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

Stretching through Grief

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image via Public Domain.net/ George Hodan

Here in the mid-March energies, few are not feeling the effects of the changes happening across our planet. In a profound sense, humanity is experiencing a tsunami of change. Yet, as humans being, well, human, we tend to dismiss, deny, disregard or discount what is actually happening here on Earth. The good news is, more and more are waking up and discovering that the Earth changes are real, not imagined. They are recognizing the need for massive changes to how we treat our world, each other, and ourselves. And while it’s hopeful to know all of this, knowledge alone doesn’t help with the intense emotions that accompany all this change.

Right now I am in a cycle of viscerally experiencing the tensions running extraordinarily high all around me. We all experience it in our own way, and for me it manifests as grief. There’s a lot to grieve in our present state—go to any reputable online news site and there is no lack of sad stories across the world. On Monday, for example, an airliner carrying 157 people from Ethiopia to Nairobi crashed, killing everyone on board. The daily news tells similar stories of unexpected death, destruction, injustice, corruption, abuse, inhumanity, and damage to Gaia in a nonstop stream. Even if a person has no interest in reading these reports, it’s basically impossible to avoid the knowledge of these chaotic times. It’s literally in the air we all share, the water we all use, and the common ground beneath our feet.

It can be difficult to know what to do with all the heavy energies around us. I read many blogs and watch select YouTube channels for encouragement and inspiration. Some days this helps, but other days nothing I read or listen to seems to touch the level of sorrow I feel regarding our world. Many times I read advice to the effect of, “Be joyful! The changes happening on Earth are necessary for the purging and cleansing of long-held negative and toxic energies that humans have held onto for eons of time. You cannot take the old energies with you into the new Earth, so it’s imperative to forgive others, forgive yourself, and release them.” I understand this logic with my mind, but right now I cannot feel joyful as I look at all the difficult life experiences we are enduring. There are times to grieve for what is being lost, and that’s how I’m personally experiencing what’s happening right now.

On this blog, I’ve posted recently about Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist who has made headlines around the world for her courageous school strikes in protest of the lack of action by world leaders. At the end of this week, on March 15th, many thousands of school-aged children and youth are planning to strike for climate action all across the globe. Greta, in an interview with The Guardian this week, said she was excited about the strike, and that it will be fun. But she made no hopeful speech about the future of Earth for her generation. She clearly recognizes that by the time she reaches mid-life, the world is likely to be a very difficult place to live upon for nearly everyone. For those of us who also see that future as very likely, it’s a heartbreaking acknowledgment of how we’ve mistreated our home, and through our complacency and lack of care, have allowed the climate crisis to continue.

I am by nature an optimist and want, more than anything, to believe that solutions will come in time for the next generations of humanity to have a chance at a healthy world to live in and raise their children and grandchildren. But to be completely honest, it is becoming harder and harder to believe in a healthy future world in thirty, fifty, or a hundred years, without some seriously major changes on a global scale happening NOW. That is Greta’s message, and she speaks for many millions of people. As long as the majority of people in power do little to change policies, laws and regulations regarding fossil fuel use, the future scenarios we’ve all heard and seen of a dystopian world are likely to become reality.

When I look around at our planet, say on the internet, and see places that still hold such absolute beauty and majesty, are still relatively unspoiled by humanity’s activity and where wilderness is still alive, it makes me wonder how much longer will these places survive intact? Increasingly there is a split between the human-made world and the world of nature, to the point where now there are many humans who never experience wild places, or even touch the bare earth with their bodies. Through technology, people feel that they no longer need direct, sensory experience of nature because they can play virtual reality games which simulate those type of experiences. A whole generation of humans are now being raised in a virtual reality environment without direct knowledge of how it feels to simply be outside in a wild place, with all the sensory stimulus it provides. It’s the equivalent of eating fast food your whole life, never realizing that there is food available that’s natural, unadulterated, and nutritious. Having never experienced it, they don’t even know it exists or what they’ve missed out on all those years.

The premise of this blog is that all life on Earth is connected, that we are all joined in the great web of everything-that-is. When one is hurt, all feel it on some level, no matter to what degree. The thought of a future earth that is uninhabitable because it has become so damaged by thoughtless, careless human beings full of hubris who only focused on extracting the planet’s treasures without giving life back, is utterly unbearable. No one wants to live in such a world, so why are we living in such a way?