People often ask me why can’t I be more hopeful. Why do I need to spread doom and gloom around the world. How does this actually help the “situation”.
It is the same criticism that is placed on all “collapsitarians”, climate scientists and environmental organisations who, for more than half a century now, have been trying in vain to sound the alarm about climate change and the ecological apocalypse. Only that they strangely find themselves in one of those bizarre nightmares where everything is black and white, the air is made of some type of odourless, colourless, sticky liquid, and figures have turned into barely distinguishable, hazy silhouettes. As one of the silhouettes begins to stalk them, they find themselves struggling to run in this invisible quicksand. And then they suddenly discover that the sound has been switched off. However loud they try to scream, they have no voice. However hard they try to hit the alarm bell, it seems that it is made out of rubber. One hit and it turns into feathers.
And in the meanwhile, all of us are in this car that is driving off the cliff, yet those of us screaming “watch out!” are being asked “Why are you spreading panic?” This question often takes a personal attack tone: “Why can’t you be happy?” or “Isn’t this all a bit blown out of proportion?” The absurdity of it all can be summed up as follows: “Why can’t you pretend that you are looking at Instagram posts on your phone as the car wheels make the big jump into the abyss below? Why can’t you pretend that, when the crash happens, you are surprised? You are devastated and shocked?. Why can’t you wait until the bitter end to be a doomer?”
It is this recurring nightmare that has led me to write two books about the origin of humanity’s serious cognitive distortions and biases, which are preventing us from recognising, processing, and responding to danger in a proportional manner. However you try to look at our malfunctioning mind, be it psychology, evolutionary biology, survival and our socioeconomic power dynamics, bias of all types has always been the limiting factor for humanity: whether it is bias about climate change, race, religion or social justice.
Luckily, in science, and in the courts, things are a bit more clear cut. Not only do you need a solid dataset that is reproducible and statistically significant in the first place, you also need to go through peer reviews, juries and other “systems” that we have developed over time to minimise bias and ensure that we are interpreting the evidence correctly. Being a scientist and researcher, my job has always been to search for the truth, and to interpret that truth in a way that does not distort it. Having worked in the data and research consultancy business for over 20 years, and with three scientific degrees, I know very well how tricky the line can be between actual fact and personal opinion, as well as how convoluted the journey from the initial data and evidence gathering to the actual verdict can be. This is true for whatever area we talk about where facts, evidence are crucial: from vaccine development to a court case. One needs to be extremely careful in how they interpret their data.
When it comes to climate change, the actual facts, the evidence, is enough to skip the court case altogether and go straight to jail. The problem is with the judicial system, and the jury, who suffer from a serious mental issue: the inability to distinguish between two very different things: fact, and opinion. So let’s pick this up from the top and let’s see who in the end is the actual pessimist here, the one who is “bringing everybody down”, literally. Prepare to be surprised.
What is a fact?
A fact is something measurable and tangible, which cannot be challenged by anyone. Facts are never up for discussion, because they are things that have already happened in the past. They are not hypotheses, opinions, or interpretations. They are real events. This is why facts are the most compelling, actual evidence that is used in a court of law. Facts are what determine the outcome of a case and the specific verdict.
When we talk specifically about climate change and the ecological collapse, facts consist of things like CO2 concentration, average temperature, rainfall, extent of ice cover, extent of permafrost melt, % population decline. These have all been measured. They have all been assigned a number, a value, and they are being monitored over time.
What is an opinion?
An opinion is when someone interprets a piece of evidence. In the case of climate change the evidence is so stark that it is equivalent to the defendant pleading guilty in court. This case was closed from the outset, but The System has kept it open. It is the same exact system that is refusing to convict racist policemen, CO2- emitting corporations, and kleptomaniac billionnaires.
Who is the real pessimist?
So when it comes to Hope, I don’t have any. Hope is for those who want to delude themselves. Hope is for those who are deep down so scared, so terrified that their children may not get to live their full lifespan, that they have given up and instead consciously chosen to delude themselves. I choose despair over hope. Because while hope means giving up, despair means sounding the alarm bell. Who is the real pessimist here? And isn’t it strange that all those being called “doomists” and “collapsitarians” are the ones that actually most passionately advocate real, structural change?
As an ordinary passenger in our doomed car, I refuse to go down the cliff without the dignity of being self-aware of my situation, as much as I know that the brakes are already broken. I prefer to stare the abyss in the eye and die with my eyes open, rather than looking down the LCD abyss of my phone, scrolling through the memes of The System. Unapologetically hopeless, defiantly desperate.
to be continued…(or not)