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Inviting Scientists to Challenge or Improve Deep Adaptation

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.

Given my outlook on our situation, and my research into systems of personal and institutional denial, I have found it difficult to muster motivation to engage with critics over small scientific details in my original Deep Adaptation paper, which came out in July 2018. Instead I have focused on implications for activism, mental health, spirituality, economics and professional collaboration. However, as the concept spreads, so does some criticism. Some climatologists have a microphone to speak on our predicament, and have an important role in helping humanity understand our situation today. Therefore, I want to engage as best I can with the arguments that I have heard from some critics in the field of climatology.

Therefore, I am inviting any climate scientist who is concerned with the deep adaptation message to apply their skills in challenging or improving its basis in climate science. We have put an excerpt of the climate science section of the July 2018 paper online as a googledoc, open for comment. I welcome comments from any professional climate scientist on what is considered inaccurate or misleading, or that could benefit from further clarification. The document will remain open for comment until January 10th 2020. I will then blog on the feedback in Q1 2020, include a box at the end of the pdf of the paper with any corrections, and incorporate insights into my future work.

This invitation to comment is being sent to scientists featured in a recent Vice article, including Michael Mann, Gavin Schmidt, Wolfgang Knorr and Cynthia Rosenzweig. If these people are too busy, the invitation is extended to their research teams. Non-climatologists featured in the article are also being invited (including Scott Williams, Jeremy Lent, Aled Jones). Please seek comment permissions by Jan 5th 2020 here.

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In focusing on one section of one paper, now 17 months old, we risk avoiding the issue at hand – the extent of climate chaos and what to do about it. However, it appears that criticism of the Deep Adaptation paper itself is a means by which some scientists engage with the possibility of us entering a period of rapid climate change. Therefore, I hope that this opening of the climate science section of the paper to feedback, publicly, will help clarify any mistakes and improve the discussion. I know that I will get some things wrong (see below). I am most interested in widening the topic of discussion and innovation, so that more people consider implications of the most troubling news. Therefore, I come at this issue of what weaknesses there may be in the original paper in the hope of supporting that widening discussion.

Of course much new science has been published since July 2018, and I summarised some of it in a compendium here. I am currently focused on how climate stressors will impact on agricultural, water, and financial systems, and will share more on that in Q1 also.

If you are a professional climate scientist, in employment in a research institution, you can request permission to comment on the document here.

I realise that in the face of the fearful situation we are in, to seek security in one’s self image and self worth is a natural response, yet will only be futile and unhelpful in the long run. So, thank you to everyone who is engaging with compassion, curiosity and respect in this difficult issue.

You can view the excerpt of the paper, and any comments that have already been made here.

A correction of one statistic in a speech

In a speech I gave this Autumn I mentioned that a 1 degree rise in the global average temperature is about 11% more energy in the atmosphere. However, it is only an 11% increase in the temperature above freezing point, as measured in Celsius. Rather, ambient energy can be measured from absolute zero, which is -273 Celsius. I was attempting to explain in a simple way that although 1 degree warming might sound minor, it is a significant change in the energy in our atmosphere. That point remains accurate, and could be expressed in the following way instead. “Since 1990, the increase in greenhouse gas levels has made the heating effect of the atmosphere 43% stronger” than in pre-industrial times. Some people have made a comparison between global warming and the danger for a human body warming up by that amount. I have never made such a comparison and don’t think it accurate to do so. The incorrect description of 11% more energy in the atmosphere was not in the original Deep Adaptation paper.