Can you escape sustainable development?

This is the text of a newsletter sent to people who receive my irregular updates (that go out once or twice a year)

As you registered for my irregular update, a good guess is that you are interested in sustainable development – the concept for social and environmental progress that took off since the 1992 Earth Summit. So, in opening this update (my first since March last year), I’d like to clear up something: sustainable development is a lie. It has been a successful one because it helps middle class professionals earn salaries while pretending that’s for them caring about the world. Not only does all the recent data point to the failure to improve the world by spreading one economic model, but that failure was widely predicted decades ago. People like me ignored such critique because we wanted to believe something else. Why? Not because it was good for wildlife, landscapes and the poor. We wanted to believe because it was convenient with our careers to develop, consumer lifestyles to lead, houses to buy and kids to bring up. Ouch. But I’m tired of the mix of pseudo-concern and pseudo-professionalism that surrounds me in the sustainability field. Fortunately, many of us won’t pretend anymore. I was one of hundreds of scholars who signed a public letter last year that stated sustainable development is a redundant framework. I wrote about it in the Independent newspaper and presented that letter at a UN conference. My research paper on the subject was published, perhaps ironically, in the peer reviewed journal Sustainability. And I also summarised it in the ‘End of Sustainable Development’ essay.

So what? Well, if we admit failure, then we can begin to learn and try to become useful in a different way. Although most experts are stuck within the sustainable development framework, more are now exploring how to be useful from a post-sustainability perspective. I was delighted to teach some of them on a leadership and communications course last year, and so am offering it again. If you are ready to speak out professionally or publicly on the need to prepare for societal disruption (and even collapse) then please consider joining a free online course that I co-teach. The application deadline for one that is suited for the Americas and Australia is this coming Friday. The deadline for the one suitable for Europe and Africa is next month. Alternatively, I will teach a similar course with the University of Cumbria online in November. You would need to sign up to my blog to receive notification as soon as those applications are opened.

You’re right if you sense that I am not writing this update to please my readers. Many of my former peers in the corporate sustainability field are not keen on my outlook. Perhaps because of professional and psychological investments in stories of reform, it might be pointless for me to communicate with the sustainability sector. But just in case, I had ‘one last hurrah’ by co-hosting panels and speaking at the COP27 climate conference in Egypt. I was pleased to platform Mexican indigenous activist Xiye Bastida, Kenyan climate scholar Dr Stella Nyambura Mbau, Canadian climate adaption innovator Dr Ye Tao, and climate adaptation scholar Dr Lisa Schipper. I gave mini speeches on the corporate capture of the climate agenda, the need for climate honesty about catastrophic scenarios, and for more serious attention to adaptation, as well why the idea of a “climate scam” is becoming popular. I also launched the Scholars’ Oath to the Future, on which a film is being made. In the run up to COP27, I examined some of the latest climate science and produced a somewhat contrarian essays on the topic for the publication Brave New Europe. I was interested to see my work begin to crop up in more mainstream outlets like the Economist, but a really serious engagement with this outlook still seems beyond both mainstream experts, media and policy makers. Because unless your primary concern is truth and justice, then it’s easier to shoot the messenger – something I’ll return to in a moment.  

The Deep Adaptation Q&As continued over the past year and can be viewed here. You can join us for the next one with Satish Kumar, where we will be discussing his new book Radical Love as well as implications of anticipating societal collapse. On June 18th, Satish will be joining me and Extinction Rebellion co-founder Skeena Rathor in Glastonbury (just before the festival) for the launch of my book Breaking Together. I will also be presenting some of the ideas in Bristol (UK) on June 16th, with the Schumacher Institute. To be notified as soon as registrations open, and to receive a link to a free copy of my book when it is released, you need to be subscribed to my blog. An additional way of being kept up-to-date with news, views and resources on Deep Adaptation is to receive the free quarterly.

Over the past year, I continued to put essays on my blog for people who are interested in navigating the collapse of modern societies in kinder and wiser ways, both personally and politically. There weren’t many people on the environmental left who questioned the orthodoxies on either climate or Covid, and so I considered it a useful contribution to provide heavily referenced essays on those topics, despite inevitable pushback. Below, I list some of the essays and what they were about. For the previous couple of years, I had accepted the advice not to formally challenge misrepresentations of my work in magazines and simply maintain a focus on helping connect and advise those who resonated with this work. However, as a belief in progress crumbles in society, people could become vulnerable to manipulation and if anti-establishment pro-local responses like those coming from the Deep Adaptation are marginalised then it won’t help. Therefore, for the first time I used formal processes of complaint. I was pleased to obtain a retraction from the New Internationalist for some of their arguments. Rather than hear Western journalists in such magazines tell us that collapse anticipation is bad for the poor, I recommend we listen to Southern scholars and activists themselves, for whom collapse is not such an objectionable way of interpreting the situation at all (eg. Dr Nyambura Mbau). The objections to collapse-anticipation are most vociferous from the ecomodernist middle classes who want to have their planetary cake and eat it too. Speaking of which, I was also pleased that openDemocracy issued a clarification to their major essay that had attacked the Deep Adaptation analysis and response 2 years ago. Away from the magazines and newspapers, the various strands of academia are taking collapse-anticipation far more seriously, with one review finding the Deep Adaptation paper was cited nearly 300 times in a range of related research.

A deeply troubling arena of polarisation is the discussion about pandemic responses. After looking at the latest analysis, I regard long Covid as potentially extremely bad for society at large, not only for the unfortunate sufferers. I remain sceptical of the orthodox response that prioritised masks, lockdowns and novel vaccines over myriad other measures, such as nutrition, supplements, repurposed medicines, ventilation, and helping workers with symptoms stay home without losing income or job security. I remain outraged at the way the orthodoxy was driven by the interests of large pharmaceutical companies, and imposed by members of the establishment using coercion, censorship and demonisation of expert dissent. I also remain saddened by how many people who said they were committed to reducing harm and hate during societal disruption became aggressive advocates of the pharma-agenda. One journalist tried to argue that the lyrics to my comedy folk song “Something’s Needling Me” were medical misinformation. I was pleased the publisher of the magazine agreed that those criticisms were unsubstantiated and issued corrections. They also published my letter of response. Sadly, the bubble of mainstream misinformation has yet to be popped so I am still on the receiving end of vitriol such as a Guardian journalist with half a million followers stating I “sprayhose” people “with lethal disinformation.” I can’t fathom how many journalists, politicians and celebrities live in an alternate reality where the latest data and science on the pandemic responses does not reach them. Even if their online experience is secretly curated by US bigtech on behalf of big pharma, they could easily do a bit of digging for themselves or talk to scientists with different conclusions to the orthodoxy. The longer this avoidance of reasonable discussion on the breadth of data and science on the pandemic and its responses, then the more fundamental a rejection of the individuals and their organisations will likely be. The ramifications for all other areas of public policy are difficult to predict.

Apart from promoting the Breaking Together book and teaching a bit, this year I’m looking forward to getting back to music as well as developing my small agroforestry farm in collaboration with the local university and organic farming charity. After supporting a community seaweed farming initiative last year, I want to do more of what can be done rather than critique what shouldn’t.

To discuss any of the themes in this update, visit:

Climate-related essays

Don’t be a climate user – an essay on climate science communication – where I discuss the way ‘committed warming’ from past emissions is being unscientifically played down to maintain a narrative.

Boring Averages and Climate Brightsiding – big mistakes in climate comms during #ClimateWeek – where I summarise some of the key arguments in my two extended essays for Brave New Europe.  

Where Wisdom and Geoengineering Meet – where I discuss my Q&A with the originator of MEER reflection project to try and achieve some locally-controlled solar radiation management.

Capitalism Versus Climate Justice – thoughts on my first and last experience of climate COP – where I discuss why I went to COP and the presentations I made there, and why it fails.

When #ClimateScam is Trending –rethinking climate comms – the text of one of my speeches at COP27 where I call for climate experts to move beyond technocratic, pseudo-positive and authoritarian attitudes.

The Lamborghini-Loving Culture Kills Life on Earth, but the Conference of Profits (COP) is fine with that- where I discuss the corporate capture of the climate agenda – past, present and future.

Climate Honesty – are we ‘beyond catastrophe’? – where I critique the baseless argument that the climate establishment is making any real progress on mitigating climate change.

Sustainability-related essays

What has the UN Disaster Risk Reduction agency got to do with you? – the full transcript of an interview I did with a journalist from the Independent.

Telling Uncomfortable Truths to Progressives – where I discuss the misguided ecomodernist agenda that is being aggressively promoted with the centre-left of politics, and host deputy leader of Lancaster City Council to explain.

Hoarding Green Righteousness Will Not Get Us Far – dialogue will – where I host XR co-founder Skeena Rathor in her rebuttal to the criticisms of Deep Adaptation from ecomodernists.

Let’s have faith in reality and humanity, not the tired hopes of modernity – where I discuss the mistaken assumptions of those who argue for the need to have hope in maintaining progress.

Don’t blame Putin or Covid for your sky-high grocery bill – where I summarise how a particular type of Quantitative Easing that benefited large corporations is the cause of the ongoing inflation.

Towards a 5th R in the Deep Adaptation Framework? – Where I discuss insights arising from a Q&A with Reverend Lauren Van Ham.

Pandemic-related essays

As Covid is here to stay – an excerpt from Breaking Together, forthcoming 2023 offers my summary of the latest science about the disease, its effects, the responses, and their effects.

Rulers or Pets? Some history on their relative threat to your health – is an unedited excerpt from my forthcoming book Breaking Together, where I discuss the phenomenon of ‘elite panic’ and how it often makes matters worse in a crisis.

It’s not too late to stop being a tool of oppression – where I summarise some of the most important science on Covid which undermines the authoritarian approach that was taken by many governments worldwide.

They’ve gone too far with the children – so what do we do?  – where I summarise the science against Covid vaccination for children and the appalling abrogation of duty of officials in leading institutions to protect the health, wellbeing and rights of children.

To discuss any of the themes in this update, visit:

Would even an infinite fund on loss and damage be enough?

This is the Editorial of the final Deep Adaptation Quarterly of 2022.

The COP27 climate conference announcement of a new fund, of unknown quantity, for the loss and damage occurring due to climate chaos, means it might appear that politicians and bureaucrats are finally getting real about how bad the situation is. So could they be catching up with the ‘Deep Adapters’? Unfortunately, no fund will ever be able to recompense the loss and damage that is being suffered – and will be suffered – from the impacts of climate and ecological breakdown. No international currency, bank, or payment system will likely survive the extent of disruption when impacts of global heating really kick in. I am just back from my first and last climate conference, and not only experienced it as an exercise in denial but one that is made impenetrable by the numbers of people and resources maintaining it in myriad ways. Even critics of COP27, and climate policies more generally, have their budgets, wages, skills, and status tied to the story of ultimate salvation from climate chaos. A consequence of this denial is not looking at the root causes of our predicament. Which might also be a reason for the denial. So let’s go there…

Continue reading “Would even an infinite fund on loss and damage be enough?”

Capitalism Versus Climate Justice – thoughts on my first and last experience of climate COP

In the run up to COP27 climate conference, The Economist magazine declared it has become impossible to limit global warming to an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Many analysts of the relevant science have said as much for a few years. We were dismissed as too negative and so our ideas on what to do were therefore marginalized. Sadly, warming beyond 1.5C means that climate change will become far more damaging to societies. Even worse, due to a range of amplifying feedbacks that are impossible to have certainty about, no one can credibly claim anymore that human actions to cut and drawdown carbon, while still important, will certainly work to stop or reverse the changes. When people take that situation to heart, it can challenge the societies and systems that brought us to this point. For many, it is a fundamentally radicalizing realization. Although The Economist cited my views in one of their articles, rather predictably it didn’t provide space for the kind of criticism of capitalism and the global order that can ensue.

Continue reading “Capitalism Versus Climate Justice – thoughts on my first and last experience of climate COP”

When #ClimateScam is Trending –rethinking climate comms

Text of speech delivered at COP27, Nov 9th 2022, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, by Prof Jem Bendell. Check against delivery. The video of the speech:

“We have a communications problem. Just as political support for climate action is growing, so political resistance to climate action is also growing. The use of the hashtag #ClimateScam has exploded since July of this year. From never exceeding more than 3,000 tweets in any month up to June 2022, it has been used 70,000-100,000 times per month in the four months since. Compare that to the hashtag #ClimateJustice, which has averaged about 30,000 tweets per month for the last two years and almost hit 100,000 unique tweets in the month of COP26 in Glasgow, with all the world’s media attention. But now? #ClimateScam is being used two and a half times for every #ClimateJustice tweet throughout the last 4 months. These twitter trends are one indicator of a growing resistance to climate action.

Continue reading “When #ClimateScam is Trending –rethinking climate comms”

The Lamborghini-Loving Culture Kills Life on Earth, but the Conference of Profits (COP) is fine with that.

Today I co-hosted a panel of women activists from the Global South, at COP27 in Egypt. We addressed a half-empty press conference room. I closed the session by condemning the charade that these conferences have become. As the live stream link wasn’t provided to us by the UN, I used my camera phone.

The video of my closing:

The transcript of my comments:

“It is important to remember that charity is not justice. If one side has no power, then there is no negotiation. Which can’t lead to justice. Which then can’t lead to healing.”

“This is the only Lamborghini I’ll ever want to own. I’ll tell you why in a moment. Here we are at the epicentre of blah blah blah and failure. We even hear that now from the main speeches. But we don’t hear why. As if it’s just a failure of people not knowing enough or not enough charismatic leadership. I believe something else is to blame.

Continue reading “The Lamborghini-Loving Culture Kills Life on Earth, but the Conference of Profits (COP) is fine with that.”

Climate Honesty – are we ‘beyond catastrophe’?

This is an essay that responds critically to the widely read piece in the New York Times that appears to be calming the nerves of climate professionals at COP27 and beyond. It is a 20-minute read.

In the last couple of years some climatologists have been reassuring us that although the storms, floods, droughts, ice loss and temperature extremes are all worse and sooner than was predicted by the consensus science, the future for humanity might not be as bad as previously predicted. We are told it’s not so bad that it’s already so bad. The scientific basis for such a view was always a bit shaky, partly as it involved speculating that existing trends would not continue, while downplaying how natural feedbacks are already amplifying heating more than previously calculated. But another reason for those reassurances being shaky is that they have relied on the subjective and sometimes arbitrary choices by computer modellers, which are made within a context where colleagues, funders, bureaucrats, politicians and journalists all want to hear findings that they can work with. Instead, if we look at the geological records of past climates with greenhouse gas concentrations like today, we might expect a world average temperature rising from our current 15C to around 18C due to greenhouse gases that humanity has already added to the atmosphere. Or if we simply look at CO2 concentrations over recent years, we are tracking a graph that lands us at between 3.3C to 5.7C of warming by the end of the century, according to the cautious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC). That would mean an uninhabitable Earth for most of the children being born today.

Continue reading “Climate Honesty – are we ‘beyond catastrophe’?”

4 years ago: “climate change is now a planetary emergency posing an existential threat to humanity”

4 years ago today, I gave a keynote speech at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Soon after, a section of the talk was featured by the campaign group Extinction Rebellion (before they became famous).

Here is a transcript of a section of that speech:

“The Sustainable Development Goals offer one framework on public need. And we will hear of a range of efforts on different SDGs from our panellists. But I’d like to invite us to consider something bolder, more urgent. Although climate change is included in the SDGs, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change invites a reprioritisation. It implies that climate change is now a planetary emergency posing an existential threat to humanity. The artist who made this ceiling said he was inspired by a mirage in the Sahel where trees, donkeys and people all appeared to be melting up into the sky. We could take that a dramatic metaphor, in this human rights room, of the human face of climate change. So as our climate spirals away from one friendly to our civilisation, we need to face up to why we have been so incapable of changing our ways, collectively, at scale.

Continue reading “4 years ago: “climate change is now a planetary emergency posing an existential threat to humanity””

Join some events with compassionate realists

Having founded the Deep Adaptation Forum in 2019 to help collapse-aware people to support each other and develop helpful practices and responses, this day two years ago I left, so that it would be an initiative shaped by its participants. It was heartening, therefore, to receive an update from them today, highlighting some of the participant-led activities that are coming up. In case you don’t know about what they do, here is that update. I recommend joining something, or even proposing something. As climate anxiety grows, yet experts denigrate us for compassionate realism, it is important we give ourselves opportunities to experience how brilliant human beings can be.

Continue reading “Join some events with compassionate realists”

Invitation to Sign an Oath to the Future

The following invitation is being sent to scholars around the world in the run up to COP27 in Egypt.

Dear Scholar,

Nearly two years ago over 500 of us from over 30 countries signed a public letter to coincide with the 5th anniversary of the Paris Climate Accord. We wrote:

“As scientists and scholars from around the world, we call on policymakers to engage openly with the risk of disruption and even collapse of our societies. After five years of failing to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris Climate Accord, we must now face the consequences. While bold and fair efforts to cut emissions and naturally drawdown carbon are essential, researchers in many areas now consider societal collapse to be a credible scenario this century… Only if policymakers begin to discuss this threat of societal collapse might communities and nations begin to prepare and so reduce its likelihood, speed, severity, harm to the most vulnerable, and to nature.”

Over the last two years we have seen climate impacts worsen, emissions climb again, methane levels jump, the science become more worrying, and the political mood darken in many countries. We have also seen the ongoing commercialisation of climate responses, the public sugar-coating of problematic science, and concerted denigration of people who focus on radical economic change to prepare for inevitable disruptions. The climate summits have morphed into career fests and trade shows at the end of the world as we know it. Although we are unlikely to change the huge systems that incentivise poor responses from professionals in this field, we can commit to learn and support each other in taking a different path.

Continue reading “Invitation to Sign an Oath to the Future”

Towards a 5th R in the Deep Adaptation Framework?

In the last few years a few people have suggested additional “Rs” for the 4 questions that comprise the Deep Adaptation framework for reflection and dialogue within an expectation or situation of societal disruption and collapse. As the idea of DA is used with groups around the world, various new ideas on what it means and what personal and group practices are relevant are emerging. One new R that I learned about recently is “Reverence.” That is what Reverend Lauren Van Ham adds to the framework as she uses it for the past couple of years with seminarians and faith-based communities. In my recent Q&A I asked her what a question might be that relates to Reverence, as I think DA involves inquiry, rather than simple answers. That is because societies and people are diverse, and an environmental breakdown affects all of it and, ultimately, everyone, thereby making generalised recommendations somewhat problematic!

Continue reading “Towards a 5th R in the Deep Adaptation Framework?”