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Vol. 4 No. 2 (2021): Critical Phenomenology at the Collegium Phaenomenologicum

Climate Collapse, Judgment Day, and the Temporal Sublime

  • Ted Toadvine
February 9, 2023


It is commonplace today to hear climate change identified as the single most important challenge facing humanity. Consider the headlines from COP24, the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Poland in December 2018. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres opened the proceedings by calling climate change “the most important issue we face” (PBS 2018). The Secretary-General’s remarks paraphrase the opening line of the U.N.’s climate change web page, which announces that “[c]limate Change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment” (United Nations n.d.). Such statements about the singular significance of climate change—the most important, the defining issue—are often followed by proclamations about what hangs in the balance, and this was the case at COP24. There, the celebrated British naturalist Sir David Attenborough warned that “collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizons,” amounting to, in his words, “disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years” (PBS 2018).