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What It Means To Be “Collapse-Aware”

Becoming collapse-aware can make you feel like you're going insane. You'd be crazy if it didn't.
Father and Child Watching the End of the World

I became collapse-aware a few years ago, and it completely changed my life.

Collapse-aware is a term that has become much more popular in recent years, especially among climate activists. Some people prefer the term doomer or collapsnik or eco-pessimist, but I think collapse-aware is the best term to describe someone like me.

But before I can tell you what it means to be collapse-aware, I have to tell you what “collapse-aware” means. If you’re collapse-aware, it means you’ve learned enough about climate change, pollution, resource depletion, and biodiversity loss to conclude that civilization is unsustainable and will eventually collapse.

Whether the collapse happens suddenly or takes several decades, and whether it happens soon or in the distant future, is up for debate. But the end result is the same: a pre-industrial world with a much smaller population.

It could be a world where nearly everyone works from sunup to sundown to put food on the table. It could be a world where people have to hunt and gather for survival, constantly moving in search of food and resources. Or it could be a world where humans, along with most other creatures, have gone extinct.

One thing is certain: It’s all downhill from here. Living standards will decline, shortages will increase, and war will become widespread as countries fight over the last remaining resources. Looking at the world today, one could easily make the case that the collapse has already begun.

That’s the conclusion I came to back in 2020. I watched, dumbfounded, as people debated the effectiveness of facemasks and whether vaccines are safe. Things that were once common knowledge were being debated again. Facts no longer mattered.

I realized that if we couldn’t come together to fight a pandemic, there was no way in Hell we would come together to fight climate change.

In the fall of 2020, I learned that the problem was much worse than I had thought. Climate change wasn’t the main problem. In fact, climate change—along with pollution, resource depletion, and biodiversity loss—were merely symptoms of a much bigger problem: overshoot.

For those who don’t know, overshoot is when a species exceeds the carrying capacity of its ecosystem. As a result, the ecosystem is unable to produce enough food for the species, and the population collapses. Once a species goes into overshoot, collapse is inevitable. There’s no way out.

According to the Global Footprint Network, humans exceeded the carrying capacity of planet Earth over 50 years ago. That means it’s only a matter of time before the human population collapses. The only question is when.

Before 2020, I was a techno-optimist. I believed advances in technology would allow us to overcome our problems and create a world where everyone was free to pursue their interests and lead a happy life. Goddamn was I naive.

By the end of 2020, I understood that not only is civilization collapsing, my own life would probably be cut short by the collapse, whether from disease, violence, starvation, or a natural disaster. I had always expected to die as an old man, lying in a hospital bed, surrounded by loved ones. Now, that notion seemed like nothing more than a fantasy.

The first time my collapse-awareness brought me to tears was the night I watched a lecture by Sid Smith. Until then, there was at least a little doubt in the back of my mind. The faint possibility that maybe things weren’t as bad as I thought. That maybe the future wasn’t as dark as I assumed.

By the end of Sid’s lecture, that last bit of doubt was completely gone. I already knew much of what he said, but he put all the information together in such an organized manner that I now had a clear picture of our predicament. I finally knew for sure that there was no escape, that collapse was unavoidable, and there was nothing I could do about it.

When the lecture was over, I thought about my kids, who were 5 and 7 at the time. As a parent, all I wanted was for them to be happy. I had dreamed of them growing up, falling in love, and leading fulfilling lives.

I now understood that their lives wouldn’t be very fulfilling. Rather, their lives would get more and more difficult until they finally died young, probably in a way that is painful and terrifying.

And that brings me to title of this article. For me, being collapse-aware means lying in bed, crying over the loss of my children’s future. But that’s just the beginning.

Being collapse-aware means holding back tears and faking a smile when your children tell you what they want to be when they grow up.

It means cringing when your children talk about what the world will be like when they’re adults.

It means walking around with butterflies in your stomach because you know the end is near.

It means tearing up over anything that’s even a little bit sentimental.

It means lying in bed, unable to sleep due to the crushing weight of existential dread.

It means listening to your favorite song over and over because it reminds you of a simpler time.

It means binge-watching TV shows because it’s the only way to stop intrusive thoughts about collapse.

It means flying into a rage over little things because there’s a sea of emotions you're struggling to contain.

It means watching reaction videos and crying with Youtubers because it’s a safe way to let your feelings out.

It means drinking and getting high so you can numb the pain.

It means feeling bad about eating food that comes in a plastic package.

It means feeling guilty for driving a gas-guzzling vehicle even though it’s the only way for you to get to work.

It means hating yourself for eating meat.

It means weeping for all the creatures that are being wiped out so you can live in a comfy home.

It means looking at all the things you own and wondering how much oil was burned to create them.

It means feeling guilty for stepping on a bug now that you know about the insect apocalypse.

It means falling in love with nature again, like a husband who doesn’t appreciate his wife until he finds out she’s dying.

It means trying not to roll your eyes when people talk about net-zero emissions and electrifying the economy.

It means feeling rage at people who deny basic science.

It means questioning everything you thought you knew about humanity.

It means resisting the urge to say something when people talk about having children.

It means friends and family avoiding you because they think you’re too negative.

It means struggling to date because you can’t see yourself with someone who believes all the hopium.

It means feeling disconnected from news about celebrities and politicians, knowing that none of it really matters.

It means rethinking your values and asking yourself what that point of life is.

It means wondering what right and wrong mean in world where there isn’t enough to go around.

It means feeling like you’re living in an episode of The Twilight Zone where everyone else has gone insane.

It means resisting the urge to tell strangers how fucked we are for fear that they’ll think you’re crazy.

It means questioning your own sanity.

It means resisting the urge to scream at people who complain about their stupid little problems.

It means feeling resentment toward people who listened to your warnings and continue on like everything is fine.

It means the bitter disappointment of realizing our leaders have no idea what they're doing.

It means finding a strange comfort in dystopian music and literature.

It means experiencing a powerful sense of solidarity with other collapse-aware people.

It means bouncing back and forth through the stages of grief, trying to remain in the stage of acceptance but never staying there for long.

It means forcing yourself to participate in normal activities and pretending everything is fine to avoid alienating people.

It means rethinking every choice you’ve made throughout your life.

It means feeling guilty for having brought children into a dying world.

It means realizing you’ve wasted most of your life on things that don’t matter.

It means wishing you’d spent more time learning basic skills.

It means sudden bursts of motivation to learn survival skills in a desperate attempt to regain some control over your future.

It means stockpiling food and supplies even though you know that no matter how much you have, it will never be enough.

It means cherishing little things like a glass of water or a breath of fresh air.

It means wondering what humanity could have accomplished if everyone had taken the Limits to Growth report seriously.

It means being unable to focus on anything because your mind is overflowing with thoughts and emotions.

It means binge-eating when you learn about another high-temperature record or unprecedented weather event.

It means losing your appetite when you learn about another study that confirms we’re doomed.

It means lying in bed for hours because you don’t feel motivated to do anything.

It means listening to music nonstop in a futile attempt to drown out your own thoughts.

It means watching videos of climate disasters in horror, knowing someday a similar disaster will hit your town.

It means trying not to wonder how you’re going to die.

It means bittersweet feelings when spending time with loved ones.

It means wishing you knew more people who understand what you’re going through.

It means hugging your kids every day because you don’t know how many more chances to hug them you’ll get.

It means laughing hysterically at the absurdity of it all.

Of course, the list above represents my own experiences with being collapse-aware. Everyone’s experience is different, so I’d like to end this post by asking a question: What does being collapse-aware mean to you?