Tikkun Magazine

Hope Requires Fighting the Hope Industry

Illustration of huge household fan blowing on small hillside fans.

Technological innovations will never solve the climate crisis. What’s needed is a radical transformation of our energy-guzzling economy. Illustration by Joren Cull. Credit: Joren Cull (jorenmania.com).

Hope is crucial to most political activism, but when the situation is dire, watch out for the “hope industry.” It’s made up of institutions and people who send out messages of false hope, stoking collective ignorance, soothing consumers’ consciences, and revving up the climate change engine.

In the age of climate change, false hope is everywhere. It takes two main forms: denial and necessary illusions.

The denial message is spouted and funded by the core of the U.S. hope industry: the big energy companies and the Republican Party. Some peddlers of denial say climate change is not happening. Others acknowledge its existence but say humans did not cause it. And yet others within the corporate hope industry say climate change is real but deny its gravity, telling us that smart companies can solve the problem. Hey, no worries. Because the problem doesn’t exist or will resolve itself.

According to polls, about 40 percent of Americans buy into this corporate false hope. The mass denial is devastating to real hope.

Some liberals tend to believe that the problem can be solved within the existing economic and political system. The liberal false hope is that conventional politics can deal with the problem—or that personal changes in lifestyle (recycling, driving hybrids, going to farmer markets) will do the trick. Along with liberal citizens, self-proclaimed “environmentally friendly” companies—whether Exxon and Chevron or Bank of America and McDonalds—promote this denial. Hope-peddling corporations make money off their “greenwashing,” a word invented to describe the acts of companies that lie to persuade consumers that their products are environmentally safe. This goes beyond “clean coal” companies and oil corporations fracking for natural gas. A 2010 report called “The Sins of Greenwashing: Home and Family Edition” conducted by the environmental marketing agency TerraChoice showed that 95 percent of consumer products claiming to be green were lying or obfuscating in some way, and the annual Greenwash Academy Awards have exposed some of the worst offenders. Whole industries profit deceitfully on individuals’ efforts to live green.

False hope also takes the form of “necessary illusions”—corporate-manufactured messages that justify corporate rule. Noam Chomsky has identified several of the necessary illusions in circulation within our society: the virtues of the market, the benign invisible hand of capitalism, the morality of American militarism, and American exceptionalism.


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Charles Derber, professor of sociology at Boston College, is the author, among many books, of Greed to Green, Capitalism, and Sociopathic Society.

Source Citation

Derber, Charles. 2015. Hope Requires Fighting the Hope Industry. Tikkun. 30(2): 22.

tags: Climate Change, Environment, Environmental Activism, Global Capitalism