What Activism Next? Ideas for Climate Campaigners

Thank goodness for the honesty of children and youth. In the Madrid summit on climate, Greta Thunberg said, that from an emissions perspective “we have achieved nothing”. All of us who have been trying to promote change on climate change, are finding that, if we are honest, at a cumulative level, our efforts amount to little. Therefore, increasingly frustrated and anxious activists are discussing what approaches might work better in achieving significant reductions in atmospheric carbon. As I have a background in analysing and advising on social change, as a scholar, activist and consultant, and been involved in recent climate activism, I wish to offer some thoughts on those discussions about “what activism next”? The relevant theories and examples are too vast to outline, in a readable way, so I will jump straight into some conclusions on the key issues, before concluding with repeating my proposal for more adult solidarity with youth climate strikers. This will not be the most fun or succinct read on my blog, but if you are a climate activist, I hope you find the context helpful as you explore what to focus on in the coming years.

Five Precepts for Dialogue on Climate Activism

In recent discussions about what activism next, I have heard a lot of interesting ideas. Some people say we need more people to be arrested for non-violent disobedience, some say we need to engage elites, some say we need to get populist, some say we need to get local, some say we need to seize power through revolutionary means, some say we need to connect with the divine and transform consciousness, and some are giving up and heading for the hills.

In justifying these perspectives, I have heard some ‘grass is greener’ stories of where better tactics might lie. Yet just because something is new to us, does not mean it is not a tried, tested and possibly tired tactic within the environmental movement more generally. Unless we look at who else has walked that greener grass before, we risk just repeating others’ mistakes. Instead, whenever we hear a new idea on tactics, we can look at whether it has been tried before, and what might be changing in society that creates new potential for change. I have been exploring some of that context for the book I am writing on Deep Adaptation to climate change. However, for now, I can share some conclusions about the implications for climate activism, in the form of 5 precepts.

GOAL

First, let’s be clear on a broad goal. To make a serious effort at reducing the speed and harm of climate chaos, while giving us a better chance at avoiding near term human extinction, we need transformative change of the whole of society and economy. That means bold cuts and drawdown of carbon, as well as fair and deep adaptation. We can also be clear that we want to pursue that broad goal in a dignified way where we uphold our values and care for each other. This broad goal means that as climate activists we need to work alongside people who are engaged on other issues for similar motives of compassion for humanity – and are open to the need for deep structural changes in our society and economy.

SUPPORT

Second, let’s be clear on the level of buy-in for social change needed to pursue that broad goal of transformative change. Despite some people’s enthusiasm for the idea that just a few thousand people can take down a government, for the kind of transformation demanded by our climate emergency, we need to see many millions of people adopting a similar outlook on the situation and the needed changes. That means almost ‘religion-levels’ of participation! Therefore, to make serious efforts at transformative change we could seek coalitions across economic classes, in all countries. That means we can look at what existing networks involve people from across most societies and seek to work with them. That includes networks of schools, trade unions, and faith organisations, amongst others.

JOURNEYS

Third, let’s be clear on the mental and emotional journeys that people may need to go on to support the goal of transformation, without being deluded about the dire predicament we now face. We can invite people to move through a sense of personal vulnerability to a need for solidarity with others to a desire for liberation from the current system that compels us to destroy our future to ‘get by’ today. Personal vulnerability arises as people begin to realise the fragility of the systems they depend on for their everyday lives. Solidarity arises as people realise both that individual defensive reactions will make matters worse and that they seek mutual care with others in the face of crisis. A desire for liberation can arise as people come to see how our culture and economic system has taught us – and driven us – towards destructive competition and striving. Keeping that personal journey of ‘vulnerability-solidarity-liberation’ in mind as actions and messages are developed and communicated will be important. Working with networks that already understand that journey in different contexts, such as trade unions, is one idea.

MOVEMENTS

Fourth, let’s be clear that although anxious activists want to hear a compelling plan, there is no magic bullet for social change, so we will try to learn from a wide range of strategies and tactics. We can draw from experiences and theories of how social movements have grown and had an impact on society, economy and government. As some climate activists have said that they are not interested in building a social movement, it is important to recap on what that means. ‘Social movement’ is defined in Encyclopaedia Britannica as a ‘loosely organized but sustained campaign in support of a social goal, typically either the implementation or the prevention of a change in society’s structure or values’. Examples range from the movement of organised labour in response to the industrial revolution, to the civil rights movement for greater equality. Given the need for societal transformation to sustain changes to lifestyles and livelihoods in the face of an ecological and climate emergency, it appears that ‘social movement’ is a useful framework for a reflection on activist strategy.

Most scholarship on social movements focuses on four domains that determine participants’ capacities to act. These include their common interests, their shared identity and bonds, their means of mobilising resources, and the opportunities from the contexts they exist within. In addition, we can learn from scholarship on the power of networks in social change something I worked on with the UN. In the book I am writing, I will say more about the scholarship on social change which influences my thinking, but for now, I want to get the ideas ‘out the door’ for people to consider. So to summarise – social movements theories suggest that it will be useful if more of us adopt “movement thinking” in our idea generation, planning and actions, rather than focusing on the brand, support base, networks, or policy asks of the organisation that we are already engaged with. It implies we can try to encourage a range of tactics that have the benefit of creating broader coalitions of diverse publics in the process.

CONTINGENCIES

Fifth, let’s be clear on our chances of success and contingency plans so that we might fail more usefully. Every fraction of every degree that the planet doesn’t warm and every extra year of lesser heat are important for life on earth and the future of humanity. Therefore, we can try to cut and drawdown carbon at all times, even as tipping points are reached and the planet releases its own carbon and heats itself more than in human history. However, to stick to the story that we can stop climate change and avert catastrophic damages to the planet and humanity is now simply denial. As one of my other papers for the UN on the anti-globalisation movement summarised, efforts to transform societies and economies to make them more just and sustainable have existed for decades and have tried out many different tactics. Yet the trajectory of atmospheric carbon has increased exponentially since the industrial revolution. The best-funded and well-run institutions of global capitalism have proven superb at incorporation of all kinds of dissent and challenge. That will continue with the climate agenda. Therefore, activism is not likely to stop further disaster. Indeed, climate-related disasters are already happening in many parts of the world.

The reality of our situation means our activism also needs to include preparation for reducing harm from societal collapse. That preparation can be both practical and psychological, both personal and collective, both spiritual and political, and both local and global. This agenda is what I have termed “deep adaptation” to anticipation of climate-induced breakdown of societies. It may also help society hold together for longer to keep working on carbon cuts and drawdown.

With this tragic situation in mind, some people are ready to add a 4th stage to the mental and emotional journey that I described above. That stage is “reconciliation” with life when one senses mortality and the loss of any certainty success. Therefore, one aspect of our future activism could be helping to hold each other as we progress through our emotional journeys of vulnerability-solidarity-liberation-reconciliation.

One aspect of this reconciliation will be the ability to forgive each other for past and future hurt, as otherwise our resentments and desire to blame someone for what we feel is an unbearable situation will lead to greater harm to self, other, society and nature. A simpler way of describing that is that we will all need a lot of love in the world. Which brings me back to the youth climate strikers. Many look at adults and are shocked at how we carry on, and find it difficult to forgive our stupidities. As activists, it is important to consider how well we have we being doing in supporting them.

One Idea: Climate Safety Strikes

Based on these 5 precepts, I looked at what is and is not being tried at present by climate activist groups. I looked at the ‘global climate strikes’ and saw that there were no listed official strikes from trade unions on climate change. In addition, I discovered that there have been changes in the way occupational health and safety is understood, so that now climate policies are a matter of employment relations. That means they are a matter for trade union bargaining and potential strike action. I have outlined a proposal for trade union climate safety strikes in solidarity with the youth climate strikers.

How does this idea relate to the precepts I described above?

First, the goal is transformation. Trade union members believe in the importance of building up power and challenging power in order to drive changes that would not be given willingly. Some activist members of trade unions believe in the transformation of capitalism. They could be encouraged to engage climate change as a workplace issue within that context.

Second, the necessary support for that goal of transformation is massive. Therefore, activists can engage networks of organisations that can engage their memberships in ways that matter to them. Engaging international and national trade unions on workplace issues, and engaging international and national networks school children on their curricula and concerns are ones way of building coalitions for broader support.

Third, the emotional journeys that people can go on as they realise the climate tragedy are particularly intense. We can help each other with that by engaging existing networks of organisations that support people in their everyday lives. Unions are one element in that, especially if they can then influence the way organisations also support their staff. Our education systems also have a huge role to play in helping young people express and process their emotions around climate change and societal stasis. Climate Safety Strikes in solidarity with youth strikers could embody the emotional journey through vulnerability to solidarity and liberation as we face increasing climate anxiety and disruption.

Fourth, a good way to engage in climate activism is with a multi-faceted ‘movements mindset’. That means we can explore ways of encouraging all kinds of actions from all quarters of society. Key for that is designing for diversity. So it is useful to try to engage networks of people who we might not be used to working with, but who may be able to commit to the goal of transformation, access other kinds of resources, seize other kinds of opportunities, and develop their own powerful tactics. In turn, trade unions will be able to exert more pressure on employers than campaigners for changes the employer would be reticent to implement voluntarily. Therefore, they could help set precedents for organisational leadership on climate. For instance, as a consequence of union action, some employers might align their political influence with their responsibilities to their employees on climate safety, and therefore support more government action.

Fifth, the contingency of failure and societal breakdown means that developing networks of people and power that will be useful in promoting loving responses to such situations are important. Such networks will be useful if they are naturally inclined to resist reactionary manipulation of the public, authoritarian policies, state repression and unnecessary wars, while also promoting cooperation and self-reliance locally. Historically, trade unions have played a significant role on these issues. Their power has weakened hugely over past decades, but they could still play a useful role alongside other networks, such as those involving faith organisations, cooperatives, institutes of professions, local governments and universities.

Your activism and mine

If you are interested in the draft proposal for Climate Safety Strikes, then please reach out to either a trade union official, or a climate campaigner, lawyer, youth striker, journalist or funder. They are the kinds of people necessary to take the idea forward. Therefore, I would like to ask you to think of two of the most influential persons you know in those fields, such as trade unions or law, and forward the draft proposal to them.

The reason why I will not work on this idea further myself, is because I am working on Deep Adaptation. That is a philosophy, framework and range of initiatives aimed at reducing harm in the face of societal collapse. Activism is a part of that agenda, but there is much else besides.

If you just want to register your interest the Climate Safety Strikes idea, to see if someone else does something that you can join in on later, then please sign up to my newsletter, which comes out about 3 times a year. But please consider doing something more than that, if you can.

PS: Why listen to me?

Many ideas are being shared by people in activist movements about what should happen next. So why listen to me about activism, given that I am known within the climate field as advocating action on Deep Adaptation to impending societal collapse? My answer is to invite you to first consider the proposal itself, and whether you think it might be of merit rather than assess it based on who is proposing it. Nevertheless…

I have some experience to bring to the debate on climate activist strategies. Since the mid-1990s I have been involved in a variety of approaches to massive social change, from anti-globalisation protests and nonviolent direct action, to working with businesses, to advising the United Nations on policies, to publishing intellectual analyses of sustainability and social change, to training leaders, to working in front line politics as a strategist and speech writer during a general election campaign, to advising climate activists on narratives to engage more people, to hanging out at Davos (yep, I thought it was a tactic in the past!). I have tried these approaches on all continents of the world (except Antarctica, thankfully). I have also studied many theories on massive social change, from a range of intellectual disciplines. So, since the start of 2020, I took some time away from my Deep Adaptation work, to develop my own input into the discussions about activism towards social transformation in the face of climate emergency.

PPS: Is striking for climate safety your overarching strategy proposal?

No. I am working on the Deep Adaptation agenda. That agenda is not anti-politics nor anti-activism but is far broader than either. In February 2020 the Deep Adaptation Forum (DAF) starts a volunteer-led dialogue on strategy options, and I will release my background paper on “Considerations for Deep Adaptation Strategy Development” within the Professions’ Network of the DAF. My view on activism in this blog does not constitute my input into that strategy dialogue and does not mean I see Deep Adaptation as an activist agenda.

Striking for Climate Safety

The climate and ecological emergency is such that additional approaches to activism for transformative change must be examined and experimented with. In particular, approaches that offer opportunities for mass participation, globally, should be considered, as they enable wider understanding and support for the necessary livelihood and lifestyle changes to reduce harm from climate chaos.  

The ‘global climate strikes’ that are co-organised by the climate campaign group 350.org have not involved actual workplace strikes organised by trade unions in dispute with their employers. Instead, they have involved young people taking time away from school, with some supportive demonstrations by adults, sometimes encouraged by trade unions and permitted by employers. 

The following idea about striking for ‘climate safety’ outlines a different approach, where adults show greater solidarity with young climate strikers, by challenging employers to adopt policies which make meaningful the notion of a climate emergency. That will involve the employer making carbon cuts, drawdown and adaptation to disruption the central organising principle of the organisation. Such challenges to employers will need to be real, by being backed by trade union bargaining processes and the threat of lawful official strike action. The recent evolution of the concept of Occupational Health and Safety to include climate risks provides the context for such trade union leadership and action. Ultimately that action might enable a transformative agenda onto the mainstream of political agendas. 

Elements of the following proposal have been sense-checked by a senior official at the UN’s International Labour Organisation and a leading British academic on industrial relations. I share the idea here in an unpolished way, to get it ‘out there’ and discussed by people with more time, energy, resources and talent than me to make something happen. In particular, I hope that people in strategic leadership roles in climate activist movements, trade unionists with climate concerns, and activist lawyers, will read this proposal to the end and decide to explore it further. 

I explain the idea through a set of propositions. Each could be elaborated on and referenced, but that is not important now as I wish to quickly communicate the ideas with people who already know something about these topics. I number the paragraphs for ease of reference in future discussions. 

In my next blog I will share further information on the context for this proposal. 

Striking for Climate Safety – a rationale and first steps.

  1. To make a serious effort at reducing the speed and harm of climate chaos, while giving us a better chance at avoiding near term human extinction, we need transformative change of the whole of society and economy.
  2. Arguments for bringing down governments, creating alliances with elites, or imposing changes to cut carbon without the major changes in wealth distribution to share the burden (and legitimise difficult changes), may soon be regarded as rushed responses to personal panic about climate chaos.
  3. To make a serious effort at transformative change we can try to enable coalitions across economic classes, in all countries, that combine environmental expertise and concern alongside expertise and concern for social justice.
  4. We can invite people to move through a sense of personal vulnerability to a need for solidarity with others and then towards a desire for liberation from the current system that compels us to destroy our future to ‘get by’ today. Personal vulnerability arises as people begin to realise the fragility to climate impacts that the systems they depend on for their everyday lives. Solidarity arises as people realise both that individual defensive reactions will make matters worse and that they seek mutual care with others in the face of crisis. A desire for liberation can arise as people come to see how our culture and economic system has taught us – and driven us towards – destructive competition and striving.
  5. Most people work in organisations. People’s places of work are where they engage with each other and organise resources within society, including directing budgets and resources that they do not have privately. Organisations influence government. Organisations both influence and are being influenced by climate.
  6. Organisations have a duty of care for their employees, including in the area of Occupation Health and Safety (OHS). Increasingly, this is understood as extending beyond the workplace to a range of locations the employee works from or passes through to attend work. Recently, climate change is being regarded as an issue of employee health and safety, both within the workplace and more broadly. This raises the question of what the duty of care of employers is as the reality of disruptive climate change grows – something we can call “climate safety”.
  7. Organised labour is a key global network of people that understand aspects of vulnerability, solidarity and liberation. Trade unions have worked on environmental issues, in limited ways, but have done a lot on health and safety. Although their existence is restricted in a few countries, notably China, they are an influence in most of the world.
  8. While response from employers to climate change are welcome, the content of recent employer declarations of climate emergencies raise questions about whether they are really treating it as an ‘emergency’. When one evacuates a building on fire, for instance, one doesn’t stop to collect certificates of savings and shares. When employers declare emergencies (including universities, local governments and the private sector) they have not been placing climate as priority alongside, let alone above, organisational growth or (for the private sector) profit. Most have not included adaptation to the unfolding damage from climate change. They have not established performance requirements on chief executives. They typically create a new target for carbon neutrality, a budget line, a consultation process and reporting commitment. As such, while welcome, they are not emergency measures and can isolate the matter from core strategy and financial concerns. Representing the true interests of their members’ health and safety in the face of vulnerability from climate chaos, trade unions could develop more appropriate agendas for employers on climate safety policies that respond to the nature of the emergency.
  9. As part of its bargaining on employee conditions, branches of unions could ask their employer to declare a climate emergency that would mean credible plans for attempting to improve the climate safety of employees. The UN’s International Labour Office advises promoting “the inclusion of specific environmental provisions through collective bargaining and collective agreements at all levels… including but not limited to emission reductions” (in section 18d). In addition, the premiere global organisation of the labour movement, the International Trade Union Congress has called for more employer responsibility on climate change. They have called for companies to “climate proof our work” and for unions to get involved in activism and lobbying on climate change, including by considering strikes and other forms of engagement with the youth climate strikers.
  10. Climate emergency policies from employers that might support transformative change, and be requested by trade unions in their bargaining processes, could include the following areas. Near-term net zero carbon operations, changing investments to a zero carbon portfolio, transforming products and services to respond to the crisis, supporting employees to reduce risks to their future livelihoods and safety, aligning all direct and indirect political influence with significant government action on emissions cuts, drawdown and adaptation. None of these areas are alien to the corporate sector, and could be evidenced as good practice. However, unions could request that these areas be made higher priorities than either business growth or profit maximisation and become a key criterion for assessment of the Chief Executive by the board.
  11. Trade union rights to challenge employers and then take industrial action if not satisfied, differ around the world, and are generally limited to direct disputes with their employers and their pay or conditions. Secondary action in support of other workers in other organisations is not lawful in many countries, as it is not a trade dispute with one’s own legal employer. However, a union can take advice from a coordinating organisation to help it consider demanding particular decisions from employers as part of their bargaining. It can then choose to ballot its members on industrial action, if the response of employers is not considered sufficient. Such balloting could be done in a way that means a union could consider striking on the same day as other unions. Perhaps globally.
  12. Initially it is the choice of a union to decide what is a matter of employment conditions, and if not satisfied, to ballot its members on strike action. Thus, if a union recognises that climate is a matter of employee health and safety then it can act on that view. However, an employer would challenge the unions’ views on climate safety as being a matter of employment relations and take the matter to an employment tribunal or higher court to gain an injunction and try to prove that the union were acting unlawfully. Unions would need to make the case that this is a key matter of employment conditions right now, due to the increasing vulnerability employees face due to climate change impacts both now and in the near future. There is increasing authoritative research to support this perspective, especially in some sectors and regions. In particular, the world’s leading authority on labour relations, the International Labour Organisation of the UN, advises climate is a serious workplace issue. In addition, unfortunately the impacts of climate change will get worse, and therefore this argument about climate safety may become easier to demonstrate.
  13. Children and youth taking time off school, often without permission, have raised attention that some young people see their activism on climate as more important than their personal conformity and progress through not being truant from school. This has inspired adults and triggered debates about what adults can do in solidarity with them.
  14. In 2019 the youth school strikers called for adults to join them in a ‘global climate strike’. A workplace strike is where workers withdraw labour without permission of the employer, as part of an industrial dispute. The list of actions in support of the September 2019 ‘global climate strike’ indicates there was not a single official trade union strike in support. Instead, some unions supported demonstrations, and in many cases “employees were also permitted to strike” by their employer – which means it was not actually a strike. Often, trade unions asked employers to let their staff take symbolic action in support of the youth activists. Therefore, these actions did not involve trade unions developing their own requirements of employers on environment or climate safety, nor pressing for their adoption.  Some individual members of individual trade unions have called for actual strike action, but this has not translated into union ballots for actual strikes.
  15. The current advice to adults and youth on potential workplace strike action is insufficient and risks misinforming young activists about what real strike action involves and could achieve. The campaign organisation 350.org is linked to by Fridays for Future and others as a hub for the ‘global climate strike.’ The group offers principles for engaging with youth led climate strikes, that are aimed at nongovernmental organisations, not trade unions. Their guidance for people wanting to organise a strike does not provide guidance for organising an actual strike. For instance, it tells activists “once your employer has agreed to support staff participating” then the next steps can be taken. Such information could be upgraded to provide advice on the rationale and methods for actual workplace strikes, while alternative sources of advice and coordination from labour organisations are important. If that does not happen, then using the language of workplace strikes while having no intention to consider them may lead to claims of misleading young activists and to conflict with the trade union movement.
  16. Adults’ response has currently not matched the young people’s self-sacrifice. Non-Violent Civil Disobedience (NVDA) appears close, but it is questionable whether it impacts the personal livelihoods or futures of participants in the same way as principled truancy from school. Nor is it likely to provide a pathway to the same level of mass participation – whereas any child can consider boycotting school, NVDA is suited for only some people. As described above, the trade union response has been limited, not involving lawful official strikes in dispute with employers after demanding transformative climate safety policies. The NGOs involved have not yet encouraged or enabled that kind of response, instead promoting modes of protests which have not had a track record of success on environmental issues. It is time adults who support the youth strikers to do more than support them in words or optional extras to their normal lives. Real solidarity will involve making personal sacrifices. Therefore it is time to explore means of enabling worldwide official strikes for climate safety.
  17. There will be a benefit from established law firms or chambers in every country of the world to issue guidance on how climate safety is now a matter of employer responsibility. That should include how the nature of this responsibility is evolving but is likely to focus on adaptation to growing risks to employee health and safety as much as carbon emissions and drawdown.  This guidance can then be used to inform judges that may serve on future tribunals, and in the UK the Law Lords, so they can understand the latest developments in both climate change and implications for health and safety. One particular issue for legal research and opinion could be on political influence. The duty of care on climate safety cannot be fully carried out through workplace practices alone, and requires government action, so that might mean how the employer directly and indirectly influences relevant government action now becomes a matter of employment relations.
  18. There will be a benefit from these ideas being discussed with youth leaders within the climate strike movement, so that they can become clear on why and how adults can explore joining them in lawful strike action for climate safety – and how current ideas and actions fall far short of that. This is urgent, as some elites, often well-meaning, are trying to co-opt the youth activists and distracting them from the history across decades and centuries where people struggled to hold power to account. Instead, they say that the older generations have not done enough for the younger generations. That intergenerational framing also overlooks how today a Western teenager has a far higher carbon footprint than the average person of any age in Africa or India. Instead, strategies to create massive change are needed that involve intergenerational learning and cooperation between those who are prepared to take risks to create transformative change.
  19. There will be a benefit from activist groups like Extinction Rebellion, Sunrise Movement, Greenpeace, and Fridays for Future, approaching trade unions with requests that they take the lead on defining what employer climate emergency policies and actions should look like. They might need to follow up such requests with some playful direct action.
  20. There will be a benefit in organising a range of communications approaches and outputs to raise awareness, initially amongst climate activists, of the need and processes for promoting climate safety policies from employers, as part of a wider effort at social transformation. That might include articles targeting progressives with the following kind of message:  “Your outrage at stupid men does nothing to help Greta: Time to organise union strikes yourself?”
  21. During the days taken off school while striking, children and youth could be supported to learn what will help them in a climate stressed world. Their current curricula expect the current world economy to continue, as if climate change will not damage it. A range of soft and hard skills to be better prepared for future distress could be taught. Some of those striking from work might be able to support that learning. Other adults who strike could engage in adaptive or regenerative activities in their local communities during their strike days. Such activities could be supported and coordinated by significant NGO programmes.
  22. There will be benefit in major funding (i.e. millions of dollars) of a global initiative to encourage the constituent parts of this effort. This includes the wider establishment of the concept of climate safety as employer responsibility amongst the public and legal profession, outreach to youth strikers on this topic, the influencing of trade unions to demand meaningful policies on climate safety, technical advice to activists and trade unionists on processes for demanding that, financial support for strikers in case employers delay salaries, legal support for unions when challenged in courts over lawfulness of industrial action on climate safety or if employers try retaliation against staff, public communications around court cases and decisions, education and public communications about the connection to the wider solidarity and liberation agendas that climate chaos invites.
  23. The success of this effort would not be in a few employers adopting a significant climate emergency policy in accordance with the requests of a union. It would not be in a few unions successfully balloting members to strike and then choosing to do so on a specific ‘global climate strike’ day. It would not be in assuaging the guilt of adults that they have not shown true solidarity with striking children beforehand. The success of this effort could be threefold. First, in helping establish collaboration between environmental activists, trade unions and some employers on the climate emergency. Second, by establishing enacted narratives that show we can move through vulnerability to solidarity and liberation as we face increasing climate anxiety and disruption – something that may help societies prepare for “deep adaptation” to very difficult futures. Third, by enlisting some employers to align their political influence with their responsibilities to their employees on climate safety, and therefore support more government action.
  24. Given the failure of reformist efforts over the past decades to curb atmospheric carbon levels, to not align one’s language and actions towards a real transformation of the current economic system would be counter-productive. Therefore, if climate-related adult activists and professionals continue to use the terms “emergency” and “strike” in ways that are not consistent with their true meaning, then they would be undermining the possibilities for transformation. If questioning this proposal as “too political” or “too divisive” or “too left wing”, then one could be enacting an ideology of neo-liberal capitalism that ignores the centuries of evidence of the merits of organising against incumbent power to generate transformative change. If using radical terminology for reformist approaches that don’t actually challenge power, one might be extending the implicative-denial that has afflicted the environmental movement over the past decades (which I explained in the Deep Adaptation paper).

Thank you for reading. If you find this proposal worthy of your time, please find a senior trade unionist, activist lawyer, or climate campaign leader to discuss it with. I will not be engaging further, as I must return to working on Deep Adaptation, where activism is only one strand. Therefore, as I would not be able to engage you on it, there is no need to reach out to me. If you want to explore with others how this “climate safety strike” concept relates to Deep Adaptation, please join the Narrative and Messaging group in the Professions’ Network of the Deep Adaptation Forum.

Note to members of the Deep Adaptation Forum – this does not constitute an input from me on the Deep Adaptation Strategy Options Dialogue, which begins Feb 2020. The field of DA is wider than activism and the work of the DA Forum is mainly focused on social learning.

Deep Adaptation Quarterly Winter 2020

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Subscribe to the Quarterly here.

Every three months, this newsletter summarises activities happening under the banner of Deep Adaptation, as well as highlighting some relevant news and resources. We do not cover news on the latest climate science, weather, or impacts, as there are many other sources for such information.

Founder’s Commentary

From Prof. Jem Bendell

Last year we saw a major upswing in climate activism. But by the end of the year, questions were being asked by activists themselves about what to do next. A reminder of how difficult it is to generate significant political action came from the summit in Madrid. Greta Thunberg said, that from an emissions perspective “we have achieved nothing”. Within the climate protest movement Extinction Rebellion, activists have been debating whether its tactics will have a significant impact in future. One way that such activist movements could evolve is in accepting the slowness of change means that calling for political action for urgent and fair adaptation to climate disruption, including deep adaptation, is important. In 2020 we will likely see that happen.

This month I released a short documentary to contribute to that evolution of thinking within the youth climate strike movement, as well as XR Youth. The 30-minute video tells the story of Oskar, a 13 years old boy, who helped his school to engage with Deep Adaptation. I then discussed the subject with psychologist Dr Caroline Hickman, and I recommend our discussion. She was the first of 12 guests lined up for 2020.

For those of you who contributed to our crowdfund, either by donation or promoting it, thankyou on behalf of our small team of freelancers who support and coordinate the volunteers of the Deep Adaptation Forum. We have funds to keep going until July 2020 and are hopeful that with a new governance group in place from February, this initiative will be useful during the very difficult, but often uplifting, times ahead. I have been impressed at what can emerge, such as the regular Deep Listening sessions on the Positive Deep Adaptation Facebook group, and the launch of the Deep Adaptation Guidance database, which will become a place to find (initially free) counselling, coaching, facilitation and other forms of support. If you are able to help us do more, then please consider becoming a patron.

Those two initiatives are focused on the psychological and emotional aspects of this agenda. Even if you don’t have direct experience of climate impacts, being attuned to the devastation and suffering is difficult. Living with an expectation of worse to come can be even more challenging. Sometimes in the past months, emotions have run high on some of our platforms. With over 9000 participants in the Facebook group, the moderators do a difficult job for free, so I am very impressed and grateful. They often explain to participants how we welcome all emotions, including anger, as long as these are not taken out on other people within the group, or expressed with prejudice against ‘categories’ of person. Sometimes they need to remove posts or suspend participants for breaking or disagreeing with those rules. This is upsetting for us, but we are committed to maintain some spaces in person and online where we can explore the implications of our predicament with kindness and curiosity.

As we look ahead to the coming year, we would like your input. Members of the DAF core team and several volunteers are currently looking into a set of important questions: What are people learning (be it in practical or psychological terms, or otherwise) in part from their participation in the platforms of the Deep Adaptation Forum? How might we improve the usefulness of those platforms and activities?’ Please take 5 to 10 minutes to answer this questionnaire to help us figure these things out. Your input will be much appreciated and will feed into a strategy development process that will be announced on all our platforms later this month.

As I am writing a book and helping the Forum become established to run without my direction, I am not doing much teaching or public speaking before October 2020. So if you are a dynamic change-maker promoting Deep Adaptation – and live in mainland Europe so could get to Greece over land and sea, please consider applying for the last 6 places on my June retreat. Other activities around the world are listed on the events page of the Professions’ Network here. You can also check out local groups here.

Thanks, Jem

Our New Initiatives

DA Guidance Database

Lots of volunteer work has gone into creating the new Guidance Database, a list of practitioners who stand ready to support people struggling with collapse-awareness and its attendant emotions, a database of methods commonly used to support individuals or groups or children in processing collapse, and a blog with original content on this subject.

DA Podcast

We’ve compiled the best Deep Adaptation media into a podcast. We’re still in the process of listing it in the popular libraries. You can find the actual feed here.

New Landing Page

All the Deep Adaptation resources and platforms are now visible in one place from http://deepadaptation.info

Highlights on the Professions’ Network

We have selected a few highlights so you can see what is happening within the different platforms.

Community Action Group

Super thread about engaging with the Transition Towns network.

Philosophy Group

What role, if any, does philosophy play in Deep Adaptation?

Lets’s talk about forgiveness

Narrative & Messaging Group

David Baum continues to invite feedback on the Deep Adaptation pamphlet he has been working on and Dan Vie brought up the need for visual maps, infographics, and other promotional materials.

Upcoming Deep Adaptation Events

PortraitQ&A with Dahr Jamail, author of The End of Ice Feb 24th. Dahr is an award winning journalist and author who spent more than a year in Iraq reporting on the 2003 war and has also reported for The Guardian, The Independent, The Nation, The Huffington Post, Truthout, Le Monde Diplomatique, and Al Jazeera English, among many others. Since 2010 he focused his reporting on anthropogenic climate disruption and the environment and in 2019 he published The End of Ice. Join the Professions network to participate.

PortraitQ&A with Amisha Ghadiali from ‘The Future Is Beautiful’ podcast March 12th.
Amisha is an experienced facilitator and has a gift of bringing people into connection with themselves, each other and the earth. Her Presence Mentoring programme supports clients in clearing unconscious patterning, opening up new qualities within and anchoring daily practice and rituals which support a lifestyle that recognises the sacred, and creates a deeper connection with both the inner world and the earth. Amisha’a background has included working in political activism, the sustainable fashion movement and co-founding a tech start-up. Join the Professions network to participate.

PortraitQ&A with Sister Jayanti, European Leader of Brahma Kumaris April 14th.
Sister Jayanti is a spiritual leader and teacher for over 50 years. She is a pioneer advocate for the spiritual basis of caring for the earth and a key presenter at COP climate change conferences since 2009. She has championed the co-operative role of spiritual organisations in creating a just and peaceful world. She brings spiritual principles to the discussion tables of politicians, economists, business leaders, scientists and nearly every stakeholder of our times. Join the Professions network to participate.

Forest clearing UK Course Leading through Storms: business and climate change. May through to Feb 2021.
A unique 10-month programme for leaders and senior coaches & consultants who support them. It offers a community of practice to enable you and your organisation to understand and adapt to the climate crisis and related ecological and social impacts, using Deep Adaptation as a key part of our process. Led by a team including Alan Heeks, who has over 20 years corporate management experience. Jem Bendell will attend and help lead the first group.

Recommended Audio-visual

Some new podcasts have been launched. These include:

  • Come Together – Joyful conversation about climate change, the collapse of civilization, and the end of the world.
  • Embracing Apocalypse explores the many truths being uncovered by the tumult of our times, and openly wonders how we might best show up for, and adapt to, our changing world..
  • Poetry of Predicament is Dean Walker’s YouTube channel with wide-ranging conversations.
  • Rev. Michael Dowd has recorded many thoughful interviews and important articles, available as a podcast on SoundCloud.

The Deep Adaptation Groups Network includes:

Adaptación Profunda Positiva #APP (Positive Deep Adaptation – Jem Bendell) For the Spanish speaking community. Contact: Aline Van Moerbeke
Adaptation radicale : un guide pour naviguer dans la tragédie climatique For the French speaking world. Contact: Julien Lecaille
Deep Adaptation Discussion and Action Group A space to discuss the four “R’s” and how these questions may be used to redesign our individual lives, livelihoods, etc. and how they may apply to us, our households and communities. Contact: Silvia di Blasio.
Deep Adaptation Hungary – Készülj & Alkalmazkodj – for the Hungarian community, to share, support, plan and move ahead, together. Contact: Balazs Stumpf-Biro
Deep Adaptation Ireland For those located on the island of Ireland. Contact: Cian Langan
Deep Adaptation Parenting A safe and nurturing place for parents to share their thoughts, emotions, ideas, and resources on the topic of raising children in this challenging time.
Positive Deep Adaptation UK Local group, focused on the concerns of people based in the UK, who have shown an interest in the Deep Adaptation paper written by Jem Bendell in 2018, and the issues it throws up. Contact: John Cossham
Deep Adaptation | Wie leben im Angesicht der Klimakrise? For German-speaking people, mostly from Germany.
Dyp tilpasning Norwegian group, open to Swedes and Danish people as our language is understandable across borders. Contact: Sigrid Haugen
PNW Positive Deep Adaptation For the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Contact: Jim Chastain
Positive Deep Adaptation Oceania – Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand etc For the respective region. Contact: Aimee Maxwell
Positive Deep Adaptation: Santa Cruz County and Monterey Bay, CA For Santa Cruz County and Monterey Bay, California, US. Contact: Ami Chen Mills-Naim
Practical PDA Focusing on practical adaptation. Contact: Sarah Bittle
St. Louis and surrounding areas of Missouri and Illinois. A practically focused DA group, for communicating/organizing activities and discussions. Contact: Tim Ely
Extinction Rebellion A group anchored in the DA values and principles from the perspective of Extinction Rebellion, which is confronting and opposing systemic existential threat via the XR principles and constitution. Initiated in Southern Africa, open to global participation. Contact: André S. Clements

Avoiding Davos Disease as Climate Activists

cheese canapes

In announcing the theme for Davos 2020, the Executive Chairman at the World Economic Forum (WEF) explained that: “People are revolting against the economic ‘elites’ they believe have betrayed them…”

In case you didn’t realise, Professor Klaus Schwab, was not welcoming the news. He was not celebrating the uprising of people calling for a different economic system in the face of a climate and ecological crisis driven by the industrial consumer society. Instead, he was warning the delegates to Davos of the threat to the system that sustains their privilege. Continue reading “Avoiding Davos Disease as Climate Activists”

Adapting deeply to likely collapse: an enhanced agenda for climate activists?

Extinction Rebellion & Deep Adaptation

Last year an Extinction Rebellion handbook called “This is Not a Drill” was published by Penguin, featuring a chapter I wrote on Deep Adaptation, called “Doom and Bloom”. It has some important chapters, and you can order it here. My chapter was edited for length, and so here is the original submitted version. I release it on my blog to encourage discussions about climate activist movements, such as XR, FridaysForFuture and Sunrise, making adaptation to unfolding climate chaos a complementary focus to net carbon neutrality. Even top government advisors recognise that scale of government action on humanitarian relief, food security, disaster risk reduction, psychological support, and economic transformation, is insufficient to help us all adapt to the unfolding damage from extreme weather and its knock-on effects on our economic systems. Continue reading “Adapting deeply to likely collapse: an enhanced agenda for climate activists?”

Documentary about Children facing Climate Collapse – Oskar’s Quest

Oscar
“The global wave of school strikes for the climate over the past year has ‘achieved nothing’ because greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, Greta Thunberg has told activists at UN climate talks in Madrid… she said that although schoolchildren had been striking around the world, this “has not translated into action” from governments… [Greta continued..] ‘We can’t go on like this; it is not sustainable that children skip school and we don’t want to continue – we would love some action from the people in power.'” The Guardian, Dec 6th 2019.

As emissions rise, impacts worsen, governments dither, and the science darkens the horizon for humanity, what is next for the FridaysForFuture movement of school strikers? What is next for young people in general? For anyone concerned about the climate emergency, this seems like one of the most important questions. Continue reading “Documentary about Children facing Climate Collapse – Oskar’s Quest”

The economics of extinction: a reason for rebellion

Jeffrey Newman sitting in the middle of a London street

Prof Jem Bendell and Rabbi Jeffrey Newman

This article originally appeared on Extinction Rebellion’s blog on March 20th 2019 and republished here for ease of access.

What would a sane society do, knowing that one of its luxury food supplies was being exhausted? Consume less perhaps? Or grow more? Japan, knowing that the Bluefin tuna is going extinct, does neither. Bluefish tuna make the most profit for fishermen the nearer they are to extinction, as their rarity endows all the more status on their consumers.

Some might think that is a quirky Japanese behaviour or an anomaly of economics, but actually the free-market system in which individuals compete for profit is resplendent with such stupidities. Continue reading “The economics of extinction: a reason for rebellion”

Forgiving the destructive tendency in everyone as climate chaos grows

Face half in shadow

One of the questions I suggested we use for exploring our responses to the predicament of disastrous climate change was:

“With what and whom can we make peace with to lessen suffering?”

I called this the fourth R of reconciliation within the Deep Adaptation framework.

Part of this “making peace” and reconciling is forgiveness.

The human race has destroyed so much life on Earth and will continue to do so. Some cultures and countries have collectively been far more destructive than others and will continue to be for some time. Some companies are more destructive than others, as are some individuals. And they may continue to be so for some time.

Anger at this situation is understandable. More than that, such anger is a sign we are awake to the situation and that we care.

But then what do we do with that anger? Continue reading “Forgiving the destructive tendency in everyone as climate chaos grows”

Inviting Scientists to Challenge or Improve Deep Adaptation

tourist binoculars against a blue sky

The ‘deep adaptation’ framing of our situation is not an easy one to take onboard. In a nutshell: because widespread and near term societal collapse is likely, inevitable or unfolding, we should begin to prepare emotionally and practically. I experienced emotional pain in allowing this possibility into my awareness, and then sharing it with my profession (the sustainability business and leadership fields) – and now with others.

Some climate scientists say my view that we seem set for uncontrollable levels of climate change is unscientific. Other climate scientists say that we may have already reached dangerous tipping points and some think we have breached some of those tipping points already. That would mean uncontrollable levels of change. Some scientists say it is unscientific to talk about near term societal collapse, and other top scientists have just started agreeing that we must have that conversation right now. Continue reading “Inviting Scientists to Challenge or Improve Deep Adaptation”

Deep Adaptation Q&As for 2020

Collage

If you come to a realisation that our civilisation is crumbling in the face of climate chaos, then it opens a vast and challenging agenda. Because it affects all aspects of life. Therefore, in our Deep Adaptation Q&As, the originator of the Deep Adaptation framework, Professor Jem Bendell, discusses insights from people who offer a variety of perspectives. In 2019, Jem discussed Deep Adaptation with Joanna Macy, Gail Bradbrook, Vanessa Andreotti and others. They were joined by participants of the Professions’ Network of the Deep Adaptation Forum, who also asked questions.

Each month in 2020, Jem will be discussing with the following people. If you want to participate to ask a question live, please join the free Professions’ Network of the Deep Adaptation Forum. Continue reading “Deep Adaptation Q&As for 2020”