Should we discuss our anticipation of collapse?

This is the foreword to “The Responsibility of Communicating Difficult Truths About Climate Influenced Societal Disruption and Collapse: An Introduction to Psychological Research” which provides a synthesis of some relevant peer-reviewed literature within the field of psychology. An audio of this foreword is available.

Professor Jem Bendell, University of Cumbria, UK.

Your anxiety or even emotional distress about the situation with the climate is normal, sane, healthy and even righteous. Those difficult emotions you have been feeling may also be a painful gateway to a different expression of who you are, depending on how we support each other in that process of change.

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Why make time to feel when there is a world to save?

My steps with integrating international development and deep adaptation.

Guest post by Dr Malika Virah Sawmy.

It’s heart breaking to witness how intentions are real and absolutely beautiful in international development. Everyone wants a more beautiful and fairer world. But the issue is how we manifest those intentions. How do we manifest the more beautiful world our heart knows is possible, to quote Charles Eisenstein.

Sadly, when you work in international development, you have, what I think, are two main coping mechanisms to deal with our work in the context of an unfolding global crisis with climate chaos – and what has been termed by scientists as a period of biological annihilation.

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As non-violence is non-negotiable we must have tough conversations

The commitment to nonviolence in climate activism and deep adaptation is a central principle and we must criticise anyone who suggests otherwise. The risks of tolerating any deviation from this principle are too great & therefore we have no choice but to risk painful reactions, even from colleagues, when confronting it.

Trying to reduce harm and the antecedents of harm during societal disruption and collapse is not going to be pretty. I launched the Deep Adaptation Forum (DAF) as a safe space for people to help each other process difficult emotions and work out what next in life to reduce harm, save more of the natural world and seek meaning and joy in the process. It has been wonderful to see the voluntary commitment from people around the world to grow the activities. I left the daily operations in September 2020 and on February 8th this year I tendered my resignation from DAF’s non-executive board, called the Holding Group. That is the final step of me stepping away, in line with my knowledge of the research that shows we humans are susceptible to the counterproductive self-infantilising process of arguing about ‘leader’ character and views rather than taking responsibility ourselves. I am delighted that two experienced women from the Global South have agreed to be nominated in my place and look forward to seeing them communicating about Deep Adaptation.

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Discuss #DeepAdaptation with experts in 2021

My Deep Adaptation Q&As are back for 2021. In these discussions, a guest shares their own perspective on what matters to them as we consider, or respond to, societal disruption and collapse.  The Deep Adaptation framework is for dialogue, without one right way of responding to our environmental predicament, or one source of knowledge on that. Therefore, I host these Q&As to broaden the discussion – and discussants – on the matter of societal disruption. All previous Q&As are available, with guests including Vanessa Andreotti, Skeena Rathor, Joanna Macy and Charles Eisenstein.

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COVID and Climate Change – why XR must visit the WHO

New research confirms the role of climate change in making diseases like COVID-19, which come from wildlife, more likely, by direct and indirect effects, working in concert with other environmental damage.

Yep, shocking.

I use the words “more likely” and “like” in that sentence, reflecting scientific method and norm for communicating conclusions. In hypercomplex systems where isolating individual variables and establishing specific connections between events is difficult, that should not limit our ability to draw conclusions about probabilities, especially when they have massive implications for life on Earth.

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Taking Climate Adaptation to Heart – talks by Jem Bendell

To start the year I gave a talk for a climate adaptation conference at the University of Groningen (Netherlands) and also joined participants and volunteers in the Deep Adaptation Forum (DAF) for a Q&A on emerging issues. If you are interested in this agenda, then I recommend watching first my introductory lecture on Deep Adaptation, then the Groningen talk, then the Q&A. In the Q&A we covered a range of issues such as the decolonisation of the environmental movement, the need for developing policy ideas, and the new criticisms made about people who anticipate collapse.

In the talk for undergraduate students at Groningen University on Jan 22nd 2021, I made the following points about a heartfelt approach to climate adaptation:

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Still being academic – writings on management, environment and Deep Adaptation in 2020 by Prof Jem Bendell

In 2020 I co-authored some academic resources on management, environment and ‘deep adaptation’. Here is a quick summary and links, in case you are interested in these topics to a degree where you read or listen to academic outputs on them.

In an academic journal article, with Dr Katie Willocks of Lancaster University and Prof Richard Little, of Impact International, we explored ways of supporting learning within hospitals. In particular, we showed how the ideology of top-down managerialism can militate against a recognition of the motivation of staff in the caring professions, and side-line support for them to be better able to solve workplace disagreements as a means of professional learning. It’s basic common sense to seek to help not hinder nurses and doctors, but the dark forces of bureaucracy and commercialisation are so widespread in late modernity that it can be useful to challenge them empirically, as we have done in this paper.

Willocks, Katie, Bendell, J. and Little, R. (2020) Professional Learning from Disturbances in Healthcare: Managerialism and Compassion. International Journal of Management, Knowledge and Learning, 9 (1). Download here.

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Beyond Climate War: Writings on Deep Adaptation to societal collapse

It is now four years since I first delivered a keynote lecture on the need to discuss what if it is too late to avert catastrophic damage to our societies from the direct and indirect impacts of climate and ecological damage. In that talk, I asked whether we don’t talk about it because of our fears. Because we can fear we will descend into despair and inaction. Or we might fear we will be attacked by our peers and dismissed by our friends. I suggested we needed to overcome such concerns, to explore what an anticipation of societal collapse might mean for our personal, professional and political lives. I offered a framework of questions to begin that conversation and called it Deep Adaptation. By taking time off from my job as a University Professor, I studied the climate science more closely, and reached my personal conclusion that societal collapse in most countries in my lifetime is now inevitable. That meant I could not keep working on sustainable development and corporate sustainability any longer and released a paper in 2018 called Deep Adaptation. That was part of my process of moving on and transforming, not knowing what would come next.

The paper went viral and fuelled a new wave of activism, with Extinction Rebellion, and a new global network of people freely supporting each other, called the Deep Adaptation Forum.

During 2020, increasing numbers of people have been hearing about this paper, analysis, framework and community from its critics. My friends tell me that this negative reaction indicates that it has become a movement that matters. On the one hand, it is disappointing that people are hearing constant misinformation about what we are doing and why, and the implications for climate activism and policy. On the other hand, perhaps criticism of collapse anticipation is the safest way for members of the general public to first hear about this possibility, as only those who are emotionally ready will explore further.

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Let us hail over 500 scientists and scholars for their courage on societal disruption and collapse

Like many people who pay attention to trends in the world, I want all leaders to change everything immediately to give humanity a better chance of reducing the harm that’s unfolding due to the climate and ecological crisis. Like many people with that aim, I also recognise that young people are going to live in a future that will be far more harsh and difficult than it has been for people like me.

Rather than argue for more measurement, more reform, more technology, more hope and heroes, I think a more useful focus in solidarity with young people is to work for more action on adapting to the current and future disruptions. That includes having really difficult conversations about the situation and the options we are faced with (and learning how to have those discussions generatively, as we explored in a new paper).

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If guys with guns are talking about collapse, why can’t we?

Thanks to Hollywood, we have all seen stories of near apocalyptic futures, where people descend into violence and depravity. We have also seen sensationalist, even racist, TV news reporting on looting after natural disasters. It seems the mass media is not always a good channel for hearing about the solidarity and cooperation that emerges between so many of us in times of crisis. It takes authors like Rutger Bregman to remind us of the better sides of human nature. Or Rebecca Solnit to show how human solidarity has always been a powerful resource during crises. Unfortunately, such views don’t get as much airtime when it comes to dis1cussing the possibility for societal disruption and collapse.

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