A couple of days ago, a letter was signed by a group of academics suggesting that
People who care about environmental and humanitarian issues should not be discouraged from discussing the risks of societal disruption or collapse.
I largely agree with this and it is certainly an improvement on suggestions that climate-induced societal collapse is now inevitable in the near term. I think we should be willing to discuss worst-case scenarios so as to, ideally, avoid them.
However, as pointed out quite forcefully on Twitter, what do people mean by societal collapse? Noone really seemed able to define it. Also, in what way would the impacts of climate change lead to something that we might reasonably describe as societal collapse? If these impacts materialise, is collapse unavoidable, or can we develop strategies for dealing with it? Is the impact the same everywhere, or are some regions more/less susceptible than others?
it’s no wonder the Western anxiety about climate change is focussed on social collapse and extinction. “I think Western people sense that the entire order is changing in ways that are extremely threatening to them,”
Some regions are clearly already feeling the impact of climate change, and yet some are invoking an ill-defined future societal collapse. We don’t need, in my opinion, to use some kind of future societal collapse in order to justify climate action now. As one of Stoat’s classic posts said if you can’t imagine anything between “catastrophic” and “nothing to worry about” then you’re not thinking.
I do think it’s worth considering some of the more extreme outcomes, but I also think we should be clear that these are worst-case scenarios, rather than outcomes that are likely. I also think that we should be careful of creating narratives that appeal to the western world’s anxieties about the future and, potentially, ignoring that climate change is already negatively impacting many parts of the world.
To be fair, this is a complex issue, so am willing to be convinced otherwise, but I do think that we should treat catastrophic narratives with caution.