Deep Adaptation and Near Term Societal Collapse

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Image via https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-09-26/new-climate-debate-how-to-adapt-to-the-end-of-the-world

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.

Reference:

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.

Another article on this subject in Bloomberg: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-09-26/new-climate-debate-how-to-adapt-to-the-end-of-the-world

 

 

 

 

Greta’s pure audacity

She is a phenomenon, utterly fearless.

She takes no prisoners, calling out the glitterati, high profile political and corporate leaders. To Greta, it matters not whether a person is powerful, rich or famous, she pays no deference. Her mission is completely clear.

Greta has the gift of absolute clarity, and articulates our situation with razor sharp language. At a recent German entertainment award ceremony in Berlin, she used her words to lambast celebrities for their excessive lifestyles, criticizing their excesses, such as jetting around the world to enjoy exotic vacations and yoga retreats, without considering the environmental costs of air travel. For a taste of her speech, check out her Twitter feed below.

https://twitter.com/GretaThunberg

There are few news stories which give me joy these days. But the speeches Greta continue to give before large and powerful audiences bring me unreasonable joy. And I am far from alone in feeling jubilant. Here are a few replies on Facebook from people who watched Greta’s speech at the Goldene Kamera awards:

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The irony, as Greta so pointedly states in her speech, is that she was invited to the entertainment award ceremony to receive a climate prize, and once she’s called out all the stars in the audience (reminding them of their huge influence in the world, that billions of people see them as gods), she tells them all that, basically, we need you to help us get our message to the political leaders, since you have the influence and fame that we do not. Fortunately, that’s quickly changing as Greta is becoming a unique kind of celebrity in her own right. She doesn’t need bling-bling, makeup or fancy clothes to be a star, because she has a fascinating kind of egoless charisma that is impossible to ignore.

The jewel and money-dripping crowd at the Goldene Kamera awards seemed, from the looks on their faces, more than a little uncomfortable at Greta’s speech and admonitions targeted at them. I know I am not alone in feeling glad she made them squirm a bit to hear the truth. The entertainment industry spends obscene amounts of money and fossil fuels to pump out entertainment to the masses, while mostly turning their backs on the issue of global warming. From Davos to Brussels to Berlin and beyond, Greta Thunberg is calling out abuses by the world’s power elite. It is JOYFUL to see her activism taking hold in people’s imaginations so quickly, to watch as tens of thousands of youth, teachers, activists and ordinary folk join her movement for Climate Strikes. I encourage everyone reading this blog to follow Greta on Twitter and Facebook, and in the news as she continues to inspire, scold, and speak Truth to power. Go Greta!!

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To click on the links, go to @GretaThunberg on Twitter

Relentless Energies of Change

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The Munch bunch Photograph: John Keeble/Getty Images via The Guardian, March 24 2019

To borrow a phrase from the reporters at the New York Times, it’s been a busy couple of weeks–not only in politics, but in the world generally. The sound byte version: major floods of biblical proportions in Southeastern Africa that devastated parts of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, taking hundreds, most likely thousands, of lives and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless; epic flooding in the United States’ Midwest as rains melted snow on top of frozen ground, causing rivers to swell and burst, and causing major highways in Nebraska to close; while major political upheaval continues with the UK’s Brexit impasse, prompting over a million protesters to march in London over the weekend demanding a new referendum vote.

Just before the close of business Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller III delivered his report concerning the Trump administration’s alleged ties with Russian intelligence during the 2016 election campaign to Attorney General William Barr. On Sunday, Barr released his short synopsis of Mueller’s report to the American public. (NYTimes, March 24, 2019). His conclusion is that there is not sufficient evidence within the report to claim that Trump, or any of his aides, committed crimes. Barr wrote “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Barr continued his synopsis by explaining there were two parts of the investigation, and regarding the second part, he stated “The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as “difficult issues” of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”’ (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/24/us/politics/mueller-report-summary.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage)

Many readers of the New York Times commented on Sunday’s news, with the majority agreeing that while there seemed to not be enough evidence to begin impeachment proceedings, this debacle will continue under Congress in the months to come. Many commenters ended their words by exhorting readers to VOTE 2020.

The past two weeks have felt torrential—one tornado after hurricane after flood, both figuratively and literally. Part of me dreads next week’s news, and next month’s. Superlatives no longer hold much meaning, as the times we’re living through are a continuous stream of superstorms, supercorruption, superviolence, and generally a hyped-up version of everyday reality from what many of us were accustomed to for decades before this one. The relentless energies are exhausting and difficult to manage, prompting people to find any excuse to zone out, shut out, and get out of them in any way they can conceive to do it. Who can blame them? This level of reality is not for those who don’t have the mental and emotional endurance to withstand it.

I’ve been groping to find any shred of positivity within this hurricane of extremes. Toward that end, I pulled out my copy of Active Hope, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone (New World Library, 2012). Joanna Macy is that rare writer who can acknowledge the pain and struggles we experience as beings in human form on this planet, while also reminding us of the absolute wonder and joy of embodiment. In the chapter entitled Honoring Our Pain for the World, she writes,

We can exist in both realities at the same time—going about our normal lives in the mode of Business as Usual while also remaining painfully aware of the multifaceted crises unfolding around us….one way of dealing with the confusion and agony of this splitting is to push the crisis out of view….but this way of living is difficult to sustain, particularly as the condition of our world continues to worsen.

It is difficult even to talk about this….when we feel dread about what may lie ahead, outrage at what is happening to our planet, or sadness about what has already been lost, it is likely we have nowhere to take these feelings.

We can be caught between two fears—the fear of what will happen if we, as a society, continue the way we’re going and the fear of acknowledging how bad things are because of the despair that doing so brings up. (pg. 65)

Macy and Johnstone go on to describe a method of working with these feelings of despair, that she coined The Work that Reconnects. They write that a “central principle is that pain for the world, a phrase that covers a range of feelings including outrage, alarm, grief, guilt, dread and despair, is a normal, healthy response to a world in trauma.” (p. 67)

Macy and Johnstone have been offering workshops and the template to create groups around The Work That Reconnects for many years. They argue that when we allow ourselves to admit our deepest feelings about what’s happening in our world within a safe group, a space is created where a shift can happen. They write,

When we touch into our depths, we find that the pit is not bottomless. When people are able to tell the truth about what they know, see and feel is happening to their world, a transformation occurs.

A range of factors acts together to bring about this shift. It is enlivening to go with, rather than against, the flow of our deep-felt responses to the world. Second, we feel tremendous relief on realizing our solidarity with others. (p. 70)

They describe the grief process developed y J. William Worden, including the stages of first accepting the loss and second, feeling the pain of grief. Macy writes, “each day we lose valuable parts of our biosphere as species become extinct and ecosystems destroyed—yet where is their funeral service? …we need to digest the bad news. That is what rouses us to respond.” (p. 71)

Right now it feels like more than a funeral service, but rather a global memorial is needed to honor all the sentient lives that are being lost with every passing week, month, and season. Our world is being swept away, destroyed and reformed into something different as we go about our lives, with one foot in each—the old world that’s dying, and the new one, forming under the very ground we are shakily standing on. Perhaps the best metaphor for our current state can be found in a remarkable story in this weekend’s Guardian. A Norwegian luxury liner found itself in big trouble as it ran into a section of very rough waters off the Norway coast. Huge waves rocked the ship, as its engines failed. The captain sent a mayday distress signal to the mainland, who responded by sending emergency rescue teams to take the guests off the ship to safety. This was a tricky and careful operation, involving smaller boats, several helicopters, and an entire team of rescuers. Eventually, the engines were restarted, and the luxury liner was escorted back out of the danger zone, and into a safe harbor farther south along the coast. The crew said that they were very close to a major disaster, had the liner run aground among rocks in the shallow coastal waters. Fortunately, the crew was able to prevent that from happening, and everyone got through the disaster alive, with few injuries. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/23/hundreds-evacuated-from-cruise-ship-off-norwegian-coast)

In a sea of dramatic and worse news stories, this story appears as a sign of hope. Yes, the people on board the ship were suddenly in a life-threatening situation. They, I assume, all experienced the profound fear of realizing their lives were at stake. They stared mortality in the face, in the middle of an otherwise lovely holiday on a cruise ship. By the end, they were saved from death and forever changed by the experience. And isn’t that what we are collectively experiencing together on our planet now? We are staring at the mortality, not only of uncountable numbers of species, but of coastlines, wetlands, forests, ice sheets, coral reefs, and myriad other natural formations that we’ve known for thousands of years. And we’re staring at our own possible mortality, if we can’t find the way to turn our ship around and get out of the danger zone we’ve created. We must all be willing to talk about it, as Joanna Macy points out. To talk and to acknowledge our fears, our grief, and our bafflement at our situation.