ASU professor calls for more research into 'climate collapse'

In new opinion piece, Tyler DesRoches and colleagues ask: What is climate collapse and how can we prevent it?

October 13, 2022

Around the world, signs of climate change are evident — rising temperatures, heat waves, extreme droughts, severe tropical storms and decreasing snowpack, to name a few.

Will these events cause climate collapse? What would be the outcome for interconnected, global societies? What can we do to prevent climate collapse? People sitting on a beach in the foreground while industrial smokestacks loom in the background. Photo courtesy Spencer Thomas via Flickr Download Full Image

In a new opinion piece published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers are urgently calling for more investigations into the specific pathways by which civilization could potentially collapse due to climate change. 

“Our goal is to draw attention and awareness to the non-negligible probability of climate collapse and to galvanize action that prevents such a catastrophic outcome,” says Tyler DesRoches, co-author of the article. DesRoches is an associate professor of sustainability and human well-being with Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability and a senior global futures scholar with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory.

“That said, we are not portending doom. We simply emphasize that climate scientists and others need to take the mechanisms underlying climate collapse seriously,” says DesRoches, also an associate professor of philosophy with the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

“Scientists have warned that climate change threatens the habitability of large regions of the Earth and even civilization itself, but surprisingly little research exists about how collapse could happen and what can be done to prevent it,” says Daniel Steel, co-author and associate professor of philosophy with of the University of British Columbia. “A better understanding of the risks of collapse is essential for climate ethics and policy.”

DesRoches, Steel and Kian Mintz-Woo, lecturer of philosophy with University College Cork, define civilization collapse as the loss of societal capacity to maintain essential governance functions, especially security, the rule of law and the provision of basic necessities, such as food and water.

In the article, the co-authors investigate three civilization collapse scenarios. First, they looked at the possibility of localized collapse of specific, vulnerable locations. The second considers the collapse of some urban and national areas, while the remaining ones experience detrimental climate-related effects, such as food and water scarcity. The final possibility is global collapse — where urban areas around the world are abandoned, nations are no more and global population falls.

It is not only the direct effects of climate change – such as drought, flooding and extreme heat – that could create collapse risks, but also less-studied mechanisms.

The authors explain that climate change may have indirect effects on global systems, such as food production and trade, which may in turn lead to political conflict, dysfunction and even war. The scientists also state that these effects may lessen the adaptability of civilizations, which would leave them more vulnerable to additional shocks, such as pandemics.

“We need a sober assessment of the risk of climate collapse and the pathways by which it can be kept at bay. Our purpose is not to generate more anxiety concerning climate collapse,” says DesRoches. “In fact, we hope our piece has the opposite effect. By calling for a rigorous scientific understanding of the mechanisms underlying climate collapse, we hope to settle growing public anxiety, especially among young people today."

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


What started as a few women walking in safety is now a force of inclusion that attracts dozens

ASU students help lead group that today stages weekly walks throughout metro area

October 13, 2022

Nearly five months ago, six women started walking together at Phoenix parks to ensure a safe experience. Photos and descriptions of their first walk posted on social media were shared, and then shared some more.

Soon, more joined them on a second walk, even more on the third, and, well… Group photo of members of Phoenix Babes Who Walk at a park. Members of Phoenix Babes Who Walk gather at a recent outing. Photo courtesy Grace Juliet McWilliams Download Full Image

That first walk in mid-May today has become a schedule of mostly weekly walks, held along different routes throughout the greater Phoenix area. Phoenix Babes Who Walk typically attracts between 100 and 150 participants of different genders, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and physical abilities.

Participants make connections and build friendships while confidently making their way along those streets with safety in numbers, said one of the group’s leaders, Arizona State University sophomore Grace Juliet McWilliams.

McWilliams, a student in ASU’s School of Community Resources and Development, is working toward a bachelor’s degree in nonprofit leadership management with a minor in recreational therapy.

She said she became part of the group early, joining it on that third walk, which attracted 200 participants. She applied and was appointed for one of its now 10 leader positions. McWilliams is one of two ASU students and one alum in the group’s leadership.

“We wanted to create a safe space for anybody and everybody who wanted to come,” she said. “Now we’re all over town. We know the Phoenix area is vast, so we strive to have different walking locations every week. This is to ensure that we can reach the people of our community wherever they are.”

Directing dozens of participants is “the best challenge anyone can ever have,” McWilliams said. “It can be stressful, but it’s a good thing to stress about.”

Five core values

The rules for participation are simple. The group adheres to five core values, she said: community, inclusivity, wellness, courage and honesty.

“So long as people uphold those values, we are open to having them,” McWilliams said.

The group originally was known as City Girls Who Walk Phoenix, taking its name from a similar gathering in New York City. Then the decision was made for the group to become more inclusive, including persons who are non-binary as well as LGBTQ, which prompted selecting a more inclusive name.

“We chose ‘babes’ because it is beyond ‘girls.’ We didn’t want the name to be a barrier,” said McWilliams, who said the term is not meant to be derogatory and instead, is intended to be empowering and endearing. “Anybody can be a babe,” she said.

She said some administrative tasks are still pending, such as learning how the group might set up more walks in the Tempe area to coincide with major events on the ASU Tempe campus, and registering the group as a nonprofit organization.

The group is planning to hold more free community events, such as an added hike during the month, and even a Halloween movie night in October.

Course lessons apply to managing group

McWilliams said she’s applied much of what she’s learned from her nonprofit leadership and special events management classes to running the group, and she often finds herself raising her hand to contribute in class discussions based on her experience as a group leader.

“Our leadership team divides the work equitably, with overlapping responsibilities and shared tasks and projects. We take inspiration from the nonprofit world when it comes to management, events and marketing. I have used many of the skills developed in my nonprofit major in co-leading this group,” McWilliams said.

One of her instructors is Erin Schneiderman, a clinical assistant professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“We take great pride in teaching our aspiring event professionals the foundational elements of planning so they have the tools and confidence to design their own initiatives in areas that they are passionate about,” Schneiderman said. “Grace is a wonderful example of a student pursuing a meaningful and inclusive project, implementing components learned in the classroom such as goal setting, marketing and programming.”

McWilliams said she and her fellow leaders are always trying to make the walks even more inclusive, including providing accommodations for those with barriers to participation.

“It’s a community for everyone, a community that found me,” McWilliams said.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions