Professor Jem Bendell

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

Posts Tagged ‘extinction rebellion’

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.

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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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“Grieve Play Love” short film on climate despair

Posted by jembendell on March 24, 2019

“Grieve Play Love” is a 9 minute short film by Jem Bendell, set in Bali, released in March 2019. 

The text of the voiceover follows below. A message from the filmmaker:

“In early 2018, my life changed. I studied climate science again for the first time in 25 years and discovered how bad it is. My estimation is that our complex consumer industrial societies won’t cope with the new pace of weather disruption to our agriculture. I published a paper on my conclusion, inviting deep adaptation to our climate tragedy, and was swamped with the response. Many people were and are, like me, traumatised by this realisation of a future societal collapse. I made this film for them. If that is where you are at, I hope it helps.

I made it where I was living at the time, in Indonesia, and drew on the beauty of nature and culture that still exists on this wonderful planet. You’ll see it’s a long way from a protest, political meeting or boardroom. But I hope the beauty in the film affirms once again what it is we love and stand for. How we live fully without pushing away difficult emotions triggered by awareness of our climate tragedy is going to have as many answers as there are people coming to this awareness. To help your own journey, I recommend connecting with others on this agenda at www.deepadaptation.info

 

“All great and beautiful work has come of first gazing without shrinking into darkness” John Ruskin

Voiceover:

After we accept the full tragedy of climate change, what do we have left?

Most people I meet sense that life is meaningful. Belief in a future is one way we look for such meaning. A future for ourselves and our family, our community, country, and the planet.

It is why it is so difficult to accept where we are today. What future can we believe in now? And if that isn’t possible, where can we find meaning?

I left my job as a Professor and came to Bali to sink in to those questions.

And to grieve.

I grieved for my years lost to compromise. I grieved the loss of my identity. I grieved how I may not grow old. I grieved for those closest to me, and the fear and pain they may feel as things break down. I grieve for all humanity, and especially the young.

Within this despair, something else happened. My long-held defences began to melt away. I was opening-up.

Not everyone can leave to heal in a place this. But I want to tell you my story because so many of us now grieve over climate change.

Most Balinese seem so at ease with their life. In the temples in every household, children play at the symbolic graves of their grandparents. That’s not like our modern societies where we seem to hide death away. Could feeling the impermanence of everything be an invitation to experience life more fully?

I was drawn to connect more to myself, others and nature.

Breathwork, dance, fasting, improv theatre, chanting, circling and guided meditations.

I was opening to beauty and spontaneity. To connect without expectation. To create without certainty. And to welcome what’s transcendent into my life. I see that love can be the anchor during waves of anxiety, sadness and grief.

I was reminded of how my friend with terminal cancer experiences more gratitude and wonder. And how our last meeting was more beautiful due to the ending ahead. Awareness of the finite amount of time we all have on this Earth gives more power to the choices we make.

Your own path for grieving an environmental and social breakdown may not be like mine. But there is a path and it leads beyond despair.

So what of our future?

My vision is of a world where more of us are open to curious, kind and joyful connection with all life. My hope is we will discuss ideas without a want to prove ourselves right.

Because there will be tough decisions ahead. We can make universal love our compass as we enter an entirely new physical and psychological terrain.

And so, I was ready to re-engage with my profession, but with a faith to express my truth, however difficult. Opening a conference at the United Nations, there was really only one thing for me to say.

“We now know that many self-reinforcing feedbacks have begun to further warm the planet, threatening to take the future out of our hands. So if we don’t wake up from our delusions of what is pragmatic and appropriate, then shame on us.”

“…our intention for creating things needs, more often, to arise out of our love for humanity and creation…. The technology we seek is love.”

Feeling our pain at the ongoing destruction of life, we may find relief in the idea of a divine force beyond this time and place. But if doing so, let’s not withdraw from our fellow humanity. Climate chaos invites our loving immersion with life as we find it. We can rise into, not above, these times.

Alan Watts:

“The Earth is not a big rock, infested with living organisms, any more than your skeleton is bones infested with cells. The Earth is geological, yes, but this geological entity grows people. And so the existence of people is symptomatic of the kind of universe we live in.”

We may grieve the loss of life, and feel despair or anger at how this happened. But whenever it comes, human extinction will not be the end of consciousness or the cosmic story.

There is no way to escape despair. But there is a way through despair. It is to love love more than we fear death. So ours is not a time to curl up or turn away. It’s a time to dance like we’ve never danced before.

Before loss there was love.

After loss, love.

Before grief there was love.

After grief, love.

Our essence is never in danger.

When all else falls away,

Our essence can shine.

So, what does love invite of us now?

 

Grieve, Play, Love was co-directed by Jem and Joey. It was filmed, edited and sound engineered by Joey. It was written, voiced and produced by Jem. Jem and Joey met at http://www.connectionplayground.org

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