Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Dirty Secret of Catastrophism Exposed

If you are a reader of this blog, you may have been wondering what fun is there in writing every day about catastrophes to come: peak oil, abrupt climate change, mega financial collapses, etc.  Why would anyone want to engage in that? Isn't that a lot of stress?

Good questions; and I think I can confess to you our (the catastrophists') dirty secret. First of all, you surely noticed that most catastrophists, though not all of them, are male. So, being one of them, I can tell you that it is all a trick to seduce women. It works like this: first, we convince our female target that the world is going to end soon. Then, why should she oppose having a little fun with us before it is too late? Simple, isn't it? But, before you think ill of me, let me also tell you that, a) I never tried that, b) it never works, and c) the lady is normally so stressed by the news of the impending doom that she fails to provide her best performance. (*)

That's a joke (of course!!). It came to my mind while reading some recent news about Guy McPherson, the main proponent of the idea of the "Near Term Human Extinction" (NTE), who has been accused of being a sex predator for having abused of a follower of his, a woman. About this story, let me say first that I stand by the rule that everyone should be assumed to be innocent unless proven guilty. Then, I can tell you that I see the near-term extinction of humankind as not impossible, although unlikely. This said, I think it is interesting to examine this story in some detail.

First of all, the row that erupted among the NTE followers was truly amazing for its verbal violence. Some people turned on Guy McPherson with a glee and a vehemence that I can only understand as the result of deep grudges that existed well before the story became known. McPherson's own defense, then, was weak and probably counterproductive. He didn't deny the accusations against him, rather, he erased his facebook page as if he was ashamed of something. Then, he vaguely spoke of "trolls" and "the deep state" having framed him and that surely didn't strengthen his position.

Clearly, there was a lot of stress to be vented out in the NTE group. Not surprising: if you go around telling people that humankind will go extinct in a few decades at most, it has got to have some effect on your nerves. One of the reactions to such a situation is for people to find some solace in being together with other people who share the same ideas. It is human but, in the case of the NTE group, it seems to have taken a certain "cultic" aspect. At least, I noticed that, in many cases, NTE-oriented people tend to close all arguments with the statement that "Dr. McPherson said so". That doesn't mean that the NTE idea has generated a suicide cult or something like that; it is just that a strong reliance on a charismatic leader it is typical of these cases. And, not rarely, cult leaders tend to misbehave in various ways, even though we have no proof that Guy McPherson did.

Within some limits, all of us, the catastrophists, may fall into the "cultic" trap and form tight groups of like-minded people. I notice it with what I write on this blog. Although I believe that our civilization is going to start declining in the near future (see my work on the "Seneca Effect"), I am far from being a hardcore doomer and sometimes I try to say that things are not so bad as some people say. In that case, I am often heavily criticized, apparently for denying the core ideas of the group (the cult). This effect is especially strong when I argue that renewable energy in the form of PV and wind can help us mitigate the unavoidable future decline. Some people seem to take this position as a personal insult and react consequently.

Again, it is understandable: for some people, it is less stressful to remain inside a group of like-minded people than venturing outside it. Yet, this is not good for one's mental health. We are not necessarily doomed and we can still do something and help others to mitigate the effects of the future decline. For this, we don't need to retreat into a cult (**).

(*) It is a version of the joke of the excuses of the lazy schoolboy for not having done his homework. It was because, a) he lost it, b) his dog ate it; and, b) he didn’t know it was assigned. (h/t Dmitry Orlov)

(**) An earlier version of this post included a video clip of the Beatles singing "A Little Help from My Friends". Some people overinterpreted it as if I was advocating the use of drugs to reduce the stress from catastrophism. Noting that the strongest drug I use is an occasional glass of Chianti wine, I thought it was better to remove the clip, just to avoid misunderstandings


  1. Actually UGO, if you go read the comments section at NBL, there are a fair number of female commenters. Much more than any other peakoil, doomer, collapse type blogs comments section. Orlov has a fair number of women commenters too.

    Most humans have a hard time with the idea of human extinction period. Any time for any reason. Not just Human extinction, but bad tidings in general. There is a psychological/evolutionary explanation for this.

    Your brain won't allow you to believe the apocalypse could actually happen

    "Basically, human optimism is a neurological bug that prevents us from remembering undesirable information about our odds of dying or being hurt. And that's why nobody ever believes the apocalypse is going to happen to them.

    There is one fascinating exception to this rule, though. As the researchers note, the only people who consistently offer accurate estimates of bad things happening to them are clinically depressed."

    1. Yes, I said "most catastrophists", and I think it is correct. But it is also true that there is a fair number of women in this area. One thing I notice, however, it is how difficult it is to balance the speakers in terms of gender when you organize a conference on catastrophistic matters

    2. Most of the women I know who are cognizant of our situation are busy working to mitigate it. Many have also, in Greer's pithy words, collapsed early and avoided the rush, and so have little spare time or money for conferences.

  2. When I first learnt of Guy's theory I asked him why the planet did not warm catastrophically previously before we humans released all the heat reflecting pollutants into the atmosphere. He did not seem to have a good answer.

  3. In my opinion this is just a form of denial for the somewhat more cognizant: "Yes, humanity is facing major problems in the near future, but it will all end soon so we don't have to deal with it"

    1. Yes; since we all need to believe in something, and given the scale of the problem, I believe I will have another glass of homemade cider.

    2. Well said.
      Your insight on the doomer mentality should be widely propagated in my view.


  4. I find myself dealing mostly with people who think everything is fine, insofar as they think at all. Throw the plastic into the sea and look how cute it is when it floats!

    Then I visit places where people are much more aware.

    But sometimes I get a feeling that there too, a lot of people like to be onlookers: "the world's going up in flames, I just love watching all those people who say it isn't burn!"

    Maybe they don't actually throw plastic bags into the sea, but they are not all that much more helpful.

    1. Yes, doomers have sometimes that nasty attitude that goes "we know things that you mere mortals have no idea about....."

  5. We are not necessarily doomed and we can still do something and help others to mitigate the effects of the future decline.

    Yes, but the odds against "not necessarily" are lengthening by the day. The prudent course for a family or community is to prepare for doom (and rejoice if it fails to happen). Then, once prepared, help others do the same, all of which will "mitigate the effects of future decline".

    To just assume that all will be well is the height of irresponsibility, as I'm sure you would agree, but to concentrate on "doing something" and by so doing fail to prepare one's family for the future is still irresponsible, even if the doer's intentions are laudable.

  6. Doomers tend to be middling, average sorts. I include myself.

    That's not an insult! The top people cannot see anything. They are swimming in untold millions and billions in money. Everything is just fine, thank you very much!

    Meanwhile the poor are too busy struggling every day to survive.

    We are cursed to see things, but not to be able to affect the outcome in any way. And the people who can affect the outcome all are in the political and business class, and their ideology is: full steam ahead, at all costs.

  7. I prefer "Kollapsnik" to "Catastrophist".

    Kollapsniks piled on Dr. McStinksion because he is a first class asshole, regardless of whether the accusations of abuse of women are true. His "science" is shoddy cherry picking of the work of other people, and his conclusions are drawn in advance. He's arrogant and won't brook any dissention from the Party Line on his website.

    Besides all that, he's a nihilist and misanthrope, and his website is a magnet for more of them to come together and wail in despair over the fate of humanity. It's a total sewer.

    I am reminded when Dr. McStinksion's name comes up of the Lynyrd Skynrd tune, "That Smell".

    Ooooh that smell
    Can't you smell that smell
    Ooooh that smell
    The smell of death surrounds you


    1. Not Mr. Nice Guy, indeed. :-)

    2. I am in that 'sewer', and I recognize Guy in the way you describe him, but I also know that he talks about a topic he knows about a lot as a conservation biologist. His conclusions may be drawn in advance, but what I see in general is that every time there is an update to climate-related trends, they are always invariably either occurring faster or far worse than expected. I have a feeling that in the not so distant future, Guy may be just one voice in a wider group of people claiming the same thing: we are screwed. He just messed up the timing by coming out earlier. I recently listened to an interview with Paul R. Ehrlich, where he stated that at the moment there is a group of scientists coalescing into a study group on collapse, and they are preparing to come out with dire warnings too. The list of Dr. Dooms is growing by the day.

      I am no cult follower. I'm only interested in the latest info available on climate change issues. I've noticed people tend to be vitriolic in the doomist groups, and I try to keep it nice and post questions out of curiosity about what is going on in general. Sometimes, very interesting info is shared, both primary and secondary sources which I wouldn’t be able to gather myself. That bunch is so small that a lot of them know each other in person. From there, I can see how things can get very personal very quickly. They're not perfect, like the Italian Society of Physics, who does not want to recognize climate change, isn't perfect. Who creates more damage overall though? The little people with their doomist outlook or the experts? The former are easy target, the latter offer yet another proof that human beings are bent on self-destruction via barely wishing things away.

  8. became victim of your own ideas....thaumaturgy....

    1. Anon
      Thanks for the reminder. I am glad the essay is still available, but, goodness, was it as long ago as that?



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)