If you are currently trying to make better sense of societal disruptions and your future in a climate-disturbed world, then I believe ‘Deep Adaptation’ to be of use to you. It is the ethos and framework for a movement of people who consider the collapse of industrial consumer societies to be either probable, inevitable or already unfolding. We are seeking to reduce harm, save more of the natural world, and learn in the process. We tend to be agnostic about what might occur after any societal collapse.
This post in my blog links to a selection of introductory videos. If interested, you could begin by watching my introductory lecture on Deep Adaptation. It is a bit academic but provides the basics of where I am coming from when I talk about societal collapse risk and readiness. Then a 40 minute interview is where I go into a range of issues arising and explain some of my personal journey on this stuff. My lecture in Glasgow in 2019 was part of my contribution to making #ClimateJustice a key issue within climate policy, especially regarding ongoing loss, damage and the need for adaptation. My lecture to undergraduate students at Groningen University will be of more interest to young people and as well as people who are wondering how to engage them on such topics. The Q&A with members of the Deep Adaptation Forum helps give insight into the myriad issues and life choices that are arising for people. My talk at the professional UK association of psychologists and psychotherapists is where I explore matters of hope, motivation and emotional wellbeing. I also described what I have learned about leadership and change during my most recent years of activism on climate during a panel the International Leadership Association. Finally there is the short film I released in 2019 on how I was coping with my growing awareness of our global predicament.
These videos only scratch the surface. I recommend visiting the Deep Adaptation Forum to discover a plurality of people who are seeking to promote positive change. I also recommend the coaches listed here, if you would like some guidance. To stay up-to-date on this topic, I recommend the free Quarterly newsletter. Want to listen to something instead? There’s a free audio introduction to my latest book. Prefer more videos? Then see my channel with dozens of Q&As, with guests including Joanna Macy and Charles Eisenstein. Or if you prefer reading, then here is a list of some of my non-academic writings on the topic.
In the last few years a few people have suggested additional “Rs” for the 4 questions that comprise the Deep Adaptation framework for reflection and dialogue within an expectation or situation of societal disruption and collapse. As the idea of DA is used with groups around the world, various new ideas on what it means and what personal and group practices are relevant are emerging. One new R that I learned about recently is “Reverence.” That is what Reverend Lauren Van Ham adds to the framework as she uses it for the past couple of years with seminarians and faith-based communities. In my recent Q&A I asked her what a question might be that relates to Reverence, as I think DA involves inquiry, rather than simple answers. That is because societies and people are diverse, and an environmental breakdown affects all of it and, ultimately, everyone, thereby making generalised recommendations somewhat problematic!
Do you know what the world’s average temperature was in preindustrial times? In absolute terms? If not, how does hearing of the subsequent 1.3C degrees of global warming make you feel? You have nothing to compare it with. We experience and talk about daily and seasonal highs and lows. Yet with climate we are asked to talk about incomparable averages of 1.5C or 2C degrees. People relate that to an existing cognitive frame of “warmth” which has dominated understandings of climate chaos. That is why people can say things like “I don’t believe in destroying the economy to stop just 1.5C of warming” and it make intuitive sense to others, despite being empirical nonsense. Even the people who work on these subjects can get completely confused and end up publishing extreme silliness such as a “best guess” that crops grown in Europe might cope with 15C of average global warming (making the average like the current Western Sahara – not known for its agriculture).
I write about this ‘average stupidity’ in a two-part essay on the biggest mistakes in climate communications. It is also where I provide the basic information on pre-industrial temperatures and suggest different ways to communicate about it.
Many people describe their awakening to the extent of the environmental predicament that faces humanity as a ‘dark night of the soul’ or even a ‘near death experience’ because of how it both troubles and changes them deeply. As a result, many people have reported a new sense of freedom from past concerns and compromises, with a shift towards living more truthfully, compassionately and courageously from now on. Something like that happened to me, so I even made a short film about it.
As the cause of this awakening is a collective one – the state of the planet – some have wondered whether it might trigger a mass awakening with huge potential for societal change. Conversely, some have wondered whether more people will try to suppress this awareness and their feelings about it, and instead double down on their worldview and identity. Others have just assumed it will all end in apathy and depression. My own work on this topic with psychologists and spiritual teachers led me to conclude the rather obvious answer – it depends! The way we support each other with ideas, techniques and community in the face of difficult emotions, or what some call ‘bigger-than-self anxiety’, is key. Being able to talk openly about our fears of death and wider mortality seemed to be important, and why I included a 4th R in the Deep Adaptation framework – reconciliation.
As more people experience anxiety from a polycrisis of intersecting societal disruptions, some even anticipate societal collapse, while the unfortunate have already been experiencing breakdowns in their own societies. In such circumstances it can be normal to look to people in senior positions to solve the problems. Conversely, if we currently hold a senior position, it can be normal to look to ourselves to have the answers and offer reassurance. But just because it is ‘normal’ does not mean it is logical. Research on leadership has identified our human propensity to over emphasize the importance of senior role holders when we think times are tough (or when things are fantastic, but never when things seem just ordinary). Aggrandizing the importance of supposedly good or bad people at the top of a hierarchy is itself a reason for such widespread bad leadership – something that Richard Little and I discussed in a chapter in a book that asked why there are so many bad leaders. Instead, we can all take more time to understand systems of social organizing and help people to collaborate for positive outcomes. With the right support, senior leaders can help, not hinder, that process. Where might such support come from? Most senior executives are coached. Indeed, coaching is not only a large business sector, but potentially highly influential in how senior leaders better grapple with the developing polycrisis and spreading breakdowns of systems in societies. In a recent seminar I gave on the opportunity for coaches to make a difference, hosted by the Climate Coaching Alliance, I was joined by coaches Katie Carr and Matthew Painton. They specialize in supporting people who are seeking to integrate their awareness of likely or unfolding societal collapse. I am delighted Matthew will be discussing these topics in a Deep Adaptation Q&A later this month. Ahead of that, below he shares his thoughts on how coaches can respond to the current situation. Over to Matthew…
Let’s face it, coaching and (non-clinical) therapy are privileged modalities – it requires disposable time and income to undergo elective processes of self-improvement. Generally, it is people who are already doing relatively well, or who have high expectations of themselves and of life who tend to engage expert, non-clinical, support and attention. But we could also say that every human being on earth, without exception, deserves to be seen, to be encouraged, to have wise and dedicated allies, to be ‘brought-on’, and to have close attention from someone with faith in their wholeness and potential, who will help them cope and develop into maturity in this complex and challenging world. In an ideal world, sustained and skillful attention from someone who is competent and dedicated to our well-being, as coach, mentor, counsellor, therapist, elder or tutor would be freely available on demand. But in this market-driven world such attention has become an artificially scarce commodity.
Jessica is a member of the Deep Adaptation Forum, a film-maker. She is based in her ancestral island home of Dominica, in the Eastern Caribbean. She shares about her experience of ‘deep adaptation in action’ during and after Hurricane Maria hit the island of Dominica in 2017, when communities responded by sharing food, shelter, practical and emotional support – in ways that Jessica sees are virtually non-existent in modern western societies.
Along with her partner Tim, she has created documentaries from the Caribbean and South America, for international broadcasters with an emphasis on culture, environment and social justice stories. Her current documentary film project, “LOVE In Action”, focuses on the stories of revolutionaries working on the front lines of our climate and ecological crisis.
Having survived the devastation and collapse caused by Hurricane Maria hitting the island in 2017, Jessica continues to work to strengthen and maintain resilient, healthy local communities. On her mountain rainforest property, she has created and manages a transformational retreat centre Caapi Cottage Retreats where the focus is on nature connection.
I recently gave a talk to the Climate Coaching Alliance about how to support people, professionally, who are beginning to integrate an awareness of the bad-to-worse scenarios of climate chaos into their work and lives.
In the coming weeks I will share the insights I gained from engaging with business and life coaches on this topic. But for now I want to give a shout out to the coaches, therapists, facilitators and guides who are already aware of how much has already been lost, how difficult things are and are set to become. Understandably, most business coaches and life coaches are not yet alive to these issues. They need to go through their own journeys on this issue for themselves. Which makes a network of coaches who are ‘collapse aware’ so incredibly necessary. The professionals you find in this network will not pathologize your outlook and you won’t need to worry about traumatising them! If interested, have a look at http://guidance.deepadaptation.info
As the heatwaves swept across Europe this summer, mainstream Western media gave some more attention to global heating. With 40+ degrees Celsius in the UK, for instance, many people were unnerved. They wanted to know more about what is happening and how bad it might become. This meant climate scientists were featured in the media. Then a curious thing happened. Some of those scientists began to ‘cherry pick’ the science to promote a particular narrative that the danger will cease to increase if specific policies are pursued. They presented their view as following science, and some experts then admonished people who pointed out the scientific limitations of that perspective. Does this mean there is now an ‘establishment story’ on climate change? If so, why, and what does it preclude?
I was interviewed this week by the Independent newspaper about why more than 100 scholars from around the world issued a public letter to delegates at the UN’s event on disaster risk reduction. This provides more depth than my opinion piece in the newspaper.
Q – What was the impetus behind this letter?
Jem – The impetus for this letter is a widespread experience that many of our fellow professionals working on social and environmental issues privately know that we have been using a failing approach, with all the indicators heading in the wrong direction, but that they are hesitant to say so in public. We perceive that is because they are not yet clear on how to make sense of that failure or what might come next. They also see professional risk in criticising both capitalism and the story that our world will improve with more technology and investment. Whereas more people in the general public now sense that our systems are broken, many experts in establishment institutions continue to think they must remain upbeat in public. But signatories to the letter clearly think that attitude could undermine the needed reckonings and radical changes.
Despite us having learned to be human within capitalist societies, more of us are breaking free from its limiting ideologies. Those ideologies include deep stories about dominating nature, competitive humans, constricted knowing, and perpetual material expansion, which surround us nearly all the time. That is why those ideologies also express themselves within social movements, political agendas, and some of our friends’ social media postings about latest fixation of legacy media. And as those ideologies shape our habits of thought, to separate ourselves from them can be difficult. Which is why it is so heartening to witness more people breaking free and beginning to live differently – and now calling on others to do the same. Whether staying in their jobs and promoting different ways of working, or quitting to make time to create local cooperatives, permaculture projects, emotional support groups, or to promote needed technologies and public policies, many people are improving their lives and those of others.
EDITORIAL for the Deep Adaptation Quarterly, Issue 10, April 7th 2022.
Over the past months, a few new terms have appeared in the news as pundits seek frameworks to explain what is happening around the world. I have read that we are in a period of polycrisis, or permacrisis, or even World War 3. There are various reasons offered for why more of us are experiencing tougher and increasingly anxious circumstances. Since the pundits work for legacy media organisations, the explanations we hear are anything other than the death throes of global capitalism as it hits natural limits. And since they speak from within the ‘Overton window’ of respectable conversation, neither do we hear that our situation can be described as the beginning of the breakdown of industrial consumer societies. Instead, a superficial, distracting, and sedating hope of returning to something more ‘normal’ is a compulsion for them. So I am pleased to greet you here in this Quarterly, outside that narrow scope of perception.