Climate Collapse, Judgment Day, and the Temporal Sublime

Ted Toadvine


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).

Peer review process: Guest edited


climate collapse; climate change; temporality; sublime


Artangel. 2007. “Vatnasafn/Library of Water.”


Benjamin, Andrew. 2017. “The World in Ruins: Heidegger, Poussin, Kiefer.” Journal of Aesthetics and Phenomenology 4(2): 101-23.

Berry, Wendell. 2015. Our Only World: Ten Essays. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press.

Brady, Emily. 2013. The Sublime in Modern Philosophy: Aesthetics, Ethics, and Nature. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Brummett, Barry. 1984. “Premillenial Apocalyptic as a Rhetorical Genre.” Central States

Speech Journal 35(2): 84-93.

Buell, Frederick. 2010. “A Short History of Environmental Apocalypse.” In Future Ethics:

Climate Change and Apocalyptic Imagination, edited by Stefan Skrimshire, 13-36. London:


Collings, David. 2014. Stolen Future, Broken Present: The Human Significance of Climate Change. Ann Arbor, MI: Open Humanities Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 2007. Psyche: Inventions of the Other, Volume 1. Edited by Peggy Kamuf and Elizabeth Rottenberg. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Foust, Christina R. and William O’Shannon Murphy. 2009. “Revealing and Reframing Apocalyptic Tragedy in Global Warming Discourse.” Environmental Communication 3 (2): 151-67.

Greenpeace International. 2009. “Horsemen of the Apocalypse Descend on Copenhagen.” Scoop Independent News, December 16.


Gross, Lawrence W. 2014. Anishinaabe Ways of Knowing and Being. New York: Routledge.

Haller, Albrecht von. 2002. “Unvollkommenes Gedicht über die Ewigkeit / Uncompleted Poem on Eternity.” Translated by Arnulf Zweig. The Philosophical Forum 33(3): 304-11.

Horne, Gerald. 2018. The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in Seventeenth-Century North America and the Caribbean. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Hume, David. 2007. A Treatise of Human Nature, Volume 1. Edited by David Fate Norton and

Mary J. Norton. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hutton, James. 1788. Theory of the Earth. Edinburgh: Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Jones, Ben. 2017. “The Challenges of Ideal Theory and Appeal of Secular Apocalyptic Thought.” European Journal of Political Theory (OnlineFirst): 1-24.

Kant, Immanuel. 1987. The Critique of Judgment. Translated by Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing.

_____. 1996. Religion and Rational Theology. Translated and edited by Allen W. Wood and

George di Giovanni. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

_____. 2007. Anthropology, History and Education. Edited by Robert B. Louden and Günter

Zöller. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Killingsworth, M. Jimmie and Jacqueline S. Palmer. 1996. “Millenial Ecology: The Apocalyptic Narrative from Silent Spring to Global Warming.” In Green Culture: Environmental Rhetoric in Contemporary America, edited by Carl G. Herndl and Stuart C.

Brown, 21-45. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Klein, Naomi. 2014. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. 1997. The Sense of the World. Translated by Jeffrey S. Librett. Minneapolis:

University of Minnesota Press.

_____. 2015. After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes. Translated by Charlotte Mandell. New York: Fordham University Press.

_____. 2017. The Possibility of a World: Conversations with Pierre-Philippe Jandin. Translated by Travis Holloway and Flor Méchain. New York: Fordham University Press.

Nordhaus, Ted and Michael Shellenberger. 2007. Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

PBS. 2018. “Climate Change is ‘Most Important Issue We Face,’ UN Chief Says,” December 3.

Playfair, John. 1822. The Works of John Playfair, Esq., Volume 4. Edinburgh: A. Constable & Co.

Royal Society of Edinburgh. 1788. “Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.” Online access.

Serres, Michel. 2018. The Incandescent. Translated by Randolph Burks. London: Bloomsbury.

Serres, Michel and Bruno Latour. 1995. Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time. Translated by Roxanne Lapidus. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Skrimshire, Stefan. 2014. “Climate Change and Apocalyptic Faith.” WIREs Climate Change

(2): 233-46.

Toadvine, Ted. 2014. “The Elemental Past.” Research in Phenomenology 44(2): 262-79.

_____. 2020. “Climate Apocalypticism and the Temporal Sublime.” In Environmental Ethics:

Cross-Cultural Explorations, edited by Monika Kirloskar-Steinbach and Mădălina Diaconu, 115–31. Freiburg: Verlag Karl Alber.

United Nations, no date. “Climate Change.”

depth/climate-change/ (accessed June 1, 2019). An archived version of this page is now available here:

Whyte, Kyle Powys. 2018. “Indigenous Science (Fiction) for the Anthropocene: Ancestral

Dystopias and Fantasies of Climate Change Crises.” Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 1(1-2): 224-42.

Wood, David. 2017. “Temporal Phronesis in the Anthropocene.” Research in Phenomenology

(2): 220-27.

The World Bank. 2018. “Nearly Half the World Lives on Less than $5.50 a Day.” October 17.

Full Text: PDF


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2021 Ted Toadvine

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.