In December 2020 over 600 academics signed an international Scholars’ Warning on societal disruption and collapse. It led to the formation of an initiative to help more scholars to engage publicly about their views on collapse risk, readiness and response. This is a quick summary of what has happened and what is in the pipeline.
The second public Scholars’ Warning letter appeared in the Independent Newspaper at the close of COP26 and was written about in a number of articles. It also appeared in French newspapers. Over 200 scholars responded within the 24 hours to sign and help the sense-making of journalists and others as the summit closed. If you agree with the sentiment of this latest letter, please share this video of some of the signatories reading it.
By registering their support for a more radical agenda on our climate predicament, including the need to discuss collapse risk, readiness and response, now journalists can find these scholars and bring these ideas to wider attention. One example is an ‘Inside Climate News’ article that interviewed a number of signatories.
One of the aims of the Scholars Warning initiative is to help scholars explore common issues as they engage more publicly. One cross-cutting issue is ethics and so that was the focus of one initiative. The report of the webinar on ethics and collapse is now available. Written by Dr Jonathan Leighton and myself, Jem Bendell, it summarises the topics that arose, accompanied by some commentary from Jon and myself. If you think that dialogue about values and ethics is important as we anticipate or experience societal disruptions, then I recommend it as a useful summary of the kinds of ideas that arise.
Another cross-cutting issue is psychology and how to take a responsible approach to speaking out on this sensitive topic. Based on our initiative over the past year, Jasmine Kieft will be producing a video and notes on considerations from the field of psychology on how best to communicate one’s perspective on our predicament. My output from that research collaboration was recently published in a psychotherapy journal.
Also in 2022 we will be running a free online course for scholars on their leadership and communication. Only signatories can join.* Therefore if you have had a conversation about these issues with someone who is an academic, then please share with them the original International Scholars Warning on Societal Disruption and Collapse so that they can sign and join the initiative. We also plan some further public communications and an internal consultation on what this initiative could be usefully doing in future that is consistent with the aims and founding principles** (as I step back from it before the end of 2022).
I thank Andrew Medhurst, Jasmine Kieft, Jon Leighton, Katie Carr, Daniel Rodary, Julien Lecaille, Pablo Servigne and my co-editor of Deep Adaptation, Rupert Read, for their support with Scholars’ Warning initiatives during 2021.
Happy New Year
Professor Jem Bendell,
Strategic Lead of Scholars’ Warning.
*If you are based in UK/EU and would like to attend such a course but are not a signatory to the Scholars Warning , then I recommend considering the same course that I teach in person in the Lake District in June 2022 (although there is a fee).
** The following is excerpted from www.scholarswarning.net
Responsible communication of research and its implications for policy dialogue is a fundamentally important topic as people experience more disruption, confusion and a sense of vulnerability, due to the direct and indirect impacts of environmental change. Therefore, the principles with which people coordinating future activities of the international Scholars Warning will approach their work include: transdisciplinarity, diversity and rights.
- Transdisciplinarity: each academic discipline is one lens on what exists and is occurring in the environment, society and the individual. Therefore, each discipline has its preoccupations, limitations and oversights. In order for scholars and scholarship to be useful to decision making, at all levels, an openness and capability for triangulating insights from different disciplines is beneficial, as well as open recognition of limitations and biases. Therefore, one scientific discipline will not be privileged at the expense of insights from other fields of scholarship.
- Diversity: the environmental predicament affects the whole world, but is disproportionately affecting people in the Global South, including women, the poor and marginalised minorities. Meanwhile, the mainstream communication from scholars at national and global levels is still influenced more by men, white people and the rich from the largest cities. It is also influenced by people who have sought roles as public commentators in combative media environments. For the national and global dialogue on what to do about our environmental predicament to better reflect a diversity of views in the world, substantial attention and resources must be given to this matter.
- Rights: the effects of the environmental predicament on society, economics and politics is one of destabilisation, within which context, people can react either collaboratively in solidarity, or divisively in defensiveness. Claims from some scientists that they have no view on the moral implications of their findings and analysis, while at the same time influencing policy discussions, will not be tenable as we enter a more disruptive period for humanity worldwide. An aspect of responsible scholarly communication is to recognise and uphold the importance of universal human rights when considering the potential policy implications of research findings.
The aims of participants in future Scholars Warning activities are:
- An increase in the number of senior leaders in all walks of life, worldwide, who recognise that engaging with current societal collapse risk is credible, urgent, creative and collaborative.
- An increase in the number and diversity of scientists and scholars who understand transdisciplinary approaches, uphold universal human rights and communicate persuasively.
- An increase in the awareness of scientists, scholars and senior leaders of fair and appropriate policy responses to societal collapse risk – in the fields of climate mitigation, climate adaptation, and climate restoration, and related fields.