How might we help increasingly distressed societies avoid a descent into authoritarian and or fascist governments?
This is a question on the minds and hearts of many people who anticipate further disruption, breakdown or even collapse of societies due to the direct and indirect impacts of environmental change. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, we witness stupid, corrupt, repressive and diversionary responses from many governments, on the one side, and outlandish clickbait criticism on the other, which does not bode so well for us during further disruptions due to environmental damage.
“Why We Rebel? Scientists have spent decades writing papers, advising government, briefing the press: all have failed. What is the point in documenting in ever greater detail the catastrophe we face, if we are not willing to do anything about it?” Scientist Rebellion, 2021
Some have called it a 4-day climate hunger strike. During my solidarity fast with the Scientist Rebellion, I took time out to reflect on how I am feeling and what I think I know at this time. Not for producing structured arguments, but for welcoming any integrative knowing of self, society and nature. To help, I attended morning sessions with other fasters, hosted by the Reverend Steven Wright of Sacred Space, Cumbria. I felt lucky and grateful to have such a wonderful invitation to presence and purpose, as well as to have the camaraderie of fellow fasters. As a result, I had another go at poetry, on the theme of discovering what is most important when we let go of old stories of self, other, society and nature. An audio recording of the poem is below, on my youtube channel.
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Editorial from Jem Bendell
Although lockdowns have warped my sense of time, and perhaps yours too, it is actually more than 3 months since the last Deep Adaptation Quarterly. There was a hiatus, as I focused on new work after leaving the Deep Adaptation Forum at the end of September, and the Forum team re-organised for their post-Jem era. It has been great to see volunteers step up to now join the small Core Team of organisers, with Kat Soares becoming the new coordinator of the Forum. She is in a team of 4 freelancers working part time to coordinate over a hundred volunteers around the world to support people with finding meaningful ways of living creatively from their collapse anticipation. As they need to cover their basic costs, it would be useful if you can chip in now, as any donations given to them by the end of March will be matched by a donor.
When talking about the climate crisis, it is jarring to hear an invitation to be horrified, feel helpless, and sit with the pain, when the dominant response in Western culture is to look away, or adopt greener lifestyle changes while faithfully waiting for technology to rescue us.
In their interviews last year with Dr. Jem Bendell, four educators and activists— Dr. Vanessa Andreotti, Skeena Rathor, Amisha Ghadiali, and Nonty Sabic—suggest we learn how to respond to the climate tragedy from people who have experienced trauma, oppression, and discrimination. More of us in the Global North are moving into a position similar to that of many indigenous peoples when Europeans landed on their shores with guns and diseases: our familiar world is about to crumble and we cannot stop the change from coming. Millions of people in the Global South are already suffering from climate change, with warming temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns driving economic hardship, food insecurity, and migration. And it is going to get worse. Even in the West, where people like me still remain largely sheltered from the worst effects, “people are looking for ways of addressing the anxiety and depression of dealing with the imminent end of the world as we know it,” says Dr. Vanessa Andreotti, Canada Research Chair in Race, Inequalities and Global Change. She spoke from Peru, where she works with local indigenous communities. Some of these communities live, and even manage to thrive, in conditions that affluent westerners would define as breakdown—i.e. without access to supermarkets, gas stations, banks, the energy grid, tap water, and treated sewage.
So much activity does not happen online, and does not get seen online. And thank goodness for that! As I research what is happening around the world as people wake up to the likelihood of a more unstable future, I am feeling grateful and reassured that so many of us want to make a difference, and can, even if small, or fragile, or transient. As I used to live in Southern India, I was excited to hear what is happening there, and this guest blog is the result. If you have your own local story to tell, please contact the blog team at the Deep Adaptation Forum.
As an Indian woman returning from abroad, I was attracted to the international spirit of Auroville, an intentional community in Southern India. Both Indians and foreigners seek to live a life that is a holistic application of the principles of Sri Aurobindo. We seek not to separate the spiritual realm from our livelihoods and lifestyles. Therefore, for decades, the people of Auroville have sought to live more gently on the land and with each other. That holistic approach to conscious living may be the reason why the Deep Adaptation concept and framework has been flourishing here in our corner of Tamil Nadu, with implications for our wider region. As I witnessed the international discussions online in the field of collapse anticipation and Deep Adaptation in particular, I have wondered whether there are many people like us in the Global South, but whose experiences and initiatives are being overlooked. I wondered whether it might help to share what we are doing, so we might learn from each other, inspire others, and perhaps even shape the international agenda.
This is a copy of the letter sent to 500+ signatories to the international scholars warning on societal disruption and collapse, from Dr Jem Bendell and Dr Pablo Servigne, announcing the launch of an initiative to help more scholars engage publicly on collapse risk and readiness. A version in French follows below.
The Scholars Warning letter on the risks of societal collapse was published in The Guardian and Le Monde in December 2020. By the end of the year, it had been signed by over 500 scientists and scholars from over 30 countries, representing dozens of academic disciplines including climatology, environmental science, psychology and sociology.
Thank you for signing this public invitation for more sober and kind conversations about how to respond well to our global predicament. The full list of your fellow signatories is available.
Dr. Rene Sušais a coauthor with members of the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures collective, of a chapter in the forthcoming book on Deep Adaptation, which is now available for advance purchase. In this guest blog, he explores how desires for innocence and “normality” can make us cause even more harm in the long term, as societies are disrupted due to environmental change.
Slightly over a year ago, our collective Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures was invited to contribute a chapter to the Deep Adaptation: Navigating Realities of Climate Chaos book, edited by Jem Bendell and Rupert Read. Our writing focused on the subject of mapping different responses to climate change and potential climate collapse. At that time, we mapped four main groups of responses (romantic, revolutionary, rational, reactionary) that we were able to observe in our work with various social justice movements, sustainability initiatives, policy makers, advocates and activists, mostly in the global North. We did not, and still do not, consider this mapping as exhaustive of all possibilities, deterministic or fixed, but rather as a provisional tool that helped us outline some of the prevailing (problematic) patterns that we were able to observe in the four main groups of responses to climate change, identify some key absences and disavowals, and mobilise further conversations and reflections. One of the main reasons why we engage with this topic, is, because in our work with various (mostly Indigenous) communities in the global South, as well as with marginalized communities in the North, we have been noticing that it is often them and their immediate surroundings that suffer the most direct and gravest consequences of our denials, inconsideration, irresponsibility and self-centredness.
On March 25th I will be fasting for 4 days in solidarity with a nonviolent Scientists Rebellion. I am looking forward to joining dozens of other scholars online each day, being hosted by Reverend Stephen Wright, as we reflect on our place in the world. If you are an academic please consider joining us. I have booked my annual leave and intend a bit of a brain fast, away from my research and inbox!
I may have another go at poetry. Here is something I wrote last month, after a Kirtan, as I explored the insights from Hinduism on the sacred feminine, based on the stories about the Goddess Chamunda.
Dropping Demons with Chamunda
If you think you know who you are singing to, then you are not singing to me.
If you think you know who you are praying to, then you are not praying to me.
How on Earth do we begin to talk to each other and work from a starting point of experiencing or anticipating societal disruption and even collapse?
It needs to become the biggest conversation, with views from different contexts. I am still learning as I talk to more and more people from around the world. Some of them share their thoughts in this book, including Rene Suša, Sharon Stein, Vanessa Andreotti, Tereza Čajkova, and Dino Siwek, who are scholars and activists in decolonization efforts, and XR’s Skeena Rathor, who works on co-liberation from the systemic oppressions that underlie environmental destruction. With this detailed attention to the causes of climate chaos, I hope the book helps support a sober and non-divisive approach to navigating the implications.
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.