Professor Jem Bendell

Notes from a strategist & educator on social & organisational change, now focused on #DeepAdaptation

Posts Tagged ‘deep adaptation’

Which experts would you recommend to present to a Citizens’ Assembly?

Posted by jembendell on July 13, 2019

In response to the growing recognition we are within a climate emergency and that our existing modes of politics have not been delivering policy programmes that address the nature, scale or urgency of our predicament, the idea of Citizens’ Assemblies is growing. It is one of the key demands of Extinction Rebellion. Such assemblies can be comprised of normal citizens that are randomly selected by sortition, with means to ensure diversity of gender, age, class and so on. These assemblies the call for evidence from experts who they choose, to help inform their deliberations. It is significant that more of these assemblies are being set up – mostly as consultative groups. The question of what the legitimate powers of such an assembly could be, especially in relation to parliaments and governments, is a live one. But whatever its powers, a Citizens’ Assembly is decisively influenced by the way the agenda is established, the way deliberations are facilitated, and the kinds of experts who are called upon to present. I am going to ask you to consider suggesting some experts for a Citizens’ Assembly on the climate emergency, but before that I want to share some context on the key challenges to consider with any such Assembly and in the selection of experts.

people holding banner

Photo by Vincent M.A. Janssen on Pexels.com

The way the agenda is established is key. The first thing to recognise is that the climate emergency is not adequately engaged unless we move beyond only talking about cutting and drawing down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Instead, it is essential to realise that climate change is already here and its impacts on our societies will be getting worse. Therefore, how we better prepare for disruption at home and abroad is a key part of any policy discussion about the climate emergency.

The way deliberations are facilitated is also key. The tasks of selecting experts, guiding the choice of topics, and facilitating how the citizen participants discuss their information, are central to what will be achieved. If management consultants or other mainstream organisations are in charge of these processes, then they may inadvertently bring establishment ideologies that should now be questioned as part of the system that has brought us to this point of emergency. A process of inquiring into the hidden ideological assumptions of hosts and facilitators would be one way of attempting to address this risk.

Then there is the key issue of the kinds of experts who are called upon to present. A problem facing any Citizens’ Assembly are the narrow specialisms, scientific reticence and personal conservativism that are widespread within research and academic institutions.

Narrow specialisms are a problem because, for instance, an expert in one particular aspect of climate science, such as glaciers, may not have had the time, interest or networks to become well informed about other aspects of climate. Or an expert in corporate sustainability may know nothing (or the wrong thing) about the monetary systems that corporations have to operate within. To “get on” in academia it is almost a requirement to specialise until you are spending all your time examining the details of one set of ideas or situations. Polymaths don’t do so well in that system. It means that Citizens’ Assemblies, just like policy makers, find difficulty in accessing usable knowledge from researchers, and must attempt the integration of ideas themselves. The other problem is when an expert is invited to speak beyond their area of expertise and does so without realising that they could explore the scholarship and debates in relevant fields. This happens on climate issues, where people trained in mathematics and statistics begin to offer ideas about the policy implications of the projections of their climate models. We may want them to engage in such discussions, but both we and they need to be careful if they are using a status related to being a climate expert to then talk about something else. For instance, many climate scientists are quoted in mainstream media saying that to be “alarmist” is counter-productive, and yet there is a lot of scholarship in psychology and communications studies which explore whether that is true or not, and for different types of audiences.

Scientific reticence is something that one of the world’s most famous climate scientists, James Hansen, has pointed to and which I cite in the Deep Adaptation paper. He explained how there is a culture in natural science, and therefore climate science, to be very specific, nuanced, cautious and unemotional about any claims to know something as a result of their research. Combined with the narrowness of many research projects, it also means that much scientific expertise will need translating into insights for either citizens or policy makers. Some researchers break free from this reticence and speak more broadly about their conclusions and the implications of their research. In my case, after reviewing the research on climate change and its impacts, in the context of increasing emissions from our system of debt-fuelled economic growth, I concluded that it is too late to stop destructive impacts of climate change on our societies. Not that we shouldn’t try to limit the impacts but that we need a new conversation about adaptation. In saying that I made it clear I was expressing an opinion and was not reporting on research about mechanisms of collapse. I think it is an extremely difficult and resource intensive exercise to try and model the mechanisms of climate-induced societal collapse. Even if doing so, such projections would simply be debatable theories rather than proving anything. Given how fast-moving our current situation is, I wonder how useful such work would be, though I encourage more attempts at it within the food security and disaster reduction research fields.

Personal conservatism is a way of being in the world where, in comparison to the average view, one accepts the systems of power, authority, and status as they are currently configured. It makes sense that if you have worked hard for decades in front of your computer to rise to the top of your profession, and gain a high salary and status, that you will have some gratitude towards the system. Or at least less anger towards it than others! Such people may also have many responsibilities, both personal and professional, which feel like they limit the risks one can take with what to say, or what to let oneself even consider. I cite some research on this personal conservativism in the Deep Adaptation paper when I explain some of the factors in the ongoing denial in the environmental field. It means that both citizens and policy makers may find experts feeling less critical about our political and economic systems than they might be if there were not so invested in the system. That might mean they are less bold with their ideas about what policies could be considered.

With all that in mind, if you were advising a team of people in putting together a list of experts to be called to present at Citizens’ Assemblies on the climate emergency in the UK, what would be your criteria? For either the institution or the individual? The organisers typically expect experts to come from Universities or authoritative organisations. And what topics would be included? After all, we don’t want climatologists telling us about implications for monetary policy. Yet, given the systemic nature of our predicament, it would unhelpful, perhaps useless, if we would restrict our discussions to those topics that climate experts can talk about with confidence.

A Citizens Assembly on the climate emergency could consider major changes in at least each of the following policy areas: Food and agriculture; Emergency preparedness; Foreign Affairs; Development assistance; Water and utilities; Land use planning; Monetary policies; Banking regulation; Corporate law; Community development; Education; Health; Taxation. And many more!

Yes, the field is huge, unwieldly, and daunting. But what can we learn from how, after 30 years of efforts to promote sustainable development, we are now going backwards rapidly on biodiversity, emissions, weird weather, food and water security? Surely it is time to see that we need to address more of the root causes of our predicament? That means changes to our economic system, not just more housing insulation and sea walls.

Do you know any experts in relevant areas who seem to not be too restricted by their narrow specialism, scientific reticence, or personal conservativism? Not just in climate, but in any of the areas that matter to system change to both reduce and adapt to our climate emergency?

If so, please either share their details in the comments below, with a link to their organisation and stating what policy areas they are relevant to, or if preferring to be private, then use the contact form at the bottom of the page here (putting the word Expert in the subject line). In particular, we are interested in people who speak English and in or can easily travel by train to the UK. Organisers typically expect experts to come from Universities or authoritative organisations, rather than independent researchers or authors.

The list we produce by August 1st 2019 will be shared with a number of groups and officials who are involved in Citizens Assemblies and other policy dialogues.

If you are interested in Citizens Assemblies and the development of policies for deep adaptation to our climate emergency, then please consider joining the Government and Policy discussion group on the Deep Adaptation Forum.

Posted in deep adaptation | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Don’t police our emotions – climate despair is inviting people back to life

Posted by jembendell on July 12, 2019

“We gather and rebel not with a vision of a fairy-tale future where we have fixed the climate, but because it is right to do what we can. To slow the change. To reduce the harm. To save what we can. To invite us back to sanity and love. The truth is we are scared and we are brave enough to say so. The truth is we are grieving and we are proud enough to say so. The truth is we are traumatised and we are open enough to say so. We are angry and we are calm enough to say so and invite others to join us.” Opening speech of the international rebellion of Extinction Rebellion in Oxford Circus on April 15th 2019. 57503072_10155958230736470_5090386915572580352_n

For some of us, news of our changing climate is inducing many difficult emotions, including despair. For people less fortunate than myself, the losses of landscapes, properties, livelihoods and lives, arising in part from climate change, has also been inducing sadness, anger and despair.

Last week, in my review of the year since the Deep Adaptation paper came out, I mentioned it had been a year of strong emotions – but did not explain further. Yet the emotions are so important to recognise, as when hidden or supressed they are more likely to drive our behaviours. The habits of our culture, and therefore also in me, are to engage in ways that seem intellectual and pragmatic – and to aspire to appear calm. But that can disable our ability to really know and be known. To #TellTheTruth in our time of climate emergency is to express all of our emotions about it as well.

A new article in Vice talks about some of those difficult emotions, with the author making the dramatic claim that “climate despair is making people give up on life.” The journalist tries to build the case that experts think it is wrong to upset people about our climate predicament. That implies that people’s emotions of despair are wrong, because they are unproductive. Given the number of people drawn to lead the climate rebellion after reading my Deep Adaptation paper, I could just dismiss that perspective as uninformed. But I believe it is problematic to suggest that the many difficult emotions that arise from facing our climate predicament need fixing, or that we should avoid triggering them in others. So, here on my blog I want to be more open about those emotional situations I have experienced, and to warn of stories what is “academic” or “credible” can be used to police those emotions and those who trigger them.

And I want to make up for how my review of the year sought to be so very calm and collected! I had just published a Compendium of peer reviewed research on climate and so expressed myself in the rather subdued tones that academia has schooled me in. In my review of the year I didn’t talk about the alienation as I hide my reality from friends and family, so as not to trigger difficult emotions in them or in me. I didn’t talk about the fears I have had in discussing my view on our situation with close friends, family and colleagues. I didn’t talk about the tears I have seen and shed. I didn’t talk about my moments of panic. I didn’t talk about losing friends because they did not want to hear about our climate. I didn’t talk about the stress of experiencing how some people interact online on this emotive topic. I didn’t talk of my sense of overwhelm as people from all walks of life suddenly wanted answers from me. I didn’t talk about the difficulty of being involved in Extinction Rebellion and yet not wanting to share my perspective on collapse in the mainstream media until more systems of emotional support are in place. I didn’t talk about the confusion of not knowing what to do in my personal life. I didn’t talk about losing balance and health as a sense of responsibility meant I worked a lot on such a heavy topic, building an international network for peer support and providing advice. And I didn’t talk about the stress of being criticised publicly for sharing my perspective; or the shock of discovering how confident some humans are in deciding what is happening in the hearts and minds of others (i.e. mine). I didn’t talk about these things because I had slipped back into the habit of keeping things calm. I’m sorry – I am as bothered about all of this as you are!

There is another side to this story. In my review of the year, I didn’t say as much as I could about the unprecedented intensity of human connection that I have experienced as a result of discussing our climate predicament. I have met so many amazing people who are not hiding behind social norms; who are showing up in the world as vulnerable, loving, curious, playful, meaning-making souls.

Everyone engaging with our climate predicament will have their own emotional journey. None will be easy. The question of how to engage people is a huge one for me. It is why I have focused on how people who are awake to our predicament can help each other. My main suggestion is that we engage and talk with others who do not think that we are confused, depressed, or irresponsible to have concluded that climate change now threatens societal collapse. In those connections and conversations, we find solidarity, joy and pathways for how to be and what to do in future. If you do not yet have that in your life, or want more, then I recommend reaching out through one of the networks I list here.

As climate despair grows, so it becomes a more widely discussed topic. One of the understandable but unfortunate ways that some people respond is to criticise people who communicate the information and ideas which induce despair in some other people. Or to criticise those people who do not support means of escaping such despair through hopeful stories of fixing climate change in time to prevent societal collapse. The argument made is that to describe one’s view about impending collapse is irresponsible because of both the emotional distress caused and because it might lead to inaction. Some commentators even say that it is morally wrong to speak of the future in this way; a view with some chilling echoes of religious fundamentalists who righteously demand you believe what they do. They may also seek to claim objective truth by arguing that someone’s views are sub-standard.

The latest example of this perspective and approach appeared in that Vice magazine article. The author states that “instead of rallying us, climate despair asks us to give up.” Being involved in Extinction Rebellion, I know the opposite is true for so many people – despair has been an essential part of their process. People act because of truth and love, not because they believe that they can stop a breakdown in our way of life. It is why I spoke about that at the opening of the international rebellion. Let’s look at that claim again: “instead of rallying us, climate despair asks us to give up.” That is pure conjecture: about everyone everywhere. It is written in the passive voice, rather than being claimed by the journalist as his own opinion. I regard attempts to define others in this way as a habit of patriarchy, which we must challenge as we free ourselves from its heart-numbing conformism. Mainstream academia has been at the forefront of that patriarchal process of defining what is valid or not to feel, think or believe, so it is interesting to observe how academics might be asked to police our emotions about climate.

In making his case that it is irresponsible to share a view that societal collapse due to climate change is now inevitable, the journalist makes the claim that the Deep Adaptation paper is “widely pilloried.” A month before his article came out, I wrote to him to ask he not base such a claim on just one critic (who isn’t an academic anyway), but look into how the paper has been received, or more closely at the most recent science. I sent him a link to my reply to that critic’s claim about academic quality:

“Moving between factual evidence and personal opinion is a form of academic writing. In addition, personal experience is a form of factual evidence if one is doing an autoethnography. My paper was a conceptual paper, so I did not outline a methodology. However, it used autoethnography in the large section on denial and on looking at how people are framing our situation. Autoethnography is now widely understood in academia. I believe I was clear in the paper where I am expressing my opinions about implications. I am also clear about why at times I used emotive language to address the reader. There is no one set of “academic standards.” I’m pleased we have moved on from the dominance of positivism in social science.”

The Vice journalist also quotes the anthropologist Joseph Tainter, in saying that my paper was irresponsible. Recently I have been researching the range of scholarship on societal collapse, including that from Tainter, and will release that in a couple of months, as part of a workshop plan for how we can learn from past collapses (in order to slow them down). To try to draw conclusions for our current situation from the study of ancient societies is interesting, but should be handled with care. To my knowledge, Joseph Tainter isn’t engaged in climate change or the communities of scholarship relevant to understanding our current predicament, such as food security, human security, catastrophic risks, extinction risks, and disaster risk reduction. However, if he does look at the current situation and draw on these relevant fields, then his engagement could be a valuable one.

Critiquing what is covered by one paper is also a way of not looking more closely at the issue. In my email to the Vice journalist a month before his article came out, I wrote:

“Since the paper came out both myself and others have been saying more about how climate change will, or might, cause societal collapse. The focus is on agricultural impacts. For instance here. And also my own summary of the food security field. IPPR have started doing work on this as well. UCL are launching a project on it. Meanwhile, UNDRR and UNISDR are encouraging a sea change in our approach to risks arising from climate change. So collapse-readiness in the face of climate chaos will become a less unusual topic in the near future. Sadly.”

To move beyond a focus on the one paper and its limitations (or mine) one reason why I released the compendium of peer reviewed science that has been published over the past year. Given that our issue here is so troubling, being sceptical of scholarship is important. But scholarship is still useful, especially if being clear about the boundaries of expertise and the limitations of one’s methods or approach. Therefore, quoting scholars on topics outside of their areas of expertise should always come with caveats. Some famous climate scientists speak about the implications of climate change with little or no mention of expertise on psychology, communications, economy or politics. For instance, the Vice article quotes climate scientists making claims about psychology, such as the effects of despair and motivation, yet this is a different domain than their expertise. This is something I explained to someone putting together a roster of experts for a forthcoming Citizen’s Assembly. A climate modeller, or polar climate scientist, may be great at their job and clear and courageous when expressing their conclusions, but that does not mean that they know how to frame issues, or the psychological implications or possible policy implications. Rather, as academics we are often handicapped by specialisations, if we have not developed our understanding of different fields of knowledge and ways of knowing. In addition, research shows that the more successful one is within existing institutions, it is likely the more conservative one is in one’s views. I mention that in my Deep Adaptation paper, where I explored in detail the processes leading to collapse-denial within the environmental professions, so I recommend looking at that if you are curious.

A difficulty for our ability to consider our predicament head on is that we live in a culture that is averse to impermanence, uncontrollability and death. That means our culture is also averse to the possibility of the absence of hope in a materially better future that can be shaped by us. Yet there is a way of being incredibly passionate and engaged about reducing harm and suffering and living your truth, without the belief that we will create a materially better future. Those who wish to frame collapse-awareness as wrong, and seek to fix our difficult emotions, may actually be trying to avoid looking at their own inner world. In discussing this issue with therapists at the Climate Psychology Alliance, I was advised that it is impossible to engage publicly with people who think they need to believe in a hope and feel threatened by others who say otherwise. I was told that this is because the issue of hope is not one of evidence and opinion but is about people’s deeper structures of identity and ego. Basically, a subconscious fear of not existing anymore.

Because the Deep Adaptation paper and concept has become widely known, it might seem to some commentators like the journalist from Vice that I am promoting doom. Yet I wrote the paper for my professional community in sustainable business studies, and to call out my colleagues for not looking at how bad our situation has become. As it went viral, I turned down mainstream media interviews and major publishers, to prioritise helping connect those who are deeply affected by their view that we face societal collapse; or who are already experiencing it. My writing, talks and interviews have been focused on those who are already on the path of “collapse acceptance”. One of the most powerful means of support has been the Positive Deep Adaptation Facebook group. With over 4000 people a few months after launch, it is the venue for intense sharing of emotions and ideas about what we might do now. People join it if they believe that a climate-induced societal collapse is either likely, inevitable or already underway. We call it “positive” Deep Adaptation, because being collapse-aware does not need to lead to hedonism, nihilism, apathy or negativity. On the group all ideas about the implications of our predicament are welcome, so long as they are not violent. Many ideas are shared about how to prepare both practically and emotionally. I don’t see many people giving up, but read about people discovering life in new ways, including climate activism.

But it is only a Facebook group! To help each other as we experience difficult emotions is a huge task. It is why I will be taking some time to engage the education, psychotherapy, coaching, community development and religious communities over the coming months. If you are interested in such work, please join the Deep Adaptation Forum. We have been helping people meet in-person, often for free, to experience gatherings where our difficult emotions are welcomed and shared before moving into any talk of action.  We have also started offering retreats to help climate activists recharge while also learning how to host such gatherings.

The Vice article is a reminder to me that the denial I explained in my paper will persist for years to come, even as things begin to breakdown around us. Although its discussion of emotions is an important one, it exhibits some of the “Nit-Picking” and “Moral Superiority” forms of response that I highlight a year ago in my analysis of barriers to dialogue on Deep Adaptation. To evidence a different perspective than that article, I recommend this piece in the FT which explores how Deep Adaptation ideas have been inspiring people to take action. Also, I recommend seeing XR’s Skeena introducing my speech to launch the International Rebellion. You could also look again at some of the latest science. As part of my review of the year, I published a compendium of 23 peer-reviewed studies which I assessed add weight to the underlying analysis of my Deep Adaptation paper.

One hope I have for my own life and those I engage in person is that we may find greater equanimity about our predicament. I once confused that state with either calm or serenity. Now I realise that equanimity is a state of being accepting, even of our own difficult emotions, like grief, anger and despair. Serenity, like calm, is an emotion which comes and goes. With equanimity we can observe such moments of serenity and welcome them, cultivate them, but not become attached to them nor think they are superior states of being. Rather, being alive at this time will mean we ebb and flow with various emotions.

I have benefited from talking with people who I consider spiritual elders. One such person is Joanna Macy, who I interviewed recently. She reminded me that if we connect with our transcendent essence, our souls, then the current moment is an exquisite time to be alive. Because, an awareness of impending collapse is an invitation to ask ourselves deep questions of meaning that we typically postpone – and some of us never even get to. Climate despair is inviting people back to life.

This brings me to a good conclusion to this addendum to my review of the year. I have become more certain that the way through despair involves experiencing oneself as part of a greater whole and surrendering to the mystery of creation. Yes, that is not a new idea! Yet it is so often loaded with culturally specific baggage that leads to ignorance and division. But now the climate crisis invites us to engage with the mystery of life with fresh eyes and open hearts.

Wow. Joanna is right.

But it isn’t easy. Here is a list of some ways of seeking emotional support on this topic.

Posted in deep adaptation, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

A Year of Deep Adaptation

Posted by jembendell on July 7, 2019

One year ago this month, our Institute at the University of Cumbria released my paper on Deep Adaptation to our climate tragedy. It has since been downloaded over half a million times, been translated into many languages, inspired Facebook groups (one with over 4000 people), many events, and been credited by commentators and activists as helping the Extinction Rebellion movement. Not bad for what one journalist suggested to me was a “career suicide note.” compendium

Over the past year I have sought to do what I could to channel the shock, anger, fear, despair, and passion of so many people who got in touch with me, into networks of solidarity, contemplation, inquiry and action. That has included the launch of the Deep Adaptation Forum for people who want to work through what this means for their day jobs – or whether to quit. I have also sought to provide some ideas and guidance via writings, talks, interviews, retreats, contemplative practices and videos.

It has been a powerful year of strong emotions, deeper connections and great admiration for people changing their lives to serve love and truth. That will need to be the subject of a future blog!

I have been impressed by how many print journalists have spent the time to really explore this issue with me, and to process their own emotions to arrive at balanced, informative and lively coverage of this difficult topic.

In addition, we have seen more people inside establishment organisations become bolder in how they talk about the emergency we are now in. I used to work in the UN and know there are huge pressures to conform, sound calm, and avoid upsetting any of the Member States or their corporate friends. So it is a relief we are seeing reports from different UN agencies about how bad things have become with our environment. In addition, more scientists are clearer on the implications of their findings, breaking with some of the reticence of their profession to say anything that would illicit emotion.

Working with my colleague Matthew Slater, I have produced a Compendium of Research Reports on Climate Chaos and Impacts, which we release today. In it I summarise 23 studies which I consider key from the past 12 months. Last year it was unusual to claim that it is too late to stop runaway climate change damaging our agriculture to such an extent that it will lead to the breakdown of our societies within the next ten years. However, the key takeaway from this Compendium of research is that there is now a wider range of peer-reviewed dots to draw from in order to arrive at that perspective. However, there are not many mainstream researchers joining all those dots, to offer conclusions and predictions for human society. The difficulty is that researchers exist in academic silos, such as climate modelling on the one hand, agronomy on the other, or migration on the other, and a belief in the meaningfulness of silos is at the core of what gives us a sense of self-esteem and confidence for expressing our views. To move beyond drawing dots, to joining those dots, requires an ability to understand multiple fields of scholarship, their methods and limitations, which is a challenging skill set and time-intensive process.

When attempting to provide that overview and synthesis, especially for policy makers or the general public, you can find yourself suddenly being written about by people who like to tell stories about reality in order to buttress their worldview, sell their book or organisation, or serve an interest group. It has been an interesting year of witnessing the kinds of reactions people have when they want to engage this topic from a pre-defined view, and therefore deny or spin information on our predicament. Some right-wing writers have misrepresented what I wrote in the original paper in order to lampoon it. Some left-wing writers have suggested my work isn’t revolutionary, which meant they had to overlook how many of us who share the Deep Adaptation perspective are actively engaged in the most vibrant challenge to state power and the status quo in decades – XR.

Then there are some people who have worked on environmental issues for some time and have portrayed my analysis as suggesting that we give up on the drawdown and cutting of carbon; which I do not. When people say “we need hope” they might be expressing their assumption that they themselves need a pleasant story of the future in order to avoid their own emotional pain – and avoid witnessing it in others. Fortunately, I have discovered this past year that the loss of a hope that we can reform to maintain our way of life has been shocking people into waking up to not only to our environmental predicament but also the reality of impermanence and death. That means they engage in the present moment with a passion for truth and love. In general all of the criticisms I have heard fall into one of the forms of denial that I wrote about last year.

Meanwhile, some other commentators have agreed with the general analysis that we face imminent collapse, but have questioned how certain we can be, or when it will happen. I think it is important to stay aware of the latest data and revise what we think will happen. I also think it is important to consider how we explain our views to different audiences. However, to argue against saying collapse is “inevitable” due to abstract theoretical notions that nothing is inevitable is not worth much attention. After all, our mutual death seems certain to me, and we are also complex living systems. People may want to avoid believing societal collapse is inevitable in order to provide themselves with a psychological escape, so that they can still hope that someone or something will stop it happening somehow. Looking at the current climactic changes, the rising emissions and habitat destruction, the biological impacts, the warming feedbacks, the agricultural impacts, the slowness of response, the intransigence of capitalism and its client politicians, and the cultural dependence on ideas of progress and control, and the rise of stories of blame that avoid reality and foster ignorance and hate, I think that “inevitable” societal collapse is a more accurate way of communicating my view that it is now unavoidable, than saying collapse is likely or near certain. I am aware that some people challenge us to recognise that societal collapse is already underway but unevenly distributed. The recent statement from the UN on this matter is a sober reminder that millions have already suffered terribly from climate chaos. For the Deep Adaptation groups that I am involved with, we ask people to agree that societal collapse is either likely, inevitable or already unfolding, so that we can have meaningful engagement upon that premise.

Since the paper came out, I have come to consider a new reason why societal collapse is inevitable. It came to me when I spoke at the European Commission. During my talk I did a quick poll to discover that about 90 percent of the officials in the room believed that collapse is coming within their lifetimes. Yet their ability to conceive of what was appropriate to discuss as policy responses and activism was, in general, woeful. The ideas being shared were more of the same tinkering with capitalism and redirecting private investment into mitigation efforts. Why? One hypothesis is that the highest have the farthest to fall. If one is well-respected, well-paid, and living well in the current system, perhaps with a sense of responsibility for lots of employees and stakeholders, then one has the most to let go of in order to allow the full impact of our current situation to sink in. At a sub-conscious level it eats away at assumptions you didn’t know you had. For instance, assuming that one would be respected by your children and younger generations as you enter old age, and, ultimately as you lie on your death bed. To be successful in society means one is having affirmed, daily, the illusion of the socially-respected agentic separate Self. Instead, our climate chaos invites us to see that we aren’t separate, we aren’t in control and our stories of self-respect and meaning were always made up. We must let our deepest assumptions and stories melt away to find what else can emerge. That may be why I have a better time talking to children about collapse than I do talking to people with senior jobs. I will release a short video about that next month but for now, I recommend this video from my 13-year-old friend, Oskar.

Many people ask me about when a societal collapse is likely. As I explained in the paper, I do not know, but guess that within 10 years that it will be occurring in many, perhaps most, countries of the world. Some have argued it could occur more quickly. As I explained above, some argue that it has already started in some countries. This question about the timing of collapse is an understandable one, given that it affects our assessment of what to focus on. Given the uncertainty of prediction in complex systems, to avoid putting a date on predictions is justifiable. The direction is clear but the speed of it less so. For instance, I know I am going to die, but, because I have no interest in killing myself, nor have a terminal diagnosis, I do not know when I am going to die. The problem I have with the argument that I should not give a time horizon like 10 years is that not deciding on a time horizon acts as a psychological escape from facing our predicament. If we can push this problem out into 2040 or 2050, it somehow feels less pressing. Yet, look around. Already harvests are failing because of weather made worse by climate change. So, a year after my paper came out, I am still guessing that the society I will be living in, whether the UK or elsewhere, will have collapsed within 9 years. It could be sooner. I hope to help slow things down by bringing attention to our predicament and promoting adaptation.

In the original paper I did not explain fully what I mean by societal collapse, nor did I go into the mechanisms by which it might occur. Therefore, I did not explore how it could be slowed or softened. By societal collapse I mean “the uneven ending of our current means of sustenance, shelter, security, pleasure, identity and meaning. Others may prefer the term societal breakdown when referring to the same process.” My theory is that multi-breadbasket failure across the northern hemisphere, combined with location-specific damage to other harvests, will disrupt our societies within 9 years, due to the impact on food prices and food supplies. I also predict that water shortages will trigger migration and conflict, thus making collapse more likely in some countries. I warn that the reactions of our financial system may precipitate collapse ahead of the shortages of food and water or the movements of populations. The psychological impacts of the increasing economic, societal and political turbulence may also trigger disturbances, which could manifest through civil unrest or political extremism. I respect those who believe these processes are already underway. Clearly there is more analysis needed on these possibilities, and I have been encouraging people in food security, disaster risk reduction, human security and related fields to explore these questions. Although I am often asked to develop my own theories of the mechanisms of collapse, I have been more drawn to enable others to begin such work, as well as any response that arises from engaged compassion.

Which brings us to the question of “what to do?” There are so many options for people when they come to believe that a collapse of our normal way of life is inevitable and soon. Over the year I have had conversations with people as they, and I, process this information and consider how we want to be and what we want to do. They all relate to the types of response I described last year here (which I strongly recommend you read if you are exploring how to feel and act in light of this information). Despite my earlier grumblings about the conservativism of people with senior roles in our society, in the past year more people have begun to discuss with me how they want to find ways to respond meaningfully from within their organisation. It appears now is a good time to map out a range of ideas for activities that could be supported and pursued in different sectors and walks of life. I will share some ideas on this blog in the coming months and feed these into the relevant professional interest groups on the Deep Adaptation Forum.

Whatever you choose to do, I hope you give yourself time and space to listen for the psycho-spiritual invitation of our predicament. To reconcile yourself with impermanence, uncontrollability, and death, while letting yourself awaken from the deepest illusions of our culture. To act with passion for your truth and goal, while maintaining some equanimity about the outcome.

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Kissing the Void – Deep Adaptation Retreat in Devon, UK

Posted by jembendell on June 30, 2019

Deep Adaptation and the creative spirit

Sunday 13th to Friday 18th October 2019

with Toni Spencer, Jem Bendell (originator of the Deep Adaptation framework) & Tina Sharman @ Coombe Farm Studios, Devon, UK  

nature sky sunset the mountains

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A ‘pause’ retreat

Void.

The Unknown. The Edge. The Abyss.

How on earth do we approach these times well? What might resource us to face our collapsing social and ecological systems with open hearts, wilder questions and renewed capacity? In mystic traditions, soul craft and the work of artists The Void is the place of possibility, emergence and the other/wise. And so we invite you to come and lean into the trouble, as a lover might; tender, curious and courageous. As we play our parts in communities and workplaces to meet these times well, we believe it’s important to pause, play and call upon the creative spirit.

Are you an educator, policy maker, artist, activist, therapist, business or community leader working with Deep Adaptation? Would you like time to dwell with the unknown in good company?

This isn’t fiddling while Rome burns, this is a call for people who are actively engaged in our crisis to build your muscles of presence, love and creativity.

We’ll touch on the ‘4 Rs’ of Deep Adaptation: Resilience, Relinquishment, Restoration and Reconciliation, maybe explore a few more for luck, leaning in to the marginal and the mysterious that often get left behind in the fullness of our daily lives and the urgency of action.

Part regenerative retreat, part creative lab, our time will include:

  • Being alone on the land, connective practices, movement, breathwork and space for strong feelings to be met well in good company.
  • Creative stimuli and time for writing, devising, making, composing etc. Improvisation and the sacred fool. Embodied explorations of Kissing the Void.
  • Offerings at the feet of grief and mystery; feral rituals and invocations to things we trust and long for, songs of courtship to both the human and the more than human world, the ecosystems and the lands we love.

This gathering serves to inspire and resource us individually and collectively in order to deepen the potency of our work in the world. Join us. 

To apply please email kissingthevoidevent@gmail.com

The Facilitators

Toni Spencer (Lead facilitator):

Toni is a Curator with the Emergence Network leading on ‘Vulture: Courting the Otherwise in a Time of Breakdown’. In 2018 she co-lead a Deep Adaptation Deep Dive and is part of the Deep Adaptation Forum. Toni initiated ‘the pause’ as part of Extinction Rebellion: an invitation to bear witness and to lean in to the liminal in the midst of action: part of an ongoing inquiry in to ‘A Politics of Wonder’.

As a lecturer and course leader Toni has taught on the faculty of Schumacher College and Goldsmiths, University of London and as a participatory artist and facilitator with Encounters Arts, Embercombe, the Transition movement, St Ethelburgas and others. She is on the team for Call of The Wild with Wildwise /Schumacher College.

She has an Action Research based MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice and is trained in a range of facilitation modalities; awakening, deep ecology and embodiment practices; grief tending and activism.

www.emergencenetwork.org / www.tonispencer.co.uk

Jem Bendell:

Prof. Bendell originated the concept of Deep Adaptation to near term societal collapse due to climate chaos (his paper was downloaded over 400K times in the first 9 months).

For the previous 20 years he had been a researcher, educator, facilitator, advisor, & entrepreneur in the field of sustainable development. Clients included corporations, UN agencies, charities and political parties. He helped create the Marine Stewardship Council and The Finance Innovation Lab. As a leadership specialist, he worked with the leadership office of the Labour Party during the 2017 general election, including speech writing. Bendell launched Masters degrees on sustainability and leadership. With over 100 publications in sustainable business, his work on currency innovation gained significant international media attention. In 2012 he was recognised by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader.

In response to the latest climate science, he now focuses on helping humanity face climate-induced disruption and founded the Deep Adaptation Forum.

Jem will not be taking a fee for this retreat and he will not be co-hosting another retreat before March 2020. https://jembendell.com/

Tina Sharman:

Tina is a breathwork facilitator, coach and a director and co-founder of  a land-based education project (www.onthehill.camp) where she now lives and which she runs with her partner and team. Before this she lived and worked for many years at Embercombe (www.embercombe.org) where she still co-runs the Journey programme and The Descent. She is a potter, making hand-built, smoke fired vessels and is a part of The Waiting Room, an interactive, improvised theatre group.

The Venue

The venue is a beautiful converted farm in a South Devon valley. An artists led project dedicated to supporting creativity and research, it is part of CultureDeclaresEmergency https://coombefarmstudios.com

The group size will be limited to 15 people (plus team). Food will be mainly vegan with some local organic dairy and wild meat options. For any access needs contact us.

Costs

Price includes all food, accommodation, hosting, facilitation and materials. We’ve created a 3 tier price system with some variables to try and make this event as accessible as possible: 1. £900 / 2. £650 / 3. £450

There is Potential room sharing / camping / bursary options / luxury accommodation : be in touch for detail.

NB There will be limited places for options 3+4. Your generosity in paying the fee option 1. will enable more people to access this event.

More details and options to apply will be available soon via our application form but in the meantime please contact kissingthevoidevent@gmail.com

See also our FB event page for updates and musings from Toni Spencer https://www.facebook.com/events/2289499644642727/

Pause retreats:

the pause is a radical act, an invitation to stop in the midst of action, to disrupt our normal modes of being, to collectively fall silent and become aware of the moment we’re in.

the pause is counter to the culture that has driven us to the brink of extinction. It is an invitation for everyday magic to unfold.

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Leadership Course – 4 days in the Lake District, UK

Posted by jembendell on June 2, 2019

calm body of water during golden hour

Photo by Tobias Bjørkli on Pexels.com

It is time to explore new approaches to change in the face of a climate emergency. In a 4-day course on the foundations of sustainable leadership, we will explore alternative ideas for how to lead change in organisations and society. The course combines experiential exercises with insights from critical theories and the tales of impactful leadership in British politics and civil society.

A co-founder of Extinction Rebellion will share insights on the movement. I will share insights on communications and leadership that we applied for the Labour leadership in the UK General Election. We will be joined by consultants from Impact International, which supports leadership development with some of the largest global companies. Katie Carr will co-facilitate. The deadline to book is June 30th.

This is not a typical leadership development course; it offers you the chance to explore how you want to respond to our challenging times.

The course starts at 9am on 18 July and finishes at 5.30pm on 21 July.

You can take the course only for a Certificate of Attendance. Or complete a summative assessment for 20 credits at L7 and a Certificate of Achievement.

The full cost of the non-credit Certificate of Attendance option is £600. 

To take it as a short course without credits, click here.

To take the course as part of a qualification, click here.

Accommodation must be booked separately. For any logistical or administrative enquiries, contact iflas@cumbria.ac.uk

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Gathering Ourselves for Deep Adaptation

Posted by jembendell on May 1, 2019

In the past few months I have attended many gatherings on Deep Adaptation to our climate tragedy. Some of them have involved a talk, followed by Q&A and discussion. One of them was a week-long retreat in Devon, UK. Another was a dinner of leaders within the Extinction Rebellion. Online gatherings using zoom have also been a revelation, with friends joining from San Francisco to Kyoto. The interest groups on the Deep Adaptation Forum have also started meeting on zoom, and the collaborations that are emerging are wonderful to witness. Each of these gatherings, whether online or in-person, has offered opportunities for people to express difficult emotions and feel into our predicament, before then moving into discussions about what to start and what to stop.

Some of these gatherings have inspired participants to go on and lead future organising. For instance, the Poetics of Leadership conference my University organised with Crossfields Institute in September last year, inspired some participants to help launch Extinction Rebellion. The retreat in Devon also helped nourish the personal connections that were carried into the International Rebellion week. I could write a roll call of names, but you know who you are, and I love you for who you are and how you have been responding to our predicament. You helped me appreciate the value of gatherings in a way I had never experienced before. Because I had lost all interest in conferences, talks, and workshops. They seemed like soulless exercises in small talk and card swapping, punctuated by pep-talks from people we were told to listen to due to their seniority. But thanks to the amazing experiences of the past 7 months, I am convinced of the value of people gathering to share their pain, confusion, insights and faith that we will find meaning and useful action.

To make the most of these gatherings on Deep Adaptation, some principles and practices of hosting and facilitation could be useful. For me, one important aspect is to welcome participants connecting with and sharing any of their emotions, however painful. Another aspect is to invite everyone’s questions as much as anyone’s ideas for answers. That is because, when facing collapse, we are in new terrain, where people who have been most confident in society-as-we-find-it today might not be the most helpful to our inquiry in future. In hosting such gatherings, there are many existing processes that can be drawn upon. Facilitators of the Deep Adaptation Deep Dive in Devon adapted a few practices from The Work That Reconnects (from Joanna Macy) and the Inner Transition, which Sophie Banks and Naresh Giangrande had developed for participants in the Transition Towns movement. Toni Spencer also used some practices for grief tending.

As my partner Katie Carr and I now design two forthcoming retreats on Deep Adaptation, I realise that many facilitators could benefit from sharing ideas on principles for hosting such gatherings as well as guidance on specific processes. Therefore, I have started a thread within the Deep Adaptation Forum on facilitating gatherings, within the Holistic Approaches interest group. If you are a facilitator, then I invite you to join us there and share ideas and experiences on hosting gatherings, whether in-person or online.

One issue will be how to scale the provision of such gatherings. Katie and I are not able to offer more than a few retreats a year, and so we are particularly interested in participants who can host future meetings and retreats. If that resonates with you, and if you are in Greece or could make it there for June, then we would welcome hearing from you. A few late cancellations mean we have 3 places available at the time of writing (click here for information and to apply). Katie and I will also be teaching leadership for deep adaptation at the University of Cumbria over 4 days in the English Lake District in July, which also has some places available. Also in July, Katie and I are hosting a free one day event on deep adaptation in Lancaster, UK.

In a few weeks I will also be able to announce the 5 free events that the Deep Adaptation Forum will be funding (around the world). If you are able to financially help the organising of such gatherings in future, please contact us.

If you are organising a gathering on the theme of Deep Adaptation, please feel free to announce it by leaving a comment below.

If you would like to promote the success of these gatherings, and the effort to help people share practices for effective hosting of them, then I’d be grateful if you could share this blog to your relevant professional networks.

My own schedule of gatherings is rather busy until the end of this year (some of them are listed here). Therefore, I will not be accepting any new invitations to speak at any event during 2019. Instead, superb thinkers, speakers and hosts can be found via the forum at www.deepadaptation.info

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Come clean or step down – speech at the Fracking Shale Gas site of Cuadrilla, Lancashire

Posted by jembendell on April 29, 2019

On April 29th 2019 Prof Bendell gave a talk at the anti-fracking demo at Preston New Road, where he called on more insiders to take inspiration from the Extinction Rebellion and take risks to Tell the Truth about our climate crisis.  The video of the talk is here on Facebook. The following is the transcript.

dav

It’s good to be back in the Northwest, after the launch of the international rebellion against extinction in London. There I spoke from the pink boat of truth about the need for our politicians and media to wake up to the scale and urgency of the climate emergency. Today I’m here outside the shale gas fracking site of Cuadrilla because this project was only conceivable because people were afraid to accept the truth on climate change. Afraid to see the truth for themselves, so unable to tell the truth to others and therefore unable to act as if that truth is real.

Seeing people give up their freedom on the streets of London and elsewhere sends a strong signal to people everywhere that it is time for taking personal risks in the pursuit of truth, love and transformation. Extinction Rebellion has opened the space for truth telling.

So I’m here to thank all you activists, for also helping us all to create that space. And I want to say some more about what that truth-telling could involve now.

The truth is that climate change is unfolding faster and harder than we were told was likely. Seventeen of the eighteen hottest years ever recorded have occurred since the year 2000. We have woken up to the warm dawn of dangerously hot century. The colourless blanket of carbon gases wrapping our planet is trapping so much heat that forests are catching fire and harvests failing. Already there have been more forest fires in the UK in 2019 than ever recorded. The last highest year was 2018. Also last year we saw how chaotic weather could begin to threaten our own lives. In the UK and in many European countries the production of grains and open-air vegetables fell by over twenty percent. The climate emergency is therefore about all of us, and the future of our food and water. Yet humanity is heading in the wrong direction, with carbon emissions rising last year faster than ever.

That is why it has been so important to protest fracking at this Preston New Road site. We should not be building any new fossil fuel extraction facilities anywhere. The excuse that gas is better than coal is like saying ketamine is better than heroin. We need to get off these fossil fuel drugs entirely. The fracking process can also release fugitive methane. It is a greenhouse gas many times more warming than CO2. And that’s before we consider the poisoning of our water table. To risk such poisoning at a time when the country is facing a new era of unprecedented water scarcity due to climate change, is frankly absurd.

So the only reason this fracking project can be here is because people have been lying to themselves and each other about how bad things are. So the time has come from more people to take risks in their own lives to come clean and tell the truth about what they know of our situation. It is time for people in senior jobs across our society to come clean or step down. By which I mean come clean on the scale and speed of our crisis and what that means we must now focus on now.

That includes people who care about climate change. But who are in denial about how bad things are and the risks they now need to take. It is time for more of our Climate Experts to come clean about how bad things are. In particular, the members of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), who will issue new advice later this week. They advise the government and are meant to be somewhat independent. In the past, they have justified ongoing fossil fuel development, such as fracking shale gas and airport expansion. They have ignored emissions from aviation, shipping, imports & exports. The CCC assumes that Carbon Dioxide Removal & Negative Emissions technologies will work at a huge planetary scale. That is a convenient fantasy for them but is a travesty for the children who will have to live with the reality. It is time for the CCC to tell the truth on the perilous situation we are in, and the need for emergency responses to protect food and water.

In the past 6 months we have seen some of the climate experts in established institutions be clearer on the alarming situation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC last October finally rang the alarm bells. It told us we have to cut carbon emissions by 18% a year, globally, each year for the next 12, just to have a chance of avoiding catastrophe. And soon the UNISDR will report on risks to global food production from the destabilising of our weather. But we need more experts to step forward and tell the truth, so as to build the public will for the scale of changes that are needed to reduce the harm from climate change.

Academics like me also need to tell the truth to ourselves. We work in a profession that is meant to identify knowledge and share it. Yet we get stuck in silos so have a very partial perspective on public issues. We focus on publishing in specialist journals that reach so few people. After criticism for that lack of impact, the response is now to pursue impact only in ways that can be easily documented and that government can approve of. In my case, I realised my old work in sustainable business was becoming meaningless in the face of rapid climate change. It was only when I decided to follow my concern outside of my comfort zone and publish for the goal of sharing my truth that did I have a significant impact. Instead of a handful of experts reading my paper on Deep Adaptation to our climate tragedy, now over 400 thousand downloads later, many people are reading it and waking up to the emergency we are in.

Since my paper on climate went viral, I have been contacted via email by many hundreds of people. Some of those people have been insiders in organisations with privileged information on our climate crisis. People within NASA, our Royal Navy, and food security institutes. They have told me that the information they have means that the situation is as bad as I am saying or even worse. And therefore, that I should keep going. Well I’m not a journalist or Wikileaks, so its time these people and other insiders with similar views, speak out for themselves. The climate crisis is such a risk to humanity that there has never been a greater matter of principle for which to be whistle-blower. So please, join us in telling the truth.

For years I was told by colleagues in the environmental movement that we should be positive and not be too alarmist. That we should inspire action with a positive vision and tales of success. However, decades of that green positivity coincided with humanity releasing more carbon than ever before. Although my work reflected my despair, and has triggered despair in others, that has been transformative. It has meant we have left behind our concerns with conforming with assumptions of what is appropriate and pragmatic. Our despair took us into truth and radicalised us. That is the personal story of so many of the activists in Extinction Rebellion and will make it such a resilient and transformative movement.

The success of XR has caught the attention of business people who are engaged in public issues. Some have expressed their support. But the clearest form of support would be to admit what hasn’t been working. Since the 1990s business people have been engaged in voluntary activities to promote sustainable development. Its time to tell the truth that for all the effort it hasn’t worked at achieving the changes at the speed and scale that would make a difference to either carbon emissions or biodiversity loss. To tell the truth that it was wrong to think we could achieve the necessary change within the existing system. Instead, it’s time to throw their weight behind systemic reforms, and that should include a redesign of our monetary system so that we don’t require economic growth just to keep our money circulating. Without such change, our efforts at reducing carbon are like swimming up stream.

The question of what to do is more difficult if you work in a company like this one, Cuadrilla, or other companies involved in the current problem. Everyone has bills to pay and so it is difficult to know what to do. If you are working in a fossil fuel company or a bank, or a multinational selling stuff we don’t need, then you must be wondering what to do. Perhaps the stories your CEOs have told you about how your company is doing OK are now wearing thin. So, what do you do? You could look for another job. But you could also start telling the truth in your offices and meetings. And if you need the job but can’t have those conversations, then here is another idea. Show up at work and do absolutely nothing. Let us see rebellions inside oil companies, fracking companies and banks where staff show up and spend the whole day watching youtube, reading novels, and even having fun wasting their colleagues time. Because rebellion can take many forms. And we are not in this the blame and shame but to invite everyone to find a way of participating in rebellion in their own lives.

Ultimately what XR has brought to light is that climate change is a political challenge. It is positive to see a response from politicians, both locally and nationally. But to those politicians now declaring a climate emergency, we also need to talk about telling the truth. Because declaring a climate emergency would itself be a lie if it is not backed by measures that give it meaning. Our climate emergency requires us to respond at speed and scale, across all of society, and to prepare for what’s coming. It must be recognised as a whole-of-government agenda where both reducing and adapting to climate change are central concerns of all departments, as well as a standing item in cabinet meetings. So, to the politicians declaring an emergency, I ask you to now tell the truth. The truth about the coming disruption to our food production and imports, our fresh water supply, and our essential services. About what we need to do to reduce the disruption. About how that will entail sacrifice. From us all. And that this will be hard for most of us to accept and respond to. But that this is the conversation the country has to have. And have now.

Only then will pressure build on government to take significant action. Because there is a lot to change. The UK government has given the go ahead for a new north-sea oil field that will amount to one quarter of a billion tonnes of CO2 across the life of the oil field. The UK government has also just overseen planning permission for a new coal mine. Perhaps it didn’t realise how bad our situation is? Well since the IPCC report in October there are no excuses. It said we have to make massive cuts right now, each year for the next 12 years to have a chance of avoiding catastrophe. The government has done little to nothing to respond to the IPCC report.

So this is my message to the Prime Minister. You may not care much about the environment, but climate change is now a matter of national security. It is disrupting food production and water supplies. It threatens the future of Britain as a stable and prosperous country. Its time you heard the truth and told us the truth.

For the Prime Minister, it is time to come clean or step aside.

 

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An Open Letter to Business Supporters of Extinction Rebellion

Posted by jembendell on April 25, 2019

I was fascinated to read a letter in support of the Extinction Rebellion last week, expressing support, as business people, for the aims of XR. After 24 years focused on voluntary business efforts on sustainable development, last year I abandoned that to explore different approaches to our climate disaster. That included supporting people putting together XR. Part of that was being a lead signatory of the letter from academics last October that declared our support for the forthcoming rebellion. So, I believe in the utility of expressing public support as professionals in addition to what we can do as volunteers in the range of activities needed in a social movement. But the negative reaction from some to the letter from businesses brings to light some issues that need to be explored at this critical time, so I am writing this open letter.

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I see that the letter was signed mostly by people who work in companies that are proactive on environmental issues. So that means, like me, you have been following global sustainability issues closely, and must be feeling a similar anxiety at how bad things are becoming. The confirmation from the IPCC that we are heading for imminent disaster for the human race, as well as the rest of life on Earth, really helped bring that home. Suddenly, the lives of our own families seem at risk. Then there is the deeper pain we may feel as we sense that our own choices were mistaken. We believed that we had time and techniques to reform this capitalist system towards something sustainable. It was a wonderful idea at the time, and even got its swansong with international agreement of sustainable development goals. I have experienced myself how difficult it is for that sense of personal efficacy to fall apart.

The frustration we feel at the predicament we are in means we can feel great solidarity and respect for people giving up their freedom on the streets of London to bring national and global attention to our climate emergency. I felt such an honour to have helped a bit and spoken to launch the international rebellion on April 15th.

As some of you may now have heard, the letter of support for XR from business leaders, and its suggestion of some sort of “XR Business” initiative, caused concern amongst many volunteers and convenors of XR, both in the UK and internationally. While some might think this was simply a case of uninformed negative views of businesses or business executives, that would be mistaken. There is something to be learned from the concern, which may help any potential future support from businesses, banks, celebrities or anyone with perceived power in the current unsustainable system.

Perhaps some of you have already joined in XR individually as meeting organisers, arrestables, legal observers, or the other many roles that exist in the movement. But in writing a supportive letter that identified your companies and your role as business people, you are not simply joining in as equals. You are deploying your status as people in the private sector to help add weight to this activism. We did the same as academics when we wrote that letter of support. In the case of business leaders, this raises some questions about the role of business in our current predicament and how that will need to change. While organisations and individuals from the private sector have major roles to play in responding to climate change, and in helping us cope with the massive disruptions ahead, it is important they help not hinder the power of citizens coming together for radical change.

So I am going to suggest some ideas that could be recognised by business people if considering support for Extinction Rebellion. These are only relevant after you confirm you understand what XR stands for. The group has declared a peaceful rebellion, which means inviting non-violent law-breaking as a way of rejecting the legitimacy of governments and the system they are part of. So in declaring support, you are recognising that our climate emergency means that our current political and economic system is broken and in need of transformation. After accepting that, then the following five ideas could be useful to hear from business leaders. If you may excuse the presumptuousness, I will have a go at writing it as a letter from you to XR:

Dear XR activists, as business leaders we recognise the following:

First, we failed. Although we tried to make businesses and financial institutions more sustainable from the inside, it has not stopped carbon emissions rising or biodiversity loss increasing. We work in the most funded and dynamic sector of society but couldn’t achieve the change we hoped for.

Second, we were wrong. We believed that working with existing systems of power, within market systems, was the way to deliver positive change at scale. While we do not know what could have been achieved by efforts going into other approaches towards climate stability and biodiversity conservation, we told people our approach was more pragmatic and scalable.

Third, we will learn. We believed that being business professionals gave us credibility in addressing issues of climate and biodiversity. Now we realise that some of the assumptions and attitudes we have learned in the private sector may not be that useful, so we are ready to learn from others.

Fourth, citizens need more influence than us. Although as individual executives we think we have been useful participants in dialogues with communities and governments, overall, the effect has been to prioritise the interests of profit-making over other concerns. Because businesses can fund initiatives, lobbyists and so on, as a sector we have had unfair influence over our societies. As this has coincided with the predicament we are in, it is understandable to conclude this unfair influence is at fault. Therefore, citizens and scientists need more influence than us in future on how to drawdown and cut carbon, as well as how to manage the difficulties ahead.

Fifth, we must be made to behave. Although it is difficult for some of us to say this, it is the natural implication of where we have got to now facing catastrophic climate change. Praising individual companies doing useful things was never enough. We need state intervention to redesign the economy so we can more swiftly decarbonise and also prepare for the disruptions ahead. That means corporate support for changes in the law, perhaps even introducing a law on ecocide by corporations.

We hope that by expressing these realisations, we can find ways for our knowledge and resources to help humanity respond to our climate emergency. That may mean supporting you from a distance as organisations, but closely as individuals. Or it may mean finding ways to support you more actively with our organisations. Perhaps we can find ways to hold space open for your activism and ideas without any influence from the private sector. We will certainly work to ensure other companies do not get in your way.

Sincerely,

Concerned executives, deeply impressed by your sacrifice.

I do not speak for XR in presenting these suggestions. However, I am aware of the sentiment of many of the lead organisers and volunteers and believe that if business executives wish to support or engage as representatives of companies, then it will help to acknowledge the need for massive change.

The XR leaders I have worked with all recognise that the difficulties we face require a great coming together of people from all walks of life and all corners of the world. They deliberately avoid blaming people or sectors, as they know we need to foster a culture of forgiveness and love, so we do not make matters worse as an unstable climate ruins our normal life. It’s an approach that I share, and what we are promoting in the Deep Adaptation Forum, which is focused on enabling readiness for likely societal collapse.

Like me, the XR leadership does not believe that one group or ideology has all the answers. To help get things started, with Rabbi Newman, I shared some ideas for the kinds of economic reforms we will need to help us decarbonise and prepare for disruption, on the XR Blog. While we will need more ideas to be shared and trialled, the options for responding to the climate emergency must not be driven by those with more time and money to shape dialogues, policies and initiatives.

I understand how deeply challenging this issue is so thank you for reading.

Sincerely,

Jem Bendell

Professor of Sustainability Leadership

Former Director of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS)

Relevant reading:

In the Company of Revolutionaries

The Love in Deep Adaptation

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The sane reaction to an impending catastrophe – my thoughts on XR in The Times

Posted by jembendell on April 20, 2019

When the UN reported that we must cut carbon emissions massively every year for the next 12 years to have a chance of preventing catastrophic climate change, what did our government do?
The sane response would be to call an emergency and convene the best minds to help decarbonise our economy.
Perhaps that did not happen because the message got lost. So allow me to translate: catastrophic climate change means harvests failing to the point where you and I could be starving. In which case, most of us won’t be going to work or obeying the rules. That’s the seeds of a societal collapse.
One might assume that action to reduce this threat would be top of the agenda in the corridors of power.
Not if you are in denial, which most of our politicians are. As more people wake up to this predicament, we demand leadership from government.
Last year global carbon emissions jumped higher and faster than they have ever done in human history.
Our climate crisis is the central political challenge of our time and requires a complete redesign of our economic system.
Some people gain a sense of personal self-worth from respecting the norms of life. Thankfully, enough think more freely and can respond.
At our demonstrations I met such people, from all generations and walks of life. They know we need to break the norms, express our fears and come together to make the best of a terrifying situation.
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Deep Adaptation Q&As hosted by Jem Bendell

Posted by matslats on April 16, 2019

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Photo by Djordje Petrovic on Pexels.com

Hundreds of professionals are gathering on the Deep Adapation Forum to find each other and collaborate. A new monthly online Q&A series gives you an opportunity to put a question to a leading thinker on personal and collective responses to anticipated collapse due to climate chaos. Each session will be hosted by Professor Jem Bendell.

This year we’ll be talking to:

Carolyn Baker (May)
Watch here

Carolyn offers life and leadership coaching as well as spiritual counseling for people who want to live more resiliently in the present as they prepare for the future. Carolyn works closely with Andrew Harvey and other spiritual luminaries to live and promote Sacred Activism—the marriage of effecting change in the world with consciousness transformation. Carolyn is the author of many books on collapse.

Joanna Macy (June)
Watch here

A scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. A hugely respected voice in the movements for peace, justice, and ecology, she interweaves her scholarship with five decades of activism.Her work helps people transform despair and apathy, in the face of overwhelming social and ecological crises, into constructive, collaborative action. It brings a new way of seeing the world, as our larger living body, freeing us from the assumptions and attitudes that now threaten the continuity of life on Earth.

Gail Bradbrook (July)
Watch here

Gail has been researching, planning and training for mass civil disobedience since 2010 and is a co-founder of the social movement Extinction Rebellion (XR) which rapidly spread internationally since its launch in October 2018.

Deb Ozarko
August 7th from 3:00pm UK time

Deb is the creator and former host of the Unplug podcast and the author of “Beyond Hope: Letting Go of a World in Collapse.”

Adrian Tait
September 13th from 7pm UK time

Adrian is a co-founder of the Climate Psychology Alliance. He is retired after 25 years as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist with extensive experience in teaching and supervision in the NHS and privately.

Katherine Wilkinson
October 10th from 5:00pm UK time

Katharine speaks about climate action and gender equity. She was Senior Writer for the New York Times bestseller Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (Penguin, 2017). The book details the 100 most substantive climate solutions and articulates a bold vision of a future without global warming.

Vanessa Andreotti
November 4th from 5:00pm UK time

Vanessa has extensive experience working across sectors internationally in areas of education related to global justice, community engagement, indigenous knowledge systems and internationalization. Her research focuses on analyses of historical and systemic patterns of reproduction of knowledge and inequalities and how these mobilize global imaginaries that limit or enable different possibilities for (co)existence and global change.

Charles Eisenstein
December 14th from 4:00pm UK time

Charles is the author of “Climate, a New Story” and other books, and it widely considered one of the world’s leading contemporary environmental philosophers.

To attend the webinars, you’ll need to join the forum!

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