Collapsology is an emerging field of research that stems from outside the academic world and concerns the study of the heralded imminent collapse of our civilisation.
This school of thought was instigated by Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens, authors of the best-seller Comment tout peut s’effondrer, Petit manuel de collapsologie (‘How everything can collapse: A brief manual of collapsology’) published by Le Seuil in 2015, and highlights for the first time the convergence of a number of different crises – climatic, ecological, biological and economic, among others – that heralds an imminent systemic collapse.
An emotional dimension
The precariousness of our civilisation has previously been appreciated on a primarily intellectual level, but collapsology incorporates a strong emotional dimension in light of the body of evidence that we are facing impending collapse, even going as far as to cause depression in some people. Critics of the field are critical not of the arguments but of the approach, which has a certain pessimism to it that can be inhibitive when it comes to taking action.
Whether or not one believes in the theory of imminent collapse, the fact remains that the possibility that it could happen is starting to settle in people’s minds. This being the case, certain consumer practices are beginning to change, notably in the Scandinavian countries, which are pioneers in this field. In Sweden, for example, a new movement is developing in the form of Köpskam – the shame of buying clothes, or shopping.
Taking changes in public opinion in account, retailers are now introducing an increasing number of initiatives such as the development of bulk selling, the reduction of the amount of plastic used, the sale of products that don’t come up to scratch at a reduced price and projects aimed at improving energy efficiency in supermarkets, among others. The global Act for Food programme, which promotes concrete actions for better eating and was launched by Carrefour in 2018, is just one such initiative. American general retailer Kroger is also actively committed to this approach through the Zero Hunger, Zero Waste programme.
We are seeing the introduction of a growing number of these initiatives, all of which have been very warmly received, but these alone will never be enough as long as the linear model, which consists of extracting, manufacturing, consuming and throwing away, continues to prevail over the introduction of a new circular model. The latter, of course, aims to limit the consumption and waste of non-renewable resources, along with the generation of further waste, by producing goods and services in a sustainable manner.
Whilst it may be criticised for its pessimism, there is no denying that collapsology plays a role in raising awareness of the need to adopt a new model.