.

  • Tennessee Jed

    I enjoyed the post, thank you! I really appreciate Sam Mitchell’s Collapse Chronicles YouTube videos

    • Jonathan Austen

      “I hope and pray things will get better”.
      Ie, I’m going to do nothing to help, im just going to watch

  • 0

    Am passing on your written blog to friends. The ones who choose not to listen to Sam.
    Good reflection piece for those who are slogging through political madness

  • moresoma

    Thank you Eliot. First time visitor here. Long time Doomer (too long

    I just wanted to clarify something for you & your readers. The current human driven mass extinction is not the 6th mass extinction, but the 8th (known) mass extinction. Two new mass extinctions have been discovered & uncovered by scientists. One research area is off the west coast of Canada & it’s yet another hot house mass extinction. The other is in Africa and was actually a cold climate mass extinction.

    The press releases for these two newest mass extinction discoveries have been out for awhile, but for reasons I do not understand, there has been little mention of them in the MSM and other than me, none in called ‘Doomer’ community.

    Of course, Elizabeth Kolbert, and her peers are not exactly rushing to correct her now incorrect book title. Perhaps silence must be maintained until Mike Mann gives his permission?

    Newly discovered mass extinction event triggered the dawn of the dinosaurs

    Published: September 16, 2020

    “Huge volcanic eruptions 233 million years ago pumped carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour into the atmosphere. This series of violent explosions, on what we now know as the west coast of Canada, led to massive global warming. Our new research has revealed that this was a planet-changing mass extinction event that killed off many of the dominant tetrapods and heralded the dawn of the dinosaurs. ”

    “Geologists and palaeontologists agree on a roster of five such events, of which the end-Cretaceous mass extinction was the last. So our new discovery of a previously unknown mass extinction might seem unexpected. And yet this event, termed the Carnian Pluvial Episode (CPE), seems to have killed as many species as the giant asteroid did. Ecosystems on land and sea were profoundly changed, as the planet got warmer and drier. ”

    [Link approved by EJ]

    So that make #7 and we are essentially recreating those same hot house conditions, but at a much faster rate.

    The climate-driven mass extinction no one had seen
    Fossils uncover a previously unknown mass extinction event in Africa

    Date:October 7, 2021

    “Two thirds of all mammals vanished from Africa and the Arabian Peninsula around 30 million years ago, when the climate on Earth changed from swampy to icy. But we are only finding out about this mass extinction now. Researchers examined hundreds of fossils from multiple sites in Africa, built evolutionary trees, and pinpointed each species’ first and last known appearances. The climate shift ‘was a real reset button.’ ”

    [Link approved by EJ]

    I consider the “Carnian Pluvial Episode (CPE)” to be pertinent since humans have copied the volcanism, but are going to end up like the tetrapods – “…pumped carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour into the atmosphere. This….led to massive global warming. Our new research has revealed that this was a planet-changing mass extinction event that killed off many of the dominant tetrapods…”

    • 1

      Thank you for this excellent comment about previous extinction events with links to your sources. Any post with links must be approved, hence the delay.

      I’ve read a bit about the paleo-record of extinctions and there are many minor extinction events. I think the issue here is differentiating between local (Africa/Arabian Peninsula) vs. global. I am sure the experts will come to a consensus soon and I am glad to revise my language accordingly.

      Thanks again!

  • Don Adams

    A Buddhist thought – There is no need for hope if the mind is able to accept reality as it is. Start small, accept all sensations w/o reaction, move to emotions and thought. I can say from experience the peace that surpasses all understanding comes from this practice and a high level of concentration. It is simply one of the later stages of the process the mind and body go through on the path. May this be helpful to all.

  • David Lettau

    The chain smoking existentialist philosopher Camus wrote that hope was the very worst thing that came flying out of Pandora’s box. The clinging to hope in our culture in the face of multiple accelerating irreversible crises may be the eighth wonder of the modern world.

  • Jitendradas

    Unreal. I do smoke a lot of joints, so you really pinned me, but, I’m not in front of a computer screen. Just about to go teach my second of three yoga classes of the day. Nice and stoned and doomed and breathing beautifully and deeply. Thanks again Guru Guru We’re Fucked Guru. Namaste.


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