Avoiding Davos Disease as Climate Activists

In announcing the theme for Davos 2020, the Executive Chairman at the World Economic Forum (WEF) explained that: “People are revolting against the economic ‘elites’ they believe have betrayed them…”

In case you didn’t realise, Professor Klaus Schwab, was not welcoming the news. He was not celebrating the uprising of people calling for a different economic system in the face of a climate and ecological crisis driven by the industrial consumer society. Instead, he was warning the delegates to Davos of the threat to the system that sustains their privilege. That is important to understand, as it frames any potential response that WEF and its delegates may have to the climate activists who are attending the summit this year. It may seem sensible to engage the world’s elites in the pursuit of rapid change, but having tried it myself for years, the evidence supporting such an approach is sparse. I’ll explain why, before switching gear to what activists could consider instead.

I remember when Professor Schwab welcomed me as one of the “Young Global Leaders” to Davos in 2013, telling us that there was nothing wrong with being elite. I remember thinking that depends on how much exploitation, injustice and environmental degradation keeps us in such luxury, and whether we have the wrong kind of influence in the world. Why would he warn elites of the growing backlash today? It is partly an invitation for them to try harder at addressing world problems. As the science and impacts of climate change worsen every month, Professor Schwab said “…our efforts to keep global warming limited to 1.5°C are falling dangerously short.” He painted a worrying scenario as the context for launching a new “Davos Manifesto” on the role of business in society. Take a look at the text, and the manifesto appears positive, for inviting company executives to focus more on global problems like climate change than profit maximisation. Yet a closer look reveals that the Forum and its approach to the world’s climate disaster is either ineffectual or, worse, actually anti-transformative for its distraction from what’s really needed.

In the Davos Manifesto, nothing is declared about changing the system that is leading us into an ecological nightmare. There is nothing in the manifesto about firms not undermining democracy or the role of the state in making the necessary interventions in markets, to promote social justice, while reducing inequality and environmental destruction. Therefore, the Davos Manifesto ignores the cause of the problems it supposedly responds to. The final section of the manifesto calls for global corporations to be more positively engaged in global affairs. That may sound fine to people who do not see how global capitalism has been driving us towards disaster. But it demonstrates how its authors didn’t consider whether a belief in democratic representation means there is a problem with global firms exerting more global influence.

Could something change if elites realise that the economic system itself needs to change? Some might hope that. They could point to how Davos is welcoming some representatives from protest movements this year. Fresh-faced activists might be seduced for a moment by the idea that they can save humanity with some choice words over canapes. Yet the WEF has always welcomed a few activists and contrarians to help legitimate its panels on global issues. Those same panels give corporate heads and neoliberal economists yet another platform to spin their limited narratives on whatever is the public concern at the top of the news cycle this year.

Activists need to learn from what hasn’t worked. They could talk to activists who have sought to engage elites for decades. The head of Amnesty, Kumi Naidoo told me that time I went to Davos that activists need to understand that access does not mean influence. Activists could also look at the history of how those in power typically do or don’t change the systems that sustain their privilege. In particular, climate activists need to learn about economics and power quickly enough to find pathways to change that have more track record than asking the heads of large organisations to change what they have no mandate to change. We haven’t got time for climate activists to catch “Davos disease” and think they can change the world by asking the current elites.

Once inside the corridors of power, activists may hear what I often heard at Davos events. “Oh, the critics like to complain, but they have no solutions to offer.” That is a convenient lie, as delegates try to reassure each other that they are decent and capable people, as the world they succeeded in begins to crumble around them. There were many more policy solutions for the world’s problems of poverty, inequality and conservation when we had a stable climate. Look at any Green Party manifesto from the late 1980s, and with such policies we might not have reached this crisis point now. Instead, organisations like the WEF and their members pushed for shrinking the state, extending markets and enabling global financial capitalism, with the mantra that economic growth would deliver us from all ills. I recall one Davos event where we were all handed little cards that asked us to reflect earnestly on one thing we could do “to contribute to economic growth.” As time passes I can laugh about it, but at the time, that card cut into my soul.

What are the solutions now, as the changing climate threatens to destabilise our societies? It is clearly more difficult after decades lost to neoliberal ideology. We still need economic transformation, but not to stop a disaster, just to help reduce harm and buy humanity some extra time. I explained in a blog for Extinction Rebellion (XR) some of the policy ideas for such a transformation. The kind of changes to rapidly achieve net zero carbon emissions are so drastic that they have to come with massive wealth redistribution policies, if they are not to lead to widespread revolt.

Yet we also need to admit that the threat of disruption that humanity now faces from climate change is unprecedented. A completely new paradigm of policy discussion is needed, which I call Deep Adaptation. Could incumbent elites join that process without bringing their outmoded ideologies about growth, progress, heroic entrepreneurship and technological supremacy? Having discussed with them at summits over the past decade, I seriously doubt it. As I wrote to executives who expressed support for XR, the best manifesto from business leaders would start with “we failed, we were wrong.”

So why bother talking about Davos at all?

I think the discussions in Davos offer a litmus test for where the incumbent power elites are at as they wake up to the scale of the disaster facing humanity. The initial results suggest they will keep repackaging the same self-soothing messages about using their power more caringly. Perhaps while quietly building a bunker, in the vain hope that their security guards will show up for work if society begins to fall apart.

Whatever the green initiatives from the WEF, our growing climate chaos proves the corporate model of running the world has failed. The only manifesto we need from Davos is to take their members’ money out of politics and media, and let ordinary people decide how to respond to a global crisis that current elites have presided over.

If any activists are reading this from Davos right now, I recommend you forget any hope that there will be meaningful action from delegates as a “class” of people working together in response to your concerns. Don’t succumb to that ‘Davos disease.’ Instead, look for potential rogues who could help you do what you have already decided is important. So head straight for the billionaires and ask for a completely untied donation for your grassroots activism. If they ask for some influence on what you are doing, tell them to go massage their ego with someone else. Then, afterwards, go find the few top charity, trade union and faith leaders that show up at Davos and discuss steps towards a global general strike that demands all employers place climate mitigation and adaptation ahead of either the growth of their business or profit maximisation.

Adapting deeply to likely collapse: an enhanced agenda for climate activists?

Last year an Extinction Rebellion handbook called “This is Not a Drill” was published by Penguin, featuring a chapter I wrote on Deep Adaptation, called “Doom and Bloom”. It has some important chapters, and you can order it here. My chapter was edited for length, and so here is the original submitted version. I release it on my blog to encourage discussions about climate activist movements, such as XR, FridaysForFuture and Sunrise, making adaptation to unfolding climate chaos a complementary focus to net carbon neutrality. Even top government advisors recognise that scale of government action on humanitarian relief, food security, disaster risk reduction, psychological support, and economic transformation, is insufficient to help us all adapt to the unfolding damage from extreme weather and its knock-on effects on our economic systems.xr da

Doom and Bloom? Adapting deeply to likely collapse.

Original version submitted  for the XR handbook This is Not a Drill.

Our climate is changing rapidly, destroying lives and threatening our future. We must act now to reduce harm and save what we can. In doing so we can rediscover what truly matters. That may seem less of a rallying cry than “this is our last chance to prevent disaster”. But I believe it is more truthful and will be more lasting. It will also invite less disillusionment over time. And help each of us to prepare. After all, when harvests collapse, we won’t be eating our placards. We will be relying on the love we have for each other and the ways we have prepared.

Scientists and activists have been shouting for the past fifteen years about the imminent disaster we are creating. The latest message is “we’ve only got 12 years” to prevent a disastrous 1.5 degrees of warming, but I’m not swayed any more. My reading of the latest data is that climate change has gone too far, too fast, with too much momentum, so that any talk of prevention is actually a form of denial of what is really happening. It is a difficult conclusion to arrive at. And a difficult one to live with. We have too little resilience in our agricultural, economic, and political systems to be able to cope. It is time to prepare, both emotionally and practically, for a disaster.

I am social scientist, not a climatologist. So who am I to spread panic and fear when the world’s top scientists say we have 12 years? Like many readers, I had assumed the authority on climate was the IPCC – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but it turns out they’ve been consistently underestimating the changes. In 2007 they said an ice-free Arctic was a possibility by 2100. That sounds far enough away to calm the nerves. But real-time measurements are documenting such rapid loss of ice that some of the world’s top climate scientists are saying it could be ice free in the next few years.

Sea-level rise is a good indicator of the rate of change, because it is affected by many factors. In 2007 satellite data showed a sea level rise of 3.3 mm per year. Yet that year the IPCC offered 1.94mm a year as the lowest mark of its estimate for sea-level rise. Yes, you’re right: that’s lower than what was already happening. It’s like standing up to your knees in flood water in your living room, listening to the forecaster on the radio saying she is not sure if the river will burst its banks. It turned out that when scientists could not agree on how much the melting polar ice sheets would be adding to sea-level rise, they left out the data altogether. Yeah, that’s so poor, it’s almost funny.

Once I realised that the IPCC couldn’t be taken as climate gospel, I looked more closely at some key issues. The Arctic looms large. It acts as the planet’s refrigerator, by reflecting sunlight back into space and by absorbing energy when the ice melts from solid to liquid. Once the Arctic Ice has gone and the dark ocean starts absorbing sunlight, the additional global warming blows the global 2-degree warming target out the window.

The implications even of small changes are immense for our agriculture, water and ecosystems. Even just one warmer summer in the northern hemisphere in 2018 reduced yields of wheat and staples like potatoes by about a quarter in the UK. Unlike other years, the unusual weather was seen across the northern hemisphere, with declines in rain-fed agriculture reported across Europe. Globally we only have grain reserves for about 4 months, so a few consecutive summers like 2018 and the predicted return of El Nino droughts in Asia could cause food shortages on a global scale.

Having gathered a pile of this information I concluded that our civilisation would struggle to hold itself together under such conditions. I hear many voices fending off despair with hopeful stories about technology, political revolution, or mass spiritual awakenings. But I cannot pin hopes on those things. We should be preparing for a social collapse. By that I mean an uneven ending of our normal modes of sustenance, security, pleasure, identity, meaning, and hope. It is very difficult to predict when a collapse would occur, especially given the complexity of our agricultural and economic systems. Yet everyone with whom I discussed this topic asked me for a prediction. So my guess is that within 10 years from now a social collapse, in some form, will have occurred in the majority of countries around the world.

Having worked for over 25 years in environmental sustainability, I found it hard to accept that my career added up to nothing; my sense of self was shaken because I had believed humanity would ‘win’ in the end. We had been walking up a landslide. I found myself regretting all the times I had settled for small changes when my heart was calling for large ones. I grieved how I may not grow old. I still grieve for those closest to me, and the fear and pain they may feel as their food, energy and social systems break down. Most of all I now grieve for the young, and the more beautiful world they will never inherit.

This realisation meant I began feeling the impermanence of everything in a far more tangible and immediate way than before. My attention had always been fixed in the future, but now arrived in the present, and I became aware as never before of other people and animals – of love, beauty, art, and expression. I was reminded of what my friend with terminal cancer had said about his experience of gratitude and wonder, and of the intense quality of our last meeting.

Over the past year I have met many people for whom an acceptance of the scale and imminence of the crisis has been transformative. They prioritise truth seeking and telling, inner exploration and self-discovery, self-expression and creativity, connection with others and nature, as well as cultivating their capacity for loving kindness. They are experience a renewed ability to live in what we could call ‘Expressive Presence’.

I am not the first to notice this phenomenon. The mystics have been talking about it for millennia. The Russian author Dostoevsky described the delicious intensity of the last moments before his false execution. I believe we all need to go through such a process, individually and collectively. Putting all our hopes in a better future allows us to make compromises in the present, while letting go of a better future can allow us to drop false hopes and live the present with more integrity. It might even make our activism more effective.

This is a book [This is Not a Drill] about a global rebellion to stop the rapid extinction of species and avert the possible extinction of our own. Being loving and more connected is wonderful but might seem a bit vague and inconsequential. What might we do, as publicly engaged citizens?

If our view is that societal collapse or breakdown is now likely due to climate change, might we communicate that view as widely as possible without offering a set of “answers” and action agendas? When talking with individuals and to small groups, I have witnessed, over and over, that there is a lot that people can gain from feeling lost and despairing before then piecing things back together for themselves, in their personal, professional and political lives. But speaking through the mass media to the general public is a different matter. The limitations of a superficial and combative approach from the news media are well known to those of us who hope for a more informed and engaged public. But on this topic, we have an additional problem. Our dominant culture hides the matter of death and dying away from daily life. The feeling we are part of a society and species that is perpetually improving helps to contain our fear of personal mortality. Without loving support of any kind, a sudden acceptance that collapse is now likely or inevitable in the not-so-distant future could trigger some ugly responses to difficult emotions. A quiet form of hysteria could lead to an outpouring of blame turning inward, and destructive tendencies. Some say this is already happening as people intuit how the story of humanity’s progress has lost its nourishing (or numbing) power.

My view is that normalising discussions about how to prepare for and soften collapse will benefit society. Only collective preparations have a serious chance of working. Deep Adaptation to climate change means asking ourselves and our leaders these four questions.

“How do we keep what we really want to keep?” is the first question to ask, as we seek resilience – the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances, so as to survive with valued norms and behaviours. To illustrate, here are some ideas that can considered for resilience. First, a likely collapse in rain-fed agriculture means governments need to prepare for how to ration some basic foodstuffs as well as supporting the rapid expansion of irrigated production of key crops like potatoes. Second, the way our financial markets will respond to the realisation of climate shocks is unpredictable and the risk is that our systems of both credit and payments could seize up. That means governments need to ensure we have electronic means of payment outside of the private banking system, so trade can continue if there is a financial collapse. Third, there are responses for resilience that will take a bit longer. For instance, and unfortunately, building desalinisation plants may be key across Southern Europe. Fourth, we should try to buy some more time. Many geoengineering ideas are highly dangerous and impractical. But one makes sense right now. We should be seeding and brightening the clouds above the Arctic immediately, as a global emergency response, similar in scale to how we would react if an Armageddon-sized meteor was hurtling towards Earth.

A second question to ask ourselves is “what do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?” This question helps us explore relinquishment, where people and communities will let go of certain assets, behaviours and beliefs where retaining them could make matters worse. Examples include withdrawing from coastlines, shutting down vulnerable industrial facilities, or giving up expectations for certain types of consumption. There will be the psychological challenge of how to help people who experience dread, grief and confusion. Many of us may be deeply affected by the falling away of our assumption of progress or stability. How do we plan our lives now? That will pose huge communications challenges, if we want to enable compassionate and collaborative responses from each other as much as possible. Helping people with psychological support to let go of some old attachments and aspirations will be important work.

“What can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?” is the third question I suggest guides our conversations about Deep Adaptation to our climate tragedy. It helps us explore the restoration of attitudes and approaches to life and organisation that our hydrocarbon-fuelled civilisation eroded. Examples include re-wilding landscapes, so they provide more ecological benefits and require less management, changing diets back to match the seasons, rediscovering non-electronically powered forms of play, and increased community-level productivity and support.

The fourth question I invite you to consider is “what could I make peace with to lessen suffering?” As we contemplate endings our thoughts turn towards reconciliation: with our mistakes, with death, and some would add, with God. We can also seek to be part of reconciliations between peoples with different political persuasions, religions, nations, genders, classes and generations. Without this inner Deep Adaptation to climate collapse we risk tearing societies apart.

Bold emissions cuts and carbon drawdown measures are still necessary to reduce as much as possible the mass extinction and human suffering of climate change, but we must also prepare for what is now inevitable. This Deep Adaptation Agenda takes us beyond mainstream narratives and initiatives on adaptation to climate change, as we no longer assume that society as we know it can continue.

Faced with these scenarios, some people react by calling for whatever-it-takes to be done to stop such a collapse. That is, to attempt whatever draconian measures might cut emissions and drawdown carbon in case it might stop the disaster. The problem is that such a perspective can quickly lead to calls for those with power to impose on people without it. For the powerful to satisfy themselves that they are doing needs to be done no matter what the implication for peoples’ lives and wellbeing. It is now clear that there will be tough decisions ahead. But rather than suggest we can sacrifice our values for a chance to survive, instead we can make universal love our compass as we enter an entirely new physical and psychological terrain.

People often ask me where is the hope in my rather dark analysis of our situation – what vision Deep Adaptation offers to its adherents. I cannot honestly hope for a better future, so instead I’m hoping for a better present. I’m earning less money and instead I’m eating better and feeling better. I’m not compromising my truth because I have nothing to lose. I’m sleeping more, enjoying more and loving more. In this sense, my life is not doom and gloom. Instead, both doom and bloom are complementary sides to my everyday experience. Climate activism can so easily become angry, dour, moralising, and self-sacrificing, but that must not happen to Extinction Rebellion. With so little future to hope for this rebellion is not worth our misery and pain.

In facing our climate predicament, I have learned that there is no way to escape despair. But there seems to be a way through despair. It is to love love more than we fear death. That love is why we experience loss and grief. After loss and grief there is still that love. So as things get really difficult in the years to come, I hope I will keep asking myself – what does love invite of me now?

If you are a climate activist and want to engage in these issues, consider engaging the Campaigns & Lobbying discussions on the Deep Adaptation Forum here. There is also now a Facebook group where people discuss ideas and initiatives about the Deep Adaptation agenda within Extinction Rebellion. Join it here.

A short documentary explores how children and youth can engage in exploring the implications of the worst case scenarios of climate change.

Image Credit: Andre Clements.

Documentary about Children facing Climate Collapse – Oskar’s Quest

“The global wave of school strikes for the climate over the past year has ‘achieved nothing’ because greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, Greta Thunberg has told activists at UN climate talks in Madrid… she said that although schoolchildren had been striking around the world, this “has not translated into action” from governments… [Greta continued..] ‘We can’t go on like this; it is not sustainable that children skip school and we don’t want to continue – we would love some action from the people in power.'” The Guardian, Dec 6th 2019.

As emissions rise, impacts worsen, governments dither, and the science darkens the horizon for humanity, what is next for the FridaysForFuture movement of school strikers? What is next for young people in general? For anyone concerned about the climate emergency, this seems like one of the most important questions.

My outlook on the future is that while it is too late to stop a breakdown of our societies over the coming years due to the impacts of climate change, it is not too late to learn from our failures and try to reduce harm, through bold carbon cuts, drawdown and deep adaptation.

Helping young people prepare emotionally, practically and politically for a turbulent future is something that has felt important to me. It is why over last year I talked to children, youth, teachers and child psychologists about the latest shocking climate news and the worst-case scenarios.

One output of that dialogue is a half hour documentary, which I release today on www.ScientistsWarning.tv

Oskar’s Quest is a film about how a 13 year old boy called Oskar allowed his shock and sadness about climate to transform his approach to school and set off a chain reaction, which led to circles of school children discussing their thoughts and feelings about the likely collapse of society from climate change.

I made the film to help parents, teachers and young people explore more widely the issues, emotions and ideas on this topic. In particular, I want to encourage adults to move beyond discussions of what is the best thing to say, tweet or post about the school strikers, and instead explore how we can act in real solidarity with them. That means recognising that the striking children are compromising their own wellbeing in order to push for significant action, and so it is time to consider how we join them in that approach.

jem and oskar

One of those areas of solidarity with children must be in adults challenging the inappropriate schooling that children are being forced through. The international federation of teachers trade unions issued this statement in support of the striking students:

“Unfortunately, in too many countries education is narrowed down to target producing a skilled workforce, and curricula and syllabi is driven by standardised testing. Such systems undermine teaching and learning and the purpose of education; they will not build active citizenship or critical thinking or understanding of a wide range of human concerns and experiences. Curricula and teaching and learning materials need to be urgently revised and improved to address the environmental crisis and give all learners the skills and knowledge needed for climate justice.”

If you like the film, please share it on all your social media accounts and email it to people you know in education and activism.

If you want to organise a showing of the film in your school or community, and invite Oskar, or his mum Simona or dad Joel, to speak by video link, then please use this form and ask for Simona.


I thank all those who crowdfunded the film, and Rob Moir of Ocean River Institute for organising the crowdfund. I thank the Mowdy family for their openness and trust, as well as the staff and students of Green School. I also thank Joseph for filming and editing with me, and Morison Bennett of Globular for permission to use his music.

If you are interested in using this footage in another film project, please use this form to contact my assistant.


The 30 minute film can be watched for free here.



The economics of extinction: a reason for rebellion

Prof Jem Bendell and Rabbi Jeffrey Newman

This article originally appeared on Extinction Rebellion’s blog on March 20th 2019 and republished here for ease of access.

What would a sane society do, knowing that one of its luxury food supplies was being exhausted? Consume less perhaps? Or grow more? Japan, knowing that the Bluefin tuna is going extinct, does neither. Bluefish tuna make the most profit for fishermen the nearer they are to extinction, as their rarity endows all the more status on their consumers.

Some might think that is a quirky Japanese behaviour or an anomaly of economics, but actually the free-market system in which individuals compete for profit is resplendent with such stupidities. How else could the investment in fracking or tar sands be explained? Or the way Brazil is consuming the lungs of the Earth to pay back its debts. Or the way industry externalises the cost of processing much of its waste, poisoning the Earth and its future consumers?

The logic that leads to these flaws has long been understood, and there have been waves of visceral protest as the ideology of markets became more entrenched. It is two decades since we were shutting down city centres hosting WTO and World Bank conferences; and almost a decade since Occupy camps squatted in the sacred places of decadent high finance. This time our issue is more than economic justice – it is the way governments are standing by as the global house we live in is burning down. We now see clearer than ever how a stupid financial system is driving an environmental breakdown and mass extinction which will undermine our very civilisation.

But for all the dissent about this situation, there’s little agreement or clarity on where within the financial system the real problem resides – or what could be done about it. Explanations from the marching crowds often invoke privatisation, corruption, greed, the power of banks, or the shrinking state. Deeper analyses point to something that many are unaware of, even economists. It is how private banks, not the government or central banks, create our money supply when they issue loans. It is this practice of issuing money as debt that over time creates a scarcity of money which encourages perpetual economic growth whether a society needs it or not. That means more junk, monotonous work, energy burned, natural environments ripped up, more waste, more money locked up tax havens, and more unpayable debts. Lifting the veil on the monetary system reveals the interconnection between our social and environmental suffering. Through complex chains of profit-taking, the extortionate financial rewards taken by banks leads to people relying upon food banks while we trash the foundational bank that is a healthy planet.

Therefore, after decades of work on reforming corporations to be more sustainable, we both came to understand that we can’t change the way business does business unless we change the way money makes money. Given our perilous situation with the unfolding environmental breakdown, this change is more urgent than ever. As it oscillates along the knife-edge of debt maximisation and debt default, the current system is simply not fit for a future of climate-induced disruption.

But understanding the driving role of the financial system doesn’t give us a course of action and it certainly doesn’t help us to curtail it. For starters, we exist within the confines of this system. Many of us have little capacity to take radical action because we are working off our debts, or earning wages suppressed by employers servicing their own. That is hardly surprising in an economy with more debt than money.

So what might we do? We can move our money to building societies. But that won’t reform the big banks. We can work together to build alternatives at the local level, such as credit unions and mutual credit currencies. Yet in the UK this has proven difficult, as they are less available and less-funded than their competitors. So we might buy into crypto-currencies, yet many of them are run by speculators who make bankers look saintly!

So the only possible way to put the financial system into a reverse thrust is through government who, after all, unleashed the financial beast over thirty years ago.

It would seem though, that the present UK government imagines a different mandate for itself. In his 2018 party conference speech Chancellor Hammond claimed already to have ‘rebuilt the financial system’ since 2008.He said nothing about energy security, food security, climate change, the global migration crisis or indeed any future concerns except the Labour Party. One can’t imagine the sixth Mass Extinction keeping him awake at night. Rather than existential threats he focused instead on linguistic ones, repeating the term ‘21st century capitalism’ as if the next 80 years of economics was already written.

Hammond is out of touch with a public increasingly alarmed by climate predictions. After 30 years of warnings but no meaningful action, the current (very conservative) estimate is that dramatic changes are needed within the next twelve years, just for a chance of avoiding ‘run away’ climate change. Less optimistic readings of the data indicate that rapid and uncontrollable climate change has already begun. That will mean failed harvests and with it, exploding price rises and, understandably, social unrest. A new paradigm of Deep Adaptation to environmental breakdown is needed to reduce harm and risk in a very uncertain future. As friends and neighbours we might stockpile food, nurture our gardens and install solar power, but government is needed to build the sea defences, mobilise emergency food production and distribution, rebuild transport systems and integrate large numbers of people fleeing droughts, floods and related conflict.

Governments around the world need to develop climate-smart monetary and investment policies. Such bold policies must involve a scaling down of our non-reserve banking system and an increase in government’s issuance of electronic money instead of bonds. All central banks must be instructed to stop buying bonds from companies with large carbon footprints and instead only buy bonds of firms providing low-carbon solutions for a climate-disrupted future. Governments should also ensure there are networks of local banks with a requirement to lend to enterprises that are focused on cutting emissions or drawing down carbon, as well as developing resilience to disruptive weather. Making that the RBS mandate in the UK is a ‘no brainer’. Government should also look at enabling local governments to issue their own interoperable currencies, as a way of helping local communities become more self reliant in preparation for future disturbances. Treasury officials could begin their education on these ideas by talking to the folks at Positive Money. Meanwhile our diplomats could get cracking on negotiating a global carbon tax, embedded into trade law at the WTO, with government commitments to invest revenues for carbon cuts, drawdown, adaptation and reducing impacts on the poor.

Given how bad things are with the environment we don’t know if such dramatic changes will be too little too late. But it is worth a try. And we are convinced that without an attempt to transform the monetary system then we aren’t really trying.

Let’s for a moment imagine what such changes could support. We can imagine what thriving ecosystems look like, so we let’s imagine a thriving economy. Waste would be minimised, and toxic waste eliminated. Most of what we needed would be produced nearby. There would be no unemployment and no shortage of money to pay for valuable work. Housing would be affordable as it was in the 1970s. Children would see more of their parents. Enterprises and population centres would be governed and managed less as pawns of London, Brussels, Berne, or Frankfurt and more by the people who have a stake in them and their continuance.

There must come a time when it becomes necessary to flout the law to bring down an immoral or incompetent government. Philosophers call it the ‘right of rebellion’. Naturally they differ on the details, but generally a rebellion these days must use non-violent methods, and it must be against a government which is grossly incompetent, malignant, or treacherous. In upholding a financial system determined to burn all the fossil fuels while not protecting the people from the catastrophic consequences, governments are surely being grossly incompetent, malignant and treacherous.

On April 15th 2019 international rebellion week will create all manner of creative, exciting and loving peaceful civil disobedience to show the UK government and its financial masters that we can no longer support interlocking economic and political systems that threaten to curtail the life of our children. It is time to tell the truth, act in accordance with it, and set up Citizens Assemblies with mandates that include both financial reform and Deep Adaptation.

If international rebellion doesn’t startle our politicians into making the climate crisis their central agenda, then we must stretch the rebellion into our everyday lives. How many coordinated withdrawals and loan defaults might bring down a targeted bank? How many local councils issuing inter-operable currencies could create an alternative to the Bank of England? How many people joining networks with their own currencies, like Fair Coop, Credit Commons and Holochain, could make these viable alternatives? If government does not heed peaceful calls to change our economic system so that climate sanity is an economic norm, we may well find out.

We realise that initially our suggestions may be dismissed by some office holders in our current system. Religious texts remind us that privileged people “who detest the one who tells the truth” (Prophet Amos 5:10) are neither new or unusual. But the joy of generations coming together in a new spirit of fearless love, reminds us of the divine invitation to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Prophet Amos 5:24). We therefore invite more leaders in our current system to join this sacred flow of a peaceful rebellion for life on Earth.

Professor Jem Bendell is founder of the Deep Adaptation Forum and teaches leadership at the University of Cumbria. In April 2019, he spoke to launch the international rebellion on the Oxford Circus pink boat, with the text and video available here.

Rabbi Jeffrey Newman is Emeritus Rabbi of Finchley Reform Synagogue and leads Shema (Jewish Action on Climate Change). He was arrested outside the Bank of England for a non violent protest during XR demonstrations in London.


Further reading on monetary issues:

Currencies of Transition: Transforming money to unleash sustainability. Bendell, Greco (2013)

Re-imagining Money to Broaden the Future of Development Finance Bendell, Ruddick, Slater (2015) UNRISD

The future of sharing: it’s all about freedom, Open Democracy

Thwarting an Uber future for complementary currencies. Bendell & Slater 2017


Forgiving the destructive tendency in everyone as climate chaos grows

One of the questions I suggested we use for exploring our responses to the predicament of disastrous climate change was:

“With what and whom can we make peace with to lessen suffering?”

I called this the fourth R of reconciliation within the Deep Adaptation framework.

Part of this “making peace” and reconciling is forgiveness.

The human race has destroyed so much life on Earth and will continue to do so. Some cultures and countries have collectively been far more destructive than others and will continue to be for some time. Some companies are more destructive than others, as are some individuals. And they may continue to be so for some time.

Anger at this situation is understandable. More than that, such anger is a sign we are awake to the situation and that we care.

But then what do we do with that anger?

Some may look for whom to blame and develop hatred for whichever category of person they choose. Because they won’t be just hating one person, but a category of person.

Every category is arbitrary.

For instance, shall we blame and hate oil company executives?

Or those who invest in them?

Or perhaps our parents who have shares in pension funds invested in those same companies?

Or perhaps ourselves, for that gift we received from our parent’s profits from the dividends that helped us get a mortgage?

Nearly all of us are embedded in the system of destruction and therefore complicit. Some of us are more complicit than others. Some people have more power to try to change things at scale than others.

So, even though our choices for where to place any blame will be arbitrary, it is sensible to discuss where responsibility lies, and who should be challenged to change behaviour.

But if that leads to blame and hatred? Then we risk losing our way and making matters worse.

As I write the words of that last sentence, boy does it feel annoying. I want to rage at the wilful ignorance of self-satisfied people who benefit from systems that are ruining lives around the world and threatening our very survival.

But I still know it is true that blame and hatred risks making matters worse.

To not forgive gives rise to our own suffering as well as wider suffering. If we cannot let go of a real or imagined wrong against us then we are unable to free ourselves from hate and we will suffer as a result. The tensed shoulders, clenched teeth, and hormones pumping around our body. The time spent thinking through why someone is worse than us, rather than spent thinking what we could do differently ourselves to improve our situation.

When people start to talk about their hatred of groups of people, then they are de-humanising them and sowing the seeds for violence. This is often done when people say that we should be disgusted by a type of person. When people with a public audience begin to invite disgust with and hatred of groups of people, then the seeds of violence can rapidly grow.

As we are all made of the same stuff, and come from the same original consciousness, then the way we behave is the result of the conditions within which we have learned to be human. If you had been born to be me and experienced what I experienced in life, you would likely be quite like me! And vice versa. With that perspective, it is less easy to be hateful at someone for how they are. We can try to challenge them and hold them accountable for attitudes and behaviours that are harmful to others. But where would hatred come from? And what would it serve?

Many people are rightly angry at the destruction of our biosphere.

I am.

Angry, frustrated, sad, and scared all at the same time.

I realise part of that anger is at myself. I am a human. I am one of the species that has done this. I am a man. I am one of the gender that has dominated culture for thousands of years in ways that denigrated reverence for nature. We burned women, for fxxks sake. I am white. A race that has pioneered the culture that violently and systematically suppressed other races and cultures until a system of the infinite exploitation of the Earth had been crowned triumphant.

I am not just angry at what I am. I am beyond that. I am depressed at what I am. I think it is this subconscious self-hatred that drives some of the anger we see in the environmental movement today. We are so upset at what we are, that we distract ourselves from the pain of self-hatred by vilifying other people who are, at least, worse than us!

So where do we go from here?

Can we forgive ourselves?

When I reflected on how I am part of nature, which created all humans as well as little me, I realised that there was nothing to forgive. Whatever is happening, however horrible, is arising from natural processes. Over millions of years, life comes and goes. In the universe, over billions of years, perhaps life comes and goes.

The fact we are all made of the same stuff and that we are a member of the species that has been so destructive, are both reasons for recognising the futility of blame and hatred of others for how they damage the planet and our fellow humans.

These reflections do not mean I do not feel anger. They do not mean I do not see people and categories of people as “opponents” who could be far better engaged, challenged or disempowered (oil executives, for instance). But it means that blame and hatred aren’t alive for me when I think about these things. Maybe that will help me be better at making choices about what to do. At least I do not suffer from carrying around my own hatred.

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The reason I write this blog now, is because I realise the power of humanity to make bad situations far worse. As climate chaos gets worse over the coming decade, so there will be more refugees, more disasters, more hunger, more families disgruntled at the cost of living and fearful about the future. Some of the elites will be worried that we might club together and change systems of power, and thus look to manipulate us to blame each other. In future, I fear intergenerational hatred will grow, and be used by elites to justify policies that harm people of a certain age. A narrative that blames the older generations for climate change will be used by elites to justify the ending of state support for the poor and frail in those generations.

Or worse.

We live in a time when the internet is a playground for people who want to invite our disgust at others, rather than explore difficult issues together. One of the inflammatory modes is to say some people have more right to be angry than men like me; that I am speaking about forgiveness from a privileged position. That is why in the past year I have reached out to teachers, children, social justice groups and the decolonisation movement, to better hear their perspectives, and bring attention to them. I have not heard more hatred. I have heard an openness to healing. Because they realise the gravity of the situation we all face.

Inviting discussion about whether it is right or wrong for activists to be proud of never forgiving politicians – and the older generations, is important. I believe it is important because that non-forgiveness is a form of hatred which could one day be used by authoritarian regimes to justify abuses in the name of climate reality. Therefore, I will continue to question the words of activists or politicians if they ever invite hatred, even if people misrepresent that in order to allow their rage to flow without consequence.

I wrote this blog to provide context for some parts of an interview of Charles Eisenstein. I recommend watching the whole thing here.

If you are interested, please discuss these ideas in the Philosophy Group of the Deep Adaptation Forum.

Inviting Scientists to Challenge or Improve Deep Adaptation

The ‘deep adaptation’ framing of our situation is not an easy one to take onboard. In a nutshell: because widespread and near term societal collapse is likely, inevitable or unfolding, we should begin to prepare emotionally and practically. I experienced emotional pain in allowing this possibility into my awareness, and then sharing it with my profession (the sustainability business and leadership fields) – and now with others.

Some climate scientists say my view that we seem set for uncontrollable levels of climate change is unscientific. Other climate scientists say that we may have already reached dangerous tipping points and some think we have breached some of those tipping points already. That would mean uncontrollable levels of change. Some scientists say it is unscientific to talk about near term societal collapse, and other top scientists have just started agreeing that we must have that conversation right now.

Given my outlook on our situation, and my research into systems of personal and institutional denial, I have found it difficult to muster motivation to engage with critics over small scientific details in my original Deep Adaptation paper, which came out in July 2018. Instead I have focused on implications for activism, mental health, spirituality, economics and professional collaboration. However, as the concept spreads, so does some criticism. Some climatologists have a microphone to speak on our predicament, and have an important role in helping humanity understand our situation today. Therefore, I want to engage as best I can with the arguments that I have heard from some critics in the field of climatology.

Therefore, I am inviting any climate scientist who is concerned with the deep adaptation message to apply their skills in challenging or improving its basis in climate science. We have put an excerpt of the climate science section of the July 2018 paper online as a googledoc, open for comment. I welcome comments from any professional climate scientist on what is considered inaccurate or misleading, or that could benefit from further clarification. The document will remain open for comment until January 10th 2020. I will then blog on the feedback in Q1 2020, include a box at the end of the pdf of the paper with any corrections, and incorporate insights into my future work.

This invitation to comment is being sent to scientists featured in a recent Vice article, including Michael Mann, Gavin Schmidt, Wolfgang Knorr and Cynthia Rosenzweig. If these people are too busy, the invitation is extended to their research teams. Non-climatologists featured in the article are also being invited (including Scott Williams, Jeremy Lent, Aled Jones). Please seek comment permissions by Jan 5th 2020 here.

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In focusing on one section of one paper, now 17 months old, we risk avoiding the issue at hand – the extent of climate chaos and what to do about it. However, it appears that criticism of the Deep Adaptation paper itself is a means by which some scientists engage with the possibility of us entering a period of rapid climate change. Therefore, I hope that this opening of the climate science section of the paper to feedback, publicly, will help clarify any mistakes and improve the discussion. I know that I will get some things wrong (see below). I am most interested in widening the topic of discussion and innovation, so that more people consider implications of the most troubling news. Therefore, I come at this issue of what weaknesses there may be in the original paper in the hope of supporting that widening discussion.

Of course much new science has been published since July 2018, and I summarised some of it in a compendium here. I am currently focused on how climate stressors will impact on agricultural, water, and financial systems, and will share more on that in Q1 also.

If you are a professional climate scientist, in employment in a research institution, you can request permission to comment on the document here.

I realise that in the face of the fearful situation we are in, to seek security in one’s self image and self worth is a natural response, yet will only be futile and unhelpful in the long run. So, thank you to everyone who is engaging with compassion, curiosity and respect in this difficult issue.

You can view the excerpt of the paper, and any comments that have already been made here.

A correction of one statistic in a speech

In a speech I gave this Autumn I mentioned that a 1 degree rise in the global average temperature is about 11% more energy in the atmosphere. However, it is only an 11% increase in the temperature above freezing point, as measured in Celsius. Rather, ambient energy can be measured from absolute zero, which is -273 Celsius. I was attempting to explain in a simple way that although 1 degree warming might sound minor, it is a significant change in the energy in our atmosphere. That point remains accurate, and could be expressed in the following way instead. “Since 1990, the increase in greenhouse gas levels has made the heating effect of the atmosphere 43% stronger” than in pre-industrial times. Some people have made a comparison between global warming and the danger for a human body warming up by that amount. I have never made such a comparison and don’t think it accurate to do so. The incorrect description of 11% more energy in the atmosphere was not in the original Deep Adaptation paper.

News review on Deep Adaptation – August to November 2019

In recent months, more mainstream media have reported on aspects of deep adaptation to climate chaos. Here is a quick summary of some written outputs since August 2019.

In August, the Guardian started its review of the Extinction Rebellion handbook by focusing on the chapter from Jem Bendell that warns of societal collapse.

In September, an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald discussed some of the latest climate science and the views that collapse may now be inevitable. Also in September, an old South Carolina newspaper, The Post and Courier, published a discussion of the growing sentiment that climate change is speeding up and threatens collapse. All of that was topped by an opinion piece in the New Yorker by novelist Jonathan Franzen, which invited readers to consider what it would mean to them if was too late to stop catastrophic change from climate change. The way Professor Jem Bendell has been reinventing his focus as an academic in response to the latest climate news was featured in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

In October, the BBC published a discussion of the rise of climate anxiety, and cited work on deep adaptation. The New York Times also carried an opinion piece that explained how the narrative on climate change has been changing to recognise how it threatens our way of life, and highlighted the Deep Adaptation research. In India, one columnist in The Statesman discussed some of the more disquieting science. Also in October, the UK Government website (let’s call that mainstream media) carried a speech from the Chair of the Environment Agency, who quoted Professor Bendell:

“Executives in the private, government and charity sectors all face growing frustration at the clear net impotence of our actions on climate change. This ‘stasis anxiety’ will grow as the news on extreme weather and the latest science becomes more worrying.”

In November, an article for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation discussed how apocalyptic outlooks are becoming the topic of dinner party conversations, and causing stress in relationships. The “deep adaptation” outlook was recognised as not being simply gloomy, but transformative.

One of the best ways to keep up with the latest news on deep adaptation is through the Positive Deep Adaptation Facebook Group, as its near 8000 members are regularly posting relevant information.

But if you have a deeper interest that what the mainstream media will provide at this time, we recommend some of the writings and speeches from Professor Bendell on aspects ranging from leadership to localisation, from psychology to spirituality, and from social justice to the merits of Jonathan Franzen.

Hope in a time of climate chaos” was a keynote speech at the UK Council for Psychotherapy, where Jem discussed climate anxiety and the implications for their profession. A full transcript is available as well as a video of the talk.

Will We Care Enough to Matter to Them? Climate Justice, Solidarity and Deep Adaptation” is a short article on these issues which are central to the new wave of climate activism, including Extinction Rebellion and the movement that is growing about Deep Adaptation. It includes a link to a speech Jem gave on the topic in Glasgow.

The Spiritual Invitation of Climate Chaos” is a short article on Jem’s personal reflections on this huge topic, which includes a video of a speech he gave at the Buddhafields’ festival called Green Earth Awakening.

Leadership for Deep Adaptation” is a short article where Jem describes some of the organising philosophy he has brought to the development of the Deep Adaptation Forum, and where he celebrates the many volunteers who are making the various activities grow. It also includes an interview with him about these topics.

Why Deep Adaptation needs re-localisation” is a short co-authored article with Matthew Slater, where they discuss the importance of re-localising our economic relations as a means of promoting resilience in the face of risks of disruption to the global economy. Matthew, Jem and colleague Dorian are also co-authors of a new IFLAS Occasional Paper that explains the way Local Governments could initiate their own local currencies to promote such resilience.

Please don’t shut up Mr Franzen” is a response from Jem to the criticism levelled at the novelist for inviting a new conversation about adapting to devastation from climate chaos.

If you spotted a mainstream news item in the months of August to November 2019 that was not mentioned above, please link to it in the comments below.

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The Deep Adaptation Forum would welcome any financial support you can offer via patreon.com.

Talks & courses with Jem Bendell in 2020

In 2020 Professor Jem Bendell plans the following events. They are already filling up, so we recommend that if you are interested, you apply soon.

Sustainable Leadership Course, April 27th to 30th, in Cumbria, UK, is for people who want to explore how to lead change in communities, politics or organisations to deeply adaptation to the climate crisis. Led by Jem with facilitation by Katie Carr.

The Future of the University in the Face of Climate Crisis, April 29th in Cumbria, UK, is a lecture that will also be filmed and released afterwards. To attend in person book here.

Business of Deep Adaptation, May 12th-15th at Hazel Hill Wood in Somerset, UK, will be particularly relevant for professionals exploring what companies and their consultants can do to enable deep adaptation. This will be led by Alan Heeks and others, with guest sessions by Jem. Details to follow. Request them here.

Deep Adaptation Retreat, June 19th-26th in Pelion, Greece, is particularly relevant for facilitators of processes. Co-led by Jem and Katie Carr. A video with participants from last year is available here.

Before September 2020,  Jem will not be doing many other talks or events, as he will be researching and writing a book. If you want to source a speaker or workshop leader on Deep Adaptation, you could contact some relevant experts here.

In addition to these in-person events, Jem will also be doing monthly online Q&As (the next is with Charles Eisenstein) a Facebook Live session, and two online zoom seminars on the inter-disciplinary research and teaching implications of Deep Adaptation. To receive information on these free online events, subscribe to the Deep Adaptation Quarterly.

In addition to these activities, Jem will be hosting monthly Q&As with people from around the globe.

Jem and Tom in workshop

The Deep Adaptation Forum would welcome any financial support you can offer via patreon.com.

Gathering in groups as society falls apart – by Vicki Robin

VR.SMILE_.JIM-1x1-350x350A guest blog by Vicki Robin, best-selling co-author of Your Money or Your Life, author of Blessing the Hands That Feed Us, and member of the Deep Adaptation Forum.

“Everyone wants community. Unfortunately, it involves other people.” I used that line in lectures on frugal living when talking of the loneliness of consumerism and the benefits of sharing resources. We idealize the good old days of people helping people out. But can we live them, given who we have become?

Individualism is one of the many privileges of ‘the privileged’ in Western society. We have options and choices about where we live, with whom, of what genders, ages or races, whether we are child-free or have a brood, what we eat, what we believe, jobs we’ll accept, and on and on and on. As people look at civilizational breakdown in detail, though, they realize that to survive, other people might not be optional – joining a group, a farm, a small town might be necessary.

Survival is not a solo sport. If it happens, it will happen in community – intentional, multi-generational family, accidental – where we can share the work, grow food, trade, defend ourselves, socialize, learn, teach, repair. Civilization, it turns out, has a lot of services built in that will need to be maintained as long as possible or created anew… or done without.

How do we, who are so accustomed to individualism, enter into a new reality of living in concert with others? Not as a condiment but as a necessity. Not through idealistic eyes but as a sober process of surrendering attachment to the ego’s demands and entering a state of belonging to a people and a place.

I’ve lived in several communities and learned many lessons, surprising ones and hard ones. Here are some ideas for those of you contemplating moving to an existing rural community or forming your own, given your perspective of deep adaptation.

In short…People. Power. Process. Projects. And sex. These will arise in any group that bands together for mutual aid. Best to talk about this – early and often.

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Diversity of perspectives bring depth and wisdom to choices

I lived for a number of years with a team of ten people who had a series of shared goals in a larger context of service to others. I used to describe it as a cross between a monastery and the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

We developed many rituals and lots of mottos (and plenty of shadow). One motto was: “People before Projects and Projects before People’s ‘stuff’.” In other words, our relationships were primary. If our projects turned our relationships into merely team functions and we failed to remember our humanity and care, we would stop and reset. But if our projects were stalled because people indulged in public reactivity (fighting, pouting, gossiping, rejection, etc), we would ask them to work it through within or with one another.

We also developed rituals and simple tools for staying current. At least once a week we’d ‘circle up’ for heart sharing, which is very much like council or a talking stick circle. We’d share dinner daily, a time to catch up. For many groups even this much time together is noxious, but if you are in surviving-together-mode, the need for coordination increases. We also had a bulletin board and a notebook in a central place for messages. These days you’d have a Facebook group – though consider that we may be back to 20th century tools in the future.

Proximity will surely stimulate sexual energies and interests. Sticking in monogamous couples or singles dating responsibly is often the safest, but it’s good to acknowledge that people may well develop powerful feelings for their not-mates. Unacknowledged sexual attractions are wrecking balls for communities. Good communication channels and practices can at least provide ways to process these often-destructive disturbances.

Who makes decisions, and how, can be unexamined and therefore slip towards unequal, sometimes unconscious, power-over. Some conscious groups try to reverse the privilege scale by having women and people of colour speak first and white men later. In council we talk about “be lean of expression” and to not speak again until everyone has spoken once – just two of the rules that help all feel heard and all contributions get made.

In my team we explored a number of personal development paths to become more conscious of ourselves and group dynamics. When we found the Enneagram, we realized that among the ten of us we embodied all nine of the personality-types it describes. The Enneagram is just one language to describe diversity of personalities. The Meyers Briggs framework sorts people out in a similar way along dimensions of introvert/ extrovert, thinking/ feeling, intuitive/ concrete, process oriented/ completion oriented. Organisations often use this tool to help workers get along with impossible others.

We chose to regard our archetypal personalities (or perspectives) as assets to our harmonious functioning and wise decision making. Faced with a choice, we’d have each person reflect briefly on the pros and cons and from this we would most often, with little discussion, hit on a choice with a “ring of rightness”. It wasn’t consensus per se. Sometimes there would be one perspective that captured all of us as right. Sometimes we’d scrap the whole thing. Sometimes we’d see that the idea was good but not ripe. Sometimes we defaulted to the “theory of the strong opinion” – that if one person was passionate and no one objected, they could act with support.

As individuals we often see others as competitors, allies for our cause, or irrelevant to our goals.

For communities with shared goals, such a diversity of perspectives in a container of love and respect is crucial. The goal could be anything from keeping the streets clean and the gardens tended to building a water wheel to generate power, to evolving spiritually while avoiding the cultic tendencies of all groups.

A diversity of talents held in a container of common purpose

Community survival is not the same as survival skills like fire building or hunting. Communities need a range of skills. Gardening, cooking, raising animals for food, fiber and fertility, foraging, turning dandelions (and beets and apples etc) into alcohol, natural building, natural medicine, composting waste, food preservation… and on and on. However, it also needs talents like mediators, meeting facilitators, priests or shamans of all sorts (for confession, for learning from mistakes, for healing from pain, for solace, and on and on), comedians, actors, artists, group game leaders, meditation (and other transformational) teachers, wise-elder leaders, and on and on…

People accustomed to ample space, time and independence will need to have gotten a grip on themselves, their reactivity, their shadow elements, their capacity for forgiveness and apology, and their ability to take a wider view of any circumstance. They will need true sobriety, not just from addictive substances but from any immaturity.

As you gather in a group, intentionally or improvisationally, beware that your current friend network or Facebook group may lack some crucial talents. Liking one another – when you all have separate lives – is no basis for joining forces to move together in anticipation of collapse. A talent inventory can help. If major talents are missing, people need to (joyfully hopefully) step up to learning. The quality of leadership is crucial as all this gets sorted out. Everyone can be a leader in being self-aware and in service to the group. Some are comfortable with holding and distributing power for the sake of the group. But leadership isn’t the same as wielding power.

How to join a village

As people realize how dependent cities are on the surrounding rural communities for food, environmental refugees might migrate. First, one or two early adopters. Then more. And more. You can’t just show up in town expecting open arms and hot meals. Rural communities stick together and take care of their own because that’s how they survive. Trust is earned. Your city ways (how you talk, the assumptions you make, your habits, your expertise) may strike folks as arrogant. You need to do things that people who belong do: show up for the small tasks of daily life, like volunteering in schools, churches, social service agencies. You go to the pancake breakfast and the fish fry. You usher at the local theatre. Or try out for a part. Or join the community choir.

Everything about deeply adapting to an unfolding collapse of modern society will grind away at your preferences and identities. If you think you might be one of the people who moves to a small town or onto a farm with a group of people here are some ways through which you can prepare yourself:

Starting to learn and practice Non-Violent Communication, or any process that teaches you to own your feelings, observing your projections, taming your demand that others change so you might continue to be comfortable, or manipulate and lie.

Joining a board or work on a project team to observe how you function in groups, how you judge others, how you offer your ideas, whether you talk a lot and over-talk others or hang back, your fears of being seen or looking stupid or doing more than your fair share.

Starting to learn some facilitation skills, like council, or active listening (“this is what I heard you say”), or organizing open space (where groups self-organize into interest groups) or consensus.

Starting to learn some coaching skills, how to ask questions and offer practices to others as they find their way. For example, friends and I developed a circle practice called Conversation Cafes that is now used globally.

Beginning or deepening a meditation practice that allows you to witness rather than identify with your thoughts, and to let go of stress, tightness and defensiveness though simply watching your breathing and tracking your thoughts and feelings without interacting with them.

Consider getting some therapy so you experience the beneficial effect of being listened to with warm awareness by someone who sides with you, not your inner critic.

These are suggestions for while the good times are still rolling. When the pressure is on and individuals find themselves in groups for survival – in collective households, in villages, on food lines, in camps – those who are mentally healthy, self-aware and skilled at working with others will be necessary for success. Frictions will arise. The skill is to work with them as they do. These are lessons from voluntary affiliations that can help us as we work to stay alive and keep our people well. To help, Diana Leafe Christian has written a wonderful book, Creating a Life Together, full of deep wisdom and practical advice. Much wisdom from the Eco-Village experiments worldwide has been captured in this excellent book by Karen Litfin, EcoVillages: Lessons for Sustainable Communities.

A final note…

Sh*t happens. As Robert Burnes said, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft a-gley:” People fall out of love. People have kids, need to move on, are banished, sink through quarrelling. At the end of the day, maturity is the bottom line. And humility. And good will.


Over to you:

Thank you Vicki, for fascinating reflections on this important issue, which is live for me and many people I speak to.  Have you got experience or advice for living in intentional communities? Please consider sharing this in the Community Action discussion group of the Deep Adaptation Forum. If you want to find or create a group on Deep Adaptation in your local area, start here

The Deep Adaptation Forum would welcome any financial support you can offer via patreon.com.

Will We Care Enough to Matter to Them? Climate Justice, Solidarity and Deep Adaptation.

(Scroll down to the end for the video of a talk on solidarity and deep adaptation.

Would you consider yourself middle class? Perhaps amongst the middle class in the West, or amongst the millions of new middle classes around the world? Opinion polls show that many people like you have changed their thoughts and feelings about climate change in the recent past. What was once a concern for people somewhere else, in distant lands, or distant futures, has become a more immediate sense of personal vulnerability. If that is you, then you have probably debated with people about how vulnerable you and your community is, and how imminent the dangers are.

In such conversations, perhaps you discussed how climate chaos is a lived reality for hundreds of millions of people already, around the world. Perhaps you heard that the Red Cross have said 2 million people a week need humanitarian support due to disasters made worse by climate change. Or heard that the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation have reported that hunger is on the rise, with climate change being a key factor. Or read about the millions of people being displaced? If so, do you remember how it affected you? Does your own sense of increased vulnerability mean you are more moved by news of suffering around the world? Or does it mean you are more likely to turn away? If we don’t turn away, what should we do? Will we care enough to actually matter to the people who are at the sharp end of extreme weather in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and its cascading impacts on their societies?

I ask whether our concern will be enough to make a difference, because I am aware of what has got us to this situation in the first place. Disease, poverty and environmental destruction are things most of us have known something about since we started learning about the world. We have also seen environmental destruction and poverty of various kinds in our own countries. Some of us have tried to make a difference to this, yet the cumulative impact of our efforts are being dwarfed by the implications of a rapidly changing climate. All the while, we who live in the middle classes of industrial consumer societies have benefited from a system of exploitation that extracts resources from around the world. Our complicity in creating and exacerbating the problem is not something that will go away, even when we choose to ignore it.

People who have some free time to inquire into our current situation then have the opportunity to go deeper into our environmental predicament. For instance, I took months to delve into the latest climate science. Yet most people don’t have that luxury. Late stage capitalism is offering vast numbers of people in the West a low income, long commute and little career progression. Climate change will compound their difficulties, with increasing food prices and anxieties about the future. In such a context, it is unclear whether solidarity with people suffering in other countries will be a widespread response.

But could it? If there was awareness of a common enemy?

These are some of the questions that are arising given that “Deep Adaptation” and recent waves of climate activism, such as Extinction Rebellion and the Youth strikes, have grown due to a change in story: that we in West have become vulnerable to our changing climate. Although the concerns for other people and the natural world also exist within these movements, the fear-factor is significant. The power of that fear in mobilising people is obvious. But the potential for that fear to lead to people turning inwards and away from those who are suffering now, is a real risk.

So, on a point of principle, those of us who want to encourage solidarity and active compassion within climate movements need to articulate clearly that we believe in those values. But it then raises the question: what exactly do those values mean in practice, and how might we generate wider support for them? For instance, does solidarity mean a differentiated responsibility, where we in the middle classes pay more, right now, to alleviate the suffering of people impacted by climate chaos? If so, how much is fair? How should we decide? Should this be mandated? How might such values of solidarity mesh with the changes that many middle class people are considering, as they reassess their lives due to anticipating a breakdown or collapse in their way of life? Many people are downsizing and buying local, therefore reducing their reliance on international supply chains. That might reduce their involvement in exploitative relations, but does little to affect the lives of the poor or address how past damage is generating present consequences for the poor in the majority world.

These questions of climate justice in an age of increasing climate disruption are complex. As such, what matters as much as us working out for ourselves what we believe is fair and just, is the extent to which people unlike us have as important an influence on these matters as we do. It is why I am interested in how the Deep Adaptation Forum will be as accountable to the voices that aren’t engaged in it at present as those who are. That’s something that the core team will explore in the establishing of its future strategy and governance in 2020.

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For now, I think these questions of solidarity, fairness, justice and healing are so complex that I wish to encourage open inquiry into them, rather than seeking quick answers to feel better about these dilemmas. It is why I gave a talk on the importance of solidarity in deep adaptation, in Glasgow, so I could learn from and bring attention to what they are doing on Deep Adaptation, with working class communities there. It is also why I interviewed Vanessa Andreotti about decolonisation and deep adaptation, and why I spoke about fair adaptation in an interview for Extinction Rebellion. Please consider exploring these issues in the Philosophy Group of the Professions’ Network of the Deep Adaptation Forum, or in the Positive Deep Adaptation Facebook Group, or leave a comment below.

My hunch is that somewhere in the realm of our mutual healing through mutual liberation from a destructive system and story is where we will find some answers for what to say, how to organise and prioritise – both within Deep Adaptation and the wider climate movement. Whereas particular people and institutions uphold and benefit from the destructive system more than others, I wonder whether a common enemy is as much that reluctance within all of us to avoid major changes in our own lives.

The Deep Adaptation Forum would welcome any financial support you can offer via patreon.com.