The following post is a guest blog from Prof Jem Bendell. He is the author of the paper Deep Adaptation: A map for navigating climate tragedy which has inspired a global movement for deep adaptation. St Ethelburga’s has been hosting retreats partly inspired by Jem’s paper for the last 18 months. We are delighted to be publishing this guest blog which links to the many rich and valuable interviews Jem has made with other deep adaptation and climate breakdown thinkers over the last year or so. Many of these thinkers and activists have spoken at St Ethelburga’s or influenced our work. This blog first appeared on Jembendell.com on 22/06/2020.
If we look away from both the mass media headlines and the underground media conspiracies, we can find at our fingertips the incredible wisdom that exists in our world at this time of unprecedented global communication. The original promise of the internet as an enabler of the evolution of human consciousness seems far-fetched today as the interests of capital drive what most people see and don’t see, including outright political lies. However, the tools themselves mean that I can connect with you as I am now, and share links to the interviews I have conducted with people from around the world. If, like me, you are sometimes submerged by what the mass media invites you to focus on, then you can miss the abundant wisdom that exists at our fingertips. So, I have written this blog to once again breathe the fresh air of wisdom from people that I interviewed over the past year.
When I reached a conclusion two years ago that most, perhaps all, societies will collapse during the 2020s, it began to change everything I had assumed about myself – not only society. A part of my sense of being a worthwhile human is my intellect. And I liked the idea of using my intellect for useful outcomes for everybody, particularly if influencing systems so there might be less suffering and injustice. The latest observations and research on climate change suddenly shook my confidence in the relevance of what I knew – and how I go about knowing at all – along with my confidence in the ability to make a difference. I needed to reach out and learn from people who might have wisdom on different aspects of life in this turbulent and uncertain era.
Part of my process has been talking with guests each month about aspects of Deep Adaptation. A year after starting, it seems good moment to look back and summarize some of the key insights from each guest, so you can choose whether to view an interview, or revisit one. In addition, while this wisdom is at our fingertips, it is submerged by the sheer volume and sophistication of output from corporate or state-funded mass media. Therefore, if you know somebody who is just beginning to come to terms with the possibility that dangerous climate change will disrupt many societies during this decade, then I recommend sharing this blog, so they can choose one of these interviews and begin to discover the world of ideas, meaning and impetus that can be found.
Indeed, the incredible compassion, wisdom and creativity expressed by all my guests over the past year provide proof that an anticipation of societal collapse from climate change does not need to lead to apathy or alienation. In many people it is doing the exact opposite. That is reflected in new research on the motivation of people in the Deep Adaptation Forum. Those findings, and the Q&As suggest that some climate scientists and environmentalists are being unhelpful when they censor or criticise people who express the view that it is too late to stop dangerous climate change, and instead could follow the brave lead of climatologists in 2020.
I will continue during these Q&As each month to the end of the year and perhaps beyond that. Participation is open to members of the Professions Network, which you can join for free. The next Q&A is with Extinction Rebellion co-founder and therapist Skeena Rathor (sign up) in July and then Katherine Wilkinson (sign up) of Project Drawdown in August and Buddhist teacher Henk Barendregt (sign up) in September.
Now to the review of the abundant wisdom I was able to connect with from around the world – from my own home! I hope you find these resources helpful.
In May 2019, I began the series when I hosted Carolyn Baker (watch), who is an author of many books about societal collapse. She explained clearly how the predicament humanity finds itself in is not an accident but arises from a range of deep injuries in our way of relating to each other and the planet. She explained clearly how a meaningful response to our predicament must face head-on matters of death, existence, and the meaning of life. It is a theme I reflected on in a short film on my personal journey of grief to love in the face of our climate tragedy.
The well-known activist educator Joanna Macy (video) affirmed in me the idea that turning towards the terrifying difficulties and upset ahead of us can be a spiritual path. Her natural embodiment of loving kindness meant it felt so simple and obvious that we can find gratitude and wonder at this time of unavoidable revealing. Joanna explained how Deep Adaptation’s 4th R of reconciliation is of keen relevance to how we stay engaged without knowing the outcome.
Gail Bradbrook (watch) reminded me how an anticipation of likely collapse can motivate people to drop any compromise and live fully in their truth while integrating their understandings of why humanity has ruined our home. Gail described systemic problems with politics, capitalism, patriarchy, and the environmental movement. As the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, her ideas seemed very straightforward and useable. Listening to her it seems to me impossible not to feel drawn to act together for greater change, which I then explored in a blog on climate activism.
Many people have told me my conversation with Deb Ozarko (watch) has been their favourite. Deb displayed a special ‘groundedness’ and ease from her full acceptance of the coming collapse of ‘civilisation’. As author of Beyond Hope, she offers a powerful diagnosis of how humanity went wrong and will continue to do so while patriarchal dominator mindsets prevail in our culture.
Psychologist Adrian Tait (watch) explored with me how denial or disavowal can be a very normal and widespread response. Admitting the tragedy of our situation may be difficult for people whose personal identity is wedded to the idea of being an intelligent contributor to positive social change and environmental protection. He told me I must accept that I will receive uninformed criticism from people whose identities are threatened by the Deep Adaptation conversation. Still, it is important to express our views and emotions and why it is important not to be shamed into silence, as I have often written about.
I was delighted when Professor Vanessa Andreotti (watch) joined me to talk about global justice, decolonization and interracial healing in the face of our climate tragedy. For many people, the suffering from environmental degradation and disaster occurring now is seen as the latest phase of many hundreds of years of destruction wrought by the culture and systems of patriarchy, modernity, and capitalism. Not only do people like me in relatively privileged positions need to sense and act from solidarity with people suffering oppression, but we can also learn from their history and experiences so as not to repeat mistakes in future. It is something I explored in a speech and article on the topic of global justice and deep adaptation.
Writer and philosopher Charles Eisenstein (watch) joined me to talk about how climate change can be a liminal moment for humanity as we wake up to the delusion of experiencing ourselves as separate from each other and nature. He explained how moving into a mentality of interbeing means we will more easily find forgiveness and peace, from which we will discover more effective resolve and action. The conversation inspired me to write up my thoughts on the role of forgiveness in our engagement and activism on the global situation.
When I talked with child psychologist and psychotherapist Caroline Hickman (watch), I learned more about how we can talk with young people about the painful realizations we have about the future. The thoughtfulness, humility, respect and positivity with which Caroline understands how adults can engage children on the possibility of societal collapse, contrasts with the rather ‘hoity toity’ moralizing we hear from some critics of deep adaptation or ‘collapsology’. Reconnecting with this question of how to engage young people meant I delved into the question of how adults could help school climate strikers in more meaningful ways.
Dahr Jamail (watch) is the author of The End of Ice. In our discussion we explored the grief that we and others feel, through witnessing the destruction and degradation of ecosystems and realizing how much more loss lies ahead. It became clear how important it is to provide support for each other to allow that grief and the possibility within it for our gratitude for being alive to stimulate a recommitment to honouring life by living for truth and love. This is one reason why we launched free online Death Cafés within the Deep Adaptation Forum.
With The Future Is Beautiful as well as a collaboration with the organisation St Ethelburga’s, Amisha Ghadiali (watch) is bringing more attention to diverse commentators and activists on the Deep Adaptation agenda. When I interviewed her, we discussed the importance of – and potential for – restoring our connection with the divine feminine aspect of our reality. There are many wisdom traditions to draw upon as we explore that marginalised aspect of our reality and of the realms we call ‘spiritual’. For me, as a man, engaging with the divine feminine has involved a sense of apology, humility and listening, as I expressed in a Letter to the Earth.
Sister Jayanti (watch), European leader of the Brahma Kumaris, joined me to discuss the benefits of meditation in staying present and engaged with the difficulties of the world. I especially liked her suggestion that we can overthink our situations in ways which take us away from the simple insights of an open heart. This was the first conversation I had with a religious leader, as I reflect on the role of religions in harm reduction and meaning-making in the face of societal collapse.
John Doyle (watch) works at the European Commission on analysing trends that will influence the future. The freedom with which he speaks about how society is breaking down and the need to learn very deep lessons about our culture and mindset is itself proof of the courage that can be found if we let an awareness of the predicament transform us. I just wish that people like John were able to influence policy agendas more than they do, such as on economic resilience ahead of societal disruption.
That concluded my first year of monthly Deep Adaptation Q&As. But I can’t complete this review without including my most recent interview with 11-year-old Elsie Luna (watch). Children and youth have been an important force in bringing attention to the climate emergency over the last 2 years. Elsie was a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, one of the first child climate strikers in the UK and also founded XR kids. With great clarity she explained how environmental dilemmas result from the same processes of oppression which result in many other forms of harm. Ever since meeting Oskar Mowdy and making a film about him and his schoolmates, I have been impressed by the openness of many young people to our situation.
Resilience & adaptation for times of social & ecological emergency (online retreat)