Climate apocalypse

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Marchers holding a banner with the words "Youth vs Apocalypse". San Francisco Youth Climate Strike – March 15, 2019.

A climate apocalypse is a term used to denote a predicted scenario involving the global collapse of human civilization due to climate change. Such collapse could theoretically arrive through a set of interrelated concurrent factors such as famine, extreme weather, war and conflict, and disease.[1] There are many similar terms in use such as climate dystopia, collapse, endgame, and catastrophe.

Some researchers have speculated that society cannot comprehend an accurate end of the world prediction, and instead, more governments would be willing to respond productively to prevent catastrophe if reports framed the matter as a smaller problem than it actually is.[2]

Meaning of the term[edit]

A climate apocalypse could theoretically arrive through a set of interrelated concurrent factors such as famine (crop loss, drought), extreme weather (hurricanes, floods), war (caused by the scarce resources) and conflict, systemic risk (relating to migration, famine, or conflict), and disease.[3][1]

Scientific consensus regarding likelihood[edit]

Climate change and civilizational collapse refers to a hypothetical risk of the impacts of climate change reducing global socioeconomic complexity to the point complex human civilization effectively ends around the world, with humanity reduced to a less developed state. This hypothetical risk is typically associated with the idea of a massive reduction of human population caused by the direct and indirect impacts of climate change, and often, it is also associated with a permanent reduction of the Earth's carrying capacity. Finally, it is sometimes suggested that a civilizational collapse caused by climate change would soon be followed by human extinction.


Rhetoric and belief centered on apocalypticism has deep roots in religious contexts, and similar rhetorical approaches undergird secular apocalyptic interpretations of climate.[4] Historical interpretations fall into two visions of apocalypse: the tragic and the comic. Tragic apocalypticism frames a clearly divided good and evil, with preordained events. In contrast, comic framing emphasizes flawed human agency, and it tends to be characterized by an open-ended, episodic, and ongoing timeline.[4] Some of the most significant books in environmentalism make use of either the tragic or comic apocalyptic framing: Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962), Paul and Anne Ehrlich's The Population Bomb (1972), and Al Gore's Earth in the Balance (1992).[4]

There is a Western world tradition of describing a climate apocalypse with images and descriptions of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and other features of the apocalypse of the Christian faith.[5]


In fiction[edit]

"Climate apocalypse scenarios" are explored in multiple science fiction works. For example, in The Wind from Nowhere (1961), civilization is devastated by persistent hurricane-force winds, and The Drowned World (1962) describes a future of melted ice-caps and rising sea-levels caused by solar radiation.[6] In The Burning World (1964, later retitled The Drought) his climate catastrophe is human-made, a drought due to disruption of the precipitation cycle by industrial pollution.[7]

Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower (1993) imagines a near-future for the United States where climate change, wealth inequality, and corporate greed cause apocalyptic chaos. Here, and in sequel Parable of the Talents (1998), Butler dissects how instability and political demagoguery exacerbate society's underlying cruelty (especially with regards to racism and sexism) and also explores themes of survival and resilience.[8][9] Butler wrote the novel "thinking about the future, thinking about the things that we're doing now and the kind of future we're buying for ourselves, if we're not careful."[10]

Margaret Atwood explored the subject in her dystopian trilogy Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013).[11] In Oryx and Crake, Atwood presents a world where "social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change, has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event".[12]


Some researchers have speculated that society cannot comprehend an accurate end of the world prediction, and instead, more governments would be willing to respond productively to prevent catastrophe if reports framed the matter as a smaller problem than it actually is.[2] Talking about potential disaster can have a broad impact upon society by making many people feel that if the situation were truly horrible, then there must be good plans to prevent it so no further action is needed.[13][better source needed]

Related terminology[edit]

Climate endgame is a term used to refer to the risk of societal collapse and potential human extinction due to the effects of climate change.[3] The usage of the term seeks to improve risk management by putting a higher priority on worst-case scenarios, to "galvanise action, improve resilience, and inform policy".[3][14] The term endgame has been used in relation to climate change by other authors in the past,[15] like in The Extinction Curve book by John van der Velden and Rob White, published in 2021.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kemp, Luke; Xu, Chi; Depledge, Joanna; Ebi, Kristie L.; Gibbins, Goodwin; Kohler, Timothy A.; Rockström, Johan; Scheffer, Marten; Schellnhuber, Hans Joachim; Steffen, Will; Lenton, Timothy M. (23 August 2022). "Climate Endgame: Exploring catastrophic climate change scenarios". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 119 (34): e2108146119. Bibcode:2022PNAS..11908146K. doi:10.1073/pnas.2108146119. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 9407216. PMID 35914185.
  2. ^ a b Feinberg, Matthew; Willer, Robb (9 December 2010). "Apocalypse Soon?". Psychological Science. 22 (1): 34–38. doi:10.1177/0956797610391911. PMID 21148457. S2CID 39153081.
  3. ^ a b c Carrington, Damian (1 August 2022). "Climate endgame: risk of human extinction 'dangerously underexplored'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 4 June 2023. Retrieved 11 August 2022.
  4. ^ a b c Garrard, Greg (2004). Ecocriticism. New York, New York: Routledge. p. 85. ISBN 9780415196925.
  5. ^ Skrimshire, Stefan (2014). "Climate change and apocalyptic faith". WIREs Climate Change. 5 (2): 233–246. Bibcode:2014WIRCC...5..233S. doi:10.1002/wcc.264. S2CID 143074932.
  6. ^ Litt, Toby (21 January 2009). "The best of JG Ballard". The Guardian.
  7. ^ Milicia, Joe (December 1985). "Dry Thoughts in a Dry Season". Riverside Quarterly. 7 (4). Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  8. ^ Lucas, Julian (8 March 2021). "How Octavia E. Butler Reimagines Sex and Survival". The New Yorker. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
  9. ^ Aguirre, Abby (26 July 2017). "Octavia Butler's Prescient Vision of a Zealot Elected to 'Make America Great Again'". The New Yorker. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
  10. ^ Butler, Octavia (1995). "Decades ago, Octavia Butler saw a 'grim future' of climate denial and income inequality". 40 Acres and a Microchip (conference) (Interview). Interviewed by Julie Dash. Corinne Segal. Digital Diaspora, UK: LitHub. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
  11. ^ Crum, Maddie (12 November 2014). "Margaret Atwood: 'I Don't Call It Climate Change. I Call It The Everything Change'". The Huffington Post.
  12. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood". Publishers Weekly. 1 May 2003.
  13. ^ Swyngedouw, Erik (March 2013). "Apocalypse Now! Fear and Doomsday Pleasures". Capitalism Nature Socialism. 24 (1): 9–18. doi:10.1080/10455752.2012.759252. S2CID 143450923.
  14. ^ Kraus, Tina; Lee, Ian (3 August 2022). "Scientists say the world needs to think about a worst-case "climate endgame"". CBS News. Archived from the original on 10 August 2022. Retrieved 11 August 2022.
  15. ^ O'Malley, Nick (15 April 2021). "Facing the climate 'endgame' in a world bound for 1.5 degrees warming". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 30 August 2022. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  16. ^ Velden, John van der; White, Rob (22 January 2021). The Extinction Curve: Growth and Globalisation in the Climate Endgame. Emerald Group Publishing. ISBN 978-1-83982-670-2.