Collapsology: what happens if we don’t achieve the climate objectives

H20 interview with researcher Peter van Thienen on the scenario of the collapse of society

A societal collapse resulting from climate change is (perhaps) a low probability scenario, but one with enormous consequences. This scenario must therefore be taken seriously. In the trade journal H2O Peter van Thienen sketches a perspective in which all lights are flashing red.

Van Thienen, Principal Scientist Hydroinformatics at KWR, explains concepts like tipping points, societal collapse and the technofix scenario. And he alerts the water sector to be prepared for sustained disruptions, beyond calamities such as a dike breach or flooding. ‘The sector must anticipate possible long-term disruptions, including the collapse scenario. This can be done by building in scale-back options to a basic, manual and, when necessary, small-scale operation.’

‘Climate adaptation has limits’

A water sector that takes the risk of societal collapse seriously must be a far more outspoken advocate of radical measures in Van Thienen’s view.  ‘Say to society: “We can only adjust up to a certain point. Climate adaptation has limits. The services you expect from us can no longer be guaranteed if climate change proceeds at this rate.”’


In February 2022 Peter van Thienen wrote the blog entitled: ‘Why and how drinking water companies should take societal collapse scenarios seriously’. In it he stressed that immediate action is necessary. ‘Only if we really take action now can we still prevent the worst consequences for the coming generations and even ourselves with respect to the habitability of our planet.’