Catastrophe – Collapse – Apology – Words missing from the IPCC report

Today in their report, the IPCC have stated we have twenty years before a global disaster is upon us, if we don’t do the impossible right now, including mass deployment of carbon removal from atmosphere using tech not yet invented. In communicating the impacts of 1.5 degree warming and mentioning a date for that impact that is in our lifetimes, the IPCC have come a long way from their past reports, which mentioned only possibilities by a futuristic-sounding 2100.Capture

In a recent talk in Cumbria University, I explained the role of the IPCC in misguiding myself and fellow professionals in the sustainability field over the past decade through grossly downplaying of the risks. The report makes predictions on sealevel and sea ice that seem woefully cautious in comparison to current measurements of change, so probably reflect their internal processes of consensus, which were trashed in a major study earlier this year.

Over past decades those who think things are worse than what the IPCC were saying have been proved right. If that holds true now, then its time more of us started thinking, feeling and discussing our way through the idea of a near term social collapse due to climate change.

In complex systems people’s choice of time horizons for future events is as much a reflection of how they want to feel and how they want to communicate as it is an actual forecast. Especially so when combining so many different models on so many different ecosystem impacts and feedbacks. The 2040 date feels a bit futuristic, doesn’t it? The choice of a year with a zero in the end suggests its not an actual forecast, but reflects how people feel comfortable talking about this topic in public and to policy makers.

Some words missing from the IPCC SR 15 summary for policymakers are: Catastrophe, Collapse, Starvation, Emergency, Apology, Sorry.

So what to do? Lots of things! But here are a few:

  • Seed clouds in the Artic and Antarctic at scale immediately and research the impacts.
  • Research how else to stop methane escaping the artic shelf off Siberia and try it
  • Global carbon tax embedded in trade agreements right now
  • Implement means of drawing down carbon from atmosphere by restoring and growing natural carbon sinks, including transformation of modern agriculture
  • Explore how to prepare for collapse locally and globally within a Deep Adaptation framing, which doesn’t assume or try to preserve our current ideas of development and progress. This is in itself a huge agenda, involving everyone, and seriously under-discussed because it has hitherto been taboo.
  • Do not dismiss ideas on what to do now because they do not fit with your story of self or reality which gives you a sense of confidence or calm. Our attachment to our stories is what got us into this mess in the first place.
  • Look within, at what you most value, as if these are our last years on Earth and we won’t succeed in achieving collective goals on development or environment. That means deeply adapting ourselves to collapse and it’s lessons for humanity and self.

That last one is important because nothing is now likely to work in preventing a near term social collapse due to climate change. But it is also important because it always was important. Afterall, why are we here!?

Here are a couple interesting quotes in the media:

“The report, issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders, describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population” New York Times.

Prof Arthur Petersen, from University College London and a former IPCC member.
“I am relatively sceptical that we can meet 1.5C, even with an overshoot. Scientists can dream up that is feasible, but it’s a pipedream.” BBC

If you could work professionally on this topic then consider the Deep Adaptation LinkedIn Group.


27 thoughts on “Catastrophe – Collapse – Apology – Words missing from the IPCC report”

  1. Thanks for this timely reminder that busyness a usual is misplaced! A couple of weeks ago we discussed the pitfalls of Anthropocentrism in a workshop in Auckland Yes, societies rapidly need to shift gears and prepare for a much reduced human presence on this planet. Our current social operating systems are incapable of adapting fast enough. The disconnect between the state of the planetary ecosystem and human societies can also be seen in the worsening mental health statistics in various geographies and in the level of pathologisation of individuals who refuse to go along with the demands of the social norms of modern “civilisation”

  2. I love the way you make the point that the inevitability of near-term collapse is not a reason for inaction. I highly recommend the list at the end of Charles Eisenstein’s new book, Climate: A New Story. Nothing he says is any less possible than carbon capture and storage technology. I also recommend calling out the biggest elephant in the room: militarization.

  3. I agree with your concern but your “solutions” won’t work. We need to reduce the size of the economy and the population. The simplest method would be to increase the interest rate until the economy begins to contract, and implement a birth lottery to drive the population down quickly. It’s too late for a one child policy.

    1. Education and empowerment of women works. Trying to accomplish birth rate reduction by force is fascistic and not likely to work as well as empowerment.

      BTW, China abandoned it’s effective one child policy (yes, it was fascistic, but they made it work) three years ago. Now China is *encouraging* more breeding! The leadership of that country is addicted to the capitalist/consumer economic model. Totally insane.

      1. It’s not only consumerism there, a huge concern for China is the massive bulge of elderly population relative to the younger generation left to care for them, especially since they don’t have the tradition of care outside the family. They are panicking at the reality of often four grandparents to one couple, both of whom work outside the home, and no idea what to do when those grandparents can no longer take care of themselves. Not that abandoning the one-child policy is a good solution. This is a problem all developed societies will soon face (Japan is facing it already). We need fresh thinking about eldercare. Of course, if society collapses, most of those elders will die off quickly anyway from infectious disease or chronic diseases they can no longer get medications and medical care for. Otherwise it’s Soylent Green.

    2. Oh I think driving down the population won’t be difficult now. Warming planet, more weather related disasters, loss of ability to grow enough grain, as well as social unrest as all this unfolds will cut population numbers with no problem.

  4. Perhaps those missing words will be included in the next IPCC Report along with We Blew It! Not being a member of the intelligentsia doesn’t preclude me from reading the writing on our collapsing concrete wall. I read that we’re rightly fcuked and probably doomed. But of course, some are more equal than others when it comes to handling and down-loading the facts and truth of the matter that is affecting, and will indeed impact all including the innocent. It took some time but I now really do appreciate those who also Know, coming out to the rest of humanity with their ‘graffiti’ on the Wall.

  5. I think any and all ideas are to be tried despite the tipping points most likely reached. In the week after the report came out, I see business as usual. The US predictably will do nothing because its supreme leader is a scientific moron. Followed by the UK, and most likely the rest of the world, global governments are not willing to consider changes to the fossil fuel driven economies needed to sustain life on the planet. Locally in rural America where I live there is but a peep. Local politicans talk about jobs and a green economy with no real technical knowledge on how to achieve this. There is a roadmap bill called the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act in the US congress that outlines an end result of being fossil fuel free by 2035, however, it is clear that implementation will be too little too late if at all. Thank You for all that you do Dr. Bedell. If only politicans were scientists like you. What a pipe dream.
    Sandy Schoelles Environmental Coffee House FB, YT, Twitter

  6. I have been thinking about the topic of societal collapse for several years, and this train of thought accelerated in the run-up to the (USA) 2016 elections. In part, that was because my partner at the time was a Donald Trump supporter, which seemed odd to me because my partner was also a blue-collar black man, not exactly the type of person Trump valued much. My partner said that he wanted Trump to win because America needed to collapse. In his opinion, our political and economic systems are too corrupt to fix, they need to be torn down altogether (the reality of climate change was not even considered). My reply was that, while that might work well for him, a large, physically powerful male with fighting and shooting skills, and mechanical repair skills that would still be in demand, it wouldn’t work out so well for me, a middle aged female academic librarian, who would find myself unemployed and unable to defend myself should law and order collapse. Nor would it work out well for anyone with disabilities, the elderly, etc.

    I recall how after Hurricane Sandy, when electric service was out for days (or for some, weeks) and gasoline was in short supply, the police had to station cars at local gas stations to keep violence from breaking out. And that was just due to the temporary disruption from one hurricane! Stretch that into months, let law enforcement collapse, add serious food shortages, and it’s not hard to see how a major societal collapse would play out. Reality is that many of us, who are no longer young, possibly in poor health, lacking large material and weapon stockpiles and a large clan to help protect them, would simply end up as victims of those stronger than us. (If you’re expecting some kind of altruistic community coming together, keep dreaming. Most people will concern themselves only with their own kin and loved ones, and to Hell with everyone else. We’ve already seen hints of that). Add in medication shortages and breakdowns in medical care, and the reality of societal collapse WILL be mass death. Individuals can try to figure out how they might attempt to avoid being one of the dead, but the reality for many of us, especially if we are dependent on medications or anything that requires electricity, is that it will be inevitable. When food gets scarce, the weak become victims, period. And the population densities of most metro areas guarantee severe food shortages if fossil-fuel dependent transportation networks break down, or there are widespread crop failures.

    If you really want to convey to people what we’re facing, tell them that 7 billion humans is an unsustainable number, and within 20-50 years max, two-thirds of them will be dead, and that includes in developed countries. If your grandmother needs heart medicine, she will die. If your son is diabetic, he will die. If you are alone and poor, you will die. When we are talking about major societal collapse of societies dependent on technology, mass food production, and advanced manufacturing, we are talking about the death of billions of people. Perhaps not quite extinction, but a drastic drop in numbers, followed (if previous examples like the fall of the Roman Empire give us any indication) by a long “dark age” in which many of our technological achievements will be lost, likely along with many of our societal achievements such as democracy and human rights. In times of scarcity, the strong survive and dominate the weak. Women do not fare well, especially since lacking contraception, they will again become baby factories. I’m glad I’m too old to worry about that problem. This is why many people don’t take societal collapse seriously — because for many of us, all we can hope for in such a scenario is that our deaths will be quick.

    1. I would castigate you as a “doomer” but unfortunately I think much of what you predict is accurate for most of humanity. If you want to learn about the mechanics of collapse of the global economy you might like If you want a somewhat more hopeful view of the deglobalization/localization of economic systems, try and if you’re already aware of either or both, my apology. Perhaps other readers will find them helpful.

      As a librarian, perhaps you’d like a somewhat obscure little book that ties energy use and inequity together:

      1. Thanks! I will check out those sources. I’m new to researching this topic, having just stumbled across Dr. Bedell’s Deep Adaptation paper from a reference in another essay yesterday, so I appreciate the further info.

  7. I have come by way of the recent MinnPost piece and have done nothing for the past few days but devour links and research. Who knew that things could get better for all of us once we gave up all hope. Maybe that’s a little ripe but I for one find the possibilities of deep adaptation far more workable than the gear-less despair I’ve felt for the past few years in the acid tide of report after report after report. Collapse is the lengthening shadow of the IPCC report, let’s keep at ’em to grow some untheoretical marbles. Me, I’m looking at the way forward like an addict reaching for a white chip. Dark Mountain is the tribe I’ve been speaking to in the dark for years. Now for that social dreaming …

  8. Hi Jem, I am appreciative of your work, sent to me by Charles Hugh Smith (Of Two Minds blog). I see that you seek a journal which may be open to publishing your paper. Mother Pelican might be that.
    Here is contact info for the editor:
    Luis T. Gutiérrez
    Mother Pelican Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability
    Your conclusion that collapse of the current global societal structure is inevitable is the same conclusion I have reached. I am a family Doctor in public health in Austin, Texas. I have sort of given up on people adapting ahead of the crisis, or really being able to adapt in the crisis. Totalitarian regimes are the historical rule in crisis, as is war, but we can’t afford war this time.
    I see global elites in our western culture destroying demand for fossil fuels in Irak and Libya, in order to keep supplies coming to the west. It delays the inevitable.
    I bike commute, grow vegetables, use heat and AC as little as possible, and have long sought an area to have a “dacha” with a large garden. That is now found, but I will drive 2 hours each way, burning gasoline, until that is not an option. Weekend project. I bike to work.
    Here is the garden gate to my blog, the “Liberty Garden” succession-rotation gardening protocols for climate zone 8a.

  9. Question for everybody– assuming such a collapse does come to pass, what sort of skills/occupations would be useful enough to have value after the collapse? Especially if you’re too old for heavy manual labor? My current occupation would be entirely useless without reliable electricity and the internet. I am not a spiritual person and really couldn’t care less about the spiritual side, I’m only interested in practical adaptation. What occupations do you think a person could learn now that would serve them well in adapting?

      1. Too old and out of shape for heavy work like farming. My back will no longer take weeding even a small garden. I’m thinking of learning how to sew, to make and alter clothes. If we can’t get cheap clothes from China, people will have to make their own or alter whatever they can find. At least that would be a useful skill. Could be a possible small business now, too, and the startup costs are low.

      2. Maybe raising chickens for fresh eggs, and growing areas where the chickens can graze, different fenced areas. that makes food that is easy to trade.

    1. Rather than answering your question (“what occupations” will serve well?) directly, a related question might be: What skills will be needed for adaptation? The Transition Towns movement has offered tentative answers, such as the list of “Reskilling Ideas” at (scroll down the page).
      Another approach, listing what might be termed “soft skills”, can be seen at

    2. Occupations that benefit others. I foresee what might be called “tribes” coming out of all this. A friend said to me a few years ago that you should have skills that are beneficial to The Group(or tribe, if you will). This makes you an asset and more likely to be protected.
      To be very honest, I think if you have survival gear and training and perhaps medicines, you’re going to be more valuable to a group than most people.

    3. Deep Adaptation to me indicates not just adaptation of societies, communities, tribes, whatever you want to call it, but also of oneself.
      As a librarian your skill would be information management. With energy off-line most of the time, old-fashioned books and writing will be back in vogue, albeit with limited paper. The mental organisational and memory skills of librarians and writers are formidable I have found.
      As more and more people realise the need for re-skilling, they are going to want to acquire information. It might be something simple like on how to make ropes, or make meals out of dandelions. Someone who has access to that information, or rather, knowledge of where to access it, could well become an important member of that tribe.

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