Let us hail over 500 scientists and scholars for their courage on societal disruption and collapse

Like many people who pay attention to trends in the world, I want all leaders to change everything immediately to give humanity a better chance of reducing the harm that’s unfolding due to the climate and ecological crisis. Like many people with that aim, I also recognise that young people are going to live in a future that will be far more harsh and difficult than it has been for people like me.

Rather than argue for more measurement, more reform, more technology, more hope and heroes, I think a more useful focus in solidarity with young people is to work for more action on adapting to the current and future disruptions. That includes having really difficult conversations about the situation and the options we are faced with (and learning how to have those discussions generatively, as we explored in a new paper).

I am grateful that many more scientists and scholars share this perspective, and are realising it is time to call for more engagement with the matter of societal disruption and collapse. That is not a distraction but a complement to bold climate action.

Over 500 scholars and scientists have signed a public letter on this matter, and some have contributed to a video of the short version of the letter, which appeared in the Guardian and Le Monde earlier in December 2020.

In the full version of the letter, together we warn against efforts to suppress this topic:

“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. 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.”

250 of the signatories, who come from over 30 countries, are listed here. Given the outsized influence of Anglo-Saxon male physicists in the history of communication on climate change, the diversity of that signatory list should be very welcome. The full list of signatories will be issued in the new year by Scholars Warning. If you are a scientist or scholar with a PhD, you can read it and sign here.

Many people have expressed to me their frustration with ongoing misrepresentations of collapse anticipation in general and the Deep Adaptation agenda in particular. Yet it is normal for people who are hurting about our climate predicament to be angry with us for expressing views that are painful for them to hear. That can happen even when we aren’t trying to promote our views to them, but talk amongst ourselves, as was the case with Deep Adaptation before July 2020, when finally some of us decided to communicate with magazine articles about collapse and the criticisms of us.

If you want to promote better understanding of our situation, so that the dialogue can mature and the potential for sensible action increase, then here is a simple idea.

If you are on Twitter, search for the twitter handles of some of the scientists and scholars who signed the Scholars Warning and then tag a few of them in your own tweet that quotes a sentence from that warning letter, with a link to the new video. Then perhaps add a twitter handle of a campaigner or policy maker you would like to influence or support. Because we can focus on celebrating the humility, courage and compassion of people who are prepared to tell their truth with the aim we will find new ways to reduce the difficulties that young people will be living through. You could also start by retweeting this announcement of the video from Scholars Warning.

If you want to go further in your solidarity with the younger generation, then I recommend engaging your trade union, to help move beyond tokenistic support for the youth strikers, as I explain here. That may help balance the efforts of elites that may be neutralising or instrumentalising the young climate activists to serve incumbent systems of power and privilege.