Professor Jem Bendell

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

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Fourteen Recommendations on Living Beyond Collapse-Denial

Posted by jembendell on April 12, 2019

photo of a man sitting under the tree

Photo by Samuel Silitonga on Pexels.com

We are all troubled by difficult emotions as we consider our environmental predicament. Some of us may seek to escape those difficult emotions by getting busy with activism or perhaps by complaining about others who don’t share our views.

Some recent negativity towards my work reminded me of how despair is something we can learn from – but that it takes time. Including time away from the public sphere and the rush of our daily lives.

Last January 2018 I shared some recommendations for people experiencing difficult emotions. based on my looking back over the 4 years since I had begun to accept that near term societal collapse would be likely, or even inevitable. This was in my long essay called “After Climate Despair”. It was before my work on this topic had become well known and it feels appropriate to re-post it below.

When experiencing difficult emotions associated with the latest news and analysis on climate change implications for societal collapse…

1) Return to, or explore afresh, the idea of a divine or a spirit or a consciousness or a God that is prior to the Earth and moves through the Universe right now and forever more. Do so without seeking a simple story of explanation but a sense of faith that there is an existence and a meaning beyond our culture, our species and our planet. Such ‘faith’ helps anyone to experience and process the inevitable difficulties and traumas of life.

2) Listen to those stories from people both past and present who tell us that despair is not the end and therefore does not have to be avoided. Recognise how many spiritual traditions see despair as a gateway to our growth.

3) Beware when people are promoting their views on what they think the implications of information will be, rather than views on the information itself. The impacts of certain information about climate on other people’s motivations are not certain, and in many cases the darkest analyses have triggered a new level of creativity and boldness. Instead, look at the information and analysis directly for yourself, without second guessing what some interpretations might lead to.

4) Recognize that any emotional or intellectual resistance you may experience to information which implies catastrophe may come from what you have been consciously or subconsciously telling yourself about your own self-worth, purpose and meaning. Then remember how your views of yourself and the world have evolved through your life and still can.

5) Don’t panic. Give yourself time to evolve both personally and professionally in response to your emerging awareness, but ensure you stay connected to a group or an activity which keeps reminding you of the basis for your emerging awareness.

6) Recognize there is much work ahead for you to reconstitute concepts of meaning and what’s good and to align your life with those. It will not happen overnight, yet it will not happen if you do not give time to this work. There may be some time needed to bridge your existing life with the way you will want to live in future.

7) Plan more time and resources for you to do things which inspire wonder at life. This could be more time in beautiful environments, or with uplifting music, or in contemplation, or through creative writing, or being with loved ones and close friends. That means freeing up time from other activities such as TV, social media and mainstream news. It may also mean downshifting from your workload.

8) Look for opportunities for supported self-reflection and sense-making. This is because your worldview and self-identity will undoubtedly transform overtime as you process the new information and analysis.

9) Expect a catharsis, both personal and professional. This will occur because the subconscious or conscious limits that you placed on yourself until now will be lifted. Go with that rush of energy and creativity, but be vigilant that those new activities don’t become so consuming they distract you from the personal work you still need to do.

10) If you are a mission-driven professional in fields related to environment or social justice then expect that you may be driven to rebuild a sense of self-worth and that this need of the ego, while natural and potentially useful, could become a frantic distraction.

11) Expect a change in your personal relationships and how you spend your spare time. Some forms of small talk and light-hearted social interaction with acquaintances may seem pointless, while you may wish to spend more time with close friends and family. While for some this could be a welcome rebalancing, for others this can become a vector of reclusiveness and loneliness. Therefore, it is important to find new ways of connecting with people on the new levels that feel meaningful to you.

12) Create a positive vision of people sharing compassion, love and play. It may feel that an eco-tragic outlook means you cannot have any meaningful vision of a better future for yourself, your community, or humanity. An absence of something positive to work towards can be destabilising and limiting. Some people will think you are depressed – or depressing – and need some “positive thinking”. For a personal vision, the answer may lie in developing a vision for how you will be approaching life, rather than imagining attributes of a lifestyle. This may parallel the dimensions of a collective vision. A future full of love and learning, rather than flying cars and fancy robots, could be a way to imagine a more beautiful world. And remember, the future will still be beautiful in its own way, no matter what life forms are in it – or if your favourite town is under water!

13) Don’t get dogmatic and avoid those who do. That comes from recognising that our terms for phenomena are not the same as the phenomena themselves. The words we use imply things which may have effects on us but aren’t necessarily so. Words like near-term, civilisation, collapse, and tragedy, are our words, and may trigger ideas, images and emotions which aren’t inevitable consequences of the phenomena being described.

14) Do not prioritise maintaining your own mental and physical situation at the expense of the need to act in solidarity with future generations who will live with the future we are creating for them. Tomorrow’s children won’t thank us much for having joined a support group on Facebook or taken up yoga, unless it aligned with us remaining active in the world.

Looking back over the year since I drafted these suggestions, number 10 is particularly relevant for me now that my work on Deep Adaptation became famous. That reaction has meant I’ve been far busier than I had planned. Could it be a form of denial? Perhaps. So long as I don’t feel frantic or begrudging, then I will keep at it for now.

I sense that some of these 14 steps may be particularly difficult for people with public roles or self-images as environmental leaders. I have listed some resources on emotional support here.

My original essay from last year is also available as an audio file here.

If you have your own suggestions for steps in the process of collapse-acceptance, then please leave them below, or join the Positive Deep Adaptation Facebook Group to share.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

Responding to Green Positivity Critiques of Deep Adaptation

Posted by jembendell on April 10, 2019

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Photo by trashhand on Pexels.com

Since my paper on Deep Adaptation to climate chaos came out in July 2018 and “went viral,” there have been some criticisms of the concept and what people think it implies. Some people argue that I have overblown the case for inevitable near-term societal collapse due to climate chaos. Others argue that I have “underblown” it and that we face human extinction in the near term. Some people suggest that I have not emphasise a specific approach enough (e.g. permaculture) or that I include mention of approaches they dislike in principle (Marine Cloud Brightening over the Arctic). Others who accept a near term societal collapse is likely, argue that the people coalescing around the Deep Adaptation framing are emphasizing compassion and collaboration in a naïve way, as we need to prepare for civil and international conflict. Some people argue that it is defeatist and counterproductive to conclude it is too late to stop a societal collapse. That last one is a way of thinking that has existed for a while within the environmental movement, and which I unpacked in the paper itself as a mechanism of denial. And it is one that has been published yesterday by the respected author Jeremy Lent (who wrote the Patterning Instinct). A by-product of a concept becoming a bit famous is that many people read people’s views about the concept, rather than reading the original concept themselves. When those summaries come from critics, they can misrepresent the concept. So if you want to learn what I meant by Deep Adaptation, please read a summary here.

Last August I anticipated and discussed a range of responses that prevent people engaging in discussions on what acceptance of a coming societal collapse could mean for our life and work. Now that the concept of Deep Adaptation is more widely used for framing discussions and initiatives, in the coming weeks I will prepare a generic response to the types of criticisms I have seen since August, before imposing a moratorium on myself in responding to such. That is because my focus at this time is on helping connect people who are accepting that societal collapse is either likely, inevitable, or already unfolding, so that they can begin to share ideas and build initiatives in a positive spirit from that starting point. That is one way of living my own truth. Debating whether collapse is likely is not a way I wish to spend my time over the coming years. Ahead of sharing that general response to the range of criticisms, in this blog I will attempt to respond to environmentalists who are concerned about the Deep Adaptation approach. I will do that below, by including the full text of Jeremy Lent’s article and offering my thoughts along the way. It is a well written and well-meant piece. It provides a classic example of the “green positivity” arguments that I deconstructed in the Deep Adaptation paper itself. Jeremy’s article is called “What will you say to your grandchildren?” and appeared on Open Democracy on April 9th 2019. Every paragraph of his original article appears below in italics with my response in normal text. I hope you find it of interest and some use. Over to Jeremy…

Every now and then, history has a way of forcing ordinary people to face up to a moral encounter with destiny that they never expected. Back in the 1930s as Adolf Hitler rose to power, those who turned away when they saw Jews getting beaten in the streets never expected that decades later, their grandchildren would turn to them with repugnance and say, “Why did you do nothing when there was still a chance to stop the horror?”

Now, nearly a century on, here we are again. The fate of future generations is at stake, and each of us needs to be prepared, one day, to face posterity—in whatever form that might take—and answer the question: “What did you do when you knew our future was on the line?”

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the past few months or get your daily updates exclusively from Fox News, you’ll know that our world is facing a dire climate emergency that’s rapidly reeling out of control. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a warning to humanity that we have just 12 years to turn things around before we pass the point of no return.

My reply: At this point in his writing, mostly I agree with Jeremy. Ours is a critical time in the history of humanity. It is a time to reflect on what is most important in life and focus our attention on that. One issue I have with Jeremy’s comparison of our predicament with Nazi Germany is that the problem of climate change is all pervasive, rather than comprising a specific enemy, and the environment is not under human control. A key argument in Deep Adaptation is that the latest science now indicates that we are witnessing non-linear changes in our climate system that mean self-reinforcing feedbacks have begun. My other disagreement with Jeremy is to suggest that we have 12 years to turn things around. The implication of the IPCC report is that we must be achieving massive emissions reductions and drawdown immediately, each year, or in 12 years we have already passed the point of no return. Whether they are right in that is something I’ll come back to. Now back to Jeremy…

Governments continue to waffle and ignore the blaring sirens. The pledges they’ve made under the 2015 Paris agreement will lead to three degrees of warming, which would threaten the foundations of our civilization, and they’re not even on track to meet those commitments. Even the IPCC’s dire warning of calamity is, by many accounts, too conservative, failing to take into account tipping points in the earth system with reinforcing feedback effects that could drive temperatures far beyond the IPCC’s worst case scenarios.

My reply: I agree. Since my paper came out there have been detailed studies on why the IPCC has always been behind the curve on climate change, due to their processes to arrive at consensus. To take the IPCC argument as climate reality is understandable if you aren’t actively engaged in the topic. But if you look closer, as I did in my paper, then things appear a lot worse than their 2018 report says. This is the point where many writers within a frame of “green positivity” use this scariness to call for more action. In my work, I decided not to respond to the fear arising in me by doing the same things with more urgency or imagining a promised land of sustainability. Instead, I looked more closely at what recent measurements could mean for our climate. I discovered that sea level rise is now non-linear. That means that climate change is non-linear. Which suggests that self-reinforcing feedback loops are heating our climate. Which means future warming is not under our control. We could reduce our contribution to the heating. But there is momentum in the system. The recent research on the amount of heat in the oceans lends weight to this view. In Jeremy’s article he does not address the specifics of the scientific basis for my proposal that we work on preparing for societal collapse. Back to Jeremy…

People are beginning to feel panicky in the face of oncoming disaster. Books such as David Wallace-Wells’s Uninhabitable Earth paint a picture so frightening that to some it already feels like ‘game over.’ A strange new phenomenon is emerging: while mainstream media ignore impending catastrophe, increasing numbers of people are resonating with those who say it’s now ‘too late’ to save civilization. The concept of “Deep Adaptation” is beginning to gain currency, with its proponent Jem Bendell arguing that “we face inevitable near-term societal collapse,” and therefore need to prepare for “civil unrest, lawlessness and a breakdown in normal life.”

There’s much that is true in the Deep Adaptation diagnosis of our situation, but its orientation is dangerously flawed. By turning people’s attention toward preparing for doom rather than focusing on structural political and economic changes, Deep Adaptation threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, increasing the risk of collapse by diluting efforts toward societal transformation.

My reply: This last sentence is a summary of the denial-enabling argument that I detailed in my original paper on Deep Adaptation. It is where we censure our consideration of reality due to how we think it might affect the general public. Rather than reprint the sections of my paper here that debunk this view, I will unpack the sentence. First, Jeremy mentions “doom.” I realise that since my paper came out, that we need to be more specific with our terms! I define societal collapse as “the uneven ending to our current means of sustenance, shelter, security, pleasure, identity and meaning”.

I argue that to begin to prepare for this we need structural political and economic changes. In an article with Rabbi Newman for Extinction Rebellion, I went further than in the paper to explain some areas where such changes are needed, for both bold carbon cuts and Deep Adaptation.

The argument that placing attention on Deep Adaptation will be “diluting efforts at societal transformation” is not one that can be stated as fact when there is much evidence to the contrary. In my paper I report on studies in environmental psychology that suggest the exact opposite. I also report on the impact on my students, who became more radical in their work on the environment as a result of realizing collapse is likely, or inevitable or unfolding. Many people have quit their jobs to become full time activists as a result of that same realisation. Since the paper came out, I discovered how the same analysis published in France in 2015 has birthed a growing movement of people who are demanding major changes in food security policy and working at community and local government levels to seek resilience. There are many ways people react to the argument that life as we know it will break down in the near term. But to say that it dilutes action is, currently, not evidenced and is merely conjecture. Back to Jeremy again…

I have no disagreement with the dire assessment of our circumstances. In fact, things look even worse if you expand the scope beyond the climate emergency. Climate breakdown itself is merely a symptom of a far larger crisis: the ecological catastrophe unfolding in every domain of the living earth. Tropical forests are being decimated, making way for vast monocrops of wheat, soy, and palm oil plantations.

The oceans are being turned into a garbage dump, with projections that by 2050 they will contain more plastic than fish. Animal populations are being wiped out. The insects that form the foundation of our global ecosystem are disappearing: bees, butterflies, and countless other species in free fall. Our living planet is being ravaged mercilessly by humanity’s insatiable consumption, and there’s not much left.

My reply: The wider destruction of the biosphere is itself a horror, is exacerbated by rapid climate change and drives species extinctions. The term “climate breakdown” has become popular in activist rhetoric but is not clear. A climate does not really “breakdown” – it changes. Sometimes it changes so fast that it leads to a breakdown in ecosystems. By which I mean a complex living system such as a forest, wetland, or hillside, shifts from one state to another, with a major change in the wildlife as well as nutrient and water cycling. To say rapid climate change “is merely a symptom of a larger crisis” misrepresents the specific existential threat involved. There are deep causes of many different environmental and social problems, which involve economics, finance, patriarchy and our cultural assumptions about dominion over nature. Jeremy writes about these deeper structures in our societies in his book The Patterning Instinct. However, just because climate change arises from the same causes as other dilemmas facing humanity does not mean it is no different to those other dilemmas. To suggest that is a logical fallacy. There are many other threats to our way of life than climate change. But it is an imminent one, because disruptive weather is undermining our food production and will continue to do so. Back to Jeremy…

Deep Adaptation proponents are also on target in arguing that incremental fixes are utterly insufficient. Even if a global price on carbon was established, and if our governments invested in renewables rather than subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, we would still come up woefully short. The harsh reality is that, rather than heading toward net zero, global emissions just hit record numbers last year; Exxon, the largest shareholder-owned oil company, proudly announced recently that it is doubling down on fossil fuel extraction; and wherever you look, whether it’s air travel, globalized shipping, or beef consumption, the juggernaut driving us to climate catastrophe continues to accelerate. To cap it off, with ecological destruction and global emissions already unsustainable, the world economy is expected to triple in size by 2060.

The primary reason for this headlong fling toward disaster is that our economic system is based on perpetual growth—on the need to consume the earth at an ever-increasing rate. Our world is dominated by transnational corporations, which now account for sixty-nine of the world’s largest hundred economies. The value of these corporations is based on investors’ expectations for their continued growth, which they are driven to achieve at any cost, including the future welfare of humanity and the living earth.

It’s a gigantic Ponzi scheme that barely gets a mention because the corporations also own the mainstream media, along with most governments. The real discussions we need about humanity’s future don’t make it to the table. Even a policy goal as ambitious as the Green New Deal—rejected by most mainstream pundits as utterly unrealistic—would still be insufficient to turn things around, because it doesn’t acknowledge the need to transition our economy away from its reliance on endless growth.

My reply: I agree with Jeremy here. Our economic system is designed and destined to destroy the Earth. I have worked for many years on monetary system transformation and suggested some ideas for Extinction Rebellion in that article with Rabbi Newman. The Green New Deal, and any related idea which does not propose to redesign our financial and corporate systems, will do little to nothing to curb emissions, let alone prepare communities for the impacts from climate chaos. But Jeremy and I are about to disagree again when he says…

Faced with these realities, I understand why Deep Adaptation followers throw their hands up in despair and prepare for collapse.

My reply: “Throwing hands up” suggests a form of giving in or perhaps dismissal of the topic. Jeremy does not say which. I have witnessed no one do either as a result of accepting the inevitability, likelihood or current unfolding of societal collapse. Instead, I have witnessed a transformation of identity and priority. At different times over the years, I worried what allowing my despair might mean for my mental health and sense of self-worth. That fear of despair is something I have learned more about and explored what psychologists and spiritual teachers tell us about it. It turns out that despair can be transformative. Jeremy may seem to suggest here that “preparing for collapse” is equivalent to giving up on carbon cuts and drawdown. But I have not seen that amongst the people now engaged in Deep Adaptation. Indeed I am witnessing a great diversity of responses. Moreover, if we don’t prepare to help keep people fed, watered, in situ and peaceful, as our economic system breaks down, then we will see neither the political will or organizational power to achieve bold carbon cuts. If the power goes down across a cold country in the depth of winter, won’t people burn coal?

Jeremy has more to share on the psychology involved…

But I believe it’s wrong to declare definitively that it’s too late—that collapse is “inevitable.” It’s too late, perhaps, for the monarch butterflies, whose numbers are down 97% and headed for extinction. Too late, probably for the coral reefs that are projected not to survive beyond mid-century. Too late, clearly, for the climate refugees already fleeing their homes in desperation, only to find themselves rejected, exploited, and driven back by those whose comfort they threaten. There is plenty to grieve about in this unfolding catastrophe—it’s a valid and essential part of our response to mourn the losses we’re already experiencing. But while grieving, we must take action, not surrender to a false belief in the inevitable.

My reply: I have been inviting people to share their grief more publicly. I include here the grief of others who, like me, choose not to have children due to the predicament we are in. Many people are accepting collapse as near-certain, likely or unfolding, rather than choosing to consider it as “inevitable,” as I concluded in my paper. One doesn’t have to believe it is inevitable to embrace the need for Deep Adaptation. My interpretation of the science meant that to conclude collapse is inevitable is closer to my felt reality than to say it is likely. Moreover, I realize if one chooses to see something as “likely” rather than “inevitable”, one is consciously or sub-consciously finding mental and emotional solace in the idea that this might not happen. The meaning of the word inevitable is the same as unavoidable. My view is that we can’t avoid societal collapse. I wish that I am wrong. But I invite you to discuss together “what if” it is inevitable and see what arises as a result. In my experience the first step is to let your despair transform to you, where you drop past stories of what is sensible or not. But back to Jeremy…

Defeatism in the face of overwhelming odds is something that I, perhaps, am especially averse to, having grown up in postwar Britain.

My reply: My view, as articulated in the paper, is that Deep Adaptation invites a new basis for action and therefore is not “defeatist”. One might liken it to a strategic retreat, but it is not defeatism. Jeremy continues…

In the dark days of 1940, defeat seemed inevitable for the British, as the Nazis swept through Europe, threatening an impending invasion. For many, the only prudent course was to negotiate with Hitler and turn Britain into a vassal state, a strategy that nearly prevailed at a fateful War Cabinet meeting in May 1940. When details about this Cabinet meeting became public, in my teens, I remember a chill going through my veins. Born into a Jewish family, I realized that I probably owed my existence to those who bravely chose to overcome despair and fight on in a seemingly hopeless struggle.

My reply: I hear and welcome Jeremy’s call for courage. The comparison with war is understandable, increasingly popular in activist circles, but misguided. As society is increasingly disrupted by the impacts of rapid climate change, people will feel increasingly anxious and hear stories of who to blame and how we must suspend freedoms to save ourselves. When I see some climate activists argue we must do “whatever it takes” and have “realistic” discussions about how some people can’t be saved, I fear the rise of new forms of fascism. I will continue to argue against people who hold up the illusion that we can stop climate change as a justification for giving themselves unaccountable power.

Like Jeremy, I love stories of human ingenuity and massive social change…

A lesson to learn from this—and countless other historical episodes—is that history rarely progresses for long in a straight line. It takes unanticipated swerves that only make sense when analyzed retroactively. For ten years, Tarana Burke used the phrase “me too” to raise awareness of sexual assault, without knowing that it would one day help topple Harvey Weinstein and potentiate a movement toward transformation of abusive cultural norms. The curve balls of history are all around us. No-one can accurately predict when the next stock market crash will occur, never mind when civilization itself will come undone.

There’s a second, equally important, lesson to learn from the nonlinear transformations that we see throughout history, such as universal women’s suffrage or the legalization of same-sex marriage. They don’t just happen by themselves—they result from the dogged actions of a critical mass of engaged citizens who see something that’s wrong and, regardless of seemingly insurmountable odds, keep pushing forward driven by their sense of moral urgency. As part of a system, we all collectively participate in how that system evolves, whether we know it or not and whether we want to or not.

Paradoxically, the very precariousness of our current system, teetering on the extremes of brutal inequality and ecological devastation, increases the potential for deep structural change. Research in complex systems reveals that, when a system is stable and secure, it’s very resistant to change. But when the linkages within the system begin to unravel, it’s far more likely to undergo the kind of deep restructuring our world requires.

My reply: Unlike previous social revolutions, climate change has been the wrong kind of challenge. It was largely invisible and with no clear enemy and no clear policy ask – because our civilization was based on fossil fuels. I have argued in my paper that recent measurements suggest we are experiencing non-linear climate change, which is no longer under our control. Therefore, we could soon witness the most exponential social movement in history and it won’t stop collapse. However, it might achieve a lot else: we could reduce harm, save more people from starving, work out how to stop the Arctic unfreezing and threatening human extinction, or organize to avert meltdowns of nuclear stations in countries that collapse, and learn how to care for each other and ourselves through this calamity. Indeed, I am hopeful of an exponential transformation in human consciousness as we wake up to our predicament and thus our delusions of dominion and progress. Meanwhile, Jeremy offers a new term…

It’s not Deep Adaptation that we need right now—it’s Deep Transformation.

My reply: I chose the term Deep Adaptation to indicate how existing work on adaptation to climate change had been somewhat shallow. It was shallow in profile and funding, as most focus was on efforts to reduce emissions. Adaptation work was also shallow in its scope, as it was premised on the continuance of our industrial consumer societies. The meaning of the word transformation is a deep and radical change, so I don’t see logic in the term “deep transformation” – just a rhetorical feel. Jeremy offers it as he begins the kind of rhetorical flourish that is seen in environmental utopian writing…

The current dire predicament we’re in screams something loudly and clearly to anyone who’s listening: if we’re to retain any semblance of a healthy planet by the latter part of this century, we have to change the foundations of our civilization. We need to move from one that is wealth-based to once that is life-based—a new type of society built on life-affirming principles, often described as an Ecological Civilization. We need a global system that devolves power back to the people; that reins in the excesses of global corporations and government corruption; that replaces the insanity of infinite economic growth with a just transition toward a stable, equitable, steady-state economy optimizing human and natural flourishing.

My reply: Awakening from our delusions of separation with nature and each other is a wonderful thing to do. Liberating ourselves from political, monetary and economic systems that structure those delusions of separation is also a wonderful thing to pursue. Both are important whether they achieve any material outcome or not. We do not need a fairytale of flourishing on this planet for these processes of awakening and liberating to be pursued. Rather, such a fairytale could even be counter-productive by suggesting we only do these things in so far as they create a desired end state. It is useful here to note that many past civilizations collapsed, and many hominids went extinct over millions of years. What is humanity’s destiny in infinite time, next to a Sun that will one day blow up, and on a planet where all previous hominids have gone extinct? We were always going extinct at some point. So a state of human society that we might call flourishing would have only ever been temporary within the wider sweep of time. Recognising the impermanence of our species could invite us to consider how awake and liberated we can be today; to flourish now and during chaos and loss. Back to Jeremy…

Does that seem unlikely to you? It seems unlikely to me, too, but ‘likelihood’ and ‘inevitability’ stand a long way from each other. As Rebecca Solnit points out in Hope in the Dark, hope is not a prognostication. Taking either an optimistic or pessimistic stance on the future can justify a cop-out. An optimist says, “It will turn out fine so I don’t need to do anything.” A pessimist retorts, “Nothing I do will make a difference so let me not waste my time.” Hope, by contrast, is not a matter of estimating the odds. Hope is an active state of mind, a recognition that change is nonlinear, unpredictable, and arises from intentional engagement.

My reply: Many redefinitions of hope have been offered. Here Jeremy is pointing to the notion of an “active hope” which doesn’t imply someone or something else will fix things. Unfortunately, most people I meet who speak of their hopes at a societal level are expressing a self-calming passive hope, where there is the story of someone or something fixing things. I have two perspectives on hope. First, that to discuss whether we need active hope or not, is a distraction from what that hope is for and what it invites from us. In my paper I write of “radical hope” which begins when we give up hopes that no longer seem credible. Deep Adaptation is imbued with this radical hope – that humanity will find compassion and collaboration during terrible circumstances. Second, I have come to see any hope, even radical, as influenced by our egos’ fear of the unknown. All hope is a story of the future rather than attention to the present. If we lived ‘hopefree’ rather than hopeful, might we take more ownership and responsibility for how we are living in the present? Back to Jeremy, who quotes from a blog I wrote on hope and vision in the face of collapse…

Bendell responds to this version of hope with a comparison to a terminal cancer patient. It would be cruel, he suggests, to tell them to keep hoping, pushing them to “spend their last days in struggle and denial, rather than discovering what might matter after acceptance.” This is a false equivalency. A terminal cancer condition has a statistical history, derived from the outcomes of many thousands of similar occurrences. Our current situation is unique. There is no history available of thousands of global civilizations bringing their planetary ecosystems to breaking point. This is the only one we know of, and it would be negligent to give up on it based on a set of projections. If a doctor told your mother, “This cancer is unique and we have no experience of its prognosis. There are things we can try but they might not work,” would you advise her to give up and prepare for death? I’m not giving up on Mother Earth that easily.

My reply: Giving up on a civilization, giving up on humanity and giving up on Mother Earth are three different things. I am giving up on this civilization, and in doing so believe this gives us more chance of being effective in helping humanity and helping Mother Earth. Jeremy is arguing here that we do not give up on our civilization. I also enjoy this civilization. But it has caused the calamity that Jeremy and I have described. So, I don’t see why it’s so important not to give up on it. In addition, Jeremy writes as if this “giving up” is simply a choice of story – as if our topic here is how we wish to speak about our situation. If I hadn’t studied the latest data and instead was toying with different potential ways of talking about our situation, then I might plump for one which is easier to tell myself, friends and family. But the material world is now crashing in on our ‘story world’ (aka paradigm, worldview, discourse).

Jeremy now switches focus to current and ongoing suffering…

In truth, collapse is already happening in different parts of the world. It’s not a binary on-off switch. It’s a cruel reality bearing down on the most vulnerable among us. The desperation they’re experiencing right now makes it even more imperative to engage rather than declare game over. The millions left destitute in Africa by Cyclone Idai, the communities still ravaged in Puerto Rico, the two-thousand-year old baobab trees suddenly dying en masse, and the countless people and species yet to be devastated by global ecocide – all need those of us in positions of relative power and privilege to step up to the plate, not to throw up our hands in despair.

My reply: Yes, societal collapse triggered by climate change is underway in some places, and that is why some people are prioritizing adaptation. It is why the World Bank is now committed to put half their climate-related funds towards adaptation. That situation demonstrates the relevance of the invitation to focus on a deeper adaptation agenda. Nowhere in my work have I suggested we stop engaging in efforts at positive impact. If some people feel that they can’t continue pursuing impact unless they tell themselves a story of hope of a better tomorrow, then they may be acting from a need to affirm their ego against their fear of death. Instead, we can keep pursuing change and keep helping those afflicted by climate-related disasters, with an acceptance that we are not likely to escape tragedy ourselves. Back to Jeremy…

There’s currently much discussion about the devastating difference between 1.5° and 2.0° in global warming. There will also be a huge difference between 2.5° and 3.0°. As long as there are people at risk, and as long as there are species struggling to survive, it’s not too late to avert further disaster.

My reply: I agree. So, let us try to prevent humanity descending into civil and international war, by adapting urgently to what is coming. Without such preparations, we will make matters worse and efforts at cutting emissions will suffer. After all, there is a lot of fossil fuel and burning during war.

Like me, Jeremy is enthusiastic about children becoming vocal on climate…

This is something many of our youngest generation seem to know intuitively, putting their elders to shame. As fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg declared in her statement to the UN in Poland last November, “you are never too small to make a difference… Imagine what we can all do together, if we really wanted to.” Thunberg envisioned herself in 2078, with her own grandchildren. “They will ask,” she said, “why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act.”

That’s the moral encounter with destiny we each face today. Yes, there is still time to act. Last month, inspired by Thunberg’s example, more than a million school students in over a hundred countries walked out to demand climate action.

My reply: There is always time to act, so the issue is what to act upon. In creating a ‘straw man’ argument of Deep Adaptation as amounting to inaction, Jeremy promotes a narrative that may even be counter-productive to his own aims at achieving carbon cuts and drawdown. Let’s consider the situation of the children that we are praising here. They will have to live with the future that is coming. How can they be supported in that? Education International, the global federation of teaching unions, backed their actions and called for a change in curricula so children can be supported to prepare for a difficult future. So if adults wish to act in love and solidarity with children, we could challenge how they are currently being hindered, not helped, to prepare for what is coming. That is why I have been engaging with school children, discussing collapse and the need to change their curricula (… I am making a short film on the topic).

To his credit, even Bendell disavows some of his own Deep Adaptation narrative to put his support behind protest. The Extinction Rebellion (XR) launched a mass civil disobedience campaign last year in England, blocking bridges in London and demanding an adequate response to our climate emergency. It has since spread to 27 other countries.

My reply: I supported the launch of Extinction Rebellion last year and have argued that the climate adaptation dimension of the campaign message is made clearer over time. Some of the key people in the Rebellion joined after reading my paper. Some of the leading organisers consider collapse as likely or inevitable. So the idea people might be disavowing their acceptance of collapse by campaigning for both emissions cuts and adaptation action is misinformed. Back to Jeremy, now on tactics…

Studies have shown that, once 3.5% of a population becomes sustainably committed to nonviolent mass movements for political change, they are invariably successful. That would translate into 11.5 million Americans on the street, or 26 million Europeans. We’re a long way from that, but is it really impossible?

My reply: It is not impossible, but it won’t stop climate-induced collapse. It could help us reduce how bad things will get. But not if we are scared of realizing what is ahead of us and so aren’t able to have the necessary conversations and policy initiatives.

I’m not ready to bet against humanity’s ability to transform itself or nature’s powers of regeneration.

My reply: I am not ready to rely on any one bet. Instead, working on Deep Adaptation as well as bold mitigation means that we aren’t putting all our bets on one outcome.

XR is planning a global week of direct action beginning on Monday, April 15, as a first step toward a coordinated worldwide grassroots rebellion against the system that’s destroying hope of future flourishing. It might just be the beginning of another of history’s U-turns. Do you want to look your grandchildren in the eyes? Me too. I’ll see you there.

My reply: I will never look my grandchildren in the eyes because I decided not to have children. Many people are choosing to make this very difficult decision. One reason is that having a child in the West is the greatest contribution to carbon emissions that you could make. Another reason is the realization of the world they will have to live and die within.

Sadly, many grandchildren will look their parents in the eyes and say why did you bring me into this world, knowing what you knew? Worse, some may be starving when they say it. If this seems too dramatic or provocative a statement for you, then you may not have recognized the situation we are facing. Which would prove my point – people are looking at this issue in ways that they can cope with due to their own levels of reconciliation with mortality. While driven by an unacknowledged fear of death, then discussions and initiatives won’t be responsive to our situation. Maybe a writer who calls for hope will help someone feel better for a while. Until they can’t avoid despair anymore, and let it arise and ultimately transform their identity. My reason for inviting collapse-acceptance within my professional circles, is for the talents of people to be applied to the current situation that so many people can’t face.

To conclude, I regard this article from Jeremy Lent as a well-written and well-meant articulation of what I will call the “Green Positivity Critique”. It is a critique that implies we should see reality the way we wish to see it in order to enable our action. To excuse that illogical formulation, proponents of this view explain that we do not know what reality is or what the future is. That argument is a misuse of a fundamental truth. Just because all human conceptualization is fallible and provisional does not mean we do not try to develop models and stories of reality that correspond more with reality than others. In that thinking, it is helpful to spot inside of ourselves when our psychological desire to avoid emotional pain influences our choices of models and stories. Initially, near term societal collapse can be a more painful model and story of reality than an ordered societal transformation. It is why we will see the Green Positivity Critique of Deep Adaptation again and again, even if in a few years, food prices rocket up and civil unrest spreads cross the West. Therefore, I will not reply to future critiques in the same vein, and instead would like to invite readers of this blog to post any future critiques of this type in the comments section, with their own polite rebuttals.

I will offer a more generic response to all the types of criticism in the coming weeks and then step away from these debates to focus on helping the community emerging around Deep Adaptation to create meaningful action.

Once again, if you would like to see how I summarise the concept, I recommend starting here.

Addendum to my reply.

Jeremy has subsequently published a reply to this response. I see on social media that people have valued the exchange. Rather than a new blog, I update my response here.

Jeremy writes: The Deep Adaptation Paper “doesn’t adhere to academic standards by constantly jumping from factual evidence to personal opinion without clarifying the distinction.”

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. I have been invited to submit a version of my paper to a number of journals but have been so busy working with the wave of response, to help it channel into useful action, that I haven’t done that yet. But soon!

Jeremy writes: “I’m not taking sides on this debate. I don’t feel qualified to do so (and I wonder how qualified Jem is?).”

By citing some scientist’s opinions and not others, I think Jeremy does take sides. I invite everyone to unpick the science that I review in the Deep Adaptation paper. This is too important to choose some preferred views from some famous climatologists. Let us remember that climate scientists are not psychologists or social scientists, so their views on impacts on people and society should not automatically carry the weight of their status from climatology.

Jeremy writes: “It’s irresponsible to package this as a scientifically valid conclusion, and thereby criticize those who interpret the data otherwise as being in denial.”

In the paper I explain my interpretation of the situation is that collapse is inevitable and that others may read the situation otherwise. I do not argue that people who see it as near certain, likely, very possible, or already unfolding, are in denial. Indeed, many with those views are now using a deep adaptation framing in their work. However, I agree that I could explain more about the processes of societal collapse. I began that in an article about food security. Sadly my views on food security will not be unusual within a few months (a UN report in May will likely say similar things).

Jeremy writes: “He derisively describes as leading to meaningless activities avoiding the reality of impending collapse.“

I am sad to hear that it seemed as if I am deriding people. In my paper I offer an autoethnographic critique of my own past decades of work. In the paper I didn’t intend to call the range of environmental activities listed as meaningless. I was citing John Foster’s work that suggests such actions are a form of implicative denial (which doesn’t mean they are meaningless). I argue for and welcome all kinds of positive actions on emissions reduction but argue against stories of them leading to our material salvation. My often-stated aim is to invite conversation on needed action after collapse-acceptance.

Jeremy writes: “Given Jem’s pushback on the seriousness of our broader ecological breakdown, I’m not sure if even he appreciates how deeply our values need to be transformed.”

I don’t pushback on that in the paper or elsewhere. I simply stated that just because climate chaos arises from the same deep causes as other problems does not mean it is of the same significance as those other problems. Jeremy writes that he wonders if I understand the delusion of separation that underlies everything that’s problematic in our world. I spoke about that in my first speech in deep adaptation in 2016, my last book and in the blog I linked to in my reply. One aspect of that separation that we do every day, often without realising, is “othering” and projection. Because the story of separation starts with the ego and it’s need to be right and be in control. Climate chaos challenges that. A tendency in many of us not only believe in one’s story of material and/or metaphysical salvation but to challenge and demean those who do not believe, has accompanied us since the beginning of time. It’s why we have religious violence and nationalist wars.

“Brave visionaries are living into the future we all want to see. Jem might not choose to expend his own energy in co-creating that future, but I think his disdain for their efforts is damaging.”

I do not and did not express disdain for radical alternative economic models. Supporting them has been a key part of my work since 2010. During 2017 and 2018 I volunteered for a network of 200+ local communities promoting local exchange. Their work is useful in Deep Adaptation. I recommend reading about them here, or seeing the related work we supported in Kenyan slums here, or studying a free course I cowrote on it here. The Deep Adaptation Forum that we have launched is supporting community dialogues. In my experience the people working within grassroots initiatives are ambivalent about any grand stories that they are the future. Instead, they do what they do because it feels right to them. They are often suspicious of academics, consultants and authors who want to spin what they do with little benefit to the communities themselves.

Jeremy writes: “Building support structures for the grieving that is part of our new reality. But I don’t think it ends there.”

It doesn’t end there and no one I know who is within the Deep Adaptation field has said it does. There are lots of implications of a deep adaptation approach, both practical and policy related. There are many groups on the Forum, sharing ideas on health, food, policy etc.

Jeremy writes that hope is not a story of the future. In that case, I invite you, the reader, to think for a minute about how you can hope without focusing on the future and your story about it. I have been clear in my writing about the radical hope I have for how we will be compassionate and creative before and during collapse, and how we might enable each other’s awakening. I have also been clear that such hope is still just a story and we can act hopefree.

Jeremy writes: “I plead with you not to disparage those who are driven by hope, and working to transform our current destructive civilization.”

I aim not to disparage. I did attempt to deconstruct the patterns of denial within environmentalism as I was aiming for more of us to have another conversation that is premised on collapse-acceptance. That doesn’t silence anybody but broadens the conversation. I realise how this is uncomfortable for people who really feel a need for a hope of a materially better future, and am sorry that they experience an emotional pain as a result. In my speech at the launch of XR International Rebellion Day I continued to seek to state my approach without disparaging activists who might see things differently. I said: “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.”

Jeremy writes: “I urge you not to keep repeating that collapse is inevitable;”

It is my view but I don’t censure anyone who has a different view.

Jeremy also urges me not to repeat: “that your approach is the only one that’s realistic;”

Deep Adaptation is an open agenda and can complement bold mitigation; most people who discuss it with me are interested in or working on both. I don’t claim any exclusive correctness or that others must not think differently to me. I wish to break the taboo on discussing what to do if a societal collapse is coming.

Jeremy also asks me not to suggest: “that other people working toward a positive vision are merely in denial.”

I believe many are. I believe that is why some of people may publicly condemn people with other views rather than just living their own truth. Extinctionists believe I’m in denial. I hear them and understand but currently disagree. I don’t see need to tell them to shut up (unlike David Suzuki, who said just that).

Jeremy writes: “Instead, please recognize that you really don’t know the future course of our world; that despair at the inevitability of collapse is a gut feeling you experience, but is not based on scientific fact”

I hear from this challenge an invitation to further build my analysis of why societal collapse is inevitable. Of course, my conclusion means I have less motivation to do that not than those who feel a desire to articulate a positive vision of the future. Also people don’t need to believe collapse is inevitable in order to work on Deep Adaptation. So its not a priority, but I will flesh out my logic and evidence in a future academic paper. Reports that will come out from UN agencies in 2019 will help clarify how my view is not so unusual. Which is painful to me. I feel no joy at being vindicated over time. And I’m sad to trigger some pain in people’s lives. It is why I turn down interviews on mainstream TV and radio – because I don’t want to share these ideas without there being a means of supporting people when they hear the information. That’s why I focus on talking with print journalists, as we can then discuss things together so they can be helped with their own emotional journey with this topic, and also because people who read a article can easily find out more, including support, than through a quick TV or radio segment. Which is why I am so impressed with the women leading XR, as they seek to manage that delicate balance when they talk to mainstream TV and radio.

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Charity in the Face of Collapse: The Need for Generative Giving not Strategic Hubris

Posted by jembendell on April 4, 2019

In recent months, I have talked privately to more third sector workers, activists, philanthropists, religious leaders and government officials who seek to be useful in the world at this difficult time. They have been reflecting on what it is they could be doing and supporting with their funds, networks and know-how.

People involved in funding charitable activities have a particular challenge, because climate change risks undermining everything. Whether you sponsor a school, human rights organisation, lifeboat, museum, donkey sanctuary or something else, it is all going to be affected by climate chaos and a societal collapse. Crucially, the threat of imminent societal collapse poses a challenge to normal notions of prudence within charitable foundations. Why only spend the earnings or a share of the endowment each year when we have such a short window for action to reduce the scale of the catastrophe ahead?

brown ship steering wheel

Photo by Maël BALLAND on Pexels.com

This topic of likely collapse is so huge and all-encompassing that it affects everybody in every part of the world in every professional practice, in their work, family, community and political lives. Last year I wrote about the various forms of collapse-acceptance and the ways I have been seeing people integrate this into their lives and the choices they are making professionally and personally. Since then I have been on my own journey. As I have a background in non-profit and foundation strategies and performance, writing a report for the UN over a decade ago, I am interested in how activists and grant makers are exploring where to focus their energies and funds. To aid your thinking, I am going to list some of the approaches I have heard people taking, before explaining why I have taken a different path with the launch of the Deep Adaptation Forum. I share these ideas because if you are someone who could provide grants for others, then you have an important role to play as the world wakes up to our predicament.

First, you could decide to attempt to reach the most powerful people in the world in terms of decision-making power and the ability to move money and seek to help them understand, decide and implement what to do to buy societies some time before a societal collapse, reduce harm during the process and plant the seeds of a new way of life. Who might such powerful people be? In my experience of working with board level executives of large organisations and top politicians, I know they are limited within what their roles allow. Therefore, some people are now looking towards engaging the billionaires and leveraging their power to promote wider change. Let’s call this the Benevolent Billionaire strategy.

Second, you could decide to reach out to those who are disproportionately affected by climate chaos, because of our concern for human rights, equality and justice. For instance, you might seek to help disadvantaged communities to become more resilient to future financial or food shocks, or the breakdown in law and order. Or you could try to increase the voice of people from marginalized groups within countries and worldwide, on policies in general and climate adaptation in particular. With this approach it also makes sense to focus on young people and helping them to prepare. Let’s call this the Solidarity Forever strategy.

Third, you could decide to begin from where you are at, and therefore look at what skills and networks you have that you could re-purpose for this agenda. You could do that even if the people and activities involved might not be the most important in terms of systemic or scalable impact. Your reason could be that you would know what you are doing and who you are talking to. So, if you are working in investment finance, you might seek to bring “deep adaptation” into your investment work. Let’s call this the Step-by-Step strategy.

Fourth, you could seek to raise awareness about impending collapse, as fast and as wide as possible, without an allegiance to any one approach to reducing harm. That might involve you joining a civil disobedience campaign, getting arrested, tweeting a lot or just having tough conversations with colleagues, friends and family. Let’s call this the Shout-it-Out strategy.

Fifth, you could take time to re-discover what it is you most love doing, now that your old stories of identity, conformity, respect for the system and for incremental change no longer hold true for you. That might mean you drop everything, sell your house and retrain as a yoga teacher, breathwork host, or documentary film maker. No, this isn’t fiction. I’ve talked to many who are exploring such a path. Let’s call this the Live-a-Little strategy.

I suggest these names for the different strategies to make it easier to discuss (for instance, leave your comments below). I have been supporting such responses in a number of ways in the months since my Deep Adaptation paper came out (downloads from the top right). But I see they all have some limitations. Benevolent Billionaires can prove elusive and once engaged tend to have their own ideas, set hard from a past of ego-affirmation. A Solidarity Forever strategy soon comes up against the realisation that while people can do some things in their local communities, they aren’t really in control of most means of resilience. And working street-by-street really doesn’t seem to match the urgency of our challenge. A Step-by-Step Strategy soon invites confusion, apathy or ridicule from people who are busy on their normal work and wondering “what’s got in to you”. After such set-backs you can begin to wonder why you are seeking to influence a profession that probably won’t exist in 10 years. I can report that the Live-a-Little strategy feels wonderful. Until it doesn’t. And you begin to desire to be doing something a bit wider. If you are that-way-inclined, then the Shout-it-Out strategy also feels wonderful. Until it doesn’t. And you begin to wonder whether waving placards, avoiding police batons and hoping government wakes up will impact much in the long run.

As I wrote at the start, this agenda affects everyone you know and all aspects of their life. That’s why I have found it difficult to give all my focus to one of those five types of response I listed above. So what should receive our attention and funding?

A typical strategic approach to grant-making is where the funder asks a person or organisation to present an argument about what is important to do for a specific target group, with a clear theory of change and mechanisms of accountability. That sounds very sensible, and far more professional than the kind of grant-making that seeks to make the donor look good (or less bad). But given the predicament we are in, I do not believe the typical approach to be suitable for all forms of philanthropy. Because to focus on that approach would reflect a hubristic view that we can predict the future, control reality, as well as the idea a donor has a better view than others. Instead, none of us really know what the heck to do right now as we face unprecedented times. Therefore, I see the importance of helping people, whose acceptance of likely collapse is affecting them deeply and transforming their approach to work and life, to find each other and co-create initiatives of all kinds. Therefore, the Deep Adaptation Forum and its associated social networks is not based on a strategy for enabling change other than helping people come together around this agenda and explore ideas from a spirit of compassion, curiosity, respect, and agency. That means we still believe that there are things that can be done to buy humanity time, reduce harm and enable learning, perhaps awakening, within these difficult times.

Within the Forum we are pursuing these aims by supporting the formation of professional groups, from coaching to schooling to farming, where people are enabled to meet by videolink. We professionally facilitate those online meetings as well as train volunteers to do so. We are also supporting in-person dialogues that use open space facilitation to respond to the issues that participants wish to discuss. We have launched monthly online Q&A sessions with relevant experts. The Forum is and will remain free and activities are produced through voluntary work and small donations that are paid direct to freelancers. Many new projects may emerge over time, from the participants themselves. To guide that emergence, we are clear about how we wish to both embody and enable loving approaches to our predicament. That might sound obvious, but on this topic some people take discussions towards preparing for violence, while others say that nothing is worth doing at all.

Aside from the Forum, what kind of philanthropic or grant-making philosophy could be useful today in the face of increasing climate-related disruptions to our way of life? If you are providing grants for specific services to the disadvantaged, such as victims of environmental catastrophes, famines or wars, then questions of efficiency and traceability are important. However, this kind of grant-making does little to address the causes or risk factors behind the such troubles. To work on that, invites us to support wider efforts at education, cultural change, governmental reform and economic reform. In that arena, my experience in giving and receiving financial funding is that the most interesting and powerful impacts and the best relations are where four things are made explicit.

First, that the funding is a gift. It is not about the funder trying to build their own profile and power or to control the recipient. It is a statement of faith in the person, their organisation (if they are within one), the general domain of action and the unfairness of our societies which create such divisions between those with funds and those without.

Second, that the funding is to empower the recipient to work on the issue domain as they determine, where the forms of action may change as the recipient learns along the way and as situations evolve.

Third, that the grantee shares the grant-makers’ philosophy of responsiveness to those with less power in society, and so does not impose their solutions on others. This leads to a form of cascading downwards accountability to push back against power injustices in society.

Fourth, that the funder and recipient agree to a means of ongoing communication which is like that of honest and critical friends, rather than one seeking to please the other. The extent of communication is agreed between the two and might simply involve a bimonthly email update and video call.

I will call this approach Generative Giving. It recognises that the wisdom is not within the funder, but is found through dialogue between the funder, funded and those affected. The likely impact is not increased by more spreadsheet entries in either the planning or reporting. Instead it is increased by basing relations in a spirit of gift, trust, empowerment and dialogue. It is the kind of approach that the freelancers of the Deep Adaptation Forum have benefited from greatly. If you share this philosophy, we would love to hear from you (via the About page).

I realise that if you work as a grant maker in a foundation then it is not so easy to fund activities in the way I have just described. In the pursuit of professionalism and accountability the field of charitable giving has been twisted into a bureaucratic process, overseen by trustees who assume a quiet life and don’t rock the boat. Well that boat is about to sink. Given that we face societal collapse due to climate chaos, the financial assets that support philanthropy will evaporate in the process. The power of the philanthropist only exists within this society and our systems. Therefore, it would be prudent to spend down an entire endowment within the next ten years to try and buy humanity time, reduce harm and seed what might come next. If that means changing the core rules of a charitable foundation, or flouting them, then so be it. Now is the time for trustees and grant-makers to rebel against a stifled approach that is not fit for our time of crisis.

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Notes on Hunger and Collapse

Posted by jembendell on March 28, 2019

Did you know that four years ago some scientists announced that their model was projecting how “society will collapse by 2040 due to catastrophic food shortages” – unless humanity suddenly changed course?
No, me neither. And I’m a Professor of Sustainability Leadership. The scientists were from Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute. The fact such warnings slip us by is why activists from Extinction Rebellion are demanding our media and politicians pay attention. Because climate change is not just about being nice to nature or to people on the other side of the world. Rather, it means more of us won’t be able to afford to feed ourselves or our families. Which means even worse, as a hungry country is an ungovernable one.
How alarmist or sensible is this shift in focus from climate to calories and the threat of chaos? It is a shift I have been promoting within the environmental movement since last year when I concluded we have entered a period of rapid climate change. Urgently we need to discuss emergency measures from national and local government, philanthropists and the private sector to help people to be fed and watered in situ for as long as possible. These measures can be informed by some of the very latest analyses from organizations like the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) but could also arise from a precautionary approach that recognizes how recent crop-damaging weather may not actually be anomalous and instead represent a new best-case scenario within a rapidly altering climate.
I am not an expert on food security, and so to write these notes on hunger and collapse means I am venturing in to areas that I am new to. There are many professionals in the food security sector who know far more than I about both the science of agronomy or the politics and economics of food distribution. But I know that some of them are sounding alarm bells within their organizations, questioning whether the models used to inform previous reviews of worst-case scenarios might not be fit for purpose. I am not going to try and become an expert in the field of food security and intend this to be both the first and last article I write on it. Rather, I am sharing ideas here to encourage those internal debates within research organisations and government agencies, that need to be had so that those of us in wider society can have honest conversations about how we reduce harm in the face of climate-induced disruption to our way of life.
In these notes on hunger and collapse, I will summarise some of what I have learned about the current situation with food security and why I think climate change now threatens food security in the West. My view doesn’t mean we can’t do anything to help. Instead, I mention a few areas where policies might be useful. I am not confident they will be adopted at scale in time, and so I still believe that a societal collapse is on the horizon. But I write these notes in the hope I might be proved wrong.
An Overview on Food Insecurity
earth desert dry hot

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

First, as an astute reader you could already be thinking that I’m ignoring how millions of people are starving already. While enough food is produced today for all of humanity to eat sufficiently, great numbers of people face crisis levels of food insecurity, requiring immediate emergency action to safeguard their lives. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO, 2018a) estimated that 80 million people in 2015 were going hungry in that way, 108 million people in 2016 and 124 million people in 2017. Therefore, for increasing numbers of people, a collapse or breakdown in their way of life is a present reality, not something to anticipate or debate. Last year the FAO identified climate change as one of the main factors for this situation of increasing hunger worldwide, although the politics and economics of distribution remain key. The bombing of Yemen can and should be stopped. But climate is not something we can fix with a peace summit, and so those FAO findings on the trends in malnutrition are deeply worrying.
Last year was an unusually hot and dry year in the Northern hemisphere. It showed clearly how grain and vegetable production is negatively impacted by climate change. Most Northern and Central European countries reported important end-of-summer declines in cereal production, with losses estimated to reach between 23.6% and 33% in the Baltic states and Finland, and between 14% and 20% in Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark and Sweden (European Commission 2018a, 2018b, 2018c; EDO, 2018). Although a 20% decline across the whole of Europe was being predicted by some farmers’ organisations at the end of the summer,  the reported fall of grain output over the past year has since been calculated as 7.2% (FAO, 2018b). Several Northern European countries were more severely affected (Masante et al, 2018), experiencing declines up to 50% in some crops (Feed Navigator, 2018). The potato harvest in Germany, the biggest European producer, was down 25%-30% compared with usual quantities (Pieterse 2018). The Lithuanian government declared a state of emergency, and Latvia acknowledged the harvest as a natural disaster (Food Ingredients First, 2018).
It is no wonder that food prices to the consumer have risen more than usual in many Western countries. But most of us aren’t malnourished. Because we buy so much food from around the world. We are dependent on a complex global industrial consumer economy. In 2018 the rest of the world helped out the West more than usual, as global food production was only down 2.4% (FAO 2018b). Most of the world’s cereals comes from a few net exporting countries like Russia, Canada, US and France and Thailand. If harvests fail, then countries often respond by imposing export bans which block the usual trade flows of food, leading to a ‘domino effect’ of price rises. Until now the hardest impacts have always been felt within import-dependent low-income countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
It would take an even wider experience of disruptive weather than 2018 to affect global food availability. How likely is that? I have been asked this question a lot since I released my paper on Deep Adaptation last year. So I decided to have a look at what food security researchers have been saying and how they develop their views.
Food security research reports that sudden losses of food production have become increasingly frequent over the past 50 years. While some of these shocks take place due to geopolitical crises, extreme weather events are also dominant drivers – over half of all shocks to crop production systems were a result of extreme weather events. Besides, these shocks also increasingly affect crops, livestock and aquaculture simultaneously (Cottrell et al., 2019). One expert in the FAO explains “The problem is variability. Extreme weather events – cyclones, hurricanes, rainfall, hail fall, high temperatures in August in northern Europe. The unpredictability is the hardest element, and it seems that unpredictability is here to stay.”
One major influence on weather is El Niño, a climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean which happens with varying magnitude every 2-7 years. Increases in the strength or frequency of El Niño are a cause for concern over future food security. The 2015–2016 El Niño was one of the strongest events of the past 100 years, leading to drought in large areas of Africa, parts of Central America, Brazil and the Caribbean, as well as Australia and parts of the Near East (FAO 2018a). In August 2016, 61.6 percent of all Vietnamese crops were very severely damaged or lost (FAO 2016a). However, that year saw plentiful monsoon rains in SE Asia which offset those Vietnamese losses. An El Niño event seems likely in 2019, but not such a strong one (FAO 2018d). If it coincides with damaging weather in the key breadbasket countries in the Northern Hemisphere, then we could see significant impacts on food supplies.Here I am describing worst-case scenarios, where many key food producing regions are hit in the same year. Current simulations of worst-case scenarios use historic lows. For instance, one was run by Global Food Security in 2015, where the worst-case scenario combined drought-related impacts on yields of maize and soybean (which happened in 1988/89) and on wheat and rice (which happened in Europe, Russia, India and China in 2002/03). The report indicated that consumers in large industrialised countries such as the US and EU, where food represents a small share of household expenditures, would be relatively unaffected (GFS, 2015a).
Like me, you may have noticed a problem with basing analyses on what has happened in the past. If we are now in the early stages of non-linear changes in our climate due to heat-reinforcing feedback loops, then it isn’t sufficient to assess future scenarios based on historic worst-case instances combined into one global event. The problem with current food security work is a reliance on existing climate modelling. From that basis the weather of 2018 is seen as an anomaly. So we are told reassurances that “weather isn’t climate” and that we can expect future years to be better. Never mind that 2019 is already more volatile. Given that temperature records are being broken every year, 2018 could become the new normal, or even a good year.
It is clear that our food system is going to be under weather pressure like never before. On top of the direct impacts of extreme temperatures, droughts and floods, there is also the secondary impact of adverse weather making plants more susceptible to disease. Crop pests pose a greater threat in an era of rapid climate change, given that more than 75% of the world’s food comes from just 12 plants and five animal species (World Economic Forum 2018). Then there is the problem of climate impacting on the biodiversity essential to our agriculture. On land, the collapse of insects presents a challenge for pollination. In the seas, the acidification from dissolved CO2 is going to reduce fish stocks. Earlier this year the FAO (2019) issued a severe warning about the threat to our future agriculture from our collapsing biodiversity, in part due to climate change.
Some professionals in the food security field are waking up to the implications of this new era of volatile weather. In IASSA they have started looking at the potential for multi-breadbasket failure, which rather worryingly now deserves its own acronym – MBBF. Their scientists are looking at how simultaneous climate extremes in our major grain producing regions could have knock-on effects of shocks on other parts of our food, economic and political systems. A famous example of a climate shock leading to food security issues and consequent social unrest, war and migration is the Arab spring.
As we look at the situation, it is worth remembering that our buffer against MBBF is not huge. Global food reserves would feed all humans for 103 days, if fairly distributed, something we have never done. We would have 249 days in reserve if people were able to east the food currently intended for farm animals (FAO 2018b). The United Nations “Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk” comes out in May this year. Given how food underpins everything, it will be interesting to see how it reports on this most systemic of risks.
If you are worried, then that is good, as it means you can join conversations about what might be done about it.
Policies to avert hunger and postpone or soften collapse 
Policy makers need to understand how global food production and distribution systems are likely to cope with declines in yields of staple crops. This requires an understanding of the food storage system and more importantly markets which determine who gets the food.
Until the past decades of neo-liberal policies, governments kept strategic grain reserves to feed their citizens. Now they prefer the greater efficiency of global markets (with the notable exception of certain countries such as China or India). A troubling aspect of this development is that sometimes the countries most in need of reserves are those least able to pay for them (Fraser et al, 2015). Reserves are controlled by a handful of corporations, which are not averse to manipulating commodity prices if it will increase profits. In the case of a global decline in food production this means that rich and poor will be trying to eat from the same pile. You don’t have to actually own the commodity in order to shift the prices. Financial speculation (in all markets) has the effect of amplifying price movements. For example, World Bank estimates on the 2008 drought reported that “up to 30 percent price increases occurred based on anticipated fallout (from drought impacts and biofuel production on corn crops) rather than the shocks themselves” (GFS, 2015b).
The global food system is made all the more vulnerable to extreme weather events as global supply chains have been optimized for efficiency, with buffer stocks reduced in line with an understanding of supply volatility that is consistent with a stable natural environment (Dellink et al. 2017). The conclusion is clear. Liberalizing the worlds agriculture and food systems, including their financing, means they are not easily adapted to increasing climate disruption and may make matters worse. So, policy makers need to think again, and fast.
Radical and detailed alternatives to the free market global food system do exist. In his 2017 book Nourrir l’Europe en temps de crise (“Feeding Europe in Times of Crisis”), the French agronomist and “collapsologue” Pablo Servigne outlined a comprehensive program for food systems around Europe and the world that would be more resilient to potential disruptions with climate and oil supply. These food systems, centered on agroecological principles, would be localized and diversified, decentralized and autonomous, circular and transparent. Servigne also suggests that urban agriculture could act as a means of bringing people together in community.
Many of Servigne’s recommendations fit with those of the FAO. In a special 2016 report on climate change, agriculture and food security, the organization recommends a focus on sustainable intensification of agricultural production (increasing the efficiency of resource use, conserving and enhancing natural resources); the use of agroecology; more efficient management of water, carbon, and nitrogen cycles; and crop diversification (FAO, 2016b).
Being new to food security, I am very aware that there are far more trained, experienced and skilful people than I who will be able to develop policy. To help their conversations, I have jotted down some initial thoughts on what they might consider:
• First, importing countries need to increase domestic production of basic foods, including through irrigation, the use of greenhouses, as well as urban and community-based agriculture.
• Second, importing countries need to geographically diversify sources of food imports rather than rely on whatever is cheapest or habit.
• Third, all countries need to diversify the range of species involved in their domestic agriculture, with a focus on a wider range of resilience to weather stress, and this be done with a holistic agroecological approach, recognizing the threat from collapsing biodiversity.
• Fourth, governments need to re-instate the sovereign management of grain reserves and prepare for requisition of private grain reserves in crisis situations.
• Fifth, a treaty and systems may be needed to help keep the international food trade going despite any future financial or economic collapse.
• Sixth, national contingency plans may be needed to prepare for food rationing so that any rapid and major price rises are not allowed to lead to malnutrition and civil unrest.
• Seventh, in the absence of significant new forms of government action on food security, local governments need to act, including through partnerships with companies that can manage food distribution.
• Eight, we should undertake controlled experiments with Marine Cloud Brightening (MCB) over the Arctic Ocean, to try and reduce the warming in the Arctic and slow down the damaging changes to northern hemisphere weather. That does not mean wider geoengineering makes sense but that MCB is important to try in this limited way, given the catastrophic potential of further Arctic warming.
Will any of these policies, or better ones, be enacted both soon and worldwide? If you think humanity will change production systems quickly to reduce dependence on rain-fed grains, while also change our commercial food system as quickly to help ensure everyone is fed, then I can understand if you think there will not be widespread societal collapse. In my experience and analysis I do not think people in political systems can respond that quickly across the world. Which is why my own conclusion, as sad and shocking as it may be, is that near-term societal collapse is now inevitable.
Collapse is Underway for the Hungry Millions
Today’s global food production largely exceeds what is needed to feed the entire world population; hunger is caused by an unequal distribution of food and artificial scarcity (Holt-Giménez et al, 2012). So our current food system that leaves 120m people in acute hunger is already dysfunctional, even murderous. A persistent decline in yields of staple foods would exacerbate those flaws, starving ever greater numbers in countries with weak economies. The global food system is dangerously and increasingly optimized for efficiency and profit rather than ensuring everyone has food. With the political will and time, we could have a much more resilient food system and thus slow down the onset of societal collapse due to widespread hunger. Our problem is that to adapt we will need a paradigm shift in policies on global food supply and distribution, complemented by a revolution in community-level food production. The latter can be developed now but the former is unlikely.
As the Extinction Rebellion brings this subject into the homes of more people, so journalists will naturally ask questions of the food security experts. What will they say? I know that behind the scenes, concerned staff are being told by their bosses to be less pessimistic. We can understand why. We know senior managers are hampered in their ability to respond to information that challenges what their organization does or how it will be viewed. If new information challenges the cultural norms that someone has been adept as displaying in order to reach the top, then they face an identity disintegration before being able to engage properly with the new agenda.
If you are someone with a senior role, you probably know what I am talking about. Perhaps you still think you might be a bit of a fraud and so do all you can to prove otherwise. Or perhaps you have gone on a leadership course and been helped to regard your power as your destiny. If either of things are true, and you work in food security, I invite you to step outside that insecurity for a moment and listen to those colleagues trying to look at our situation with fresh eyes, for the good of humanity. And then let them speak to the public, so we can have fresh conversations about deep adaptation to our climate predicament.
As I am not specialising in food security and not writing more about it, if you want to engage on these ideas, please consider the Food and Agriculture interest group of the Deep Adaptation Forum. My thanks to Deep Adaptation Forum members Dorian Cave and Matthew Slater for their research support. 
References

Cottrell, R.S., Nash, K.L., Halpern, B.S., Remenyi, T.A., Corney, S.P., Fleming, A., Fulton, E.A., Hornborg, S., Johne, A., Watson, R.A., Blanchard, J.L. (2019) “Food production shocks across land and sea.” Nature Sustainability 2, 130. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-018-0210-1

Denkenberger, D.C., Pearce, J.M. (2015) Feeding Everyone No Matter What: Managing Food Security After Global Catastrophe. Academic Press, London.

European Commission (2018a) “JRC MARS Bulletin – Crop monitoring in Europe. August 2018” JRC MARS Bulletin Vol 26 No 8 (27 August 2018). Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/sites/jrcsh/files/jrc-mars-bulletin-vol26-no08.pdf

European Commission (2018b) “JRC MARS Bulletin – Crop monitoring in Europe. September 2018” JRC MARS Bulletin Vol 26 No 9 (17 September 2018). Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/sites/jrcsh/files/jrc-mars-bulletin-vol26-no09.pdf

European Commission (2018c) “Short-term outlook for EU agricultural markets in 2018 and 2019”. Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development — Short-term outlook No 22. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/files/report-eu-agricultural-markets-short-term-outlook-autumn-2018_en

 

EDO, The Copernicus European Drought Observatory (2018) Drought in Central-Northern Europe – July 2018, JRC European Drought Observatory (EDO) and ERCC Analytical Team. Available at: http://edo.jrc.ec.europa.eu/

FAO (2016a) 2015–2016 El Niño – Early action and response for agriculture, food security and nutrition – UPDATE #10. August 2016. FAO, Rome. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i5855e.pdf

FAO (2016b) Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, The State of Food and Agriculture. FAO, Rome. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6030e.pdf

FAO (2018a) Building Climate Resilience For Food Security And Nutrition, The State Of Food Security And Nutrition In The World. FAO, Rome. Available at: http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition/en/

FAO (2018b) Food Outlook: Biannual Report on Global Food Markets, July 2018. FAO, Rome. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/ca0239en/CA0239EN.pdf

FAO (2018c) 2018/19 El Niño advisory. FAO, Rome. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/ca2530en/CA2530EN.pdf

FAO (2019) THE STATE OF THE WORLD’s BIODIVERSITY FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE, FAO, Rome. Available at: http://www.fao.org/state-of-biodiversity-for-food-agriculture/en

Feednavigator.com (2018) “Reduction in EU grains and oilseed output forecast”. September 20, 2018. Available at: https://www.feednavigator.com/Article/2018/09/20/Reduction-in-EU-grains-and-oilseed-output-forecast (accessed 2.7.19).

Foodingredientsfirst.com (2018) “European drought: Starch supplier Avebe braces for ‘historically low potato harvest’” Available at: https://www.foodingredientsfirst.com/news/european-drought-starch-supplier-avebe-braces-for-historically-low-potato-harvest.html (accessed 2.7.19).

Fraser, E.D.G., Legwegoh, A., Krishna, K. (2015) “Food Stocks and Grain Reserves: Evaluating Whether Storing Food Creates Resilient Food Systems.” J Environ Stud Sci 5, 445–458. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-015-0276-2

Global Food Security (2015a) Extreme weather and resilience of the global food system, Final Project Report from the UK-US Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Resilience, The Global Food Security Programme, UK. Available at: http://www.foodsecurity.ac.uk/assets/pdfs/extreme-weather-resilience-of-global-food-system.pdf

Global Food Security (2015b) Review of Responses to Food Production Shocks. Resilience Taskforce Sub Report, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Available at: http://www.foodsecurity.ac.uk/assets/pdfs/review-of-responses-to-food-production-shocks.pdf

Holt-Giménez, E., Shattuck, A., Altieri, M., Herren, H., Gliessman, S. (2012) “We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People … and Still Can’t End Hunger.” Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 36, 595–598. https://doi.org/10.1080/10440046.2012.695331

Masante, D., Barbosa, P., McCormick, N. (2018) Drought in Central-Northern Europe–July 2018. EDO Analytical Report. JRC European Drought Observatory (EDO) and ERCC Analytical Team.

Pieterse, L. (2018) “Germany: Historic low potato harvest seriously impacts seed, processing sectors until 2020.” Potato News Today, November 14, 2018. Available at: https://potatonewstoday.com/2018/11/14/germany-historic-low-potato-harvest-seriously-impacts-retail-seed-and-processing-sectors-until-2020/ (accessed 2.7.19).

Servigne, P. (2017) Nourrir l’Europe en temps de crise. Vers des systèmes alimentaires résilients. Actes Sud, Arles.

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“Grieve Play Love” short film on climate despair

Posted by jembendell on March 24, 2019

“Grieve Play Love” is a 9 minute short film by Jem Bendell, set in Bali, released in March 2019. 

The text of the voiceover follows below. A message from the filmmaker:

“In early 2018, my life changed. I studied climate science again for the first time in 25 years and discovered how bad it is. My estimation is that our complex consumer industrial societies won’t cope with the new pace of weather disruption to our agriculture. I published a paper on my conclusion, inviting deep adaptation to our climate tragedy, and was swamped with the response. Many people were and are, like me, traumatised by this realisation of a future societal collapse. I made this film for them. If that is where you are at, I hope it helps.

I made it where I was living at the time, in Indonesia, and drew on the beauty of nature and culture that still exists on this wonderful planet. You’ll see it’s a long way from a protest, political meeting or boardroom. But I hope the beauty in the film affirms once again what it is we love and stand for. How we live fully without pushing away difficult emotions triggered by awareness of our climate tragedy is going to have as many answers as there are people coming to this awareness. To help your own journey, I recommend connecting with others on this agenda at www.deepadaptation.info

 

“All great and beautiful work has come of first gazing without shrinking into darkness” John Ruskin

Voiceover:

After we accept the full tragedy of climate change, what do we have left?

Most people I meet sense that life is meaningful. Belief in a future is one way we look for such meaning. A future for ourselves and our family, our community, country, and the planet.

It is why it is so difficult to accept where we are today. What future can we believe in now? And if that isn’t possible, where can we find meaning?

I left my job as a Professor and came to Bali to sink in to those questions.

And to grieve.

I grieved for my years lost to compromise. I grieved the loss of my identity. I grieved how I may not grow old. I grieved for those closest to me, and the fear and pain they may feel as things break down. I grieve for all humanity, and especially the young.

Within this despair, something else happened. My long-held defences began to melt away. I was opening-up.

Not everyone can leave to heal in a place this. But I want to tell you my story because so many of us now grieve over climate change.

Most Balinese seem so at ease with their life. In the temples in every household, children play at the symbolic graves of their grandparents. That’s not like our modern societies where we seem to hide death away. Could feeling the impermanence of everything be an invitation to experience life more fully?

I was drawn to connect more to myself, others and nature.

Breathwork, dance, fasting, improv theatre, chanting, circling and guided meditations.

I was opening to beauty and spontaneity. To connect without expectation. To create without certainty. And to welcome what’s transcendent into my life. I see that love can be the anchor during waves of anxiety, sadness and grief.

I was reminded of how my friend with terminal cancer experiences more gratitude and wonder. And how our last meeting was more beautiful due to the ending ahead. Awareness of the finite amount of time we all have on this Earth gives more power to the choices we make.

Your own path for grieving an environmental and social breakdown may not be like mine. But there is a path and it leads beyond despair.

So what of our future?

My vision is of a world where more of us are open to curious, kind and joyful connection with all life. My hope is we will discuss ideas without a want to prove ourselves right.

Because there will be tough decisions ahead. We can make universal love our compass as we enter an entirely new physical and psychological terrain.

And so, I was ready to re-engage with my profession, but with a faith to express my truth, however difficult. Opening a conference at the United Nations, there was really only one thing for me to say.

“We now know that many self-reinforcing feedbacks have begun to further warm the planet, threatening to take the future out of our hands. So if we don’t wake up from our delusions of what is pragmatic and appropriate, then shame on us.”

“…our intention for creating things needs, more often, to arise out of our love for humanity and creation…. The technology we seek is love.”

Feeling our pain at the ongoing destruction of life, we may find relief in the idea of a divine force beyond this time and place. But if doing so, let’s not withdraw from our fellow humanity. Climate chaos invites our loving immersion with life as we find it. We can rise into, not above, these times.

Alan Watts:

“The Earth is not a big rock, infested with living organisms, any more than your skeleton is bones infested with cells. The Earth is geological, yes, but this geological entity grows people. And so the existence of people is symptomatic of the kind of universe we live in.”

We may grieve the loss of life, and feel despair or anger at how this happened. But whenever it comes, human extinction will not be the end of consciousness or the cosmic story.

There is no way to escape despair. But there is a way through despair. It is to love love more than we fear death. So ours is not a time to curl up or turn away. It’s a time to dance like we’ve never danced before.

Before loss there was love.

After loss, love.

Before grief there was love.

After grief, love.

Our essence is never in danger.

When all else falls away,

Our essence can shine.

So, what does love invite of us now?

 

Grieve, Play, Love was co-directed by Jem and Joey. It was filmed, edited and sound engineered by Joey. It was written, voiced and produced by Jem. Jem and Joey met at http://www.connectionplayground.org

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The Love in Deep Adaptation – A Philosophy for the Forum

Posted by jembendell on March 17, 2019

By Jem Bendell and Katie Carr

Many more people are waking up to the predicament we are in, where rapid climate change threatens the future of our societies – and even our species. Hundreds of thousands of people have downloaded the Deep Adaptation paper and thousands joined the Facebook group. Launching the Deep Adaptation Forum is one means of enabling that interest to become useful collaboration.love

As people begin to work with our colleagues and discuss what “Deep Adaptation” could mean (and what it doesn’t), we wish to clarify some core ideas that have been expressed in more detail elsewhere.

Deep Adaptation refers to the personal and collective changes that might help us to prepare for – and live with – a climate-induced collapse of our societies. Unlike mainstream work on adaptation to climate change, it doesn’t assume that our current economic, social, and political systems can be resilient in the face of rapid climate change. When using the term social or societal collapse, we are referring the uneven ending to our current means of sustenance, shelter, security, pleasure, identity and meaning. Others may prefer the term societal breakdown when referring to the same process. We consider this process to be inevitable, because of our view that humanity will not be able to respond globally fast enough to protect our food supplies from chaotic weather. People who consider that societal collapse or breakdown is either possible, likely or already unfolding, also are interested in deep adaptation.

Four questions guide our work on Deep Adaptation within the forum:

  • Resilience: what do we most value that we want to keep and how?
  • Relinquishment: what do we need to let go of so as not to make matters worse?
  • Restoration: what could we bring back to help us with these difficult times?
  • Reconciliation: with what and whom shall we make peace as we awaken to our mutual mortality?

These questions invite exploration of Deep Adaptation to our climate predicament in order to develop both collapse-readiness and collapse-transcendence.

  • Collapse-readiness includes the mental and material measures that will help reduce disruption to human life – enabling an equitable supply of the basics like food, water, energy, payment systems and health.
  • Collapse-transcendence refers to the psychological, spiritual and cultural shifts that may enable more people to experience greater equanimity toward future disruptions and the likelihood that our situation is beyond our control.

Uncertainty and lack of control are key aspects of our predicament; we do not know whether what we do will slow climate change and societal collapse or reduce harm at scale. It looks likely to us that many will die young and that we may die sooner than we had expected. That does not mean we do not try to extend the glide and soften the crash – and learn from the whole experience.

One thing that rapid climate change can help us to learn is the destructiveness of our delusions about reality and what is important in life. Key to this delusion is the emphasis many of us place on our separate identities. Since birth we have been invited to “other” people and nature. We often assume other people to be less valuable, smart or ethical as us. Or we assume we know what they think. We justify that in many ways, using stories of nationality, gender, morals, personal survival, or simply being “too busy”. Similarly, we have been encouraged to see nature as separate from us. Therefore, we have not regarded the rivers, soils, forests and fields as part of ourselves. Taken together, this othering of people and nature means we dampen any feelings of connection or empathy to such a degree that we can justify exploitation, discrimination, hostility, violence, and rampant consumption.

Seeking physical and psychological security and pleasure through control of our surroundings and how people interact with us is both a personal malaise and at the root of our collective malaise. Yet, as we see more pain in the world, and sense that it will get worse, it is possible that we will shrink from it. It is easier to consider other people’s pain as less valid as one’s own pain or that of the people and pets we know. But there is another way. The suffering of others presents us with an opportunity to feel and express love and compassion. Not to save or to fix, but to be open to sensing the pain of all others and letting that transform how we live in the world. It does not need to lead to paralysis or depression, but to being fully present to life in every moment, however it manifests. This approach is the opposite of othering and arises from a loving mindset, where we experience universal compassion to all beings. It is the love that our climate predicament invites us to connect with. It is the love in deep adaptation.

Therefore, in our work with others on deep adaptation, we wish to pursue and enable loving responses to our predicament. Every interaction offers an opportunity for compassion. It can seem difficult when it feels as if someone is trying to criticise your view, perhaps because they prefer to see collapse as unlikely or human extinction as certain. But to return to compassion, even if we fall away from it in the moment, feels an important way of living our truth. And it is something we can do at any time. As leadership coach Diana Reynolds recently explained, “the incredible compassionate revolution starts here, starts now.”

As this topic involves questions of mortality, impermanence, insecurity and uncontrollability, everyone who is finding themselves navigating their way through is experiencing many strong emotional responses, which may feel turbulent, overwhelming, exhausting as well as energising or enlivening. Often these emotions affect us, including ourselves and our colleagues, in ways that we may not be aware of. Therefore, in the small team working in the Deep Adaptation Forum, and the wider group of volunteers, we invite each other to consider three principles:

  • Return to compassion. We shall seek to return to universal compassion in all our work, and remind each other to notice in ourselves when anger, fear, panic, or insecurity may be influencing our thoughts or behaviours. It is also important to remember to take care of ourselves, especially when the urgency of our predicament can easily lead to burnout.
  • Return to curiosity. We recognise that we do not have many answers on specific technical or policy matters. Instead, our aim is to provide a space and an invitation to participate in generative dialogue that is founded in kindness and curiosity.
  • Return to respect. We respect other people’s situations and however they may be reacting to our alarming predicament, while seeking to build and curate nourishing spaces for deep adaptation.

We hope that all of us in the team continue to provide useful information, avoid negativity, and invite everyone to engage as peers. We also apologise in advance for any times where we do not seem to be living these principles.

If you would like to help the team financially, and have a small fund for such support, then please use the contact form.

If you would like to volunteer with us, please start by joining a relevant group within the Forum and demonstrating your commitment, effectiveness, and aligned approach within that space.

Professor Jem Bendell and Katie Carr co-lead retreats as well as leadership courses related to deep adaptation, at the University of Cumbria.

The photo is of the sculpture entitled “Love” by Ukrainian artist #AlexanderMilov and was found at the 2015 #BurningManFestival. It shows two #wireframe adults with their inner children reaching for each other, symbolizing purity and sincerity. /// photo by @teamwoodnote and used here with a creative commons license.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/designmilk/22871072820

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Organise Deep Adaptation Dialogues

Posted by jembendell on March 17, 2019

As acceptance of likely or unfolding collapse is spreading, we hear of people wanting to gather and discuss what it means for their own lives, communities and work. That hope is not to hear simple answers to our difficult situation, but to share a range of information, emotions, ideas and options.

With a little help from our friends, the Deep Adaptation Forum is able to financially support “Deep Adaptation Dialogues” that bring together people within a community or shared professional interest.

If you would like to organise such a gathering, with some financial support and live video presentation by Professor Jem Bendell or a colleague from the Forum, then please read on…

four people smiling grayscale photo

Photo by rawpixel.com

To enable an emergent and generative dialogue, we want to support gatherings that use the principles of Open Space Technology and are guided by an experienced facilitator. That means participants will gather in a physical location around a collapse-related theme of their choosing, and let a detailed agenda emerge from their group on the day. Prof. Bendell, or another expert from the field of Deep Adaptation, can be invited to open the gathering with a short Q&A video session, before the Open Space conversations begin. At the end of the day, if requested, Prof. Bendell or another expert will reconnect with all participants by video, to listen to summaries of what was discussed and offer some feedback.

To qualify for financial support:

  • propose the event to occur between June 1st and December 31st 2019, for a minimum of half a day.
  • each event must be facilitated by a host with confirmed experience in Open Space Technology;
  • organisers must be members of the Deep Adaptation Forum;
  • the conversation should be community- or profession-focused and be either free or with minimal fee (any fee must be specified in the application);
  • the event should take place in a cheap or free venue (equipped with a good internet connection, a computer projector and speakers, and a webcam pointing at the group participants);
  • event hosts should, when possible, submit to the Deep Adaptation Forum a harvesting of topics at the end of their event. This can take the shape of a video, write-up, or podcast.

To recap, what the Deep Adaptation Forum can offer:

  • Video participation in your event by Prof. Bendell or another expert;
  • 300 euros per event for expenses, paid after the event;
  • Help in spreading the results of your dialogue to the Deep Adaptation Forum and wider network.

To apply, please see here after applying to join the Forum at www.deepadaptation.info

Application deadline is April 25th 2019 and applicants will be informed of decisions by May 5th 2019.

Meetings can be organised in English, French, or Chinese. Applications can be submitted in any of those languages.

Please note that currently only 5 events can be funded in 2019. If you are able to make charitable donations of over 2000 euros (or equivalent) and would like to discuss supporting us scaling up these Deep Adaptation Dialogues, please contact the Forum here. We are not in a position to handle smaller donations at this time.

To be kept in touch with online gatherings on this agenda, please join the Forum at www.deepadaptation.info

 

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The Deep Adaptation Forum launches

Posted by jembendell on March 6, 2019

People who are alive to the likelihood of society collapsing in our lifetimes will not be alone for long. But for now, we are few and far between. Despite 200,000 people downloading my Deep Adaptation paper, in most professional circles this topic remains taboo, and certainly not a priority within strategies, budgets or meetings. This situation means people find it challenging to work on the professional implications of their concerns. Yet the longer we delay our exploration of what to do and how, the more likely it will be that organisations and societies respond poorly in future.
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There are many professional fields that are relevant to our predicament, including mainstream climate adaptation, disaster risk reduction, mental health, permaculture and so on. Because a society that breaks down will affect all walks of life – and so all of us can do something to help each other prepare, whether from within our current role or a new one.

To extend the glide of our societies and soften the crash, the goal must be for every professional association, think tank, trade union, and research institute, to develop their own work on collapse-readiness. Before that happens, we can connect around the world and support each other to play a role in our professions and locations when the time arrives.

It is for these reasons that today we launch the Deep Adaptation Forum. It is the next step for those of us who accept likely collapse to work together now and thereby mark the way for our colleagues to follow in time. Through this free forum you can join regular webinars, seek advice and co-create shared resources for your field of expertise.

We concentrate mainly on:
* hosting regular video meetings among our members;
* managing jointly edited documents on relevant resources, initiatives, and knowledge needs;
* enabling in-person dialogues within local communities and professional sectors;
* and maintaining an event calendar.
The Forum is not a space for:
* debating climate science or chronicling the latest bad weather;
* disputing whether societal collapse is likely to occur;
* or arguing that near-term human extinction is now inevitable.

Such discussions occur in many other places, and instead, this Forum is solely dedicated to serving those who wish to explore collapse-readiness in all its potential forms, from the practical, to political, emotional and spiritual.

We invite a diversity of opinion, including a diversity of political approaches, so long as these do not advocate forms of fascism or violent conflict. We also invite participants, if they wish, to employ the Deep Adaptation framework. That means exploring what the concepts of resilience, relinquishment, restoration and reconciliation could mean for our profession or interest. Therefore, it will be useful if you read the Deep Adaptation paper and blog on Reconciliation before participating in the Forum.

There is no need to wait for your fellow professionals to wake up to our predicament.

There is no need to spend much time justifying yourself.

There is no need to rage against ignorance.

Instead, we can start to live our truth together now.

I look forward to connecting in the Forum.

Professor Jem Bendell, Founder of the Deep Adaptation Forum.

Note that the Forum is the place for professional collaboration. If you simply want to see the latest posts from professionals in this field, join our LinkedIn Group. If you have a general interest but don’t work on it, then join our Positive Deep Adaptation group on Facebook.

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Positive Deep Adaptation Group on Facebook

Posted by jembendell on March 3, 2019

In recent weeks I have noticed an upsurge in people discussing the calamitous state of our climate, its impacts and our response. My server crashed twice due to the download demands for my Deep Adaptation paper.
To channel this interest into useful professional collaborations, next week we launch the Deep Adaptation Forum, as an international space for people to work together – ahead of their wider professions buying into this agenda properly (which is bound to happen, but we can’t delay). Already our LinkedIn group for professionals has circa 1500 members.
Many people who are getting in touch or tweeting their thoughts are not professionally engaged, but are retired people, or busy with their existing jobs or families. So, we are today launching a Facebook group as a simple means of helping them connect.
Positive Deep Adaptation will be a place for sharing information on our outer and inner deep adaptation to unfolding societal breakdown due to climate change. We will 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.
The group wont be a place for sharing news or information on the state of our climate or environment. Nor will we share news and information on aspects of social breakdown. Why? Because as things get worse, our feeds will be swamped increasingly by such news, and in that context we can benefit from a group to support our positive deep adaptation to the situation, and not to crowd that out by news chronicling the changing climate or breakdown.
By “positive” deep adaptation we do not mean that we will be inviting messages that say “we must have hope” or “we can’t say it’s too late” or “look at this latest wow tech that will mean someone else will fix everything”. Such fear-based attitudes that script stories of the world to help ourselves feel better, for now, are counter-productive. Instead, we will be sharing information and ideas on all kinds of things that start from the view that collapse is now likely or inevitable. What might that involve? Check it out here.
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Upcoming events with Prof Bendell in 2019

Posted by matslats on February 9, 2019

Online, March 27th. Deep Adaptation Q&A Online with Prof Jem Bendell. Bring your questions for a moderated conversation with the originator of the Deep Adaptation framework. 9am to 10am GMT. March 27th. Limited places available.

London. April 13th. Social Collapse: Probability and Psychological Challenges (Climate Psychology Alliance)

London, April 15th. Rebellion Day, Extinction Rebellion.

Preston, UK. April 29th. Green Monday Anti-fracking protest.

Ambleside, UK. April 30th. Q&A meeting with Ambleside Action For A Future. (By invitation only, apply here)

Findhorn ecovillage, Scotland. April 22nd. Climate Change & consciousness (via videolink)

Connect University, Brussels. May 13th. Climate Change: Resilience, Uncivilisation, Rebellion and Technology, with Dougald Hine and others.

Canada, May 23rd. Canadian Society for Ecological Economics keynote (via videolink)

Athens, Greece, June 6th. Doom and Bloom: Lessons from the heart of UK’s Extinction Rebellion. 19.00 – 21.00 @Cooperative Coffee Shop, Monastiriou 140

Anyksciai, Lithuania, June 21st. Q&A at Anyksciai Forest Festival (via videolink)

Kalikalos retreat centre, Greece. June 22-29th. Inner resilience for tending a sacred unravelling.

Lancaster UK, July 14th. “Lancaster Community Dialogue for Deep Adaptation” Using Open Space methods to explore implications and initiatives with communities in the North West of England. Free. 10am to 5pm. Register.

Cumbria UK, July 18-21st. Certificate in Sustainable Leadership short course, including sessions on Deep Adaptation.

Somerset UK, September 11-12th. Green Earth Awakening camp 2019, Buddhafield festival

Glasgow UK, September 21st. Deep Adaptation, Deep Solidarity Jem Bendell and Gehan Macleod in conversation.

Cumbria UK, September 24-27th. Deep Adaptation Retreat (with Katie Carr).

Devon UK, October 13-18th. Kissing the Void Retreat with Toni Spencer.

London UK October 19th. Sleepwalking into the Anthropocene – the new age of anxiety Speech to UK Council for Psychotherapy conference.

December. Speaking to COP25 conference in Chile by videolink

Please sign up to my quarterly newsletter for more detailed information.

If you would like Jem to appear in a meeting you are organising, then consider applying to the Deep Adaptation Forum to host a dialogue. Info here.

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