Collapse is an option

Is collapse an option? Can professionals in sustainability management, policy and research – myself included – continue to work with the assumption or hope that we can slow down climate change or respond to it sufficiently to sustain our civilisation?

Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos

“Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos” is a very sobering book. Where are we after 125 years of climate science? The evidence suggests that we are not going to make it. The scientists have failed to convince us. We choose to ‘save’ the industrial civilisation by pursuing the growth of consumption of materials and energy. Politicians have failed us. The system is no longer fit for purpose. The stories did not stick. Climate change communication has not resulted in the changes that we all need to make. Right now, we are driving ourselves over a cliff. Now it is too late.


The idea that societies around the world could collapse in the coming years is now widespread. Hints of the end of this world are appearing everywhere. A growing number of scientists now consider that the most likely outcome of climate change is a global societal collapse. We are now beyond a number of cascading tipping points, and more will follow. So now we must prepare for societal breakdown and ultimately collapse. The death of civilisation. System collapse. The is now an academic stream about this, named ‘collapsology’.


The book analyses the cause. The science of global warming has failed spectacularly to emotionally connect with much of society, particularly those in the most powerful positions – rendering policymakers ineffective despite repeated warnings. Why did scientists fail to convince? The problem is science itself. It is not absolute enough in its analysis. Scientific and academic texts are governed by the need for precision, by appeals to reason rather than emotion. They did not include philosophers, experts in precaution, ethicists, systems thinkers, social scientists and writers of imaginative fiction concerning the future. Classic storytelling.

Why II

The ideology of e-s-c-a-p-e, which comprises our assumptions of, or beliefs in, the following: Entitlement, Surety (which is another word for certainty), Control, Autonomy, Progress, and Exceptionalism. Disconnection from nature.The generalised belief that competition rather than cooperation is the natural condition for humanity. Being techno-optimistic, the delusion that with our brilliance, ingenuity, and technology, we can control our environment. There is also a system of denial. There is a fear of dependence. Climate psychology. We are liable to feel not just grief and anger but guilt and fear, perhaps depression too. Death at this scale is hard to contemplate. We are not able to conceive our own destruction and possible extinction. And then there is institutional self-interest. You do not win votes with this message. It is bad for our current economic system. GDP becomes a laughable concept. These personal and institutional factors mean that environmental professionals may be some of the slowest to process the implications of the latest climate information.

In the meantime

  • That report of sub-sea permafrost destabilisation in the East Siberian Arctic sea shelf, the latest unprecedented temperatures in the Arctic and the recent data on non-linear rises in high-atmosphere methane levels combine to make it feel like we might be about to play Russian roulette with the entire human race.
  • Seventeen of the eighteen warmest years in the 136-year record up to 2018 have all occurred since 2001.
  • The IPCC has been found to have under-predicted sea-level rise as part of its general ‘understatement of existential climate risk’. The rates of sea-level rise suggest they may soon become exponential.
  • Already we see impacts on storm, drought and flood frequency and strength due to a change in the balance of the thermal heat in the oceans and atmosphere,
  • The models today suggest an increase in storm number and strength.
  • The models predict a decline of normal agriculture, including the compromising of mass production of grains in the northern hemisphere and intermittent disruption to rice production in the tropics.
  • The loss of coral and the acidification of the seas are predicted to reduce fishery productivity by more than half.
  • About half of all plant and animal species in the world’s most biodiverse places are at risk of extinction due to climate change.
  • It is unlikely we will keep within the carbon limit.
  • Some experts have argued for more work on removing carbon from the atmosphere with machines. Unfortunately, the current technology needs to be scaled up by a factor of two million within two years, all powered by renewables, alongside massive emissions cuts, to reduce the amount of heating already locked into the system.
  • The current boom in sport utility vehicle (SUV) sales, obliterating the emissions savings due to the electrification of transport.

The consequence

Disruptive impacts from climate change are now inevitable. The evidence is mounting that the effects will be catastrophic to our livelihoods and the societies that we live in. Our norms of behaviour, which we call our ‘civilisation’, may also degrade. Disruptions will include increased levels of malnutrition, disease, civil conflict and war – and will not spare affluent nations. Starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war will start to impact us all and will no longer be abstract concepts. With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend on your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go. You will fear being violently killed before starving to death. Considering a situation where the publishers of this book will no longer exist, the electricity to read its outputs won’t exist, and a profession to educate won’t exist. 

Explore collapse

If we allow ourselves to accept that a climate-induced form of economic and societal collapse is now likely, then we can begin to explore the nature and likelihood of that collapse. What are the norms and behaviours that human societies will wish to maintain as they seek to survive? How do we keep what we really want to keep? What do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?’ What can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies? With what and with whom can we make peace as we face our shared mortality? The 4Rs. Resilience, Relinquishment, Restoration and Reconciliation. Or COSMOS. Compassion, Openness, Serenity, Mutuality, Oneness and Solidarity So far, there are four types of responses (romantic, revolutionary, rationalist, reactionary) to climate change. Read “Ministry for the future” . A combination of all of those (on steroids).


There is no map. We are maplessness. We cannot rely on previous’ perceived certainties’ – including our stories of progress, meaning, purpose and identity. Within our modern cultures, we have also been schooled to feel fearful of not knowing. We grasp for ‘correct’ answers rather than allowing for more ‘not knowing’ and more ‘maplessness’.


The solutions the book suggests are mediation, deep listening, death cafes, life-sustaining systems and practices, a shift in consciousness, trusting GAIA, indigenous communities, seeing with new eyes, active hope, leadership, sense-making, collaboration, conversation, education, experimentation, attention, localisation, decentralisation, simplification, community-supported agriculture, energy democracy, cooperatives, bartering, local currency, credit commons, transition networks, hyperlocal resilience, etc.

Wake up call

If anything, the book is a wake-up call. It is an academic book, so the storytelling leaves much to be desired. In some ways, this book reminds me of the Area Partnership days, the credit unions, energy and food-independent communities and creating local currency. All initiatives in Ireland. Local community development as the future. Also, read “Thank you for being late“.

sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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