Contesting Collapse: The socially organised inevitability of climate breakdown in the UK

Tuesday 26 April 2022 (13:00-14:30)

Convenor: Dr Kailing Xie

Dr Leon Sealey-Huggins

The world’s climate is breaking down, and the UK’s with it. Unprecedented or ‘extreme’ weather events are increasingly the norm.

Over the past half-century, the UK has seen heatwaves in many of these years, smashing centuries old temperature records. Storms and flooding are all on the rise, with the ten wettest winters on record occurring in the past decade. These instabilities, compounded by existing racialised and classed stratifications through which marginalisation and exclusion are experienced, hint at the coming catastrophe, and challenge the idea climate breakdown is only a problem for the future or only for people of the global South.

This paper argues that future climate-related collapse is being determined in the present, partly by the bloated agency of elite actors, many of whom live and work in the UK, and their reductive approaches to understanding climate breakdown. The paper considers how it is that these elites are fortifying themselves against the worst excesses of collapse (e.g. through insurance mechanisms, private security schemes, and exclusionary border measures). It will suggest that, perversely, these very efforts are ‘locking-in’ uneven exposure to crisis by reinforcing the unjust forms of social organisation that exacerbate the disproportionately distributed impacts of collapse. In this way, it will be argued, elites also deprive communities of a stake in the benefits that would otherwise flow from the social reorganisation necessary for dealing with collapse collectively.

Speaker's bio:

Leon Sealey-Huggins is Assistant Professor of Global Sustainable Development at the University of Warwick. His research centres on and around: the sociology of climate breakdown, with a focus on the Caribbean region; the conditions of contemporary higher education; explorations in activist-scholarship. He is a Committee member of the Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies. Working beyond the academy in pursuit of climate justice, Leon is a Trustee of both The GAP people’s arts project in Balsall Heath, Birmingham and the Fruit and Nut Tree Village. He is a co-founder of Breathe, and a member of Wretched of the Earth collective. @Leon_Ayo (Twitter).


The IDD Guest Seminar Series brings scholars and practitioners working on international development to the University of Birmingham to share their latest research and ideas. All seminars are open to staff, students, and the general public. For details of other upcoming seminars please visit IDD's Eventbrite page and follow us on twitter @iddbirmingham. Speakers will present for 45 minutes, followed by 45 minutes for audience Q&A.

Please register if you would like to attend. A Zoom link will be emailed to participants before the event.

This free event is open to all - staff, students, key stakeholders and members of the public.