ⓘ Collapsology is the study of the collapse of the industrial civilisation and of what might follow this collapse. The concept has been developped in France by Yv ..


ⓘ Collapsology

Collapsology is the study of the collapse of the industrial civilisation and of what might follow this collapse. The concept has been developped in France by Yves Cochet and Agnes Sinaï, cofounders of the Momentum Institute. They define collapse as

the process at the end of which basic needs are no longer provided at a reasonable cost to a majority of the population by services framed by law

The word collapsology has been coined and brought to the attention of the general public by Pablo Servigne and Raphael Stevens in their essay: Comment tout peut s’effondrer. Petit manuel de collapsologie à l’usage des generations presentes How everything can collapse: A manual for our times, published in 2015. The term then gradually spread in the anglo-saxon world, although the concept had existed for a long time already at least since 1972, with the publication of The Limits to Growth.

Collapsology is part of the idea that mankind impacts his environment sustainably and negatively, and propagates the concept of ecological urgency, linked in particular to global warming and the biodiversity loss. Collapsologists believe, however, that the collapse of industrial civilization could be the result of a combination of different crises: environmental crisis, but also energy, economic, geopolitical, democratic, and other crises.

Collapsology is a transdisciplinary exercise involving ecology, economics, anthropology, sociology, psychology, biophysics, biogeography, agriculture, demography, politics, geopolitics, bioarchaeology, history, futurology, health, law and art.


1. Etymology

The word "collapsology" is a neologism invented "with a certain self-mockery" by Pablo Servigne, an agricultural engineer, and Raphael Stevens, an expert in the resilience of socio-ecological systems. It appears in their book published in 2015.

It is a portmanteau derived from the Latin collapsus, "to fall, to collapse" and from the suffix "-logy", logos, put for "study ", which is intended to name an approach of a scientific nature.


2. Mythological and religious foundations

Unlike traditional eschatological thinking, collapsology is based on data and concepts from contemporary scientific work. It is not in line with the idea of the "end of the world" but makes the hypothesis of the end of a world, that of the "thermo-industrial civilization".


3. Scientific basis

As early as 1972, The Limits to Growth, a report produced by MIT researchers, warned of the risks of exponential demographic and economic growth on a planet with limited resources.

As a systemic approach, collapsology is based on prospective studies such as The Limits of Growth, but also on the state of global and regional trends in the environmental, social and economic fields such as the IPCC, IPBES or Global Environment Outlook GE reports periodically published by the Early Warning and Assessment Division of the UNEP, etc) and numerous scientific works as well as various studies, such as "A safe operating space for humanity" ; "Approaching a state shift in Earths biosphere", published in Nature in 2009 and 2012, "The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration", published in 2015 in The Anthropocene Review, and "Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene", published in 2018 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).


4.1. History Precursors 278 B.C 2005

Even if this neologism only appeared in 2015 and concerns the study of the collapse of industrial civilization, the study of the collapse of societies is older and is probably a concern of every civilization. Among the works on this theme in a broad sense we can cite those of Berossus 278 B.C., Pliny the Younger 79 AD, Ibn Khaldun 1375, Montesquieu 1734, Thomas Robert Malthus 1766 - 1834, Edward Gibbon 1776, Georges Cuvier, 1821, Elisee Reclus 1905, Oswald Spengler 1918, Arnold Toynbee 1939, Gunther Anders 1956, Samuel Noah Kramer 1956, Leopold Kohr 1957, Rachel Carson 1962, Paul Ehrlich 1969, Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows & Jorgen Randers 1972, Rene Dumont 1973, Hans Jonas 1979, Joseph Tainter 1988, Al Gore 1992, Hubert Reeves 2003, Richard Posner 2004, Jared Diamond 2005.


4.2. History Arnold J. Toynbee 1889-1975

In his monumental initially published in twelve volumes and highly controversial work of contemporary historiography entitled "A Study of History" 1972, Arnold J. Toynbee 1889-1975 deals with the genesis of civilizations chap. 2, their growth chap. 3, their decline chap. 4, and their disintegration chap. 5. According to him, the mortality of civilizations is trivial evidence for the historian, as is the fact that they follow one another over a long period of time.


4.3. History Joseph Tainter born 1949

In his book The Collapse of Complex Societies, the anthropologist and historian Joseph Tainter 1949- studies the collapse of various civilizations, including that of the Roman Empire, in terms of network theory, energy economics and complexity theory. For Tainter, an increasingly complex society eventually collapses because of the ever-increasing difficulty in solving its problems.


4.4. History Jared Diamond born 1937

The american geographer, evolutionary biologist and physiologist Jared Diamond 1937- already evoked the theme of civilizational collapse in his book called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, published in 2005. By relying on historical cases, notably the Rapa Nui civilization, the Vikings and the Maya civilization, Diamond argues that humanity collectively faces, on a much larger scale, many of the same issues as these civilizations did, with possibly catastrophic near-future consequences to many of the worlds populations. This book has had a resonance beyond the United States, despite some criticism.


4.5. History Modern collapsologists

Since the invention of the term collapsology, many french personalities gravitate in or around the collapsologists sphere. Not all have the same vision of civilizational collapse, some even reject the term "collapsologist", but all agree that contemporary industrial civilization, and the biosphere as a whole, are on the verge of a global crisis of unprecedented proportions. According to them, the process is already under way, and it is now only possible to try to reduce its devastating effects in the near future. The leaders of the movement are Yves Cochet and Agnes Sinaï of the Momentum Institute a think tank exploring the causes of environmental and societal risks of collapse of the thermo-industrial civilization and possible actions to adapt to it, and Pablo Servigne and Raphael Stevens who wrote the essay How everything can collapse: A manual for our times). Arnaud Dorthe is developing a new simulator that is a continuation of the MIT World Dynamics simulators, entitled Apocalypse Dynamics™.

Beyond the french collapsologists or assimilated mentioned above, we can quote: Aurelien Barrau astrophysicist, Philippe Bihouix engineer, low-tech developer, Dominique Bourg philosopher, Valerie Cabanes lawyer, seeking recognition of the crime of ecocide by the international criminal court, Jean-Marc Jancovici energy-climate specialist, Paul Jorion anthropologist, sociologist.

Even if the term remains rather unknown in the Anglo-Saxon world, many publications deal with the same topic for example the recent David Wallace-Wells bestseller The Uninhabitable Earth, probably a mass-market collapsology work without using the term. It is now gradually spreading on general and scientific english speaking social networks.