• Ian Sutton

Collapse Discussion Going Mainstream

Updated: Mar 21

It is time to have these difficult conversations, so we can reduce our complicity in the harm

On 6th December 2020 the Guardian Newspaper published the following letter shown below. It was signed by over 250 scholars, scientists and faith leaders. Slowly, people seem to be waking up to the seriousness of the situation. It is possible that the COVID-19 pandemic had something to do with it. The pandemic showed that (a) we are not in control, and (b) it makes sense to listen to the scientists.

Note that these leaders have gone beyond talking about ‘global warming’ or ‘dire consequences’ or even ‘climate catastrophe’. They are talking about collapse. The church needs to be fully involved in this discussion. As part of that discussion, we need to figure out how our theology addresses this scary situation.

As scientists and scholars from around the world, we call on policymakers to engage with the risk of disruption and even collapse of societies. After five years failing to reduce emissions in line with the Paris climate accord, we must now face the consequences. While bold and fair efforts to cut emissions and naturally drawdown carbon are essential, researchers in many areas consider societal collapse a credible scenario this century. Different views exist on the location, extent, timing, permanence and cause of disruptions, but the way modern societies exploit people and nature is a common concern.

Only if policymakers begin to discuss this threat of societal collapse might we begin to reduce its likelihood, speed, severity, harm to the most vulnerable – and to nature.

Some armed services already see collapse as an important scenario. Surveys show many people now anticipate societal collapse. Sadly, that is the experience of many communities in the global south. However, it is not well reported in the media, and mostly absent from civil society and politics. People who care about environmental and humanitarian issues should not be discouraged from discussing the risks of societal disruption or collapse. Ill-informed speculations about impacts on mental health and motivation will not support serious discussion. That risks betraying thousands of activists whose anticipation of collapse is part of their motivation to push for change on climate, ecology and social justice.

Some of us believe that a transition to a new society may be possible. That will involve bold action to reduce damage to the climate, nature and society, including preparations for disruptions to everyday life. We are united in regarding efforts to suppress discussion of collapse as hindering the possibility of that transition.

We have experienced how emotionally challenging it is to recognise the damage being done, along with the growing threat to our own way of life. We also know the great sense of fellowship that can arise. It is time to have these difficult conversations, so we can reduce our complicity in the harm, and make the best of a turbulent future.

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