The French flock to the philosophy of ‘collapsology’ in record numbers. The movement, based on a book by Jared Diamond, holds that civilization is heading towards impending collapse
France’s coronavirus epidemic has sparked an explosion of interest in la collapsologie – a Gallic take on the end of the world — with a rising number of converts seeking advice on how to prepare for the impending demise of civilisation as we know it.
The movement, which even France’s prime minister Edouard Philippe, has confessed “gnaws at me more than people think”, is based on the assumption that climate change, declining resources and the extinction of species is driving the world to its destruction at an alarming rate.
The bulk of its ranks come from left-leaning urbanites with at least one university degree. Inspired by the American author and academic Jared Diamond’s 2005 bestseller Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, “collapsology” had already captured the French imagination prior to the pandemic; some 65 per cent said they believe civilisation could go under in the coming years, according to a recent poll. The UK figure was 56 per cent.
But since France went into nationwide confinement, requests to join Facebook groups and training courses have rocketed as collapsologists claim the pandemic is a clear sign that the “thermo-industrial” era is in its death throes.
One of its high priests, Yves Cochet, a former French environment minister who gave up city life for rural self-sufficiency in Brittany with a horse and cart for transport, had predicted collapse to commence by 2030. “Well, well, it’s happening even faster than we thought,” he told Le Monde, adding that he had expected the first stage to be a petrol crisis or climate event.
“Lots of people were in denial”, said Loïc Steffan, an economist and author of Don’t Be Scared of Collapse, whose Facebook page “The happy collapso” gained 5,000 new members during confinement to approach 30,000 in total. Denial is a classic first phase in a process collapsologists call “metanoia”, or “finally believing in what one already knew”, he told France Info. “With Covid, the realisation that our societies are fragile brutally is coming to the fore. A tiny virus is able to bring the world to its knees, the hyper-connectedness of the world poses a problem… mental protection strategies are starting to crumble,” he claimed.
Covid-19 doesn’t herald the total collapse of the state and rule of law but rather a “dress rehearsal, a sort of stress-test that has allowed us to see what worked or not,” he said. Unlike survivalists, who want to run for the hills, collapsologists believe in helping each other to improve group resilience. “It’s the same starting point but not the same response. The collapsologist wants to save society. The survivalist is an individualist,” said Mr Steffan, a self-professed optimist.
A growing number of French urban dwellers are now seeking to settle in the countryside. Frédérique Porquet will next month leave the Val d’Oise near Paris for the country with her husband and daughters in order “to be ready” and not “depend on supermarkets given what happened for a month at the start of the epidemic, because what’s for sure, we saw it with our own eyes, it was everyone for themselves”.
Demand to learn how to become a collapsologist is also rising, according to Rémi Richart, an IT expert who has been living a self-sufficient, low-carbon life with his wife and three children in the rural Cantal for 10 years. They have a pedal-driven washing machine and solar oven. Their course teaching “resilience” without depending on a society “on the brink” is already full this summer and the phone doesn’t stop ringing. “Lots of people are in a hurry,” he told Le Figaro.