Nobody is Wrong in Climate Change’s Doom Versus Hope Debate

Climate Fossil Fuels
Nobody is Wrong in Climate Change’s Doom Versus Hope Debate

The U.K.-based climate think tank Ember released its Global Electricity Review 2024 on Wednesday, and it was filled with good news. The world generated 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources last year, for one. “With record construction of solar and wind in 2023, a new era of falling fossil generation is imminent,” its authors wrote, calling 2023 a “pivot point” where power sector emissions likely peaked.

Also on Wednesday, The Guardian published a huge survey of almost 400 climate scientists from around the world, which asked them to weigh in on how much warming we are likely to see this century: 77 percent said at least 2.5 degrees Celsius, well beyond the 1.5 or 2.0 degree targets set out in the Paris Agreement, and almost none believe we could still keep 1.5 alive. The planet has already warmed at least 1.2 degrees C, and the impacts are already devastating; 2.5 degrees will be catastrophic.

Accompanying that survey was a piece that just asked how the climate scientists feel about, well, everything. The short version is that they’re not doing great! One scientist said it’s hard not to feel “hopeless and broken.” Another finds it “infuriating, distressing, overwhelming.” Another said they are happy to not have children, “knowing what the future holds.”

“We live in an age of fools,” said another, predicting “a semi-dystopian future with substantial pain and suffering for the people of the global South.”

So are we on the cusp of an energy revolution, set to remake the face of the world and end the era of fossil fuels forever, or are we facing down a century of fire and brimstone with little hope for salvation?


A long-simmering debate in climate circles centers around the utility of “doom and gloom” messaging versus hope and potential. Does saying out loud how screwed we are cause paralysis and inaction? Does lying about the grim reality cause complacency? Does it even really matter, when the global impact of personal choices pale in comparison to the heft of governments’ and major corporations’ actions?

Nobody is wrong here, really. The research on climate messaging is kind of all over the place, and honestly both versions have been tried in spades, and yet here we are. The answer is probably just personal preference: if you feel the despair of our collective failure, focus on the victories, like Ember’s claim that “A permanent decline in fossil fuel use in the power sector at a global level is now inevitable, leading to falling sector emissions.”

If you find it absurd to pretend that we’re on some glorious new track when overall emissions rose in 2023, you could listen to one scientist who told the Guardian he faces moments of “despair and guilt” regularly — but focuses on the fact that every tenth of a degree does make a difference: 2.5 degrees is awful, but 2.6 is worse.

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