Professor Jem Bendell

Notes from a strategist & educator on social & organisational change, now focused on #DeepAdaptation

Inviting Scientists to Challenge or Improve Deep Adaptation

Posted by jembendell on December 9, 2019

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 December 31st 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.

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Deep Adaptation Q&As for 2020

Posted by matslats on November 12, 2019

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. A sign up link to each individual Q&A is provided at the end of each summary.

Q&A with Caroline Hickman of the Climate Psychology Alliance, discussing climate anxiety and children.

January 24, 2020 from 3:00pm to 4:00pm UTC0
Caroline teaches at the University of Bath & is a member of the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA) Executive Committee; academic & psychotherapist. She is researching children & young people’s feelings about the climate… More.

Q&A with Dahr Jamail, author of ‘The End of Ice’, discussing transformative power of acceptance.

February 11, 2020 from 1:00am to 2:00am UTC0
Dahr is an award winning journalist and author who spent more than a year in Iraq reporting on the 2003 war between 2003-2013, and has reported for The Guardian, The Independent, The Nation, The Huffington Post, Truthout, Le Monde Diplomatique… More.

Q&A with Amisha Ghadiali from ‘The Future Is Beautiful’ podcast, discussing sources of positivity within our predicament.

March 12, 2020 from 9:00am to 10:00am UTC0
Amisha is an experienced facilitator and has a gift of bringing people into connection with themselves, each other and the earth. She has hosted many retreats and workshops, that include yoga, meditation and sacred activism such as The Heart of… More.

Q&A with Sister Jayanti, European Leader of Brahma Kumaris, discussing the spiritual invitation of these times.

April 14, 2020 from 10:00am to 11:00am UTC+01
Sister Jayanti is the European Director of Brahma Kumaris, their representative at the United Nations in Geneva and a spiritual leader and teacher for over 50 years. She is a pioneer advocate for the spiritual basis of caring for the earth… More.

Q&A with John Doyle of the European Commission, discussing need for a bold new policy agenda.

May 8, 2020 from 5:00pm to 6:00pm UTC+01
John is Sustainable Development Policy Coordinator of the European Commission, Information Society and Media Directorate-General. Currently he is working on mainstreaming Sustainable Development in the Information Society Directorate… More.

Q&A with Elsie Luna, of #FridaysForFuture, Extinction Rebellion, discussing adult solidarity with children.

June 13, 2020 from 1:30pm to 2:30pm UTC+01
Elsie Luna is an 11 year old activist who has been a key organiser and spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion and Extinction Rebellion Youth. She was one of the first UK strikers for Fridays For the Future and co-founded and co-coordinates… More.

Q&A with Skeena Rathor, cofounder of Extinction Rebellion, discussing political action for deep adaptation.

July 6, 2020 from 9:00pm to 10:00pm UTC+01
Skeena ia a mum of three who lives in Stroud, where she runs the Politics Kitchen and is a co-founder of Compassionate Stroud, which birthed the ecology activist group Extinction Rebellion. She is also a Labour Councillor, a trauma release therapist, and teaches Pilates, Yoga, Feldenkrais, Garuda and Energy… More.

Q&A with Katharine Wilkinson of Project Drawdown, discussing the synergies between adaptation and carbon drawdown.

August 1, 2020 from 6:00pm to 7:00pm UTC+01
Katharine is Vice President of Communication & Engagement at Project Drawdown, advancing the organization’s message, reach, and influence around the world… More.

Q&A with Henk Barendregt, mathematical logician, discussing ways of being with the suffering of our times.

September 8, 2020 from 11:00am to 12:00pm UTC+01
Henk received his doctorate in Mathematical Logic in 1971, and continued studying studied Zen meditation and Vipasssana meditation until 2006. As occupant of the chair of Foundations of Mathematics and Computer Science at Nijmegen… More.

Q&A with Rupert Read, Spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, discussing global climate activism on adaptation.

October 10, 2020 from 10:00am to 11:00am UTC+01
Rupert is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia. He is author of eight books on a range of subjects and specialises in Wittgenstein, philosophy of film, and ecological philosophy. Rupert formerly chaired Green… More.

Q&A with Jilani Cordelia Prescott, Sufi Elder, discussing active compassion in the climate emergency.

November 25, 2020 from 8:30pm to 9:30pm UTC0
Jilani is a classically trained musician, a Certified Leader and Mentor of the Dances of Universal Peace International, and a teacher in the Sufi Ruhaniat International (a Universal Western Sufi Order). She leads retreats and workshops all over the… More.

Q&A with Sean Kelly, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness, discussing a post-hope positive approach to life.

December 13, 2020 from 6:00pm to 7:00pm UTC0
Sean Ph.D., is professor of Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). He is the author of Coming Home: The Birth and Transformation of the Planetary Era, co-editor of The Variety of… More.

The Deep Adaptation Forum organises these free Q&As. We would welcome any financial support you can offer via

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News review on Deep Adaptation – August to November 2019

Posted by jembendell on November 10, 2019

In recent months, more mainstream media have reported on aspects of deep adaptation to climate chaos. Here is a quick summary of some written outputs since August 2019.

In August, the Guardian started its review of the Extinction Rebellion handbook by focusing on the chapter from Jem Bendell that warns of societal collapse.

In September, an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald discussed some of the latest climate science and the views that collapse may now be inevitable. Also in September, an old South Carolina newspaper, The Post and Courier, published a discussion of the growing sentiment that climate change is speeding up and threatens collapse. All of that was topped by an opinion piece in the New Yorker by novelist Jonathan Franzen, which invited readers to consider what it would mean to them if was too late to stop catastrophic change from climate change. The way Professor Jem Bendell has been reinventing his focus as an academic in response to the latest climate news was featured in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

In October, the BBC published a discussion of the rise of climate anxiety, and cited work on deep adaptation. The New York Times also carried an opinion piece that explained how the narrative on climate change has been changing to recognise how it threatens our way of life, and highlighted the Deep Adaptation research. In India, one columnist in The Statesman discussed some of the more disquieting science. Also in October, the UK Government website (let’s call that mainstream media) carried a speech from the Chair of the Environment Agency, who quoted Professor Bendell:

“Executives in the private, government and charity sectors all face growing frustration at the clear net impotence of our actions on climate change. This ‘stasis anxiety’ will grow as the news on extreme weather and the latest science becomes more worrying.”

In November, an article for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation discussed how apocalyptic outlooks are becoming the topic of dinner party conversations, and causing stress in relationships. The “deep adaptation” outlook was recognised as not being simply gloomy, but transformative.

One of the best ways to keep up with the latest news on deep adaptation is through the Positive Deep Adaptation Facebook Group, as its near 8000 members are regularly posting relevant information.

But if you have a deeper interest that what the mainstream media will provide at this time, we recommend some of the writings and speeches from Professor Bendell on aspects ranging from leadership to localisation, from psychology to spirituality, and from social justice to the merits of Jonathan Franzen.

Hope in a time of climate chaos” was a keynote speech at the UK Council for Psychotherapy, where Jem discussed climate anxiety and the implications for their profession. A full transcript is available as well as a video of the talk.

Will We Care Enough to Matter to Them? Climate Justice, Solidarity and Deep Adaptation” is a short article on these issues which are central to the new wave of climate activism, including Extinction Rebellion and the movement that is growing about Deep Adaptation. It includes a link to a speech Jem gave on the topic in Glasgow.

The Spiritual Invitation of Climate Chaos” is a short article on Jem’s personal reflections on this huge topic, which includes a video of a speech he gave at the Buddhafields’ festival called Green Earth Awakening.

Leadership for Deep Adaptation” is a short article where Jem describes some of the organising philosophy he has brought to the development of the Deep Adaptation Forum, and where he celebrates the many volunteers who are making the various activities grow. It also includes an interview with him about these topics.

Why Deep Adaptation needs re-localisation” is a short co-authored article with Matthew Slater, where they discuss the importance of re-localising our economic relations as a means of promoting resilience in the face of risks of disruption to the global economy. Matthew, Jem and colleague Dorian are also co-authors of a new IFLAS Occasional Paper that explains the way Local Governments could initiate their own local currencies to promote such resilience.

Please don’t shut up Mr Franzen” is a response from Jem to the criticism levelled at the novelist for inviting a new conversation about adapting to devastation from climate chaos.

If you spotted a mainstream news item in the months of August to November 2019 that was not mentioned above, please link to it in the comments below.

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Talks & courses with Jem Bendell in 2020

Posted by jembendell on November 9, 2019

In 2020 Professor Jem Bendell plans the following events. They are already filling up, so we recommend that if you are interested, you apply soon.

Sustainable Leadership Course, April 27th to 30th, in Cumbria, UK, is for people who want to explore how to lead change in communities, politics or organisations to deeply adaptation to the climate crisis. Led by Jem with facilitation by Katie Carr.

The Future of the University in the Face of Climate Crisis, April 29th in Cumbria, UK, is a lecture that will also be filmed and released afterwards. To attend in person book here.

Business of Deep Adaptation, May 12th-15th at Hazel Hill Wood in Somerset, UK, will be particularly relevant for professionals exploring what companies and their consultants can do to enable deep adaptation. This will be led by Alan Heeks and others, with guest sessions by Jem. Details to follow. Request them here.

Deep Adaptation Retreat, June 19th-26th in Pelion, Greece, is particularly relevant for facilitators of processes. Co-led by Jem and Katie Carr. A video with participants from last year is available here.

Before September 2020,  Jem will not be doing many other talks or events, as he will be researching and writing a book. If you want to source a speaker or workshop leader on Deep Adaptation, you could contact some relevant experts here.

In addition to these in-person events, Jem will also be doing monthly online Q&As (the next is with Charles Eisenstein) a Facebook Live session, and two online zoom seminars on the inter-disciplinary research and teaching implications of Deep Adaptation. To receive information on these free online events, subscribe to the Deep Adaptation Quarterly.

In addition to these activities, Jem will be hosting monthly Q&As with people from around the globe.

Jem and Tom in workshop

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Gathering in groups as society falls apart – by Vicki Robin

Posted by jembendell on November 8, 2019

VR.SMILE_.JIM-1x1-350x350A guest blog by Vicki Robin, best-selling co-author of Your Money or Your Life, author of Blessing the Hands That Feed Us, and member of the Deep Adaptation Forum.

“Everyone wants community. Unfortunately, it involves other people.” I used that line in lectures on frugal living when talking of the loneliness of consumerism and the benefits of sharing resources. We idealize the good old days of people helping people out. But can we live them, given who we have become?

Individualism is one of the many privileges of ‘the privileged’ in Western society. We have options and choices about where we live, with whom, of what genders, ages or races, whether we are child-free or have a brood, what we eat, what we believe, jobs we’ll accept, and on and on and on. As people look at civilizational breakdown in detail, though, they realize that to survive, other people might not be optional – joining a group, a farm, a small town might be necessary.

Survival is not a solo sport. If it happens, it will happen in community – intentional, multi-generational family, accidental – where we can share the work, grow food, trade, defend ourselves, socialize, learn, teach, repair. Civilization, it turns out, has a lot of services built in that will need to be maintained as long as possible or created anew… or done without.

How do we, who are so accustomed to individualism, enter into a new reality of living in concert with others? Not as a condiment but as a necessity. Not through idealistic eyes but as a sober process of surrendering attachment to the ego’s demands and entering a state of belonging to a people and a place.

I’ve lived in several communities and learned many lessons, surprising ones and hard ones. Here are some ideas for those of you contemplating moving to an existing rural community or forming your own, given your perspective of deep adaptation.

In short…People. Power. Process. Projects. And sex. These will arise in any group that bands together for mutual aid. Best to talk about this – early and often.

aerial view of rice fields with houses

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Diversity of perspectives bring depth and wisdom to choices

I lived for a number of years with a team of ten people who had a series of shared goals in a larger context of service to others. I used to describe it as a cross between a monastery and the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

We developed many rituals and lots of mottos (and plenty of shadow). One motto was: “People before Projects and Projects before People’s ‘stuff’.” In other words, our relationships were primary. If our projects turned our relationships into merely team functions and we failed to remember our humanity and care, we would stop and reset. But if our projects were stalled because people indulged in public reactivity (fighting, pouting, gossiping, rejection, etc), we would ask them to work it through within or with one another.

We also developed rituals and simple tools for staying current. At least once a week we’d ‘circle up’ for heart sharing, which is very much like council or a talking stick circle. We’d share dinner daily, a time to catch up. For many groups even this much time together is noxious, but if you are in surviving-together-mode, the need for coordination increases. We also had a bulletin board and a notebook in a central place for messages. These days you’d have a Facebook group – though consider that we may be back to 20th century tools in the future.

Proximity will surely stimulate sexual energies and interests. Sticking in monogamous couples or singles dating responsibly is often the safest, but it’s good to acknowledge that people may well develop powerful feelings for their not-mates. Unacknowledged sexual attractions are wrecking balls for communities. Good communication channels and practices can at least provide ways to process these often-destructive disturbances.

Who makes decisions, and how, can be unexamined and therefore slip towards unequal, sometimes unconscious, power-over. Some conscious groups try to reverse the privilege scale by having women and people of colour speak first and white men later. In council we talk about “be lean of expression” and to not speak again until everyone has spoken once – just two of the rules that help all feel heard and all contributions get made.

In my team we explored a number of personal development paths to become more conscious of ourselves and group dynamics. When we found the Enneagram, we realized that among the ten of us we embodied all nine of the personality-types it describes. The Enneagram is just one language to describe diversity of personalities. The Meyers Briggs framework sorts people out in a similar way along dimensions of introvert/ extrovert, thinking/ feeling, intuitive/ concrete, process oriented/ completion oriented. Organisations often use this tool to help workers get along with impossible others.

We chose to regard our archetypal personalities (or perspectives) as assets to our harmonious functioning and wise decision making. Faced with a choice, we’d have each person reflect briefly on the pros and cons and from this we would most often, with little discussion, hit on a choice with a “ring of rightness”. It wasn’t consensus per se. Sometimes there would be one perspective that captured all of us as right. Sometimes we’d scrap the whole thing. Sometimes we’d see that the idea was good but not ripe. Sometimes we defaulted to the “theory of the strong opinion” – that if one person was passionate and no one objected, they could act with support.

As individuals we often see others as competitors, allies for our cause, or irrelevant to our goals.

For communities with shared goals, such a diversity of perspectives in a container of love and respect is crucial. The goal could be anything from keeping the streets clean and the gardens tended to building a water wheel to generate power, to evolving spiritually while avoiding the cultic tendencies of all groups.

A diversity of talents held in a container of common purpose

Community survival is not the same as survival skills like fire building or hunting. Communities need a range of skills. Gardening, cooking, raising animals for food, fiber and fertility, foraging, turning dandelions (and beets and apples etc) into alcohol, natural building, natural medicine, composting waste, food preservation… and on and on. However, it also needs talents like mediators, meeting facilitators, priests or shamans of all sorts (for confession, for learning from mistakes, for healing from pain, for solace, and on and on), comedians, actors, artists, group game leaders, meditation (and other transformational) teachers, wise-elder leaders, and on and on…

People accustomed to ample space, time and independence will need to have gotten a grip on themselves, their reactivity, their shadow elements, their capacity for forgiveness and apology, and their ability to take a wider view of any circumstance. They will need true sobriety, not just from addictive substances but from any immaturity.

As you gather in a group, intentionally or improvisationally, beware that your current friend network or Facebook group may lack some crucial talents. Liking one another – when you all have separate lives – is no basis for joining forces to move together in anticipation of collapse. A talent inventory can help. If major talents are missing, people need to (joyfully hopefully) step up to learning. The quality of leadership is crucial as all this gets sorted out. Everyone can be a leader in being self-aware and in service to the group. Some are comfortable with holding and distributing power for the sake of the group. But leadership isn’t the same as wielding power.

How to join a village

As people realize how dependent cities are on the surrounding rural communities for food, environmental refugees might migrate. First, one or two early adopters. Then more. And more. You can’t just show up in town expecting open arms and hot meals. Rural communities stick together and take care of their own because that’s how they survive. Trust is earned. Your city ways (how you talk, the assumptions you make, your habits, your expertise) may strike folks as arrogant. You need to do things that people who belong do: show up for the small tasks of daily life, like volunteering in schools, churches, social service agencies. You go to the pancake breakfast and the fish fry. You usher at the local theatre. Or try out for a part. Or join the community choir.

Everything about deeply adapting to an unfolding collapse of modern society will grind away at your preferences and identities. If you think you might be one of the people who moves to a small town or onto a farm with a group of people here are some ways through which you can prepare yourself:

Starting to learn and practice Non-Violent Communication, or any process that teaches you to own your feelings, observing your projections, taming your demand that others change so you might continue to be comfortable, or manipulate and lie.

Joining a board or work on a project team to observe how you function in groups, how you judge others, how you offer your ideas, whether you talk a lot and over-talk others or hang back, your fears of being seen or looking stupid or doing more than your fair share.

Starting to learn some facilitation skills, like council, or active listening (“this is what I heard you say”), or organizing open space (where groups self-organize into interest groups) or consensus.

Starting to learn some coaching skills, how to ask questions and offer practices to others as they find their way. For example, friends and I developed a circle practice called Conversation Cafes that is now used globally.

Beginning or deepening a meditation practice that allows you to witness rather than identify with your thoughts, and to let go of stress, tightness and defensiveness though simply watching your breathing and tracking your thoughts and feelings without interacting with them.

Consider getting some therapy so you experience the beneficial effect of being listened to with warm awareness by someone who sides with you, not your inner critic.

These are suggestions for while the good times are still rolling. When the pressure is on and individuals find themselves in groups for survival – in collective households, in villages, on food lines, in camps – those who are mentally healthy, self-aware and skilled at working with others will be necessary for success. Frictions will arise. The skill is to work with them as they do. These are lessons from voluntary affiliations that can help us as we work to stay alive and keep our people well. To help, Diana Leafe Christian has written a wonderful book, Creating a Life Together, full of deep wisdom and practical advice. Much wisdom from the Eco-Village experiments worldwide has been captured in this excellent book by Karen Litfin, EcoVillages: Lessons for Sustainable Communities.

A final note…

Sh*t happens. As Robert Burnes said, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft a-gley:” People fall out of love. People have kids, need to move on, are banished, sink through quarrelling. At the end of the day, maturity is the bottom line. And humility. And good will.


Over to you:

Thank you Vicki, for fascinating reflections on this important issue, which is live for me and many people I speak to.  Have you got experience or advice for living in intentional communities? Please consider sharing this in the Community Action discussion group of the Deep Adaptation Forum. If you want to find or create a group on Deep Adaptation in your local area, start here

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Currency innovations for communities responding to climate emergency

Posted by matslats on November 7, 2019

A guest blog by Matthew Slater, Founder of Community Forge and General Assistant with the Deep Adaptation Forum.

handshakeAs Professor Jem Bendell and I discussed recently on this blog, localisation is an essential element of attempts at adapting to climate change. Reasons include how working at the local level is often easier than at the national level, local initiatives are often more appropriate than initiatives determined at a higher level, and a plethora of local initiatives creates diversity, which means the larger system can become more resilient.

One of the things we don’t often hear about being localised is finance. In the context of relocalising things like food, health, education, infrastructure, governance, localising finance is an obvious complement. That can involve giving local authorities more control over taxation, monetary policy, government debt, investment in infrastructure and the risk management that goes with all that.

It is possible to do all of this with national money, such as the pound, dollar or euro, but not is not optimal because national money is created and made available with somebody else’s intentions and for their profit. Contrary to popular misunderstanding, money is not simply a neutral form of ‘value’, like a lump of metal, that we use to trade. Money is designed to serve the same powerful political and economic interests who have imposed global capitalism on us. This becomes apparent when one comes to understand that in most modern economies, 97% of money is our debt to commercial banks (mortgages, business loans and government borrowing). The quantity, the price and the availability of that money is determined by their commercial interests. This global money has built-in biases which make it very difficult to use it to finance relocalisation, because it determines, through pricing and other mechanisms that, for instance, Chinese manufacturing with all its pollution and poor labour conditions, is ‘more efficient’, while local sourcing, which might entail a more circular economy, local jobs, more responsible waste management, more resilient supply chains, less transportation costs, is ‘unaffordable’.

So in the spirit of imagining ‘deep’ change, let us envisage how an economy with more local financial sovereignty might be different.

First of all, in contrast to global money which is issued (lent) to the least risky most profitable enterprises, local money would more likely be issued to finance local businesses. The choice of which businesses to finance and whether to use equity or debt would be an important political power which, devolved to the local level would enable appropriate decisions about risk. For example if a coastal town wanted to raise its sea defenses, instead of going to the bank and borrowing at commercial rates and paying back twice the amount from taxes, they might prefer other options like spreading the cost amongst the most low lying property owners, creating a financial instrument tied to the property insurance, or factoring in the cost of rehousing those people in later decades. On the other hand a new bakery might be widely expected to succeed unless badly mismanaged, so perhaps a local share issuance would be a good way to share risks and rewards within face-to-face relationships without anonymous intermediaries.

A local currency gives citizens and businesses a way to create credit amongst themselves, i.e. credit that is only acceptable in town. This credit can be used to settle debts incurred through local trade without recourse to borrowing from banks. Flexible amounts of ‘Money’ can be created this way to facilitate trade beneficial to all, as much as creditors are prepared to bare the risk of their neighbour debtors going broke or dying. A thriving local currency which can buy lots of local goods and services, would find itself being accepted in neighbouring communities.

Turning away from the global market would change the mood, attitudes and behaviours of producers and consumers. This could be viewed both positively and negatively. If consumers have less choice and producers would have less competition, this could be seen as correcting one of the injustices of globalisation – but the differences would be more profound than that. Localisation would bind producers and consumers more closely to one another, which would hopefully translate into better relationships and better customer service.

On the macro-scale, locally issued money would create a kind of diversity we are not used to, which provides resilience to national monetary policy made by banks for banks. The next banking crash is feared by some to bring down the whole global economy – a single system which ultimately depends on the dollar, the Federal Reserve, and US domestic policy. While there is no good reason why feckless speculation by hedge funds and others should obstruct the essential and stable process of growing grain, or baking bread and consuming it, because both ‘real’ and ‘speculative’ economies occupy the same marketplace and use the same money, they interfere with each other. We have a financial system which is super-efficient at channelling profits into stagnant money lakes of the tax havens, but a single spanner thrown in the works stops production! If spanners were anticipated and if the long term was seen as important, we would choose a more diverse, less efficient money system in which policy failures were contained, affecting only those markets who voted for those policies.

What would it mean to live in an economy not optimised for efficiency? To offer a very simplistic example: what if, instead of three clicks to summon a product to your doorstep in fifteen minutes, your purchase took more time and effort? Would the extra time be wasted? You might meet the producer, give somebody a lift on the way, talk to them, get some sunlight, exercise your eyes, gain knowledge which can be shared with others, learn something about your locality etc etc. Plus the Deliveroo and Amazon warehouse worker would be freed up to do other things. The increased effort you put into the purchase is dissipated over all the economy like ‘waste’ heat, except it needn’t be seen it as waste. It is greasing relationships, building trust, spreading information, improving mood increasing social and physical health, all of which is more valuable than the difference in price, if you want to measure it that way. The ‘slack’ in the system and the slowness also means the system can better absorb shocks. These ideas are explored more by Helena Norberg Hodge in the Economics of Happiness.

In saying the above I’m not proposing that the economy should slow down so that we can all have a nicer life, indeed that might not be the case. I believe, in spite of the GDP that the real global economy has been slowing down since 2008, and will continue to do so; it would be better for us if our policies and behaviours reflected the reality that global growth is over.

Prof Bendell and I have been fascinated by money for many years, and so we are proposing two monetary innovations for adaptation-oriented policy-makers. Both ideas could help local communities develop local economic resilience in the face of initial phases of climate chaos

  1. The first idea is for local governments, which over the last decade have borne the brunt of the austerity resulting from the 2008 financial crisis. Some local governments have fallen into debt equivalent to many years of tax receipts and are paying significant proportions of their income in interest. With falling budgets and sometimes increased responsibilities, local government has been reduced to deciding which services to cut, and how to supplement taxes through property speculation. Our proposal is that instead of borrowing from commercial lenders at commercial rates of interest, local governments should cut out the middlemen and borrow from taxpayers directly. If they could entice citizens to prepay their taxes both lenders and borrowers would have better rates of interest. The prepaid taxes would be used twice – immediately spent by the local government, while at the same time, taxpayers could pay or receive payments with other taxpayers using taxes paid, but not yet due. In addition to financing local government this would create a government owned payment system and source of liquidity which would survive a catastrophic bank failure. Such an initiative could help develop resilience in the face of increased risks from climate disruption. Read more about Local Future Tax Credits here.
  2. The second idea is a blueprint for an informal ‘solidarity’ money system. One of the problems with mainstream money is that it functions as a medium of exchange and a store of value at the same time. When there is a shortage of money, because people are saving it all, that slows down business, even though businesses only need it for a short time between buying and selling. The practice of reciprocal trade, or business barter, allows businesses to work in groups to buy and sell from each other without money. Commercial systems are widespread in USA and elsewhere, but punitive taxation and competitive dynamics prevent the networks from becoming economically significant, but the mechanism is slowly being recognised as potentially transformative. Portugal has just made allowance for them in law, and in UK there are new socially progressive systems in Birmingham and another supported by the Welsh parliament. Each these clubs struggles to make swapping commercially viable, which is really hard until or unless they become large. Why my protocol, these groups would be able to federate to increase their effectiveness and to try to align their incentives towards cooperation. I published a white paper on this called the Credit Commons and a London-based group called Open Credit Network is working to create and connect these groups to create a moneyless economy at scale.

I know that these innovations are just shallow techo-fixes without deeper changes in the sociopolitical fabric. Their value at the moment is to show that another economy is possible, and bold policy-makers and citizen advocacy is very much required to manifest such ideas in the face of globalised neoliberal economics.

In this this Q&A with Matthew Slater covers some of the background to these ideas.

To discuss this, please join the Community Action group on the Professions Network of the Deep Adaptation Forum.

If you liked these ideas, did you know about the other work that Jem Bendell and Matthew Slater have done on the topic of money in the last decade?

The Deep Adaptation Forum would welcome any financial support you can offer via

Posted in Counter-Globalization Movement, deep adaptation, money | 2 Comments »

Will We Care Enough to Matter to Them? Climate Justice, Solidarity and Deep Adaptation.

Posted by jembendell on November 5, 2019

(Scroll down to the end for the video of a talk on solidarity and deep adaptation.

Would you consider yourself middle class? Perhaps amongst the middle class in the West, or amongst the millions of new middle classes around the world? Opinion polls show that many people like you have changed their thoughts and feelings about climate change in the recent past. What was once a concern for people somewhere else, in distant lands, or distant futures, has become a more immediate sense of personal vulnerability. If that is you, then you have probably debated with people about how vulnerable you and your community is, and how imminent the dangers are.

In such conversations, perhaps you discussed how climate chaos is a lived reality for hundreds of millions of people already, around the world. Perhaps you heard that the Red Cross have said 2 million people a week need humanitarian support due to disasters made worse by climate change. Or heard that the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation have reported that hunger is on the rise, with climate change being a key factor. Or read about the millions of people being displaced? If so, do you remember how it affected you? Does your own sense of increased vulnerability mean you are more moved by news of suffering around the world? Or does it mean you are more likely to turn away? If we don’t turn away, what should we do? Will we care enough to actually matter to the people who are at the sharp end of extreme weather in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and its cascading impacts on their societies?

I ask whether our concern will be enough to make a difference, because I am aware of what has got us to this situation in the first place. Disease, poverty and environmental destruction are things most of us have known something about since we started learning about the world. We have also seen environmental destruction and poverty of various kinds in our own countries. Some of us have tried to make a difference to this, yet the cumulative impact of our efforts are being dwarfed by the implications of a rapidly changing climate. All the while, we who live in the middle classes of industrial consumer societies have benefited from a system of exploitation that extracts resources from around the world. Our complicity in creating and exacerbating the problem is not something that will go away, even when we choose to ignore it.

People who have some free time to inquire into our current situation then have the opportunity to go deeper into our environmental predicament. For instance, I took months to delve into the latest climate science. Yet most people don’t have that luxury. Late stage capitalism is offering vast numbers of people in the West a low income, long commute and little career progression. Climate change will compound their difficulties, with increasing food prices and anxieties about the future. In such a context, it is unclear whether solidarity with people suffering in other countries will be a widespread response.

But could it? If there was awareness of a common enemy?

These are some of the questions that are arising given that “Deep Adaptation” and recent waves of climate activism, such as Extinction Rebellion and the Youth strikes, have grown due to a change in story: that we in West have become vulnerable to our changing climate. Although the concerns for other people and the natural world also exist within these movements, the fear-factor is significant. The power of that fear in mobilising people is obvious. But the potential for that fear to lead to people turning inwards and away from those who are suffering now, is a real risk.

So, on a point of principle, those of us who want to encourage solidarity and active compassion within climate movements need to articulate clearly that we believe in those values. But it then raises the question: what exactly do those values mean in practice, and how might we generate wider support for them? For instance, does solidarity mean a differentiated responsibility, where we in the middle classes pay more, right now, to alleviate the suffering of people impacted by climate chaos? If so, how much is fair? How should we decide? Should this be mandated? How might such values of solidarity mesh with the changes that many middle class people are considering, as they reassess their lives due to anticipating a breakdown or collapse in their way of life? Many people are downsizing and buying local, therefore reducing their reliance on international supply chains. That might reduce their involvement in exploitative relations, but does little to affect the lives of the poor or address how past damage is generating present consequences for the poor in the majority world.

These questions of climate justice in an age of increasing climate disruption are complex. As such, what matters as much as us working out for ourselves what we believe is fair and just, is the extent to which people unlike us have as important an influence on these matters as we do. It is why I am interested in how the Deep Adaptation Forum will be as accountable to the voices that aren’t engaged in it at present as those who are. That’s something that the core team will explore in the establishing of its future strategy and governance in 2020.

time lapse photography of people walking on pedestrian lane

Photo by Mike Chai on

For now, I think these questions of solidarity, fairness, justice and healing are so complex that I wish to encourage open inquiry into them, rather than seeking quick answers to feel better about these dilemmas. It is why I gave a talk on the importance of solidarity in deep adaptation, in Glasgow, so I could learn from and bring attention to what they are doing on Deep Adaptation, with working class communities there. It is also why I interviewed Vanessa Andreotti about decolonisation and deep adaptation, and why I spoke about fair adaptation in an interview for Extinction Rebellion. Please consider exploring these issues in the Philosophy Group of the Professions’ Network of the Deep Adaptation Forum, or in the Positive Deep Adaptation Facebook Group, or leave a comment below.

My hunch is that somewhere in the realm of our mutual healing through mutual liberation from a destructive system and story is where we will find some answers for what to say, how to organise and prioritise – both within Deep Adaptation and the wider climate movement. Whereas particular people and institutions uphold and benefit from the destructive system more than others, I wonder whether a common enemy is as much that reluctance within all of us to avoid major changes in our own lives.

The Deep Adaptation Forum would welcome any financial support you can offer via

Posted in deep adaptation, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Hope in a time of climate chaos – a speech to psychotherapists

Posted by jembendell on November 3, 2019

Professor Jem Bendell, Text of keynote at UKCP Conference, London, October 19th 2019.

(Scroll down to the end for the video of this talk.

Thank you to the UK Council for Psychotherapy for inviting me to speak at this conference on climate anxiety and what therapy might do to help. It’s a surprising and somewhat daunting invitation, as I’m someone who has never read a book on psychology and I only sat on a therapist’s couch for the first time earlier this year. So I’m here for my own journey learning about counselling and psychotherapy because I believe it is so important to our climate emergency.

We gather in London after 2 weeks of climate activists rebelling across the city. So to open, I want to recognise those thousands of people, who non-violently offered up their freedom to show us how climate change has become the most important thing in their lives. People like my friend Jeffrey Newman, a Rabbi who is 77 years young, arrested outside the Bank of England. If you don’t know anyone who has been arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience, I invite you to take a moment to consider what it might be that affects someone so much that they sit in a road and await the police, sometimes for a painful arrest?

Their concern is not so unusual now. Out of 28 countries polled by YouGov, in all but 4 countries a majority of people said they thought climate change would have a “fair amount” or “great deal” of impact on their lives.

I am not here because of the growing numbers of people asking for help from counsellors as they suffer emotional distress about climate. I am here because our society is changing and I see how people with knowledge and skills in psychotherapy could be useful in communities. I have been witnessing a growing social phenomenon that could be both a challenge and invitation to psychotherapy. It is the reaction to our climate crisis where people are rebelling against social norms on censoring their own or others’ feelings, and recognising the validity of public grief and shared despair.

For some, the shocking news on our climate situation is a catalyst towards living differently, whether as activists or something else. Because there is something very powerful in the meaning and love that is found from living with unsolvable difficulty. If we can help each other to allow our despair, then what emerges may correspond better with the situation humanity is now facing. Therapists, just like anyone, can wake up to this changing situation. If not, there is the risk of being part of a stale resistance to the spiritual revolution that our climate tragedy now invites.


Scroll down to the end for the video of this keynote speech.

Growing Through Trouble

I missed the latest wave of environmental rebellion because I was with my Dad in Devon, exploring treatment pathways for his cancer. With his doctors, we were comparing a treatment pathway that has a 1 in 3 chance of survival past 5 years with another that is a 1 in 2 chance of survival, but with nasty side effects. It puts a different complexion on things. But in some ways it was one of the nicest weeks I’ve spent with him. When I cried, he got up off the bed and gave me a hug. A former Lt Commander in the Royal Navy. Growing up, we didn’t often express much emotion – not as far as I recall. In the subsequent decades we would talk about career, finance, and cricket, but not really feelings. Facing a predicament that is unsolvable and experiencing feelings that are not fixable, is something that is shifting our relationship. Perhaps not just to each other but to everything else as well.

There is some criticism of people like me who warn of societal collapse being either likely or inevitable due to climate change. A few times people have said that we would never tell someone with cancer to give up, so why are we telling humanity to give up? I am not telling anyone to give up acting from conscience for the good of all. I will come back to that. But that comparison with cancer patients reveals assumptions that are problematic. Helping a loved one explore what they want from their life as it is now, to make conscious decisions, not arising from either fear or denial, seems the right thing to do. My Dad’s doctors first advocated those options for longevity above all else. They were surprised Dad had as much concern for quality not quantity of life. In the same way, it is normal to me that when faced with the unfolding disaster of climate change, we ask how we wish to live and what we can learn from this predicament. Only by looking at what is happening with open minds and open hearts can be begin to have meaningful dialogue about our options.

To the uninitiated, that can seem a bit bleak or melodramatic. So I will give a quick summary of the climate situation as seen by myself and the many thousands of people who now anticipate societal breakdown as a result of climate change. The information I will summarise now is terrifying. So before that, I want to say that I believe that none of us here today are in immediate danger.

Science Suggests Danger

Climate change is worse than we were told. It’s already 1 degree warmer globally since 1850, or near 1.5 degrees warmer since 1750. That does not sound much but that’s 11 percent more energy in the atmosphere than 1750. Which makes our weather more extreme. More droughts, floods, heatwaves, and storms. Affecting agriculture and settlements.

Our climate is changing faster that what was predicted. A recent study found that Arctic permafrost is melting at a rate that was meant to happen in a worst-case scenario seventy years from now. A geophysics paper published this year estimates we could lose the Arctic summer ice by 2030. That matters because self-reinforcing feedbacks heat our planet further. For instance, melting releases methane, a gas that warms the planet more intensely than carbon dioxide. Another feedback is the loss of the reflection of white ice. According to a top polar scientist, losing all the Arctic ice would heat the planet by an amount equivalent to 50 percent of all heating caused by all human emissions. Other feedback loops come from our soils drying and forests burning, both of which release carbon dioxide. [References for all these points are found in the Compendium here.]

We should do what we can to cut emissions now. But we should not ignore where we are at, whatever we do. There is a time lag in the impacts of our past pollution. It can take 40 years for existing CO2 to exert its full warming effect. And now we know about 90% of all the additional heat from human activities has gone into the sea, which will continue to heat the air over time (again, consult the Compendium for sources).

One peer reviewed paper calculated that humanity has a 1 in 20 chance of going extinct this century because of climate change. Their paper was unusual. But the latest computer models of climate change, which will be used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) next year, are showing up to 7-degrees potential rise by the end of the century.

Hearing such astonishing information, some people turn to the IPCC. Didn’t they say we have until 2030 to change course and avert the worst? Yes, we may be able to avert the worst. And it’s important to cut emissions and drawdown carbon. But to make their figures seem less scary for policy makers, in their 1.5 degree report last October, the IPCC had to imagine that negative emissions technologies, which don’t exist yet at scale, will strip 250 Gigatonnes of carbon from the atmosphere to give us a 50/50 chance of staying under 1.5 degrees.

But our emissions are going up. If mapped on a graph since 1850, they appear exponential. Despite decades of debate and initiative. Dr Wolgang Knorr calculates that at current rates of emissions increase we will have used up any remaining global carbon budget by 2025. So there is strong evidence for the view that we are heading for climate chaos.

Societal disruption from climate change is already here. The UN secretary general said last month that “climate disruption is now and everywhere.” Climate change is leading to increased hardship, water shortages and hunger in many countries, disease, and worsened natural disasters, as well as migration and conflict. Last month the Red Cross reported that two million more people each week need humanitarian aid because of climate chaos.

I realise that many people who are new to the topic of climate change do not realise what it means for their own lives. People can start talking about switching off lights, stopping flying, planting trees, or more solar panels. All good things, but irrelevant to net carbon emissions in comparison to an industrial growth society that burns fossil fuels for everything. Huge amounts of energy derived from fossil fuels are used to feed us, to heat and cool our buildings, transport people, make things and power our lives. All our food from the supermarket depends on fossil fuels for its production, processing, packaging, distribution, refrigeration, advertising, retail, cooking and waste processing. For over thirty years people have tried to do something about climate change within our current economic system and, as far as the atmosphere is concerned, completely failed. The graph shows it well – a near exponential rise in emissions since the start of the industrial revolution.

The risks of climate change are now coming to haunt the modern world. Last year production slumped across Europe and UK for most vegetables and grains, around 20 percent down, due to the drought. In the UK we import so much of our food, with some estimates at about 60%. Last month a parliamentary committee reported that 20% of our fruit and vegetables come from areas at risk of “climate breakdown”. The UK Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh MP said: “We are facing a food security crisis.” So the West is no longer immune to a destabilising climate. This situation means that we could now begin to consider “what if our society will break down, whatever we do next”? It is a shocking question, and many people do not want to even allow such a discussion. For me, I think that resisting that conversation means we are wasting time to explore and prepare for what may be arriving soon, if not already underway.

Some experts debate whether it is more responsible or not to imagine some hope for our societies continuing without massive disruption. Yet there appears to be a growing recognition amongst the general public about how bad things are, as that YouGov poll indicated: a majority of the people polled in July thought climate change may cause world wars and even human extinction. So these are anxious times. To be anxious about our environment is natural. So, asking people to be less pessimistic about the future is a weak response, either intellectually or emotionally, and, I wish to suggest, therapeutically. But first, I will share a bit about my own journey with this issue.

Opening through Despair

For years I had believed the argument that we must not give up hope of a better future, as otherwise we would stop trying to create change. But as I looked at the latest science and measurements in 2018, it seemed dishonest to let that attachment to hope prevent me from processing what I was seeing. I began to consider, privately, the idea that it is too late. I discovered many personal fears to do with my own identity. I was scared that losing hope of having a positive impact through my efforts on the environment would mean that I would see my past efforts and struggles as pointless. I worried it would mean I had no idea what to do. I worried that without an idea of how to be useful I would feel pointless. And I worried that it would be unbearable to live with such a bleak outlook on the future. But after a time I allowed my own shock, grief, regret and confusion to unfold into despair. The paper I wrote on Deep Adaptation to our climate tragedy was part of my process. Looking back now I see part of it was like a written scream of anguish.

I have discovered that allowing this despair can let many other things begin. It meant that I could no longer work on the environment in the way I had done over the previous 20 years. I gave up the idea we could reform this system. I don’t just mean capitalism but also the industrial growth society and the assumptions of progress that it is based upon. I also gave up the idea we would change things to another system in time to prevent devastating consequences from climate chaos.

I started to ask deeper questions about the meaning of hope, and what we could hope for and work towards.

Hope Beyond Hope

At various times over the past year I have been told that people must have hope. Also, that people like me should not undermine people’s hope. Such views are often stated as if so obvious that they do not need explanation. However, I believe that unthinking allegiance to hope is part of the way our culture invites us to be averse to emotional pain and uncertainty. I believe that needs to change for us to try to reduce harm. So, today I want to unpack the notion of hope in our time of climate crisis.

I was wondering how possible that would be in a speech such as this. Because I have found that it is only in conversation that I can get somewhere interesting with people on this topic. On a course I was co-leading, one of the participants said to me “we need hope” and that “society benefits from having hope.” I asked him to try and own that statement as a provisional one about what he thought about his own way of being. So I invited him to say “I need hope” rather than “people need hope” and then discuss with me what the nature of that hope is and why he thought he needed it. We were then able to explore the nature of the emotions associated with the possibility that there is no hope of the kind he thought he had. In that discussion he realised a number of things. First, that the emotional pain of sensing current or future suffering is not something that can necessarily be resolved. Instead it can be witnessed. Because it does not define him, it is an emotion happening in him. Second, he realised he did not need to believe that we can preserve this society in order for him to act. He did not need to believe we won’t see massive suffering in order to discover how to be and what to do. Instead, he began to see a new basis from how to be and act. A basis founded in discovering what is his truth and living according to that truth more fully right now.

But as this is a speech and I am an academic, I will attempt to offer a step-by-step breakdown of the concept of hope in a time of climate crisis. First, we can explore what we mean by the word or concept “hope”. Second, we can explore what the vision or goal being hoped for actually is. Third, we can explore why we think hope is useful for ourselves or for people more generally.

Starting with definitions – many people who tell me that we must not lose hope do not say what they mean by that word. Some people mean their wish for the future that either other people or a divine force will make happen. Some people mean their expectation for the future, based on what they see or choose to agree with. Some people use the word hope to mean their plan for the future, and what they are working towards in quite specific ways.

For each of those forms of hope, it seems that they are not things that we must not give up. Because learning about our lives and situations is an ongoing process of dropping certain wishes, expectations and plans. So why not drop certain hopes? Perhaps because hoping is seen as a state of positivity. “We must not lose hope” is really a statement that we must stay positive. This reflects how we live in a culture that is averse to difficult emotions and to impermanence. In the face of climate chaos, many people like myself have come to a newly positive place, but not through attachment to being positive.

A second unpacking of hope involves exploring what the vision or goal being hoped for actually is. People who, like me, believe that climate-induced societal collapse is now likely or inevitable, begin to explore new goals and visions, which then inform our lives. I hope for a liveable planet and loveable world. One which maintains the possibilities for life, including for us humans, and where more of us are living lovingly towards each other and nature. I wish for that and work for it, but do not expect it. For me, accepting that it is too late to stop climate chaos wrecking our way of life is not giving up but waking up to a wider and deeper agenda. It’s an agenda that includes questions of how we reduce harm, save what we can, learn how this tragedy came to pass, and seek meaning and joy in the process.

A third unpacking of hope is to explore why we think hope is useful for ourselves or for people more generally. Whereas some people seem to be encouraged by believing a story of a preferred future, others are helped by dropping such stories, even if painful for a time, and then engaging fully in the moment, with passion for living their truth and yet more equanimity with whatever is ahead. In this sense, for some people, accepting that there is much suffering is to come from climate chaos does not mean that they feel helpless, but they feel powerfully ‘hopefree’ and newly engaged in life.

The Freedom to Grieve

The allegiance to hope and to positivity in our culture also means we don’t allow as we might the public sharing and discussion of our emotions of sadness, confusion, and grief. Nor our longing to connect and to experience wonder at life. Rather, in public and professional life, we invite each other to be happy, positive and capable. But that is only half the picture. Because we exist within a world with mass communication, with corporations shaping our worldview. The news media invites us to sneer, scoff or pity others. While the adverts invite us to feel incomplete without the latest brand or experience. None of this is inviting us into ways of relating that welcome our pain about society and nature. If we suppress difficult emotions in ourselves, and ignore or somehow fix them in others, then we are alienating ourselves from an important way that we experience the world.

Most people don’t seek psychological support. Like I did for a long time, they may be suppressing difficult emotions of sadness and fear, in ways that lead to the secondary emotions of anger, blame, and even hatred. These offer an escape from pain for a time, but can make matters worse. So it helps to support each other in allowing and exploring suppressed emotions of sadness and fear. It is why, at the opening of the International Rebellion of the Extinction Rebellion, in April 2019, in Oxford Circle, I said “The truth is we are scared and we are brave enough to say so. The truth is we are grieving and we are proud enough to say so. The truth is we are traumatised and we are open enough to say so.”

Therapy on Climate Anxiety

I am here because I am interested in the role of psychotherapy in this age of climate anxiety. I’ve only started learning about this profession. I read that the website publishes clinical information certified to meet NHS England’s Information Standard. So I was interested to see one of their writers mention my work on Deep Adaptation. I quote:

“In one case, a viral academic paper scared people so much that it reportedly caused people to go into therapy, quit their jobs and move out of the city. With seemingly nothing but bad news coming our way, how can we feel more positive and care for our mental health in the age of climate anxiety?”

Well, perhaps one way might be if people go into therapy, quit their jobs and move out of the city? Sounds a great idea. The people I know who have sought therapeutic support, quit their jobs or reduced their hours and moved out of the city have discovered a wonderful new way of experiencing life.

The article listed a range of useful things for emotional wellbeing, such as taking some exercise and having some fun. But it also talked about a sense of helplessness some of us have in the face of climate change. Where we sense that we can’t do much about the problem. The author used the theory of “learned helplessness” to suggest that a lack of self-efficacy could lead to depression. I am new to psychology, so I should be cautious here. So, may I tentatively offer my provisional view that this is complete bullshit.

Of course, the theory itself has horrible origins in electrocuting dogs. But leaving that aside, citing theories like this one may be an unconscious attempt to protect the author and the intended reader from their own difficult emotions. As a Professor, I know well that impulse to seek refuge by feeling more knowledgeable than others. As such, it can be a narcistic defence mechanism that would impair the usefulness of psychotherapy in a time of climate chaos. Instead, I recommend psychotherapists dialogue with people who are experiencing anxiety about the state of our environment, to discover the myriad ways that people are being affected. But if psychologists talk with people expressing anxiety about climate change from an assumption that they have a problem, rather than humanity having a problem, then we won’t get very far. Faced with the latest climate news, anxiety is natural. Moreover, looking at the future we face, despair is natural, despair is valid, and despair can be transformative. Therefore, I wonder whether psychotherapists will offer that much on climate anxiety if, first, they haven’t allowed themselves to live with such anxiety. We need to be in this together, because therapists are in danger from climate change just like the rest of us.

Now at a top conference of psychotherapists, I am not going to recommend people get depressed. I have not experienced depression myself but have witnessed how tough it is. I have been told by some therapists that in the society we live in now, depression is natural, valid and can be transformative. I hear from people who have been in depression that it is a crisis of purpose, even a spiritual crisis, and that it has helped them to become more loving, to both themselves and to others. But some have told me that this positive aspect of depression could be better helped with some guidance. In a time of climate crisis, could we begin to see depression as a right of passage? A horrible but useful means of the positive disintegration of our old stories of self and the future? A means by which we can discover forms of meaning and wellbeing which do not depend on stories of fitting in better with this society – one that is committing mass destruction of life on Earth? If so, how might we support people who experience it? I do not have answers here for you. But I know that if psychotherapy focuses on helping people function better in our current destructive society, then I won’t mourn it if it collapses along with everything else.

So What Can be Done?

So what can be done? The future looks really tough. Humanity risks making matters worse, as our fear drives us to uncooperative and even violent behaviour. Part of the reason for such a response may be unrecognised emotions, covered up by a move to anger, blame and hatred.

I am new to this topic and do not know much about psychotherapy. But as a layperson, I think what’s important is learning to not react from unconscious emotions or from our aversion to those emotions. Therefore, it will be useful to help make conscious some of the emotions of sadness and fear that are being suppressed. How do we do that? In my experience practices outside of mainstream psychotherapy have proved helpful to me, such as authentic relating or circling and Vipassana, or insight, meditation. What has also been helpful are practices which move us beyond our mainstream stories of self and society, including the assumption of a separate self. For that, practices which invite non-ordinary states of consciousness have been important for me. These have included breathwork, shamanic journeys and spiritual dancing.

I wonder if the power of these consciousness-expanding practices is in helping address the deepest trauma that we all share. Which is the trauma of existing as a conscious separate self, who knows they will die. Ultimately, with the right guidance, the consciousness-expanding practices could invite people towards their ‘undiscovered unself’. By transcending a sense of separation, one might be freer of all kinds of anxiety. Therefore, I recommend psychotherapy explores these practices more in future – and that you start with yourselves.

Reaching Society

I hear that good psychotherapy is not available to many people. And even if it is, then not regularly unless you are rich. It is also something that most people don’t look for. I was 46 years old before I ever considered seeing a counsellor. People who do not seek emotional support may be suppressing difficult emotions of sadness and fear, in ways that lead to the secondary emotions of anger, blame, and hatred, as a means of escaping from their pain. That will make matters worse. Consequently, to help reduce harm from disruptions to our societies, there is a need for psychotherapeutic support to be provided, without request, across the whole of society.

How could that happen? To scale, it will need to be done through intermediaries. Through people who are supported with approaches to host gatherings in settings that are accessible to lots of people. Such facilitators could be offering processes through schools, universities, faith organisations, trade unions, professional associations and activist groups. Psychotherapists could advise on processes, provide counselling for facilitators, and be available at events.

This need and opportunity for helping people come together on climate emergency to explore difficult emotions and future choices is central to our work at the Deep Adaptation Forum. We are discovering the ways that training and guidance can be offered through video conference, then to be offered in person in multiple locations.

Our hope in a time of climate chaos is promoting other ways of responding than fear or anger. Our hope in a time of climate chaos is that experiencing the fragility and impermanence of life can lead more of us to greater gratitude for the present and less involvement in the judgements and tactics of our minds. We can be freer to love and forgive each other and ourselves, and so do what we can to help, whatever may come.

The Deep Adaptation Forum would welcome any financial support you can offer via

Posted in deep adaptation, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | 12 Comments »

Why Deep Adaptation needs re-localisation

Posted by matslats on November 2, 2019

By Matthew Slater (Community Forge & Deep Adaptation Forum) and Jem Bendell (University of Cumbria & Deep Adaptation Forum).

assorted fruits and vegetables in baskets for sale in the fruit market

Photo by Armand M on

Deep Adaptation is firstly and mainly about coming to terms with the end of our way of life, and finding in ourselves and each other loving responses in place of fear and blame. Many people, having dwelled in that space for a while, then seek various forms of meaningful action, usually around living more fully and trying to reduce future harm. Increasingly, people are putting energy into re-localising their societies and economies. The rationale for such action is often quite personal. In our experience of engaging with people who are seeking to localise their lives as part of their deep adaptation, the following ideas often come up:

  • there are many links between globalised neoliberal economics and the drivers of the climate crisis
  • there is a long tradition of alternative economics promoting localisation for environmental benefit that goes back to EF Schumacher
  • most people express little to no political agency at the national level, whereas local politics appears much more accessible
  • many people find working face-to-face with neighbours easier and more enjoyable than sporadic collaborations at national levels
  • they consider they are more likely to benefit from results of their own local improvements.

It is not that all globalisation is all bad, but that there has been a huge imbalance in power at the global level, with the interests of corporations and banks shaping the agendas. Progressive internationalists can point to many benefits. For instance, global technical standards make the internet available to everyone, our electronic devices (somewhat) compatible, and other infrastructure like GPS means no-one (carrying a phone) gets lost any more. Global law like the human rights charter is a fantastic political achievement despite many countries’ neglect of it. Intergovernmental cooperation is also essential for both cutting and drawing down carbon emissions, as well as adapting to the effects of extreme weather on our societies. So it is important to clarify which aspects of life most need to be local, and indeed, regional and national.

There is one really important reason why we need to rebuild local life, which has been hollowed out by the needs of the economic machine in recent decades, and indeed centuries: that reason is resilience.

There are growing debates about how society will respond, breakdown or collapse through the impact of global heating. Probably the most referenced theory of previous societal collapses is Joseph Tainter’s theory of complex societies. He alleges that when the base conditions change, the layer and layers of governance, bureaucracy built up during long periods of stability come crashing down. That means that our means of global governance, global infrastructure, and global trade, are at the greatest risk – ironically the very things our prevailing ideologies have been driving us towards, in the name of efficiency.

Of course Tainter’s collapse is an interpretation of history, not necessarily a prediction of the future, but it gives grounds for thought. It suggests that if say food, or fuel were to become generally scarce, flows of resources towards the most abstract, and complex organs of society would wither. From that theory, perhaps the Bretton Woods institutions, complex trade agreements, international law, the most complex financial instruments, airlines, computer hardware and social networks, could be amongst the first things to fail?

This could be a matter of ‘falling back’, but it could be worse if we have come to depend on those things. For example much food is imported by air, interest rates in all mortgages are globally linked to high risk finance, and we may struggle to imagine life without mobile phones and social networks. If national infrastructure should start to crumble, life could become very difficult.

A great explanation for all this vulnerability can be found in a biology / economics study which shows that efficiency and resilience lie at opposite ends of a spectrum. Generally, more diverse systems encourage more redundancy and more linkages between components, and more uses for each component. Imagine running across a tightrope – you can go pretty fast unless you fall off! Running across the safety net is less efficient but you are less likely to die. The authors stressed that this principle applied in economics as in other fields. “Economics seems in pursuit of monistic goals and all too willing to sacrifice everything for the betterment of market efficiency… Preoccupation with efficiency could propel into disaster.” Capitalism has always been about building greater efficiency (maximising GDP for a given population), and within that the regular financial mishaps have been regarded as mere abberations. The theoretical cost of super-efficiency is the risk of super-accidents, which implies that economic globalisation is setting us up for the mother of all collapses.

There are several formulations of resilience in general terms. Key amongst them is the need avoid single points of failure, by distributing the work and the processing throughout the system. A related goal for resilience is that the same functions should be fulfilled by different mechanisms so that when conditions change in unforseeable ways, some mechanisms are likely still to work. Localisation is desirable for many reasons, but it is systemically important for these reasons, so after that somewhat long introduction to the topic of localisation for deep adaptation, in the remainder of this blog we will look closer at what it could involve. If you would like to engage on this topic, we recommend joining the Community Action discussion group of the Deep Adaptation Forum.

The most prominent localisation movement in UK at the moment is the Transition Town network, which grew out of the systemic thinking of permaculture. That movement has thoroughly explored what localisation entails in the modern context, and piloted many projects. Ecovillages also play an important role in pioneering deeply different ways of life, which many of them can do, as intentional communities.

So let’s take a closer look. The Transition movement emphasises several areas of life in need of localisation, which we will now expound upon, sometimes using examples from other movements:

Food is usually the highest priority because humans require lots of it, every day, and it requires months of preparation and often lots of organisation to produce and prepare it. The industrialised food system depends on massive inputs of fossil fuels, both to power machinery and for fertiliser, and results in high waste, pollution and often poor nutrition. And yet by growing food in gardens, allotments or on public land, families and communities can dramatically reduce dependence on imports and industry. In most countries there is a large informal food scene, consisting of farmers’ markets and part-time, self-sufficient growers alongside people drying, preserving, baking and occasionally serving labour intensive foods – and those who wish to pay the price. Those who want to support local growers and eat organic food with the seasons can find more and more veggie box schemes, formally known as Community Supported Agriculture.

Energy prices are increasing over the long term, and our supplies in the West have depended on militarised subjugation of people in other countries. Much energy generated in power stations is lost in transit. The imperative to reduce or stop fossil fuel consumption can involve four approaches: reducing energy consumption and changing usage patterns, nuclear power to which many object forcefully, massive solar and wind farms, and small scale renewable energy, owned by individuals or local communities.

In these kinds of matters, the hand of government is everywhere from creating minimum standards, to reporting requirements, and market influence through taxes, grants, and subsidies. Governments, especially local governments are under enormous pressure to cut costs and sell assets, and this creates an environment, not accidentally, favourable to enterprises led by large corporations with better access to credit, lobbying power, cheap labour etc. Many elected representatives and civil servants don’t really understand the full extent of this process, or if they do, they don’t or can’t organise, stick their necks out, and change it. A recent phenomenon in UK, dubbed flatpack democracy has seen citizens organise, get themselves elected, and accomplish useful things at the local level.

Modern capitalism favours large institutions which can spread risk and maximise profit for shareholders, which means that small and local businesses find it very hard to get loans. Other non-commercial community institutions, including government struggle for viability, especially after a decade of austerity. Philanthropic funding increasing comes with demands that revenue streams be developed. UK has a law called ‘community right to bid’ which allows local groups to purchase local assets and amenities like post offices, village shops or community pubs. The Plukett foundation helps communities to organise themselves, and the UK government helps them to issue shares for such purposes. We are watching another initiative which aims to create local care cooperatives as an alternative to crumbling state care system. All of this is a far cry from reversing the centralising effect of the last forty years of capitalism.

The difficulty of all of these things points towards deeper drivers. A number of local money projects in UK were spawned from Transition Towns initiatives, which helped to show the public that money is not the simple/neutral tool it may appear to be to the casual user, but could be designed differently. But the low traction of these projects also showed just how intractable money and assumptions about it are. We critiqued these projects elsewhere. Other initiatives like LETS and timebanking reimagine non-monetary currencies, supporting value-flows and exchange within communities, without banks, debt or government behind the accounting unit. In a forthcoming blog, we will offer two new ideas for local monetary innovation which build on these efforts, while focusing particularly on currency and payment systems that would survive an economic (and banking) collapse.

In an era of fuel scarcity we shall have to re-learn how to holiday and play closer to home. In the UK, hardworking people often escape to the sunshine, but a more resilient attitude might be to focus on building quality relationships and having fun with other people, sometimes called ‘staycationing’. Cultivating musical talent, group activities and festivals, form another thread in the transition culture.

Our minds
For the Transition movement, “inner transition” is the mental, psychological and spiritual processes that accompany the social, economic and political transition to a post-peak oil world. It can be a personal or collective process and bears a lot in common with Deep Adaptation. These practices and ideas can be more intense in intentional communities, where living more closely together requires a higher degree of knowledge of self and trust of others.

Learning from the Limits of Localisation Past
There’s one more reason the localisation agenda chimes with Deep Adaptation. We don’t know how meaningful any of our efforts will be on trajectory of climate or the global response of humanity. Perhaps the future will disagree with Tainter and our society will collapse from the bottom up! So what is important to us about the localisation agenda and the practical things people are doing in relation to it, is that it is about a more vibrant way of living right now. Localisation points towards a more grounded, more connected, more human way of life in contrast with the ‘alienation’ many people feel from their work, families and neighbours. Helena Norberg Hodge promotes it for this reason, calling it “The Economics of Happiness”.

In Western countries, these efforts at environmentally-friendly localisation have been around for decades. So as we reflect on the implications for Deep Adaptation, it is useful to consider the limitations of current and past initiatives. Many of them have failed to spread to economically disadvantaged communities. The accusation then heard from some critics is that movements like Transition are elitist and excluding. While the limited extent or diversity of any movement can seem like an unfair criticism of hard-working, well-meaning volunteers, it is nevertheless a central issue for an agenda as all-encompassing as Deep Adaptation. Therefore, a key question for people interested in localisation to promote resilience for unfolding societal breakdowns and likely collapse is to learn from those limitations.

We can learn from situations in other countries where resilience has been improved in the past. In Cuba, for instance, where the past trade embargo led to self-reliant organic agriculture across the whole country. Or in Kenya, where people living on only a few dollars (equivalent) a day in informal settlements have reduced poverty without foreign aid money by issuing their own currencies. We do not know for certain the reasons for these successes, but the answers might be found in:

a) Community leaders convening those local people with the capacity to explore issues, prioritise actions and implement them in ways that reduce dependence on support from outside.
b) Focusing those initial actions on acknowledging and mobilising existing community assets, in order to collaboratively meet immediate needs.

Unfortunately, when funders get involved, they often start by bringing a deficit mindset, characterising communities by what is lacking. External funders’ agendas and mechanisms then privilege a few people in a community who are best able to look outside the community for answers and, once funded, begin to think on behalf of the funder as much as the community. It is why one of us has argued previously for a more solidarity-based approach from grant makers in the face of climate-induced collapse.

For more on this subject, see this Poetry of Predicament podcast.

The Deep Adaptation Forum would welcome any financial support you can offer via

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The Spiritual Invitation of Climate Chaos

Posted by jembendell on November 1, 2019

What is the role of religion and spirituality in helping humanity respond to the tragic situation we face with rapid climate change?

Truthfully, I do not know. Because every religion is different. And each religion has its own flavours of adhesion to dogma versus openness to divine guidance in our daily lives. Yet, religion remains hugely important in providing stories of meaning and purpose, of right and of wrong, as well as modes of communication and solidarity across national borders. It also provides stories for how we might consider and learn from catastrophes.

The potential importance of religion for society as we face climate tragedy, and for me as I respond in my personal and professional life, is why I am enquiring deeper into different religious philosophies and practices. Since my Deep Adaptation paper was published in July 2018, I have been surprised to hear from religious leaders in Judaism, Sufism, Christianity, Buddhism, Animism, Shamanism, Druidism and the Brahma Kumaris. Their interest affirmed my intuition that our climate crisis invites us to consider existential questions that are so routinely displaced in modern society. That is why I accepted the invitation to speak at a Buddhist festival last summer. I want to explore how Buddhist philosophies on impermanence, suffering and loving kindness, are relevant as we face climate chaos. The video of that talk is available here.

Questions of existential meaning have become more important to me since early 2018, as I experienced deeper despair over our environmental situation. After looking at the latest climate and ecological science, climate measurements, emissions data and political-economic trends, I concluded that people of my age (47) will see a collapse in the societies in which we live, in our lifetimes – perhaps even before 2030. That outlook invites introspection on what one most believes in and wants to uphold in the coming years. Some people look at the latest climate science and see the likelihood of widespread early mortality for billions of people due to climate induced malnutrition, migration, homelessness, disease, crime and war. I fear that this foretelling of human ‘mega-death’ could be right. In any case, millions around the world are already suffering due to climate disasters that are happening right now. Poverty in more advanced countries is also being exacerbated by rising food prices, as extreme weather damages harvests. As populations become increasingly fearful, they can turn towards protectionism and nationalism; right-wing political narratives based on fear and false promises of security can become more attractive. Awareness of this situation means we experience an invitation to step forward in engaged compassion and solidarity with those who suffer, and to sow the seeds of future solidarity, compassion and forgiveness. With either outlook – collapse or human mega-death – it seems natural to me that people turn towards religion or their personal sense of the divine in order to find solace, meaning and guidance.

Some people go further. They see our situation as an apocalyptic one. The latest climate simulation models are projecting temperature increases of up to 7 degrees by the end of this century. Unless you have a magical faith in technology, then that level of temperature rise signifies the potential end of our species on planet Earth. With that apocalyptic outlook, suddenly our current stories of meaning and purpose collapse. Those stories are about progress, personal contribution, and deference to established order – ones that were so deep in us that we might not have realised they existed.

The word Apocalypse comes from ancient Greek and means to uncover or unveil. What might be the veil that will be lifted from our consciousness, as we perceive the potential end of our own species? For me, even considering potential human extinction led to a social veil being lifted from stories of human centrality, control and progress. Although I am not yet convinced that humanity faces inevitable near-term human extinction, even sensing it might be possible has invited me to into a realm of despair where old stories of meaning and purpose fell away, like veils from my awareness.

The potential annihilation of all that we know presents us with an incomprehensible and unbearable outlook. Knowing the intense and unsolvable pain of that outlook, but nevertheless turning towards it, is what can transform us. Because it means our sense of self is also annihilated. This death of the self offers us the chance to experience life without our stories of separation. From that place of ‘storylessness’ we can intuit that we are one being with all existence. In this way, our climate predicament offers humanity a global near-death experience.

I have learned that many religions tell us of the importance of such grief and despair in quietening our egos and turning towards the divine. In the Christian tradition it is an aspect of the “Via Negativa” towards opening up to God. Our climate crisis invites humanity into a planet-wide Via Negativa, where more of us may stumble upon moments of surrender and begin to change our lives as a result. Such changes may put truth and compassion at the heart of all our decisions.

My own journey from seeing widespread societal collapse as inevitable, catastrophe as probable and human extinction as possible, has been one of recognising my grief, allowing despair and then inviting transformation – albeit in slow and awkward ways. In this journey, I have discovered that Buddhist philosophy and practices are helpful to me. Core to Buddhism is the recognition that everything in life is impermanent and that our attachment to things is because of our desire to affirm, protect and project our existence as a separate being. That attachment adds to the pain of any loss and, ultimately, the pain associated with death – whether of others or of anticipating our own. The Buddhist practice of Vipassana, or insight meditation, has also helped me to see how thoughts and feelings I experience can be witnessed in ways that reduce my fear of them, so I don’t act from them, nor distract myself from them as often as I did as before. This practice seems important to me as we seek to help ourselves and each other turn toward the troubles around us and ahead, to engage them with open hearts and minds. It has helped me to accept that our climate predicament means we will experience difficult emotions both now, and in the years to come, and that we can live with the truths of those emotions rather than seek stories of distraction which could lead to further harm.

Being open to insights from Buddhism need not displace interest in, or observance of, other religious or spiritual perspectives. I am still influenced by Christianity and am fascinated by the depth of insight into the human condition offered by Sufism. I am also very grateful for practices like breathwork and mindful walks in nature as ways of calming the chattering of my ego-mind and opening my heart to what wisdom might be offered to me from beyond. In addition, I have found practices of ‘deep relating’ with others to be a gateway to an awareness where my ego is less in charge. While spiritual philosophies, practices, and communities can offer moments of elation, I am aware there is no lasting emotional escape from our predicament. I believe equanimity, rather than serenity or bliss, can be a suitable personal aim at this time.

blur burning candlelight candles

Photo by Pixabay on

Important women in my life have been key teachers for me to develop my perspective on living in fuller consciousness with the troubles. They helped me to understand that accepting pain is the necessary partner of joy; that accepting death and grief are the necessary partners of life and love. This important role of wise women is not a coincidence. One aspect of all the world’s mainstream religions that has been marginalised over the millennia is the aspect that is associated with feminine qualities. It is one reason why such religions have been bystanders or drivers of the cultural norms that permitted or enabled the destruction of our planet. I believe that learning about what the feminine dimension of reality might imply for our time is a central issue for me and anyone attracted to the spiritual and religious implications of our climate predicament. It could be that the source of any future hope will come from a consciously un-strategic attention to a moment-by-moment love and support for creation, without attachment to outcome. Or, to put it more simply: being love. It is why I want any notoriety I gain for my work to bring attention to wise women, who are innately ‘streets ahead’ of me in their spiritual connection. This intuition about being open to the ‘sacred feminine’ has guided my efforts in creating the Deep Adaptation Forum.

As we face up to our climate tragedy, many people are recommitting to curiosity, compassion and respect for others in the process – whether doing so from a humanist, religious or spiritual perspective. Maintaining that approach is key to the Deep Adaptation Forum. We may fall away from it at times – I know I often do – but returning to curiosity, compassion, and respect will help us to promote dialogue and initiatives that reduce harm no matter what happens in the coming years.

If you would like to engage on these questions of religion and spirituality in the face of the climate crisis, you can connect via this thread on the Professions’ Network of the Deep Adaptation Forum. To read more about our philosophy and intention, I recommend this article. We are promoting an approach to Deep Adaptation that is democratic and empowering, without centralised leadership (see my article on Leadership for Deep Adaptation). 

The Deep Adaptation Forum would welcome any financial support you can offer via

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