What has the UN Disaster Risk Reduction agency got to do with you?

I was interviewed this week by the Independent newspaper about why more than 100 scholars from around the world issued a public letter to delegates at the UN’s event on disaster risk reduction. This provides more depth than my opinion piece in the newspaper.

Q – What was the impetus behind this letter?

Jem – The impetus for this letter is a widespread experience that many of our fellow professionals working on social and environmental issues privately know that we have been using a failing approach, with all the indicators heading in the wrong direction, but that they are hesitant to say so in public. We perceive that is because they are not yet clear on how to make sense of that failure or what might come next. They also see professional risk in criticising both capitalism and the story that our world will improve with more technology and investment. Whereas more people in the general public now sense that our systems are broken, many experts in establishment institutions continue to think they must remain upbeat in public. But signatories to the letter clearly think that attitude could undermine the needed reckonings and radical changes.

Q – Who are the signatories?

Jem – The first 100 signatories come from 27 countries and cover a range of disciplines, including climate science. They all have doctorates in their relevant specialisms. Signing in their personal capacities, they include Professor William Rees (University of British Columbia, Ecological Economics), Dr Malika Virah-Sawmy (IASS, Climate Adaptation), Dr Peter Kalmus (NASA, Climate Science), Dr Yves Cochet (Former Minister of the Environment, France), Dr Stella Nyambura Mbau (LOABOWA, Climate Adaptation) and Dr Ye Tao (MEER Framework, Climate Adaptation). [You can see the full list of 100 scholars here and read a press release about the letter here.]

Q – Why do you think the SDGs have failed?

Jem – The world is halfway through the time allocated for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the UN reports countries have gone backwards on most of them. That is even before the inflation, energy and food polycrises of 2022. This failure was predicted at the outset, by scholars who identified the impossibility of promoting ecologically-demanding consumer lifestyles as the means of progress for all. 

The ideology of Sustainable Development is so ingrained after 30 years that the UN’s own report on near total absence of progress towards achieving the Global Goals – now half way through the time period – has been largely ignored. The potential from having such goals is measurability and accountability. Yet the implications of failure are being ignored. So I think many people working in the international field of cooperation on environment and development could be in denial. To address that, we produced the ‘owngoals’ graphic, which makes the situation more stark. I hope we do not see too many professionals in this field more annoyed by this graphic than the reality of suffering and loss which it describes. Because such reactions would raise uncomfortable questions about their current motivations. Thankfully, I already know that many colleagues are grateful for the chance to challenge the complacency and lack of accountability.

Q – What do you propose as the alternative?

Jem – Our main proposal is that we all stop pretending that we can grow economies, reduce poverty and avert environmental disasters. Once we drop the myth that economic expansion is always helpful, a variety of ideas can come into view for either reducing or coping better with social and environmental problems. In the research paper ‘Replacing Sustainable Development’ I cite a range of philosophies for organising society, ranging from the Vatican to Bali. The problem is that the current monetary systems impose a need for economic growth in order to maintain a stable economy. That is not a natural feature of the way economies work but one designed by bankers over many years for their own ends.

But in that paper, and in this letter, the focus is on the UN and international aid. We think that the existing capabilities and networks in Disaster Risk Reduction need to be made central to future policy-making, at home and abroad. That doesn’t sound fun or hopeful, but people don’t need experts to do their dreaming for them. We can pursue our own dreams, while government and aid agencies help with the increasing risks that we all face due to environmental breakdown.

Q – Why do you suggest “degrowth” of wealthy economies?

Jem – It is impossible to decouple resource consumption and pollution from economic growth sufficiently to reduce risks of catastrophic damage to all societies from environmental changes over the coming years. The UN’s own research shows we don’t have the materials to electrify everything worldwide, so the implication is richer countries, and richer individuals in particular, must reduce their consumption levels. Clearly that idea isn’t super appealing to the folks at Davos. Neither is it appealing to anyone if it not done fairly and with a focus on wellbeing. Crucially, the economic and monetary systems need to change to allow that kind of contraction without bankrupting small businesses and households.  A chapter in my co-edited book Deep Adaptation explores aspects of the re-localization of economies that is now necessary.

Q – Why did you choose to release this letter at this particular summit?

Jem – Some of the people involved the UN Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) agency are exposed to the harsh realities of increasing disasters around the world. That was shown by their most recent Global Assessment Report. Many of them know that we are entering an era of ‘metadisaster’, by which I mean an ongoing global disaster of environmental breakdown that affects every aspect of our societies.

The UNDRR only convenes government officials every two years to discuss trends, policies and assistance. Whereas this event is largely ignored by the world’s media and national leaders, we think that the agenda it works on will become central to international relations in future. It can’t copy the mistakes of 30 years of sustainable development policy making being deferent to global capitalism. We want to encourage them to break with that and develop a more realistic and helpful response.

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Q – You say the “assumptions that underpin the SDGs are invalid” — what would you say are those assumptions?

Jem – In the research paper “Replacing Sustainable Development” I explain that the ideological worldview behind the SDGs one where “material and technological progress is both good and inevitable; where humanity will balance social, economic and environmental issues to progress materially, and; that it is a priority to foreground corporate economic interest.”

I argue that these assumptions are politically convenient for some people, and have avoided irreconcilable priorities over the past 30 years:

“Sustainable Development became a systemic greenwash, undermining challenges to structural power that were posed by people and organisations we might loosely describe as anti-imperialist. Therefore, the apparently apolitical quality of Sustainable Development was actually highly political in its consequences. By framing the generic planetary need as one of more and better management and technology, rather than more freedom from manipulative and oppressive systems, it justified the further extension of managerial power, both corporate and bureaucratic.”

I argue the worldview within Sustainable Development is based “a range of underlying cultural assumptions as necessary for societies to organise the destruction of the living world so effectively. One is anthropocentrism, where humans are considered the centre and purpose of all Life. Second is androcentrism, where patriarchal ways of being and organising are privileged so that aspects of being and knowing that are regarded as feminine are systematically marginalised. Third is the desacralisation of nature, where all Life is seen as merely material phenomena with no intrinsic worth, without mystery or sanctity, so it can be utilised or substituted whenever those with the power choose to do so.”

Whereas such critiques have been seen in the past as too radical or esoteric, the harsh human implications of environmental breakdown remind us that, speaking purely pragmatically, nature was always the boss. The paper is currently under review, and I am looking forward to the feedback.

Q – Why is this important?

Jem – People’s lives are increasingly in danger from the effects of an environmental breakdown that is made worse by the current economic system and those who promote or apologise for it. The people who manage large budgets and make policies need to recognise the new situation we are in, so as not to make matters worse and have a chance to reduce harm as societies are disrupted. On the other hand, people who have given up on expecting any meaningful action from large institutions need to recognise the harm that could be done by those institutions when panicked and operating from a redundant paradigm. Of course, none of these attempts to shift attention may work at scale, with complacency, cowardice, or greed characterising the behaviour of managerial elites over the coming decades. However, it feels important to many of us to try.

Q – Anything I haven’t asked?

Jem – Perhaps, what can a member of the general public do? At this stage there needs to be a global awakening to the precipice that humanity has reached, so that we might all individually explore our own responses in our own communities. It starts with simply talking. Not just sharing on social media, but actually talking to each other about this information, in an open-hearted and open-minded way. Not rushing to blame, shame, fix or deny. Allowing our shock and worry to exist – and supporting each other as we experience those emotions. Then deciding if we want to become ‘positive pessimists’, where we openly try to make the best of a bad situation, by doing good and finding joy, no matter what is to come.

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Read the article in the Independent newspaper about the letter and drawing on this interview.

If you have a PhD and would like to engage other scholars in helping shift the policy agenda to one that recognises reality and the unfolding societal disruptions it entails, then please consider signing the original International Scholars Warning on Societal Disruption and Collapse.

If you are interested or working on related themes, but not a scholar, then I recommend the Deep Adaptation Forum.

If you are in the UK and would like to study leadership and communications on these topics in a 5-day starting on June 13th, then the deadline for your application is June 8th!

I attended the event to present the letter to delegates

Thoughts On Pandemic Response

Since April 2020 most media corporations have encouraged hostility towards open scientific dialogue and normal policy scrutiny. That has been accentuated by the way domestic partisan politics in North America has influenced media content globally and provoked censorship from Big Technology platforms. The sad result is that misinformed and emotionally activated people share misinformed and outrage-inviting commentary on the analysis of people who are demanding more open scientific dialogue and normal policy scrutiny. That creates a barrier to people discovering what is actually being said by people like me. Therefore I am listing my key writings on Covid in one place so it is easy to access them.  

It’s time for more of a citizen’s response to the pandemic – for a real #PlanB – where I explain how a different agenda to the current orthodoxy could be pursued that allies with our fellow citizens to remove barriers to us all making responsible decisions and how the Left has failed to articulate this agenda due to having lost close connection with the low paid workforce. 

Continue reading “Thoughts On Pandemic Response”

100s of scholars worldwide engage on collapse risk and readiness

In December 2020 over 600 academics signed an international Scholars’ Warning on societal disruption and collapse. It led to the formation of an initiative to help more scholars to engage publicly about their views on collapse risk, readiness and response. This is a quick summary of what has happened and what is in the pipeline.

The second public Scholars’ Warning letter appeared in the Independent Newspaper at the close of COP26 and was written about in a number of articles. It also appeared in French newspapers. Over 200 scholars responded within the 24 hours to sign and help the sense-making of journalists and others as the summit closed. If you agree with the sentiment of this latest letter, please share this video of some of the signatories reading it.

By registering their support for a more radical agenda on our climate predicament, including the need to discuss collapse risk, readiness and response, now journalists can find these scholars and bring these ideas to wider attention. One example is an ‘Inside Climate News’ article that interviewed a number of signatories.

Continue reading “100s of scholars worldwide engage on collapse risk and readiness”

Uniting in Love and Rage against Corporate Power

If you think things in society are going wrong, how does that make you feel? Sad? In some situations, might you feel some rage?

It is natural to feel angry about a bad situation. The issue is then what we do about it. Our culture tends to denigrate anger in ways that mean we do not have a healthy discussion or understanding of the difference between a positive anger and a destructive anger. Anger suppressed can lead to a destructive anger which manifests as aggressions towards people. However, there can also be a righteous anger which is a natural and important response to unnecessary harm and injustice. Such an anger can remain connected to our sense of love for creation and each other. But it needs to flow somewhere…

When you feel righteous anger about a situation, what do you do next? 

Continue reading “Uniting in Love and Rage against Corporate Power”

Tax Carbon Not Income and Reform Markets – part 2 of a #RealGreenRevolution

This is the 2nd in a 7-part essay on the type of policy innovations that would respond to the truth of the environmental predicament and, also, why most environmental professionals ignore such ideas to promote limited and limiting ideas instead. These ideas on a #RealGreenRevolution provide a contrast to current agendas, with the aim of encouraging a global environmental movement as a rights-based political force.  In this essay I focus on that sexy topic of taxation, and how to transform it to provide the price signals and funds to radically alter behaviours in fair ways.

To receive each part of the essay, subscribe to my blog, using the box on the right. To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either engage on the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by following the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. The introductory Part 1 provides context.

Global Carbon Energy Tax Treaty

In 1997 one of the key ideas being discussed for how to help the whole planet reduce its carbon emissions was a taxation on carbon emissions. Using taxes to influence behaviours through market systems was something most governments had experience of and could be trialled quite easily. However, under the then US Vice President Al Gore, the delegation from the United States stopped that initiative and instead advanced the idea of creating markets for carbon permits. The resultant Kyoto Protocol started that process whereby we have witnessed polluters being given permits which they could then sell. Many environmental experts regurgitated the arguments of corporate public relations, that a cap-and-trade system would be better for the climate by identifying specific limits. Such carbon pie in our overheating sky was gobbled up by financial elites. The cap-and-trade systems have done little to nothing on carbon emissions, which have continued to rise ever faster around the world. I mention this history, as it is an example of how the mundane everyday influence of people working for corporations and governments focused on corporate interests can produce results that are ‘omnicidal’. That word means the killing of all life, and I use it because 1997 was the last chance humanity had to create a framework that could have slowed climate change sufficiently to avoid a manmade catastrophe for life on Earth. I don’t blame you Al, but the fact you are quoted with respect and excitement by environmentalists today suggests how ill informed, uncritical, timid and sycophantic to power the green movement and sector has become.

Continue reading “Tax Carbon Not Income and Reform Markets – part 2 of a #RealGreenRevolution”

“Grieve Play Love” short film on climate despair

“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

Deep Adaptation Retreat

EXPLORING LIFE AFTER SUSTAINABILITY, 8th-15th June 2018

The emerging realisation that climate change is becoming a destructive tragedy, not just an urgent challenge, is bringing a sense of profound disorientation for many people.  How are we to feel?  What are we to do? What might become the purpose of our lives and work if we consider disruptive climate change as now inevitable?

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A view from the retreat

You are warmly invited to join us for a week of dialogue and reflection, with the aim of gaining a clearer sense of how meaning can re-emerge in full acceptance of the climate tragedy. We will explore dimensions of an emerging “deep adaptation” agenda, drawing on the lived experiences and various stories of each participant, and a range of wisdom traditions.

This retreat is for you if you:

  • work on sustainability in some form and are questioning your motivation and future,
  • want to explore implications of climate disruption in depth with supportive peers,
  • sense that a week in community and nature could support your transition.

The disorientation felt due to an awareness of our climate tragedy can lead to withdrawal and loneliness. Therefore, our intention for this retreat is to bring fellow travellers together to develop a new sense of purpose and community. Within a safely held and gently facilitated space, we hope to enable and discover insight on finding meaning, priorities and joy amidst tragedy. We anticipate you might feel inspired and supported to host future gatherings of peers on the deep adaptation agenda.

The retreat is hosted within an intentional community which lives lightly and beautifully on the verdant green and blue shores of the Aegean. The food is mostly locally sourced, all homecooked and vegetarian. A stunningly wild beach is a 20-minute walk away, while old villages are nearby through forests.

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The coastline near the retreat is the Mediterranean at its best

You are invited to bring a reading, practice or insight to share that is helping you to explore meaning after sustainability. You will be given pre-reading from the www.Dark-Mountain.net collection within your ‘preparation pack’ for the retreat. Its founder Dougald Hine will lead one session by video link.

The retreat centre Alexandros, part of the Kalikalos community, is less than 2 hours from the Greek city of Volos. The nearest village with a bus stop is Ag Ioannis. Buses to Volos leave from Athens and Thessaloniki, where flights arrive. Flights are also available into Volos with seasonal airlines like Small Planet and Thomas Cook. More information here. Prices and booking here.

SCHEDULE

Friday, the 1st day, is our arrival with check-in, registration and the welcome meal in the evening. Dialogue and reflection will begin after dinner with an opening circle. The 2nd day includes a welcome circle with our hosts, the volunteers of Kalikalos. From the 3rd day onward our rhythm will flow as follows:

  • 8:00am – 9:00am Breakfast
  • 9:00am – 9:15am Opening Circle
  • 9:15am – 10:15am Opening talk (30 mins) and discussion.
  • 10:15am – 11:00am Two or more participants share a resource (text, art, other) with discussion.
  • 11:00am – 11:30am Drinks break
  • 11:30am –  12:30pm Group Activity (typically in pairs, threes or fours)
  • 12:30pm – 1:00pm Closing Circle
  • 1:30pm Lunch
  • 2:30pm – 6:00pm Free time for reflection (beach, forest, villages).
  • 6:30pm Karma Yoga (supporting the community)
  • 8:00pm Dinner
  • 9:15pm – 10:30pm Optional evening activities (some activities such as Ecstatic Dance are organised at nearby centres).

On one of the days the morning session will involve a walk. The flow of the daily sessions above is indicative; actual activities will be woven organically from the programme above in response to the emergent needs and wishes of the group.

Prices: include the workshops plus full accommodation with 3 daily vegetarian meals (except for one evening out in a Taverna). One week in a tent € 470, triple room € 520, twin room € 620, single room € 770. All rooms are en suite with views and/or balcony.

Registration opens from November 2017. For more information, please contact me, Jem Bendell: drjbendell @ gmail dot com

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BIOGRAPHY OF YOUR HOST

Jem Bendell began offering transformational professional development courses after 20 years pursuing a variety of methods for social change. From anti-globalisation activism and sustainability consulting in the late 1990s, via senior management in large environmental organisations and research roles with the United Nations, to grassroots economics and social venture capital today. One theme throughout has been sense-making and communication, with Professor Bendell responsible for over 100 publications and a range of Masters courses worldwide. In the past few years Jem has focused his research, advice and teaching on sustainable leadership and communication, working with senior officials in business, politics and civil society. His approach to teaching is participative, experiential and focused on the whole person. A graduate of the University of Cambridge, Jem is the founder of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS).

In 2014, Jem began to sense he had been emotionally dependent since the age of 16 on a story of meaning, focus and self-worth through helping society transform in the face of climate change. This insight came from taking to heart the latest climate science and no longer resisting doubt, grief and despair. In 2016 he gave a speech to climate scientists that outlined a “deep adaptation” agenda to the climate tragedy.

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Engaging the Climate Tragedy

When discussing the sorry state of efforts to address climate change with professionals working on this topic, across sectors, I often hear a reluctance to question whether it is too late to avert catastrophic climate change, or what such a view might mean for the focus of our work. Various objections to this view are raised and prevent open discussion or an evolution of work. Therefore, I decided to deliver a speech at a leading climate business and finance event in Australia, at Griffith University, to seek feedback on my argument that we must now shift focus.

In my keynote, Nov 29th, I’m outlining the following:

  1. There has been some progress on environmental issues in past decades, from reducing pollution, to habitat preservation, to waste management.
  2. Much valiant effort has been made to reduce carbon emissions over the last twenty years.
  3. There have been many steps forward on climate and carbon management, from awareness, to policies, to innovations.
  4. Larger and quicker steps must be taken and can be now that there is COP21 and major Chinese engagement on the issue.
  5. To support the maintenance and scaling of these efforts is essential.
  6. Small steps have been taken on adaptation to climate changes, such as flood defences and planning laws.
  7. Yet these steps on climate mitigation and adaptation are like walking up a landslide. If the landslide had not already begun, then quicker and bigger steps would get us to the top of where we want to be. But the latest climate data, emissions data and data on the spread of carbon-intensive lifestyles tell us that the landslide has already begun.

That the ground is already moving beneath our feet is summarised thus:

  1. The politically permissible scientific consensus is that we need to stay beneath 2 degrees warming of global ambient temperatures to avoid dangerous and uncontrollable levels of climate change, with impacts such as mass starvation, disease, flooding, storm destruction, migration and war
  2. If the world does not keep further anthropogenic emissions below a total of 1,300 billion tonnes of carbon, we won’t keep average temperatures below that 2 degrees warming.
  3. If we are not already on the path to dramatic reductions we will not keep within this limit.
  4. We are not on such a path, with emissions still at around 40 million tonnes of CO2 a year and the decoupling of growth from emissions minimal.
  5. The uncertainties on the edge of scientific consensus do not suggest a respite, with some increased carbon sequestration through increased vegetation not as significant as the methane emissions not factored into most models, and where Arctic warming is already progressing beyond even the most extreme predictions.
  6. Therefore, we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war.
  7. The implication is that we need to expand our climate work into a deep adaptation agenda, including resilience, relinquishment and restoration while learning why this tragedy is occurring.

I will explain more about that deep adaptation agenda in a moment. I realise that at this point the reader, or listener, might feeling a bit affronted, disturbed, or saddened. In the past few years, many people have said to me that “it can’t be too late to stop climate change, because if it was, how would we find the energy to keep on striving for change?” With such views, a possible reality is denied to permit a continued striving which has its rationale, therefore, not in serving the expressed goal but in maintaining self-identities related to espoused values. This form of denial is different from outright climate denial, but is also unhelpful, as John Foster argues well in his book After Sustainability (2015).

It is emotionally difficult at first, but we need to move beyond that pretence if we are to remain relevant. In doing so, we open ourselves up to discuss a ‘deep adaptation’ agenda as well as exploring why this tragedy has begun and why we have been so poor at responding effectively. I will make some brief comments on these topics before concluding with some thoughts on how we evolve our research accordingly.

A deep adaptation agenda will involve increasing resilience, relinquishment and restoration Resilience involves people and communities better coping with disruptions. Examples include how river catchments can better cope with rains, or how buildings can better cope with floods. What I’m calling relinquishment, involves people and communities letting go of certain assets, behaviours and beliefs where retaining them could make matters worse. Examples include withdrawing from coastlines or giving up expectations for certain types of consumption. Restoration involves people and communities rediscovering attitudes and approaches to life and organisation that the hydrocarbon-fuelled civilisation eroded. Examples include re-wilding landscapes so they provide more ecological benefits and require less management, or increased community-level productivity and support.

There will be increasing discussion about what is to be learned from the tragedy of climate change, and honest inquiry existing alongside strategic attempts at framing disruption, degradation and loss to maintain one’s relative power in society.  Disruption, degradation and collapse will be framed by different people as a resulting from foreigners, capitalism, industrialism, individualism, consumerism, patriarchy, anthropomorphism, secularism, liberalism, progressivism, and atomism (where we see things as separate). We are even seeing framing of disruption by religious fundamentalists, who, to my knowledge, don’t discuss climate but seek to respond to the disruption it has already caused. One study by Columbia University argues that in Syria, the worst drought in 100s of years, made worse by climate change, led to 1.5 million people being displaced from their lives in rural areas and increased food prices in cities. Some radical Islamists were able to thrive in this situation with their explanations of cause and solution, replacement stories of personal identity and purpose, and offers of sustenance.

My own analysis is that the West’s response as restricted by the dominance of neoliberal economics since the 1970s. That led to hyper-individualist, market fundamentalist, incremental and atomistic approaches. By hyper-individualist, I mean a focus on individual action as consumers, switching light bulbs or buying sustainable furniture, rather than promoting political action as engaged citizens. By market fundamentalist, I mean a focus on market mechanisms like the complex, costly and largely useless carbon cap and trade systems, rather than exploring what more government intervention could achieve. By incremental, I mean a focus on celebrating small steps forward such as a company publishing a sustainability report, rather than strategies designed for a speed and scale of change suggested by the science. By atomistic, I mean a focus on seeing climate action as a separate issue from the governance of markets, finance and banking, rather than exploring what kind of economic system could permit or enable sustainability.

Given this context, while the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the culture they reflect are helpful for non-climate related matters, given the systemic nature of the impacts of global warming, they may be ill-focused. Instead “minimum survival goals” would be more appropriate, to reduce the rate of increase in starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war. We don’t need consensus on that, but a shift right now from those who have a professional income, skill set and network to work on matters broadly related to climate change and its effects.

The implications for researchers working on climate issues, whether on campaigning, policy, business, finance, include asking the following questions:

On other’s research:

“How might these findings inform efforts for a more massive & urgent transformation to resilience & relinquishment in face of collapse?”

On one’s own research:

“If I didn’t believe in incremental incorporation of climate concerns into current organisations and systems, what might I want to know more about?”

“How might neglected theories of political economy suggest I inquire into this or related topics?”

To explore some of these ideas further, my recent writings may be of interest, on implications for the future of the climate debate, on what sustainability leadership involves, on how we need to heal capitalism, and how we need to ask ourselves tough questions if we consider ourselves climate activists. Better still, these publications will help you explore this emerging “post-sustainability” paradigm:

Benson, M. and Craig, R. (2014) ‘The End of Sustainability’, Society and Natural Resources 27; 777-782

Foster, J. (2015) After Sustainability (Abingdon: Earthscan from Routledge)

Hamilton, C. (2010) Requiem for a Species (London: Earthscan)

Hamilton, C. et al. (eds.) (2015) The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis (Abingdon: Routledge)

Jamieson, D. (2014)  Reason in a Dark Time (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Mulgan, T. (2011) Ethics for a Broken World  (Durham: Acumen)

As the point of no return can’t be fully known until after the event, ambitious work on reducing carbon must increase. But a new front of work on deep adaptation is as important today. Understandable emotional traumas from realising the tragedy that is coming, and in many ways upon us already, shouldn’t prevent us from exploring what this probable reality could mean for our choices now. Moreover, from social psychology, there is some evidence to suggest that by focusing on impacts now, it makes climate change more proximate, which increases support for mitigation.

In my talk at Griffith I explore more about the nature and future of leadership in light of this assessment of the climate tragedy.

More on the event is here.

UPDATE: Until June 1st 2018 I am receiving PhD applications on the topic of deep adaptation, connected to either organisational studies, policy or sociological disciplines, for starting Oct 1st 2018. Either based in Cumbria or remote working, full time or part time. There are no scholarships for these. Fees information from http://www.cumbria.ac.uk If you have a masters degree and are interested in this topic and self fund, then please drop me a note.

Future lines of debate and action on climate

Last week’s climate summit and week of side events in New York got people talking about climate change. But I looked at the 400,000 person march with a heavy heart. The climate science has moved on. It was hinted at by Leonardo DiCaprio in his speech to the UN, when he mentioned the plumes of methane rising from the ocean floor. What’s been happening in the Arctic the last few years is far beyond even the worst case predictions. It amounts to localised 5 degree warming already, and the summer pack ice disappearing in the next few years, when just 7 years ago we were told by scientific consensus that might happen in the 22nd century. The warming in the Arctic has been exponential. There are signs that this is already affecting the frozen methane on the sea floor, leading to methane release into the atmosphere. Over 20 years, methane is 84 times more potent than CO2 in greenhouse effect. Mass release of methane is a mechanism that scientists have known for years was the cause of the last mass extinction, the Permian, which ended 95% of species on Earth. (For videos on this, see Last Hours, or 10 minutes of this)

Given this information, the future debate about climate will be very different to what was considered appropriate in either the conference centres or on the streets of Manhattan last week. It is this future debate that we need to explore ourselves, urgently, even if politicians, businesses, and mainstream environmental groups are not ready to yet.

On the sidelines, I’m seeing four future lines of debate and action on climate: profound change, emergency response, local resilience, and transcendence.

Profound Change is the theme we heard from Naomi Klein, Leonardo DiCaprio and others in recent weeks. The argument is that the efforts to incorporate climate concerns into current economic systems has failed to have any significant impact on aggregate carbon emissions. The arguments that such approaches are “pragmatic” and “non-ideological” no longer have any evidence to support them. Instead, the only intellectually or morally sound environmentalism is now an explicitly revolutionary one, that seeks to change our political economic systems. Ideally, peacefully – I’ve not heard of any one calling for armed struggle! Klein’s new book (This Changes Everything) explores this Profound Change analysis.

Emergency is another approach to the latest climate science, whereby people think that a Profound Change in political or economic system is not sufficient, as we are now on course to experience abrupt climate change within the lifetimes of humans already borne. Therefore, such as emergency paradigm starts with calls for urgent geoengineering to cool the arctic to save our civilisation and even our species. The argument is that the risks are now so great that we have to take the risk to geo-engineer. The call becomes one not only of scientific research and experimentation, but also for intergovernmental frameworks for implementing such an approach and dealing with possible damaging consequences for some peoples and regions. This emergency approach can also trigger discussion about how to deal with climate-induced collapses in societies, including humanitarian responses and security responses. For instance, this could include new roles for atomic energy agencies to bring nuclear plants to cold shut down in situations of social and economic collapse. Authors exploring these ideas include Mark Lynas (The God Species) and several writers in The Ecologist. While people thinking within the emergency paradigm are often talking about physical adaptation, such as higher sea walls, they are not often discussing deeper psychological adaptation to climate change, which is where two other lines of debate come in.

Local Resilience is a third approach I have been hearing on the sidelines. This is when people consider that it is too late to avert a collapse in the current civilisation due to catastrophic climate change, even if profound change occurs in our economic systems and geoengineering is underway. A belief in near-term collapse leads to people focusing on what forms of life could be sustained, what values and aspirations might help up in a transition to that different way of life. This isn’t the well-known agenda of transition to a post carbon world, but a transition to a way of life where basic facets of our current societies no longer exist, such as the nation state, industrial agriculture, pharmaceutical drugs, and so on. The film Collapse introduced the world to the late Michael Ruppert, who expressed this view quite eloquently. Some of the more radical elements of the Transition Towns movement give space to this line of argument, as do authors like John Foster (After Sustainability), Charles Eisenstein (The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible), and projects like Dark Mountain, that encourage new cultures to emerge to help in this traumatic transition ahead. A key insight from this approach is how to not make things worse through attachments to ways of life and values. Are brands, properties, or nationalities so important? There are many things that we hold to be true and important in our societies which we need to be better at letting go of.

Transcendence is the name I’ll offer for a fourth line in the emerging debate on climate. It is when one allows oneself to consider that near-term extinction of the human race is now probable. Obviously to most people that is a harrowing and saddening thought. In my experience most people, like myself, attempt various forms of denial when faced with this idea. Many consider it would imply fatalism and risk states of despair, depression and inaction. However, those who do accept this analysis, at least for reasons of intellectual and emotional exploration, are finding a range of different insights result. For people like me, who since 15 years of age defined self-worth in terms of contributing towards sustainability and protecting the climate, this process can be extremely destabilising, involving some grief. Yet despair can be transformative. It can lead you to transcend your previous sense of self, and allow a new one to emerge, less framed by attachment to notions of self-worth or progress. Others may find they stop working on sustainability altogether. Others may enter depression, especially if they cannot cope without a story of self-efficacy. This line of debate is difficult for me to describe at this time, but appears to emphasise that we reflect on fundamental questions about the meaning of our lives and the meaning of life itself. Some will turn to religion for answers, and yet others will find existing religious explanations as fundamentally limited in how they address such dilemmas. The writings of Carolyn Baker (Collapsing Consciously) explore these issues, by deriving insights from hospice care. I think the writings of others who study what we learn from suffering will also be helpful in this line of thinking, such as those of Mark Matousek.

I recently brought these hidden debates on climate science into the classroom with our mature students at IFLAS. Most have been engaged for years on matters of social and environmental progress. None of the four perspectives I outline above suggest that “progress” has a future. As such, these ideas can destabilise one’s sense of self. I’ve always believed that real education is of the heart and soul as well as the mind… I just didn’t think it would have to involve such a difficult topic. I’m informed that the potential trauma from certain perspectives on climate science is not something that therapists have been widely discussing or have experience with treating. The climate category on “Therapy Today” indicate something of the state of the debate in this profession. I realise many people will shy away from this debate, and instead return to positive things such as the price of solar falling below that of coal. At a subconsious level people who do that will know they are simply changing the subject from what the latest climate science is suggesting about the changes we are already locked in to. Denial may be tenacious, but wont last.

I’ve mapped out here 4 lines of debate on climate science and action that were largely hidden during last week’s events on climate change in New York because I find them bubbling up in more and more conversations, and after broaching this subject I feel a responsibility to provide further information. There will likely be more lines of debate. There are also insights that can be blended from each. For instance, perhaps some forms of geoengineering could be supported by those who think that it’s too late to save this civilisation or the human race. One thing I am convinced about already is that many of our current institutions, including things as basic as our monetary institutions, are not designed to help us address this tragic new agenda. I am also convinced the more that senior decision-makers are attached to the idea of being good and self-efficacious, and being seen to be such, the more they will make things worse for humanity. Instead, we need people to approach this difficult time with greater humility, equanimity, gratitude, inquisitiveness, compassion, love, playfulness and hope. I am also convinced that the institutions we have created in our political, economic and social sphere have not promoted such qualities within them or to the top roles. So the greatest leadership challenge I see today is therefore one of unlearning a lot of deluded notions about self, success, and progress.

If this stuff is new to you, I recommend you talk to someone about it.

Im not a therapist.. If you think you might benefit from talking to one, here are a couple of links relevant to UK readers:

http://www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk/therapists/

http://www.emdrassociation.org.uk/home/index.htm