Letter to Deep Adaptation Advocate Volunteers about Misrepresentations of the Agenda and Movement

Dear DA Advocates,

I write to inform you about an article in Open Democracy, which seeks to dismiss the Deep Adaptation agenda and movement by debunking the original Deep Adaptation paper. It is getting some profile on social media, including from some mainstream environmental professionals. It is the latest instalment of a concerted effort from some people in the climate field who wish to frame any talk of it being too late for societies to avoid collapse as being defeatist and counterproductive. This is the same argument that has been directed at others in the past (e.g. the author Franzen), and now is being directed at me and at the DA community. When we reflect on the emotions involved, criticising an anticipation of societal collapse is a very understandable position to take. No one enjoys the feelings of vulnerability or fear about the future of our loved ones. However, as people are suffering terribly around the world and all western-led climate efforts have failed over decades to reduce emissions, our own peace of mind must take a back seat. We middle classes are no longer entitled to concoct stories that prioritise reducing our stress hormones over staying present and engaged with rapidly changing realities.

Unfortunately, neither the authors nor the Open Democracy editor reached out to me ahead of publication, so I was not able to correct the dozens of misrepresentations and baseless speculations in the article. Despite communicating to the Editor of The Ecologist the same information in this letter to you, they are also republishing the piece today. It seems the centrist environmental movement was in urgent need of some verbal Valium, and so taking two might do the trick.

I would like to share my general thoughts on the article, in case it comes up in your conversations.

First, by focusing on one scholar and one of their papers from 2-years ago, it means not discussing the issue in question with evidence for and against from multiple sources. There are now many other climate scientists and earth systems scientists saying that societal collapse is likely or inevitable. Some even indicate we may be facing catastrophe. There is already a large francophone literature on the topic, including many mainstream academics. Therefore, the OD article frames the topic in a way that allows one artefact (a paper) and one person to be dismissed as a method for the real aim, which is undermining rather than openly discussing a topic. I already summarised other scientists’ recent views on likely societal collapse here.

Second, the article repeats a range of criticisms that I previously answered before. Most of those criticisms involve misrepresentations or, are open for debate or, would require minor changes which do not affect the overall conclusion. I may look to find time to go through their arguments one-by-one, as I have done before with other criticisms. However, when such responses are then ignored by the next commentator seeking to get some attention for condemning the idea of Deep Adaptation, it seems like pointless work when there is much else to do! I will take some days to consider that. For now, here is the link to my previous detailed response to criticism from a few climate scientists.

Third, any criticisms of the implications of an anticipation of collapse on people’s mental health, motivations and actions needs backing up with research and data from various scholarly fields, or it’s not serious. The OD article makes an argument on those issues without proper scholarly support. By contrast, the research we have started on the impact of Deep Adaptation is here. Supporting people’s mental health and wellbeing is one of the main reasons why we launched the Deep Adaptation Forum last year. Because this issue is not going to go away, even if some people’s disavowal gets more and more sophisticated, funded and extreme.

Fourth, the article inverts one of my original paper’s arguments in a way that gives the reader the impression I am chauvinist. In the original paper I write about the importance of learning from how cultures faced with collapse learned about that. I said we should learn from First Peoples of North America. I cited scholarship that is rare and respectful, as far as I can tell, of their experience. I did that to invite readers of that paper, mostly middle class western people focused on management, to consider how we need to have conversations about letting go of what we consider normal in our own societies – which are industrial consumer societies. However, the authors have contorted that into suggesting I think we should give up on protecting indigenous rights, give up on challenging their exploitation, and that we accept indigenous peoples moving on to reservations. The point I was making was the exact opposite – that people living in industrial consumer societies must now prepare for massive relinquishment of lifestyles. Since the Deep Adaptation Forum was launched in 2019, we have been holding space for discussions infused with attention to anti-patriarchy, social justice, and decolonisation. The authors of the OD article speculate on what Deep Adaptation ideas mean for poor and indigenous communities, without looking at what we actually do or say on that. People of colour should never ever be reduced to objects for rhetorical use in white middle class squabbles, whether in the realm of climate activism or not. I am pleased to have been learning from experts in decolonisation, including people from the global South and indigenous communities. I recommend the western environmental movement urgently learn more from them, and give voice to them. Starting with their views on climate activism here.

Fifth, the article appears to make a rather elitist western assumption that the collapse of western ways of life is somehow the ‘end’ and that therefore we have nothing left to believe in and work towards if we anticipate that collapse. People who still wish to reform capitalism, or replace it with other forms of industrial consumer life, after decades of failure and an environmental emergency, cannot claim a monopoly on optimism or creativity.

Sixth, by suggesting societal collapse is some strange notion in the future, the article risks us ignoring what is happening to millions of people right now, which some are interpreting or experiencing as forms of climate-influenced societal collapse. For instance, climate-driven impacts on agriculture, economics and politics is leading to hunger for millions of people in places like the Sahel. Then there is the impact of Covid-19. The UN has confirmed that climate change makes the outbreak of such diseases more likely, as I wrote about earlier this year. In some parts of the world, that depend on tourism, Covid-19 is threatening societal collapse already. Whether or not the original DA paper stands up to line-by-line scrutiny two years later, our attention is better placed on how we can reduce suffering in our increasingly destabilising world.

Seventh, by dividing people between those who anticipate societal collapse and those do not, or refuse to contemplate it, the authors of the OD article are inviting unnecessary division in the climate movement. They may have the success of that movement in mind, and yet offer very limited evidence for the argument that collapse-anticipation is counter productive to activism. It would be great to see more discussions about how to organise to grow our influence as activists while societies increasingly destabilise. To do that well, we could seek to be informed by psychology, sociology, political science, heterodox economics, amongst other fields. The problem for climate scientists is that this means they first need to listen and learn, not tell people what they must not contemplate.

Thanks for reading this update on the latest shenanigans. I know how challenging it can be to live with the perspective of anticipating the disruption of all that we know and love. It is even more challenging to bring this to people when we are invited to speak or host a meeting. The emotionally draining nature of that role is why I only do a couple of speeches a year. The role becomes more difficult when people decide to ‘shoot’ you, the messenger, rather than recognise that there is now ample evidence for an anticipation of collapse to be a valid perspective. Even when fires are raging outside their door, floodwaters rising around their feet, and the supermarket shelves quite bare, will some people become angry at those who wish to act from presence and love, instead of power and calculation. The reason for that, I believe, is because of the culture and ideology we have lived within, and continue to uphold, despite its destruction of the planet. In that sense, you could be like cultural magicians, inviting people to imagine new ways of loving themselves, each other and the world. It may prove far better than Valium.

Love, Jem

Why do modern humans oppress and destroy life on Earth? And what to do about it?

That modern humans have been oppressing and destroying life on Earth is the most obvious and salient observational fact of our time. I am interested in the deepest reasons for that, beneath the injuries from colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, anthropocentrism and such like. The core ‘why’ that is found within the collective psyche of modern humans, albeit to varying degrees. I call it the ideology of e-s-c-a-p-e, where each letter of the acronym describes a way of thinking and feeling, which co-produces our (now empirically-observable) omnicidal culture. The ideology expresses itself through us due to our understandable, but problematic, aversion to impermanence and death. Continue reading “Why do modern humans oppress and destroy life on Earth? And what to do about it?”

The Collapse of Ideology and the End of Escape

An essay on the deeper causes and implications of climate-driven societal breakdown, by Professor Jem Bendell.

(Long Read – 10,000 words)


If you have begun to anticipate the climate-driven collapse of societies, what can you wish for? I have written elsewhere about the problems of being attached to hope, if that means we falsely assume we can’t engage in the world creatively unless we have an expectation of a lasting positive outcome. But it can still be useful to reflect on what we actually wish for, given our assessments of what we think is inevitable, likely or possible in the near future. When asked by Vicki Robin recently “what might possibly go right,” I took some time to reflect on what might be a realistic wish of mine: one that I could honestly believe, rather than desire to believe in order to feel a bit better or to please an audience (which could be colleagues or a wider public). I found that what I wish for is a collapse of the ideology which has caused so much destruction and suffering, and which will continue to do so as our ecosystems, economies and societies break down. I wish for that ideology to collapse as soon as possible, because the longer it lasts, the more destruction will occur and the less able we will be to reduce harm, experience joy and find meaning as societies break down.

So what is this ideology that I blame for our predicament and wish would collapse as soon as possible? Why is it so bad? Why did it proliferate and, therefore, what could bring it crashing down? How can we live creatively and meaningfully by consciously freeing ourselves and each other from that ideology?

Continue reading “The Collapse of Ideology and the End of Escape”

Learning to Lead Deep Adaptation – join a course

I am pleased to announce the University of Cumbria are now taking enrolments for two short academic courses on Deep Adaptation leadership. These are the only academic short courses on DA that I intend to teach over the next 12 months. One option is an online course, with times suitable from East Coast USA to Europe and India. The other course is in-person over 4 days in the beautiful Lake District, UK, in April 2021.

Drawn together by their awareness of humanity’s predicament, the participants are diverse, such as University Vice Chancellors, Fund Managers, School Teachers, Management Consultants, Politicians and Environmental Activists. They are all challenged and supported in an inter-disciplinary exploration of both sustainability and leadership, where orthodoxies are deconstructed to help each other develop our leadership for an era of unfolding climate chaos. The course is framed with the perspective that societal breakdown is either likely, inevitable or already occurring (i.e. the Deep Adaptation Agenda). Continue reading “Learning to Lead Deep Adaptation – join a course”

Finding the Wisdom at Your Fingertips Away from the Headlines

If we look away from both the mass media headlines and the underground media conspiracies, we can find at our fingertips the incredible wisdom that exists in our world at this time of unprecedented global communication. The original promise of the internet as an enabler of the evolution of human consciousness seems far-fetched today as the interests of capital drive what most people see and don’t see, including outright political lies. However, the tools themselves mean that I can connect with you as I am now, and share links to the interviews I have conducted with people from around the world. If, like me, you are sometimes submerged by what the mass media invites you to focus on, then you can miss the abundant wisdom that exists at our fingertips. So, I have written this blog to once again breathe the fresh air of wisdom from people that I interviewed over the past year.

Continue reading “Finding the Wisdom at Your Fingertips Away from the Headlines”

Climate science and collapse – warnings lost in the wind

Over the past year more scientists have spoken candidly about the implications for humanity of recent climate observations and research. They have begun to warn more clearly of the potential and even likelihood of societal collapse due to the direct and indirect impacts of dangerous climate change. These warnings are being lost in the winds of news cycles and drowned out by scientists who prefer assessments that are less challenging to humanity and our elites. Therefore, in one place, here are some of the latest interpretations of the science from scientists who do not hold back. Continue reading “Climate science and collapse – warnings lost in the wind”

Deep Adaptation Quarterly – May 2020

Every three months, we summarise new activities and resources in the field of Deep Adaptation. We do not cover news on the latest science, weather, or impacts, as there are many other sources for that. Please forward this email to people who might be interested (subscribe here).

Founder’s Commentary – Jem Bendell

Since I edited our last newsletter, most of our lives have been shaken by the pandemic and the varying responses from governments, organisations and communities. It has been a time of increased uncertainty, vulnerability, dismay, grief, reflection, and brave loving action. In addition, many commentators are trying to make sense of it all, to predict the longer-term implications and influence policy agendas. It is too soon to say what the long-term implication will be, but it is already clear that climate change and environmental degradation are making it more likely for outbreaks of disease that originate from animals. That was something I wrote about here and then discussed with Bloomberg.

Some people who are engaged in Deep Adaptation have been wondering whether the impacts of Covid-19 are the start of societal collapse. Continue reading “Deep Adaptation Quarterly – May 2020”

Why Discussing Death Can Help Us With Life

Many people who receive a terminal diagnosis report experiencing a kind of renewal, a ‘coming back to life’. Suddenly being invited to reflect on one’s life can have the effect of bringing into focus what really matters, and bringing a sense of clarity and forgiveness to one’s relationships, and often one’s regrets. If you are part of a western, modern culture, it is likely that you have been socialised into believing that death isn’t a thing to be talked about in polite company. Our collective death aversion is being challenged in a way that is highly visible and affecting all of us around the globe right now. We don’t yet know how this pandemic will play out, how many of us will be directly affected by the virus-related death of a close family member or friend. But whether it’s to deepen our emotional resilience by becoming more able to express and process fear and sadness, or to make possible the difficult conversations about end-of-life planning, it’s time to talk about death. Continue reading “Why Discussing Death Can Help Us With Life”

Restoration of Ancient Wisdom in a time of Pandemic

A guest blog from deep adaptation advocate Jilani Prescott.

In the current situation, many people are being faced with difficult feelings: anxiety, fear, grief, confusion, frustration. It could be said that the coronavirus is stripping away a layer of illusion or denial, that we have built up over a generation or two, which distances us from our own mortality and that of our loved ones.

Throughout human history life has been a fragile, precious gift, and death a constant companion. Modern medicine and affluent societies have helped us to imagine that we are or could be immune from sickness, suffering and death. Continue reading “Restoration of Ancient Wisdom in a time of Pandemic”

Deeply Adapting Diets – meat-free or self-sufficiency?

Deep Adaptation is a useful framework for self-development in these difficult times if it is seen as an invitation for each of us to consider changes in our lives, rather than prescribing answers or behaviours. That is because we are in highly uncertain, complicated, rapidly changing situations where any desire to be certain, correct and impactful could arise from a panicked ego responding to the perception of existential risk. For me, that perspective is important to maintain when we consider our own diet and that of others.

The impact of becoming aware of an impending breakdown in societies leads to many different responses. One area of our lives that can change is our relationship to food. Some people seek to grow more of their own food and be less reliant on industrial agricultural systems. Other people decide to eat less meat and dairy, or give it up altogether. As the issue of diet sometimes leads to heated exchanges on the Deep Adaptation platforms, which reflects lively discussions about this topic in people’s lives, I have been asked a few times to share my perspective on it – particularly in relation to deep adaptation to climate change. Continue reading “Deeply Adapting Diets – meat-free or self-sufficiency?”