The COP27 climate conference announcement of a new fund, of unknown quantity, for the loss and damage occurring due to climate chaos, means it might appear that politicians and bureaucrats are finally getting real about how bad the situation is. So could they be catching up with the ‘Deep Adapters’? Unfortunately, no fund will ever be able to recompense the loss and damage that is being suffered – and will be suffered – from the impacts of climate and ecological breakdown. No international currency, bank, or payment system will likely survive the extent of disruption when impacts of global heating really kick in. I am just back from my first and last climate conference, and not only experienced it as an exercise in denial but one that is made impenetrable by the numbers of people and resources maintaining it in myriad ways. Even critics of COP27, and climate policies more generally, have their budgets, wages, skills, and status tied to the story of ultimate salvation from climate chaos. A consequence of this denial is not looking at the root causes of our predicament. Which might also be a reason for the denial. So let’s go there…
Death rates are still above normal in many countries of the world. The medical experts don’t know why. It could be from the long-term complications from past Covid infections, or it could be from the impacts of novel vaccines, or it could be from the delayed treatments due to lockdowns. Or perhaps it is from a mixture of these causes, or even from some other factor altogether. Even writing those two sentences induced in me a feeling of trepidation. I find myself readying for the annoyance or even aggression from some people. Which is odd: people did not behave so stridently on public health issues before 2020. I think the decay in normal scientific dialogue and policy scrutiny is a significant lasting damage from the last few years. It is why I am not going to let it lie. Instead, I hope we can all learn more about why people became so badly informed and aggressive towards others who reached conclusions different to their own. Only then might we avoid making matters worse when future public health crises occur. And if the excess mortality does not return to normal, then we are already within an ongoing health crisis right now.
It is why in this essay I am returning to the scientific facts which prove the medical authoritarian orthodoxy on Covid has been scientifically wrong. Not just wrong in hindsight, but now more widely recognised as wrong by experts and scientists who ignored some of the earlier concerns. This recent science can’t be ignored unless someone is no longer interested in the science on public health.
In the run up to COP27 climate conference, The Economist magazine declared it has become impossible to limit global warming to an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Many analysts of the relevant science have said as much for a few years. We were dismissed as too negative and so our ideas on what to do were therefore marginalized. Sadly, warming beyond 1.5C means that climate change will become far more damaging to societies. Even worse, due to a range of amplifying feedbacks that are impossible to have certainty about, no one can credibly claim anymore that human actions to cut and drawdown carbon, while still important, will certainly work to stop or reverse the changes. When people take that situation to heart, it can challenge the societies and systems that brought us to this point. For many, it is a fundamentally radicalizing realization. Although The Economist cited my views in one of their articles, rather predictably it didn’t provide space for the kind of criticism of capitalism and the global order that can ensue.
This is an essay that responds critically to the widely read piece in the New York Times that appears to be calming the nerves of climate professionals at COP27 and beyond. It is a 20-minute read.
In the last couple of years some climatologists have been reassuring us that although the storms, floods, droughts, ice loss and temperature extremes are all worse and sooner than was predicted by the consensus science, the future for humanity might not be as bad as previously predicted. We are told it’s not so bad that it’s already so bad. The scientific basis for such a view was always a bit shaky, partly as it involved speculating that existing trends would not continue, while downplaying how natural feedbacks are already amplifying heating more than previously calculated. But another reason for those reassurances being shaky is that they have relied on the subjective and sometimes arbitrary choices by computer modellers, which are made within a context where colleagues, funders, bureaucrats, politicians and journalists all want to hear findings that they can work with. Instead, if we look at the geological records of past climates with greenhouse gas concentrations like today, we might expect a world average temperature rising from our current 15C to around 18C due to greenhouse gases that humanity has already added to the atmosphere. Or if we simply look at CO2 concentrations over recent years, we are tracking a graph that lands us at between 3.3C to 5.7C of warming by the end of the century, according to the cautious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC). That would mean an uninhabitable Earth for most of the children being born today.
The owners, sponsors, advertisers and editors of popular publications are trying to convince themselves and the rest of us of that the system they benefit from doesn’t suck: to spin the perspective that it is not responsible for ecocide, the many millions now going hungry and the catastrophic climate disruptions to come. Therefore, they are promoting an establishment narrative on climate change, which goes something like this:
“the situation is bad but solvable by the authorities if we, the general public, do what we are told while supporting subsidies for unproven technologies and criticising anyone who doesn’t share a faith in technology, enterprise, authority and obedience. This narrative means we should never become so worried as to drop what we are doing to challenge the system and its elites.”
One part of that narrative has a moral tone, and it relates to the idea of hope. The story is that we have a moral duty to hope and to admonish those who don’t. Because if we no longer believe that the future will be OK and no longer respect or grudgingly accept the dominant systems in our societies, then we will be radicalised in unpredictable ways. We might even give up our jobs to take up full time activism.
4 years ago today, I gave a keynote speech at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Soon after, a section of the talk was featured by the campaign group Extinction Rebellion (before they became famous).
Here is a transcript of a section of that speech:
“The Sustainable Development Goals offer one framework on public need. And we will hear of a range of efforts on different SDGs from our panellists. But I’d like to invite us to consider something bolder, more urgent. Although climate change is included in the SDGs, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change invites a reprioritisation. It implies that climate change is now a planetary emergency posing an existential threat to humanity. The artist who made this ceiling said he was inspired by a mirage in the Sahel where trees, donkeys and people all appeared to be melting up into the sky. We could take that a dramatic metaphor, in this human rights room, of the human face of climate change. So as our climate spirals away from one friendly to our civilisation, we need to face up to why we have been so incapable of changing our ways, collectively, at scale.
Having founded the Deep Adaptation Forum in 2019 to help collapse-aware people to support each other and develop helpful practices and responses, this day two years ago I left, so that it would be an initiative shaped by its participants. It was heartening, therefore, to receive an update from them today, highlighting some of the participant-led activities that are coming up. In case you don’t know about what they do, here is that update. I recommend joining something, or even proposing something. As climate anxiety grows, yet experts denigrate us for compassionate realism, it is important we give ourselves opportunities to experience how brilliant human beings can be.
The following invitation is being sent to scholars around the world in the run up to COP27 in Egypt.
Nearly two years ago over 500 of us from over 30 countries signed a public letter to coincide with the 5th anniversary of the Paris Climate Accord. We wrote:
“As scientists and scholars from around the world, we call on policymakers to engage openly with the risk of disruption and even collapse of our societies. After five years of failing to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris Climate Accord, we must now face the consequences. While bold and fair efforts to cut emissions and naturally drawdown carbon are essential, researchers in many areas now consider societal collapse to be a credible scenario this century… Only if policymakers begin to discuss this threat of societal collapse might communities and nations begin to prepare and so reduce its likelihood, speed, severity, harm to the most vulnerable, and to nature.”
Over the last two years we have seen climate impacts worsen, emissions climb again, methane levels jump, the science become more worrying, and the political mood darken in many countries. We have also seen the ongoing commercialisation of climate responses, the public sugar-coating of problematic science, and concerted denigration of people who focus on radical economic change to prepare for inevitable disruptions. The climate summits have morphed into career fests and trade shows at the end of the world as we know it. Although we are unlikely to change the huge systems that incentivise poor responses from professionals in this field, we can commit to learn and support each other in taking a different path.
In the last few years a few people have suggested additional “Rs” for the 4 questions that comprise the Deep Adaptation framework for reflection and dialogue within an expectation or situation of societal disruption and collapse. As the idea of DA is used with groups around the world, various new ideas on what it means and what personal and group practices are relevant are emerging. One new R that I learned about recently is “Reverence.” That is what Reverend Lauren Van Ham adds to the framework as she uses it for the past couple of years with seminarians and faith-based communities. In my recent Q&A I asked her what a question might be that relates to Reverence, as I think DA involves inquiry, rather than simple answers. That is because societies and people are diverse, and an environmental breakdown affects all of it and, ultimately, everyone, thereby making generalised recommendations somewhat problematic!