The annual UN climate summit COP27 kicked off this week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with a chillingly sombre message from Secretary General Antonio Guterres: “We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, global temperatures continue to rise and our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible.”

To underscore his somber point, he added, “We’re on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”

As if that wasn’t grim enough, the UN also released a report ahead of COP27 that clearly stated that there is now “no credible way” to meet the ambitious goal of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius hold (although the 2 degree target is still within reach). This requires a radical transformation of society, says the report.

So we’re all on the Death Star right now. We’re all familiar with the exhaust port vulnerability, but nobody seems to want to fix it – and the Rebels are on their way.


UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking at the opening of COP27 on Monday, said: “We are on a highway to climate hell, with our foot still on the accelerator”.

Sean Gallup via Getty

If you think this represents a significant shift in the climate message – from optimism and hope to inevitable death and destruction – then you are not alone. The trend of climate doomerism has increased in recent years, marked by bleak prospects and general hopelessness regarding climate change news. Instead of believing we can do something to prevent climate catastrophe, Doomers believe there is no hope – especially since world leaders have shown time and time again that they would rather bow down to the fossil fuel industry.

There are even entire ecosystems of the internet dedicated to Doomerism, from Twitter communities to podcasts and even the good old blogosphere. Geoffrey McFarlen happens to be involved in all three branches. The self-proclaimed climate activist is also the founder of the eponymous blog and podcast Doomer’s Cafe. Both are intended to bring “uncomfortable truths into the realm of public discourse” when it comes to climate change, he said.

For him, there are essentially two types of conversations about climate change. First, there is the mainstream, in which right-wing conservatives deny or downplay the existence of the climate crisis and refuse to do anything; and liberals on the left say there is much cause for concern but believe this can easily be remedied with initiatives such as the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The other conversation is more somber: “A very small but growing community that recognizes that any politics that emerge from either mainstream view will inevitably lead to societal collapse and/or human extinction,” McFarlen told The Daily Beast. “These are the climate alarmists, pejoratively referred to as doomists or doomers.”

“There is no doomerism, only realism.”

— Bill McGuire, University College London

It’s easy to see why doomerism is so pervasive when it comes to the climate change discourse. Scholars have pondered the exact same issues for decades, only to see their warnings decried as a cynical political ploy to win votes for the Democrats. An industrial climate denier misinformation complex has sprung up dedicated to slandering and discrediting facts and data provided by scientists.

Now, in 2022, a whole new generation of people are growing up and seeing that no matter how hard they try and no matter how much data they provide to show that climate change is here and wreaking havoc, it’s easy for those in power doesn’t matter. And all the efforts of these leaders to show it could care is neglected.

Take the COP27 for example. Not only do many climate activists like Greta Thunberg see the conference as a cynical, virtue-signalling, greenwashing event led by wealthy nations, but the event is also steeped in hypocrisy. For example, the summit drew a lot of criticism for being sponsored by Coca-Cola – the world’s biggest polluter of plastic.

With that in mind, it makes sense that more and more people are going full Doomer. But climate scientists, standing in the filth of data telling us things are getting worse, are also among the more optimistic voices historically, emphasizing that it’s not too late for us to act. What does it mean when experts start saying the soft part out loud: We could be screwed about climate change?

They probably won’t admit it – at least not publicly. “No scientist I know wants to be labeled a doomer,” McFarlan said. Instead, most will hedge by pointing out that most of the worst problems facing the earth can be avoided by transitioning to renewable energy. But McFarlan claims they feel it, too, quietly.

In fact, the Doomer label might really just be a matter of perspective, even when it comes to issues that put us on the proverbial highway to climate hell. “There is no doomerism, only realism,” said Bill McGuire, climate scientist at University College London and author of Greenhouse Earth: A Resident’s Guide. “An increase in the global average temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius is rightly equated with the dangerous guard rail of climate change.”

Though he balks at the Doomer label, that doesn’t mean McGuire is mincing his bleak future. It might not be a full blown Doomer, but it’s certainly neighboring Doomer. “To stay below 1.5°C, emissions need to fall by 45 percent over the next seven and a half years,” he said. “That’s now virtually impossible, so the world is now facing a dangerous, pervasive climate collapse.”

Much of the Doomer discourse could also be seen as a shift from climate misinformation to another cynical way to create excuses for devastating the Earth. Because if everything is hopeless and it makes no sense why Not just keep cutting down the rainforests for cattle grazing and drilling for oil in the arctic?

“The risk is that if people really feel like there’s nothing to be done and we’re already on the “highway to hell,” then what’s the point of doing anything? Just let it all burn baby”

— Andrew Dessler, Texas A&M

This can create a feeling of complacency. It is learned helplessness in its most extreme and consequential form. Sure, it’s great for lining the pockets of fossil fuel executives — but it’s life-threatening for all of us.

“Anecdotally, I’ve noticed a pretty sharp shift in the comments I receive in response to communications on climate change, from the usual climate misinformation and trolling comments to now climate doomerism,” said Zachary Labe, a climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Program at Princeton University.

However, if you speak to a climate scientist, most of them will tell you that while things can certainly get worse, there is still a long way to go to avoid a complete and utter catastrophe. In fact, doomer messaging obscures the reality that we can do something about it — but we must all do it together. If we fall prey to doomerism, we may just let everything burn down for no good reason.

“The risk is that if people really feel like there’s nothing to be done and we’re already on the ‘highway to hell’, what’s the point of doing anything? Just let it all burn up, baby,” Andrew Dessler, director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies at Texas A&M University, told The Daily Beast. “That is clearly the risk. It’s reasonable for people to say that this kind of rhetoric doesn’t motivate people to act in a way that helps reduce emissions.”

Dessler also does not consider such a pessimistic approach to be correct. Yes, things are bad – but they’re not as bad as people necessarily make them out to be. Sure, we’re on the Highway to Hell now and the road is getting bumpy, but at least we still have our hands on the wheel.

“I’m pretty confident we’re still controlling how bad it gets,” he said. “We control whether we are on the ‘Highway to Hell’ or not. There is a lot of positive news coming out of the energy world and we just have to build on that.” How the doomerism of climate change is conquering even the scientists