Watching the World Go Bye

Eliot Jacobson's Collapse of Everything Blog

Climate Change

The Urgent Agency of Doom

As everyone who pays attention knows, Michael Mann, the self-appointed media darling for climate science, is famous for attacking doomers as being worse than climate deniers. But what has become clear after reading the content of Mann’s attacks is his nearly complete ignorance of what it means to be a doomer.

For example, here is what he wrote in this Guardian article from February 27, 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…

Many of the prominent doomist narratives … can be traced back to a false notion that an Arctic methane bomb will cause runaway warming and extinguish all life on earth within 10 years. This is completely wrong. There is no science to support that.”

On September 26, 2023, in Yale Climate Connections, Mann wrote:

“One of the premises that’s very prevalent among climate doomers, those who say ‘It’s too late,’ is that methane escaping from the permafrost will warm Earth beyond the level that humans can tolerate and lead to our extinction.” 

Then three days ago (November 13, 2023), Mann wrote:

“Climate doomers insist it’s too late to act. They claim we’ve triggered runaway warming due to a putative, unstoppable release of methane escaping into the atmosphere as the Arctic permafrost melts. They draw an analogy with past major extinction events, like the so-called ‘end Permian extinction’ or simply ‘the great dying’ 250m years ago, associated with the loss of 90% of Earth’s species. They claim the event was driven by a similar runaway warming event to what is occurring today.”

These quotes, and many other recent statements Mann has made about doomers, show that he believes doomers are myopically focused on permafrost methane. He seems to think this is what we talk and write about, that almost every video, essay, blog post and Twitter post is about methane, permafrost and extinction. The absurdity of this reductionism never occurs to him. Self-reflection and self-doubt, the keystone qualities of a scientist who wants to avoid bias in their work, seem entirely absent from his writing about doomers.

Unequivocally, I have never stated that humanity has already triggered a methane bomb or that such an event will bring on near-term human extinction. In fact, I routinely argue against this claim by citing isotope studies and posting CAMS methane images, including an update to methane in this article I wrote just a few weeks ago.

Though methane from the East Siberian Arctic Sea and permafrost may become an issue over the next few decades, it is not what is driving the collapse of global industrial civilization or the sixth great extinction. That honor belongs to one and only one source: human overshoot.

Somewhere in his history Mann latched onto this idea that all doomers think the same way about doom. Somehow he got stuck on the methane bomb. Somehow he thought all doomers agreed on the inevitability of near-term human extinction. Somehow he got the notion that we don’t understand physical processes, including those that led to the Permian extinction. And above all, he believes doomers are ignorant in general about climate science.

Maybe Mann’s delusion was the result of watching the Nova episode on permafrost methane. Maybe his delusion began after he read the July, 2017 essay “The Uninhabitable Earth” by former doomer David Wallace-Wells. Maybe it started after he watched one of the near-term human extinction videos from Guy McPherson. Or maybe Mann’s rejection of doom is his own suppressed fear. The false narrative Mann is putting into the mouths of doomers may be his own way of coping with his psychological transference.

Whatever the source, Mann is repeatedly demonstrating his stubborn ignorance of what it means to be a doomer.

Sam Mitchell of  Collapse Chronicles fame stated that if you were to ask ten doomers to define what it means to be a doomer, you would get eleven different answers (I may have four or five definitions myself, depending on how I feel). Yet none of those eleven definitions, or any of the others I’ve heard or read, comes close to Mann’s definition.

Michael Mann’s definition was created specifically to suit his rhetorical needs. It allows him to attack something that does not exist. He gets to win the argument over and over against his strawman, an invisible doomer boogeyman of his own creation.

But the damage Mann does with this simplification reaches far beyond that boogeyman. It harms those who are invested in journalism, science communication and education. It harms climate and social scientists whose research includes worst-case scenarios. It harms those who want to know the full scope of future possibilities. It harms those who are learning for the first time about the planet’s dire situation. By casting a shadow over all those who want to talk about the 50% of the bell curve that lies on the other side of collapse, Mann risks the future suffering of billions who might otherwise have had time to at least consider preparations for what’s coming.

Being a doomer means many things, but it absolutely does not mean sitting in front of your computer in your underwear doom-scrolling and smoking joints until Armageddon comes (with apologies to all doomers and anyone else who likes to do this). Being a doomer does not mean believing fringe climate science. Being a doomer does not mean focusing obsessively on permafrost methane and the Permian extinction. Being a doomer does not mean thinking that human extinction is inevitable by 2026, 2030, 2050, or at all in the near future. Being a doomer does not mean we stop educating ourselves and others. And being a doomer does not mean that we are not activists and environmentalists.

Michael should just stop it. He is too smart to be this ignorant. He is too smart to repeat such stupid stereotyping over a span of years. He is too smart to be so profoundly intellectually lazy on this one issue.

Mann is well-know for his use of the terms “urgency” and “agency” in his writing about climate change. It is “urgent” we do something now. And we have “agency” — at least those of us who are first-world privileged humans — to take action to avert the worst outcomes.

Michael Mann should take one of the “urgency agency” pills he hands out with such self-glorifying frequency in his media appearances and educate himself on doom.

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.

17 thoughts on “The Urgent Agency of Doom

  • Stan Willenbring

    Thanks for synthesizing and articulating what many of us are simply feeling.

  • 5

    On the Doom-o-meter, I put the methane bomb about number 75 on the list on things to think about, somewhere above an asteroid strike and somewhere below the collapse of coral reefs. Failure to keep one’s pecker in one’s pants does, of course, top my list. Speaking of which, real Doomers don’t wear underwear while Doomscrolling. Keep up the good fight, amigo.

  • Jane Dwinell

    Amen. Thank you.

  • dale wolver

    agree. Mann is living within an artificial reality where humans have free will and have the capacity to make intelligent decisions. I’ve never seen ANY sign of that, especially the Intelligent decisions, and I’ve been circling the sun many decades

  • Lee Heller

    Well put. His oversimplification is a reflection of his need to set up a straw man that can then triumphantly knock down, rather than engaging in a nuanced conversation about the harder truths of climate catastrophe.

  • Peter K Trabant

    Wow! Realists have a lot of other issues to deal with, long before extinction, much less the so called CH4 “bomb” BS. FYI clathrates become more stable with increases in pressure, aka SL rise. As a paleoclimatologist, specialized in the past 400ka, I’ve spent a lifetime looking at the consequences in the sedimentary record in geophysical records. Plain to see what happens, particularly at our accelerated level during deglaciation and CO2 increases, even James Hansen has had it wrong till recently. Man, look at the southern Hemisphere today and realize what’s coming next Summer! Thanks for your reflections Eliot.

  • Cllr Dr Pete Sudbury

    Prof, this is a great polemic, of the type I used to enjoy on Twitter until you (I know not why) blocked me!
    I approach all of this from the PoV that predicting the future is hard, and when you push a planetary system past any recent historical limits, is gets much harder. So I’d expect to see a range of views and opinions, and I use Twitter as a way of triangulating them.
    On the science, Mann is the “what can we absolutely prove?” baseline guy. That’s a valuable role, though it does mean that when he says, as he did recently, that we really don’t have much time, it’s time (as Greta would say) to panic. Hoekstra, at Berkley Earth, is also a strong baseline scientist, though more prepared to predict future changes than Mann. On the other end of the “no tin hat” science is Hansen, along with Kevin Anderson and Peter Kalmus, who give “reasonable worst case” (though on Mann’s spectrum, none are doomers, because they aren’t into methane bombs). You’re in there, too and I miss your probabilistic approach.
    Are any of these people “right” or “wrong”? Who knows? Are any of them “harmful”. No. Not verifiably right now. We’ll know with hindsight, but hindsight is always 20:20.
    “Doomism” is a mix of the science and the policy and the impact on human societies. Rockstrom is brilliant at that: “there is no evidence that human society can survive 2.5C of warming” is a really doom-laden statement, with high evidential and scientific face validity. The way we live now seems definitely doomed, by Climate Breakdown plus more or less massive overshoot of 5 more of Rockstrom’s planetary boundaries (or “9 ways to kill a planet”, as it is perhaps best summarised). There are two ways out of overshoot, planned or unplanned; neither leaves our current lifestyle as it is.
    Coming back to the spectrum of views: would I condemn any of them? No! Or criticise you for doing so? No! That spread of views and opinions gives a much more credible envelope within which to operate if you are in the Policy space, as I am. Vive la difference!
    Hmmmmm…I can see why you blocked me. Have a great day!

  • Ted Tyler

    Mann: “The truth! You can’t handle the truth”
    Doomer: “Yes, you can!”

  • 3

    Eliot, thanks for this! My interest in facing the imminent collapse of our species and the biosphere is writ large in the massive ice melt on going and increasing, including the permafrost, as it is a clear indicator of global heat production and sequestration in our warming oceans, our terrestrial thermometer, if you will. And it is rapidly rising to uninhabitable levels. I get a kick out of the focus on worldwide ave. temps, which are little more than a hopium distraction by corporate propagandists and naive well meaning “experts”. It’s the regional, arctic, coastal, subsaharan, and antarctic 2-3 deg C increases, or the 1.5 deg C European increase in just the past 30 yrs. that alarm me, along with the 10% of Swiss glaciers that have melted in just the past 2 yrs. I don’t give a flying f**k about global averages that sequester the far more troubling regional effects of global heating. Thanks, again, for your work and blog!

  • Dave Granholm

    I appreciate your point on this issue. However, I do have to say that Michael Mann is a pretty darn good communicator… even though many of us certainly don’t agree with everything he writes. Mann’s well-written book, “The New Climate Wars” published in 2021, made clear that he doesn’t care much for ‘doomers’ as he devoted a fair amount of text to his claim that doom-ism hurts the cause… e.g. work toward climate improvement. When I read the book earlier this year, I recall telling a friend that Mann clearly doesn’t understands the point of view of doomers. Ha! In his book, Mann made several statements about doomers and doom-ism that are factually incorrect. (It’s also very interesting how quickly climate change books and articles like this become out-of-date). Thank you for all your work Elliot.

    • David Jordan

      Mann makes many grossly inaccurate claims. One doozy is his claim that “all we need to do to replace fossil fuels is to point a piece of glass at the sun” to get all the energy we need. This is incredibly stupid on many levels. The most tragic part is the young activists who actually believe this nonsense.

  • AEKron

    I find myself doom scrolling for relief after watching the daily news. Even watching Sam Mitchell read the same articles I’ve read before is helpful. It’s like I’m not alone. It’s hard being an atheist, too, one the most distrusted groups in the world.

  • dennbro

    Coming late the to a doomer notion … I really was moved reading your piece on being doomer,
    to realize I was not so alone in my thoughts was a great feeling. Thank you, for all the above. I have strived for a more balanced view among the various apocalypse and dysfunctional writtings and blogs, so I shall be most interested in future posts.

  • 0

    Leaning toward doomerism is good in that it may increase the effort one puts in to avoid doom. I think even Michael Mann would agree with that. It’s total doomerism that should be avoided.

    The disagreement between Mann and Hansen is minor. No fan of the late 1960s / early 1970s NY Yankees can be a true doomer. (Jim and I have chatted baseball and we both listened on radio to late-night games coming from the West Coast. We cried with each loss, but we knew in our hearts that championship seasons would come again, and they did). Jim is actually reasonable optimistic that young people will save life on Earth. But he does say that doing so requires drawdown just as much as it does cutting GGS emissions. Zeke Hausfather has written about the timeframes of GGS emissions and he is somewhat optimistic (despite his “gobsmackingly bananas” quote). And how can one be a true doomerist after seeing the real “down-in-the-dirt” work being done by Joanne Chory?

  • 0

    HI, this being my first time reading your blog, I feel that you should direct your energy elsewhere rather than attacking a great scientist for his opinions. Perhaps you have an identity problem with being a ‘doomer’ and that only you can define it. I’m often called ‘Dr. Doom’ because I publish a weekly newsletter full of stories that are full of tragedy and pessimism. I certainly don’t think ‘we’ deserve being a special category, other than being realists, and hopefully appreciating rather than degrading scientists who make great contributions. BEST

    • Simon Béique

      Hi Eliot!
      Maybe you have a lot to do better than reading me. My name is Simon Béïque, I am a french canadian living in Québec province. I am 70 years old and like you, I was aware long time ago about our predicament as a civilisation. Limit to growth was the kind of book I was then reading.
      I follow your great work on twitter and on your website the climate casino. Often you remind me of a great guy from canada; William Rees. Your honesty, your straightforwardness, your generosity. Is work is different from yours but going the same way… telling everybody (who want to know) what is coming to us.
      If ever you do not know him, here is a taste of is work:
      Thank you so much for you great work and sorry for my poor English.


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