Can you escape sustainable development?

This is the text of a newsletter sent to people who receive my irregular updates (that go out once or twice a year)

As you registered for my irregular update, a good guess is that you are interested in sustainable development – the concept for social and environmental progress that took off since the 1992 Earth Summit. So, in opening this update (my first since March last year), I’d like to clear up something: sustainable development is a lie. It has been a successful one because it helps middle class professionals earn salaries while pretending that’s for them caring about the world. Not only does all the recent data point to the failure to improve the world by spreading one economic model, but that failure was widely predicted decades ago. People like me ignored such critique because we wanted to believe something else. Why? Not because it was good for wildlife, landscapes and the poor. We wanted to believe because it was convenient with our careers to develop, consumer lifestyles to lead, houses to buy and kids to bring up. Ouch. But I’m tired of the mix of pseudo-concern and pseudo-professionalism that surrounds me in the sustainability field. Fortunately, many of us won’t pretend anymore.

I was one of hundreds of scholars who signed a public letter last year that stated sustainable development is a redundant framework. I wrote about it in the Independent newspaper and presented that letter at a UN conference. My research paper on the subject was published, perhaps ironically, in the peer reviewed journal Sustainability. And I also summarised it in the ‘End of Sustainable Development’ essay.

So what? Well, if we admit failure, then we can begin to learn and try to become useful in a different way. Although most experts are stuck within the sustainable development framework, more are now exploring how to be useful from a post-sustainability perspective. I was delighted to teach some of them on a leadership and communications course last year, and so am offering it again. If you are ready to speak out professionally or publicly on the need to prepare for societal disruption (and even collapse) then please consider joining a free online course that I co-teach. The application deadline for one that is suited for the Americas and Australia is this coming Friday. The deadline for the one suitable for Europe and Africa is next month. Alternatively, I will teach a similar course with the University of Cumbria online in November. You would need to sign up to my blog to receive notification as soon as those applications are opened.

You’re right if you sense that I am not writing this update to please my readers. Many of my former peers in the corporate sustainability field are not keen on my outlook. Perhaps because of professional and psychological investments in stories of reform, it might be pointless for me to communicate with the sustainability sector. But just in case, I had ‘one last hurrah’ by co-hosting panels and speaking at the COP27 climate conference in Egypt. I was pleased to platform Mexican indigenous activist Xiye Bastida, Kenyan climate scholar Dr Stella Nyambura Mbau, Canadian climate adaption innovator Dr Ye Tao, and climate adaptation scholar Dr Lisa Schipper. I gave mini speeches on the corporate capture of the climate agenda, the need for climate honesty about catastrophic scenarios, and for more serious attention to adaptation, as well why the idea of a “climate scam” is becoming popular. I also launched the Scholars’ Oath to the Future, on which a film is being made. In the run up to COP27, I examined some of the latest climate science and produced a somewhat contrarian essays on the topic for the publication Brave New Europe. I was interested to see my work begin to crop up in more mainstream outlets like the Economist, but a really serious engagement with this outlook still seems beyond both mainstream experts, media and policy makers. Because unless your primary concern is truth and justice, then it’s easier to shoot the messenger – something I’ll return to in a moment.  

The Deep Adaptation Q&As continued over the past year and can be viewed here. You can join us for the next one with Satish Kumar, where we will be discussing his new book Radical Love as well as implications of anticipating societal collapse. On June 18th, Satish will be joining me and Extinction Rebellion co-founder Skeena Rathor in Glastonbury (just before the festival) for the launch of my book Breaking Together. I will also be presenting some of the ideas in Bristol (UK) on June 16th, with the Schumacher Institute. To be notified as soon as registrations open, and to receive a link to a free copy of my book when it is released, you need to be subscribed to my blog. An additional way of being kept up-to-date with news, views and resources on Deep Adaptation is to receive the free quarterly.

Over the past year, I continued to put essays on my blog for people who are interested in navigating the collapse of modern societies in kinder and wiser ways, both personally and politically. There weren’t many people on the environmental left who questioned the orthodoxies on either climate or Covid, and so I considered it a useful contribution to provide heavily referenced essays on those topics, despite inevitable pushback. Below, I list some of the essays and what they were about. For the previous couple of years, I had accepted the advice not to formally challenge misrepresentations of my work in magazines and simply maintain a focus on helping connect and advise those who resonated with this work. However, as a belief in progress crumbles in society, people could become vulnerable to manipulation and if anti-establishment pro-local responses like those coming from the Deep Adaptation are marginalised then it won’t help. Therefore, for the first time I used formal processes of complaint. I was pleased to obtain a retraction from the New Internationalist for some of their arguments. Rather than hear Western journalists in such magazines tell us that collapse anticipation is bad for the poor, I recommend we listen to Southern scholars and activists themselves, for whom collapse is not such an objectionable way of interpreting the situation at all (eg. Dr Nyambura Mbau). The objections to collapse-anticipation are most vociferous from the ecomodernist middle classes who want to have their planetary cake and eat it too. Speaking of which, I was also pleased that openDemocracy issued a clarification to their major essay that had attacked the Deep Adaptation analysis and response 2 years ago. Away from the magazines and newspapers, the various strands of academia are taking collapse-anticipation far more seriously, with one review finding the Deep Adaptation paper was cited nearly 300 times in a range of related research.

A deeply troubling arena of polarisation is the discussion about pandemic responses. After looking at the latest analysis, I regard long Covid as potentially extremely bad for society at large, not only for the unfortunate sufferers. I remain sceptical of the orthodox response that prioritised masks, lockdowns and novel vaccines over myriad other measures, such as nutrition, supplements, repurposed medicines, ventilation, and helping workers with symptoms stay home without losing income or job security. I remain outraged at the way the orthodoxy was driven by the interests of large pharmaceutical companies, and imposed by members of the establishment using coercion, censorship and demonisation of expert dissent. I also remain saddened by how many people who said they were committed to reducing harm and hate during societal disruption became aggressive advocates of the pharma-agenda. One journalist tried to argue that the lyrics to my comedy folk song “Something’s Needling Me” were medical misinformation. I was pleased the publisher of the magazine agreed that those criticisms were unsubstantiated and issued corrections. They also published my letter of response. Sadly, the bubble of mainstream misinformation has yet to be popped so I am still on the receiving end of vitriol such as a Guardian journalist with half a million followers stating I “sprayhose” people “with lethal disinformation.” I can’t fathom how many journalists, politicians and celebrities live in an alternate reality where the latest data and science on the pandemic responses does not reach them. Even if their online experience is secretly curated by US bigtech on behalf of big pharma, they could easily do a bit of digging for themselves or talk to scientists with different conclusions to the orthodoxy. The longer this avoidance of reasonable discussion on the breadth of data and science on the pandemic and its responses, then the more fundamental a rejection of the individuals and their organisations will likely be. The ramifications for all other areas of public policy are difficult to predict.

Apart from promoting the Breaking Together book and teaching a bit, this year I’m looking forward to getting back to music as well as developing my small agroforestry farm in collaboration with the local university and organic farming charity. After supporting a community seaweed farming initiative last year, I want to do more of what can be done rather than critique what shouldn’t.

To discuss any of the themes in this update, visit:

Climate-related essays

Don’t be a climate user – an essay on climate science communication – where I discuss the way ‘committed warming’ from past emissions is being unscientifically played down to maintain a narrative.

Boring Averages and Climate Brightsiding – big mistakes in climate comms during #ClimateWeek – where I summarise some of the key arguments in my two extended essays for Brave New Europe.  

Where Wisdom and Geoengineering Meet – where I discuss my Q&A with the originator of MEER reflection project to try and achieve some locally-controlled solar radiation management.

Capitalism Versus Climate Justice – thoughts on my first and last experience of climate COP – where I discuss why I went to COP and the presentations I made there, and why it fails.

When #ClimateScam is Trending –rethinking climate comms – the text of one of my speeches at COP27 where I call for climate experts to move beyond technocratic, pseudo-positive and authoritarian attitudes.

The Lamborghini-Loving Culture Kills Life on Earth, but the Conference of Profits (COP) is fine with that- where I discuss the corporate capture of the climate agenda – past, present and future.

Climate Honesty – are we ‘beyond catastrophe’? – where I critique the baseless argument that the climate establishment is making any real progress on mitigating climate change.

Sustainability-related essays

What has the UN Disaster Risk Reduction agency got to do with you? – the full transcript of an interview I did with a journalist from the Independent.

Telling Uncomfortable Truths to Progressives – where I discuss the misguided ecomodernist agenda that is being aggressively promoted with the centre-left of politics, and host deputy leader of Lancaster City Council to explain.

Hoarding Green Righteousness Will Not Get Us Far – dialogue will – where I host XR co-founder Skeena Rathor in her rebuttal to the criticisms of Deep Adaptation from ecomodernists.

Let’s have faith in reality and humanity, not the tired hopes of modernity – where I discuss the mistaken assumptions of those who argue for the need to have hope in maintaining progress.

Don’t blame Putin or Covid for your sky-high grocery bill – where I summarise how a particular type of Quantitative Easing that benefited large corporations is the cause of the ongoing inflation.

Towards a 5th R in the Deep Adaptation Framework? – Where I discuss insights arising from a Q&A with Reverend Lauren Van Ham.

Pandemic-related essays

As Covid is here to stay – an excerpt from Breaking Together, forthcoming 2023 offers my summary of the latest science about the disease, its effects, the responses, and their effects.

Rulers or Pets? Some history on their relative threat to your health – is an unedited excerpt from my forthcoming book Breaking Together, where I discuss the phenomenon of ‘elite panic’ and how it often makes matters worse in a crisis.

It’s not too late to stop being a tool of oppression – where I summarise some of the most important science on Covid which undermines the authoritarian approach that was taken by many governments worldwide.

They’ve gone too far with the children – so what do we do?  – where I summarise the science against Covid vaccination for children and the appalling abrogation of duty of officials in leading institutions to protect the health, wellbeing and rights of children.

To discuss any of the themes in this update, visit:

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