6 december 2020

International Scholars Warning on Societal Disruption and Collapse

University of Cumbria, Dec. 6, 2020

A public letter signed by over 250 scientists and scholars from 30 countries, calls on policy makers to engage more with the growing risk of societal disruption and collapse due to damage to the climate and environment. The letter invites focus on how to slow, prepare for, and help those already suffering from, such disruptions. The signatories are specialists in a range of subject areas that relate to this challenge, who commonly believe it is time to listen to all the scholarship on humanity’s predicament.

The referenced letter and a full list of signatories, at the moment of publication on Dec 6th 2020, follows below. In English, an edited version of the letter appears in The Guardian (Monday 7th 2020). The letter will also be published in French and the translation is here.

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Subject: Only if we discuss collapse might we prepare

As scientists and scholars from around the world, we call on policymakers to engage openly with the risk of disruption and even collapse of our societies. After five years of failing to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris Climate Accord (1), we must now face the consequences.

While bold and fair efforts to cut emissions and naturally drawdown carbon are essential, researchers in many areas now consider societal collapse to be a credible scenario this century (2a & 2c). A range of views exist on the location, extent, timing, permanence and cause of such disruptions; but the way modern societies exploit people and nature is a common concern (3a & 3b).

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

Some armed services already see collapse as an important scenario, requiring planning (4a and 4b). Surveys show many people now anticipate societal collapse (5). Sadly that is already the experience or memory of many communities in the Global South (6). However, the topic is not well reported in the media, and mostly absent from civil society and politics.

When potential collapse is covered by the media, it typically cites people who condemn discussion of the topic. Ill-informed speculations, such as on foreign misinformation campaigns, or impacts on mental health and motivation, will not support serious discussion (7). Rather, such claims risk betraying the thousands of activists and community leaders whose anticipation of collapse is part of their motivation to push for change on climate, ecology, and social justice.

People who care about environmental and humanitarian issues should not be discouraged from discussing the risks of societal disruption or collapse. That could risk agendas being driven by people with less commitment to such values.

Some of us believe that a transition to a new form of society may be possible. That will involve bold action to reduce damage to the climate, nature and other people, including preparations for major 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 (8). It is time to invite each other into difficult conversations, so we can reduce our complicity in the harm, and be creative to make the best of a turbulent future (9).

Signed, in a personal capacity, by: Professor Gesa Weyhenmeyer, Uppsala University; Professor Will Steffen, Australian National University; Professor Kai Chan, Lead Author, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services; Professor Marjolein Visser, Université Libre de Bruxelles; Professor Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights; Professor Yin Paradies, Deakin University; Professor Saskia Sassen, Columbia University; Dr Ye Tao, Harvard University; Professor Aled Jones, Anglia Ruskin University; Professor Joy Carter, Winchester University; Professor Bobby Banerjee, University of London; Professor Lummina Horlings, University of Groningen; Professor Pritam Singh, University of Oxford; Professor Rupert Read, University of East Anglia; Dr. Peter Kalmus, Climate Scientist; Dr. Malika Virah-Sawmy, Humboldt Universitat zu Berlin; Dr. Yves Cochet, Former Minister of the Environment (France); Dr. Marie-Claire Pierret, University of Strasbourg; Dr. Wolfgang Knorr, Lund University; The Very Reverend Dr. Frances Ward, St Michael's Church; Dr. Alessia Lo Porto-Lefebure, School of Public Health (France); Dr. Emmanuel Prados, INRIA; Dr. Pablo Servigne, Author; Dr. Gail Bradbrook, Extinction Rebellion.

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