For all the granddaughters

A poem written today, day 7 of my Covid-19 experience.

For All the Granddaughters

If you believe that our situation is terrible

So do I

If you experience emotions that seem unbearable

So do I

If you want some ways to escape the grief and anxiety

So do I

If you want to save your granddaughters

So do I

If you want to justify yourself as a good guy whatever may come

So do I.

If you respond to all of that by being defensive

Not so I

If you argue we must drop values of justice, kindness and equity

Not so I

If you dismiss people who disagree with you as naive

Not so I

If you pretend that your country has the power to enforce its survival above others

Not so I

If you won’t think of granddaughters other than your own

Not so I.

We grew up in a culture telling us we are naughty kids

Waiting for a strict daddy to come sort us out

And discipline the ones who stray

But we also grew up with families and friends

In a different reality

Never perfect and never the same

But where each of us has some dignity

and infinite possibility

for kind and wise action.

My pumping neck and jutting jaw doesn’t need an enemy anymore.

Neither does it need fixing with false hope

It just is.

Neither a wisdom to act from or a feeling to run from

It’s just there.

An aspect of me and perhaps everyone from now on.

While I do not wish to dysregulate

Surfacing stuff will splash those near

So please excuse my poetic expression

And holding love for granddaughters everywhere

Go fuck fascism.

Photo by Eva Elijas on Pexels.com

For Environmentalists, COVID is the Elephant in the Zoom

On June 10th Professor Jem Bendell gave a talk to the EU commission, organised by Globe EU, with participants from DG Grow, DG Environment, DG Move, DG Climate, and the EU Defence Agency. Here is a rough transcript of the talk, which will appear as a video soon.

“Thank you to Roland-Jan Meijer and Sirpa Pietikäinen for the invitation. Already at these European Commission “wake up calls” you have had really top experts in environmental science like Johan Rockström, Sandrine Dixson, Tim Palmer, Maja Göpel, Petteri Taalas, all warning about the risk of irreversible climate change. So, I will not go over that.

Instead, I want to share a few ideas about what if they are right about the problem, but that their wishes that all societies around the world change fast enough to good effect, turn out to be unfulfilled. What if it is too late to prevent dangerous levels of climate change further affecting food, water, trade, infectious disease, and, in turn, economic systems, political cultures, physical and mental health?

This isn’t an easy topic, especially for those of us who have given our professional lives to seeking to reform our current systems and culture to transition effectively to a greener way of life. But it really is now time to keep pushing for the best but prepare for worst.

Because it is affecting all of us, and is a stressful situation, I want to offer a few comments on the implications of pandemic disease. Last century we never had a coronavirus outbreak that could kill people. We just got runny noses from them. In the last 16 years we have had 3 nasty coronavirus outbreaks of the kind that can kill people – SARS, MERS and COVID. Some epidemiologists have predicted this due, in part, to environmental damage and climate change. The UN Environment Programme backed up that analysis in a report in July 2020.

Some epidemiologists have sought more funds for experiments on viruses because of their concern about this new era of pandemic risk. That comes with risks – despite efforts at biosafety, lab leaks are simply normal. A US Government report documented that there were 2 lab escapes of pathogens every week from biosafety level 3 and level 4 laboratories in that country. I don’t know if there is similar data for Europe, but there are dozens of such labs across Europe.

Away from the politicisation of the issue, the key point here is that by damaging nature and seeking to protect ourselves from that damage, we are making pandemic disease more likely. We already see the ramifications to economics, politics, civic freedoms, education, physical and mental health. Whatever happens with COVID-19, the bigger picture is further disease. That means a need for dialogue about smarter, more long term, more holistic and socially just responses to this new era, as well as redoubled efforts to conserve nature.

I focus on disease not because it is my specialism – it’s not – but because when we are talking about environmental impacts, it’s clearly a topic that we don’t feel comfortable approaching. It feels contentious, uncertain, scary even. For environmentalists, it’s been the elephant in the zoom.

The benefit of normalising an anticipation of societal disruption and collapse is that we can approach the full implications of zoonotic disease more deliberately. Just like we could approach matters of food security more deliberately. What do I mean by that? I mean without downplaying it, without laughing it off as doomist, without allowing our discomfort to turn into attempts to shut down the topic.

Unfortunately, some people have been trying to shut down the topic of collapse anticipation. That is why over 600 scholars from over 30 countries signed an international scholars’ warning on societal disruption and collapse, saying we need more sober and serious dialogue about it. Unfortunately, the world’s media and elites have not wanted to hear that warning. So, before sharing some thoughts about the implications of this agenda, and taking your questions on it, it may be useful to share some thoughts on those criticisms of collapse anticipation. If you did not know already, there are professionals within the environmental sector who argue that collapse anticipation is scientifically wrong or counterproductive to the cause of sustainability.

When talking with them, I ask them to recognize that there is a bias in us for normality – where we think what is normal in our everyday experience will continue. Of course, that has been shaken somewhat since the start of the pandemic and yet it is an aspect of the way people think. The normality bias shows up in the discussion of the latest climate science in the way it apportions the burden of proof. If you anticipate that everything will change everywhere almost immediately and that we get lucky that such change is sufficient, despite the already existing destabilization of global environmental systems, then the mainstream scientific establishment does not demand that you prove the basis for your anticipation.

When I anticipate collapse all I am doing is anticipating that what is happening now on many levels will continue to occur in similar ways. For instance, if we look at anthropogenic carbon emissions they have continued to increase near exponentially since the start of the industrial revolution with only a couple of blips in 2008 and in 2020 – though now in 2021 we have seen one of the fastest ever leaps in those emissions. That is despite decades of awareness, campaigning, policy initiatives and technological advances. Why should it need to be proven that this will continue, before assessing the implications of it continuing?

Or if we look at global atmospheric carbon concentrations they have also increased near exponentially since the start of the industrial revolution. The atmospheric concentration of carbon increased during 2020 despite a 7% drop in global emissions from humans. That indicates that some self-reinforcing feedbacks have begun to some degree such as the Amazon rainforest becoming a source rather than a sink of carbon dioxide as its soil dries and as it catches fire. Why should it need to be proven that this will continue, before assessing the implications of it continuing?

Then if we look at indicators such as sea level rise, the loss of Arctic Ice, the loss of land ice or the increase in droughts and floods, the loss of biodiversity, or the release of methane from inland permafrost, we see similar trends. Why should it need to be proven that this will continue, before assessing the implications of it continuing? And then if we look at impacts on society such as storm damage to property and to loss of crops from erratic weather, or the impacts of zoonotic disease on societies in general, the trends are also bad. Why should it need to be proven that this will continue, rather than to assess the implications of it continuing?

It is positive that we see a new emphasis on adaptation to climate change from the World Bank, the European Commission, and various intergovernmental organisations. Yet research on the mainstream adaptation policy agenda finds that it is too limited and often counterproductive. For instance, scholars like IPCC author Lisa Schipper of Oxford Uni shows that so much of what is done in the name of climate adaptation is trying to patch up situations which won’t continue and which add to inequality.

Rather than having a shallow view of adaptation, my assessment of the implications of all the trends I mentioned earlier is that they will disrupt our food systems, economic systems, financial systems and belief systems sufficiently to fracture industrial consumer societies. That is going further than mainstream adaptation policies, and why I call it ‘deep adaptation’. Our societies are highly complex and so it is a fool’s game to argue about which impact will break the cultural camel’s back. In my work and in the Deep Adaptation field and the collapsology field most of us aren’t spending time to try and predict how and when collapse will happen or how confident one should be about that according to a particular frame of reference for knowledge claims. Instead, it’s taken as extremely plausible and therefore must be worked on.

Ultimately the cultural impacts of people waking up to this situation and experiencing the psychosocial stress could easily hasten such collapses. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way if more of us are prepared to face the situation and support each other in curious and compassionate dialogue about the implications. 

Indeed, there is a lot of evidence against the argument that to anticipate collapse breeds apathy. This evidence is available through just talking to activists or paying attention to the life stories of some of the leaders of the recent wave of climate activism. They say quite clearly that they continue to push for the best but prepare for the worst. In addition, there is research on psychological impacts of collapse anticipation which suggest it is not disabling of the kinds of action which matter for political change. The focus of behavioural psychology and behavioural economics on individual consumers and how they may or may not change because of their beliefs in the effectiveness of their actions is not a sound basis for assessing the implications of people’s perspectives. We are not just consumers – we are all potentially radical co-leaders in our communities and organisations. Therefore, to assume that an anticipation of collapse would be disabling of radical action might be telling us more about ourselves than other people. I know that because I used to be one of them when I assumed that I could not consider the situation to be as bad as it is because then I would hit despair and not know what to do. Fortunately, I found that there’s a place beyond that despair which is creative and committed to finding out what’s right and doing that no matter what.

Unless we have more social dialogue, or civic dialogue, about this situation then we risk agendas being developed that could be damaging. Currently these topics are discussed behind closed doors within the confines of narrow mandates. For instance, military strategists are now scenario planning for catastrophic climate impacts, and even considering whether wars might need to be fought to secure the capabilities for fighting wars. It’s easy to see where that will lead.

It is imperative that far more people, across all aspects of society, find ways of thinking and talking about what these complicated interconnected threats might mean, in ways that aren’t determined by fear, haste or submission to authoritarian stories about safety. Because we need more wisdom than we have had. That means not just more rationality but also a meta rationality. We become less wise when we are fear driven and reactive. We need space for imagination, not just Gannt charts and risk analyses.

I offer a framework in my book released this month, titled Deep Adaptation. That has become an umbrella term for an ethos, a framework, a community and a movement.

The ethos is essentially a commitment to working together to do what’s helpful during the disruption and ultimate collapse of societies because of the direct and indirect impacts of environmental breakdown including climate change. It’s an ethos of being engaged, open-hearted and open-minded about how to be and how to respond.

It’s a framework for exploring ideas for how to attempt that. Which is what we call the four Rs of Deep Adaptation.  “What do we most value that we want to keep and how,” is a question of resilience. “What could we let go of so as not to make matters worse,” is a question of relinquishment. “What could we bring back to help us in these difficult times,” is a question of restoration. “With what and with whom shall we make peace as we awaken to our common mortality,” is a question of reconciliation. These are all questions because we are in a very new situation where the expectation of simple answers given to us by somebody else is not going to help as much as us exploring together how to be and what to do.

Deep Adaptation is also a community in the form of thousands of participants and hundreds of volunteers in the international Deep Adaptation Forum and various national groups. There are regular events online – even every day now. The community is quite focused on providing emotional support to each other and sharing skills about organising, but much more is planned.

It also seems to be a movement now because I keep hearing of people using the idea of deep Adaptation for their own efforts at living meaningful lives with a starting point of either experiencing disruption in their society or anticipating it. For instance, this year I learned about a deep adaptation group in Southern India. They were doing various activities to be more resilient in terms of the food and water in the face of disruptions; but when COVID hit they mobilize to really help the migrant labourers who were stranded in the region without income.

I believe this movement can be engaged with by people within their organisations. It is only a matter of time before more people discuss the question:

“What if the way of life in Europe will now change because of environmental impacts? What is it we want to retain, rescind, restore or reconcile with…”

The Deep Adaptation community has been around for over 2 years, so there are skills and approaches, for people to help others to engage more with this matter in a generative way. It can simply start with convening a discussion group amongst your colleagues and their families, about:

“What is ours to do if our way of life will continue to be disrupted?”

Such dialogues could be official or unofficial. They could use the Deep Adaptation approach or not. But it’s important to get started, because so many of the senior leaders I know from my previous involvement with the UN, the World Economic Forum, business, NGOs and party politics, are wondering about this topic but not finding ways to work on it. That is something also noticed and explored by one of the world’s top academics on leadership development, Professor Jonathan Gosling, in a chapter in my new book on Deep Adaptation.

I recommend checking out deepadaptation.info and scholarswarning.net for more information. In addition, there are many coaches and guides ready to help. A simple way of staying in touch on this topic is via the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn, and the Deep Adaptation Quarterly newsletter.

Thank you for listening and to the organisers for holding space for this difficult subject.”

To ask questions of Jem Bendell, Rupert Read and other contributors to the new Deep Adaptation book, sign up for the online book launch on July 7th 2021. The book is available from Polity. All editor proceeds go to The Schumacher Institute.

To study with Jem Bendell in 2021, consider the Deep Adaptation Leadership online course with the University of Cumbria, starting July 12th.

To read an academic paper on the methodologies developed for facilitating meetings on this difficult topic, and the theory behind the approach, access the full text here.

Image from Robin Hutton.

Making time to tell our stories publicly

As I have a book out on Deep Adaptation next month, some people have asked me to tell my personal story of becoming an accidental spokesperson for people responding positively to an anticipation of societal collapse. I have not prioritised that. Instead, I spent most of my last 3 years connecting people who share this anticipation (via the Deep Adaptation Forum and Scholars Warning), supporting them (through this blog and my Youtube channel) as well as studying and teaching about the implications. After I made a short film on my emotional response to the predicament, the only interview I did in that time with an English print journalist that focused on my journey on this topic appeared in the specialist publication for UK academics, the Times Higher Education Supplement. Given the silliness that has subsequently been written on collapse anticipation, and my paper and ideas, I grew more impressed with Matthew Reisz for such a sober treatment of the topic. As the possibility of environmentally-influenced societal breakdown has become more widely discussed so it is time for more scholars who work on this matter to share their personal experiences, to promote honest, vulnerable and positive responses to this situation. So, more to come…

Continue reading “Making time to tell our stories publicly”

The urgent need to slow down: ‘maplessness’ for responding to collapse

This is a guest post from Katie Carr, Senior Facilitator in the DA Forum. You can join her on a course she will co-facilitate with Jem Bendell on deep adaptation leadership, online in July, in which these ideas are further explored.

Over the last two years working to establish and nurture the Deep Adaptation Forum, I have often encountered people who express a desire for more answers, actions and impact. Given the latest news about how fast the environment is changing, and how many people and species are suffering, it feels natural to want to do something immediately. But given the depth and scale of the problem, what should we do? Might our desire for urgency and agency be both an asset and a hindrance? I believe that the predicament we face is such a challenge to our way of life and understanding the world, that there is also a clear need to slow down, to allow ourselves space and time to feel deeply into our emotional, embodied, and intellectual responses, in order to explore possibilities more fully. It is why processes for dialogue have been so central to the first years of the Deep Adaptation movement, and why volunteer facilitators have been so key to the Deep Adaptation Forum.

Continue reading “The urgent need to slow down: ‘maplessness’ for responding to collapse”

After Angry Acceptance: Fifteen Unhelpful Responses to Anticipating Collapse

Since I began to pay attention to how people respond to their anticipation of collapse, I have learned that the responses are far more diverse than I could have ever imagined before I stopped suppressing my own anticipation. After the Deep Adaptation paper came out I wrote about the myriad responses that seemed reasonable to me at the time. I shared that to encourage the idea there is not just one right way to respond to an anticipation of collapse. Over the last few years, I have become more aware of how some people are responding in less than helpful ways to their own conclusion that societal collapse is probable, inevitable or already beginning. Given that collapse anticipation triggers difficult emotions, unhelpful responses can be expected, and yet as such anticipation spreads, it will be helpful to identify problematic responses so we can invite people away from them. With that aim, I will summarise some of them in this essay, with labels for each, to enable future discussion.

Continue reading “After Angry Acceptance: Fifteen Unhelpful Responses to Anticipating Collapse”

Jem Bendell presents to Extinction Rebellion on honesty about disruptions ahead

[Study Deep Adaptation with Jem Bendell for one time only in 2021, with an online course from the University of Cumbria].

On May 8th, Professor Jem Bendell joined a panel with Vandana Shiva, Brian Eno, and Charles Eisenstein, to promote the rise of Extinction Rebellion in the USA.

Rough transcript of the talk

“Just over two years ago the international rebellion in London brought the attention of the British media and public to climate change for a period of two weeks in a way I have never seen before in 30 years of working on the environment. I witnessed people in my field of corporate sustainability suddenly saying yes, it has become an existential crisis and we need the government to lead systemic change. 

Two years on, we can see that hasn’t happened. Carbon emissions are once again growing fast, while the destruction of natural habitats continues. That’s not surprising as the established elites in all countries that I know about have not tried to change the economic system which pushes us to continue that destruction.

Continue reading “Jem Bendell presents to Extinction Rebellion on honesty about disruptions ahead”

An Ode to Mauna Loa

An Ode to Mauna Loa: Breaking together with the living One

At 421.21 ppm
Feedback screams its piercing sound
Rising rates after lockdown
We’re falling down
the Long Mountain of Life

We’ll turn away no more
As the breaking of Life
returns to our threshold.

What was pretended now breaks apart
Both in us and around
We’re breaking together with the living One.

Continue reading “An Ode to Mauna Loa”

Facilitating wisdom not fascism – the #DeepAdaptation way

How might we help increasingly distressed societies avoid a descent into authoritarian and or fascist governments? 

This is a question on the minds and hearts of many people who anticipate further disruption, breakdown or even collapse of societies due to the direct and indirect impacts of environmental change. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, we witness stupid, corrupt, repressive and diversionary responses from many governments, on the one side, and outlandish clickbait criticism on the other, which does not bode so well for us during further disruptions due to environmental damage. 

Continue reading “Facilitating wisdom not fascism – the #DeepAdaptation way”

What Is It Too Late for? Poem to Mark the Scientist Rebellion

“Why We Rebel? Scientists have spent decades writing papers, advising government, briefing the press: all have failed. What is the point in documenting in ever greater detail the catastrophe we face, if we are not willing to do anything about it?” Scientist Rebellion, 2021

Some have called it a 4-day climate hunger strike. During my solidarity fast with the Scientist Rebellion, I took time out to reflect on how I am feeling and what I think I know at this time. Not for producing structured arguments, but for welcoming any integrative knowing of self, society and nature. To help, I attended morning sessions with other fasters, hosted by the Reverend Steven Wright of Sacred Space, Cumbria. I felt lucky and grateful to have such a wonderful invitation to presence and purpose, as well as to have the camaraderie of fellow fasters. As a result, I had another go at poetry, on the theme of discovering what is most important when we let go of old stories of self, other, society and nature. An audio recording of the poem is below, on my youtube channel.

Rev Wright hosting the morning reflections and prayers with scientist rebels
Continue reading “What Is It Too Late for? Poem to Mark the Scientist Rebellion”

The Deep Adaptation Quarterly – March 2021

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Editorial from Jem Bendell

Although lockdowns have warped my sense of time, and perhaps yours too, it is actually more than 3 months since the last Deep Adaptation Quarterly. There was a hiatus, as I focused on new work after leaving the Deep Adaptation Forum at the end of September, and the Forum team re-organised for their post-Jem era. It has been great to see volunteers step up to now join the small Core Team of organisers, with Kat Soares becoming the new coordinator of the Forum. She is in a team of 4 freelancers working part time to coordinate over a hundred volunteers around the world to support people with finding meaningful ways of living creatively from their collapse anticipation. As they need to cover their basic costs, it would be useful if you can chip in now, as any donations given to them by the end of March will be matched by a donor.

Continue reading “The Deep Adaptation Quarterly – March 2021”