Debating the Pros and Cons of Deep Adaptation? Start Here with a New Edition of Original Paper

Two years after the original 2018 Deep Adaptation paper was released, an updated version is now available. 

It is only one paper within an increasing field of academic scholarship on dangerous climate change and societal collapse. However, given that it is so widely referenced by proponents and critics, an updated version may be helpful. 

This blog summarises the key changes, a participatory means for future discussion of its strengths and weaknesses, and some advice on generative dialogue on collapse-relevant scholarship. 

Debating the finer points of this or that paper could be a distraction from a fuller processing and engagement with our predicament. However, if you are a little confused by the debate on the science, perhaps to an extent that is generating some internal dissonance and inaction, then I hope this update will be useful to you.

However, I would like to issue a mutual health warning along with the Revised 2nd Edition of the paper. If we spend time competing over who is more clever, more right, more ethical, or more brave, then we will be losing together. We would be reproducing the culture that has created the destruction of our planet. Instead, a mutual surrender of those habits and desires for self-affirmation or psychological safety could invite something far more productive. It could be part of a deeper surrender to multiple forms of knowledge, to action without control, to strong emotions without blame, to solidarity without conformity, and to guidance from beyond the ego. 

It is in that spirit that I am opening up the paper for ongoing review. In an age of online asynchronous document editing and commenting, there are few excuses for us not to engage in dialogue rather than combative debate. The reification of knowledge into separate disciplines and discrete chunks of text is a relic of the industrial age. Such reification alongside combative approaches to discussion can reduce our ability to learn together. For instance, one recent critique of the original Deep Adaptation paper made 26 statements about that paper which were factually incorrect (summarised here). Such mistakes are before we even get to a discussion of analysis or opinion, which is not a helpful basis for mutual exploration of the situation. Therefore, to enable more participatory means of any future discussion of strengths and weaknesses of the paper, I have created a google document of the Revised Edition, where anyone can comment. I am not a climate scientist and have other priorities, so I will not be issuing a future revised edition, and instead encourage anyone who wishes to critique, support or nuance the arguments to do so on that googledoc

For a summary of what the Deep Adaptation agenda, framework and community are all about, please read “The Love in Deep Adaptation” instead.

Key Changes to the Revised Edition

Much has happened in the two years since the paper came out on July 27th 2018. On the 1st anniversary, I released a compendium of peer-reviewed research which aligned with the evidence in the paper. Since then the Deep Adaptation field has flourished, with people, including myself, exploring issues of mental health, food security, social justice, decolonisation, climate activism, spirituality, diet, localisation, community living, local currencies, and beyond. The original Deep Adaptation paper was written to speak directly to the corporate sustainability profession and its researchers. The paper Revised Edition maintains the same intention and audience, as otherwise it would have meant a completely new paper.

The revised edition has six changes I consider relevant to mention:

First, I define societal collapse. In 2018 I was not aware of the field that is now called ‘collapsology’ as it was only in French at the time, and my search of management and sustainability literature did not identify it to me. I do not review this field in this paper as that would be a major new study and instead direct people to the book now in English

Second, I state more clearly that the paper itself does not prove collapse is inevitable but that is my personal view of the situation. The original paper already stated that, but the abstract of the paper did not make that clear. The extent of misrepresentation of both the paper and the Deep Adaptation movement on this matter means that I have added additional text on this issue. I point people to the recent work in ‘collapsology’ to explore further if they are interested. 

Third, I refine and support with peer-reviewed articles the criticisms of past climate science for under-predicting both the current situation and future risk. In particular, criticisms of the processes of the IPCC that have led to under-stating the risks we face and the timeframes.  

Fourth, I add additional peer-reviewed references to the sections on Arctic ice, methane emissions and tipping points. In the original article I did not conclude that year round ice free Arctic will occur this decade, nor did I conclude that seafloor methane hydrates will be released at significant levels. I concluded that both are real risks and that the science is inconclusive but the more recent science and observational data is becoming more concerning. I have added recent peer-reviewed references on those issues, slightly tone down the language so people do not mistakenly assume I conclude massive seafloor methane release is happening right now, and provide evidence from 2019 that 9 of 15 key tipping points appear to be activated. That is, sadly, worse news for humanity than when I was writing in early 2018.  

Fifth, I add an additional statement that when discussing how some people are talking about the issue of human extinction that this is not the focus of Deep Adaptation. In the original paper I already critiqued the view of Inevitable Near-Term Human Extinction (INTHE). Instead, I concluded that it now appears possible, not certain or probable, this century. However, it appears that statement has needed additional clarification for the more casual reader. To discuss the existence of the INTHE concept, one should cite their key authors, just as other critics do. In my update, I have referenced peer-reviewed climate science which indicates a 1 in 20 chance of humanity going extinct this century, as the possibility of our extinction remains a credible view and additional reason for bold action on climate, environment and solidarity.  

Sixth, I explain the Deep Adaptation framework more clearly and fully. The agenda is for people who think that societal collapse is probable, inevitable or already occurring and want to embody and enable loving responses to that predicament. I add the 4th R to the framework, which is Reconciliation. The original paper called for more bold action on carbon cuts and drawdown, which this version maintains. That is because Deep Adaptation is not about giving up but opening up to a wider agenda. I remain convinced that it would be defeatist to deny the increasing likelihood of societal collapse and the need for deep adaptation alongside carbon cuts, drawdown, and the restoration of ecosystems.

A word document showing all the track changes is available here, and will be provided to all those who have translated the original into various languages. 

Advice on generative dialogue on collapse-relevant scholarship

I prepared a Revised Edition because the Deep Adaptation paper has become associated with some strong emotions, bold activism, life changing decisions and heated debates. Therefore, alongside the release of this edition, I wish to offer some reflections on ways of engaging with this topic in future. They can be summarised as: disengage with division, open to dialogue and listen to all the sciences.

Disengage with division:

The rise in awareness about climate change over the last couple of years has brought new people into the movement from all walks of life. That is to be celebrated and harnessed for good. It also brings with it some challenges. First, some people are on a steep learning curve about the deeper drivers of environmental destruction, found within our economics and culture. Second, some people may not have an understanding of how the environmental movement has been subverted, neutralised, divided and misled in the past. This lack of context makes them vulnerable to vested interests. It is essential to note that a new dimension to our sense-making about humanity’s situation is the nuclear lobby trying to split the environmental movement between those who believe we can continue our societies with some more power stations and those who believe our societies will totally change by choice or planetary limits. To avoid contributing to that division, we can ask ourselves who might benefit from certain framings and initiatives, and normalise discussion of possible conflicts of interest of people who engage on environmental issues. We will benefit from wise minds within the environmental movement, especially from people who take on leadership roles. While missteps from colleagues new to this struggle can be forgiven, any repetition of strategic errors should lead to disengagement by those of us, whether scholars or activists, who are working for bold social change – because as there are many thousands of other people ready to act in solidarity. 

Open to dialogue:

We should support researchers of any age and experience to be curious about knowledge and multiple ways of knowing, rather than seeing scholarship as a battlefield upon which to win. It is in that spirit that I am opening up the paper for ongoing future critique, in this google document. The problem with seeing scholarship as conflictual is that people can seek to win an argument by any means, including by ‘horribilising’ those people and ideas they cast as opponents. I was disappointed that a recent critique of Deep Adaptation not only misrepresented the arguments in the original paper dozens of times, but also misrepresented me on indigenous issues in a way that might “mobilize aggression” against me, according to a leading indigenous scholar. Therefore, in the spirit of open dialogue, people who choose to criticise others should also welcome scrutiny and dialogue. That may help moderate some of the misrepresentations that could occur when scholars become over excited about their lines of ‘attack’. Therefore, I am opening up to analysis the longest and best known criticism of the original Deep Adaptation paper, an essay in Open Democracy. Anyone can comment. There I provide annotations, showing where there were 26 critical statements on the original paper that involved a misrepresentation of the arguments in that paper, and 7 critical statements about myself, the Deep Adaptation agenda or community that are factually incorrect. In the annotations I provide suggestions for further reading by the authors and their backers, so they can better understand the academic fields of scholarship that are relevant to their critiques. I hope this will also be a resource for future reviewers of content on these topics. 

Listen to all the sciences:

One of the key messages of climate campaigners over the years has been – “listen to the science.” That is a clear message to policy makers whose economic policies, amongst others, have not placed the climate emergency at the start of their policy thinking. However, we also know that the IPCC is a conservative intergovernmental group which seeks consensus and therefore does not include some of the worst information and analysis. Therefore “listen to the science” also means listen to all the science, not only that which is able to be included in a lengthy consensus process. Fortunately, since 2018, the IPCC has become clearer on the risks, but this wider need to listen to all science remains. In particular, is the need to recognise that an assessment of our situation, why society does not change, and how it may change in future, is not the realm of climate science, nor any natural science at all. Instead, it is the realm of the social sciences. Therefore, our new message needs to be “listen to all the sciences.” Listening to all the sciences would mean listening to the humanities, philosophy, social psychology, critical sociology, political studies, heterodox economics, decolonial cultural studies and educational theory, amongst others fields of scholarship. 

Unfortunately many scholars working on climate change are not versed in a variety of scholarly areas and thus make simplistic mistakes in both their research and public communications. For instance, there are articles being published by academics on the frames and narratives around climate change which suggest little to no awareness of the authors about the main fields of scholarship that relate to such an inquiry. In particular: cognitive linguistics and critical discourse analysis. As such, they uncritically use terms like ‘doomism’ without use of linguistic or discourse theory, nor use significant recent primary data, or show any reflexivity on their own ideology, frames and intentions. Therefore such academics might unintentionally add to the discourses of denial of adaptation as a valid, urgent and complementary agenda in climate discussions. 

Many scientists are not trained in cognitive linguistics, framing, narrative, discourse, and how that shapes the way they perceive, feel, think, analyse and communicate. This means unconscious bias problematically shapes their contributions. That could become a worse problem for humanity’s understanding of our predicament if their views become empowered to censor discussion on the internet, via climate fact-checking services employed by Facebook and other social media, as has already begun

In the Open Democracy article that critiques the original Deep Adaptation paper, their main source is one blog from one scientist on tipping points. That blog and its enthusiastic embrace by some in the climate science community may reflect a sociological ignorance. A rapid review of it’s opening paragraph reveals how an ideology is shaping the framing and narrative. The blog’s self-appointed attempt to own truth and impose it on other people is reflected in the framing that this opinion in a blog is a “Fact-Check Verdict”. Why would a scientist seek to simplify messaging in such an unscientific way? If the aspiration is to become part of the Facebook fact checking machine, then the choice of framing would be tactical. But that would mean this subjective opinion is offered so as to control, not just contribute to, informed discussion of climate change. Here is the text of the blog cited by the Open Democracy authors:

“Claim: A summer ice-free Arctic (called by some the “Blue Ocean Event”) will happen within the next few years and will cause an abrupt worsening of climate change and possible runaway feedbacks. Reality: A summer ice-free Arctic will probably happen within the next few decades, but the exact year will depend on unpredictable natural variability. A summer ice-free Arctic would worsen regional warming and impacts, but would not cause a big or sudden increase in global temperatures.”

A quick textual analysis reveals the following:

  • “probably happen within the next few decades” – that could also be within this decade. Why is the author wanting to dismiss the possibility it could happen in the 2020s, when the author states that things can’t be clearly predicted? That is a subjective choice of deployment of scientific uncertainty, not in line with precautionary principle. 
  • “the exact year will depend on unpredictable natural variability” – everyone knows that, so this is an irrelevant focus for this blog and this headline, which is therefore stated as a linguistic device to imply the author is more nuanced and therefore wiser. However, wisdom involves relevance and significance, and so for that we could have been invited to reflect on the meaningfulness of variability to humanity and the hazards we face. 
  • “a summer ice-free Arctic would worsen regional warming and impacts” – this is widely known and “regional” includes the jet streams which then impact the majority of weather in the key northern hemisphere agricultural zones. That some scientific doubt on the impact of Arctic warming on jet streams exists is not significant enough to downplay both the theory on it and observable current weather changes from that effect. 
  • “would not cause a big or sudden increase in global temperatures.” – the emphasis on solo cause is unhelpful, as it would contribute to global warming at a global level over time. The concepts of “big” and “sudden” are subjective, whereas the importance is if the warming is disruptive. If the spreading out of warming from the Arctic to elsewhere is slower, then it may disrupt jet streams more than if the warming spread out faster. So the relevance and significance of this statement is doubtful. 

The world urgently needs better communications on the state of our climate and the woeful level of response. It also needs better communications on the reasons why we are in this predicament and what to do about it. I share that view with all climate activists and professionals, whether critics or proponents of the deep adaptation perspective. I have hitherto not sought mainstream media coverage for collapse-anticipation, as I focused on helping those who already adopted this perspective to help each other. However, now that criticism may be pushing this topic more into the mainstream, it becomes time for more advocacy that we “listen to all the sciences” as well as normalising deep adaptation and collapsology as a complement to wider climate action. I am pleased some of us have had a head start of a couple of years, and I am so grateful to amazing colleagues and volunteers in the Deep Adaptation Forum who will enable positive responses to grow from collapse-anticipation

If you are a climate scientist, or any form of scholar who is engaged in these topics, and you concur with some of the ideas in this blog, I would like to ask you to step up and write articles about that and cite this new field of deep adaptation. Why? It appears that people with strong feelings against any collapse-anticipation, as well as some people working with vested interests, are now seeking to influence the public conversation. Naturally, it would be helpful for people to see some other perspectives to those. If you would like to engage with other scholars on these topics, please consider joining the research group of the Deep Adaptation Forum.

If this discussion of the topic leads you to experience greater emotional difficulty about our predicament, then that is normal. I would like to suggest you consider reaching out to others who are in a similar situation. The free forum is available via www.deepadaptation.info I also make some suggestions here:

Please re-share this blog on social media, or republish on other websites.

x Jem

Further Reading

Over the past two years I have written some blogs about forms of resistance to engaging in the Deep Adaptation agenda. In chronological order:

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