Essentials of Life and Death – part 6 of a #RealGreenRevolution

This is the 6th in a 7-part essay on the type of policy innovations that would respond to the truth of the environmental predicament and, also, why most environmental professionals ignore such ideas to promote limited and limiting ideas instead. These ideas on a #RealGreenRevolution provide a contrast to current agendas, with the aim of encouraging a global environmental movement as a rights-based political force.  In this part of the essay, I focus on some sensitive issues about life and death, which have become even more polarised due to pandemic policy responses.

To receive each part of the essay, subscribe to my blog, using the box on the right (or right at the bottom of this post). To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either visit the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by following the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. A list of previous parts of this essay is available.

Agricultural Transformation

The impacts of current levels of climate change on agriculture are already scary. The modelling of what could happen when we pass 1.5 degrees global ambient warming is much scarier. Our civilisation is based on grains, which feed us humans about 80 percent of our calories, either directly or via animal feed. With 1.5 degrees warming the risk becomes high for prolonged droughts or unseasonal frosts harming the production in multiple major grain exporting regions around the world in the same year. Therefore, our agricultural and food systems need urgent diversification in ways that do not increase, but reduce carbon emissions.

The starting point is problematic. The agriculture and food sectors around the world are characterised by the expansion of big business. Massive multinationals are involved in production of grains, in their shipping, and in the trading of contracts for their purchase and sale, either now or in future. Around the world commercial cropping has displaced diverse forms of agriculture, with the farms growing larger as the fields grow larger. Seeking the economies of scaled production, with the use of large amounts of agrochemicals and machines has been the direction for decades. Many countries had given up on having an agricultural policy, and many countries do not even have ownership of their own emergency stores of grains anymore. Everything about this system must change, and change fast.

Each country will be different, but certain key things are relevant for any context. Some of these ideas may seem contradictory, but they are necessary alongside each other in order to try to reduce the harm from a multi-breadbasket failure that would collapse the international trade in grains upon which nearly all of us depend at present.  

First, a change of direction towards agroecology is essential, where the soils of the land are restored, mixed cropping techniques are reintroduced and less chemicals are used. Connected to that, much more public funding for permaculture gardens in urban areas is important. Second, the urgent development of high calorie alternatives to rain-fed grains, and to high-protein alternatives to meats are needed, which will include greenhouse, hydroponics and novel foods. These two approaches are quite different, with the former approach appearing less industrial and the latter appearing more so. Ideological bias towards one or the other will be unhelpful in what is an emergency situation to try and keep humanity nourished during the coming disruptions. Like many analysts, I consider it unlikely we can feed the world with small permaculture gardens, and I do not want to risk mass starvation while trying that due to passionately held theory. Rather, for a swift change in agriculture, both government funding and credit guidance to banks will be necessary in ways that alter both the practices of big farms and agricultural businesses on the one hand, and multiplying small alternatives on the other.

An energy carbon tax would feed through supply chains to incentivize changes in agricultural practices and make some forms of meat more expensive, to reflect the carbon footprint involved (see part 2 of this series). However, given that societies need to reduce the meat proportion of diets rapidly for both carbon footprint and grain availability for human consumption, a tax on animal feed is probably necessary. Other taxes on food could be reduced, and the tax system brought into line with policy objectives of enabling nutrition through a climate disrupted era.

As disruptions to food supplies are increasingly likely, it is not appropriate to leave national reserves in private hands, or for multinational commodities firms to play a key role in prices and availability. Therefore, renationalisation of reserves and the break up of some of the large multinationals in this sector would help increase resilience and be a useful adaptation measure. Of course, these companies will fund and promote research reports that argue otherwise, and thus obfuscate the simple principle that in a crisis we do not want our ability to eat being determined by profit-maximising international companies.

What I am describing here is not an incremental agenda that might marginally change government budgets. This transformation of agriculture needs to begin immediately and involve budgets similar to what is currently spent on the military. Otherwise, we will not have made a serious attempt at saving lives. Therefore, measures for agricultural transformation could be candidates for financing through the new international mechanisms I described in Part 5 of this essay.

Health Sector Reform

Climate change effects on economics, society, and politics also has implications for how to promote public health. Research indicates that more diseases already – and will increasingly – spill over from wildlife into human populations because of the damage we have done to the environment. During the recent pandemic, we have witnessed how the policy response from governments has correlated closely with the interests of pharmaceutical companies. Novel vaccines have been prioritised above other measures, such as scientifically-proven benefits of nutritional supplements, medicinal herbs, generic drugs, and the empowerment of employees to self-isolate. The influence also appears in how vaccines from companies that generate profits in the west have been favoured by their governments over vaccines from elsewhere, like Russia and China. For decades, there has been scholarly critique of the commercial influence over the whole paradigm of medicine, favouring profit-making drugs over holistic and complementary approaches, on the methodologies for the authorisation of medicines, and the role of patents in making drugs unaffordable to many people or creating a large drain on public finances. In addition, the process of ‘professional closure’ which occurs in all areas of expertise to raise the status and income of professionals, has meant the corporate-shaped medical profession has maintained a negative attitude towards other approaches to health and wellbeing, and to community-based approaches to that. Therefore, the opportunities for those professionals to learn through engagement with wider forms of knowledge, as well as the ability of the general public to integrate different forms of knowledge on health and wellness has been compromised. In the face of increasing disruptions to societies around the world and the increasing demands on the medical sector, this situation will change. It is best that such a change is guided, rather than just occurs out of necessity, as the latter means more people might be sick and die than otherwise.

As part of how we adapt to climate change and the difficulties it will cause, governments should massively increase investment in, and incentives for, non-corporate and community-based approaches to health and wellness. A range of behaviours in society, relating to diet, commuting, working arrangements, opportunities for physical activities, availability of play and community engagement, all need assessing and supporting. In addition, a range of non-medical therapeutic support for mental and physical health and wellbeing should be supported. A paradigm shift that restores health and wellbeing as a community-supported goal, where cost is not a barrier to people exploring how best to look after themselves, is key. Given the psychological distress that is likely from increasing societal disruptions and worrying news, community-based emotional support will need to be a key part of that new agenda. Even the World Health Organisation has recognised this need, although its attention to it is only beginning.

Family Planning Access

The relationship between population growth and overconsumption of natural resources has been a controversial topic. Population growth is highest in countries with poverty, and when asked, a large proportion of women in low-income countries say that they would like to have more control over their family sizes. But the experts who write about problems from overpopulation are nearly always from the global North. They are accused of downplaying the fact that although low-income countries have higher rates of population growth, the carbon and ecological footprint per person in such countries is many times less than in high-income countries. Therefore, from an environmental perspective, whether it is about reducing impact on the environment or preparing for a world with more scarce resources, it is as important to focus on the power of women to make informed choices about pregnancy. That means ensuring that women and girls worldwide have access to sex education, support of their rights and dignity, more opportunities in life, as well as access to birth control. That does not mean encouraging potential parents to have less children, but to provide them with the options not to have children. For instance, in some situations high infant mortality rates mean that it has been customary to have many children – therefore improving health would help that concern. Just because some people have approached this topic in an inappropriate way, does not mean that helping reduce population growth in all societies in an empowering way is not a sensible environmental policy.

The importance of enabling adults to have fewer children means no real green revolutionary movement should accept without challenge those religious institutions and their leaders who seek to reduce access to family planning. It seems incoherent to me that some applaud the Catholic Pope for positive communications on the environment while not addressing the Catholic Church’s stance on population and voluntary birth control. But it is also important that the overpopulation discussion does not focus on low-income countries alone. A child born into a rich country is likely to have a carbon and environmental footprint well over a dozen times greater than someone born into an average situation in a low-income country. Some high-income countries have been encouraging their citizens to have more children, due to concerns about an aging population. That is not compatible with our environmental predicament. Instead, if a citizenry are deciding to have fewer children then the government of a nation should look at ways to respond to that without trying to increase the birth rate.

Reducing the birth-rate alone will not help with carbon cuts, drawdown, adaptation, or the rest of the ClimatePlus agenda that I outlined in Part 1 of this essay. Indeed, focusing on it could become a distraction. However, if it is complemented with a focus on reducing and equalising consumption levels around the world, then slowing the rate of population growth will be useful and have a widespread and long-lasting effect. Unfortunately, this nuanced approach is still often condemned as racist, in ways that make invisible the women across the global South who nearly always state their interest in more birth control and smaller family sizes. As such, the use of racial awareness to invite outrage against a fair discussion of this issue might itself reflect some self-involved white privilege.

Voluntary Assisted Dying

The topic of voluntary assisted suicide is very delicate and can evoke strong emotions. The idea that we might choose when to die is upsetting to some people, sometimes because of a deep sadness about people committing suicide and a real concern about how assisted dying could be abused. Yet part of the reason that most of us do not pay attention to this issue is because death is little discussed in modern cultures and is hidden away. The three grandparents I visited in nursing homes before they died all wanted to be able to leave this world earlier than they did. It was particularly painful for my parents to witness their suffering. My grandparents were being kept alive partly out of the habit of the medical system to keep people alive even when that was against the wishes of the people in their care. It appears that to be completely against compassionately letting the terminally ill or the elderly to pass away when they want to, is an escape from ethical complexity for a modern health profession. To change that stance would require more oversight than currently the medical profession has.

I would like to see voluntary assisted dying available more widely but more regulated than currently in Switzerland. Key is the process of permission. I prefer a system where a number of pre-registered friends or family would need to agree for the process to go ahead. For instance, well ahead of a situation where we would seek this form of assistance, we would nominate 5 people, of whom 3 would need to agree, including one person who is a registered medical doctor. That would mean the law would need to be completely different, as currently anyone knowing about someone making plans for assisted suicide might be investigated by the police. That I would mention this matter in relation to the environmental crisis might be shocking to some people. The implication is that because humanity has overshot the carrying capacity of our home, that we should stop keeping people alive if they don’t want to be due to terminal illnesses. Yes, it is the argument I am making. Does that mean I am suggesting the elderly have less right to life? No. I am arguing that in normal times we shouldn’t be torturing our elderly due to our cultural aversion to death, while in difficult situations, we should think even more about providing options for people who are suffering to seek voluntary assisted suicide. When I hear people state religious reasons against such alleviation of suffering, I find it difficult to recognize love in their sentiments, but rather I hear what Lao Tsu described as the situation where love and spirituality dies and is replaced by moral statements and performance. It is important that the environmental movement do not shy away from the most important matters of our lives, in order to seek favour with this or that group, or avoid shaming, which is one reason why I have raised these matters of life and death in this essay.

You can subscribe to my blog by using the box on the right, or at the bottom of this post. To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either visit the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by follow the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. A list of previous parts of this essay is available.

Are Intergovernmental Alliances for Saving Humanity Still Possible? Part 5 of a #RealGreenRevolution

This is the 5th in a 7-part essay on the type of policy innovations that would respond to the truth of the environmental predicament and, also, why most environmental professionals ignore such ideas to promote limited and limiting ideas instead. These ideas on a #RealGreenRevolution provide a contrast to current agendas, with the aim of encouraging a global environmental movement as a rights-based political force.  In this part of the essay, I focus on financing initiatives, geoengineering (climate restoration and repair), reparations and ecocide, migrating ecosystems, nuclear power and the difficult reality of systemic work on climate adaptation – nothing much to argue about then 😉

To receive each part of the essay, subscribe to my blog, using the box on the right (or right at the bottom of this post). To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either engage on the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by following the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. A list of previous parts of this essay is available.

Intergovernmental Climate Emergency funds

Over the past decades many pledges to fund climate action and other international causes, such as poverty reduction, have remained unfulfilled. Even though the pledged amounts fall short of what is required, and are peanuts compared to the bailouts for banks or spending on the military, nevertheless they are retracted when governments seek to cut expenditures on what they consider non-essential. The climate predicament is a shared global concern and therefore efforts on the whole #ClimatePlus agenda need a new global financing system. No longer must we rely on existing government budgets or the benevolence of richer nations and their future politicians. Therefore we need serious consideration of new forms of international seigniorage of monetary instruments.  

One option for this new monetary instrument could be the Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Another option could be a monetary instrument issued in partnership with the Bank of International Settlements through an agency accountable to the UN General Assembly. In either case, a new international agency responsible for managing the issuance and use of the funds would be key, and not only be staffed (and governed) by the specialists in banking or representatives from the richer countries. Instead, a more pluralist organisation like the Interparliamentary Union and a more multidisciplinary organisation like the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) could be given a key role.

The funds from this new agency would be awarded to national governments, regional and local governments, intergovernmental agencies, and not-for-profit organisations that work on all aspects of the ClimatePlus agenda. For-profit entities must be excluded as recipients, as their involvement would incentivise lobbying and public relations efforts that could affect the dispersal of funds in sub-optimal ways. The only area where for-profit corporations might benefit could be from the use of the monetary instruments as a collateral, to accept the first tranche of any losses on ClimatePlus-related investment funds, thus reducing the risk for private investors in such funds. No actual payments would be made to those investment funds unless they lost money, and there might even be investment returns which could be recycled into the system of fund guarantees.

Although this idea might seem remote from the topic of carbon part per million in the atmosphere, it is obvious to anyone after decades of failure that so long as climate summits, G7 summits, and G20 summits, amongst others, do not launch a major new mechanism for delivering on the targets and financial promises, then such promises are primarily theatrics for current politicians will not be honoured.

International Alliance on Arctic Repair

It is important for both the environmental profession and wider society to rapidly develop a very different approach to the matter of geoengineering than has occurred until now. We need rapid testing and deployment of the safest of technologies that can help repair the Arctic ice cap immediately. For example, experts have known for over a decade that Marine Cloud Brightening could be a rapidly deployable, targeted, cheap and safe technology to experiment with in the Arctic Sea region alone. That is where specially designed ships would spray ocean water into the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean to seed clouds that would replace the lost reflective power of the melted ocean ice. The Arctic is heating at a rate that is considered unprecedented and dangerous by polar experts, destabilising the northern jet stream, leading to heat waves, droughts, floods, deep freezes and unseasonal frosts. Besides such weather being a direct cause of human deaths, Arctic warming damages our food supply and ecosystems. Criticisms against MCB are related to its deployment elsewhere in the world, where it might unhelpfully disrupt weather patterns. Its use in the Arctic is a no-brainer for the survival of hundreds of millions of people who will find some grains suddenly too expensive to buy if we keep having severe weather disruption.

The “problem” is that MCB does not offer either easy or large returns for venture capitalists. Because the technology is simple, while there is no obvious customer to sell an amount of cloud brightening to – unlike the carbon offsets market.  If we focus on helping the world, that situation is actually beneficial, as it means we can have an inexpensive approach to deployment that is not hampered by intellectual property or difficult technological challenges. However, in a world where our conversation about technology is dominated by for-profit interests, this is a problem for MCB. It means that over the years MCB has been getting none of the public relations drive and political lobbying associated with other ‘geoengineering’ technologies that might offer large returns for venture capitalists, such as carbon Direct Air Capture (DAC) machines. These machines consume such huge amounts of energy to power their extraction of carbon from the atmosphere that they only make climate sense if powered by geothermal energy. Therefore a few of the flagship projects have been located in Iceland. The lively crust of the Earth in that area poses some questions about the long term viability of either the machines or the methods of storage of the fixed carbon. Also, most projects are not planned to be in Iceland. Even if they were, the question of what else the energy used to power the machines could be used for is important. Could batteries be charged instead? Could hydrogen be produced instead? DAC machines are attractive to venture capitalists as they offer potential for patenting and for sales of carbon credits to companies and governments that want to look good. Moreover, they offer an enticing story of technological salvation of our modern societies from climate chaos to people not ready to face the real situation humanity is in.

The delusional prominence of DAC machines in the current discussions of ‘climate restoration’ and ‘climate repair’ is the most recent example of how the predominance of business interests in the market economy can lead to unhelpful outcomes. Business interests have been distorting the policy agenda on climate as a long-term challenge since 1997 (as I explained in Part 2 on cap-and-trade); today they risk distorting the policy agenda of climate as a near-term emergency. Therefore, we need international alliances on the matter of geoengineering (whether branded as climate restoration or repair) that are explicitly designed not to be influenced by the venture capitalist interests in certain technologies. Unlike the recent ‘multi-stakeholder’ initiatives gaining attention as potential climate saviours, such alliances need to explicitly limit corporate involvement and influence. We do not have time to relearn the obvious and ancient understandings of why powerful self-interested groups should not be directing policy agendas. Instead, an International Alliance on Arctic Repair could look at a range of ideas, including MCB, reflective mirrors, reflective glass beads, and such like, with full and powerful representation from potentially affected communities. Such an alliance needs sceptics involved, to balance out the techno-extremists who can’t accept the possibility of technological failure in protecting our current way of life. Hopefully the differences and tensions involved will lead to smart decisions. When those decisions are made, projects could have access to funds from new financing mechanisms such as the one I described above. Such an alliance will need backing from an intergovernmental treaty that makes it internationally illegal to undertake geoengineering projects without similar forms of accountable governance.

Whereas many people engaged in climate issues prefer not to look at these topics of geoengineering, to do so can be a complement to bold action on emissions cuts and drawdown, and preparing for the disruptions to come and attempting to regenerate ecosystems and compensate communities for their loss and damage. My suggestion of a ClimatePlus agenda is one where no one part of it is used to undermine commitment to another part, unlike the way some ignorant politicians try to focus on adaptation and geoengineering as alternatives to bold emissions cuts.

International Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Ecocide

It is not possible to take a systemic approach to a widespread and complex problem or dilemma if not inquiring into what went wrong in the first place. Neither would it be a systemic response to the current and future loss and damage from climate chaos if not exploring how we might enable healing, justice and reparations for the harm caused. It is already clear as the appalling climate predicament becomes clear to more of us, that there is going to be a lot more intergenerational anger, as well as anger at the societies that have contributed the most to the damages that are now growing. Whereas that anger may be justified, if it is a widespread social phenomenon that is accompanied by the negative othering of peoples, it could lead to unproductive conflict. There will need to be major public efforts at learning what damage and suffering has occurred and is now inevitable despite our efforts to stop it, why that occurred, who benefited from the destruction, who warned against it, and what financial or other measures can be taken to ameliorate the situation somewhat. Financial reparations directed at locally-led adaptation efforts in the face of climate disruptions will need to be a major part of such a process, perhaps using a new monetary instrument, as described above.

Made famous by the processes in post-apartheid South Africa, a truth and reconciliation commission is an official body tasked with discovering and revealing past wrongdoing by governments or non-state actors (such as corporations), in the hope of resolving current relationships affected by that past wrongdoing. It is now clear being doubt that there has been wrongdoing on a geological scale, as modern humans, led by the economically powerful, have degraded and destroyed ecosystems and harmed people as a result. Severe harm to nature that is widespread or long-term, caused by human activity, whether intentional or not, is termed ‘ecocide.’ An International Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Ecocide (ITARCOE) could convene sharing of not only data but also the stories and emotions involved in past and current harm. It could explore why this situation occurred, with the aim of deeper truth rather than blame. It could foreground the people and cultures that warned against the approaches and practices that caused the ecocide and continue to do so. It could lead to financial reparations, perhaps using funds from the new mechanism described above. In most countries ecocide is not registered as a crime, and neither is it recognised as such at an intergovernmental level. However, this commission could complement processes of legal accountability, where that is possible, for specific wrongs related to existing laws. 

Unless the international climate policy agenda makes real space for climate justice and healing, with a meaningful focus on reparations, and financial backing for decisions, then it will be incomplete. ITARCOE would be one contribution to that.

International Alliance for Migrating Ecosystems

Vegetation helps fix carbon from the atmosphere. If it didn’t, there would be no food chain, no fossil fuels, no humans, and no civilisation as we know it. Therefore, forests have always been seen as the lungs of the world, sucking in carbon and pumping out oxygen. Some estimate that forests take up a third of human-produced carbon dioxide. That means that deforestation is not only tragic for the peoples and species that live in forests or depend on them but is also a major concern for climate stability. That is in addition to how forests maintain rainfall patterns and hold back rainfall in the soils, so water doesn’t flood and erode the soils we need for agriculture (which forests also produced in the first place). With all that in mind, it is sad and frightening that according to the UN, at least 10 of the most famous forests of the world are now emitting more CO2 than they absorb. By modelling current and projected changes, US researchers have assessed that globally forests will become a source, not sink, of carbon within the next 30 years. If more vegetation dies than replaces it then carbon is released, and as soils dry out they release carbon, while as permafrost melts it releases carbon, and as forests and their peaty soils burn they release carbon. Such changes comprise one of the fifteen concerning climatic tipping points that remind us all to wake up from the delusion that any declines or degradation will be slow, steady and reversible. That is why it is important and helpful that forest conservation has been a major focus of agreement at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. However, given the trends towards forests becoming a source of carbon, it is essential that our approach to forests, and ecosystems in general, evolve with knowledge of the current and likely impacts of the changing weather. That means nature conservation needs to evolve into a new paradigm that could be termed ‘adapting conservation’.

The practice of nature conservation grew out of an interest over a hundred years ago in the preserving of landscapes and the species within them, in response to the threats posed by expanding cities as well as agricultural and industrial uses of the land. The key is in the word “conservation.” However, in a world with a changing climate, the goal of preserving species, maintaining ecosystems, and protecting beautiful landscapes will be undermined by attachment to the existing paradigm of conservation. Instead, the plants and animals are becoming unsuited to their changing environments. Therefore, for conservationists to continue regarding certain species as ‘invasive’ and seeking to control them will increasingly be counterproductive to the survival of an ecosystem in a changing environment. Such changes are why bats and birds are changing their migratory habits. It is why some insects, animal and plant species are moving to higher latitudes and altitudes. However, many species cannot move fast enough, nor cross certain barriers (seas, lakes and mountain ranges), and many do not know where might be best to move to. Can humans help the rest of nature cope with the disruptions we have caused? Perhaps, and perhaps not. History of environmental management is filled with disastrous examples of well-meaning humans introducing new species to ecosystems and unwittingly wrecking them in process. Therefore, most efforts at ecosystem migration should be focused on helping trees migrate (as they are slow to propagate and grow), and no longer managing landscapes to prevent a change in the flora and fauna that is occurring naturally due to changing climate. Therefore the conservation profession  needs to move away from trying to maintain landscapes as they once were. That means more research into the translocation of species and major investment in the assisted migration of trees. Any policies and financing for forest conservation need to incorporate this situation.

International Alliance on Nuclear Transformation

Because of the high risks and potential benefits, the world urgently needs a new approach to the nuclear sector, beyond limited defence agendas and commercial aims. The history of nuclear power has been shaped by defensive and greedy aspects of human nature, thereby creating an unnecessary hazard to both humanity and the rest of nature. I am referring to, first, the interests of some governments for nuclear power stations to create plutonium so their militaries could make nuclear bombs. That meant choosing the designs of nuclear power stations that, as a bi-product, created the most dangerous and long-lasting nuclear wastes. Today, hundreds of tons of plutonium waste exist in storage situations that pose a high hazard of radioactive pollution. The second issue is that the power stations that were financially more attractive at the time were chosen even though they were not the safest designs. Therefore, today there are hundreds of nuclear power stations around the world which are hazards if a natural disaster strikes or a society is disrupted. For instance, they do not move to cold shutdown on their own, rely on secondary power for cooling, and use pressurised water or gases that increase chances of leaks. They also require water for turbines and cooling so are sited in areas that will likely be flooded in the years to come (or even run out of water at times). For decades, the nuclear industry has been kicking the spent fuel can down the radioactive road by either burying the wastes with at least tens of thousands of years of half-life or leaving them in cooling pools (many of which are at risk of seepage while also open to wildlife that feed on algae and other life within the pools). The technological choices of the past have also provided us with containment issues from past accidents, including Chernobyl and Fukushima.

The current policy discussion on nuclear is very polarised, with some enthusiasts downplaying the risks of hazardous wastes and potential failures in most nuclear technologies. Conversely, many opponents of nuclear power seek to end it altogether without considering whether that prevents us from using up the highly toxic plutonium in a new generation of reactors, thus leaving a much more toxic hazard to future generations and the rest of life on Earth. Add to this polarisation the dark tactics of nuclear-funded public relations campaigns, that seek to undermine any credible threat to the current commercial viability of new build proposals, and we have a toxic environment for policy deliberation. For instance, many nuclear professionals regard the anticipation of worst-case climate scenarios as a threat to their business, as it makes it less likely to obtain approval, capital, and insurance for their projects that require decades of investment. It is one explanation for why the ‘deep adaptation’ field has been subjected to misleading criticism. It is important we rise above the factions dominating nuclear policy deliberations and consider anew what choices would be most beneficial. With that aim, I propose that the reality of entering an era of climate chaos, alongside the energy demands of a decarbonising world, means a three-pronged strategy is needed for the future of nuclear. Such an approach would reflect a transformation in the way nuclear policy has been conducted in recent years.

First, there needs to be a global nuclear power and waste safety task force that is better equipped and legally empowered than current safety authorities and teams. It would develop a long-term plan for coping with rising sea levels and drying riverbeds, and finance necessary changes. It would also be backed by intergovernmental agreements about how countries bring their nuclear power stations to safe shut down in situations where their societies become disrupted through civil conflict or other disruptions. Such an agreement would commit governments to allow an international emergency team to manage the safe shutdown of a power station if a country was not delivering on their safety commitments in a situation of societal crisis. Therefore, this task force would need to maintain the capabilities to deploy anywhere in the world where there is a nuclear power station or above ground nuclear waste facility.

Second, there must be an international ban on the building of any nuclear stations that are not significantly contributing to reducing the plutonium waste crisis. Currently, most of the new nuclear power stations being built around the world use modifications of the existing water-cooled reactors. In the UK, for instance, under-construction Hinkley Point C and proposed Sizewell C should both be cancelled, as a high-hazard technology that carries risk of meltdown during either environmental or societal disruption and generates hazardous wastes.

Third, if private capital is not enough to support the commercial operation of a new generation of nuclear power stations that destroy waste plutonium as a significant part of their fuel source, then funding through novel international mechanisms could be considered. However, in that case they would need to be not-for-profit or state-owned companies, to avoid the ill effects of corporate lobbying on something as important to get policies right on as nuclear power. The technologies I am describing here are molten salt reactors. Unlike the types of nuclear power that exist around the world, the molten salt reactors cannot melt down, do not pressurise any substance, cannot release dangerous isotopes into the air, and can be designed to shut themselves down through the simple effect of gravity when there are any problems and do not need to be located near water, thereby avoiding problems of either flooding or drought. Key is that they can use waste plutonium as a fuel source, and produce far less hazardous wastes, thereby reducing the amount of an extremely hazardous material that would otherwise be hazardous for tens of thousands of years. Due to realistic concerns about the dangers of shipping plutonium to new nuclear reactors, one of the best options would be PRISM reactors built close to the sources of the plutonium wastes while sufficiently far from the coast with worst case sea level rises planned for. Another option are the molten salt reactors that use a less dangerous fuel (not able to be used for weapons) that is created by reprocessing plants similarly located near the plutonium wastes. That is the method being used by the Terrapower and Aurora nuclear power projects. In addition, a new generation of Thorium molten salt reactors would use plutonium in the mix with widely available Thorium to produce low levels of waste, thereby also helping to address the plutonium waste crisis.

My suggestion of a ban on all nuclear power stations other than those helping address the worst nuclear wastes might seem draconian to many people within or supportive of that industry. Yet we should not be adding to the hazards faced by future generations as we enter a disruptive era for humanity. My suggestion of international funding for a new generation of nuclear reactors that do not pose the risks of our current power stations, and help to reduce the plutonium waste issue significantly, will seem reckless and naïve to many in the environmental movement. Yet we should neither ignore the existing power demand that can’t be met by renewables in all locations of the world, nor pretend the plutonium waste problem does not exist, risking a toxic legacy for future generations and the rest of life on Earth. My suggestion for an agency that in some circumstances could override national sovereignty to enter a country and shut down nuclear power stations at risk of meltdown, may seem both unpalatable and overly dramatic to some people; such a rejection    ignores both the extent of the hazard and the increasing risk of societal breakdowns in societies previously considered stable. Unfortunately, this topic will likely still see people speaking from positions that serve their employers or their personal identities as either devoutly green, technologically optimistic, or societally fatalistic. Just as with the situation on geoengineering, we need people engaged in this topic who are neither technophobic or technophilic, and not experiencing a conflict of interest due to their employment or careers.

International Alliance on Climate Adaptation

It is normal for policy wonks and related researchers to define an agenda and then think that it exists and can be worked on well, with the relevant knowledge, guidance and resources. This has never been more so than the idea of adaptation to climate change. Our rapidly destabilising climate is affecting everything in our lives, from the price of food to availability of flood insurance; from the spill-over of wildlife diseases to the motivations of immunologists researching coronaviruses; and from closing windows on the summer smog to the loss of curiosity as anxiety closes minds. The idea that one can talk coherently about how to respond well to the operating environment of human civilisation, is like saying you can predict which butterfly will take to the air at exactly what date and time as the next big quake hits San Francisco. Of course, the butterfly hasn’t even been borne yet (we hope), so one’s hubris of calculation within complex systems would have to be of magical proportion. Yet the hubris of adaptation conversations is normal, and covered over by the reassuring semiotics of policy blah blah. If you read the output from any summit on adaptation to climate change over the past decade, it will repackage existing awesome ideas about gender equity, local participation, democratic accountability. They will emphasise it is important to help organisations and communities to become more agile and resilient in the face of disruptions from strange weather, while proposing nothing significant against the tide of economic globalisation that makes those communities ever more dependent on processes that they have no control over, and which require the smooth operation of complex value chains that are exposed along their length to the direct and indirect impacts of climate chaos. Funded by the same institutions that benefit from that economic globalisation, it is no wonder that so many climate adaptation projects are found by independent researchers as being money-grabbing infrastructure or agricultural commercialisation projects that further marginalise vulnerable communities. Even the hundreds of initiatives that are worthwhile in helping people cope with disruption and uncertainty – for instance getting information on weather and market prices to rural farmers – amount to piecemeal efforts at coping better.

Similar criticisms can be levelled at the variants of adaptation called transformative adaptation and deep adaptation. If adaptation that tries to hold together current livelihoods and lifestyles is difficult enough to identify and promote in a hyper complex world, then adding the need for it to not maintain or increase carbon footprints doesn’t reduce the way such complexity renders categorisation and recommendations mere sophistry. Then, faced with the breakdown of those livelihoods and lifestyles as societies stumble and collapse, the idea one can map the range of helpful responses in any confident and meaningful way seems another example of the human mind seeking escape from the terror of vulnerability through stories of knowing and preparation. That is why one of the world’s leading academics on leadership, Professor Jonathan Gosling, has argued, ‘adaptation leadership’ is going to be necessarily emergent and provisional, rather than bombastic, visionary, and deluded (yep, everything else currently described by sycophants as leadership). That means the best thing any of us can do is help loosen the strange ways we humans think and relate that hold us back from sensing what we might need to do differently. One of those strange ways is thinking that a few experts can generalise about complex unpredictable situations on a planet of near 8 billion people. 

This must seem like a rather dark preamble to a proposal on a new international alliance on adaptation. My aim is to preface the argument for why the best thing we can do that is systemic on climate adaptation is organise against stupid things being financed and permitted in the name of adaptation. By stupid, I mean greedy opportunists taking advantage of difficult situations to make money and gain status. One of the biggest ways that is happening at present is the use of the climate crisis to justify massive infrastructure projects. Many such projects are not taking the worst-case climate projections into account, and how that will affect flooding, sea levels, precipitation and such like. In addition, such projects come with a massive carbon footprint and an amount of debt which means that they must have business plans that rely on expansion of the systems that caused the tragic situation in the first place, and push out the people who won’t make the investors any money. Therefore, a global ban on cross-border financing of infrastructure that is not preparing for the bad case scenarios, not low carbon, not with a low impact on biodiversity and not accountable to the people being affected by the project. Such a ban would probably mean no new airports, no new motorways, no new luxury resorts built on flood defences and so on, being funded by foreign money. So that agreement probably won’t happen. Instead, the opposite is likely to happen with government incentives agreed to help private finance flow into adaptation projects, with weak filters or vague commitments on low carbon, local participation and such like. Therefore, this kind of International Alliance will need to arise from civil society organisations and networks that are committed to fighting a good yet futile fight against disaster capitalists profiting from the climate crisis.

One of the most important things to remember for those of us who work on climate adaptation is to not succumb to the project-by-project mentality of humanitarian and development aid. No society transformed itself due to the benevolence of some donors and sporadic grants to well-meaning individuals coming to help. Many individuals benefited from specific humanitarian and development projects, but it is extremely tenuous for people in the field of development assistance to argue that such projects changed societies. Instead, societies change because of the way technologies, economics and politics evolves. Therefore, although it is great to celebrate instances of locally-led adaptation to climate change, it would be NGO make-believe to limit our agenda on how to help people adapt to climate chaos to the promotion of individual instances of success in adversity. Instead, an important focus is on how to reduce the systemic barriers to people attempting to adapt well to their local situations. Therefore, a more comprehensive Real Green Revolution to address the wider ClimatePlus agenda is, I believe, an important way to work on adaptation, whether one is interested in simple, transformative or deep approaches to that adaptation.

You can subscribe to my blog by using the box on the right, or at the bottom of this post. To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either visit the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by follow the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. A list of previous parts of this essay is available.

We Can’t Live on Borrowed Freedom Forever – part 4 of a #RealGreenRevolution

This is the 4th in a 7-part essay on the type of policy innovations that would respond to the truth of the environmental predicament and, also, why most environmental professionals ignore such ideas to promote limited and limiting ideas instead. These ideas on a #RealGreenRevolution provide a contrast to current agendas, with the aim of encouraging a global environmental movement as a rights-based political force.  In this part of the essay, I focus on the impossible yet essential matter of governance reform. It is something made even more difficult by the recent capture of public space to global tech platforms, which most politicians choose to ignore.

To receive each part of the essay, subscribe to my blog. To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either engage on the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by following the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. A list of previous parts of this essay is available.

Governance Reform

The past decades have witnessed similar political trends across many countries, involving market deregulation, privatisation, foreign ownership and increased financialization. The way such trends have occurred worldwide is an indication of the lack of sovereignty of individual nations. Instead, global financial institutions provide the intellectual resources and talking points via professional institutes, media, universities and thinktanks, and exert a disciplinary force via the government bond and foreign exchange markets. In each country there is a particular packaging for this agenda, and a story told about how it is a result of the leadership of a particular politician or political faction. But the global trend reveals as a complete fraud the story in mainstream media that individual politicians are leaders rather than administrators of the interests of national and international capital, however knowingly or not, and the sales assistants for the ideas that advance those interests. Many politicians are actually trained in such sales techniques, including public relations professionals, actors, presenters and celebrities.

The banking reforms I mentioned earlier would help remove some of the undemocratic pressures on governments. That is unlikely to occur given the way that finance influences politics in most countries. Therefore, governance reform is urgently required to reduce the influence of money on politics and allow for a serious attempt at a Real Green Revolution. Despite governance affecting every single social and environmental issue in every country, this matter of governance reform is not prioritised by trade unions, environmental organisations, human rights organisations, amongst all the other interest groups in society. Part of the reason is the desire for some organisations that have charitable status to avoid appearing political. However, education and advocacy on governance reform could easily be done within the rules governing charities. So what might this involve?

Some of the ideas that could be advanced by coalitions within civil society are the following, which could apply at various levels of government from local to national, and free up politics to grapple with the ClimatePlus agenda more coherently. Stricter rules and limits on donations to politicians and political parties and instead some supplementary funding from the state on the basis of agreed metrics on levels of support. A ban on private consulting or investment management by politicians and senior bureaucrats or their families, and a minimum 3-year break between working in government and working in any employment related to their official role. Criminalisation of the paid-for publishing of repeated lying about political opponents (e.g. by adverts on Facebook). Criminalisation of police or secret agency involvement in domestic or foreign political parties (which may require an international treaty, given that many secret agencies infiltrate their own political parties in order to monitor and defend from foreign influences).

Unless we address these issues, any devolution of power to regional governments will still experience the same problems of capture by economic interests as is seen at the national level. It is important to try and change the situation at all levels of government, as without it, then politicians and their bureaucracies will not be able to centre the #ClimatePlus agenda, and instead are likely to respond either weakly, haphazardly, or in ways that serve narrow corporate interests.

Media, Advertising and Big Tech Reform

The governance we experience is a direct outcome of the way we communicate in our societies. The money system is itself a form of communication. When banks decide what you can get a loan for, that is a form of communication to you and everyone around the world involved in the making, selling, servicing, use and future purchase of whatever it is. As I explored in my Inaugural Professorial Lecture back in 2014, corporations are the biggest storytellers in our lives. Through advertising, public relations, media content of all kinds, and the methods of the multinational Big Tech online platforms, corporations shape our experience of information and communication. All of these communications have been shaped by the aim of commerce – making us need more of their stuff, rather than stuff made by others or no stuff at all. No wonder society seems to have become a hodgepodge of neurotic status seekers. I often wonder how afflicted I am by the culture I am critiquing here. If I had greater self-acceptance, would I have been nicer to myself and everyone, rather than rushed around with big stuff to do? Probably. Which is why we all need to wake up to how our lives – and those of people we love – have been injured by a culture shaped in the interests of corporations. From that place of sadness and pain, we might begin to consider policies relevant to the size of the issue. Here are some of my ideas – I encourage you to think of your own.

We need to ban any advertising to children under the age of 14. Any kind of advertising to them or to their parents about them needs to be understood as a form of child abuse, by making them feel inadequate. No ifs, not buts, it should be a criminal offence to advertise to kids or seek to manipulate their attention in any way to sell stuff. That also includes product placement in TV and video content aimed at kids. In addition, we need to accept that selling stories of better lives, happier marriages, and suchlike from a specific product is actually a form of lying. Therefore, any advertising which promotes lifestyles and feelings, rather than providing factual information on a product, should be illegal. Yes, that means we might see extremely boring ads. But then we could have more exciting lives, as we would stop being sold bullshit ideas, and rediscover what we know about the meaning of our lives having nothing to do with a logo.

The large tech firms would oppose this approach to advertising, as that is a huge part of their profits. They would likely not comply and await blocking of their services in a country for that non-compliance, knowing that a large section of the public would be adversely affected and demand government find a solution. This is a reminder of the illegitimate power of large corporations. Their investors have even bragged about their strategies to become monopolies, in order to then extract increased profits from all who interact with the platforms. Humanity has a history of megalomaniac greed, in the form of monopolist capitalists. For their intention to turn everyone and every other business into a subject of their corporations, they need to be regarded as enemies of humanity, not esteemed billionaires. To begin with, all the platforms should be broken up into their constituent parts. Youtube should not be part of Google, Whatsapp not part of Facebook and so on. Then, key systems like Youtube should be broken up again into companies related to content type and language. Therefore, entertainment content would be shown through one post-Youtube company, and news content another. The fact that this sounds odd and unreasonable to so many people is because the basic facts of corporate history have been hidden from the public – breaking up monopolistic companies is part of the defence of democracy and always has been. The arguments that better efficiency and end user experience come from monopolies have always been made by the monopolists and we hear the same arguments from them today. Instead, standards for interoperability between systems and companies can address any difficulties associated with breaking up companies, just as they always have done in the past, in all kinds of industries including electronics, communications and internet. To begin to work on this issue, governments would need to prepare their populations from aggressive preemptive responses from the Big Tech platforms, by enabling and incentivising their citizens to prepare for disruption to key platforms that they use.

The implications for the ClimatePlus agenda are significant. Greater tax revenues for governments and greater shares of incomes for producers at the base of supply chains will help societies with resources they need to invest in all aspects of the ClimatePlus agenda. What is not widely recognised is how the direct and indirect impacts of climate change on economic processes, including long and complex supply chains, pose a threat to their continued smooth and cost-effective operation, especially in an era of just-in-time supplies to factories and retail outlets. The resilience of communities and companies to disruptions to finance and trade will be increased if they are less reliant on a global companies that can be affected by disruptions from any part of the globe (or cause the disruptions through their own unaccountable policies and practices).  

Corporate media reform is needed as well. Large corporations that own multiple TV channels and newspapers are known to influence the political conversation in countries around the world. In the past, that has supported the interests of corporations via advancement of neo-liberal policies, and in the last few years their agenda has switched to support corporate interests through government subsidising of such companies. The ownership and aims of this media sector has meant a lack of attention to critical issues of our time, a lack of attention and undermining of significant ideas to address those issues, a promotion of reactionary and opportunistic political narratives, and a constant flow of content that contributes to the ‘aspirational dissatisfaction’ that a consumer capitalist system produces and requires within a populous.

The first policy that is needed is the banning of controlling share-holder interests in media corporations by foreign individuals or corporations. Any newspaper, radio or TV station with a large market share in a country must be majority-owned by citizens of that country. That would pose difficult challenges for the largest internet TV channels, which would either have to create new companies in countries to sell their content to, or find themselves blocked by those countries, if non-compliant.  Secondly, at least half of all licenses for TV and radio in a country should be awarded to either non-profit foundation owned, or cooperatively owned organisations, with preferential pricing of licenses if necessary to achieve that aim. These measures would help to both pluralise media content and change the incentives, thereby enabling a more diverse and relevant discussion of the situation humanity now faces. If that happens, then many more ideas related to a ClimatePlus agenda will be able to emerge, be discussed, refined and implemented.

Yes, it is unlikely these reforms will occur, as all the trends are in the opposite direction – towards “technofeudalism”. Unless you are a technoauthoritarian, with zero evidence that will work, this is a problem, and we must keep up the focus on the capture of our political processes. Tomorrow I discuss some of the topics more often addressed by environmental professionals, campaigners and policy makers – adaptation, geoengineering, and nuclear power. To receive each part of the essay, subscribe to my blog. To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either engage on the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by following the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. A list of previous parts of this essay is available.

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

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

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

Global Carbon Energy Tax Treaty

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

A global carbon tax on energy still makes sense today, not only for emissions reductions. It will need to be applied at the point of fuel production or energy generation for commercial distribution, to keep the administration of the tax as efficient as possible and not oblige end users to have additional bureaucratic costs. Instead the fuel and energy producers would pass the costs through the value chain. Such a tax needs to be agreed at an intergovernmental level in order to apply globally. That is because such a tax must be set at a level that will affect organisational practices and profits to bring down carbon emissions. Unless it is applied everywhere then there would be unfair competition, and investment gravitating to jurisdictions that did not apply it. That means the best place to agree an intergovernmental global carbon tax on energy is at the World Trade Organisation. They have a system for adjudicating on noncompliance and enabling enforcement. Exports of either goods and services from non-compliant countries would be regarded as carbon dumping on the world market and countries could impose tariffs accordingly. The next question is what levels of carbon tax would be appropriate. There would need to be an agreed formula for different levels of carbon taxation in countries that would vary depending on the levels of poverty in countries. In addition, there would need to be agreements on what levels of direct or indirect subsidy of carbon emitting energy could be allowed before phase out. Such a tax would not cover non-energy sources of carbon emissions, but would be a major aid in decarbonising energy. There would need to be agreements on international standards for measuring carbon emissions and various other aspects of the operation of this tax.

For the tax not to lead to social backlash and countries subsequently dropping out of the system, there would need to be primary attention to the social implications. Whereas that could be decided at country level, a treaty will need to gain commitment from every country that their revenues from a carbon tax would be largely targeted at the low income in their countries in order for them to adjust successfully. There would also need to be an intergovernmental reporting and complaints system regarding performance on that. Without it being agreed globally, fairly, and without clear channelling of revenues to low-income people, then the backlashes to carbon taxes already experienced in some countries will prevent it from achieving the intended impact. To help with that, ideally this tax could be combined with wider tax reform which I explain below.

Before moving on, I want to make clear why this tax proposal is better than the ideas being floated by some environmental experts today. This proposal also avoids creating intrusive surveillance of individuals that would be required by a carbon quota system, and avoids the counter-productive idea that the source of the problem is the individual, rather than the systems which provide the options and price signals to them. In addition, it offers a meaningful alternative to the flaws of a campaign for divestment from fossil fuels. The campaign to get large pension funds, amongst other financial funds, to divest from fossil fuel companies has picked up in recent years and had some successes. As there is a lot of finance available around the world, that has nothing to do with countries where divestment campaigns occur, while there is also ongoing demand for the fossil fuels, any decline in share price of oil companies will simply lead to new sources of capital. If the share prices fall enough for firms like Shell and BP, then companies or investment funds from countries like China, India and Malaysia will take them over, and perhaps even take them private. The fossil fuels will continue to be extracted and years of western activist attention will have been wasted, while also propping up the story that ethical investment works to address major public issues beyond piecemeal changes in individual corporate practices – which decades of evidence now shows it doesn’t. Instead, a helpful move from coalitions of investors would be to call for – and fund work towards – a global carbon energy tax treaty. Whereas it would be difficult for individual nations to adopt carbon taxes at a level that would significantly change behaviours, various policies could be adopted to remove corporate pushbacks on other countries supporting the policy, which I explore in a subsequent section on investor regulation.

Not only is this policy relevant for cutting carbon emissions, it might also increase the incentives for shortening and simplifying supply chains, which will promote more localisation of production and consumption systems, which offers some resilience against future disruption to global trade networks.

Taxation Transformation

One argument for why carbon taxes have failed in some countries is because they have not been linked to a major new overhaul in the tax system in ways that reduce the overall tax burden for the working poor and small businesses. A transformation of the tax system is required that would remove any impediments for people being hired, while discouraging wastefulness of natural resources. This needs to be done in a bold way that can cut through to the general public, and avoid defeat by the public relations campaigns of negatively affected businesses. Therefore, I recommend a complete abolishing of income tax and replacing tax revenues by taxes on income from financial assets, financial speculation, natural resource extraction (not including recycled), the carbon energy tax described above, and other taxes on large-scale carbon-emitting land uses, such as livestock farming. Such a shift in taxation would help both mitigation and, by disincentivising natural resource depletion, could help ecological regeneration. In addition, to help communities become more self-reliant through better internal cooperation, all taxes could be abolished on used consumer goods (e.g. that have had a prior owner for at least a year), the hire of consumer goods, and on any items swapped or lent through any community owned exchange platform (so long as a fungible currency is not used i.e. not one that can be spent outside the exchanges).

While these measures can be done nationally, they would best be part of an international effort towards a global taxation treaty that explicitly notes our planetary predicament and the need to redirect markets accordingly. Such a treaty should set minimum tax rates for internet corporations and other providers of global services, including financial institutions, and end various tax management or avoidance practices, such as transfer pricing within multinational corporations. Such a treaty will help restore government finances to be able to afford bold policy measures on the whole #ClimatePlus agenda (described in Part 1 of this essay).

Trade Rules Reform

Currently international trade agreements mean that it is difficult for a government to pass a law restricting importation of something from another WTO-member country due to the way it was made. Instead, any regulation must focus on the qualities of the product itself. There are a few cases where a country manages to exclude imports that were made illegally, such as timber. However, the general approach is to remove any ‘barriers to trade’. This measure must be removed from the WTO agreements and countries encouraged to regulate imports on the basis of methods of production, so long as they reference relevant international standards when doing so. Doing so will reduce the pressure for companies to externalise their costs onto the workforce, supply chain, society and the environment as they seek to compete internationally. That will help companies to contribute to climate mitigation and ecological regeneration in particular. It also provides a context within which workers and small business owners may be able to seek better conditions, and this will help them adapt to increasing disruptions in future.

Corporate Reform

The laws governing the incorporation and operation of firms differs greatly around the world. However, a typical feature is limiting the liability of the directors and shareholders for any losses or damages associated with a company. The nature of that limited liability must be changed, so that if there is a certain level of harm caused to people or the environment, then the directors can be more easily prosecuted. That could help reduce the extremes of negative corporate practice and enable ecological regeneration. In addition, a new principle of ‘capital accountability’ should be introduced into the law, in ways that would make the accountability of corporations, and the management of private property generally, to any significantly affected community, a requirement in order to retain one’s property rights for that asset. That would mean that a landowner would need to demonstrate systems of accountability to significantly affected communities as part of maintaining their ongoing property right. Likewise, any shareholder in a corporation would have a requirement to ensure that the corporation has processes to enable its activities to be accountable to any significantly affected stakeholders. In practice, such a requirement would be incorporated into the auditing function of a corporation and become part of the fiduciary duty of fund managers. Each country would have its own methods for understanding credible and meaningful methods for promoting this accountability to significantly affected communities, and the courts would decide about breaches of this duty. In serious cases, where corrective actions are not taken, then a landowner or shareholder could lose the right to own their asset, with the affected communities being the beneficiary. More on this reworking of the concept of – and responsibilities associated with – property rights in the commercial sector is in the introduction to my 2014 book Healing Capitalism (pdf download).  

These changes in the concept of – and law on – property rights, and shareholding in corporations, would make consideration for affected persons a starting point rather than an afterthought. It would enable a systematic reduction of cost and risk externalisation onto others and nature. Therefore, it would structurally incentivise corporations to be more involved in their own ways with emissions reductions, carbon drawdown, adaptation, environmental regeneration and perhaps even climate restoration initiatives.

Investor and Insurance Reform

Investors of all kinds, including large institutional investors and hedge funds, need significant new regulations to make capital more patient, and be directed into what is needed for the #ClimatePlus agenda. The reform of corporate law will help to a degree. But specific practices within the financial sector need urgent attention, as we seek to send the right signals to the real economy, and prevent a syphoning of wealth into activities which provide no social value.

Therefore, one immediate policy would be to ban high frequency trading, due to its drain on useful economic activity. That should cover all stocks, foreign exchange, and other financial instruments. In addition, the ‘short selling’ of stocks should be regulated so as to make it simply a ‘hedge’ against risk rather than a profit-centre that, when widespread, provides incentives for volatility. All financial institutions should be required to audit their public policy influence of any kind, anywhere, and actively seek to align it with the foreign policy positions of the government they are headquartered in, or explain why not, in a public report.

The insurance industry also plays a key role in enabling business activities, and reducing the risks and costs of doing certain projects. The insurance industry could be given the requirement that they cannot offer cover for any corporation larger than an SME (small to medium sized business) without requiring them to have an environmental management plan that is publicly available (or the insurance policy would be invalidated), and which must include exclusions of certain activities that are particularly damaging.

Unless the corporate and financial worlds are retooled to support business activities that externalise less costs and risks onto society, the #ClimatePlus agenda will never be systematically engaged with. Instead, we will continue to be told to marvel at – and draw hope from – individual corporations and entrepreneurs doing better on some aspects of sustainability, while our collective situation gets worse. As I said at every conference I went to on corporate sustainability in the first decade of this century: it is going to be pointless to say “our company is the greenest” when the whole town is going underwater – changes have to become routine, through changing the incentives and requirements on people in all organisations. Tomorrow, in the next part of this essay I will explore the banking and monetary systems, and what transformations are needed there to complement these policy changes.

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

This is what a #RealGreenRevolution would include

This is the first in a 7-part essay on the type of policy innovations that would respond to the truth of the environmental predicament and, also, why most environmental professionals ignore such ideas to promote limited and limiting ideas instead. It provides a contrast to current agendas, with the aim of encouraging a global environmental movement as a rights-based political force. This introduction provides context and a #ClimatePlus framework, with the policy proposals coming in the subsequent parts.


As humanity faces catastrophic climate change, we hear calls for ‘systemic change’, or ‘transformation’. However, the familiar policy ideas shared by politicians, business leaders, climatologists and campaigners fail to be systemic. That includes the new announcements coming from governments during COP26, on matters like forest conservation and financing coal. But it also includes many of the bolder ideas from environmental campaigners, as some uncomfortable examples will illustrate… No, banks divesting from fossil fuels is not systemic, because if it works enough to lower the share-price of international oil companies, then competitors, rich families, or sovereign wealth funds from around the world will take them over and keep the oil pumping to supply ongoing demand. That doesn’t mean that banks and pension funds are doing the right thing to invest in oil companies – they are not. But trying to change that is not a systemic aim because it won’t change humanity’s impacts at scale. Neither is calling for governments to stop focusing on GDP growth a systemic idea, if the monetary system that requires their economies to grow in order to achieve economic stability remains enthroned. Condemning the UN processes as failures as a way of calling for multi-stakeholder alliances on climate is not a transformative stance, when it ignores how corporate influence over decades destroyed the potential of those UN processes and will likewise distort the initiatives coming out of any new alliance.

So am I just being defeatist? No – otherwise I would not bother writing this 7-part essay on radical and transformative policy responses to our environmental predicament. There are many systemic policy innovations that could help humanity right now, but you won’t hear them from the professionals engaged in climate policy this month. That is because the professional classes, who are people with time to engage in the policy jamborees, have been schooled within the ideology of our time, which defers to existing power in a global capitalist system. I know because I am one of them. I lied to myself for decades as I tried to encourage significant reform through voluntary corporate sustainability initiatives. What’s worse, we professionals working on public challenges are surrounded by people with an unacknowledged narcissism, where the motivation to feel ethical, smart, and contemporary, trumps any depth of inquiry into what might be going on and might be possible. It is a strange but silver lining of the terrifying climate news that more of us are being forced out of such patterns through a dark night of the soul. It means we can consider again what might work, rather than what has been just easy stuff to tell ourselves – or our professional admirers, clients or donors.

Released as a series of blogs over the next 7 days, in this essay I aim to help you explore how you might engage in larger social change beyond your household and neighbourhood, as you anticipate increasing societal disruption from the direct and indirect effects of environmental breakdown. If you want to be part of a political movement that has relevant goals, either through your professional work or as a volunteer, I hope this essay will stimulate some new ideas and drive. I consider this an outline of ideas for a “real green revolution,” by which I mean a fundamental change in the power relations which have caused the interrelated social and environmental chaos of our era. I will touch on controversial topics including monetary reform, geoengineering, ecocide, nuclear power, family planning, and assisted dying, amongst others. Consequently, I don’t anticipate widespread agreement, but hope the essay will illustrate the breadth of policy ideas that can arise from a more holistic and systemic approach than the one on display this month as the world talks about climate.

I will focus on what might be the most important public policy areas to work on, in light of the unfolding disruptions to our way of life and the difficulties to come. What I mean by ‘important’ is those changes in policies which could affect the greatest number of people through changes in the incentives and disincentives we experience directly. Given the disruptiveness of the pandemic era, as well as the forthcoming disruptiveness of climate panic, I think some of these policy ideas will have a chance to be implemented, even if they are then swamped by subsequent disruptions as the climate changes further. Nevertheless, writing this essay has felt somewhat futile. Because my proposals go against the powerful tide of mainstream policy that is reflected by COP26 as well as its critics. That sense of futility meant I kept quiet for a while. But then I realised that if people like me don’t share our ideas on what we think is needed, then we will not discover if there are like-minds to collaborate with. If we keep quiet then neither would we have offered a contrasting agenda that could help people understand the ideological limits of what they are currently being offered. Silence would mean we would not know if something positive could have happened – we would have accepted defeat without utterance. I remain a positive pessimist: I anticipate a very difficult future but continue to hunger for new ideas for how to reduce harm and find joy in the process. Even the contrast that is offered may help some not to participate in counterproductive policy responses. Therefore, even while I expect that the ideas outlined in this essay will not be enacted, I share them with a desire to be fully present to the situation, to uphold truth and dialogue, and honour our unending capacities to do what’s right, whatever the circumstances.

Over these last 3 years since the Deep Adaptation paper on societal collapse went viral with a million-plus downloads, I did not share many ideas on policies. Not because I did not have any, but because I preferred to encourage ways of relating and discussing where people from all walks of life would develop new ideas about what to do once they woke up to our predicament. That enacted my perspective on social change, where key to engagement are the common questions, better ways of exploring them and experimenting with multiple possible answers. The same aim of promoting a multiplicity of ideas underpins the Deep Adaptation book which I edited with Rupert Read. In its pages, many experts share their ideas on diverse topics – from education, to business, to psychotherapy, to local economics. That approach also reflects a painful realisation that the complexity of the processes of societal disruption and breakdown means that advancing wide-ranging recommendations on policy responses can become delusional. That complexity is a challenge to the growing ‘climate adaptation’ policy arena that I will explore further in this essay.  

Some people who anticipate collapse, and some people who observe us, have the impression that the ‘deep adaptation’ framework and community are not about policies that might help reduce harm and create better possibilities during societal breakdown. It is true that some people who are very active in the Deep Adaptation Forum are not interested in any efforts at creating a wider influence on people through public policies. They rationalize that in various ways, including by regarding the current governance apparatus of the market and governments as of limited lifespan. Some people see any work on influencing policy as rather dry and painful and do not wish to spend their remaining years engaged in such activities. I appreciate those views – and feel them – but do not think that helpful if it becomes the dominant response amongst those of us who anticipate – or consider we are witnessing – societal breakdown. Instead, if I share some tasty but half-baked ideas on policy innovations in response to imminent or unfolding societal breakdown, perhaps you will bite on them, or spit them out and serve some of your own! That process might be a bit awkward along the way, but some good new ideas might emerge in the process.  

Getting Systemic Also Means Getting Personal

Before diving into specific policy ideas, it is important to note where, philosophically, I am coming from. Key, therefore, is one’s perspective on human nature and the role of governance in related to that. In my exploration of systemic approaches to problems, I discovered that people are assuming a range of ideas about the nature of reality and the nature of the human. Such ideas underpin how people imagine the need for – and nature of – governance. That touches on the oldest debates in political philosophy, which stretch further back than, say, Hobbes, to the various ideas of Plato, Lao Tsu and other totems of thought on both human nature and good governance. Therefore, before jumping into the specific policy ideas, I wish to begin with some reflections on human nature and what may have gone wrong so far.

If we look at the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the last 40 years as well as the levels of habitat and biodiversity loss, the trends are near exponential in a terrible direction (unless you are a cockroach awaiting the destiny of your offspring to rule the planet in the late-Anthropocene era). The raw data on human impact on the planet is irrefutable evidence that our collective efforts to sustain our living environment have failed. Looking at those exponential curves of doom, one climatologist remarked to me that it appears as if humans are behaving like an unintelligent bacteria colony in a petri dish. When such organisms find themselves in a yummy petri dish, they reproduce themselves until they exhaust their nutrient supply and create too many waste products for their own survival, thereby wiping themselves out. As I self-identify as a human, I might be biased on this matter. With that caveat, I think we are far more intelligent than bacteria. So what might be the other options for making sense of humanity’s overshoot of the resources of our planetary home and resulting self-harm? One idea is that we are smart but suicidal. Another option is that we are smart but insane. Perhaps we went insane due to our anxiety at our awareness of our own mortality, and thus became subconsciously destructive of all life including our own. Putting aside such existential rumination on the collective unconscious for a moment, to return to the realm of normal chit chat, neither suicide nor insanity seem intelligent from a normal understanding of intelligence. That’s not to say that suicide might seem to be a way out for some individuals in situations of intense and irreducible suffering (which is something I will return to later). But I believe there’s a much better explanation for why we’re acting like bacteria in a planetary petri dish. And there is good scholarship to back up my idea. So, without further ado…

Humanity is oppressed by the systems that were built and maintained by people amongst us who have been expressing their lowest states of consciousness. Those states of consciousness are filled with fear, greed, and antipathy towards fellow humans. They lead people to seek to acquire more control over resources and other people. They create and develop systems that reduce the need to trust and be trusted, like and be liked, care and be cared for. The history of the theft of common lands and common resources, the creation of currencies and banks, profit maximising corporations, and financial speculation all relate to that form of consciousness. A lot of effort then goes into woke-washing this systematised separation and selfishness, by people who had careers like mine. A lot of us don’t realise that is what we are doing because we have not experienced life outside this economic system. It has trained us since birth to experience each other and the world in ways that involve separation, scarcity, acquisition and competition. Throughout our lives we are rewarded and punished in ways so it is easier to compete to acquire stuff, status and experiences, while externalizing risks and costs onto other people, the natural world and future generations.

Unless we wake up to these systems of oppression and how they are the reason for why humanity has got itself into this terrible situation, we will not identify how to reduce future harm. It is in overlooking this matter of assumptions about human nature in relation to the cause of our predicament that I believe the environmental movement in advanced economies has been flawed. Ignoring or downplaying systemic oppressions and instead promoting further managerial control of people serves to denigrate us all, rather than honour our suppressed yet resilient inclinations for solidarity and collective contribution. To not recognise these processes of oppression is to implicitly assume that human nature is bad, stupid, suicidal or insane. All of those assumptions are misanthropic. Unless we become aware of that thread of misanthropy within current policy discussions on public issues, then, in a state of anxiety at disruptive changes and risks, many of us could support greater oppression of each other. This is what I have identified in the mainstream narrative about how to respond effectively to the pandemic, and my encouragement of a more citizen-based response in future, which recognises our capabilities and desires to make responsible decisions for ourselves and each other.

What are the policy innovations that might have the deepest and widest effects on the whole of an economy in society without creating a cumbersome bureaucratic burden or meddling in people’s lives unnecessarily? That was the question I asked myself as I reflected on all the ideas I have discussed or developed with people in the field of ‘sustainable development’ over the past 30 years. We know there are numerous important things to work on. For example, the world of fashion is quite ridiculous in its premises on constant change and superficial matters of appearance, while involving negative impacts on the environment and sometimes on the workforce down through the supply chains. It is something I’ve worked on in the past. However it’s not one of the main areas to focus on if we seek policy ideas that could have the widest impacts. For that, we need to identify what has the most implications for the rest of economy and society – we need to identify and change the operating code for our economy and society.

That focus has inevitably led me to focus on matters of economic governance. Such topics can be complicated, dry, full of technical language and attract serious people who like it that way. The topics can seem far outside the fields of expertise of people who work on environmental concerns. Topics of economic governance are also less easy to explain to a friend, colleague or supporter of an environmental cause. Therefore, few of us are prepared to engage fully. Many people who have engaged have then left their activism behind and ended up working within the economic system, as consultants, bureaucrats or investment advisors, animated by a story of incremental change, which fades into the background as the rest of life becomes more important than their prior activist intentions. Another impediment to activist engagement with economic governance is a misguided story of pragmatism. I meet many environmentalists who say that there is not time to work on economic transformation. They feel rightly frightened by the pace of climate change and its current impacts on societies. The desire for urgent impact is understandable. But in arguing to work with the economic powers as they are, in ways that therefore do not seek to transform power relations, they have to ignore how environmentalists and social justice campaigners have tried for decades to redirect the power of corporation and banks towards more socially and environmentally beneficial outcomes. They ignore the experience of that effort, which has demonstrated only incremental improvements while the trajectory of the global economy has been otherwise, and the data on environmental health demonstrates the existing strategies have not worked. They also ignore how the last 5 years has witnessed political activists being successful in many countries with an explicitly rebellious message in relation to incumbent power. With that appetite for radicalism in mind, I invite you to consider the policy ideas that I will share in this 7-part essay.

ClimatePlus and the Delicate Policy Primacy of Climate Change

Our rapidly changing climate and disturbed weather must be a central organising principle for all governmental policies going forward. That is because our changing climate affects everything about our societies, either directly or indirectly, through impacts on food, water, disease, disasters, economics, psychology and more. The centring of climate does not mean that all other considerations become secondary. We are responding to climate change because we care about each other and nature. Some philosophers, backed heavily by billionaires, appear to be fine with the idea there be only a small population of humans left on Earth in return for a stable climate, because they surmise that would make it more likely for billions of future humans to enjoy life. Their philosophy of “longtermism” helps them to put the imagined future lives of humans above consideration of us alive right now. That means that elites have a new story to justify themselves changing the way they relate to the rest of us alive today. They imagine themselves unaccountable to us and serving a higher purpose of their imaginations. Like many people I am not keen on the idea of people with the power of enabling genocides to justify themselves with novel ethics and unproven hypotheses for climate restoration. Instead, many of us want to maintain and even grow our values, connection and consciousness, as we respond to the predicament. We realise we might not succeed in preventing global catastrophe, and prefer to uphold human dignity in the process of trying. Therefore, there is a balancing to seek, where we centre climate change responses, while respecting human dignity. In addition there is a deepening to seek, where we look into why humanity, or bits of it, caused this terrible predicament, and thus try to learn how not to make matters worse by efforts coming from the same place that caused the mess.

To refer to this balancing and deepening of approaches to the climate situation, I will call it a #ClimatePlus agenda. It is an agenda that does not develop a tunnel vision simply on carbon cuts and drawdown, but keeps the climate situation in mind across all issues faced in society. As I explored how such an agenda might inform policy innovation, I kept five key aims in mind.  

  • Mitigation of climate change in significant ways, including both emissions cuts and drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere.
  • Adaptation to rapid and inevitably severe climate change, including measures that are accountable to affected persons, carbon-neutral and including anticipation of worst-case scenarios and even societal collapse.
  • Restoration of the climate, including Arctic repair, with safe and regulated methods.
  • Regeneration of ecosystems and the societies that depend on them, including assisted migration of ecosystems. 
  • Reparation by richer nations and the international financial system paid to people experiencing loss and damage from climate chaos; recognising the history of contributions to those current difficulties.

When I looked as what could be the most systemic interventions for each of the five areas of a #ClimatePlus agenda I realised that any one intervention could have implications for a number of the areas. I also realised that success would depend on an intervention not creating problems within the other areas. Therefore, my proposals address deeper structural issues than most of the current policy discussion around environmental problems. The resultant policy ideas are not fully formed. However, they emerge from my work on sustainable development since 1995 on all continents (bar Antarctica!), within business, investment, civil society, academia, political parties and the intergovernmental sector. So I’m not inexperienced, and still young enough for it to be premature to put me in the category of nutty old professor 😊 I hope that by sharing these ideas I will contribute to an opening of discussion on a more radical green agenda that responds to the latest science on biospheric collapse.

Each day for the next 7 days I will publish groups of ideas for policy innovation. To receive each part of the essay, subscribe to my blog, using the box on the right. To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either engage on the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by following the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter.

Reviving humanity and creativity in this time of dying

The Deep Adaptation Quarterly is out. it shows what a lot of stuff is happening under the radar of the mainstream media’s attention to social change. This is my editorial – you can also read the full newsletter and subscribe to the next.

Editorial – Reviving humanity and creativity in this time of dying

Anxiety about climate change and its impacts was discussed more widely in mainstream media in the last few months. For both children and adults, the main message coming from psychologists is that we can become more open about our feelings, rather than suppress them and pretend we are feeling fine. Although greater discussion of that in the mainstream is a step forward, it was unfortunate that a typical assumption of modern culture appeared in nearly all the reporting I read. That is the assumption that people positively engage in society because we believe we will make situations better. Instead, many people engage to make things less worse or because we believe in doing what’s good and true, whatever the situation or outcome. The dominant ideology of modern cultures, where material progress is assumed to be good and uncontestable underlies the limited ways motivation is discussed. However, just because material progress might be dying, does not mean we kill our humanity or creativity. This newsletter contains information which illustrates the wide range of creative solidarity that is emerging from people who anticipate societal disruption and collapse.

Many people want to live according to their unfolding truth, help others in bold ways, and be more creative and expressive precisely because they anticipate greater disruptions to their way of life. Creativity is one important response. An increasing amount of poetry and stories are being shared on the blog of the Deep Adaptation Forum. Music has been released that is inspired by a Deep Adaptation approach to life. I have also worked with the creative arts, to produce a multimedia art project that will raise funds for the children of Bali who have been badly affected by the pandemic. The project, called #BreakingTogether, incorporates one of my poems about climate anxiety, and includes the theme of impermanence – thus counter to the ideology of material progress.

For years the group Dark Mountain have encouraged cultural expression to help people explore what a new way of being human in a time of disruption and collapse might feel like. Moving ahead, it appears to me that artistic activity of all kinds will not only be important for personal wellbeing of the people involved, or the funds raised for charity, but also for more massive communication. Because we are entering a crucial period for sense-making about the environmental situation, as more and more people become aware of how bad the situation is becoming. That was the main theme of my recent essay reflecting on the past year since I left management of the Deep Adaptation Forum. The concern is that people could be susceptible to messages that suit the interests of corporations and incumbent power, and not get to hear about the diversity of ideas that are shared by people engaged in the Deep Adaptation conversation.

When collapse-anticipation does get discussed in the mainstream media, even now it is lampooned, or labelled as unhelpful ‘doomism’. In my most recent academic article I analyse the evidence-base of the claims that people who anticipate disruption and collapse are unhelpful for either enabling social change or public mental health. From both a sociological and psychological basis, I conclude those claims are not robust. Therefore, they may reflect the desire of the authors to negatively frame and marginalise people with opinions that make them feel uncomfortable. That’s something worth naming to make it easier to discuss – adaptation delayism. The paper is also available in a 1 hour audio format here.

Reviewing the paper, the former financial coordinator of Extinction Rebellion (XR), Andrew Medhurst explains how his own acceptance that massive disruption had become inevitable shook him out of his day job and into full time activism. Something similar happened for XR founder member Skeena Rathor, who, yesterday, shared her reflections on a summer of bad climate news. She argues that we need more people in the public eye talking about compassionate responses to disaster, to offer an alternative to the rise of authoritarianism. It is an important invitation for the environmental movement to consider,  articulate and uphold key values, as more people in both national and intergovernmental processes wake up to the peril (at COP26 and beyond).

The widespread inability to be present to what is happening in the world andcommunicate about it is why we are in the current predicament. That inability is partly the result of our systems of media, money, economy and politics. The same processes that drove the calamity continue now as societal disruption spreads. Therefore misinformed aggression towards people in ways that worsen problems and ignore root causes, will be an aspect and accelerator of societal collapse. So I am not under any illusions. Our attempts to respond to calamity and vulnerability in positive ways that reaffirm human dignity are not likely to have a significant effect when faced with the ongoing communication dominance from incumbent power and the habits from modern culture. But many of us will try anyway, because it is both right to try and it is part of our own self-respect and self-actualisation. With that in mind, I anticipate a lot more radical creativity in the coming months and years. Let’s go for it!

Right now, I invite you to watch the 3 minute video of the making of the multimedia art project #BreakingTogether, as well as browsing the many initiatives in this newsletter (our next issue will be at the end of the year).

Prof Jem Bendell, University of Cumbria, UK
Distinguished Fellow, The Schumacher Institute
Managing Editor, Deep Adaptation Quarterly

For all the granddaughters

A poem written today, day 7 of my Covid-19 experience.

For All the Granddaughters

If you believe that our situation is terrible

So do I

If you experience emotions that seem unbearable

So do I

If you want some ways to escape the grief and anxiety

So do I

If you want to save your granddaughters

So do I

If you want to justify yourself as a good guy whatever may come

So do I.

If you respond to all of that by being defensive

Not so I

If you argue we must drop values of justice, kindness and equity

Not so I

If you dismiss people who disagree with you as naive

Not so I

If you pretend that your country has the power to enforce its survival above others

Not so I

If you won’t think of granddaughters other than your own

Not so I.

We grew up in a culture telling us we are naughty kids

Waiting for a strict daddy to come sort us out

And discipline the ones who stray

But we also grew up with families and friends

In a different reality

Never perfect and never the same

But where each of us has some dignity

and infinite possibility

for kind and wise action.

My pumping neck and jutting jaw doesn’t need an enemy anymore.

Neither does it need fixing with false hope

It just is.

Neither a wisdom to act from or a feeling to run from

It’s just there.

An aspect of me and perhaps everyone from now on.

While I do not wish to dysregulate

Surfacing stuff will splash those near

So please excuse my poetic expression

And holding love for granddaughters everywhere

Go fuck fascism.

Photo by Eva Elijas on

The Deep Adaptation Quarterly – March 2021

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Editorial from Jem Bendell

Although lockdowns have warped my sense of time, and perhaps yours too, it is actually more than 3 months since the last Deep Adaptation Quarterly. There was a hiatus, as I focused on new work after leaving the Deep Adaptation Forum at the end of September, and the Forum team re-organised for their post-Jem era. It has been great to see volunteers step up to now join the small Core Team of organisers, with Kat Soares becoming the new coordinator of the Forum. She is in a team of 4 freelancers working part time to coordinate over a hundred volunteers around the world to support people with finding meaningful ways of living creatively from their collapse anticipation. As they need to cover their basic costs, it would be useful if you can chip in now, as any donations given to them by the end of March will be matched by a donor.

Continue reading “The Deep Adaptation Quarterly – March 2021”

When the Methane News Stinks – let’s not forget to Breathe then Act

There has been a news report from climate scientists working in the Arctic right now, about their observation of the release of methane gas from frozen deposits on the sea floor. That is a process which, if confirmed as true, is likely to continue and worsen, and lead to rapid heating of the atmosphere at rates not seen since pre-historic mass extinction events. Which, if confirmed as true, means the collapse of societies will occur sooner and harsher than I, and many others, have anticipated. It would also mean we might be struggling to survive as a species in the decades ahead.

Truly, this is a harrowing situation and piece of news. If true, it means we could reconsider everything in our lives, like some people do when they receive a terminal diagnosis. If not necessarily true, or not necessarily as bad as some scientists conclude, it nevertheless means we can consider what if it is true, a bit like when people are awaiting results from a scan or biopsy.

Continue reading “When the Methane News Stinks – let’s not forget to Breathe then Act”

How to lead in the face of societal disruption

As we experience increasing disruptions to our lives, with the risk of more to come, more of us are wondering how to turn things around.

There is one question I often hear asked:

“Where have all the good leaders gone?”

I have come to understand that could be the worst question for us to ask.

I mean it is unhelpful if the aim of our conversations is to determine new ways to help our friends, colleagues, and fellow citizens to address the many challenges that humanity faces today.

Because within the question itself is an assumption that does not help us to act together for significant change.

The assumption is that what is most important to positive or negative outcomes is the competence and character of the individual at the top of a hierarchy, rather than other factors. Yet those other factors are many and significant, such as the ability of people at all levels of community, society and organisation to be willing and able to learn and act for common cause. So a focus on the individual leader dumbs down our conversations about why there is so much suffering and risk in the world. It also means we don’t look at ourselves and what we might do or not do in future.


Continue reading “How to lead in the face of societal disruption”