Locating this Study within Academia
When discussing negative outlooks on climate change and its implications for human society, the response is often to seek insight through placing this information in context. That context is often assumed to be found in balancing it with other information. As the information on our climate predicament is so negative, the balance is often found in highlighting more positive information about progress on the sustainability agenda. This process of seeking to “balance out” is a habit of the informed and reasoning mind. Yet that does not make it a logical means of deliberation if positive information being shared does not relate to the situation being described by the negative information. For instance, discussing progress in the health and safety policies of the White Star Line with the captain of the Titanic as it sank into the icy waters of the North Atlantic would not be a sensible use of time. Yet given that this balancing is often the way people respond to discussion of the scale and speed of our climate tragedy, let us first recognise the positive news from the broader sustainability agenda.
Certainly, there has been some progress on environmental issues in past decades, from reducing pollution, to habitat preservation, to waste management. Much valiant effort has been made to reduce carbon emissions over the last twenty years, one part of climate action officially termed “mitigation” (Aaron-Morrison et. al. 2017). There have been many steps forward on climate and carbon management – from awareness, to policies, to innovations (Flannery, 2015). Larger and quicker steps must be taken. That is helped by the agreement reached in December 2015 at the COP21 intergovernmental climate summit and now that there is significant Chinese engagement on the issue. To support the maintenance and scaling
of these efforts is essential. In addition, increasing action is occurring on adaptation to climate change, such as flood defences, planning laws and irrigation systems (Singh et al, 2016). Whereas we can praise these efforts, their existence does not matter to an analysis of our overall predicament with climate change.
Rather than building from existing theories on sustainable business, this paper is focusing on a phenomenon. That phenomenon is not climate change per se, but the state of climate change in 2018, which I will argue from a secondary review of research now indicates near term social collapse. The gap in the literature that this paper may begin to address is the lack of discussion within management studies and practice of the end of the idea that we can either solve or cope with climate change. In the Sustainability Accounting Management and Policy Journal (SAMPJ), which this paper was originally submitted to, there has been no discussion of this topic before, apart from my own co-authored paper (Bendell, et al, 2017). Three papers mention climate adaptation in passing, with just one focusing on it by considering how to improve irrigated agriculture (de Sousa Fragoso et al, 2018).
Organisation and Environment is a leading journal for discussion of the implications of climate for organisations and vice versa, where since the 1980s both philosophical and theoretical positions on environment are discussed as well as organisational or management implications. However, the journal has not published any research papers exploring theories and implications of social collapse due to environmental catastrophe.2 Three articles mention climate adaptation. Two of those have adaptation as a context, but explore other issues as their main focus, specifically social learning (Orsato, et al 2018) and network learning (Temby et al, 2016). Only one paper in that journal looks at climate adaptation as its main focus and the implications for organisation. While a helpful summary of how difficult the implications are for management, the paper does not explore the implications of a widespread social collapse (Clement and Rivera, 2016).
Away from management studies, the field of climate adaptation is wide (Lesnikowski, et al
2015). To illustrate, a search on Google Scholar returns over 40000 hits for the term “climate adaptation.” In answering the questions I set for myself in this paper, I will not be reviewing that existing field and scholarship. One might ask “why not”? The answer is that the field of climate adaptation is oriented around ways to maintain our current societies as they face manageable climactic perturbations (ibid). The concept of "deep adaptation" resonates with that agenda where we accept that we will need to change, but breaks with it by taking as its starting point the inevitability of societal collapse (as I will explain below).