Science: “Collapsology” and its “hopeless” followers

The end of civilization is discussed every two weeks - online in the "Climate Collapse Café".

Science: “Collapsology” and its “hopeless” followers

The end of civilization is discussed every two weeks - online in the "Climate Collapse Café". "The speed at which the destruction of living nature and habitats is progressing leaves no other conclusion. It is simply logical, it is inevitable," says Sibylle Eimermann-Gentil, who regularly takes part in the online meetings.

She is part of the Collapseology movement, a school of thought that became particularly well-known through the French agricultural scientist Pablo Servigne. Together with the eco-consultant Raphaël Stevens, he wrote the book "How Everything Can Collapse". Servigne firmly believes that efforts to combat the climate crisis will fail, the ecosystem will collapse and human civilization will end.

Supporters in Germany also predict that human livelihoods will deteriorate dramatically worldwide as a result of ecological crises. The founder of the “Climate Collapse Café”, Norbert Prinz, emphasizes that he expects a lot of suffering and many deaths. "Civilization collapse is the most likely scenario. There is no indication that we will actually change anything."

The online café is intended to offer like-minded people a space to exchange ideas. The participants talk about their feelings, possible preparation for the collapse and life afterwards. The supporters do not believe that humanity will die out completely. According to their idea, collapsed supply chains, ecological and economic systems mean that the remaining survivors have to make their way in small groups.

Science or intuition?

The “collapseologists” do rely on science, quote reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and deliberately give themselves a scientific-sounding name. However, the representatives in Germany do not claim to be able to scientifically prove their forecasts. “The topic is so complex that it cannot be researched scientifically and we should rely on intuition again,” says Prinz.

Studies on such an all-encompassing topic as the collapse of human society are hard to find. Jobst Heitzig, mathematician at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, is not surprised. "In principle, it is not possible to say reliably how likely a civilization collapse is. But one can develop scenarios of how it could happen."

With colleagues he tries to develop models that can explain complex and large-scale connections in our society. “Fridays for Future has influenced politics and consumer behavior has an influence on the climate. We try to represent such connections seriously,” explains Heitzig. It's about understanding interactions, not making predictions.

Evidence of collapse?

Inevitably one comes across the question of a possible collapse. "With current civilization, we find that there is a very, very high degree of international dependence in the economic system," he says. Such dependencies made societies less resilient. “There could be domino effects that are comparable to multi-organ failure in humans.”

But Heitzig is not as pessimistic as the “collapsologists”. "I would agree that there is some evidence that civilization can collapse, for example through a globally escalating violent conflict or a severe global economic crisis," he says. Both could be promoted by the consequences of climate change. "But there is no clear indication that this will actually happen or how likely it is."

From a scientific perspective, no serious assessment is possible either. "If you're driving towards an abyss in the fog and don't know how far away it is, sensible advice would be: step on the brakes," said the researcher. “We can fight climate change and we can make our society and our economic system more resilient.”

Hope versus alarmism

The “collapseologists” believe it is too late for that. The collapse may start in a few years or may already be unnoticed. The participants say they are “hopeless.” You would rather emotionally prepare for the worst. Prinz is even annoyed by interviews in which climate scientists are asked whether there is still hope.

For the psychoanalyst Delaram Habibi-Kohlen, founder of the climate working group in the German Society for Psychotherapy (DGPT), the question of hope is only human. She has been working on the psychological aspect of the climate crisis since 2010 and is also active in the “Psychologists for Future”. “We can’t live without hope,” she says. The question is what people can hope for. “It is illusory that we can continue to live as before.” However, being able to lead a life worth living with many adjustments and sacrifices is not unrealistic.

It is important to make the danger of ecological crises clear and at the same time continue to think about what we want to do, says Habibi-Kohlen. She warns against too much alarmism: "That leaves so little room for people's imagination. Then everyone says: Yes, what should I do?".

Activism, despite hopelessness

But there is no sign of resignation in the "Climate Collapse Café," claims founder Prinz. Knowing that there is nothing left to save does not trigger fatalism in the group. "Especially when nothing can be achieved anymore, it is necessary to fight for everything again," says the 45-year-old. Most of the group's participants come from climate activism, some were involved with the Last Generation. All participants are still active in some form, says Prinz.