The Alarmism Vs Hopium Debate

This is an ongoing (and not settled debate) internally.

Across the world too! We’ve had don’t look up, and I saw this today on my feed :

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What’s the right kind of messaging? It’s true that most don’t know enough, or care enough about the issues that causing the ecological collapse, or climate change. Most aren’t even aware of the outcomes that are already playing out - folks at a major policy research org we were speaking too hadn’t really considered microplastics or the 350k novel entities on which we’ve transgressed planetary boundaries the most!

It’s also true that many - when they come across facts that seem too crazy, too daunting and too challenging and complex, merely shrink into inaction and hopelessness.

Of course, one has to message hope as well, and the tools to be able to deal with the coming s**tstorm (pardon my French, but I couldn’t think of a better way to express the seriousness of it).

What’s the right balance? What might actually work? Or are we essentially staring as mass ignorance and insularity while a few try to solve things at scale somehow?

(I must add that internally, I’m often accused of being in the doom/gloom camp though I am also the most optimistic that the long shots so many are trying might just might help!)

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Hopium:
Hopium is result of ‘point of no return’ or ‘tipping point’ way of thinking. Hopium disappears when you think in “how many generations will it take to nurture things” way. The more we delay, more generations suffer. Despite all things disrupted, we will survive and nature will eventually restore itself. In which case hopium is irrelevant.

Alarmism:
Alarmism intends action, but most alarms gets drowned in forms of prediction (sea level rise, temp, etc.) which can be arguable. Most disinformation out there only need to be contrary predictions to lead to climate inaction.

Alarms based on past observations (physics, chemistry, earth sciences, agriculture, etc - which are evidence based) and limited to how disruption affect lifestyles in present (health, finances, etc. - which are everyday experiences) such that most people won’t argue, are the most useful alarms - as call to action is personal and alarm is not for a future possibility but for the present.

In my experience, social recognition and status for planet positive actions are healthier drivers of action, with longer lasting impact.

I hope this helps. :smiley:

Dinosaurs thought they had time too!

Individuals who can see far in the current climate/planet scenario don’t come along as cheerful or joyful individuals, not because they inherently are not that type, but because the details they can see by seeing far into the future make them s**t their pants.

  • Yes, it’s true that most of us don’t know enough - Even the ones that know enough are bombarded with additional daunting updates every second. It’s a multi-multi-multi-faceted storm.

  • Yes, it’s depressing to learn the details, and sometimes takes a lot of time away from necessary action. But it’s important to learn the complexities to set realistic goals.

  • Yes, there is still little action and too much talk going on around necessary climate action. But last year has been a lot better than the ones before

The so-called collapse doesn’t happen all of a sudden like a comet strike, so we will collectively weave stories on the reasons for the pinches and mini-collapses we face instead of addressing the problems. One of my favorite reviews of ‘Don’t Look Up’.

I was a victim of inaction and hopelessness in this context, it’s not easy to keep swimming against the tide day in and day out, while for everyone else things seem normal! Let’s not even get started on current trends of ordering chai patti after deciding to drink chai. Not easy to strike a balance in messaging.

I am now happy to be living on a farm, taking care of a variety of animals. My 2.5 yr old daughter has this week seen chicks come out of eggs and silkworms building cocoons and is awaiting the silk moths to come out! After years of being in the doom/gloom/alarmist camp myself, but still persisting on my stubborn ideas, I finally after 4 long years have a life that many wish for but can’t buy.

Thanks for creating this platform where folks can share such thoughts. It’s okay to be in the doom/gloom camp as long as we aren’t in the inaction camp!

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I don’t necessarily look at it as ‘the right kind of messaging’ or even ‘the right balance’. We need the doom-and-gloom as much as we need the hope! If there’s more of the former, then the balance would be to have more of the latter. Kind of like how does one understand light (hope) if one has not known darkness (doom & gloom)?
I would stress on messaging-leading-to-action, be it direct or indirect. Much of climate messaging today leaves us paralysed/numbed, and doesn’t point us to any directions. In fact, today’s climate narratives - to our collective detriment - nearly deprives us of the onus/agency to act or makes us feel guilty for our choices.

Having said that, hugely disagree with the person on your feed for laying the blame on media for not being ‘alarmist enough’! If anything, much of what we know about the environment/climate is thanks to the (near thankless) work of journalists, reporters, editors and all the other story-tellers that exist out there! We can all finger-point at ALL the problems and credibility issues that exist in the media, but that’s another story altogether. It begs reiterating that while we are all trigger-happy to blame the media and point out its flaws, practically no one actually wants to invest and enable credible media/journalists.

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When I was in school (2014), the Bihar Government started building massive water tanks across the blocks. Being a bit curious, I asked myself what purpose these giant water tanks serve (Why?). In those days, the groundwater level in my district was at normal level - and groundwater used to be our source of water for every use-cases: drinking, agriculture, domestic etc

When I was in my 3rd year of engineering and visited my village after a while (around 12 months), I was shocked to see everyone in my village adopted Bottled Water. This was surprising because, in a place where everyone can purchase pure milk at INR 12/litre, people were paying INR 2/liter for drinking water. And those days the groundwater level was at a decent level. (Why?)

Fast forward to 2023 between April to July, those giant water tanks have been the water source of domestic and agricultural needs of the people of my district. In fact, this is true for the entire state - 126 million.

And I got the answer that I asked in 2014 - the purpose of those giant water tanks. Also, believe me, the first time I understood the importance of NATION/COUNTRY. And I felt a sense of satisfaction for paying taxes. If you have ever paid taxes in the past, you should feel proud as well.

Let’s quickly come back to the narrative/messaging part. Taking the above story as a reference, someone understood the future in the past and created a future without spreading the s**tstorm.

I wrote this in one of my essays, At any intersection of space and time just a few per cent of humans (Maybe 5%) drive the fate of rest of the humanity (95%). And in that case, whether we want to spread ststorm or not, this is just our call.**

@sameershisodia take your example, you are anxious, and a bit pessimistic, Why, because you understand we are in deep trouble, and we must fix this. Can you imagine the future where even 50% of the earth’s population has the same sense?

The way 10 years back the system identified the future - crisis of groundwater shortage and took two key actions.

  1. Spread this smart narrative/message that the groundwater lacks iron and hence people should only use bottled water for drinking purposes.
  2. Invested money in building all giant water tanks, transportation, distribution infrastructure etc

Today, the problem of groundwater has been fixed for 126 million people without spreading the s**tstorm.

This means whether we accept this or not - if we scroll through the pages of History - that’s how we have fixed most of humanity’s crises!

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This book goes in-depth about human psychology, why most people don’t take climate change seriously, and what can be done to bring about the change.

Here is a link to an excerpt from the book. These 2 quotes from it answer the question about the alarmism vs hopium debate.

We can actually see the truth in the above points the author has conveyed, as seen in this recent article :

So, what might actually work? Probably these approaches:

  1. Top-down – Communicate with indisputable proof to individuals in power (public figures, policymakers, investors, etc.) that climate change is poised to result in catastrophic outcomes, spanning from personal to global scales. And the most effective course of action is to endorse climate-positive lifestyles, policies, and investments.

  2. Bottom-up – Empower community leaders to effectively persuade and motivate citizens to initiate climate-positive actions. One of these actions could involve engaging in climate activism. If this movement gains enough momentum, our chances of solving the climate crisis might increase.

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Will our cities be habitable till the end of times?

not sure if this might work… I personally struggle with this as a means to spark conversation/action mostly because paralysis, resignation and a not-my-but-future-problem attitude.

Thanks for sharing Lefteri’s article - honest and moving!

If you have noticed all the extreme weather events around the world recently, next year is going to be horrendous!

How should one prepare? What’s the long-term survival strategy? Is there one?

Can we at least in pockets/isolation aim for true self-sustainability? Is that even possible?

I guess we have no option but to keep trying. We know of at least one instance where it worked (@knadh/@NithinKamath ). We can only hope for a miracle where this repeats a few million times over with others who can make a big impact.

I fear that humanity (and other species along with us) will, unfortunately, succumb to a very high-stakes prisoner’s dilemma situation. While people who can steer the world in the right direction fail the marshmallow test at a planetary scale, others in their inner circles, who can truly influence them, choose to erect a mental shield termed ‘Somebody Else’s Problem.’

(Here’s AI explaining all the analogies - Climate Inaction and Dilemma)

Unfortunately, I haven’t had any opportunity to interact with individuals in power. All my peers are in their early to mid-20s, trying to put together their lives and enjoying it while it lasts, as the world around us crumbles economically, sociologically, and ecologically. It is very understandable why this generation chooses to immerse themselves in the digital realm.

I am personally in it only to keep my conscience clean. I want to be answerable to my nephews and nieces when they ask what I did when I had the chance. I believe that time is fast approaching.

“Between 2018 and 2021, the population fell by 10 billion, or around 90 per cent”


“5.75 billion sunflower sea stars died over the span of three years, a 94 percent global decline”


“…scientists had estimated that 1.25 billion animals had been killed in New South Wales and Victoria alone”


“More than 1 billion marine animals along Canada’s Pacific coast are likely to have died from last week’s record heatwave”

“North America’s breeding adult birds had declined by 30 percent since 1970, a loss of nearly 3 billion birds”

“By the end of this century, an estimated 3 to 6 billion individuals—approximately one-third to one-half of the global population—might find themselves confined beyond the livable region”

One book that helped me encourage my friends to open up and change their outlook with respect to the climate crisis is this –

Hopefully, it will be useful in the next discussion you have with people in power. Our lives do truly depend on it!

This quote and comic might help get the point across too.

In general, mainstream climate projections from the past have turned out to have erred on the conservative side; the reality has been considerably worse. So not much hope in this latest piece by Monbiot; what hell is in store for us in the future?

We are approaching the peak!