Co-liberation for white guys like me facing climate chaos

I had lunch with a Swedish friend last week. Over coffees and his cigarettes, we talked about my upcoming conversation with an anti-racism trainer. He told me of a time when he was in a restaurant waiting to meet his psychologist. Prior to that, he had only talked to her on the phone. After waiting about half an hour he thought that she wasn’t coming. Then a black woman he had not given much attention to, came up to him and asked if he was her client. Telling me this story, it became clear that my friend views his unconscious biases with a mix of embarrassment and comedic self-deprecation, contained by an enthusiasm for learning and changing. During lunch he was in a non-judgemental space, where it felt fine to admit he would probably always have unconscious biases, and therefore it is useful to be open to discovering more about them. After all, this is a man who was married to a black woman, while ignoring his psychologist in a restaurant because of the colour of her skin. We agreed that, like most people, we might always be exhibiting unconscious racial bias. 

So why was I meeting with an anti-racism trainer, he asked? Unfortunately my conversations with friends now involve a bit of doom, so they can appreciate what I am thinking and doing. So over another coffee, I explained that as I witness the destruction of the environment and the rise of eco-distress, I have been reflecting on many issues. I have been asking myself questions about the nature of humanity and my own humanity. Because my old stories of self and society, that I was not even conscious of, have been shaken. They are shaken by a recognition of how destructive our modern societies are, and a heightened sense of my own mortality and that of all I know and love. I am left with a desire to rediscover what is most important in life and live more aligned to that. Another reason I have been questioning life in new ways is that I want to learn why we got into this mess. Not only might that help me make some sense of it all, but it means I could avoid contributing to the same patterns of thought and behaviour in future. So that is my new reason for engaging more with anti-racism than before, as well as becoming more questioning of other forms of separation, othering, exploitation and oppression, such as unconscious sexism. 

“So you are rethinking everything because you anticipate collapse. But why do you want to not be racist?” he probed, lighting another cigarette with what I thought was a playful smile. I don’t usually order dessert, but soon a banana pancake was on its way. After stumbling around on what my reasons might be, it became clearer that I want to reduce any unconscious racism in me for four key reasons. Given that my memory is even worse after a big meal, I wrote my reasons down, which means I can now share them with you here, in case it is helpful for your own reflection and discussions. 

First, I want to avoid causing hurt. I don’t want to be unconsciously racist because I don’t want to hurt people. I now realise that racism can be subtle and pervasive, as my friend not recognising his psychologist demonstrates. I have learned that even subtle and unconscious racism can be experienced as traumatic by Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC), who have been hurt by racism throughout their lives while being painfully aware of the histories of oppression.

Second, I want to benefit from connection with all people. That means I do not want to be interacting with people like a puppet of the dominant culture. If my patterns of thought and behaviour mean I am prejudiced in any way (whether on race, gender, class, age, disability, nationality or even height), then I’m not open to connection with everyone. That ‘closedness’ would mean I miss out on the opportunity to experience a huge diversity – in worldviews, culture, opinions, and knowledge. Learning about how unconscious racial bias exists in me may be a way to learn about how any form of bias exists in me, and so help my wider opening to connection. Yet there is one reason why racial bias is particularly relevant to restricting important connection and inquiry at this time of growing disruption. It is how racial bias means people can regard the experiences and cultures of others as inferior and thus irrelevant to understanding their own culture and situation. Many communities of people of colour have been experiencing societal disruption and collapse for decades. They have been resisting and surviving. Through more openness, we could begin to learn more from them and become their allies in figuring out what to do next. Their histories may also be very educational for us, given the destruction brought by colonialism and then imperial globalisation.

Third, I want to respond to vulnerability with solidarity. I am noticing how anxieties are rising amongst many people in many parts of the world as difficulties increase and old stories of security, progress and purpose are disrupted. Some of that anxiety relates to the direct and indirect impacts of climate change, while other factors have an impact as well, such as the pandemic response, with spiralling inequality and precarity. Increasing vulnerability can also lead to more frustration and anger. Therefore, people are susceptible to misleading stories of either safety or blame, which is what we are seeing from many politicians and commentators. Recognising these processes, and how they compound the difficulties, I want to be part of an alternative response. Through greater affinity with people of colour, I want to be part of communities that resist the messages that will encourage belligerent forms of nationalism and fascism. Simply, I want to participate in a kinder and fairer society, and so disengage with unhelpful norms of behaviour. It is important to recognise that people of colour and women are more likely to be economically disadvantaged and suffer the current impacts of climate chaos. Hundreds of millions of people are hungry today and hundreds of millions of people have been displaced, through direct and indirect impacts of climate change. Nearly all of them are people of colour. Their current suffering is far greater than the eco-distress and disruptions I experience. They will not be helped directly by me or my friend working on our unconscious biases, but to pay attention to those seems like an authentic part of a wider response to systematic oppression, which can also involve supporting economic justice and accountable humanitarian action.

Fourth, along with other people, I want to be free from an ideology that is causing disaster. The gendered and racial dimensions of suffering from climate change arise because of both historical and current forms of oppression and exploitation. If racism and sexism did not exist, we would not have had colonialism. If colonialism did not exist, we would not have had global capitalism. If global capitalism did not exist, it is likely we would not have had industrial consumer societies operating at such a scale to be crashing through environmental limits. Or, to put it simply, would people like me have access to cheap food from around the world, while the producers of my food do not have such options, if not for racism helping motivate and justify the establishing of power relations which contemporary supply chains and finance sit on top of? My reflection on these processes, and the culture of modernity that embedded exploitative and oppressive assumptions and attitudes, has been a journey into critical sociology. That’s a field with big frameworks to describe patterns of thought that oppress others: imperialism, coloniality, white supremacy, and patriarchy. My journey led me to attempt a summary of the ideology that has enabled such destruction. This ideology consists of normal patterns of thought and feeling. For instance, the assumption that it is good to be certain, or that we are autonomous in our thoughts and actions. I attempted that synthesis as I wanted to disengage from psychological patterns that cumulatively, at scale, have driven climate change and environmental degradation. 

Because of these four motivations for not being racist, I support efforts for any community of people to be less prejudiced. If such communities seek to be open to all comers and to influence societies, then it is even more important that they address their unconscious biases. Therefore, I was pleased to see that the volunteer-led strategy dialogue of the Deep Adaptation Forum (DAF) identified diversity and inclusion as a key area for future action. That recommendation led to the formation of a circle to engage on the topic, and the launch of anti-racism training. Which is how I came to have the opportunity to discuss racism with Nonty Sabic, who is leading the anti-racism training for volunteers within the DAF. 

As I engaged in the topic of anti-racism, I felt some resistance. I wondered whether some people seek to be regarded as more progressive than others and engage in unproductive criticism. I wondered whether some people seek to weaponise matters of discrimination regarding race and gender to cause division and exert power, rather than be allies towards meaningful change. I wondered whether anti-racism efforts might be undermining the identity of people who are themselves feeling more vulnerable and frustrated, including many people of European descent. I wondered whether some of this work could involve unhelpful feelings of guilt or a desire to punish. I now believe that all those concerns are substantive, but that it does not follow that anti-racism work is counterproductive for social change. Rather, it means we can experiment and learn about how to get it right. There is a key role for ‘white allies’ to do some of this work to help fellow people of European descent to understand that this agenda is essential and does not need to be pursued in poor ways. As ‘white allies’ we can also remind each other that if we feel annoyed because conversations are not perfectly avoiding the pitfalls I just described, then our commitment to real solidarity means we will not act from our upset and continue with the process. By reflecting as we go, we may find new ways to make this agenda more invitational, so people recognise it as a process of ‘co-liberation’ from patterns of thought and behaviour that are unhelpful to ourselves as well. 

That is a term and concept I am beginning to find useful. For me, co-liberation describes an aspiration towards our freedom from systems that differentially oppress all people within both dominant and marginalised groups in societies. Therefore it includes co-creating our freedom with people in communities that seek to avoid systematic oppression. As I question my own culture that has caused such destruction, the concept makes sense to me. As a white middle-class Western man, I am coming to sense the heart-palpitating truth that my own liberation from oppression, where I burst the cultural fetters on my authentic humanity, will require the disrupting and dismantling of systems of prejudice that pervade both myself and everything I experience – from language to property and from emotions to knowledge. For many reasons, including the four I described in this article, I am choosing that path of co-liberation in response to my increasing eco-distress and sense of vulnerability.

As I have looked deeper into the matter of unconscious bias and how it relates to systematic forms of exploitation and oppression, I have reached a new conclusion about its primacy in social change. I no longer see work on reducing unconscious bias, enhancing inclusion and practical solidarity against oppression, as simply nice ‘add ons’ to environmental movements and professions. Instead, they are a starting point. If people like me experience the benefits of privilege, which have arisen in part from past and current oppression, and choose not to engage in the disruption and dismantling of oppression, then we are complicit for its continuance. So if someone is feeling these issues are a dull or awkward complication, rather than an opportunity for co-liberation, that may be due to a lack of awareness about – and from – their privileged identity. Either we are for co-liberation from prejudice and oppression, or we are not coherently addressing climate change and its effects. I realise that many people working on climate issues might see these matters as important but separate. However, if they see climate mitigation and adaptation as primarily technical problems, rather than having sociological roots in oppression, then they will be ill-prepared for the troubles and struggles ahead. They may be more susceptible to narratives and initiatives in response to societal disruptions and risks, that rely on racism and oppression. I hope more of them will learn otherwise and therefore become natural allies against future eco-fascism. At the same time, I recognise that I will have a lot to learn and unlearn, including many stumbles along the way, as I walk a path of co-liberation.

I hope my reflections on why people with privileged identities like me should engage in anti-racism efforts as a central part of our response to climate chaos will be helpful for you, as you engage with others on this matter. For more information on the work of the Diversity and Decolonising Circle, see here

In an article for Open Democracy, I discussed this topic as one of the main areas of dialogue and debate in the field of Deep Adaptation to climate chaos. I paste the relevant section of that article beneath the following video. 

You can watch Nonty Sabic and I discuss these issues below. 

Additional recorded conversations that I hosted, where we explored anti-racism, decolonising, and why anti-oppression can be at the heart of action on climate change, whether reducing it or responding to it, included Vanessa Andreotti, Skeena Rathor, Amisha Ghadiali and Elsie Luna.

The following is an Excerpt from “To Criticise Deep Adaptation, Start Here” published August 31st, 2020 in openDemocracy. 

Some people have asked whether the people engaged in collapse-anticipation in general are focused more on their own vulnerability and survival in the future than on the experience of others’ suffering at present. It does appear that many of the stories that reach the media about previous collapse-anticipating households and communities suggest they are focused on hyper-local resilience, whether that is off-grid living or concerns about personal security. This is the image of the ‘prepper’ who learns to grow food and shoot. Whether or not this is an accurate portrayal of the diversity of people who anticipate collapse is unclear to me. For decades, the Transition Towns movement has involved people who are preparing for a breakdown in society and their vegetable allotments and knitting clubs are probably less ‘media friendly’ than the gun-toting prepper. So what of the concept and people involved in ‘Deep Adaptation’? The concept and growing movement is explicitly about enabling and embodying loving responses to our predicament. It is therefore a peace movement alternative to the image of preppers readying themselves for crime and civil conflict.

If ‘collapse’ is not merely in the realm of concept, but a label for some difficult experiences in the real world, then arguing whether it is good for people to communicate about it could be a form of  solipsism. Instead, our task can be how we make sense of our situation in ways that discourage defensive or violent approaches and encourage more kind, wise and accountable responses.

With this intention in mind, one can question whether the present discussions and initiatives in the field of Deep Adaptation are too focused on the anticipation of future collapse rather than people’s current experience of collapse and the ongoing harm caused by our current systems. When looking at our current system’s production of inequality, poverty, poor mental health, animal suffering, toxic pollution and habitat destruction, there is enough to criticise and challenge without focusing on future trends and probabilities.

For many people and other forms of life, collapse is a current experience directly resulting from the continuance of the societies that most of you reading this article benefit from. They are experiencing high-intensity disruptions and struggles for justice and healing. It is important to note that some people in Deep Adaptation networks have been badly affected by forest fires, storm damage, rising costs of living and the impacts of a pandemic made more likely by environmental degradation. However, most people are not yet experiencing the extreme impacts of climate disruption. That brings us to the matter of whether their engagement in Deep Adaptation is enabling people to change in ways that reduce intense suffering, either by reducing their complicity, challenging systems, or supporting humanitarian action. Some people who have roles within the Deep Adaptation field are promoting such responses. But it is not the main focus for people who engage in this discussion, who tend to be middle-class people in modern consumer societies. Nevertheless, it is possible to reduce daily suffering and injustice from our current lifestyles, while also preparing for societal collapse. The issue is one of emphasis, rather than an insurmountable barrier.

A related issue is the limited diversity of people engaged in Deep Adaptation at present. The concept was published in the English language from the UK and the main networks are in English, so a preponderance of white people might be expected. However, that means the communities emerging around Deep Adaptation may operate in ways that feel unwelcoming to people of colour. For instance, some of the emphasis on grief, love and wisdom may seem somewhat self-soothing, and downplay matters of complicity, accountability, justice, reparations and healing. They may see this as a means of depoliticising a topic to make it attractive for people who are less oppressed or less concerned with oppression.

Another aspect of diversity is economic class, both in and between countries. Many people find it difficult to earn their living and have little spare time for engaging in discussions on public matters or to volunteer. That situation is becoming worse with declining pay and working conditions in many countries. Should engaging in the anticipation of collapse become helpful to them and if so how?

Whether Deep Adaptation initiatives and people should seek to actively engage people who are not well represented at present, or seek to complement other frameworks and initiatives, is open to discussion. Different countries and cultures will have their own concepts, phrases and places for discussion. For instance, in France, ‘collapsologie’ has developed as an academic field. Within the DAF there is a working group on this issue, and diversity training is being offered to the 100+ volunteers. In addition, as the concept and community has been associated with me, a white male professor from the UK, I am stepping down from a role in daily activities to become one member of a diverse group of fourteen people that provides guidance when asked.

A related issue to both solidarity and diversity is our avoidance of the patterns of thought and emotional reactions that have created our predicament in the first place. The concepts of anti-patriarchy and decolonisation are about this deeper consideration of people’s habits of privilege and supremacy. In the case of Deep Adaptation, this gives rise to the question of how people can avoid making this agenda one primarily about commodified solutions for the emotional pain of the privileged, through various kinds of therapeutic support. One response to this criticism is to keep everything as free as possible, but that can also create dependence on rich donor patronage, and hence priorities being set by the wealthy. Another response would be to give much more attention to matters of complicity and accountability, so that we are all encouraged to recognise how we each rehearse colonialist and supremacist patterns of thought and behaviour because of our culture.

These issues all relate to a broader question of the extent to which Deep Adaptation could or should become a new social movement that seeks to secure changes to power relations in societies. Some criticise participants in Deep Adaptation for not being explicit about such an agenda, and the DAF for not helping to enable collaboration towards a political agenda and strategy. Part of the reason for not doing that is because of the previous reticence about mass public outreach, described above. Another reason is much of the early focus has been on inner changes and developing support systems for people who anticipate collapse. A third reason is much of the impetus for political action on climate has been channelled towards and through Extinction Rebellion, which launched at a similar time. However, given that collective action through local, national and international government will be essential to reduce harm from climate disruption, the lack of a clear political agenda from Deep Adaptation is likely to be a cause of future criticism, discussion and perhaps new initiatives.

If collapse anticipation does give rise to political movements, then serious attention will need to be given to where influential and legitimate allies might be found. Surprisingly, perhaps, those allies are unlikely to be members of the environmental profession. The aforementioned essay critiquing Deep Adaptation received enthusiastic support online from many British environmental professionals. Their comments on Twitter indicated their pleasure at reading that environmental destruction does not mean that their own society is at risk of collapse. That reaction contrasts with the lack of enthusiasm from the same people when some of the world’s leading climate scientists predict societal collapse. For instance, when climatology Professor Will Steffen concludes that “collapse is the most likely outcome of the present trajectory of the current system.”

That so many British environmentalists endorsed the arguments of three non-climatologists in dismissing one of the world’s leading climate scientists, Professor Peter Wadhams, could raise questions about their attentiveness to the situation. If some of the leading climatologists are right about the likelihood of collapse, then reformist eco-centrism is now redundant and counterproductive. I explained that in my original Deep Adaptation paper, when I detailed how the personal and institutional denial within the environmental profession is an impediment to honest exploration of humanity’s predicament. In recently demonstrating resistance to exploring the possibility of societal collapse, eco-centrists exhibit their allegiance to current institutions of economy, culture, and politics. As such, they are a form of ‘dead wood’ that is suffocating the potential for this time to be a revolutionary moment in the history of environmentalism. This ‘dead wood’ effect is not just theoretical. For instance, the influence of mainstream environmental NGOs on the possibility of adult support for youth climate strikers has downplayed the potential for a global general strike of adults. Therefore, the mainstream environmental sector continues its resistance to analyses that invite revolutionary praxis, with the personal sacrifices and risks that would involve.

Where does this conservatism of the environmental sector leave people seeking a political strategy for their collapse anticipation? Peaceful revolutionary libertarian-socialism or radical communitarianism, pursued through engagement in local politics may be options. How does one begin that quest? I wonder how many regular readers and tweeters of openDemocracy would actually risk losing everything, going to jail, to help other people gain influence in changing society? The point of solidarity is that one’s unity in struggling against a common enemy is more important than oneself being heard for how ethically correct one is. Unfortunately, the rise of reactionary populism is demonstrating how the chattering progressive classes are proving themselves to be politically inert and a drag on serious efforts at change.

How to lead in the face of societal disruption

As we experience increasing disruptions to our lives, with the risk of more to come, more of us are wondering how to turn things around.

There is one question I often hear asked:

“Where have all the good leaders gone?”

I have come to understand that could be the worst question for us to ask.

I mean it is unhelpful if the aim of our conversations is to determine new ways to help our friends, colleagues, and fellow citizens to address the many challenges that humanity faces today.

Because within the question itself is an assumption that does not help us to act together for significant change.

The assumption is that what is most important to positive or negative outcomes is the competence and character of the individual at the top of a hierarchy, rather than other factors. Yet those other factors are many and significant, such as the ability of people at all levels of community, society and organisation to be willing and able to learn and act for common cause. So a focus on the individual leader dumbs down our conversations about why there is so much suffering and risk in the world. It also means we don’t look at ourselves and what we might do or not do in future.


Continue reading “How to lead in the face of societal disruption”

Deep Adaptation Quarterly – with Rumi’s Secret Medicine – Sept 2020

Every three months, we summarise new activities and resources in the field of Deep Adaptation. (subscribe here). Scroll down for forthcoming events, useful videos, and news on new initiatives within the Deep Adaptation Forum.

Founder’s Commentary – Jem Bendell

“There is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard they can’t hope. The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.” ~ Rumi

As collapse anticipation grows slowly but surely around the world, so people can react in broadly two different ways. We can seek to preserve our current way of life, status, identity and kin, or we can go on a deeper journey to reconsider our life and what matters. The former path involves the kind of ‘prepping’ that gets the news media attention, with bunkers, guns, gold and such like. It will probably lead to support for authoritarianism and some risky geoengineering efforts. The latter path is far more complex, diverse, and unpredictable. It doesn’t avoid despair, while being more open on what to keep, let go of, bring back or reconcile with. That is the path of many paths that a growing number of people are now walking, with some of us describing it as our ‘deep adaptation’ to anticipated or experienced societal breakdown. The Forum I helped launch last year enables people to come together for the journey on that second ‘path of paths.’ With a small team of coordinators, limited but sufficient financing, and over 100 volunteers, now is a good time for me to step back from daily involvement. Because it is important that ‘collapse anticipation’ is not seen as being about somebody in particular. Rather, it is a reasonable and important aspect of being an informed human in the 21st century. The brilliant ideas that emerged from the Strategy Options Dialogue shows us that the Deep Adaptation (DA) community and movement will generate a range of ideas and initiatives over time. I will support the community and movement by providing advice from the Holding Group, and offering learning via courses and retreats. One of my courses on leadership is offered online this November by the University of Cumbria and gives DA volunteers a discount.

The new website that the DA Forum will launch next month will help to show the breadth of people working on relevant activities – and means you won’t have to hear from me all the time! That is part of a shift in communications from the DA Forum. Previously we communicated with people who wanted to learn what to do and help others. However, as critics misrepresent DA and the DA communities in more mainstream media, so more people are sharing more publicly what DA involves and why it’s important. That has included articles on DA in the Ecologist and openDemocracy, from ‘collapsologists’ as well as indigenous scholars and activists. I wrote my first article on the topic, with cofounder of Extinction Rebellion, Gail Bradbrook, where we described what we do as different and complementary. I also shared via openDemocracy a summary of the main areas of disagreement and dialogue that are occurring amongst people who anticipate collapse, rather than people who wish to shut down that conversation. For instance, it includes a discussion of the limited diversity of people involved in the DA Forum at present, a key issue that a group of volunteers would welcome your help in addressing. In response to the criticisms I released an updated edition of the original 2018 Deep Adaptation paper. 

One misrepresentation amongst many is that the DA Forum is against climate action because we don’t welcome sharing news on climate science or the latest mitigation efforts. That is like saying a group discussing arable farming must be against livestock farming just because it wants to keep its own focus on arable farming. The DA Forum exists because some people accept that the worrying climate news and science is going to get worse and we want to do something about that. Most people involved want to see carbon cuts and drawdown. So the misrepresentations from critics may reflect a preference to disdain people who have views that seem too painful to agree with. Many people can’t imagine themselves being actively engaged to help humanity if there isn’t the hope of them having an impact and helping save this society. Theirs’ is an instinctively consequentialist ethics which, by definition, will become less useful during the uncertain and uncontrollable era we have entered. However, their assumptions and aversions mean we are accused of defeatism. Yet Gail and I believe the opposite is true: “It would be defeatist to think we can’t imagine how we might reduce harm during a potential collapse and transformation of societies.” Our initial research about participants in the Forum finds that many are taking initiative in their communities as a result. Perhaps they have had Rumi’s “secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard they can’t hope.” They are living ‘hopefree’ in radical presence, walking the paths that can involve imagination, activism and community support.

The newsletter indicates the creativity arising out of some people’s collapse anticipation. Below, you will read about new initiatives on diversity, spirituality, and mental wellbeing, as well as more online gatherings and a growing range of creative outputs, such as Michael Shaw’s documentary Living in the Time of Dying. I recommend taking some time to follow a number of the links and then reaching out to any initiatives that pique your interest.

Given the gravity of the situation, all this activity might seem strangely upbeat! Which brings me to the idea of ‘positivity.’ After launching the Facebook group I quickly added the word “positive” to “deep adaptation” in its name. That was because people were sharing news of the latest climate disasters and climate science, which is easier to do than sharing ideas and initiative after acceptance of a likely, inevitable or unfolding societal collapse. I wondered whether focusing on learning about and sharing the latest bad news on climate, environment and its impacts might be a way of avoiding one’s own acceptance that far worse is still to come and exploring new ways of living with that outlook. Amassing more and more information, measuring a situation even better, and wanting to be heard for shouting warnings, may all be forms of response to a situation which avoids actually processing the implications of what one already believes to be true.

Since the launch of the Facebook group, which has now climbed to around 12,000 participants, more people understand that Deep Adaptation is about dialogue and initiative by people who anticipate collapse, and so we no longer need the word ‘positive’ before deep adaptation. From today, the Facebook group is simply called ‘Deep Adaptation’. There are two reasons why this is helpful. First, the additional word ‘positive’ can reduce emphasis on how ‘deep adaptation’ is already a positive framework. Because to ‘adapt’ is to respond by changing, not giving up. Successful adaptation needs to recognise the scale, nature and pace of the problem, including which aspects are probably not solvable. The word ‘deep’ invites going deeper, asking more questions, avoiding superficial answers, making more effort, and not cutting corners. So, Deep Adaptation is ‘positive’, in a meaningful sense of that word, rather than a superficial pain avoidant usage. A second reason for dropping the word positive is that some people assume we do not welcome difficult emotions to be expressed, such as anger, fear and despair. That is not the case. Rather, all emotions are understandable and welcome as we wake up and respond to our climate predicament, so long as they are not the fuel to blame and attack others. The ways of holding space in the DA Forum are all focused on enabling people to show up with all feelings being welcome, recognising that supressing them would not help us live into this predicament. It is why we take safety and wellbeing seriously, including signposting support for that, and asking our team and volunteers to agree to our policy on it.

The paradox of positivity is that the ultimate positivity, which could contain whatever might occur, is only possible after turning to consider unflinchingly what people typically view as negative about life: suffering, insecurity, and unintelligibility. That ‘ultimate positivity’ is a faith that there is a meaning beyond our meaning-making, which we abide in through a fuller engagement with all of life – pain n’ all. The “hopers” – as Rumi calls them – can access this “secret medicine” of ultimate positivity only if they allow themselves to reach conclusions they hitherto regarded as unbearable.

Highlights on The Forum

Latest Deep Adaptation Q&A’s hosted by Jem Bendell:

With XR Co-founders Skeena Rathor and Clare Farrell
With 11 year-old Elsie Luna, of #FridaysForFuture and XR
With meditation teacher Professor Henk Barendregt.

A discussion of insights from previous Q&A guests is available here.

Facilitated Online Events for Deep Adaptation (from Katie Carr):

The PDA Facilitators’ group is a community of practice for facilitators and space-holders, from a variety fields, to engage in sharing and developing practice for ‘facilitating deep adaptation’. They have already offered over 60 free gatherings for members of the DAF networks, mainly focused on the DA mission of “embodying loving responses to our predicament”, and the framework of the 4 R’s.  Look out for Deep Listening and Deep Relating gatherings in the PDA events calendar.  And coming up this month – non-violent communication, and Deep Listening for exploring racism and white fragility. If you’re a facilitator, and curious about joining to share your practice and learn from others, there will be a free online Open Space event in early October where you can meet with other facilitators who are working in the area of supporting people and groups in deep adaptation.  Join the PDA Facilitators group here.

Strategy Options Dialogue (from the DAF Core Team):

The Strategy Options Dialogue was a consultative process bringing together a vast range of ideas and input from participants throughout the DA Forum groups and platforms – including the Deep Adaptation Facebook group, the Professions’ Network, Affiliated Groups, Advocates, various volunteer circles, etc. – as well as from others who weren’t participants yet but had an interest in the Forum. More than a hundred people were involved in this volunteer-led, six-months-long effort, and this alone is a remarkable achievement for DAF, a network barely one year old and functioning on a shoestring budget! Having read the Strategy Options Paper, which gathered the key ideas to emerge from this process, the DAF Core Team published a response. This document includes an assessment of ideas we feel deserve to be most strongly promoted and supported by the Core Team given our current resources, and others which, while valuable, we wish to encourage other participants in the network to take up. Please take a look, and see if they’d like to help some of these ideas to be put into place.

Deep Adaptation Diversity & Decolonising Circle (from Sasha Daucus):

The Circle has emerged in response to #BlackLivesMatter. Our focus is to make DA spaces safer for everyone, particularly Black, Indigenous and People of Colour – actualizing the DA mission of embodying and enabling loving responses to our predicament.

Increasing Diversity and reducing separation is a vast area. We are beginning by creating opportunities for members to grow in our ability to stand as better allies to BIPoC.  The Circle is convened by enthusiastic volunteers, with the support of the Core Team and Holding Group. You can read a statement of the circle’s mission here and sign up to receiving regular updates, or get more involved, here. This team is working with outside experts to develop anti-racist and diversity awareness training, specific to the DA agenda. This training will initially be offered to volunteers, with the intention of offering it more widely later. Funding will be required to offer it to our membership. Relevant writings from Prof Bendell include: 

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

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

Reconnecting with the volunteers and spirit of DA (from Dorian Cave):

On August 29th, an online open space event was organised by a small team of volunteers from the DAF, titled Us Now: Loving in the Time of Collapse. Participants from across DAF spaces were invited to: Rekindle the flames of passion that brought us to Deep Adaptation;  Reconnect to share our questions, answers, and what we’ve learned or unlearned; Re-engage to explore actions to prepare our whole selves for oncoming collapse; Reunite in the 4R community to uplift and edify ourselves and others facing this crisis.

Feeling curious? Then have a look at the agenda wall that was compiled for the occasion, and click the ‘Harvest Document’ links to discover some of the wisdom and visions that were harvested by all of us in those different rooms. Perhaps you will find in there some new idea or inspiration? In case you missed it: the organisers are hoping to set up another event like Us Now before the end of this year.

Spirituality in Deep Adaptation (from Katie Carr):

The psycho-spiritual aspect of connecting with others on deep adaptation to anticipated societal collapse, has been one of the most valuable parts of many people’s experience within the DA Forum.  A desire for more – and more explicit – opportunities for engaging in this aspect came out strongly in the Strategy Options Dialogue, that took place earlier this year. Here is a selection of resources exploring spirituality and collapse from different perspectives:

How can you support the development of the psycho-spiritual aspect within DA networks? If you represent a long-established religious / spiritual tradition, and would like to share your wisdom with the forum as a whole, please get in touch with Katie. If you would like to offer activities or online events that provide a spiritual grounding for inner adaptation, please consider joining the PDA Facilitators’ group, and reach out to

Need a Speaker? (from Zori Tomova):

In the last few months, DA has continued to respond to invitations for sharing its message in multiple communities, organisations and online media. This is possible thanks to our volunteer group of DA advocates who have had speeches, workshops and other appearances in Uppsala University, Royal College of Psychiatry, Quakers and others. During the pandemic, they have also been sharing more online (The Poetry of Predicament podcast, Living Deep Adaptation program, What Could Possibly Go Right? interview series, and an article in The Ecologist). If you are interested in finding a spokesperson for a workshop, event or other project, you can find out more about the initiative and request a DA advocate here.

Selected Upcoming Events on the DA Forum

Songs of One Breath with Jilani Cordelia Prescott – online every Friday 14:30 UK time

Sep 18, 2020 from 2:30pm to 3:00pm UTC+01. Location: online

Every Friday, explore the pure, joyful, direct experience of mysticism rooted in practice, song, body prayer and mantra. These are the practices which have brought comfort, grounding and even bliss over the millennia to humans just like us.

Education Group Meeting

Sep 24, 2020 from 8:00am to 9:30am PDT. Location: Zoom

The purpose of the meeting is to: (1) continue to get to know each other, (2) share our individual visions about what we might accomplish together as a group, and (3) continue to evolve our collective vision for the group.

PN Volunteers – New & Aspiring Volunteers Call

Sep 29, 2020 from 4:30pm to 6:00pm UTC+01. Location: Zoom

This online gathering is a space to welcome everyone who would like to try volunteering on the forum – or who has just started to do so! We will focus on introducing the Deep Adaptation Forum and the Professions’ Network, and exploring ways of contributing.

Precious Metals in Times of Collapse

Sep 15, 2020 from 11:00am to 1:00pm EDT. Location: Zoom online

Viviana Jiménez (for Business & Finance) and Terry Rankin (for Philosophy) will cohost the event. Please contact them for more information or details, for questions, concerns, etc. 

Q&A with Rupert Read, Spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, hosted by Jem Bendell

Oct 10, 2020 from 10:00am to 11:00am UTC+01 Location: Zoom

Rupert is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia. He is author of eight books on a range of subjects and specialises in Wittgenstein, philosophy of film, and ecological philosophy.

Monetary Adaptation to Climate Change – Q&A with Jem Bendell & Matthew Slater

Nov 11, 2020 from 3:00pm to 4:00pm UTC0 Location: Online

A discussion to follow up the launch of a paper on monetary adaptation to climate change, involving transformations of banking and currencies.

Online Leadership course with Prof Jem Bendell

Nov 23, 2020 to Nov 26, 2020 from 11.00am to 5:00pm UTC. Location: Online

An online Deep Adaptation leadership course from the University of Cumbria, hosted by Jem Bendell, with 30% discounts for DA volunteers. Only offered online once a year.

Q&A with Jilani Cordelia Prescott, Sufi Elder, hosted by Jem Bendell

Nov 25, 2020 from 8:30pm to 9:30pm UTC0 Location: Zoom

Jilani is a classically trained musician, a Certified Leader and Mentor of the Dances of Universal Peace International, and a teacher in the Sufi Ruhaniat International (a Universal Western Sufi Order). She hosts Songs of One Breath for the DA Forum.

Q&A with Sean Kelly, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness, hosted by Jem Bendell

Dec 13, 2020 from 6:00pm to 7:00pm UTC0 Location: Zoom

Sean Kelly, Ph.D., is professor of Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS).  He is the author of Coming Home: The Birth and Transformation of the Planetary Era. He is member of the Holding Group of the Deep Adaptation Forum.

Recommended Audio Visual content

Michael Shaw’s free hour-long documentary Living in the Time of Dying explores the emotional aspects of facing up to our predicament, and suggests we look to wisdom from a range of non-western sources, including indigenous elders. People are discussing it in the Deep Adaptation Facebook Group here.

Post-Doom Conversations with Michael Dowd “A foreboding sense of climate chaos, societal breakdown, and economic and ecological “doom” is now widespread. Acknowledging our predicament and working through the stages of grief takes one only to the midpoint: acceptance. What lies beyond? Reverend Dowd (with occasional co-hosts) invites guests to share their personal journeys along this trajectory and especially the gifts they have found on the other side of the post-doom doorway.” In recent months, two members of the DAF Core Team have been featured on this channel (Matthew SlaterJem Bendell).

Twenty three audio recordings of Professor Bendell’s writings on Deep Adaptation are available from Reverend Dowd on soundcloud here. These include:
Our Power Comes From Acting Without Escape From Our Pain (with Gail Bradbrook)
To Criticise Deep Adaptation, Start Here (long essay on openDemocracy)

If you could volunteer to curate a compilation of relevant resources every 3 months, please contact us via this form.

Further Reading

Do you speak French? LLL has just published a compilation of Professor Bendell’s writings on Deep Adaptation, translated into French. L’Adaptation Radicale can be ordered here.  

Some of the key articles from Jem Bendell over the last few months include:

The DA Groups Network

Eighteen groups have affiliated with the Deep Adaptation Forum to promote more local or theme-based engagement on this agenda. If you would like to be more active in your local area, then consider joining or starting a group here.

The newest group to affiliate is the Positive Deep Adaptation Womxn’s Group. It has been created as a place to gather together as womxn to share information on our outer and inner deep adaptation to unfolding societal breakdown due to climate change. We share information in two areas: First: on emotional, psychological and spiritual implications. Second: on our knowledge of practical means to support wellbeing ahead of (and during) social breakdowns. Those practical means may be at household, community, national, or international scales. Collective action in a spirit of compassion is particularly welcomed, rather than defensive prepping for conflict. Find out more here.

Can you support the DAF?

The Deep Adaptation Forum exists to embody and enable loving responses to our predicament of facing or experiencing societal collapse, influenced by climate chaos. All DAF platforms exist without paywall and we intend to keep it that way for all our online services for the general public. Please help us maintain that as well as coordinate a growing range of volunteers and projects, by donating something here. How we spend the money is detailed here. Our crowdfund video, explaining our approach and inviting support is still online here. Our Safety and Wellbeing policy is also available here.

Letters to critics of Deep Adaptation inviting collaboration for humanity

In July there was an essay published by critics of Deep Adaptation, which was then republished and promoted by some communicators on the environment and climate change.

That criticism led to some responses. In the Ecologist, Transition Towns cofounder explained how Deep Adaptation is not based on faulty science. In Open Democracy a group of scholars in ‘collapsology’ explained how Deep Adaptation is an important new field of research and action. Other writers chipped in, such as Richard Heinberg in Resilience. One of the world’s leading climate scientists, Professor Peter Wadhams, responded in forthright terms in an interview where he condemned as unscholarly the approach of the authors and the people who helped and promoted their work.

Continue reading “Letters to critics of Deep Adaptation inviting collaboration for humanity”

Deep Adaptation is Up to You as Founder Transitions

In the year-and-a-half since we launched the Deep Adaptation Forum (DAF), I have been impressed with the creativity, compassion and wisdom of a wide range of volunteers from around the world. People have come together because they feel moved by the possibility of being together differently, of speaking truth courageously, of exploring ways of being in pain together, of not turning away from the horror and grief of the shitstorm that modern humans have created for ourselves and the rest of life on Earth. Continue reading “Deep Adaptation is Up to You as Founder Transitions”

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

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

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

This blog summarises the key changes, a participatory means for future discussion of its strengths and weaknesses, and some advice on generative dialogue on collapse-relevant scholarship.  Continue reading “Debating the Pros and Cons of Deep Adaptation? Start Here with a New Edition of Original Paper”

The Creativity and Agency of Collapse-Anticipation

The Deep Adaptation agenda, framework and Forum is offered for anyone with any level of anticipation or experience of societal collapse. Whether people consider such a breakdown to be possible, probable, inevitable or already occurring, there is clearly a need to hold the space open for creativity and action from that basis. Since its launch in early 2019, the Deep Adaptation Forum aims to provide ways for people to explore together what they want to do with their awareness that industrial consumer societies will breakdown (or already beginning to). The emphasis is on enabling emergence, without imposing any ideas on what is most important to do now. Some people become active in climate campaigns, while others become focused on local resilience, others work on decolonisation and social justice, others on humanitarian action, others on politics, while others work on psychology, spirituality and beyond. All ideas and feelings are welcome, so long as we engage in ways that are kind, curious and respectful – and where we seek to return to that whenever we slip up.  Continue reading “The Creativity and Agency of Collapse-Anticipation”

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

Update: You can read a detailed response to the criticisms in the Open Democracy essay here, and reflections on some lessons and a revised edition of the Deep Adaptation paper here.  A response from Transition Towns co-founder in the Ecologist to the criticism is here.

Dear DA Advocates,

I write to inform you about an article in Open Democracy, which seeks to dismiss the Deep Adaptation agenda and movement by debunking the original Deep Adaptation paper. It is getting some profile on social media, including from some mainstream environmental professionals. It is the latest instalment of a concerted effort from some people in the climate field who wish to frame any talk of it being too late for societies to avoid collapse as being defeatist and counterproductive. Continue reading “Letter to Deep Adaptation Advocate Volunteers about Misrepresentations of the Agenda and Movement”

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

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

The Collapse of Ideology and the End of Escape

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

(Long Read – 10,000 words)


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

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

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