Type
Essay
Category
Activism @ the Margins
Environment

Prepare for collapse

Wholesale collapse of Earth’s planetary systems that sustain life as we know it is happening unevenly across the world. The poorest populations are already experiencing this. As the basic prerequisites of life – water, food and energy are becoming more contested. Political violence is on the rise. There will be no peace! The scientific evidence for climate and ecological collapse is very strong. However, it has been much too meekly expressed.

Wholesale collapse of Earth’s planetary systems that sustain life as we know it is happening unevenly across the world. The poorest populations are already experiencing this. As the basic prerequisites of life – water, food and energy are becoming more contested. Political violence is on the rise. There will be no peace! The scientific evidence for climate and ecological collapse is very strong. However, it has been much too meekly expressed.

We are currently 1 degree Celsius hotter than pre-Industrial times and this has led to global ice melting, acidified oceans, forest diebacks, droughts, massive storms, record breaking heat waves, mega-fires, mass species extinctions, sea level rise, new diseases – such as COVID-19 – and new distributions of old diseases, mass forced migration, starvation, political instability, mass killings, and the rise of authoritarian regimes. On our current trajectory we will be 3.8 degrees hotter 80 years from now. Life will be increasingly precarious for our children and grandchildren.

Even with a massive, barely imaginable economic, social and political turnaround we may at absolute best be able to limit global heating to 2 degrees. While 2 degrees is very bad, 3.8 degrees is much, much worse. Many species are already extinct, with more becoming so on a daily basis. In this scenario even human extinction is possible. Before we reach that point many human societies will be in danger of falling apart. The outcomes are likely new forms of fascism and/or violent disorder. The science says that in about 10 years many global human systems – food, finance, trade and so on will collapse leaving most people having to fend for themselves. This is already happening in some parts of the world. It is widely recognised that First Nations people and those in the global South are like sentinels for these changes – what they are experiencing now, all humans can expect to suffer eventually. As ongoing victims and survivors of colonial apocalypse, they also have a great deal to teach about what it takes to survive as functioning societies.

Collapse is coming and it will be widespread. We don’t yet know how to deal with this heartbreaking truth. If we delaying any action predicated on caring, collective responses even more people will die, more species will go extinct, and more ecosystems will be destroyed. Ideologies favouring economic ‘growth’ at any cost must be rejected, and fossil fuels kept in the ground. This will not ‘fix’ climate catastrophes, it will only give us a longer glide path to what are now inevitable collapse scenarios. It will however give us more time to adapt. Denial will exacerbate only the ultimate collapse. Currently, the urgent actions that might have given us more time are being criminally delayed. Any form of business-as-usual prolongs this delay. Merely making incremental changes such as recycling plastics will prolong this delay, and so will changing to a ‘greener’ lifestyle without mass political action.

Thinking that a miraculous new technology will save us also amounts to a delay; there is nothing at the scale required in place now or in the conceivable time frame. It is too late. We must let go of these delaying tactics, and with them our previous expectations of the future. This begins with realism and acceptance: of the no longer benign climate, the unstoppable loss of biodiversity, and especially the need for new forms of community and cooperation. We must look to the younger generations, they are the truest victims. They will lose lifetimes as well as lifestyles; and they will therefore be more likely to change their thinking to prepare for collapse and adapt. Look to your community’s history in struggle and triumph. What are your community’s strengths? Build them up. Learn to be ready. Check your local risks and future resources, food, water, energy, heat control, waste, communications.

  • What does resilience mean to you as a person and as a community? What do you want to keep?
  • What will you as a person and as a community need to relinquish to not make things even worse?
  • What needs to be restored or regenerated to reduce harms?
  • What and who needs to be reconciled? That is, to lessen conflict and suffering?1

We may fail. There is no guarantee that all of this ensures future decent lives. Part of being realistic means studying what pre-collapse breakdowns would be like. For example, food-shocks – What could that mean for your community and how could you mitigate? What are the expected heat stress issues for you and yours? Make allies, start building mutual support. Who do you let in? Who do you support?
Look to your faith, history and organisations. You are going to need to shore up the values that make us human and ensure a moral path. It is difficult to accept this. Sadness, fear, anger, grief and panic are authentic and appropriate responses. . Only if they are accepted and owned can terminal despair be countered and love and mutual support flow. Keep your humanity.

Afterword

The role of renewables (RE) in this conception of the climate tragedy is to buy time to make 2 degrees Celsius more likely than 3 or 4. This will hopefully mean less people will die, less species will go extinct, more ecosystems will recover than otherwise. But it will not avert the economic and social collapse that has already started. The decentralised potential of RE will also mean perhaps that local communities will be more able to control their energy sources and so aid their local adaptations. However, it is not a panacea. RE is dependent on industrial capacity and globally sourced extractive industries and so is itself subject to the same collapse scenarios.

Endnotes

  1. Bendall, J. (2018), ‘Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy’, in IFLAS Occasional Paper.

 

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Sam Altman has been studying and occasionally teaching about the mounting Climate Emergency - ethics, food and especially what we can learn from and with First Nations peoples as we face this ultimate test of what it means to be human.

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