Professor Jem Bendell

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

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Please Don’t Shut up Mr Franzen – breaking the taboo on our climate tragedy

Posted by jembendell on September 16, 2019

The New Yorker missed out on publishing one of the biggest stories of the year in 2017, when their neighbourhood competitor, the New York Magazine, published David Wallace-Wells’ article on whether the world would become too hot for humans. Not to be outdone, they published a piece on a similar topic two years later, by the author Jonathan Franzen. He goes a bit further than Wallace-Wells by asking readers to reflect on what we might start considering if it might be too late to avert the disruption of our civilisation due to climate chaos. In doing that, he was breaking a taboo in mainstream culture, and the environmental field, that we do not talk about it being too late to avert a breakdown in the way of life of people living in the richer world. I broke that taboo last year in my own field of corporate sustainability and academia, with the publication of Deep Adaptation. It is why I found the Franzen article interesting – and the reaction to it much more so.

I read Franzen’s piece and didn’t find fault in it. One could wish for more clarity on how he concludes that we won’t keep climate change below a level that will disrupt or break down our civilisation. His main argument is that human nature and socio-political systems won’t change instantly and completely to significantly curb temperature rise. I agree. Having lived on every continent of the world (expect Antarctica), I have seen how rapidly societies have been joining the consumer industrial way of life. But I also recognise current disasters around the world as a sign that massive disruption is already under way, and that there is so much extreme weather now predetermined due to the lag and momentum of warming that even instantaneous and complete decarbonisation would not prevent massive further disruption. In July 2019 I compiled a Compendium of published research on climate change and related impacts to explain how I arrive at this view. I did that because I don’t believe that we should be asking anyone to simply believe us on such a life-changing and world-changing issue. Not many people have the privilege of time and training to do their own reading and analysis: but whoever one is, with an internet connection it is now possible to read some of the evidence for oneself.

One might ask Franzen for more ideas for implications of his view that it is too late to stop massive disruption. He focuses on a local project as his source of meaning, applauding how it combines social and environmental concerns in a practical way. That is one response. But I offered the Deep Adaptation framework as a means for people to explore all possible implications at a personal and collective level. That could be local action, or it might be political, or both and everything in between. I appreciate that Franzen mentions that any act coming from love is important as we face a terrible and unprecedented predicament.

photo of man sitting on ground

Photo by Nafis Abman on

I have been sent a range of articles that criticise his New Yorker opinion piece, or the man himself. As I don’t enjoy righteous outrage, these made for rather unpleasant reading. Rather than focusing on the individuals complaining about Franzen, I will summarise some of the types of arguments they used, as they are important to avoid in future if more of us are to engage in generative dialogue about our predicament – in order to reduce harm, save what we can, learn from the situation, and find joy in the process.

Some have implied Franzen said we should stop trying to cut emissions or drawdown carbon. Yet he said the opposite. I can relate with him on that, as I have also been misrepresented in a similar way. I wonder whether this misrepresentation might be because certain commentators are frightened of their own potential emotional pain, and a quick form of emotional defence is righteous indignation towards another person. It kills the pain faster than allowing oneself to consider the arguments for longer or attempting a nuanced unpacking of them. Perhaps the negative reaction arises also because some people do not understand how people can seek to act positively for others or nature, without knowing that it will be successful. That many people do things because they believe or know them to be right, rather than because they will achieve a particular goal, is a wonderful thing.

Franzen did not say that every additional further bit of human-induced global warming does not matter. Instead, he asked for discussions about relative priorities between attempts to slow climate change versus attempts to prepare for its impacts. He noted the importance of finding actions that both reduce carbon and help us with the consequences of the disruptions that are already beginning.

This is a sensible invitation to discussion, given that 20 times more money is being spent on reducing emissions than building resilience to the effects of extreme weather, according to the new Global Commission on Adaptation. It can be a humanitarian impulse to invite a discussion of priorities, given how the rich world’s neglect of adaptation will put millions of people in danger. Moreover, if societies collapse, so efforts at cutting carbon emissions may collapse with them.

On these two points, it was surprising to see how serious commentators were misquoting or misrepresenting him on these points. Rather than criticise such commentators individually, I prefer to quote what Franzen said on emissions and the potential for runaway climate change:

“In the long run, it probably makes no difference how badly we overshoot two degrees; once the point of no return is passed, the world will become self-transforming. In the shorter term, however, half measures are better than no measures. Halfway cutting our emissions would make the immediate effects of warming somewhat less severe, and it would somewhat postpone the point of no return. The most terrifying thing about climate change is the speed at which it’s advancing, the almost monthly shattering of temperature records. If collective action resulted in just one fewer devastating hurricane, just a few extra years of relative stability, it would be a goal worth pursuing.

In fact, it would be worth pursuing even if it had no effect at all…”

Many critics made the unfounded assertion that to say that it is too late to stop disastrous climate change means that people who hear that will stop engaging to create change. There are many holes in that view. First, that every listener matters the same as another for societal change. Most theories of social change (and common sense) indicate that certain people can lead change. The Extinction Rebellion movement is based on the idea of mobilising around 3 percent of a population. If a shocking message helps mobilise 3 percent to act through non-violent direct action, then that has significant implications for political and thus societal change. Second, some psychologists have found that if climate change is felt or experienced as a current problem, rather than a future one, then it leads to more action. Then there is the evidence of the last 30 years, where an incremental, cautious, optimistic, individualist and apolitical environmentalism has achieved nothing in terms of the trajectory of global carbon emissions or biodiversity loss. Last week the Finance Director of Extinction Rebellion was arrested at his home. Legal help for him was sourced by a coordinator in XR. Both quit their day jobs last year after reading my Deep Adaptation paper, which outlined my view that we face inevitable near-term societal collapse due to extreme weather affecting our national and international agricultural systems (and potentially our financial systems ahead of that). There are so many other stories of people changing their lives because its too late to keep pretending, and instead to live one’s truth today, whatever the consequences. That might be a bit disconcerting for career environmentalists and climate scientists, who always assumed they are the more smart, brave and ethical people in society.

Another limitation of some of his critics is that they did not specify what they mean by “doom.” By doom, do they mean for capitalism? For law and order? Or civilisation? Or billions of people? Or the entire human race? The commentators I read didn’t say. If a particular range of possibility seems threatening to one’s existing stories of world and self, then it may not be easy to look at those possibilities with an open mind to see what the alternatives might be.

The Deep Adaptation framework is inviting people to explore actions that will help soften the break-up of our normal way of life. It doesn’t require us to believe any one particular scenario of doom will come to pass. Personally, I think the industrial consumer society will break apart either everywhere or almost everywhere. I think many millions more people will die because of disruption caused by climate change, but don’t know how many – and I worry for the future existence of our species but do not feel able to make credible predictions on that.

Another problem with Franzen’s critics is that many write about a universal omnipotent WE who can choose to act and change everything. They say: WE need to change totally everywhere while WE still have the choice. The problem is there is no collective WE that has such power or choice. Instead, there are billions of people who need to give up an industrial consumer way of life and billions of people who must give up aspiring to live such a life, while existing within a monetary system that requires continual expansion of economic activity to maintain itself. This rather peculiar recourse to a universal omnipotent imaginary WE by scientists and international bureaucrats was a particularly interesting topic in my interview with senior climate scientist Dr Wolfgang Knorr, who is now helping to reveal how his profession has been misleading itself and the public over the past years.

Another criticism was the “ad hominem” attack, playing the person not the argument. Thus, we read how we should ignore Franzen as he is one of a type – those rich old white men who selfishly abandon the climate fight. Indeed, Franzen is an older white man. Yet there are many female researchers and educators who consider it now likely we cannot avert disruption due to climate chaos. These include Carolyn Baker, Deb Ozarko, Joanna Macy, Barbara Cecil and even the woman most responsible for this year’s climate awakening, Gail Bradbrook (listen to her speeches or my Q&A with her to hear that). To dismiss them on grounds of gender or age would be unacceptable. All of these women, and old white guy Franzen, seem to be responding to climate change creatively and earnestly, rather than abandoning the challenge.

The vitriol in some of the criticism of Franzen is an indicator of how deeply rooted the denial of our predicament is within some people who work on the environment. As I have written before in responses to those who say “we must stay positive,” it is difficult to discuss this topic with someone if their identity structure includes a sense that their self-worth depends on a self-image as a person with agency to make a better future. Psychologists in the Climate Psychology Alliance told me that there is little benefit of public discussion with people who pick a fight on these issues. So, it is probably sensible for Jonathan Franzen not to reply to his critics. So please don’t “Shut Up Mr Franzen,” but if you focus on developing your own ideas with sensitivity, I know many people will welcome that. Soon you will be joined by many. Because people in various sectors and professions will begin to share the evidence they have for how climate change is threatening our systems – particularly our fragile international food supply chains. As such evidence emerges, so it will be important to explore loving ways of responding to our predicament, and thoughtful voices like your own will be useful.

There will continue to be anger, blame and hatred – including some directed at people who feel it important to invite more work on adaptation to climate change. People will become scared, including those of us who choose to read and write about this topic. Top climate scientist Professor David King recently expressed his own fear. In this context, the more that we can invite ourselves into open-minded and open-hearted discussion of our feelings and thoughts as we face the predicament, the better. It is why in the new Deep Adaptation Forum, we have focused on methods for holding discussions in-person or online. In addition, this view informs the way we support the moderators of the Positive Deep Adaptation Facebook group and the initiators of local Deep Adaptation groups.

In time we will not need to discuss the arguments made against Franzen, as time itself will be the best educator. But for now, expanding the space for discussion of preparing for and transcending societal collapse will help, and needs voices like Franzens’s to do so.

Some further links:

I write about ‘collapse denial’ within the environmental professions in my original Deep Adaptation Paper, with some suggestions of psychological, professional and institutional reasons for it.

I write about the various arguments used by critics who want to silence conversations on this topic, in my blog on Barriers to Dialogue.

I write more about environmentalists who demand positivity, and how that is counter-productive, here and here.

In my Deep Adaptation Q&As I talk with psychologist Adrian Tait and writer Deb Ozarko about these issues.

I write about the matter of vision and hope after one accepts the likelihood of societal collapse, here.

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Six Months of the Deep Adaptation Forum

Posted by jembendell on September 9, 2019

As we see news of a breakdown in our global climate and its increasing impacts on nature and humanity worldwide, it is painful. Opinion surveys report on how many of us now experience climate anxiety. People fortunate enough to have avoided direct harm from climate-related disasters, now fear there will be a breakdown in their own societies, affecting their own families. After the shock and grief, many people remain bewildered about how to respond that realisation. What to do in our professional lives? What to do in personal lives? In this bewilderment we risk paralysis and reverting to denial. We risk going back to the same narratives and tactics for incrementalphoto_2019-03-05_16-39-45 change, with the festering worry that we are lying to ourselves about the nature of the crisis.

In early March 2019, my team and I launched the Deep Adaptation Forum (DAF), as an attempt to connect people who are exploring these questions, and many more besides. A small group of colleagues, private donors, and over two dozen volunteers have provided precious assistance in making this happen.

The DAF now exists to embody and enable loving responses to our predicament. Its fundamental aim is to reduce suffering, while saving more of society and the natural world.

The DAF is an international space to connect people, online and in person and in all spheres of life — to foster mutual support, collaboration, and professional development in the process of facing societal collapse. More than anything, it is a place for generative dialogue that starts from a perspective of accepting that societal breakdown due to climate chaos is now likely, inevitable or already unfolding.

With the DAF, we want to support caring and creative ways of engaging with our predicament, so that when the realisation of likely societal breakdown spreads into the mainstream, there will be more ideas, tools, people and systems ready to help.

Six months have gone by already. It is time to take stock of what has happened.


One of the DAF’s main purposes is to build community, both online and offline. On this front, the results have gone beyond our wildest expectations.

Since March, our three main platforms – on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Ning – have grown to gather a total of over 10,000 participants. Each of these spaces has a focus of its own, including mutual emotional support (FB); professional outreach (LinkedIn); and the co-creation of resources and collaboration within professional interest groups (Ning).

Besides these platforms, we have just launched the Deep Adaptation Groups Network, with geographical or language specificities, to enable peer support. The twelve founding groups, bridging 10 countries and 5 languages. are the start of a network that will hopefully grow to hundreds. If you are starting a local DA group where you live, or are considering to do so, please let us know, and we will help you join this new network.

We have also reached many thousands of people are also being reached by other means, including newsletters and an online video channel.

These networks and online communities, which are all accessible for free, are being enabled and supported to promote the emergence of new participant-led projects, both online and offline.


While providing spaces and opportunities for interpersonal communication, the DAF has also been organising or supporting a number of events, online and offline:

  • Several online Q&As, attended by hundreds of people, which featured such remarkable speakers as Carolyn Baker, Joanna Macy, Gail Bradbrook and Deb Ozarko.[1]
  • Financial support to six Deep Adaptation Dialogues, i.e. gatherings enabling local communities to engage in an open-ended discussion on Deep Adaptation themes, following an Open Space Technology format. More gatherings will take place in the coming months.
  • Nearly two dozen online gatherings of professional interest groups were organised by forum volunteers on our professionals’ platform; and over a dozen more were hosted and facilitated by the DAF team. This has helped us refine and develop a set of general guidelines for such gatherings, based on the spirit of loving kindness at the heart of Deep Adaptation.
  • In June 2019, the first Deep Adaptation Retreat took place in Greece, facilitated by Katie Carr and Prof. Bendell. Seventeen people from across Europe and North America gathered to explore responses to the most challenging issue of our time. This week-long series of processes was designed to invite participants to explore ways to nurture their resilience and wellbeing in the light of the climate emergency, by means of a journey through the four ‘R’s of Deep Adaptation.

The many testimonies we have received from participants in these events speak to their transformative potential:

I felt more peaceful and inspired after watching your Q&A with Joanna Macy. Yes, this is a deeply meaningful time in human history.” – Email to Prof. Bendell after the Q&A

This was excellent! Thank you. The facilitation was really good. The presentation at the beginning [was] really powerful and really made me take time to think more deeply. The opportunity to come together with so many interesting people and have conversations was much needed – interesting topics and engaged discussion. I had my listening head on and learnt a lot!!” – A participant from the June 15 Deep Adaptation Dialogue in Edinburgh

The deep adaptation workshop was truly an extraordinary experience. While I have participated in many intensive workshops none had the impact on my life that the week in Greece with 16 extraordinary participants had. Jem and Katie put together an experience that was authentic, deeply moving and most importantly critically important to the future that all of us on this planet are likely to face.” – A participant in the June 2019 Deep Adaptation Retreat in Kalikalos, Greece


Finally, we have been providing a number of activities and services, including speeches, media interviews, as well as research and development, public information and strategic advice to relevant organisations as diverse as Extinction Rebellion and the European Commission.

The latest development in this regard was the launch of the Advocates project, which makes it possible for event organisers and journalists to easily contact or hire speakers with in-depth knowledge of the Deep Adaptation philosophy and projects.


We don’t intend to stop here, of course. Indeed, we have many plans for the future – no matter how bleak or dreadful it may seem.

Thanks to the widespread demand for conversation and mutual support around the topic of societal collapse, and our success in gathering people around these platforms, activities, and services, we believe we have a chance to reach a critical mass, and make Deep Adaptation blossom into a genuine social movement with far-reaching impacts, beyond borders, cultures, and social classes.

Time is short, and the odds are stacked against us. But with a little help from everyone else, the spirit of Deep Adaptation may yet become a catalyst for peace and positive transformation in a crumbling world.

Everything we have done in these past 6 months has been funded by voluntary work or private donations. If you are able to consider helping to fund the next year of DAF’s growth and impact, or to introduce us to donors, please contact us here.  


The DAF is driven by the many volunteers that are helping moderate the Facebook Group as well as the Interest Groups and Task Groups on our Professionals’ Platform. The volunteers are essential to our work, and we profile some in each issue of our Deep Adaptation Quarterly. In service of those volunteers and our wider activities, we are a small team of 5 freelancers. Here is some short information on what we do and who we are.

Dorian Cave, Professionals’ Platform Curator.

Dorian curates the DAF Professionals’ Platform (on Ning) on a day-to-day basis; liaises with Interest Group and Task Group leaders, including managing the process of launching either; carries out quickly-applicable research on how to design better collaborative work processes; and oversees capacity-building activities for Task Groups. Through his work, Dorian intends to help develop the Deep Adaptation Forum into the foundation of an international mass movement, focusing on peaceful responses to the climate and ecological crises we face – and the collapses that are likely to unfold. Simultaneously, he wants to develop his skills in the field of self-organised group facilitation and contribute to scholarship on the role of mutual and social learning within such processes.

Zori Tomova, Platforms Assistant

Zori has a business education, with an MSc from Warwick University. Upon graduation, she co-founded a small innovation consulting company and soon after moved into IT entrepreneurship and management, where she spent the majority of her career. She left that world in 2017 to look for a calling that was closer to her heart. Upon her first encounter with Jem Bendell and our predicament, she realised that her sense of aliveness and meaning lies in her gift and love for connection. As a consequence, she oriented her life towards creating spaces of connection with self, other and nature that bring out the most beautiful sides of our humanness. In the last 2 years, she has built a coaching business, created the Connection Playground initiative and facilitated numerous groupwork spaces, including regular Deep Adaptation gatherings online. She joined the Deep Adaptation Forum in July 2019 to support the team of volunteers moderating the Positive Deep Adaptation Facebook group. She’s also the project leader of the Deep Adaptation Groups Network, providing a space for cross-pollination and peer support between DA groups in different locations, languages and topics.

Katie Carr, Senior Facilitator

An independent trainer, facilitator and ‘host’ of collaborative learning processes, Katie has over 15-years of experience in formal and informal/community education. Katie is a skillful facilitator of ‘un-learning’, that is, creating spaces in which it is possible to connect with ways of knowing that are broader and richer than the cognitive/evaluative paradigm that is prevalent in the Western worldview. If Deep Adaptation requires responses that are effective in reducing harm, then it is essential to build awareness and bring into consciousness all of the ways that stories of separation, scarcity and addiction to progress can be manifest in our ways of relating with self and others, and create new ways of being that are characterised by love, respect, inclusivity and connection. As Senior Facilitator with the DAF, she organises online meetings and trainings for volunteers, facilitates dialogues, courses and retreats, and advises on the facilitation principles and processes we promote through the DAF. Before joining the DAF team, Katie was the Director of a UK sustainability education charity for six years, and project manager of several European sustainability projects in the fields of formal and community education. She also has expertise in participatory and alternative evaluation approaches (measuring what’s valuable, rather than valuing what’s measurable). She studied an MA in Sustainable Leadership Development from the University of Cumbria. She is trained in a variety of dialogic learning methods (including circling, authentic relating, ‘philosophy for children’, and non-violent communication), and has published her work in the field of sustainability and post-sustainability education.

Matthew Slater, General Assistant

A theology graduate and software engineer, Matthew is a leading voice on community currencies. In the financial crisis of 2008 he dropped everything to develop open source software for Local Exchange Trading Systems, cofounding Community Forge to host that software. His interests and expertise widened from there into monetary theory, monetary reform, community building, ecovillages, cryptocurrencies, and the politics of software. in 2015 he co-authored the Money & Society MOOC with Prof. Bendell. In 2016 he proposed a solidarity economy money system in a white paper entitled ‘Credit Commons’. In 2018 he took on the role of General Assistant to Prof Bendell and the Deep Adaptation Forum. Within that role Matthew supports a range of activities, including technical support and research on various themes.

Professor Jem Bendell, Founder

With a PhD in international policy, a background working for the United Nations and international charities, and over 100 publications on business and sustainable development, Professor Bendell turned to leadership development in 2012. By 2016 he was working with leading socialist politicians as a leadership and communications advisor and speech writer. He had been interested in climate change since he studied it in 1993, as part of his geography degree at the University of Cambridge. In 2017 he took a year unpaid leave from university to review the latest climate science, measurements, policies and implications. This led to the release of Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Our Climate Tragedy, which was downloaded over half a million times within a year. He now focuses on leadership for deep adaptation, through research, writing, retreats, courses, strategy consulting, short films, as well as launching and co-funding the Deep Adaptation Forum, which after 6 months already engages over 10,000 people in exploring the implications of anticipating societal breakdowns due to climate chaos.

[1] Our next Q&A events will notably feature Adrian Tait (Sept.13); Katharine Wilkinson (Oct. 10); Vanessa Andreotti (Nov.4); and Charles Eisenstein (Dec.14).


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Glocalising Deep Adaptation – launching the Deep Adaptation Groups Network

Posted by jembendell on September 9, 2019

Today a new initiative is launched to support people coming together to help each other as we face the unravelling of normal life in the face of the climate crisis. Twelve local or language-specific initiatives, that are using Facebook to convene dialogue, have joined forces with the rapidly growing and global Positive Deep Adaptation group to launch a system for mutual support and guidance.

gray bridge and trees

Photo by Martin Damboldt on

The Deep Adaptation (DA) framework can support us to explore with open hearts and minds the implications of a likely near-term collapse in our societies due to disruption from climate change. Five months ago we launched a Facebook group and a Professionals’ network to enable interaction and promote collaboration on deep adaptation. In the Facebook group over 6,000 participants are sharing information and support on outer and inner deep adaptation, focusing on its emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects, as well as practical means to support wellbeing ahead of (and during) social breakdowns. In the Professional’s Platform, more than 1600 people have joined to collaborate in the creation of resources to support the transformation of fields such as food and agriculture, education, community action, coaching and counselling, government and policy, business and finance and others.

Our efforts to support local gatherings have thus far been limited to financial support for community dialogues that use the Open Space method. Today we can announce a more significant step towards this ‘glocalisation’ of the new movement. We are introducing the Deep Adaptation Groups Network as a way to promote, support and provide space for cross-pollination between groups in different locations, languages and related topics. Our goals for the network are to:

  1. Raise awareness of our predicament, while promoting the Deep Adaptation culture, values and principles at a local level in thousands of communities around the world;
  2. Foster engagement on Deep Adaptation related topics via local online and offline communities, discussions, gatherings and projects;
  3. Create a common frame of guidelines, resources and online spaces to facilitate alignment with Deep Adaptation (DA) values and goals, as well as cross-pollination and co-creation between affiliated DA groups.

Some of the benefits of becoming affiliated currently include promotion of the member groups through our channels, access to a specialised group for peer support, ability to contribute and access useful resources for growing DA groups and communities, monthly video meetings, trainings, opportunities for small grants and more. In return, member groups agree to follow a set of guidelines that ensure alignment with our philosophy and one another – and to help evolve those guidelines over time.

Our current estimation is that there may be hundreds of local groups being formed to address the individual and collective need for community in the face of our predicament. It is our intention that the network we are establishing will grow to include as many of them as possible.

Coming up next, we’ll be looking at ways to support local groups that do not use Facebook. If you are a creator or member of such a group, we recommend checking out the Gathering Principles including formats we have found useful for hosting online and offline DA spaces. If you choose to create a Facebook group for your community before we roll out support for non-Facebook groups, we’ll be happy to have you join our network. If you are interested in that, you can read our Affiliated Group Guidelines before reaching out to us at

If you are a grant-maker or potential donor, we would welcome support for us to help disadvantaged or under-represented communities to organise Deep Adaptation groups. If so, please email Zori.

The list of the Founding Members of the Deep Adaptation Groups Network includes:

Adaptación Profunda Positiva #APP (Positive Deep Adaptation – Jem Bendell) For the Spanish speaking community. Contact: Aline Van Moerbeke

Adaptation radicale : un guide pour naviguer dans la tragédie climatique For the French speaking world. Contact: Julien Lecaille

Deep Adaptation Discussion and Action Group A space to discuss the four “R’s” and how these questions may be used to redesign our individual lives, livelihoods, etc. and how they may apply to us, our households and communities. Contact: Silvia di Blasio.

Deep Adaptation Hungary – Készülj & Alkalmazkodj – for the Hungarian community, to share, support, plan and move ahead, together. Contact: Balazs Stumpf-Biro

Deep Adaptation Ireland For those located on the island of Ireland. Contact: Cian Langan

Deep Adaptation Parenting A safe and nurturing place for parents to share their thoughts, emotions, ideas, and resources on the topic of raising children in this challenging time.

Positive Deep Adaptation UK Local group, focused on the concerns of people based in the UK, who have shown an interest in the Deep Adaptation paper written by Jem Bendell in 2018, and the issues it throws up. Contact: John Cossham

Deep Adaptation | Wie leben im Angesicht der Klimakrise? For German-speaking people, mostly from Germany.

Dyp tilpasning Norwegian group, open to Swedes and Danish people as our language is understandable across borders. Contact: Sigrid Haugen

PNW Positive Deep Adaptation For the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Contact: Jim Chastain

Positive Deep Adaptation Oceania – Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand etc For the respective region. Contact: Aimee Maxwell

Positive Deep Adaptation: Santa Cruz County and Monterey Bay, CA For Santa Cruz County and Monterey Bay, California, US. Contact: Ami Chen Mills-Naim

Practical PDA Focusing on practical adaptation. Contact: Sarah Bittle

In the future, you will be able to find an up-to-date list of affiliated groups here.

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Source a Spokesperson on Deep Adaptation

Posted by jembendell on August 31, 2019

The concept of Deep Adaptation to impending societal breakdown due to climate disruption is spreading around the world. It was first coined in a speech by Professor Jem Bendell in December 2016, but spread rapidly since his Deep Adaptation Paper went viral. The topic is vast, touching on all aspects of our personal and professional lives, in all corners of the globe. There are now many people seeking experts to speak on this topic around the world – from journalists, broadcasters, and event organisers. If you are seeking a credible speaker on this topic, please read on…
Professor Bendell only does a few talks, interviews and workshops (videos here). To respond to the demand, the Deep Adaptation Forum is prototyping a roster of Deep Adaptation Advocates. These are people of many different kinds of experience and expertise, who are known to Professor Bendell as having something interesting to say on the Deep Adaptation agenda. They are located around the world. Some can travel and all can speak by video link. Some do not charge a fee but some may need to. Any payments are handled directly, not via the Forum.
people at theater

Photo by Monica Silvestre on

If you want to source an expert for an opinion on Deep Adaptation, or to give a talk, contact our roster of speakers.

Request a speaker

Please note that Prof Bendell is not available for any talks before April 2020 (you can check his diary of appearances and courses in 2019 and 2020).
Here is the current list of advocates in alphabetical order. All speak English. If you do not specify someone we will try to source the advocate nearest to your event (if online video participation is not an option).
Melissa Allison, journalist in Seattle, WA, USA. Spent more than 15 years reporting business news for major daily newspapers in the U.S; now editing an economic research/housing site; does somatic experiencing, yoga, meditation, recording and listening (Cheri Huber tool); “I believe we will succeed best if we work toward a soft landing, particularly in the area of food security, and toward our own spiritual growth, the latter in order to both make the most of our lives and ensure that we don’t add to the pain for ourselves and others.” Available by online video and across USA and Canada.
David Baum in Seattle, WA, USA. Moderator for the Positive Deep Adaptation (PDA) Facebook group, engaged with people coming to grips with climate breakdown and societal collapse. “Our lives as we have known them will change drastically. We must accept this, grieve, then find new meaning built on a revelation that truth and love are primary in human life. I have read thousands of posts expressing all manner of emotion and thought about our situation and how to cope with it. I have a thorough understanding of how people react to Deep Adaptation when encountering it for the first time. I can be helpful in interpreting key concepts.” Available by online video and worldwide in person.
Naresh Giangrande, BSc chemist in Totnes, UK. Researcher and online facilitator for Gaia Education; Facilitator, Trainer, and cofounder of Transition Network. Focuses on community resilience building and communicating climate science. “Our civilisation in the global North is dead, and the sooner we accept this fact the sooner we can get on with the important tasks doing whatever needs to be done next. The more people that understand and accept this the more likelihood we have of minimising harm.” Blog post, Radio interview, Ecociv podcast. Online and UK engagements only.
Chloe Greenwood Chloe Greenwood M.B., Ch.B, retired medical doctor in Northern England.Interfaith Minister & Spiritual intelligence coach; public speaker with experience in holding groups and group processes; lived some years in Findhorn ecovillage; cancer survivor and experience in facing death. “I care very deeply about healing, on a personal level, relational and cultural or historical with forgiveness and reconciliation practices and ceremony. I assist people to become more familiar and at ease with death and dying, and to live life fully, with joy in the present moment. In community we can support one another with the strong feelings that climate change evokes.Together wecan cultivate the wisdom and maturity that is being called for at this important time.” Radio Scotland interview, One Spirit Interfaith profile. Online engagements or anywhere in UK.
Alan Heeks, MA Oxon and MBA Harvard, living in Hampshire, UK.
Director & founder of nonprofit Seeding our Future, working with individuals, communities and businesses; social entrepreneur; writer; “This crisis is a huge call for love and compassion: for ourselves and for all life including Gaia.” Recent blog, short video, web site about happiness. Local and online engagements only.
Wolfgang Knorr PhD, Climate scientist in Greece. Expert in climate science and especially the mechanisms leading to wide-spread scientific denial “Don’t wait for the scientists or governments, take the issue in your own hands.Interview Available online and south-east Europe and near-east in person; also speaks German, Greek, French, Italian.
Shu Liang, MA Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change Adaptation, living in Holland. Founder and director of Stichting Day of Adaptation, a non-profit based in the Netherlands which does local level climate adaptation capacity building through collective and experiential learning (fun and interactive activities). Masters thesis, Linkedin profile. Available online and in Europe only; also speaks Dutch and Mandarin.
Alex Lockwood PhD, doctor of creative writing, living in Newcastle, UK. Media and Press Spokesperson for Animal Rebellion. “Creative practice is central to the process of envisioning our future beyond this current civilisation, and we need to deeply adapt to allow for previously marginalized voices, nondominant groups, unconventional writers, thinkers and artists, who can help revision a more sustainable and just future. And this needs to be for all beings.” Article in the Independent, speech, web site. Available by online video and worldwide in person.
Aimee Maxwell PhD, doctor of psychology in Melbourne, Australia. Private psychologist; affiliate of Deakin University; moderator of the Facebook PDA group. “In the end all there is is love.” Linkedin profile, professional presentation. Available by online video and worldwide in person.
Kay Michael, Southern England. Cofounder of Culture Declares Emergency; cofounder and co-curator of Letters to the Earth. holds a Permaculture Design Certificate; Theatrically trained. “It is our broken culture (of separation, consumerism, extractivism, individualism) that has led us to this place; and now radical imagination is required to revolutionise that culture into a wholly regenerative one that can support us through the difficulty.” Workshop video. Available by online video and potentially worldwide in person.
Cordelia Jilani Prescott, BA musician, in Northern England. Certified Leader and Mentor of the Dances of Universal Peace International; teacher in the Sufi Ruhaniat International (a Universal Western Sufi Order) “I work to bring comfort and solace through deep loving connection, and to help strengthen inner and outer peace and the ability to be with intense and difficult feelings. I use chant, movement, and other practices as a framework and container, facilitating circles of people to be more fully alive, to feel safe together, to share love and deep connection and to touch a sense of the sacredness of life.” Recent blog post, web site. Available by online video and potentially worldwide in person; also speaks French.
Herb Simmens in Washington DC, USA. Author of A Climate Vocabulary of the Future. “I immerse myself in the climate literature and attend climate meetings and workshops all over the western world and have done so for about five years now. By recognizing the urgent need for a deep adaptation perspective we can save lives, reduce harm and conflict and enhance planetary welfare.” Blog post, interview, web site. Available by online video and potentially worldwide in person.
Matthew Slater, complementary currency expert of 10 yrs, based in Europe. Administrator, researcher & general assistant to Jem Bendell; self-taught grassroots economist; software engineer of 20 years, co-author (with Bendell) of various publications including the Money & Society MOOC. “Money arises from our collective imagination. As we build larger and more coherent communities, we can reduce our dependence on money and its limitations.” Recent blog, videos, articles. Available by online video and potentially worldwide in person.
Cecilie Smith-Christensen, tourism and heritage manager in Oslo, Norway. Applying the Deep Adaptation approach within the tourism and heritage sector; parenting sensitive to our predicament. Web site. Available by online video and potentially worldwide in person; also speaks Norwegian.
Toni Spencer, MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice living in Devon, UK. Course mentor, trainer and teacher for Call of The Wild with Wildwise /Schumacher College including grief tending, deep ecology and embodiment. Web site; Bristol talk with Jem Bendell. Available by online video and UK-wide in person.
Christian Stalberg, biomimicry graduate student in Oakland, CA, USA. Emergency preparedness and disaster readiness professional; applied biomimicry to human habitat. “Because of climate chaos, we are all vulnerable to lifeline (e.g. food, water, energy) failures, and should be prepared.” Publications, direct action video, web site. Available by online video and potentially worldwide in person.
Dean Walker, Oregon USA.
Dean Walker has been designing curriculum, facilitating and coaching in the field of Collapse-Awareness, for the past six years – drawing extensively on his prior 30 years of Executive and Personal Development coaching and training. He is the author of The Impossible Conversation: Choosing Reconnection and Resilience at the End of Business as Usual. His body of work now includes: Individual and Group – Transformational Resilience Coaching, Safe Circle Support Groups, Deep Academy online, work with at-risk youths, and in-person training. “What there is to do at this most remarkable time in human history – is to live fully and reconnect with life – each in our own way.Youtube channel, interview, web site.
As a member of the Deep Adaptation Advocates group, these people provide both emotional and technical support to each other, as well as receiving support from the Forum (resources permitting). If you would like to be considered and trained to be an advocate for the Forum, please first join the Campaigns, Advocacy and Lobbying group of the professionals network of the Deep Adaptation Forum and become active there for a few weeks before approaching the curator of that Forum with your enquiry.

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A Quick Message to Lefty Intellectuals about Deep Adaptation

Posted by jembendell on August 14, 2019

I’d love to see serious discussion about what kind of economic and social justice policies are needed to reduce harm in the face of societal collapse from climate chaos. Currently, I haven’t seen much. So, in the hope of getting more decent left-wing engagement with our predicament, here is a quick invitation.

Deep Adaptation is a framework for inviting conversation on what we do if we anticipate societal collapse, or are experiencing collapse around us. It is now a movement. I coined the term in a paper I wrote in July 2018. I wrote that for a management academic audience. So where was the critique of power and of capital? Is the absence of a discussion of structural violence of capital an indication that the Deep Adaptation framework is not radical?

women holding a planet over profit sign

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.

I am told that question is being raised in some left-wing intellectual discussion boards, and I have started getting emails from left-wing academics that complain, basically, that I’m counter-revolutionary.


So, here is a quick message to left-wing intellectuals about Deep Adaptation, in which I will give some links to my past writings about how crap capitalism is for the planet… and some ideas on what to do about it.

But before I start, a bit of humble pie. Despite my disdain for capitalism, I stayed working within the system, as my heart and mind were also captured by the system. The Deep Adaptation paper was a long apology for that. But I do a fuller mea culpa in my piece in the forthcoming Letters to the Earth book.

In the Deep Adaptation paper, the power of capital in keeping us compliant is implied in the section on denial in the environmental profession. But that paper wasn’t the venue to further elaborate on that, for instance by discussing the role of capital in the social construction of the stories that kept people quiet within the environmental movement and profession. Because, I was writing for the sustainability profession. Yes, I know, I was embedded in that system.

I have written over 100 publications in my academic career, and I can’t include everything I think in one paper. But, on the topic of Deep Adaptation, I have already discussed capitalism elsewhere. In my first speech on the topic, to climate policy researchers and climate business executives at the end of 2016 (not your most Marxist audience), I said that capitalism is at fault for our predicament, but that the cause is even deeper than that. If you have gone further into post-Marxist critical theory via people like Adorno, you will understand. I said:

“My own analysis is that the West’s response as restricted by the dominance of neoliberal economics since the 1970s. That led to hyper-individualist, market fundamentalist, incremental and atomistic approaches. By hyper-individualist, I mean a focus on individual action as consumers, switching light bulbs or buying sustainable furniture, rather than promoting political action as engaged citizens. By market fundamentalist, I mean a focus on market mechanisms like the complex, costly and largely useless carbon cap and trade systems, rather than exploring what more government intervention could achieve. By incremental, I mean a focus on celebrating small steps forward such as a company publishing a sustainability report, rather than strategies designed for a speed and scale of change suggested by the science. By atomistic, I mean a focus on seeing climate action as a separate issue from the governance of markets, finance and banking, rather than exploring what kind of economic system could permit or enable sustainability.”

So, to repeat, I would really welcome left-wing and, as importantly, critical theoretical analysis of what policies and actions could help enable adaptation of any kind, or Deep Adaptation in particular. I want to spend some time working on these issues myself, but haven’t got to that point yet. When I do, will draw upon some of my past work on economic aspects of our unsustainability. Here is a short list of some of the key arguments from my past publications that I think are relevant to this discussion:

The need to move beyond the dangerous and oppressive ideology of managerialism. Here.

The need to place new duties on shareholders, at a minimum, as part of a capital accountability agenda. Here.

The need to transform our monetary system away from bank-issued debt as the basis for our money supply, in order to have any real go at either mitigation or adaptation. Here.

The need for currency innovation to free us from the poverty-inducing banking control of our money supply. Here.

The need to avoid the same corporate power dominating the new currencies. Here.

Socialist scholars are needed to engage in our climate emergency and Deep Adaptation movements. But its important to be engaged in what’s happening now. Armchair intellectuals who pontificate about ideas in ways that disparage people or ideas by using one or two articles that suit their stories of reality are wasting everyone’s time, including their own.

We face annihilation during the 6th mass extinction, and so uninformed writing that is not engaged with the current activists is misleading. If people aren’t involved in activist movements or political campaigns themselves, while writing about these issues, then they aren’t serious. Or maybe working for the spooks.

An example of that kind of uninformed debate is this piece in ISJ. It says Deep Adaptation (and I) aren’t as radical as Extinction Rebellion. Yet I’ve been involved in XR since the start, spoke at the launch of the International Rebellion, and am inputting into their strategy process, including ideas on economic justice issues. Moreover, many key people in XR came to it after reading the Deep Adaptation paper.  A quick search would have also revealed this blog on XR’s website about its potential for organising an economic rebellion, which I wrote with Rabbi Newman.

So… there’s lots of left-wing intellectual discussion to be had. If well informed, it will be useful. If you are seriously into this stuff then please join the research group on the Deep Adaptation Forum.

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Climate scientist speaks about letting down humanity and what to do about it

Posted by jembendell on July 31, 2019

Interview with climate scientist Dr Wolfgang Knorr by Professor Jem Bendell, July 2019.

Preamble: In June 2019 I met with Dr Wolfgang Knorr, a climate scientist with Lund University. With his dozens of peer reviewed climate papers generating thousands of citations, it is clear he has spent decades at the heart of the climate science profession. He wanted to talk about my work on Deep Adaptation, to help me understand more about how the climate science profession had been letting us down. He wanted to work out what he and other scientists like him could do now, given that real time measurements of global heating and the impacts on nature and society are so shocking. Over the coming weeks we met and corresponded. What follows is an edited version of our conversations and correspondence. It is a detailed discussion of the science and the scientific profession. As a Q&A, it is not referenced, but some of the arguments that Dr Knorr mentions can be explored via a compendium of research papers from July 2019 to July 2020. I share the discussion here to encourage climate scientists, food security specialists and other scholars with grave concerns about our predicament, to speak out.

accomplishment action adult adventure

Photo by Pixabay on

The Interview:

Professor Jem Bendell (me): Thank you for talking and corresponding with me about your views on the climate emergency facing humanity and the role of the climate science profession. First, could you recap a little about your work?

Dr Wolfgang Knorr: I have been a climate scientist for decades. After my PhD from Max Plank Institute for Meteorology, I have worked on climate research projects with a number of Universities. I was Deputy Leader of a major NERC climate research project at the University of Bristol, and now work with the University of Lund in Sweden.

Prof Bendell (me): Earlier in this 2019 European summer there was a record heat wave in France, with temperatures close to 46C in a village near Montpellier. In Germany, the 2015 record of 40.3C was broken on 25 July with 40.9C. This new record only lasted for one day and was topped by 42.6C very far north, near the Dutch boarder. The UK also broke its own record for the highest ever temperature recorded. Even Greenland is experiencing a temperature of 25C in its tundra. Are we seeing climate change in action?

Dr Knorr: What we often hear is that increased levels of greenhouse gases will make such extreme heat events more likely, but that a direct link cannot be proven. In my view, this level of precaution is unfounded. Climate research has so far relied mainly on so-called fingerprint methods, where spatial patterns of climate change from models are compared to simulations. Increases in the occurrence of extreme heat events are difficult to use in this way, because climate models are not designed to accurately simulate extreme weather events. Therefore, climate scientists will often shy away from making bold claims. However, I believe that ordinary people are usually good at sensing when something changes, and will know intuitively that a clustering of such extreme heat events all in the recent past is not normal. This type of informal analysis is not in principle different to applying statistics, which will need underlying assumptions that are equally based on intuition. I would therefore answer your question with a clear YES, we do see climate change in action, and it is very clearly in the direction of a global-scale warming, as we would expect from the greenhouse effect. We don’t even need climate models to make this statement.

Me: Thank you. When climatologists tell me that weather is not climate, I reply that weather is not climate until it is. The distinction is based on how we choose to interpret the latest weather data. My reading has been that these recent increases in temperatures are beyond what the esteemed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) expected based on climate model simulations. Do you agree?

Dr Knorr: First of all, there is a vast spread among the results of different climate models. Also, there is no consensus on which models are more reliable, nor on the criteria that could be used to establish a ranking of such kind. It is therefore difficult to state what the models say, and therefore also difficult to make a comparison. But we can say that the currently observed warming is very much consistent with our understanding of the climate system, which goes back to the end of the 19th century. Back then, a Swedish physicist, named Svante Arrhenius, already calculated the expected degree of warming without the use of computer models, and his estimate is still very much in line with our current understanding.

Me: So the confidence placed in the models was not helpful. The new models are producing much scarier projections on temperature increase. That means the IPCC won’t be able to give politicians any easy ways out anymore. What do you think about the political response to climate?

Dr Knorr: I think that this is the key question because in some way it turns around the burden of proof, compared to the question that has dominated discussions so far – whether climate change is a problem, and if yes, how dangerous it is. What we should really ask is: has there been any discernible impact of climate policy on emission rates of greenhouse gases? The only times when there was a moderate dip on the growth rate of emissions was after the collapse of the Soviet Block, and after the 2008 financial crisis. In particular, the slow-down after the financial crisis only lasted for a few years. With moderate I mean that these changes on a global level – and the global emission rate is what counts – are very small compared to what is needed to stop the rise of greenhouse gas levels. However difficult climate diplomacy might be, we should not shy away from clearly stating that nothing has been achieved as long as we cannot see an effect on global measurements. Therefore, the political response has been inadequate.

Me: Drawing on the IPCC, some people are stating that we only have 11 years to avert catastrophic climate change. Others are saying we only have 18 months. These are not my views, but I they are typically referenced by activists and others. How long do you think we have?

Dr Knorr: The problem is that there is no “we”. There is no central global authority that would represent “us”, nor a global democratic decision-making process. There are billions of individuals organized in millions of groups and social networks making decisions about their lives and those of their loved ones on a daily basis. So the question really splits into two: how likely is it that measures will be taken that could drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions – by someone; and could these measures come in time to avert a climate catastrophe. The answer to the first is “very unlikely”, given the complete absence of any discernible impact of climate policy on emissions. The answer to the second is: even if the impossible was made possible, the scientific data points to the fact that some catastrophic climate change is inevitable. We have already altered the climate system to a degree that is unprecedented for the last 100s of thousands of years, and the more susceptible parts of the climate system will very likely be affected, with consequences that will be catastrophic.

Me: In what area of climate change are you most certain that there will be catastrophic consequences?

Dr Knorr: Before the last ice age, during the so-called Eemian warm period, the northern hemisphere was warmer than during pre-industrial times, or about as warm as now. However, this warming was not caused by a rapid increase of greenhouse gasses, but by very subtle shifts in the way the Earth moves around the sun, and how it is tilted towards it. As consequence, the warming was not global as today. For example, it is believed that Antarctica was slightly colder than under pre-industrial conditions. However, sea levels were about 7 metres higher than today. It is now starting to filter through that this sea level rise might be due to the disappearance of the West Antarctic ice sheet. We already know that processes are underway that are de-stabilizing that ice sheet, but if the results about the Eemian disappearance are confirmed, it will mean that the ice sheet is extremely vulnerable to much more subtle climate fluctuations than the ones that we have already created. We already know that the Antarctic seas are already experiencing increased freshwater influx. And we understand in principle why the West Antarctic ice shield is vulnerable: it is grounded below sea level, so very vulnerable to ocean warming. All taken together, I think it would be quite ridiculous to think that the ice shield will survive. It is just a question of timing, and since the processes that can lead to its collapse are highly non-linear, we are in for some surprises on how fast this can happen.

Me: Why would 7 metre sea level rise necessarily be dangerous, if it happened very slowly?

Dr Knorr: The Breakthrough Institute, based in Melbourne, Australia, has come up with a series of reports, some of which provide quite detailed answers to this question. The amount of people or prime agricultural land situated within one metre of sea level is astounding. And even a slow rise within 1000 years would be still too fast for permanent sea walls to provide long-term protection. I don’t think this only applies for poor countries like Bangladesh, but also for China, the Netherlands, parts of the US and others. The number of people displaced would be so massive that the entire world order based so much on state institutions and quasi-permanent, often impenetrable borders will lose its meaning.

Me: In some of my own work, I have focused on nearer term implications for people from rapid climate change. In particular, I have looked at the impacts on agriculture, and how vulnerable our societies because of that. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) already report that globally hunger has been rising these past three years due to climate change. Do you think that people in the richer regions of the world will also experience food shortages or even hunger because of climate change?

Dr Knorr: One thing we need to keep in mind is that agriculture was not this sudden ingenious human invention that it is often portrayed as, but a direct consequence of the on-set of a stable Holocene climate. Before, it was simply not possible because the melting ice sheets led to frequent and very large climate fluctuations. Now, we again have a situation where the so-called cryosphere – sea ice, glaciers and ice sheets – are being destabilized. Currently, rich countries with their highly mechanised, fossil-fuel intensive agriculture produce so much food, they can afford to turn a significant proportion into fuel or use it as feedstock. But food production has increasingly become globally integrated, with major exporting regions supplying large parts of the globe. And we expect climate change to lead to longer drought conditions followed by more extreme rain events, and also to make some dry regions drier and wet regions wetter. Many exporting regions for wheat production, for example, are situated in rather dry climates, such as the north American plains, Argentina, Ukraine, or Australia. So yes, I think we could see major disruptions to the global food system. It is difficult to say when and where, because I would not trust regional climate predictions, but in general the possibility is there. And we also need to take into account that we have a very unfair distribution system for food, so if that is not changed radically, very many people could suffer. We cannot even be sure that biofuel programmes will be stopped when there are food shortages. We do not have modelling studies that point to such a drastic outcome. But these studies necessarily rely on a combination of past observed weather fluctuations and model predictions, which will clearly tend to under-estimate the problem. This is being stated very clearly in a recent report by the US-UK Task Force on Extreme Weather and Global Food System. There is some research that shows that already now, weather extremes have increased more than what we expected from modelling results. Mathematically speaking, the climate system has far more degrees of freedom than the models, which means that reality has a vast scope for surprises. And the likelihood that these unexpected changes will make the climate system more rather than less stable is practically zero. Coming back to the initial point, it is stability that agriculture needs.

Me: I have not heard the mainstream climate science profession warning people in the West about the future of their daily bread. Do you think the IPCC reports tend to play down the risks of climate change?

Dr Knorr: It is not difficult to imagine why that should be so. They IPCC is after all an international agreement, and it answers to the interests of the governments of the countries it has signed up to, and it works largely by consensus. So special interests by fossil-fuel emitting countries can have a large impact. But I think there is a more fundamental problem, one that affects much of the larger science community and has to do with framing of the problem. When there is danger you have to confront, you go through essentially two stages. During the first, you need to establish that there really is a problem. During this stage, more uncertainty will lead to less perception of the problem, and less action. But once the existence of the problem has been firmly established in principle, the perspective changes. Now, you need to develop a risk coping strategy, and the less you know about the problem that can be used to assess level of risk, the more concerned you should be. In the first situation, we tend to avoid over-stating because we want to be sure the problem exists, during the second however, the normal reaction is to err on the side of caution. I believe that the IPCC is still stuck in phase 1 while we are now very clearly seeing climate change in action.

Me: I see, so the “precautionary principle” of avoiding hazards that are so dangerous to us wasn’t really being followed, as uncertainty was a cause for conservativism. But could you give an example?

Dr Knorr: Yes. For instance, a major IPCC report excluded the effect of land-based ice sheet melting in its forecasts of sea level rise. This happened despite the fact that the vulnerability of the West Antarctic ice sheet was already known. But lack of knowledge led to a warped application of the precautionary principle: precaution against making too bold a claim and being discredited in the eyes of the scientific community, and not precaution against failing to identify a fatal risk.

Me: Is the scientific community doing enough to tackle the problem of climate change?

Dr Knorr: In general, I believe that research in the natural science is there to further understanding of the natural world. Scientists should be able to follow their natural instincts, their curiosity and the thirst for knowledge. There is plenty of excellent research going in this direction that has to do with climate change. However, there is of course also room for more directed research that is aimed at tackling specific problems in the interest of society and humankind. In the case of climate change, I think there is a massive problem here, because the biggest interest of humankind should be in the highest risks, even if the probability of this happening is relatively low. The research I’ve seen dealing with probability – for example of the probability of not meeting the Paris Agreement’s 2 or 1.5C warming target, was dealing with values in the range of 30%, 50% and such like. But when you want to avoid a fatal risk, then you wouldn’t even accept a 1% risk. The framing of the climate change problem by funding bodies and the scientific community is therefore fundamentally flawed, in my opinion. Instead of studying the possible impacts of 2C warming, we should study the impact of 4C and higher warming events.

Me: Is the aim of the Paris Accord to stabilize the climate with less than 2 degrees of warming being taken seriously by the scientific community?

Dr Knorr: I do not know, to be honest, but I get the feeling that no scientist really believes that this is possible. You do not need to be a climate scientist to work out that there is absolutely no indication of any movement in the direction of the emission reduction at the scale needed. And that is something most climate scientists will have realized, simply because they deal with the subject on a daily basis so cannot avoid asking themselves this question. The only thing that I can imagine will have a major impact on emissions is the rapid and massive deployment of renewable energies, in particular solar energy. However, as long as it is profitable to extract fossil fuels, it will happen. I recently read that coal use has lately gone up again, after a longer decline. That is highly alarming.

Me: Are you worried?

Dr Knorr: I must admit that I am mostly worried for my children and their own children and grand-children if they one day choose to become parents themselves. This is absolutely my personal view, and might be to some degree the result of professional denial. My gut feeling says that it will take another 20-30 years until we see really massive impacts, but that these impacts will look very different from what we expect. The problem is that the image we have right now is so much influenced by modelling studies, at least in the scientific community. But with these climate and other simulation models it is just like the way it is with artificial intelligence. These are mere algorithms that lack any real understanding. The understanding is the work that needs to be done by the scientist. So what I worry about is that too much reliance on established scientific methods has led to a lack of imagination, and that there will be things that we have not considered. Last year, almost the entire Greek olive harvest was unfit for human consumption. The reason: it was unusually wet, just the opposite of the trend we expect from modelling, and that led to the spread of certain diseases that could thrive in the increased humidity. I am planning to initiate a project to look into this, with the hope that confronting the IPCC-based image of climate change impacts with in-depth analysis of how climate change is playing out in the real world right now. There will be thousands of other subtle effects playing out in ways we won’t understand. This is what makes me worried most.

Me: Why aren’t more scientists speaking out about it being too late to stop the disaster spreading?

Dr Knorr: There are actually quite a few scientists who are warning about an impending catastrophe, but you are right, they all stop short of saying publicly that it is too late. What they tend to say is that things are getting worse, there are feedback loops and tipping points and if we don’t do anything radical soon, then it might be too late. It always goes like this: there is problem X and it is urgent and we only have Y years to do implement some radical changes. And then nothing specific about these measures and how they might affect our daily lives. The issue I always had with this is the use of the word “we”. I believe it has actually been “too late” from the start of industrialization. Looking back at history, there is no evidence that our current prevailing technology-based civilization has any way of stopping progression towards some kind of environmental crash. There is no collective mechanism to do that. There are many people who believe that technology will save us, but what I see is that in the face of danger, exaggerated belief in what technology can deliver only increases. To see that our way of life, the way we grew up and we see our children grow up is doomed, is probably too painful to fully realize. And it is also painful to me, which you can see in the use of words here, “probably” and “fully”, qualifiers to create some distance between the thought and myself. What I tend to believe is that there will be another 30 years or so until we will fully experience and thus realize the scale of climate change will do to us. But I might be wrong. Some people believe that the crisis in Syria is the direct result of climate change, a persistent drought that has brought destabilization of an ancient society. Climate change might already play out in this kind of way, with humanitarian disasters where we don’t even see that they are caused by climate change. The next crisis of this kind might happen very soon and somewhere unexpected. Yes, I am reluctant to say this publicly because I don’t want to sound like a Cassandra, a doomsayer. So the problem of not speaking out, of not warning the public sufficiently might have to do with social pressure. With not wanting to be perceived as an outlier.

Me: While it may be awkward to say it publicly, it seems to me that the climate science profession has been letting down humanity. How do you feel about that? And what could scientists in your position do now?

Dr Knorr: Individually I think many of us have been very dedicated. But collectively we didn’t do what was needed. In that sense, the whole climate science profession has let down humanity. I am still working out what that means from now on. I am talking to you and to activists to explore what next for myself and my profession.

Me: Given that I work on an agenda I call “deep adaptation” I am wondering what you see as the implications of your views for adaptation in general and preparing for a breakdown in our way of life?

Dr Knorr: I believe that adaptation really needs to start inside ourselves, with the realization that defence against pain is normal. I can see a lot of defensive mechanisms when it comes to climate change. Not only with the usual climate change deniers, many of whom simply feel an existential threat to their way of life – and blame it on those who demand change, not climate change itself. I can also see it with the climate science community. One is a reluctance to admit that it is too late to control climate change, that there is no-one with political power who is really taking the problem seriously and suggesting in earnest measures who can make a real difference. And in the political realm, with politicians being supportive of the latest climate protesters, passing legislation to decarbonize the UK by 2050, but coming up with no specific measures except maybe the idea of phasing out petrol and diesel cars. If find that ridiculous. Once you get used to the idea of denial and defence, the public discourse in large parts looks like comedy. So the answer is – realize your own denial mode, get out of it, realize all the forces that will probably radically change the way most of us live in the coming years – rising inequality, surveillance,  authoritarian regimes, media addiction, junk food, and a destabilized climate that will first-of-all create uncertainty. Then prepare to live in an age of uncertainty, remind yourself that our ancestors did just that, and find a new, deeper meaning in life.

Me: What do you think scientists could learn from activists like Extinction Rebellion? In what ways might you and they get involved?

Dr Knorr: Until very recently I thought that no-one, really no-one is taking the problem of climate change serious. There are such endless high-risk – maybe low-probability, but we don’t know – impacts, the problem needs a response of colossal proportions. With the new generation of climate protesters, like Extinction Rebellion, that has changed. What I have realized only recently is that there is nothing much you can do at the individual, personal level, like saving energy, flying less and so on. The machinery of industrialized society will always make sure your efforts are in vain. What is needed is action at the political and decision-making level. This is something I have learned from these activists. I am not an activist by nature, so I am reluctant to make that step, but I believe it is necessary. My impression is that this attitude that I describe for myself here is quite common among scientists. What is happening now is that Extinction Rebellion and similar protest movements increasingly seize the public discourse on climate change and leave much of the scientific community behind, in particular the IPCC. And that is a good thing, because we need to move on from the current paradigm. This should answer your second question – moving the public discourse from problem identification mode to problem confrontation mode. We need a sober, grown-up look at all the risks climate change entails. No doomsaying, no preaching, no exaggeration in order to convince others, but also no shying away from speaking out things that are painful. And to find that middle ground is exactly what a collaboration between climate scientists and the new protest movement could achieve.

If you want to contact Dr Wolgang Knorr please use the contact form on this website (click “about”).

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Which experts would you recommend to present to a Citizens’ Assembly?

Posted by jembendell on July 13, 2019

In response to the growing recognition we are within a climate emergency and that our existing modes of politics have not been delivering policy programmes that address the nature, scale or urgency of our predicament, the idea of Citizens’ Assemblies is growing. It is one of the key demands of Extinction Rebellion. Such assemblies can be comprised of normal citizens that are randomly selected by sortition, with means to ensure diversity of gender, age, class and so on. These assemblies the call for evidence from experts who they choose, to help inform their deliberations. It is significant that more of these assemblies are being set up – mostly as consultative groups. The question of what the legitimate powers of such an assembly could be, especially in relation to parliaments and governments, is a live one. But whatever its powers, a Citizens’ Assembly is decisively influenced by the way the agenda is established, the way deliberations are facilitated, and the kinds of experts who are called upon to present. I am going to ask you to consider suggesting some experts for a Citizens’ Assembly on the climate emergency, but before that I want to share some context on the key challenges to consider with any such Assembly and in the selection of experts.

people holding banner

Photo by Vincent M.A. Janssen on

The way the agenda is established is key. The first thing to recognise is that the climate emergency is not adequately engaged unless we move beyond only talking about cutting and drawing down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Instead, it is essential to realise that climate change is already here and its impacts on our societies will be getting worse. Therefore, how we better prepare for disruption at home and abroad is a key part of any policy discussion about the climate emergency.

The way deliberations are facilitated is also key. The tasks of selecting experts, guiding the choice of topics, and facilitating how the citizen participants discuss their information, are central to what will be achieved. If management consultants or other mainstream organisations are in charge of these processes, then they may inadvertently bring establishment ideologies that should now be questioned as part of the system that has brought us to this point of emergency. A process of inquiring into the hidden ideological assumptions of hosts and facilitators would be one way of attempting to address this risk.

Then there is the key issue of the kinds of experts who are called upon to present. A problem facing any Citizens’ Assembly are the narrow specialisms, scientific reticence and personal conservativism that are widespread within research and academic institutions.

Narrow specialisms are a problem because, for instance, an expert in one particular aspect of climate science, such as glaciers, may not have had the time, interest or networks to become well informed about other aspects of climate. Or an expert in corporate sustainability may know nothing (or the wrong thing) about the monetary systems that corporations have to operate within. To “get on” in academia it is almost a requirement to specialise until you are spending all your time examining the details of one set of ideas or situations. Polymaths don’t do so well in that system. It means that Citizens’ Assemblies, just like policy makers, find difficulty in accessing usable knowledge from researchers, and must attempt the integration of ideas themselves. The other problem is when an expert is invited to speak beyond their area of expertise and does so without realising that they could explore the scholarship and debates in relevant fields. This happens on climate issues, where people trained in mathematics and statistics begin to offer ideas about the policy implications of the projections of their climate models. We may want them to engage in such discussions, but both we and they need to be careful if they are using a status related to being a climate expert to then talk about something else. For instance, many climate scientists are quoted in mainstream media saying that to be “alarmist” is counter-productive, and yet there is a lot of scholarship in psychology and communications studies which explore whether that is true or not, and for different types of audiences.

Scientific reticence is something that one of the world’s most famous climate scientists, James Hansen, has pointed to and which I cite in the Deep Adaptation paper. He explained how there is a culture in natural science, and therefore climate science, to be very specific, nuanced, cautious and unemotional about any claims to know something as a result of their research. Combined with the narrowness of many research projects, it also means that much scientific expertise will need translating into insights for either citizens or policy makers. Some researchers break free from this reticence and speak more broadly about their conclusions and the implications of their research. In my case, after reviewing the research on climate change and its impacts, in the context of increasing emissions from our system of debt-fuelled economic growth, I concluded that it is too late to stop destructive impacts of climate change on our societies. Not that we shouldn’t try to limit the impacts but that we need a new conversation about adaptation. In saying that I made it clear I was expressing an opinion and was not reporting on research about mechanisms of collapse. I think it is an extremely difficult and resource intensive exercise to try and model the mechanisms of climate-induced societal collapse. Even if doing so, such projections would simply be debatable theories rather than proving anything. Given how fast-moving our current situation is, I wonder how useful such work would be, though I encourage more attempts at it within the food security and disaster reduction research fields.

Personal conservatism is a way of being in the world where, in comparison to the average view, one accepts the systems of power, authority, and status as they are currently configured. It makes sense that if you have worked hard for decades in front of your computer to rise to the top of your profession, and gain a high salary and status, that you will have some gratitude towards the system. Or at least less anger towards it than others! Such people may also have many responsibilities, both personal and professional, which feel like they limit the risks one can take with what to say, or what to let oneself even consider. I cite some research on this personal conservativism in the Deep Adaptation paper when I explain some of the factors in the ongoing denial in the environmental field. It means that both citizens and policy makers may find experts feeling less critical about our political and economic systems than they might be if there were not so invested in the system. That might mean they are less bold with their ideas about what policies could be considered.

With all that in mind, if you were advising a team of people in putting together a list of experts to be called to present at Citizens’ Assemblies on the climate emergency in the UK, what would be your criteria? For either the institution or the individual? The organisers typically expect experts to come from Universities or authoritative organisations. And what topics would be included? After all, we don’t want climatologists telling us about implications for monetary policy. Yet, given the systemic nature of our predicament, it would unhelpful, perhaps useless, if we would restrict our discussions to those topics that climate experts can talk about with confidence.

A Citizens Assembly on the climate emergency could consider major changes in at least each of the following policy areas: Food and agriculture; Emergency preparedness; Foreign Affairs; Development assistance; Water and utilities; Land use planning; Monetary policies; Banking regulation; Corporate law; Community development; Education; Health; Taxation. And many more!

Yes, the field is huge, unwieldly, and daunting. But what can we learn from how, after 30 years of efforts to promote sustainable development, we are now going backwards rapidly on biodiversity, emissions, weird weather, food and water security? Surely it is time to see that we need to address more of the root causes of our predicament? That means changes to our economic system, not just more housing insulation and sea walls.

Do you know any experts in relevant areas who seem to not be too restricted by their narrow specialism, scientific reticence, or personal conservativism? Not just in climate, but in any of the areas that matter to system change to both reduce and adapt to our climate emergency?

If so, please either share their details in the comments below, with a link to their organisation and stating what policy areas they are relevant to, or if preferring to be private, then use the contact form at the bottom of the page here (putting the word Expert in the subject line). In particular, we are interested in people who speak English and in or can easily travel by train to the UK. Organisers typically expect experts to come from Universities or authoritative organisations, rather than independent researchers or authors.

The list we produce by August 1st 2019 will be shared with a number of groups and officials who are involved in Citizens Assemblies and other policy dialogues.

If you are interested in Citizens Assemblies and the development of policies for deep adaptation to our climate emergency, then please consider joining the Government and Policy discussion group on the Deep Adaptation Forum.

Posted in deep adaptation | Tagged: , , | 10 Comments »

Don’t police our emotions – climate despair is inviting people back to life

Posted by jembendell on July 12, 2019

“We gather and rebel not with a vision of a fairy-tale future where we have fixed the climate, but because it is right to do what we can. To slow the change. To reduce the harm. To save what we can. To invite us back to sanity and love. 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. We are angry and we are calm enough to say so and invite others to join us.” Opening speech of the international rebellion of Extinction Rebellion in Oxford Circus on April 15th 2019. 57503072_10155958230736470_5090386915572580352_n

For some of us, news of our changing climate is inducing many difficult emotions, including despair. For people less fortunate than myself, the losses of landscapes, properties, livelihoods and lives, arising in part from climate change, has also been inducing sadness, anger and despair.

Last week, in my review of the year since the Deep Adaptation paper came out, I mentioned it had been a year of strong emotions – but did not explain further. Yet the emotions are so important to recognise, as when hidden or supressed they are more likely to drive our behaviours. The habits of our culture, and therefore also in me, are to engage in ways that seem intellectual and pragmatic – and to aspire to appear calm. But that can disable our ability to really know and be known. To #TellTheTruth in our time of climate emergency is to express all of our emotions about it as well.

A new article in Vice talks about some of those difficult emotions, with the author making the dramatic claim that “climate despair is making people give up on life.” The journalist tries to build the case that experts think it is wrong to upset people about our climate predicament. That implies that people’s emotions of despair are wrong, because they are unproductive. Given the number of people drawn to lead the climate rebellion after reading my Deep Adaptation paper, I could just dismiss that perspective as uninformed. But I believe it is problematic to suggest that the many difficult emotions that arise from facing our climate predicament need fixing, or that we should avoid triggering them in others. So, here on my blog I want to be more open about those emotional situations I have experienced, and to warn of stories what is “academic” or “credible” can be used to police those emotions and those who trigger them.

And I want to make up for how my review of the year sought to be so very calm and collected! I had just published a Compendium of peer reviewed research on climate and so expressed myself in the rather subdued tones that academia has schooled me in. In my review of the year I didn’t talk about the alienation as I hide my reality from friends and family, so as not to trigger difficult emotions in them or in me. I didn’t talk about the fears I have had in discussing my view on our situation with close friends, family and colleagues. I didn’t talk about the tears I have seen and shed. I didn’t talk about my moments of panic. I didn’t talk about losing friends because they did not want to hear about our climate. I didn’t talk about the stress of experiencing how some people interact online on this emotive topic. I didn’t talk of my sense of overwhelm as people from all walks of life suddenly wanted answers from me. I didn’t talk about the difficulty of being involved in Extinction Rebellion and yet not wanting to share my perspective on collapse in the mainstream media until more systems of emotional support are in place. I didn’t talk about the confusion of not knowing what to do in my personal life. I didn’t talk about losing balance and health as a sense of responsibility meant I worked a lot on such a heavy topic, building an international network for peer support and providing advice. And I didn’t talk about the stress of being criticised publicly for sharing my perspective; or the shock of discovering how confident some humans are in deciding what is happening in the hearts and minds of others (i.e. mine). I didn’t talk about these things because I had slipped back into the habit of keeping things calm. I’m sorry – I am as bothered about all of this as you are!

There is another side to this story. In my review of the year, I didn’t say as much as I could about the unprecedented intensity of human connection that I have experienced as a result of discussing our climate predicament. I have met so many amazing people who are not hiding behind social norms; who are showing up in the world as vulnerable, loving, curious, playful, meaning-making souls.

Everyone engaging with our climate predicament will have their own emotional journey. None will be easy. The question of how to engage people is a huge one for me. It is why I have focused on how people who are awake to our predicament can help each other. My main suggestion is that we engage and talk with others who do not think that we are confused, depressed, or irresponsible to have concluded that climate change now threatens societal collapse. In those connections and conversations, we find solidarity, joy and pathways for how to be and what to do in future. If you do not yet have that in your life, or want more, then I recommend reaching out through one of the networks I list here.

As climate despair grows, so it becomes a more widely discussed topic. One of the understandable but unfortunate ways that some people respond is to criticise people who communicate the information and ideas which induce despair in some other people. Or to criticise those people who do not support means of escaping such despair through hopeful stories of fixing climate change in time to prevent societal collapse. The argument made is that to describe one’s view about impending collapse is irresponsible because of both the emotional distress caused and because it might lead to inaction. Some commentators even say that it is morally wrong to speak of the future in this way; a view with some chilling echoes of religious fundamentalists who righteously demand you believe what they do. They may also seek to claim objective truth by arguing that someone’s views are sub-standard.

The latest example of this perspective and approach appeared in that Vice magazine article. The author states that “instead of rallying us, climate despair asks us to give up.” Being involved in Extinction Rebellion, I know the opposite is true for so many people – despair has been an essential part of their process. People act because of truth and love, not because they believe that they can stop a breakdown in our way of life. It is why I spoke about that at the opening of the international rebellion. Let’s look at that claim again: “instead of rallying us, climate despair asks us to give up.” That is pure conjecture: about everyone everywhere. It is written in the passive voice, rather than being claimed by the journalist as his own opinion. I regard attempts to define others in this way as a habit of patriarchy, which we must challenge as we free ourselves from its heart-numbing conformism. Mainstream academia has been at the forefront of that patriarchal process of defining what is valid or not to feel, think or believe, so it is interesting to observe how academics might be asked to police our emotions about climate.

In making his case that it is irresponsible to share a view that societal collapse due to climate change is now inevitable, the journalist makes the claim that the Deep Adaptation paper is “widely pilloried.” A month before his article came out, I wrote to him to ask he not base such a claim on just one critic (who isn’t an academic anyway), but look into how the paper has been received, or more closely at the most recent science. I sent him a link to my reply to that critic’s claim about academic quality:

“Moving between factual evidence and personal opinion is a form of academic writing. In addition, personal experience is a form of factual evidence if one is doing an autoethnography. My paper was a conceptual paper, so I did not outline a methodology. However, it used autoethnography in the large section on denial and on looking at how people are framing our situation. Autoethnography is now widely understood in academia. I believe I was clear in the paper where I am expressing my opinions about implications. I am also clear about why at times I used emotive language to address the reader. There is no one set of “academic standards.” I’m pleased we have moved on from the dominance of positivism in social science.”

The Vice journalist also quotes the anthropologist Joseph Tainter, in saying that my paper was irresponsible. Recently I have been researching the range of scholarship on societal collapse, including that from Tainter, and will release that in a couple of months, as part of a workshop plan for how we can learn from past collapses (in order to slow them down). To try to draw conclusions for our current situation from the study of ancient societies is interesting, but should be handled with care. To my knowledge, Joseph Tainter isn’t engaged in climate change or the communities of scholarship relevant to understanding our current predicament, such as food security, human security, catastrophic risks, extinction risks, and disaster risk reduction. However, if he does look at the current situation and draw on these relevant fields, then his engagement could be a valuable one.

Critiquing what is covered by one paper is also a way of not looking more closely at the issue. In my email to the Vice journalist a month before his article came out, I wrote:

“Since the paper came out both myself and others have been saying more about how climate change will, or might, cause societal collapse. The focus is on agricultural impacts. For instance here. And also my own summary of the food security field. IPPR have started doing work on this as well. UCL are launching a project on it. Meanwhile, UNDRR are encouraging a sea change in our approach to risks arising from climate change. So collapse-readiness in the face of climate chaos will become a less unusual topic in the near future. Sadly.”

To move beyond a focus on the one paper and its limitations (or mine) one reason why I released the compendium of peer reviewed science that has been published over the past year. Given that our issue here is so troubling, being sceptical of scholarship is important. But scholarship is still useful, especially if being clear about the boundaries of expertise and the limitations of one’s methods or approach. Therefore, quoting scholars on topics outside of their areas of expertise should always come with caveats. Some famous climate scientists speak about the implications of climate change with little or no mention of expertise on psychology, communications, economy or politics. For instance, the Vice article quotes climate scientists making claims about psychology, such as the effects of despair and motivation, yet this is a different domain than their expertise. This is something I explained to someone putting together a roster of experts for a forthcoming Citizen’s Assembly. A climate modeller, or polar climate scientist, may be great at their job and clear and courageous when expressing their conclusions, but that does not mean that they know how to frame issues, or the psychological implications or possible policy implications. Rather, as academics we are often handicapped by specialisations, if we have not developed our understanding of different fields of knowledge and ways of knowing. In addition, research shows that the more successful one is within existing institutions, it is likely the more conservative one is in one’s views. I mention that in my Deep Adaptation paper, where I explored in detail the processes leading to collapse-denial within the environmental professions, so I recommend looking at that if you are curious.

A difficulty for our ability to consider our predicament head on is that we live in a culture that is averse to impermanence, uncontrollability and death. That means our culture is also averse to the possibility of the absence of hope in a materially better future that can be shaped by us. Yet there is a way of being incredibly passionate and engaged about reducing harm and suffering and living your truth, without the belief that we will create a materially better future. Those who wish to frame collapse-awareness as wrong, and seek to fix our difficult emotions, may actually be trying to avoid looking at their own inner world. In discussing this issue with therapists at the Climate Psychology Alliance, I was advised that it is impossible to engage publicly with people who think they need to believe in a hope and feel threatened by others who say otherwise. I was told that this is because the issue of hope is not one of evidence and opinion but is about people’s deeper structures of identity and ego. Basically, a subconscious fear of not existing anymore.

Because the Deep Adaptation paper and concept has become widely known, it might seem to some commentators like the journalist from Vice that I am promoting doom. Yet I wrote the paper for my professional community in sustainable business studies, and to call out my colleagues for not looking at how bad our situation has become. As it went viral, I turned down mainstream media interviews and major publishers, to prioritise helping connect those who are deeply affected by their view that we face societal collapse; or who are already experiencing it. My writing, talks and interviews have been focused on those who are already on the path of “collapse acceptance”. One of the most powerful means of support has been the Positive Deep Adaptation Facebook group. With over 4000 people a few months after launch, it is the venue for intense sharing of emotions and ideas about what we might do now. People join it if they believe that a climate-induced societal collapse is either likely, inevitable or already underway. We call it “positive” Deep Adaptation, because being collapse-aware does not need to lead to hedonism, nihilism, apathy or negativity. On the group all ideas about the implications of our predicament are welcome, so long as they are not violent. Many ideas are shared about how to prepare both practically and emotionally. I don’t see many people giving up, but read about people discovering life in new ways, including climate activism.

But it is only a Facebook group! To help each other as we experience difficult emotions is a huge task. It is why I will be taking some time to engage the education, psychotherapy, coaching, community development and religious communities over the coming months. If you are interested in such work, please join the Deep Adaptation Forum. We have been helping people meet in-person, often for free, to experience gatherings where our difficult emotions are welcomed and shared before moving into any talk of action.  We have also started offering retreats to help climate activists recharge while also learning how to host such gatherings.

The Vice article is a reminder to me that the denial I explained in my paper will persist for years to come, even as things begin to breakdown around us. Although its discussion of emotions is an important one, it exhibits some of the “Nit-Picking” and “Moral Superiority” forms of response that I highlight a year ago in my analysis of barriers to dialogue on Deep Adaptation. To evidence a different perspective than that article, I recommend this piece in the FT which explores how Deep Adaptation ideas have been inspiring people to take action. Also, I recommend seeing XR’s Skeena introducing my speech to launch the International Rebellion. You could also look again at some of the latest science. As part of my review of the year, I published a compendium of 23 peer-reviewed studies which I assessed add weight to the underlying analysis of my Deep Adaptation paper.

One hope I have for my own life and those I engage in person is that we may find greater equanimity about our predicament. I once confused that state with either calm or serenity. Now I realise that equanimity is a state of being accepting, even of our own difficult emotions, like grief, anger and despair. Serenity, like calm, is an emotion which comes and goes. With equanimity we can observe such moments of serenity and welcome them, cultivate them, but not become attached to them nor think they are superior states of being. Rather, being alive at this time will mean we ebb and flow with various emotions.

I have benefited from talking with people who I consider spiritual elders. One such person is Joanna Macy, who I interviewed recently. She reminded me that if we connect with our transcendent essence, our souls, then the current moment is an exquisite time to be alive. Because, an awareness of impending collapse is an invitation to ask ourselves deep questions of meaning that we typically postpone – and some of us never even get to. Climate despair is inviting people back to life.

This brings me to a good conclusion to this addendum to my review of the year. I have become more certain that the way through despair involves experiencing oneself as part of a greater whole and surrendering to the mystery of creation. Yes, that is not a new idea! Yet it is so often loaded with culturally specific baggage that leads to ignorance and division. But now the climate crisis invites us to engage with the mystery of life with fresh eyes and open hearts.

Wow. Joanna is right.

But it isn’t easy. Here is a list of some ways of seeking emotional support on this topic.

Posted in deep adaptation, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

A Year of Deep Adaptation

Posted by jembendell on July 7, 2019

One year ago this month, our Institute at the University of Cumbria released my paper on Deep Adaptation to our climate tragedy. It has since been downloaded over half a million times, been translated into many languages, inspired Facebook groups (one with over 4000 people), many events, and been credited by commentators and activists as helping the Extinction Rebellion movement. Not bad for what one journalist suggested to me was a “career suicide note.” compendium

Over the past year I have sought to do what I could to channel the shock, anger, fear, despair, and passion of so many people who got in touch with me, into networks of solidarity, contemplation, inquiry and action. That has included the launch of the Deep Adaptation Forum for people who want to work through what this means for their day jobs – or whether to quit. I have also sought to provide some ideas and guidance via writings, talks, interviews, retreats, contemplative practices and videos.

It has been a powerful year of strong emotions, deeper connections and great admiration for people changing their lives to serve love and truth. That will need to be the subject of a future blog!

I have been impressed by how many print journalists have spent the time to really explore this issue with me, and to process their own emotions to arrive at balanced, informative and lively coverage of this difficult topic.

In addition, we have seen more people inside establishment organisations become bolder in how they talk about the emergency we are now in. I used to work in the UN and know there are huge pressures to conform, sound calm, and avoid upsetting any of the Member States or their corporate friends. So it is a relief we are seeing reports from different UN agencies about how bad things have become with our environment. In addition, more scientists are clearer on the implications of their findings, breaking with some of the reticence of their profession to say anything that would illicit emotion.

Working with my colleague Matthew Slater, I have produced a Compendium of Research Reports on Climate Chaos and Impacts, which we release today. In it I summarise 23 studies which I consider key from the past 12 months. Last year it was unusual to claim that it is too late to stop runaway climate change damaging our agriculture to such an extent that it will lead to the breakdown of our societies within the next ten years. However, the key takeaway from this Compendium of research is that there is now a wider range of peer-reviewed dots to draw from in order to arrive at that perspective. However, there are not many mainstream researchers joining all those dots, to offer conclusions and predictions for human society. The difficulty is that researchers exist in academic silos, such as climate modelling on the one hand, agronomy on the other, or migration on the other, and a belief in the meaningfulness of silos is at the core of what gives us a sense of self-esteem and confidence for expressing our views. To move beyond drawing dots, to joining those dots, requires an ability to understand multiple fields of scholarship, their methods and limitations, which is a challenging skill set and time-intensive process.

When attempting to provide that overview and synthesis, especially for policy makers or the general public, you can find yourself suddenly being written about by people who like to tell stories about reality in order to buttress their worldview, sell their book or organisation, or serve an interest group. It has been an interesting year of witnessing the kinds of reactions people have when they want to engage this topic from a pre-defined view, and therefore deny or spin information on our predicament. Some right-wing writers have misrepresented what I wrote in the original paper in order to lampoon it. Some left-wing writers have suggested my work isn’t revolutionary, which meant they had to overlook how many of us who share the Deep Adaptation perspective are actively engaged in the most vibrant challenge to state power and the status quo in decades – XR.

Then there are some people who have worked on environmental issues for some time and have portrayed my analysis as suggesting that we give up on the drawdown and cutting of carbon; which I do not. When people say “we need hope” they might be expressing their assumption that they themselves need a pleasant story of the future in order to avoid their own emotional pain – and avoid witnessing it in others. Fortunately, I have discovered this past year that the loss of a hope that we can reform to maintain our way of life has been shocking people into waking up to not only to our environmental predicament but also the reality of impermanence and death. That means they engage in the present moment with a passion for truth and love. In general all of the criticisms I have heard fall into one of the forms of denial that I wrote about last year.

Meanwhile, some other commentators have agreed with the general analysis that we face imminent collapse, but have questioned how certain we can be, or when it will happen. I think it is important to stay aware of the latest data and revise what we think will happen. I also think it is important to consider how we explain our views to different audiences. However, to argue against saying collapse is “inevitable” due to abstract theoretical notions that nothing is inevitable is not worth much attention. After all, our mutual death seems certain to me, and we are also complex living systems. People may want to avoid believing societal collapse is inevitable in order to provide themselves with a psychological escape, so that they can still hope that someone or something will stop it happening somehow. Looking at the current climactic changes, the rising emissions and habitat destruction, the biological impacts, the warming feedbacks, the agricultural impacts, the slowness of response, the intransigence of capitalism and its client politicians, and the cultural dependence on ideas of progress and control, and the rise of stories of blame that avoid reality and foster ignorance and hate, I think that “inevitable” societal collapse is a more accurate way of communicating my view that it is now unavoidable, than saying collapse is likely or near certain. I am aware that some people challenge us to recognise that societal collapse is already underway but unevenly distributed. The recent statement from the UN on this matter is a sober reminder that millions have already suffered terribly from climate chaos. For the Deep Adaptation groups that I am involved with, we ask people to agree that societal collapse is either likely, inevitable or already unfolding, so that we can have meaningful engagement upon that premise.

Since the paper came out, I have come to consider a new reason why societal collapse is inevitable. It came to me when I spoke at the European Commission. During my talk I did a quick poll to discover that about 90 percent of the officials in the room believed that collapse is coming within their lifetimes. Yet their ability to conceive of what was appropriate to discuss as policy responses and activism was, in general, woeful. The ideas being shared were more of the same tinkering with capitalism and redirecting private investment into mitigation efforts. Why? One hypothesis is that the highest have the farthest to fall. If one is well-respected, well-paid, and living well in the current system, perhaps with a sense of responsibility for lots of employees and stakeholders, then one has the most to let go of in order to allow the full impact of our current situation to sink in. At a sub-conscious level it eats away at assumptions you didn’t know you had. For instance, assuming that one would be respected by your children and younger generations as you enter old age, and, ultimately as you lie on your death bed. To be successful in society means one is having affirmed, daily, the illusion of the socially-respected agentic separate Self. Instead, our climate chaos invites us to see that we aren’t separate, we aren’t in control and our stories of self-respect and meaning were always made up. We must let our deepest assumptions and stories melt away to find what else can emerge. That may be why I have a better time talking to children about collapse than I do talking to people with senior jobs. I will release a short video about that next month but for now, I recommend this video from my 13-year-old friend, Oskar.

Many people ask me about when a societal collapse is likely. As I explained in the paper, I do not know, but guess that within 10 years that it will be occurring in many, perhaps most, countries of the world. Some have argued it could occur more quickly. As I explained above, some argue that it has already started in some countries. This question about the timing of collapse is an understandable one, given that it affects our assessment of what to focus on. Given the uncertainty of prediction in complex systems, to avoid putting a date on predictions is justifiable. The direction is clear but the speed of it less so. For instance, I know I am going to die, but, because I have no interest in killing myself, nor have a terminal diagnosis, I do not know when I am going to die. The problem I have with the argument that I should not give a time horizon like 10 years is that not deciding on a time horizon acts as a psychological escape from facing our predicament. If we can push this problem out into 2040 or 2050, it somehow feels less pressing. Yet, look around. Already harvests are failing because of weather made worse by climate change. So, a year after my paper came out, I am still guessing that the society I will be living in, whether the UK or elsewhere, will have collapsed within 9 years. It could be sooner. I hope to help slow things down by bringing attention to our predicament and promoting adaptation.

In the original paper I did not explain fully what I mean by societal collapse, nor did I go into the mechanisms by which it might occur. Therefore, I did not explore how it could be slowed or softened. By societal collapse I mean “the uneven ending of our current means of sustenance, shelter, security, pleasure, identity and meaning. Others may prefer the term societal breakdown when referring to the same process.” My theory is that multi-breadbasket failure across the northern hemisphere, combined with location-specific damage to other harvests, will disrupt our societies within 9 years, due to the impact on food prices and food supplies. I also predict that water shortages will trigger migration and conflict, thus making collapse more likely in some countries. I warn that the reactions of our financial system may precipitate collapse ahead of the shortages of food and water or the movements of populations. The psychological impacts of the increasing economic, societal and political turbulence may also trigger disturbances, which could manifest through civil unrest or political extremism. I respect those who believe these processes are already underway. Clearly there is more analysis needed on these possibilities, and I have been encouraging people in food security, disaster risk reduction, human security and related fields to explore these questions. Although I am often asked to develop my own theories of the mechanisms of collapse, I have been more drawn to enable others to begin such work, as well as any response that arises from engaged compassion.

Which brings us to the question of “what to do?” There are so many options for people when they come to believe that a collapse of our normal way of life is inevitable and soon. Over the year I have had conversations with people as they, and I, process this information and consider how we want to be and what we want to do. They all relate to the types of response I described last year here (which I strongly recommend you read if you are exploring how to feel and act in light of this information). Despite my earlier grumblings about the conservativism of people with senior roles in our society, in the past year more people have begun to discuss with me how they want to find ways to respond meaningfully from within their organisation. It appears now is a good time to map out a range of ideas for activities that could be supported and pursued in different sectors and walks of life. I will share some ideas on this blog in the coming months and feed these into the relevant professional interest groups on the Deep Adaptation Forum.

Whatever you choose to do, I hope you give yourself time and space to listen for the psycho-spiritual invitation of our predicament. To reconcile yourself with impermanence, uncontrollability, and death, while letting yourself awaken from the deepest illusions of our culture. To act with passion for your truth and goal, while maintaining some equanimity about the outcome.

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Kissing the Void – Deep Adaptation Retreat in Devon, UK

Posted by jembendell on June 30, 2019

Deep Adaptation and the creative spirit

Sunday 13th to Friday 18th October 2019

with Toni Spencer, Jem Bendell (originator of the Deep Adaptation framework) & Tina Sharman @ Coombe Farm Studios, Devon, UK  

nature sky sunset the mountains

Photo on

A ‘pause’ retreat


The Unknown. The Edge. The Abyss.

How on earth do we approach these times well? What might resource us to face our collapsing social and ecological systems with open hearts, wilder questions and renewed capacity? In mystic traditions, soul craft and the work of artists The Void is the place of possibility, emergence and the other/wise. And so we invite you to come and lean into the trouble, as a lover might; tender, curious and courageous. As we play our parts in communities and workplaces to meet these times well, we believe it’s important to pause, play and call upon the creative spirit.

Are you an educator, policy maker, artist, activist, therapist, business or community leader working with Deep Adaptation? Would you like time to dwell with the unknown in good company?

This isn’t fiddling while Rome burns, this is a call for people who are actively engaged in our crisis to build your muscles of presence, love and creativity.

We’ll touch on the ‘4 Rs’ of Deep Adaptation: Resilience, Relinquishment, Restoration and Reconciliation, maybe explore a few more for luck, leaning in to the marginal and the mysterious that often get left behind in the fullness of our daily lives and the urgency of action.

Part regenerative retreat, part creative lab, our time will include:

  • Being alone on the land, connective practices, movement, breathwork and space for strong feelings to be met well in good company.
  • Creative stimuli and time for writing, devising, making, composing etc. Improvisation and the sacred fool. Embodied explorations of Kissing the Void.
  • Offerings at the feet of grief and mystery; feral rituals and invocations to things we trust and long for, songs of courtship to both the human and the more than human world, the ecosystems and the lands we love.

This gathering serves to inspire and resource us individually and collectively in order to deepen the potency of our work in the world. Join us. 

To apply please email

The Facilitators

Toni Spencer (Lead facilitator):

Toni is a Curator with the Emergence Network leading on ‘Vulture: Courting the Otherwise in a Time of Breakdown’. In 2018 she co-lead a Deep Adaptation Deep Dive and is part of the Deep Adaptation Forum. Toni initiated ‘the pause’ as part of Extinction Rebellion: an invitation to bear witness and to lean in to the liminal in the midst of action: part of an ongoing inquiry in to ‘A Politics of Wonder’.

As a lecturer and course leader Toni has taught on the faculty of Schumacher College and Goldsmiths, University of London and as a participatory artist and facilitator with Encounters Arts, Embercombe, the Transition movement, St Ethelburgas and others. She is on the team for Call of The Wild with Wildwise /Schumacher College.

She has an Action Research based MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice and is trained in a range of facilitation modalities; awakening, deep ecology and embodiment practices; grief tending and activism. /

Jem Bendell:

Prof. Bendell originated the concept of Deep Adaptation to near term societal collapse due to climate chaos (his paper was downloaded over 400K times in the first 9 months).

For the previous 20 years he had been a researcher, educator, facilitator, advisor, & entrepreneur in the field of sustainable development. Clients included corporations, UN agencies, charities and political parties. He helped create the Marine Stewardship Council and The Finance Innovation Lab. As a leadership specialist, he worked with the leadership office of the Labour Party during the 2017 general election, including speech writing. Bendell launched Masters degrees on sustainability and leadership. With over 100 publications in sustainable business, his work on currency innovation gained significant international media attention. In 2012 he was recognised by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader.

In response to the latest climate science, he now focuses on helping humanity face climate-induced disruption and founded the Deep Adaptation Forum.

Jem will not be taking a fee for this retreat and he will not be co-hosting another retreat before March 2020.

Tina Sharman:

Tina is a breathwork facilitator, coach and a director and co-founder of  a land-based education project ( where she now lives and which she runs with her partner and team. Before this she lived and worked for many years at Embercombe ( where she still co-runs the Journey programme and The Descent. She is a potter, making hand-built, smoke fired vessels and is a part of The Waiting Room, an interactive, improvised theatre group.

The Venue

The venue is a beautiful converted farm in a South Devon valley. An artists led project dedicated to supporting creativity and research, it is part of CultureDeclaresEmergency

The group size will be limited to 15 people (plus team). Food will be mainly vegan with some local organic dairy and wild meat options. For any access needs contact us.


Price includes all food, accommodation, hosting, facilitation and materials. We’ve created a 3 tier price system with some variables to try and make this event as accessible as possible: 1. £900 / 2. £650 / 3. £450

There is Potential room sharing / camping / bursary options / luxury accommodation : be in touch for detail.

NB There will be limited places for options 3+4. Your generosity in paying the fee option 1. will enable more people to access this event.

More details and options to apply will be available soon via our application form but in the meantime please contact

See also our FB event page for updates and musings from Toni Spencer

Pause retreats:

the pause is a radical act, an invitation to stop in the midst of action, to disrupt our normal modes of being, to collectively fall silent and become aware of the moment we’re in.

the pause is counter to the culture that has driven us to the brink of extinction. It is an invitation for everyday magic to unfold.

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