As some of you know, being a blogger is a mixed deal. Sometimes you’re super inspired and feel like what you have to say is important, fascinating even, and clearly people will want to read what you wrote. Other days, not so much. There are probably millions of blog posts devoted to this topic, with all sorts of cures for the blogger blues, ways to increase readership, drive people to your site, make them want to read YOUR post over the other fifty million out there in blogland. For whatever reasons, none of that really works for me. Maybe I just really don’t care that much about how much traffic I have, or how many readers are reading. It’s a paradox, alright.
During the past month, I became fascinated with the work of Jem Bendell, who wrote a paper titled Deep Adaptation, on how, after looking at a bunch of scholarly and scientifically sound research, he came to the conclusion that societal collapse is basically inevitable. What does this mean? To put it in a nutshell, he concludes that the kind of world we are all accustomed to living in, with all the benefits of modern society that we (mostly) take for granted every day of our lives, will become impossible to maintain and will collapse on itself. When will this breakdown occur? No one knows for sure. Some people think it could happen within decades, or even sooner. There is a Facebook page for people who are on board with Bendell’s analysis, that is a closed group you have to join. Naturally I joined it, so I could connect and see what others have to say about all of this. As you might expect, people are in various stages of agreement with the premise of societal collapse and the details.
This topic, and some of the comments people make on the Facebook group, seem a bit familiar to me. I am reminded of the period of time leading up to the year 2000, when many people were concerned about Y2K, another moment of societal doom. Back then, the theory went, the changeover from the 20th century (1900s) to the new millennium (2000) was simply too much for all the world’s computers to handle, and so they would stop functioning. This would lead to world-wide disaster on a massive scale, so people had better prepare for the worst. Some folks stockpiled emergency food and water, fuel for generators (since the electric grid would surely be undone by the glitch), and all manner of survival gear. Then the moment arrived: the clocks turned from 11:59 on December 31, 1999, to 12:00 am, January 1, 2000. Fireworks exploded around the world, but the world’s electric grid and computer systems did not fail en masse. Miraculously, we all survived and continued. Thank goodness, and we still got to party.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that there is nothing to worry about, everything is fine, let’s continue to exploit, extract and plunder Earth like there is no tomorrow for our planet and ourselves. But, after reading some of the posts on Deep Adaptation, I have decided that I just cannot live life like an emergency is around every corner. I have also decided that my addiction to the daily news cycle is not only unhealthy, but in fact is poisonous.
Wise people throughout time have always known that there are really two main choices for how to live one’s life: through fear, or through love. Doomsaying and preparing for the end of life as we know it, at this stage, feels a lot like living through the fear lens. Living through the lens of love doesn’t mean one isn’t being smart, getting and giving support to others, finding creative ways to live with much less materiality, growing your own food if possible, stopping bad consumer habits, and protesting injustice. It means all those things, with the important addition of not focusing on the fear-induced What-if scenarios that seem to keep cropping up like weeds after a hard rain. We all know what a hard rain brings.
These are my rambling thoughts for tonight, dear Readers. This weekend was the celebration of Wesak, in which people around the world honor the Buddha’s birth, as well as all the venerated, ascended masters who have helped humanity over the eons of time. Humanity has been through so much in our long, extraordinary history. I may be an unrealistic idealist, but I am holding to the idea that we will make it through the coming decades, and society will change for the better. Change is inevitable, as is death. It is the nature of life on this planet. Let’s do what we can to stop fearing the future, and instead to imagine a more beautiful future world for our children, while doing the hard work of creating it.
Dear Readers, many of you know that today, May 6th, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a massive report on the state of our natural world. The news is even worse than many believed. According to the IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Wilson, the evidence presented in the report “presents an ominous picture…the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” (www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment)
The report’s authors found that approximately one million species are threatened with extinction in the not-too-distant (meaning within decades) future, if humanity doesn’t put the brakes on global climate destruction through industrialized civilization. Both the New York Times and the Guardian newspapers carried the story in today’s headlines, and I recommend reading them for further details (links below).
Even though this news is truly beyond words in its implications, I struggle to find some tonight in an effort to cope with what is mostly inevitable now—the extinction of much of our world’s natural ecosystems, which will certainly lead to societal collapse for humanity. I have been writing about this consistently for the past few months, as the evidence clearly shows that our common situation is becoming more and more of a crisis. I implore everyone reading to STAY AWAKE to what is now occurring, and DO NOT allow yourself to go numb in the face of what lies ahead. It is all too easy to do this, and in fact, global consumerism is doing everything within its considerable power to entice us to go numb, go shopping, buy a new car (because that will for sure help things along), watch endless sporting events, and any number of other distractions designed to do anything EXCEPT pay attention to what is actually happening now, before our very eyes, on Earth. WE MUST ALLOW OURSELVES TO FEEL THIS NEWS WITH OUR HEARTS.
Yes, it is difficult, nauseatingly so, to honestly face our deepest fears of annihilation. No one, really no one, on our planet wants to admit that we have ruined our precious home, Earth. Millions, even billions, of us are in utter denial, because taking responsibility for what we’ve done is simply far too painful. In the New York Times article today, there were well over a thousand comments on the story. They ran the gamut from utter sadness and despair, to blaming and shaming any number of groups for our predicament—the Baby Boomers, Big Oil and Gas, the government, the Republican Party of America, even people who haven’t made it to the Vegan club yet.
I am 24 years old. For as long as I remember, I have known about and understood climate change and the impacts it would have on us….I want to live the life I have prepared for and that future generations have had, working in my career field and eventually marrying and having children. I fear that my generation won’t be able to do these things or worse, will do them only to compound and perpetuate the problem. My heart is broken. —Emily, a reader’s comment in NYTimes May 6th article
But honestly, at this point, what good does it do to point fingers and blame this or that group of humans for the mess we are in? Clearly, Big Oil and Gas corporations have shamelessly and lavishly promoted the use of fossil fuels for over half a century, even as they knew of the risks to our planet by burning them. Yes, those corporations’ CEOs and stockholders should be held accountable for their part in it. And, how many of us in the developed (and now developing) nations have been buying and using gas-fueled vehicles for years and years? The truth is, nearly all of us born before the turn of the 21st century are at fault.
It is time to urgently and collectively engage in the process of answering the question: Now what? How do we turn this ship around and stop destroying our world and all the life upon it? The IPBES Global Assessment Report, in its entirety, gives many suggestions and sound, scientifically proven advice for how to do exactly that. The report was compiled by 145 experts from 50 countries, who analyzed scientific papers and reports from approx.. 15,000 scientific and government sources during the past three years, with input form 310 contributing authors. The report ranks for the first time, the five biggest drivers of change in nature, which are listed (in descending order from most impact to lesser) here: 1) changes in land and sea use, 2) direct exploitation of organisms, 3) climate change, 4) pollution and 5) invasive species. (www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment).
Tonight, I feel like I imagine I would if a doctor had just given me or one of my family members a terminal diagnosis. The world’s leading scientists have given us all a terminal diagnosis about the state of our planet’s ecosystems, including the world’s plant, mammal, bird and sea populations. How will we cope with this diagnosis? Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation Facebook group and forum, along with Extinction Rebellion’s websites, are some places to start. There you will find people writing about these reports, ideas, feelings and actions to take as the early medicine to combat our disease. Please do not look away any longer. The sooner we collectively face our self-made tragedy, the sooner we can take actions towards healing and reconciling our part in the new world we’ve created.
Addendum: In the space of twelve hours, the New York Times moved its article on the climate report down to “In Other News,” I guess to make room for an article titled, “See What the Stars Wore at the Met Gala,” as a perfect example of just EXACTLY what is causing our impending extinctions and current crisis. I am dumbfounded.
In the past week, I have been introduced to Professor Jem Bendell and his ground-breaking research paper on Deep Adaptation. Bendell is a professor at the Institute of Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) at the University of Cumbria in the UK. In July of 2018, he published the paper, called an occasional paper, through IFLAS on the internet. As he explains on his blogsite (https://jembendell.wordpress.com/2018/07/26/the-study-on-collapse-they-thought-you-should-not-read-yet/), his paper was rejected by the peer-review committee for the scholarly journal he submitted it to, so he decided to simply publish it regardless, in the interests of urgency for public reading. He notes on his blog that by now the paper, entitled Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy, has been downloaded over 300,000 times.
The degree of interest that Bendell’s paper has generated came as a surprise to him, as he explains in his blog. He has been a professor of leadership and sustainable management for over two decades and is widely respected for his work on sustainable development in the west. However, with the Deep Adaptation paper, he explains how he finally realized that the odds are very great that we have reached the point globally where there is no “fixing” or solving the vast problems of man-made climate change, before it’s too late. In fact, he writes, “The approach of the paper is to analyse recent studies on climate change and its implications for our ecosystems, economies and societies, as provided by academic journals and publications direct from research institutes. That synthesis leads to a conclusion there will be a near-term collapse in society with serious ramifications for the lives of readers” Bendell, p. 2).
I admit that I first read his words with a mixture of horror and fascination. Having been obsessed with this subject for the past four years, reading everything I could on the subject of climate change and how humans must work to mitigate, adapt and become resilient in the face of it, I found it increasingly difficult to hold onto hope that humanity will, in fact, turn our global society around in time to avert collapse. Watching the news cycle day after day and month after month, it seemed to me that a pattern of extreme weather events had begun that has no foreseeable end in sight (in fact, many climate scientists have done research that proves this out). I followed closely the high-level meetings of the United Nations during 2018 and wanted, more than anything, to believe that the world’s governments are taking these talks seriously and doing everything in their power to hold to commitments they made for reducing pollution and CO2 emissions. Yet, I also watched with dismay as agreements continue to be broken, fragile peace talks break down, wars continue, and corporations continue to pollute, plunder and destroy our earth unabated.
As readers of my blog know, I became very interested in Greta Thunberg and her climate activism, including inspiring tens of thousands of school kids and teens to school strike for climate change this year. She only began striking in August of 2018, yet the movement quickly grew in momentum, as did her speech-making opportunities with high-level heads of state in Europe and the UK. Recently, Greta gave a powerful and heart-wrenching speech before the leaders of the European Union, which you can watch here (https://youtu.be/dKd1V2NgAi4)
In her speech, as she reiterates in all her speeches, Greta tells the EU’s leaders that “our house is on fire” and yet nothing is being done to change it. She tells them the world’s children (the ones who are too young to vote) have decided to take matters into their own hands, since the adults are doing virtually nothing to avert climate catastrophe. She implores them to “get behind the science.” Such a reasonable request, and yet, so seemingly impossible to do in actuality.
Why is it so difficult, if not impossible, for the world’s leaders to “get behind the science?” Myriad books, articles, blogs, podcasts, news stories and more have been written to try to explain our current predicament. It’s easy to simply point the finger at the large, multi-national corporations and say it’s all their fault, call them evil, and be done with it. But the truth is much more complex than that, once you start digging down into the muck. It goes very, very deep, and there is an extraordinary amount of personal, as well as corporate and political, denial involved.
Finding Jem Bendell’s paper was a kind of revelation for me last week. I won’t go into the details of his paper in this blog post; however I want to share a couple of quotes by him to give you, dear readers, a taste of how he views our situation. From Deep Adaptation’s introduction, he writes,
The result of these five questions is an article that does not contribute to one specific set of literature or practice in the broad field of sustainability management and policy. Rather, it questions the basis for all the work in this field. It does not seek to add to the existing research, policy and practice on climate adaptation, as I found that to be framed by the view that we can manage the impacts of a changing climate on our physical, economic, social, political and psychological situations. Instead, this article may contribute to future work on sustainable management and policy as much by subtraction as by addition. By that I mean the implication is for you to take a time to step back, to consider “what if” the analysis in these pages is true, to allow yourself to grieve, and to overcome enough of the typical fears we all have, to find meaning in new ways of being and acting. That may be in the fields of academia or management – or could be in some other field that this realisation leads you to. (Bendell, p. 3)
In a blog post on his site, he shares his rationale for releasing the Deep Adaptation paper to the public without having it published in a scholarly journal first. He writes,
“The trauma from assessing our situation with climate change has led me to become aware of and drop some of my past preoccupations and tactics. I realise it is time to fully accept my truth as I see it, even if partially formed and not polished yet for wider articulation. I know that academia involves as much a process of wrapping up truth as unfolding it. We wrap truth in disciplines, discrete methodologies, away from the body, away from intuition, away from the collective, away from the everyday. So as that is my truth then I wish to act on it as well, and not keep this analysis hidden in the pursuit of academic respect. Instead, I want to share it now as a tool for shifting the quality of conversations that I need to have.” (from Jem Bendell’s blog, https://jembendell.wordpress.com/2018/07/26/the-study-on-collapse-they-thought-you-should-not-read-yet/
What strikes me the most about Bendell’s paper is its absolute honesty. He drops any pretense or arrogance he may have once assumed as a renowned academic at a prestigious English research university, in favor of writing from his gut and heart of the tragic conclusion that we have collectively gone beyond being able to come up with fixing what we’ve clearly broken—our atmosphere and natural environment. He asks the reader to seriously consider the “what if” scenario that we have, in fact, reached a point when Near-Term Societal Collapse is a likely probability, if not a near-certainty. These are hard words for anyone to take, and coming from a sustainable leadership scholar, harder still. He put his entire reputation and future on the line by publishing the paper. Yet, it has struck a nerve with many both in and outside of academia. It’s as if Bendell has uttered the words that the rest of us have been too terrified to say: there’s no turning back. The damage is too far gone, we cannot reverse it, so now we must find the courage and compassion to manage what is to visit us all in the very near future.
Deep Adaptation is not a doomsday scenario, as are the multitudes of popular films, books, videos, and other creative works out in the world now. It’s precisely because it’s written by a respected thought leader, academic, and scholar that, for me and thousands of others, it rings true. None of us want to admit that civilization, as we have known it, will be ending sooner than anyone could have imagined. And reading over these words, they indeed sound horrendous. Yet, isn’t it what we are most afraid of facing as a coming reality, not simply a science fiction film?
As Greta Thunberg and Jem Bendell so eloquently remind us all, NOW is the time to become mature humans and face up to our common situation. We are literally all on this spinning ball called Earth together, and what happens next will affect us all, as recent events over the past few years has so clearly shown us. I keep coming back to the old story of Noah building his ark, even as the others around him ignored or insulted him, and went on with their business-as-usual. They chose not to believe the warnings that there would soon be a catastrophic flood that would wash everyone and everything living away. Here in 2019, we are facing similar times—the signs are all around us that we must change the ways we’ve been living and respect Earth, stop destroying and polluting our only home. Not in five, ten, or thirty years from now. NOW.
For a wealth of information, support and encouragement from Jem Bendell, please visit his blog at https://jembendell.wordpress.com. Here too, you will find links to his paper on Deep Adaptation.
Bendell, Jem. Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy. IFLAS Occasional Paper 2, July 27, 2018. Accessed from https: jembendell.wordpress.com, May 1, 2019.