Hope Won't Save Us. It's Going to Get Us All Killed.
Climate optimists keep talking about hope, but philosophers offer us a warning.
I've heard it all before:
Doomers are ruining everything. They're encouraging everyone to give up. They're evangelizing hopelessness and fear.
The hopium dealers trot out every tired cliche they can think of. They claim expertise and pass judgment on anyone who tries to express their raw emotions about what's going on these days. Apparently, people don't have a right to make anyone else feel uncomfortable.
Anyway, I got curious about this word hope. The climate optimists keep throwing it out there, like it's a good thing.
I looked it up.
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ancient perspectives on hope saw it “mostly as an attitude to reality that [was] based on insufficient insight into what is true or good.”
As the great stoic Seneca wrote, hope always accompanies fear. He described them as “bound up with one another… like a prisoner and the escort he is handcuffed to.” Hope by itself didn’t make things better. Both fear and hope “belong to a mind in suspense… Both are mainly due to projecting our thoughts far ahead of us instead of adapting ourselves to the present.”
That's exactly the problem, isn't it?
The vast majority of people out there are fixating on the distant future. They're not paying attention to the present.
They're not adapting.
According to the hopium dealers, you can't talk about reality. You can't share your thoughts and feelings unless they align with the status quo of civility in the face of attitudes that are destroying the planet.
That makes you negative.
Honestly, I get confused when these optimists lay into us. It sounds like they want us to ignore the fact that we're living through the hottest summer in human history, or that we're currently crossing over the thresholds and tipping points that climate scientists warned us about.
Is that what they want?
I mean, did they almost die in any climate disasters this year? Did they almost pass out from breathing wildfire smoke? Maybe if they actually lived through any of the events they dismiss as "doomscrolling," they'd sing a different tune. Maybe they'd speak with a little more urgency.
As for their facts...
Sure, most Americans say they're "concerned" about the state of the planet. They want action on climate change.
Most Americans don't talk about climate change on a daily basis. Most of them don't think it's going to hurt them very much, at least not directly. Most of them don't really want to change their habits. Most of them won't even wear an N95 mask unless the government tells them.
Even then, they complain.
Most Americans believe in incrementalism. They want to go around pretending we have until 2050 to get our shit together.
It's all just a bunch of hopium and denial cooked up by the top 10 percent of the socio-economic order, specifically to justify the status quo. Btw, do you know what the climate research actually says?
It places 90 percent of the blame for this mess squarely on the shoulders of the affluent and the elite. It's their giant houses. It's their globe-trotting vacations. It's their suburban sprawl. It's their palatial grocery stores. It's their homeowners' associations. It's their next-day shipping.
It's their bottled water.
These people want to continue living in luxury and comfort. They want everyone to believe they can make it green.
As if that makes it okay...
This class will say absolutely anything to convince themselves and everyone else that they can keep living as they already do, that we can just glide into future with solar panels and wind turbines. Nobody has to buy less. Nobody has to fly less. Nobody has to do anything that makes them uncomfortable, especially if that means giving up quarterly profits.
The affluent are desperate for us to believe we still have until 2050 to clean things up, and that we can do it with little breakthroughs in technology. Meanwhile, both Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak keep approving massive, planet-killing oil projects while treating EVs like magic genies.
That's what hope gets you.
Hope leads to inaction.
Hope is what victims cling to when they have absolutely no power or agency to change their circumstances. All they can do is make it through the next day and wait for something to change.
We don't need hope.
We need courage.
We need the courage to look reality in the face. We need the courage to adapt to the present. We need the courage to express our raw emotions. We need the courage to demand real action.
Frankly, all this talk about incremental solutions and net zero by 2050 is chicken shit. Even if we ditched fossil fuels tomorrow, we would still have to mobilize all of our resources to prepare our cities for a future of fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes, heat domes, and derechos. We would still have to overhaul our agricultural practices to anticipate crop failures. We would still have to rethink and dismantle our current economic systems.
If climate optimists cared about the planet, they wouldn't be sitting around nitpicking newspapers for their word choice over ocean currents. They wouldn't be writing self-congratulatory articles bashing doomers.
They'd be out there evangelizing minimalism.
Will that actually save us?
I don't know.
The evidence points toward some grim realities. Humanity is heading toward some big bottleneck events. Stick a fork in global industrial civilization. There's no way that continues for much longer. We can make the transition somewhat smooth, or we can just crash and burn.
Hope isn't going to save us. It's going to get us all killed.
What we need is courage.