By Jem Bendell and Katie Carr
Many more people are waking up to the predicament we are in, where rapid climate change threatens the future of our societies – and even our species. Hundreds of thousands of people have downloaded the Deep Adaptation paper and thousands joined the Facebook group. Launching the Deep Adaptation Forum is one means of enabling that interest to become useful collaboration.
As people begin to work with our colleagues and discuss what “Deep Adaptation” could mean (and what it doesn’t), we wish to clarify some core ideas that have been expressed in more detail elsewhere.
Deep Adaptation refers to the personal and collective changes that might help us to prepare for – and live with – a climate-induced collapse of our societies. Unlike mainstream work on adaptation to climate change, it doesn’t assume that our current economic, social, and political systems can be resilient in the face of rapid climate change. When using the term social or societal collapse, we are referring the uneven ending to our current means of sustenance, shelter, security, pleasure, identity and meaning. Others may prefer the term societal breakdown when referring to the same process. We consider this process to be inevitable, because of our view that humanity will not be able to respond globally fast enough to protect our food supplies from chaotic weather. People who consider that societal collapse or breakdown is either possible, likely or already unfolding, also are interested in deep adaptation.
Four questions guide our work on Deep Adaptation within the forum:
- Resilience: what do we most value that we want to keep and how?
- Relinquishment: what do we need to let go of so as not to make matters worse?
- Restoration: what could we bring back to help us with these difficult times?
- Reconciliation: with what and whom shall we make peace as we awaken to our mutual mortality?
These questions invite exploration of Deep Adaptation to our climate predicament in order to develop both collapse-readiness and collapse-transcendence.
- Collapse-readiness includes the mental and material measures that will help reduce disruption to human life – enabling an equitable supply of the basics like food, water, energy, payment systems and health.
- Collapse-transcendence refers to the psychological, spiritual and cultural shifts that may enable more people to experience greater equanimity toward future disruptions and the likelihood that our situation is beyond our control.
Uncertainty and lack of control are key aspects of our predicament; we do not know whether what we do will slow climate change and societal collapse or reduce harm at scale. It looks likely to us that many will die young and that we may die sooner than we had expected. That does not mean we do not try to extend the glide and soften the crash – and learn from the whole experience.
One thing that rapid climate change can help us to learn is the destructiveness of our delusions about reality and what is important in life. Key to this delusion is the emphasis many of us place on our separate identities. Since birth we have been invited to “other” people and nature. We often assume other people to be less valuable, smart or ethical as us. Or we assume we know what they think. We justify that in many ways, using stories of nationality, gender, morals, personal survival, or simply being “too busy”. Similarly, we have been encouraged to see nature as separate from us. Therefore, we have not regarded the rivers, soils, forests and fields as part of ourselves. Taken together, this othering of people and nature means we dampen any feelings of connection or empathy to such a degree that we can justify exploitation, discrimination, hostility, violence, and rampant consumption.
The ‘othering’ of people and nature is something that arises from a human habit to map and control reality in pursuit of feeling safer or better. In part, that habit arises from our sense of separation, which can also mean we sense threat almost constantly from our surroundings. We believe we are entering a period where there will be more disruption and less ability to control, or to think or to pretend that we can control. Our concern is that in reaction to this situation, some people will seek to maintain a sense of security in unhelpful ways. For instance, by thinking that oneself is right, or better, or owed something, and so on, are all ways people can seek some sense of safety in their self-identity, and yet, such ways are a micro form of violence because they involve othering. Over time, such micro violences can develop a conceptual framework that permits or encourages much wider violence, including physical violence.
As we see more pain in the world, and sense that it will get worse, it is possible that we will shrink from it. It is easier to consider other people’s pain as less valid as one’s own pain or that of the people and pets we know. But there is another way. The suffering of others presents us with an opportunity to feel and express love and compassion. Not to save or to fix, but to be open to sensing the pain of all others and letting that transform how we live in the world. It does not need to lead to paralysis or depression, but to being fully present to life in every moment, however it manifests. This approach is the opposite of othering and arises from a loving mindset, where we experience universal compassion to all beings. It is the love that our climate predicament invites us to connect with. It is the love in deep adaptation.
Therefore, in our work with others on deep adaptation, we wish to pursue and enable loving responses to our predicament. Every interaction offers an opportunity for compassion. It can seem difficult when it feels as if someone is trying to criticise your view, perhaps because they prefer to see collapse as unlikely or human extinction as certain. But to return to compassion, even if we fall away from it in the moment, feels an important way of living our truth. And it is something we can do at any time. As leadership coach Diana Reynolds recently explained, “the incredible compassionate revolution starts here, starts now.”
As this topic involves questions of mortality, impermanence, insecurity and uncontrollability, everyone who is finding themselves navigating their way through is experiencing many strong emotional responses, which may feel turbulent, overwhelming, exhausting as well as energising or enlivening. Often these emotions affect us, including ourselves and our colleagues, in ways that we may not be aware of. Therefore, in the small team working in the Deep Adaptation Forum, and the wider group of volunteers, we invite each other to consider three principles:
- Return to compassion. We shall seek to return to universal compassion in all our work, and remind each other to notice in ourselves when anger, fear, panic, or insecurity may be influencing our thoughts or behaviours. It is also important to remember to take care of ourselves, especially when the urgency of our predicament can easily lead to burnout.
- Return to curiosity. We recognise that we do not have many answers on specific technical or policy matters. Instead, our aim is to provide a space and an invitation to participate in generative dialogue that is founded in kindness and curiosity.
- Return to respect. We respect other people’s situations and however they may be reacting to our alarming predicament, while seeking to build and curate nourishing spaces for deep adaptation.
We hope that all of us in the team continue to provide useful information, avoid negativity, and invite everyone to engage as peers. We also apologise in advance for any times where we do not seem to be living these principles.
If you would like to help the team financially, and have a small fund for such support, then please use the contact form.
If you would like to volunteer with us, please start by joining a relevant group within the Forum and demonstrating your commitment, effectiveness, and aligned approach within that space.
Professor Jem Bendell and Katie Carr co-lead retreats as well as leadership courses related to deep adaptation, at the University of Cumbria.
The photo is of the sculpture entitled “Love” by Ukrainian artist #AlexanderMilov and was found at the 2015 #BurningManFestival. It shows two #wireframe adults with their inner children reaching for each other, symbolizing purity and sincerity. /// photo by @teamwoodnote and used here with a creative commons license.
After feedback that one sentence was confusing, this blog was updated on November 28th 2019 to replace one sentence with a new paragraph, which starts with “The ‘othering’…”