Collapse: ‘the fall of a socio-ecological system characterized by the loss of complexity, structure and order’
Justice: ‘fairness and equity within socio-ecological systems and interactions’
The inherently unjust nature of this unprecedented global socio-ecological collapse demands we take action. Collapse is a process not a switch, and we can still mitigate inequity and the unfolding horror that is coming for us all, by acting now to ease our inevitable descent.
Three points are key to understanding how we can act meaningfully within collapse.
1) Collapse is now! It is already underway. Global industrial civilisation is in extreme overshoot, having burnt through the riches of the Earth, it is now trying to run on empty as various global systems break down including climate, ecosystems, energy, economics, and agriculture.
2) Collapse is complex. Although the process of collapse is becoming more and more self-evident – globally, regionally, and locally – the precise ‘when’ and ‘how’ is hard to predict due to the complex nature and interaction of the various social, ecological, and climatic systems.
3) Collapse is diverse. Recognising that whilst many drivers for collapse are global in scale, collapse manifests differently in different places. Due to climatic, ecological, cultural, and economic diversity, how collapse happens in a town in north Africa is, and will, differ from a city in North America. As collapse disrupts and destroys global systems, communications, and supply chains, the unique qualities of different places and peoples will be magnified. For those who are used to being ‘global citizens’ or at least, globally connected, we are heading into a time when the local scale will become the defining feature of all our lives.
As collapse becomes increasingly self-evident, more people want to know what they can do and how they can take action. Clear-eyed realists who have absorbed and accepted these three points recognise that any meaningful action must operate within the reality of inevitable and irreversible global collapse. Fantasy, wishful-thinking and denial only delay much needed action, making our predicament far, far worse. As Martin Luther King observed, justice delayed is justice denied.
Achieving justice in the context of decline and descent is a grim reality for those already bearing the brunt of collapse and a growing concern for those who still hold some capacity to plan and act ahead of severe impacts.
A complex idea, understandings of justice differ between institutions, places, and cultures. In western cultures, broadly speaking, three types are defined in terms of human interactions. Normally these ideas of justice ignore the interactions and interdependences between people and the environment.
This flawed, unreal, and violent separation between society and ecology is part of the reason we are in collapse, so redefining justice as socio-ecological, rather than purely human, is a priority and an initial act of justice in and of itself. Socio-ecological justice also means that justice, like collapse, is diverse. It varies depending on who, and where it is enacted.
The three types of socio-ecological justice are:
Distributive justice – the fair and equitable distribution of something within socio-ecological systems, for example, the just distribution of water between human settlements and ecosystems.
Corrective justice – a fair and equitable response to someone or something that has been wronged, for example, holding fossil fuel companies and governments to account for unmitigated climate change.
Procedural justice – fair and equitable socio-ecological decision-making, for example, hearing the voices of the poor and marginalised, and accounting for the rights of other species, when making decisions on land use.
Justice has been understood as an important element of civilisational advancement and cohesion. In collapse, we are learning to use justice in a different way. There is no ‘win’ – justice will always be relative and partial. Collapse is still collapse, and we do what we can, where we can, as a means of easing the descent. A #JustCollapse is about achieving outcomes based on decline rather than progress but is still a means of holding together what remains, as best we can.
The Limits to Growth, released 50 years ago, forecast global collapse around 2030, and its findings were recently validated by researchers at MIT. Despite this fact, talking about collapse has been a taboo topic – with pioneers ignored, ridiculed, and slandered. Launched by #JustCollapse in late 2021, the current #TalkCollapse campaign is normalising conversations about collapse. Everyone has the right to know what is happening now and what is coming, so talking openly about collapse is a crucial matter of justice. The more acceptable and easier it is to talk about collapse, the greater the sense of solidarity and shared purpose. These are essential for both, meeting the challenges ahead, and building a collapse-conscious citizenry who can act for a #PlannedCollapse.