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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The term collapsology is a neologism used to designate the transdisciplinary study of the risks of collapse of our industrial civilization. Although the concept of societal or civilizational collapse had already existed for many years, collapsology focuses its attention on our contemporary, industrial and globalized society.

The word 'collapsology' has been coined and brought to the attention of the general public by Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens in their essay: Comment tout peut s’effondrer. Petit manuel de collapsologie à l’usage des générations présentes[1] (How everything can collapse: A manual for our times[2]), published in 2015 in France.[3] Since then, the term has gradually spread in the Anglo-Saxon community, although it is still little used by the English-speaking specialists of that field.

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.[4]

Collapsology is a transdisciplinary exercise involving ecology, economics, anthropology, sociology, psychology, biophysics, biogeography, agriculture, demography, politics, geopolitics, bioarchaeology, history, futurology, health, law and art.[2]


The word "collapsology" is a neologism invented "with a certain self-mockery" by Pablo Servigne, an agricultural engineer, and Raphaël Stevens, an expert in the resilience of socio-ecological systems. It appears in their book published in 2015.[5]

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.[6]

Since 2015 and the publication of How everything can collapse in French, several words have been proposed to describe the various approaches dealing with the issue of collapse: collapso-sophy to designate the philosophical approach, collapso-praxis to designate the ideology inspired by this study, and collapsonauts to designate people living with this idea in mind.[7][8]

Mythological and religious foundations

Unlike traditional eschatological thinking, collapsology is based on data and concepts from contemporary scientific work, primarily our understanding of climate change as caused by our economic and geopolitical systems. It is not in line with the idea of a cosmic, apocalyptic "end of the world", but makes the hypothesis of the end of our current world, the "thermo-industrial civilization".

Scientific basis

As early as 1972, The Limits to Growth,[9] 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[1] as well as various studies, such as "A safe operating space for humanity";[10] "Approaching a state shift in Earth's biosphere",[11] published in Nature in 2009 and 2012, "The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration",[12] published in 2015 in The Anthropocene Review, and "Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene",[13] published in 2018 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.


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[citation needed] 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), Élisée Reclus (1905), Oswald Spengler (1918), Arnold Toynbee (1939), Günther Anders (1956), Samuel Noah Kramer (1956), Leopold Kohr (1957), Rachel Carson (1962), Paul Ehrlich (1969), Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows & Jørgen Randers (1972), René Dumont (1973), Hans Jonas (1979), Joseph Tainter (1988), Al Gore (1992), Hubert Reeves (2003), Richard Posner (2004), Jared Diamond (2005).

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.

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.

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 world's populations. This book has had a resonance beyond the United States, despite some criticism.[14]

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 Agnès 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 Raphaël Stevens who wrote the essay How everything can collapse: A manual for our times[2]). Arnaud Dorthe is leading the development a new simulator that is a continuation of the MIT World Dynamics simulators, entitled Apocalypse Dynamics™.

Beyond the French collapsologists mentioned above, we can quote: Aurélien Barrau (astrophysicist), Philippe Bihouix (engineer, low-tech developer), Dominique Bourg (philosopher), Valérie 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[3]). It is now gradually spreading on general[15] and scientific[16] English speaking social networks.


  1. ^ a b Servigne, Pablo; Stevens, Raphaël (2015). Comment tout peut s'effondrer : petit manuel de collapsologie à l'usage des générations présentes (in French). Ed. du Seuil. p. 253. ISBN 9782021223316. OCLC 908244398.
  2. ^ a b c Servigne, Pablo; Stevens, Raphaël (2020). How Everything Can Collapse. Cambridge: Polity. ISBN 9781509541393.
  3. ^ a b Stetler, Harrison (2020-01-21). "'Collapsologie': Constructing an Idea of How Things Fall Apart". The New York Review of Books. New York City: Rea S. Hederman. Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  4. ^ "Collapsologie". Futura (in French). Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  5. ^ Faure, Sonya (11 June 2015). "Collapsologie [nom]: du latin, collapsus, « tombé d'un seul bloc »". Libération (in French). Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  6. ^ Garric, Audrey; Bouanchaud, Cécile (5 February 2019). "Le succès inattendu des théories de l'effondrement". Le Monde (in French). Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  7. ^ Servigne, Pablo,. Another end of the world is possible : living the collapse (and not merely surviving it). Stevens, Raphaël,, Chapelle, Gauthier,, Samuel, Geoffrey,. Medford. ISBN 978-1-5095-4465-3. OCLC 1152054578.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Citton, Yves. Générations collapsonautes : naviguer par temps d'effondrements. Rasmi, Jacopo. Paris. ISBN 978-2-02-144740-8. OCLC 1150810193.
  9. ^ Meadows, Donella H; Meadows, Dennis L; Randers, Jørgen; Behrens III, William W (1972). The Limits to Growth; A Report for the Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind. New York: Universe Books. ISBN 0876631650. Retrieved 2020-04-02.
  10. ^ Rockström, Johan; Steffen, Will; Noone, Kevin; Persson, Åsa (2009-09-23). "A safe operating space for humanity". Nature. 461 (7263): 472–475. doi:10.1038/461472a. Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  11. ^ Barnosky, Anthony D.; Hadly, Elizabeth A.; Bascompte, Jordi; Berlow, Eric L. (2012-06-06). "Approaching a state shift in Earth's biosphere". Nature. 486 (7401): 52–58. doi:10.1038/nature11018. hdl:10261/55208. ISSN 1476-4687. Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  12. ^ Steffen, Will; Broadgate, Wendy; Deutsch, Lisa; Gaffney, Owen; Ludwig, Cornelia (2015-01-16). "The trajectory of the Anthropocene : The Great Acceleration". The Anthropocene Review. 2 (1): 81–98. doi:10.1177/2053019614564785. hdl:1885/66463. Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  13. ^ Steffen, Will; Rockström, Johan; Richardson, Katherine; Lenton, Timothy M. (2018-08-14). "Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 115 (33): 8252–8259. doi:10.1073/pnas.1810141115. ISSN 0027-8424. Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  14. ^ Diamond, Jarde (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (PDF). ISBN 978-0-241-95868-1. Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  15. ^ "French collapsology – "If you didn't know this, in recent years France has seen a big societal movement around the idea that we are approaching a collapse."". 2019-04-22. Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  16. ^ "Collapsology! Have you heard about?". 2019-07-07. Retrieved 2020-04-07.
This page was last edited on 23 October 2020, at 18:29
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