This month I finished Michael E. Mann’s The New Climate War, a treatise on where we’re at with climate change. After my post on climate change a handful of people mentioned it and the book does a fantastic job at opening your eyes to the deflection tactics and information warfare that special interest groups (read, lobbyists) use to get you to talk about something other than their clients.

I could go on forever about ways this gross incentive system is destroying the world, but what I found most interesting about Mann’s book were the recurring cast of characters in the Climate Change disaster:

  • Activists - engaged and informed people, possibly with a plan of action
  • Inactivists - unengaged people, possibly adversarial
  • Technologists - people who (naively?) think we’ll solve the issue with technology

Mann then described in detail three more characters and how they —despite their best efforts— impede progress:

  • Denialists - people who downplay the issue and say “it’s not a big deal”.
  • Alarmists - people constantly sounding an alarm, to susceptible pile-on issues.
  • Doomists - people who go to an extreme — beyond the scientific consensus — decrying “It’s too late, we’re doomed.”

Denialists tend to be corporate shills, in for personal benefit. Alarmists tend to be somewhat correct, but ineffective in their constant foreboding. And Doomists, so concerned they’ve lost hope. All common characters, but it’s the Doomist, Mann cautions, that’s working against themselves:

By exceeding the consensus expert science, whilst claiming to be based on it, doomism feeds denialists by discrediting real science and it sets followers up for disillusion.

I hadn’t fully considered that doomism can have a net-negative effect on the cause they care so deeply about. Their doom disillusions followers, their doom discredits reality. As I thought further, my brain identified some recent interactions with Doomists in my own life; at that moment the scales fell off my eyes.

Seeing this cast of characters arrayed on the same stage struck me in a way I haven’t felt in a long time. I started time-traveling through my life seeing these characters pop up again and again; COVID-19, gun control, startups, websites, web apps, accessibility, politics, evangelicalism, non-evangelicalism, neighbors, school boards, clubs, the late 90s Houston punk rock scene, and so on. These are characters in any collection of people bound by common interest trying to enact social change.

I’ve seen the serpent-tongued Denialist, the Alarmist clanging like a gong while no one listens, the inconsolable Doomist, the Dunning-Kruger empowered Technologist, the obstinate Inactivist, the steady but exhausted Activist…

…I’ve seen these characters. I’ve been these characters! I am these characters?!