Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Catastrophe – Collapse – Apology – Words missing from the IPCC report

Posted by jembendell on October 8, 2018

Today in their report, the IPCC have stated we have twenty years before a global disaster is upon us, if we don’t do the impossible right now, including mass deployment of carbon removal from atmosphere using tech not yet invented. In communicating the impacts of 1.5 degree warming and mentioning a date for that impact that is in our lifetimes, the IPCC have come a long way from their past reports, which mentioned only possibilities by a futuristic-sounding 2100.Capture

In a recent talk in Cumbria University, I explained the role of the IPCC in misguiding myself and fellow professionals in the sustainability field over the past decade through grossly downplaying of the risks. The report makes predictions on sealevel and sea ice that seem woefully cautious in comparison to current measurements of change, so probably reflect their internal processes of consensus, which were trashed in a major study earlier this year.

Over past decades those who think things are worse than what the IPCC were saying have been proved right. If that holds true now, then its time more of us started thinking, feeling and discussing our way through the idea of a near term social collapse due to climate change.

In complex systems people’s choice of time horizons for future events is as much a reflection of how they want to feel and how they want to communicate as it is an actual forecast. Especially so when combining so many different models on so many different ecosystem impacts and feedbacks. The 2040 date feels a bit futuristic, doesn’t it? The choice of a year with a zero in the end suggests its not an actual forecast, but reflects how people feel comfortable talking about this topic in public and to policy makers.

Some words missing from the IPCC SR 15 summary for policymakers are: Catastrophe, Collapse, Starvation, Emergency, Apology, Sorry.

So what to do? Lots of things! But here are a few:

  • Seed clouds in the Artic and Antarctic at scale immediately and research the impacts.
  • Research how else to stop methane escaping the artic shelf off Siberia and try it
  • Global carbon tax embedded in trade agreements right now
  • Implement means of drawing down carbon from atmosphere by restoring and growing natural carbon sinks, including transformation of modern agriculture
  • Explore how to prepare for collapse locally and globally within a Deep Adaptation framing, which doesn’t assume or try to preserve our current ideas of development and progress. This is in itself a huge agenda, involving everyone, and seriously under-discussed because it has hitherto been taboo.
  • Do not dismiss ideas on what to do now because they do not fit with your story of self or reality which gives you a sense of confidence or calm. Our attachment to our stories is what got us into this mess in the first place.
  • Look within, at what you most value, as if these are our last years on Earth and we won’t succeed in achieving collective goals on development or environment. That means deeply adapting ourselves to collapse and it’s lessons for humanity and self.

That last one is important because nothing is now likely to work in preventing a near term social collapse due to climate change. But it is also important because it always was important. Afterall, why are we here!?

Here are a couple interesting quotes in the media:

“The report, issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders, describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population” New York Times.

Prof Arthur Petersen, from University College London and a former IPCC member.
“I am relatively sceptical that we can meet 1.5C, even with an overshoot. Scientists can dream up that is feasible, but it’s a pipedream.” BBC

If you could work professionally on this topic then consider the Deep Adaptation LinkedIn Group.

 

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After acceptance – some responses to anticipating collapse

Posted by jembendell on August 25, 2018

This year I have often been talking with people about the likelihood of near-term societal collapse, brought on by disruptive climate change. One reason for publishing my paper on Deep Adaptation was to invite such conversations and begin to explore more purposely what the heck this means for my own work and life. Once people move beyond the various barriers to generative dialogue on this topic, we then begin to discuss all kinds of ideas. I’ve found that people are responding in a variety of different ways. But one theme seems to be consistent – people feel nonplussed about how to explore what to do and who to talk to. People feel isolated. That can lead them back into denial.Red_and_blue_pill

To help me understand my own options and to help others to do the same, I have attempted to map out some of the responses I am witnessing once people accepting near-term societal collapse. What follows is my first attempt at some categories. For each response I have at least one person in mind, but to keep it short, I won’t the give proper examples in this post. I am not a psychologist, and rather than attempt a hack of psychological theories here, I just present these responses in layman’s terms. I have labelled them for ease of discussion in comments below (and for levity). The responses aren’t mutually exclusive – many people are responding in a number of these ways all at the same time, myself included.

I’d welcome input from psychologists, either in the comments below or in the Deep Adaptation Linked-In group. Also, please let me know which types of response that I’ve missed. Here goes:

  • Reading and talking much more about societal collapse, and all the issues it brings up, but without significantly changing behaviour. That can include being active on social media so your tweets and Facebook posts seem rather doom-laden. Let’s call this “SOS!” response.
  • Changing jobs, moving home, and starting to build a more self-sufficient good life, partly off-grid, usually in the countryside. Or researching and planning this process, actively. I’ll call that the “survivalist” response. In some cases, this response could be a form of denial, as it is going to be so difficult to isolate oneself to cope with collapse, as I have discussed elsewhere.
  • Seeking personal growth via therapy, and/or various forms of meaningful play, time in nature, spirituality, or deep conversations. Many people have expressed a massive personal transformation as they accept near term mortality and lose some of their deference to societal norms and expectations. Let’s call this a “transcendence” response.
  • Talking about societal collapse in one’s professional circles, to explore what could be done within one’s profession and beyond. I am now witnessing a few such attempts, and rather than walking away from own profession, decided to do the same, for now. Let’s call this the “professional sunk costs” response.
  • Taking more risks in one’s workplace and community, to express one’s views with less fear of repercussion. Often this involves speaking about purpose and values and not accepting the dominant assumptions about growth, profit and conformity. The “not hiding anymore” response.
  • Reducing workload to create more time for exploring the issue of climate chaos or societal collapse, in anticipation of making a major decision about changing one’s life. The “taking a breather” response.
  • Retraining to develop skills that may be relevant for being useful to oneself and others post-collapse. That could be learning first aid, horticulture, herbal medicines, musical instruments, or even learning how to use a crossbow. Though that last one doesn’t sound too gentle, as these things are done as much as pastimes as preparations, I’ll call this the “gentle prepper” response.
  • Seeking to repair or improve one’s close relationships, while smelling the flowers and being nicer to pets, neighbours and colleagues. The “palliative love” response.
  • Seeking to know how to deal better with confusion, fear, and anticipatory grief, for oneself and to help others with those emotions. The “emotional self-care” response.
  • Looking for networks of people who are creating self-reliant ‘Arks’, in order to support them and have the option to join later. The “all options open” response.
  • Deciding that the options to change one’s life and work aren’t attractive or practical now, so continuing as normal but with a greater focus on peace and joy while waiting for the collapse. This is the “keep a cyanide pill” response. Though, to be honest, I haven’t met anyone who has prepared that way…. or they haven’t told me.
  • A related response to that one is where people accept collapse, go through the range of emotions, consider a range of options and then consciously choose to try and live in denial to have a happier life for as long as they can. Sometimes this can include attempts at living the dolce vita, spending more on today that they might have, given the bleak outlook. This is the “return me to the matrix” response. Sci-fi nerds might call it the “blue pill” response.
  • Organising to get the idea that we face a climate emergency and should prepare for collapse, such as through preparing for food rationing, on to the political agenda. As it evokes the belief in national government and citizen sacrifice that we have seen during wars, I will call this the “war footing” response. I should note that people who respond in this way have a variety of views that are shaped by their existing politics and values and there is no consensus nor likely to be one.
  • Organising to campaign for geoengineering and/or carbon sequestration while we still have the capacity to act on these. Examples include Arctic cloud brightening, agroecology and kelp planting. Some call for these actions with the idea that while civilisation exists then we have the chance to reduce the speed of climate change and thus give the species a chance to avoid extinction. I’ll call it the “where’s Bruce Willis” response.
  • Turning to non-violent direct action to force changes in practices that are making matters worse. Most instances of such direct action appear to be within a carbon emissions reduction paradigm, but could be influenced now by an awareness of impending collapse. That would bring into view a range of new things to disrupt, depending on the values one holds dear after accepting collapse. I will call this the “climate peace activist” response.
  • Organising to promote a particular set of proposals, and develop certain capabilities, for how to adapt to the coming changes, in particular at local levels. Some have started focusing on practical grassroots initiatives to develop capabilities for deep adaptation. I’ll call this the “humanitarian” response.
  • Organising to promote the cultural concepts that will help us to find and express meaning after societal-collapse. It involves looking for beauty and meaning in a new context. This is one focus of the Dark Mountain group. It’s a “reframing collapse” response.
  • Evangelising about one’s views on life, the cosmos and human organisation. That evangelising can be religious, new age spirituality or a view on politics and social organisation. This response can be cloaked in stories about how becoming a believer, or more devout, will help reduce the harm of climate change (so that gets close to collapse-denial) or help with whatever form of human community may survive. Secular versions include people saying they are developing the blueprint for how humanity will be in future if everyone listens and does what they will be told. Collectively, I’ll call these the “follow me” response. One of the joys of lumping all these approaches into the same category is it will annoy the hell out of the people who respond in this way. Sorry guys, and yes its nearly always guys, but the common denominator seems to be an ego-driven need to hold the truth and be recognised for that.
  • Watching Guy McPherson videos on Youtube. The “masochist” response.
  • Sharing Guy McPherson videos with your Facebook friends. The “sadomasochist” response.

OK, that’s an in-joke. “Doomer humour” will be a fast-growing genre. And, by its own admission, fairly fast-ending.

There are other responses that I have not come across yet in person, but have heard about. These are worrying forms of response and are sometimes cited by people who don’t want to talk about these issues. They include:

  • Anger and anxiety turning into depression, sometimes leading to suicide. I have read about a couple of suicides related to anxiety caused by awareness of climate change. These were famous cases, so I don’t know of how widespread climate-influenced depression has become. It’s the “depressive” response.
  • Turning to violent direct action to either take revenge or attempt to impose change or force action. I have only heard this discussed in abstract terms, mostly when people wonder why we haven’t seen this kind of action yet. It’s the “violent” response

Mentioning these responses makes me realise that we need psychologists and others who provide counsel to people, such as coaches and religious leaders, to engage actively in this field and develop the relevant support.

Having listed the range of responses above, what does it make you think about or feel?

Does it make you ask any questions?

Might it help in any way?

Please take some time to reflect on those questions, perhaps by returning to them after you finish reading this post.

By listing the range of responses, I have begun to see some of the weaknesses in my own responses. I have begun to wonder if what I think is an informed “response” is actually just another form of denial. I am left wondering what my response might become. And what kind of response from other people do I welcome and want to associate with. And what responses I think we should actively help people to avoid.

Summarising all these responses also makes me wonder where and how we may begin to find a shared agenda and identity, so that we can begin to learn from each other, coordinate better and sustain our simple human need to belong. That is one area where it would be useful to have more conversations, online and in person. They could include a discussion on what it is we share as principles and priorities as we face collapse. In my own reflections, I have not been drawn to the survivalist or prepper response, which seems to be fear-based and maintains an illusion that it is possible to calculate and control one’s future, through one’s own individual power, amidst future turmoil.  Also, it is based on a view that it is good to survive a bit longer than your neighbour when collapse occurs. For me, that is open to debate, as the values and behaviours we believe in have always been as relevant as how long we last on this Earth.

I have met many more people who believe an imminent societal collapse invites personal and collective transformation with universal love at the core, than I have met people who become grim survivalists. “Preppers” have a label for themselves. What might be ours? I have wondered whether “collapsnik” could work. It invokes the term “peacenik” from the early 1970s, which described people who campaigned against the West’s war in Vietnam and Cambodia to an extent that it became a cultural identity for them. Similar to peaceniks, we are not apathetic, but principled, devout, counter-cultural and communitarian. Some wonder whether “collapsnik” implies we want collapse to happen. Not in my case – I like my life at the moment. But I could do with a simple way of identifying people who believe collapse is coming and have let that awareness change their lives.

Other ideas for labels are most welcome…

Photo credit: W. Carter – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

(Note I previously wrote about some of these ideas in an article for Open Democracy in 2014, though I was more agnostic back then about the situation we face.)

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Barriers to Dialogue on Deep Adaptation

Posted by jembendell on August 20, 2018

The starting point for a generative discussion of the deep adaptation agenda is a difficult one. Because to begin to rigorously and imaginatively discuss this topic first requires us to accept the likelihood of near term societal collapse. By which I mean that within ten years, in whatever society we are living in, that we will find ourselves in a situation where our normal means of income, sustenance, security, pleasure, identity and purpose all disappear. As it is impossible to predict the future within complex systems, “ten years” is not my prediction, and I mention it as a device to help focus this discussion without making people run out the room to stock their bunker. Please note that I am not suggesting we have the whole ten years: we might have less than that. Havent a clue about what I am talking about? Then please read my paper on Deep Adaptation.

grayscale photo of man grabbing using right hand

Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

As I have been talking with people about this topic over the past few years, I’ve become aware of the barriers accepting near-term societal collapse and therefore barriers to rigorous and creative thinking and discussion about what we might do about it, personally and collectively. I have also become aware of the barriers I had for a few years to avoid addressing this topic with the seriousness it merits. So before outlining either the analysis of our environmental predicament or the new agenda this opens up, it may be useful to outline some of these barriers to useful dialogue. I do that as part of my invitation for you to either avoid – or momentarily suspend – such responses and adopt a “what if” perspective on societal collapse. Only then can one explore what a deep adaptation agenda might mean for oneself, one’s work and wider society.

I am not a psychologist. I presume there is a lot of psychological theory related to what I am perceiving when I discuss climate-induced collapse. Some theories like confirmation bias, wilful blindness, cognitive dissonance and the relatability of new information are ones that have reached me via the mainstream. But rather than attempt a poor hack of psychological theory to validate or explain my perceptions, I will instead share a purely layman’s perspective of the attitudes and responses I have encountered. I will therefore leave it to psychologists to come to my aid in elaborating on these experiences. In the following discussion, I may also be exhibiting certain fallacies that psychologists could point out for me. Any feedback is welcome (in the comments below). For ease of future discussion, I will label each of the following twelve types of dialogue-barring response with a somewhat catchy title.

The “Problem Person” Response

The first response that is a barrier to discussing deep adaptation is an “ad hominem” response, where we question the credibility of the person sharing the analysis. It is a response we all have when confronted with uncommon views. Is he credible? Is he an expert? Is this view widely shared? These are obvious and important questions to ask. But should not mean you avoid looking at the evidence yourself. Therefore, when asked that question, I suggest people read the summary of climate science and current measurements, in the first part of my Deep Adaptation paper.

The “Objectifying” Response

The second response that is a barrier to generative dialogue on this topic is to label the analysis of collapse as just one type of analysis amongst many. This approach sometimes includes expressing how apocalyptic thinking is a cultural trope throughout human history. This means that one can feel one has a broader perspective of a range of different views held by different people and organisations. Therefore, the emotional charge of the analysis of near-term collapse is reduced. One’s worldview is maintained including the view that one is a reasonable balanced person operating sensibly within a reasonable balanced society. The problem with this perspective is you are choosing to “sit on the fence” on the most important matter in your lifetime.

The “Polite Avoidance” Response

The third response that is a barrier to generative dialogue is to renegotiate for yourself what I am saying. It’s a polite conflict-avoiding form of response. It is where you might choose to focus on what you think is the useable bit of what I’m saying, where you conclude that things are very bad and therefore we need to increase our efforts to stave off collapse. But that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying societal collapse is now inevitable within, probably, the next ten years. And I’m using the concept of “inevitable” because even if there is a eureka technology right now that is deployed at scale to take carbon out of the atmosphere, the heating that’s pre-determined from existing atmospheric CO2 plus the escalating feedback loops means societies will collapse anyway.

The “Moral Superiority” Response

The fourth response that is a barrier to generative dialogue on this topic is what I will call the “moral superiority” response. It is when people ask “is he being irresponsible for expressing this view?” The supposition made, most often without evidence, is that it will make people panic or become apathetic, and therefore we shouldn’t even be discussing it. Yet silencing our own thinking and discussion because of speculation on what this might do in the wider world is an illogical way of thinking. It is a response that I examine in my Deep Adaptation paper and contrast with the evidence from worldwide opinion surveys that suggests more people are becoming doubtful about the future. This objection often comes with accusations that people like me are “giving up” and irresponsibly implying everyone should “give up.” That is often said rhetorically without specificity of what exactly we are giving up on. Therefore, such statements reflect an annoyance a person is experiencing when hearing the idea of collapse. I am suggesting people give up efforts at the incremental reform of existing systems. I am suggesting people give up on any dependence on the status and security associated with their current way of life. I am suggesting people give up on assuming their lives have meaning by contributing to progress. I am suggesting people give up in postponing their attention to their own mortality and the meaning of life. I am not suggesting we give up on carbon reductions or active engagement in society. Quite the opposite. Many things can be discussed, as a result of this switch in thinking.

The “Postpone Judgement” Response

The fifth response that is a barrier to generative dialogue on this topic involves thinking to oneself that it might be true, but to know for sure then I’d have to really study and think, and I am too busy right now so will aim to analyse this later. Being busy is comprised of so many things. We could be having so much fun, or having invested so much of our time, money and spirit into a project that hasn’t yet succeeded, or know we want to have the fun we haven’t had before looking at this topic more. Why? Because we sense that looking more closely at near term societal collapse risks disrupting everything think about ourselves, the world and all that we have worked towards. The problem is that while one postpones, a subconscious panic can set in as more information about our current situation passes across our screens. Yes, I speak from experience on that one!

The “Fairy-tale” Response

A sixth response that is a barrier to generative dialogue on deep adaptation arises from a belief that we create the reality we experience, so we can help avoid a collapse by imagining something else. Within an individualistic framing, there is positive psychology, whether the moderate kind that involves believing ‘where the attention goes so energy flows’, or the extreme kind, where people want to believe in their own cosmic power to manifest anything they want by focusing their desire. Such a view ignores how we co-create our reality with other people and the more-than-human world. It stores up greater pain for when things don’t work out according to ones hopes and dreams. It might also restrict people from applying their minds to the world as it is now. A different version of this “fairy-tale” response to the latest climate science is the idea that so long as we identify with a new story of reality, beyond separation, we will be able to overcome a climate catastrophe. Although our current climate predicament is the result of a warped story of reality and place within it, the idea that by identifying with a new story of interbeing that we can reshape the world around us to avoid a collapse seems like wishful thinking. It may also be seeking to justify a view on reality and metaphysics by arguing for the utility of that view to an individual self – a highly seductive trap for spiritual teachers and their followers.

The “Not Bothered” Response

The seventh response that is a barrier to generative dialogue, is to think that because this analysis means it’s too late to fix things and maintain society as we know it, therefore we “may as well” just forget about climate change and do something else. In my experience, this view is shared by people who were not actively participating in society beyond their own self-interest. They may have accepted socially-defined notions of success and seek to avoid pain and maximise superficial pleasures. Therefore, they were not likely to contribute much to dialogues on social change in any case. So, we could let them go on their way. But sometimes I hear people express this view because they are angry at the injustice and inequality in our societies and could welcome how collapse will punish elites. When I hear that, then there is an opportunity to channel that anger at injustice into something more useful, given that it is the poor and marginalised who may suffer the worst in early stage of collapse.

The “Distract-Me Please” Response

An eighth response is to take on board the view that we face inevitable near-term collapse and decide one can’t live with the emotions this causes, so set it aside and work on something else, as if it didn’t exist. That is understandable, but impossible. I know, as this is how I responded for a few years. As more and more information is shared about the state of our climate and impacts on our agriculture and societies, the unresolved emotions lurk ready to interrupt your work and life.

The “God’s Will” Response

A ninth response that is a barrier to generative dialogue is to say yeah, I know we screwed, and that’s OK as our true nature is eternal spirit and therefore the end of society, civilisation, even our species, is just the normal passing of things. Such a perspective means you might say let’s take a deep breath in together and chant Om, then go get a green juice or glass of red wine. Another form of this response that is more likely in cultures shaped by Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Bahai) is that whatever is going to happen to our species is God’s will, and therefore we don’t need to discuss what to do about it.

The “Personal Survival” Response

The tenth response I have experienced over the years is to take the analysis of collapse on board and then let the fear-response shape one’s priorities and decisions, so begin to look for means of self-preservation. Many people with that kind of response think they are fully accepting the situation and integrating it into their lives. But being a “prepper” in the complex system of human society within the wider complex system of nature means that this kind of “bunker mentality” is unlikely to work. Not that we shouldn’t look to create arks.

The “Extinction Wins” Response

An eleventh response to generative dialogue on deep adaptation is the view that near term human extinction is inevitable or very likely. Some people with such a view consider any discussion about what to do to reduce the impact of collapse, save the species, or support what might come after this civilisation is gone, are all forms of deluded hope. That one thinks human extinction is inevitable would not necessarily preclude working on the things I just mentioned, as one can act as if it might still be possible to achieve such things, just in case that it is. Or, it might even be possible to accept human extinction and seek to reduce the radioactive legacy we would leave the rest of planet Earth. Those who dismiss any such dialogue are therefore likely trying to find solace in certainty, rather than reconsider everything and consider being active in society.

The “Nit Picking” Response

Rather than deal with the gravity of the analysis, the twelfth barrier is to focus on a detail of communication. For instance, a mistake in a piece of data, or a reference, or annoyance at the tone or content of once utterance. Or perhaps focusing on the lack of depth of discussion in one paper on one set of ideas – from permaculture to geoengineering – which are seen as the be all and end of what should be discussed. This is milder than an ad hominin attack, but helps someone engage with the material without engaging with the significance of the material and thus avoiding meaningful dialogue on deep adaptation.  I left it to last in my list as this response is such a boring one, I find it draining to even mention.

Beyond Those Barriers: The Power of “What If?”

These twelve types of response all share the implication that we don’t have to sit with the analysis of near term collapse and explore openly with others all the possible implications. I think these forms of response may therefore all respond to the subconscious desire to close-down this awkward topic as quickly as possible. But I’m not a psychologist. So, to any psychologists reading this, if you can add any context to the ideas I have outlined that could help me (and others). Then any advice for how to help people awaken to such patterns and move beyond them would be great. Also, if I’m exhibiting a pattern as well, then go let me know 😊

If people avoid or overcome the twelve barriers I have described, to then discuss the components and implications of a deep adaptation agenda, or similar, then this doesn’t mean people will agree with each other. Not at all. Someone may turn to religion. Some to nationalism. Some to principles of universal love and compassion. Some may focus on geoengineering. Others on humanitarian action. Some on moving beyond capitalism. And so on. But that’s where our dialogues should be focused on now. Sadly, our dumbed-down establishment-aligned media still think it is best to debate whether climate change is real or associated with extreme weather events that, by repeating regularly, show how climate has changed.

In future I will write more about some avenues for discussion, for those who want to seek meaning, potency and urgency within a context of impending collapse. But my conviction is that once people overcome the twelve barriers I have just described, then hopefully many better views on what to do than my own will begin to emerge.

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Dialogue on Deep Adaptation

Posted by jembendell on August 10, 2018

Sunrise25000 downloads within a week and over 100 emails in my inbox, the release of my study on climate collapse and deep adaptation generated more attention than I had anticipated. It was written about in New York Magazine and Counter Punch. And even in Pakistan. The biblical weather the northern hemisphere has been experiencing during the summer of 2018 may have focused minds on climate change.

I released the study as an Occasional Paper with my Institute in order to “fly a kite” and see who might respond. That was because I wanted to discover who is working on this issue, to then discuss more as I explore what I might do in future. Already these new interactions are showing me the appetite people have to actively develop this agenda. It is more evidence that an understanding we face a social collapse due to climate change can lead to personal reflection, grieving, transformation and new grounds for action, rather than despair and apathy.

Some of the questions I’ve been asked are:

  • What do you mean by social collapse?
  • When will that come?
  • What should government do for deep adaptation?
  • What should I do in my community for deep adaptation?
  • Are you counter-productively implying we should give up trying to fight climate change?
  • Is your stance the same as the “survivalist” or “doomer” perspective?
  • Are there spiritual implications to your perspective?
  • Are you a credible and ethical person?
  • What should I do to explore this topic further?

In answering such questions, I have been explaining that I am not an expert on this topic, as I am new to the conclusion we face an inevitable social collapse. It will require the minds of many people with more relevant experience. It means a different mindset to what we have seen thus far. But here are some ideas…

What do you mean by social collapse?

By the term “social collapse” I mean to imply an uneven ending of normal modes of sustenance, security, pleasure, identity, meaning, and hope. For some people these needs may be met in new ways. I say “social” or “societal” rather than economic or environmental, as these uneven endings will pervade society, and challenge our place within it. For instance, being a Professor won’t be much use anymore. But being myself might be.

When will that come?

Some say collapse has already begun and can point to the role of the unprecedented drought in Syria since 2010 in destabilising rural communities and creating conditions for extremism, war, and refugees. Others point to the growth in rebellious attitudes amongst electorates as indicating a widespread subconscious recognition that normal is over. But if we are talking about social collapse as I have defined it, and in the Western hemisphere, which is of interest to most who ask the question of when, then obviously that is not happening yet. How long it will take is impossible to say in complex systems. Given the impacts on food shortages, two more Northern summers like this year could trigger social collapse in some Western countries, if we don’t respond at such a time with bold and imaginative compassion.

It’s difficult to process these ideas without a clear idea on when. So, I have sought to reconcile myself with the idea that I will see social collapse happening in the West in less than 10 years. That’s not a prediction and I hope that’s wrong. I hope we manage to delay things by massive changes in policies and behaviours. And by seeding Arctic clouds, immediately. But, as a thought experiment, as someone in their mid-40s, I am now exploring what a 10-year life expectancy makes me prioritize in life. And when I meet who wish to discuss this topic, I recommend they do the same. For parents of young children that can be particularly difficult. But denial or despair won’t help them.

What should government do for deep adaptation?

I am not an expert in any area of emergency response. And I am new to the idea that we face a social collapse. But I have some initial thoughts, which relate to the idea of resilience. First a collapse in agriculture means governments will need to prepare for how to ration food. That could mean livestock farmers that use grains having to close and our diets looking very different. It is unlikely normal free markets will work in that context. The way our financial markets will respond to the realisation of climate shocks is unpredictable and the risk is that our systems of both credit and payments could seize up. That means governments need to ensure we have electronic means of payment outside of the private banking system, so trade can continue if there is a financial collapse. Then there are things that will take a bit longer. For instance, building desalinisation plants will be key across Europe. The things I just mentioned are not in any of the national adaptation reports that I have read, which indicates how expecting social collapse invites a different level of conversation and preparation.

There will be the psychological challenge of how to help people who experience dread, grief and confusion. Many of us may be deeply affected by a loss of the assumption of progress or stability. How do we plan our lives now? That will pose huge communications challenges, if we want to enable compassionate and collaborative responses from each other as much as possible. There is a role for leadership on that – and perhaps from leaders in government.

Of course, we should try to buy some more time. We should be seeding and brightening the clouds above the Arctic immediately, as a global emergency, similar to how we would react if an extinction-sized meteor was hurtling towards Earth.

The network of professionals and activists using the term “post-growth” are discussing some useful ideas about policies and have had longer than I to consider implications.

What should I do in my community for deep adaptation? 

Given that we see such poor leadership in most national governments and a poverty of resources in local governments, there is also an equally important agenda for communities. In the UK the deep adaptation framing has been used over the past 12 months to shape community discussions, supported by a Christian charity. In my own work I see global efforts at restoring local community in a material sense to be key and have been volunteering accordingly. I explain the importance of that work here. Others who are being influenced by an acceptance of a near term collapse are also looking to local resilience. Some participants in Joe Brewer’s discussions on managing planetary collapse, in Dark Mountain dialogues and in some Transition Towns initiatives also share this view.

Are you counter-productively implying we should give up trying to fight climate change?

No. A number of things can be true at the same time.

We should be clear that climate change poses an existential threat and no longer make cuts in carbon emissions a secondary concern. I still believe in a global carbon tax framework, applied upstream at energy generation and distribution, and embedded into international trade law to have teeth.

We also need to sequester carbon via changing agricultural systems, replenishing soils, growing sea weed, restoring sea grass meadows and reforestation. We should also invest massively in artificial means of carbon sequestration.

Although most forms of geo-engineering will be too risky and potentially counter-productive, the seeding and brightening of clouds above the Arctic and Antarctica is essential to experiment with immediately at scale.

We should also continue the range of activities included in a narrow interpretation of adaptation. I am just calling for a broader agenda on that.

I have noticed that some people engage in this discussion with a need not just to be right but to be more “right” than others, where their particularly approach is the best and therefore the only one worth considering. Such psychological patterns result from fear, insecurity and outrage at the situation we face. So, they are understandable. But must not affect our decision making.

Is your stance the same as the “survivalist” or “prepper” perspective?

There is a similar starting point: it is time to accept a social collapse is coming. But the discussion I’m inviting is about collective responses to reduce harm, rather than how a few people could tough it out to survive longer than others. I appreciate that prepper or survivalist responses to anticipating collapse will spread. I don’t think it will work at their goal of guaranteeing comparative longevity, given the unpredictability of the complex systems we live within. My own experience is indicative. In June, with a group of friends we toured around some eco-projects, where people have made a choice to live off the land, to varying degrees. One of those places was near Rafina, which was at the epicentre of the tragic fires in Greece just a month later. You may think you have thought of all eventualities and will have – until you haven’t. We can and should look to live more resiliently and closer to the land that feeds us, but there are no guarantees that this will help.

I also think survivalism can be a form of denial: by getting busy rather than allowing oneself to process and integrate a nearer sense of the mortality of oneself and those we love. The likelihood of climate-induced collapse invites us to make time in our lives, right now, for existential and spiritual questions. That can then help us whatever choices we make on how to approach the future.

Are there spiritual implications from your perspective?

Yes. This year I have given myself more time to study and discuss fundamental questions about the universe, reality and the self. I have participated in a range of practices that are novel to me and focus on reconnection with self, nature and each other. These include meditation, breathwork, authentic relating, yoga, peak states, and nature walks.

I am currently sceptical of what established religious institutions or promoters of self-help spiritualities are offering people that can help them comprehend our predicament. But I am fairly new to that topic and see there is much that spiritual communities could do in future.

I put together some advice on these personal dimensions to our predicament, based on my own experience, and include them at the end of this post.

Are you a credible and ethical person?

Not many academics have concluded publicly that we face an inevitable near-term social collapse. Most natural scientists would avoid using the word “inevitable” for anything due to their attention to methodology. Even the most frightening of studies from natural scientists, such as the new one on “Hothouse Earth” reserve judgement on saying what will happen or that collapse is inevitable.

In my paper I lay out the scientific studies and current measurements which lead me to the conclusion we face a near term collapse. About a dozen academics have got in touch to welcome my paper and say they have reached the same conclusion. I need to ask them all whether they wish to be public about that before then sharing on my blog.

Some wonder if I am challenging the quality of the peer review process of the journal I submitted the paper to. I am not. I think the journal editor and reviewers did their job properly. The feedback from the reviewers was helpful for clarifying to me that my conclusions in effect reject the whole premise of the subject area, and so that it is time for me to move on. The editor believed in my past work, and therefore asked me to resubmit with “major revisions.” The actual recommendations of the reviewers were withheld from me. I presumed, therefore, because one had said “reject” and the editor wanted instead to give me a chance to try again. I wrote to the editor saying that “major revisions” were not possible given the critique and requested changes which went to the core of the argument and were effectively asking for a different paper. I am waiting for confirmation of that situation from the publisher, as they would like me to state I withdrew the paper, rather than it being rejected. My view is that it was not accepted, one reviewer probably rejected it, the editor overruled that to give me another chance, but the changes requested would have amounted to a new paper with a different argument, so I withdrew from the process. I will update on that if I hear different information from the publisher on the reviewers’ actual recommended decisions.

After receiving the reviewer comments, I took some weeks to reflect on the options. I decided the situation is too grave to delay sharing my analysis and I wanted to invite conversation about what we should do. To be so public on this matter renders some of my past knowledge, experience, status and networks now redundant. It also risks opprobrium or ridicule. So, some deep breathing, long walks and sharing circles were helpful as I made the decision.

John Cleese once said that “it’s the goal of every Englishman to get to his grave unembarrassed.” Well I still feel quite English. When I was in the movie theatre last night, I realised I was so engrossed in it that my underlying sense of reality had changed. I noticed that shift when, mid-film, I came back into my non-movie reality for a moment. I then realised that the film had made me feel peaceful, with no sense of anxiety. That helped me realise I still have some way to go to find calm with the outlook I now have. But it also meant that this calm made me, in an instant, question my view on climate collapse. And what was my immediate reaction? Was it elation that perhaps things won’t collapse, massive suffering will be avoided and I have the potential for a longer life and more to contribute to? No. My initial reaction was of embarrassment. What if I’m wrong? My heart leapt, and I had a sharp intake of breath. That was a good reminder that I’m still afflicted, like many of us, with an overriding fear of embarrassment, which makes us conform. Which means I should be understanding of others whose ability to comprehend this information is shaped by their perception of what others will think of them or those who discuss this topic. It also means I should stay open to new information. It would be amazing if some eureka technology is invented. If I turn out to be wrong then that would be a wonderful opportunity for personal development, by embracing embarrassment before my grave! Indeed, I will pray to be embarrassed 🙂

What should I do to explore this topic further?

Try talking about it with some people who are open-minded and open-hearted. We don’t need many people to be conversation partners for exploring things. For networks, I recommend the following the Deep Adaptation group on LinkedIn which I established for professionals. Other info I list here.

To keep up to date with an unvarnished assessment of the latest climate measurements, I recommend the regular youtube postings of Paul Beckwith, who is completing his PhD at Ottawa University.

Below are some insights from my own struggles with this information. How I arrived at these insights is covered in my (rather long) reflection on my last few years.

Fourteen Recommendations on Living Beyond Collapse-Denial

The following recommendations arise from reflecting on the positive and negative aspects of my past four years since I began to accept the inevitability of near term social collapse.

  1. Return to, or explore afresh, the idea of a divine or a spirit or a consciousness or a God that is prior to the Earth and moves through the Universe right now and forever more. Do so without seeking a simple story of explanation but a sense of faith that there is an existence and a meaning beyond our culture, our species and our planet. Such ‘faith’ helps anyone to experience and process the inevitable difficulties and traumas of life.
  2. Listen to those stories from people both past and present who tell us that despair is not the end and therefore does not have to be avoided. Recognise how many spiritual traditions see despair as a gateway to our growth.
  3. Beware when people are promoting their views on what they think the implications of information will be, rather than views on the information itself. The impacts of certain information about climate on other people’s motivations are not certain, and in many cases the darkest analyses have triggered a new level of creativity and boldness. Instead, look at the information and analysis directly for yourself, without second guessing what some interpretations might lead to.
  4. Recognize that any emotional or intellectual resistance you may experience to information which implies catastrophe may come from what you have been consciously or subconsciously telling yourself about your own self-worth, purpose and meaning. Then remember how your views of yourself and the world have evolved through your life and still can.
  5. Don’t panic. Give yourself time to evolve both personally and professionally in response to your emerging awareness, but ensure you stay connected to a group or an activity which keeps reminding you of the basis for your emerging awareness.
  6. Recognize there is much work ahead for you to reconstitute concepts of meaning and what’s good and to align your life with those. It will not happen overnight, yet it will not happen if you do not give time to this work. There may be some time needed to bridge your existing life with the way you will want to live in future.
  7. Plan more time and resources for you to do things which inspire wonder at life. This could be more time in beautiful environments, or with uplifting music, or in contemplation, or through creative writing, or being with loved ones and close friends. That means freeing up time from other activities such as TV, social media and mainstream news. It may also mean downshifting from your workload.
  8. Look for opportunities for supported self-reflection and sense-making. This is because your worldview and self-identity will undoubtedly transform overtime as you process the new information and analysis.
  9. Expect a catharsis, both personal and professional. This will occur because the subconscious or conscious limits that you placed on yourself until now will be lifted. Go with that rush of energy and creativity, but be vigilant that those new activities don’t become so consuming they distract you from the personal work you still need to do.
  10. If you are a mission-driven professional in fields related to environment or social justice then expect that you may be driven to rebuild a sense of self-worth and that this need of the ego, while natural and potentially useful, could become a frantic distraction.
  11. Expect a change in your personal relationships and how you spend your spare time. Some forms of small talk and light-hearted social interaction with acquaintances may seem pointless, while you may wish to spend more time with close friends and family. While for some this could be a welcome rebalancing, for others this can become a vector of reclusiveness and loneliness. Therefore, it is important to find new ways of connecting with people on the new levels that feel meaningful to you.
  12. Create a positive vision of people sharing compassion, love and play. It may feel that an eco-tragic outlook means you cannot have any meaningful vision of a better future for yourself, your community, or humanity. An absence of something positive to work towards can be destabilising and limiting. Some people will think you are depressed – or depressing – and need some “positive thinking”. For a personal vision, the answer may lie in developing a vision for how you will be approaching life, rather than imagining attributes of a lifestyle. This may parallel the dimensions of a collective vision. A future full of love and learning, rather than flying cars and fancy robots, could be a way to imagine a more beautiful world. And remember, the future will still be beautiful in its own way, no matter what life forms are in it – or if your favourite town is under water!
  13. Don’t get dogmatic and avoid those who do. That comes from recognising that our terms for phenomena are not the same as the phenomena themselves. The words we use imply things which may have effects on us but aren’t necessarily so. Words like near-term, civilisation, collapse, and tragedy, are our words, and may trigger ideas, images and emotions which aren’t inevitable consequences of the phenomena being described.
  14. Do not prioritise maintaining your own mental and physical situation at the expense of the need to act in solidarity with future generations who will live with the future we are creating for them. Tomorrow’s children won’t thank us much for having joined a support group on Facebook or taken up yoga, unless it aligned with us remaining active in the world.

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The study on collapse they thought you should not read – yet

Posted by jembendell on July 26, 2018

A research paper concluding that climate-induced collapse is now inevitable, was recently rejected by anonymous reviewers of an academic journal.

It has been released directly by the Professor who wrote it, to promote discussion of the necessary deep adaptation to climate chaos.

“I am releasing this paper immediately, directly, because I can’t wait any longer in exploring how to learn the implications of the social collapse we now face,” explained the author Dr Bendell, a full Professor of Sustainability Leadership.  deep adaptation paper

In saying the paper was not suitable for publication, one of the comments from the reviewers questioned the emotional impact that the paper might have on readers. “I was left wondering about the social implications of presenting a scenario for the future as inevitable reality, and about the responsibility of research in communicating climate change scenarios and strategies for adaptation.” wrote one of the reviewers. “As the authors pointed out, denial is a common emotional response to situations that are perceived as threatening and inescapable, leading to a sense of helplessness, inadequacy, and hopelessness and ultimately disengagement from the issue…”

That perspective is discussed in the paper as one that enables denial. Professor Bendell explains in his response to the Editor, that the response may reflect “the self-defeating hierarchical attitude towards society that many of us have in both academia and sustainability, where we censure our own exploration of a topic due to what we consider should or should not be communicated. There is both scholarship and experience on the impact of communicating about disaster, and I discuss that in the paper.” Moreover, Bendell consulted with practicing psychotherapists on both the motivational and mental health implications of this analysis and was reassured that perceptions of a collective tragic future should not in itself be a cause for depression. Instead, it could trigger transformative reflection which could be supported – and would be inevitable one day, given the inevitability of mortality for all human life.

The paper offers a new framing for beginning to make sense of the disaster we face, called “deep adaptation.” It is one that Professor Bendell proposed in a keynote lecture two years ago and has influenced community dialogue on climate change in Britain in the past two years, including in Peterborough and Newcastle as well as being used by the Dark Mountain network.

The paper “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy” is downloadable as a pdf from here.

The response of Professor Bendell to the Editor of the journal follows below.

A list of resources to support people as they process this information, including emotional support is here.

A LinkedIn group on Deep Adaptation exists to support professional discussion of the topic.

Letter to the Editor of SAMPJ, Professor Carol Adams, from Professor Jem Bendell, 26th July 2018.

Dear Professor Adams,

It is an odd situation to be in as a writer, but I feel compassion for anyone reading my Deep Adaptation article on the inevitability of near term social collapse due to climate chaos! I am especially grateful for anyone taking the time to analyse it in depth and provide feedback. So, I am grateful to you arranging that and the reviewers for providing their feedback. Some of the feedback, particularly recommendations for a better introduction, were helpful. However, I am unable to work with their main requests for revisions, as they are, I believe, either impossible or inappropriate, as I will seek to explain.

I agree with Professor Rob Gray that “The journal’s constant exploration of new and challenging perspectives on how accountability and sustainability might play out in organisations ensures a stimulating source of articles, experiences and ideas.” It is why I was pleased to guest edit an issue last year and bring critical perspectives on leadership to its readership. However, the topic of inevitable collapse from climate change is so challenging it is not surprising it didn’t find support from the anonymous peer reviewers.

I would have had difficulty finding motivation for undertaking a complete re-write given the conclusion of the paper – that the premise of the “sustainable business” field that the journal is part of is no longer valid. Indeed, the assumptions about progress and stability that lead us to stay in academia in the field of management studies are also now under question.

The first referee questioned “to which literature (s) does this article actually contribute” and stated that “the research question or gap that you intend to address must be drawn from the literature,” continuing that “to join the conversation, you need to be aware of the current conversation in the field, which can be identified by reviewing relevant and recent articles published in these journals.” That is the standard guidance I use with my students and it was both amusing and annoying to read that feedback after having dozens of peer reviewed articles published over the last 20 years. The problem with that guidance is when the article is challenging the basis of the field and where there are not any other articles exploring or accepting the same premise. For instance, there are no articles in either SAMPJ or Organisation and Environment that explore implications for business practice or policy of a near term inevitable collapse due to environmental catastrophe (including those that mention or address climate adaptation). That isn’t surprising, because the data hasn’t been so conclusive on that until the last couple of years.

It is surprising therefore that the first reviewer says “the paper does not contain any new or significant information. The paper reiterates what has already been told by many studies.” The reviewer implies therefore that the paper is about climate change being a big problem. But the article doesn’t say that. It says that we face an unsolvable predicament and great tragedy. When the reviewer says “There are not clear contributions that can be derived from the article” then I wonder whether that is wilful blindness, as the article is saying that the basis of the field is now untenable.

At a couple of points, I attempted to cut through the unemotional way that research is presented. Or instance, when I directly address the reader about the implications of the analysis for their own likely hunger and safety, it is to elicit an emotional response. I say in the text why I express myself in that way and that although it is not typical in some journals the situation we face suggests to me that we do try to communicate emotively. The reviewer comments “the language used is not appropriate for a scholarly article.”

The second reviewer summarises the paper as “the introduction of deep adaptation as an effective response to climate change” which suggests to me a fundamental misunderstanding despite it being made clear throughout the paper. There is no “effective” response. The reviewer also writes “I am not sure that the extensive presentation of climate data supports the core argument of the paper in a meaningful way.” Yet the summary of science is the core of the paper as everything then flows from the conclusion of that analysis. Note that the science I summarise is about what is happening right now, rather than models or theories of complex adaptive systems which the reviewer would have preferred.

One piece of feedback from the 2nd reviewer is worth quoting verbatim:

“The authors stress repeatedly that “climate-induced societal collapse is now inevitable” as if that was a factual statement… I was left wondering about the social implications of presenting a scenario for the future as inevitable reality, and about the responsibility of research in communicating climate change scenarios and strategies for adaptation. As the authors pointed out, denial is a common emotional response to situations that are perceived as threatening and inescapable, leading to a sense of helplessness, inadequacy, and hopelessness and ultimately disengagement from the issue…”

This perspective is one I discuss in some detail in the paper, as one that enables denial. It reflects the self-defeating hierarchical attitude towards society that many of us have in both academia and sustainability, where we censure our own exploration of a topic due to what we consider should or should not be communicated. There is both scholarship and experience on the impact of communicating about disaster, and I discuss that in the paper.

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. Therefore, I have decided to publish it simply as an IFLAS Occasional Paper.

The process has helped me realise that I need to relinquish activities that I no longer have passion for, in what I am experiencing as a dramatically new context. Therefore, I must step back from the Editorial team of the journal. Thank you for having involved me and congratulations on it now being in the top ten journals in business, management and accounting.

Please pass on my thanks to the reviewers. On my website http://www.jembendell.com I will be listing some links to articles, podcasts, videos and social networks that are helping people explore and come to terms with a realisation of near term collapse (and even extinction), which they may be interested in. 

Yours sincerely,

Jem Bendell

 

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Emotional support in face of climate tragedy

Posted by jembendell on July 26, 2018

If you have come to recognise that climate change will lead to a near term collapse in our way of life, or even worse, then this can be a very difficult realisation to process, integrate into our lives, or communicate to other people.

Here are some links to resources that I have found helpful.

Lifeboat Hour podcast
Any books and articles by Caroline Baker
Joanna Macy lecture
Human Near Term Extinction Support Group on Facebook
Reframing Collapse Facebook Group
The Dark Mountain network
Deep Adaptation LinkedIn group (more for professionals working on this).
Climate Psychology Alliance (again more for professionals, but requests for advice can be made).

I write up some of my own reflections on how I have been trying and wobbling to integrate this awareness into my life and work, in this rather long reflective piece called “After Despair

Ultimately, I think we will best supported by activities that support our transcendence from our normal fears, whether those activities are spiritual or agnostic. There are an increasing number of spiritual coaches appearing online such as my friend Zori. These forms of grassroots, diverse, non dogmatic, spiritual inspiration and support will become more important.  If you have suggestions, please enter them in the comments below.

My academic paper on the latest climate science as well as the many forms of denial about our situation is available for download here.

 

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Racism and Lovephobia in Media and Ourselves

Posted by jembendell on April 6, 2018

WhatsApp groups are a strange thing. One minute people are wishing each other happy birthday and the next minute angrily debating current political flashpoints. You know, the ones we have all been told to debate by mass media. One group I belong to includes about 60 past participants on a Harvard Uni Global Leadership course. As you can imagine, we aren’t shy with sharing our views on politics. Today one member of the group posted a link to a recent article from The Economist magazine, and appended a comment:

“Nasty Corbyn”

The arguments around whether the leadership of the UK Labour party has done enough to challenge anti-semitism amongst its members or it’s wider supporters has been raging in the British media. It is not to deny that there is racism in Britain and political parties to point out that many of the opinions expressed by journalists and politicians on this subject are influenced by interests other than combatting racism. The problem with that is if it drowns out the opportunity for serious reflection on how any of us might be contributing to the problem of contemporary racism, including anti-semitism and then what to do about it.

This became clear to me after clicking through to that article in The Economist. For those of you who have read this magazine, you will know that their style is to try to convey an objectively-reasonable and factually-informed opinion. If you read it, you are being invited to think you are learning what is the most respectable opinion to have on any matter – not just economics.

The article made the argument that left-wing people are susceptible to anti-semitism and that the leader of the UK Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn will be incapable of ridding the party of such racism because he doesn’t care for minorities if they are not economically oppressed.  Given that Corbyn has been a lifelong anti-racism campaigner and risked arrest in doing that, I thought that was a rather weak and speculative analysis of his psyche. After googling I found that the Economist has also expressed concern about the far right and its influence on actual regulations in Eastern Europe from governments that the Conservative government of the UK is allied with politically within the European Parliament. Fair play, I thought, the Economist is criticizing any deviation from what it considers a Centrist viewpoint. But still something felt unhelpful and uncaring about the message in this article – as if the victims of racism were not the prime concern of the author. But I didn’t understand why I felt that and thought it just might be my own bias in what has become a conflictual debate, rather than an exploration of how we rid society of anti-semitism and racism.Angry1

I switched off my phone, as I had arrived a the group meditation I was going to. Some moments into the meditation I calmed down from that feeling of intellectual combat. Rather than thinking, I just began to feel compassion for everybody involved in this debate as well as the dignity and individuality of everybody being talked about in this debate. I’m bad at meditation in the sense that my thoughts don’t stop coming. But in this moment of compassion, one line from that Economist article came into my mind’s eye. Here it is:

“British Jews – particularly those who support Israel – are being marginalized in the Labour Party. There are three million Muslims in Britain compared with about 284,000 Jews and they are concentrated in areas vital for Labours future such as Birmingham and Manchester.”

 

In a flash I realized the subconscious racism of this statement and my own subconscious racism for not realizing that when I first read it. The sentence uses that typical Economist tone of offering numbers and (geographical) facts so you think it is merely describing reality, rather than their particular viewpoint. But do you see the unconscious racism in this argument from The Economist?  

If not, then you are not alone.

But if we are to overcome racism in society, we need to be able to examine at our own assumptions and how they are normalized by those with power such as an economist writer. As I meditated, I saw an image of one of my best friends and colleagues who worked for the Labour party during last year’s General Election. I saw him with one of his friends who he plays tennis with. He is a British Jew and she is a British Muslim. I am a British Christian and we have had fun times together.

Okay, semi-Christian, but you get my point?

The Economist writer and editor assumed that most Muslims in Britain dislike Jewish people. Moreover they assume that most Muslims in Britain would dislike political leaders who fight anti-semitism. Really? Let’s look at that sentence again.

“British Jews – particularly those who support Israel – are being marginalized in the Labour Party. There are three million Muslims in Britain compared with about 284,000 Jews and they are concentrated in areas vital for Labours future such as Birmingham and Manchester.”

The argument is predicated on the view that politicians do not choose policies and priorities based on values or what is good for the country, but on pure electoral calculation. That can be debated. But the Economist invites you to assume that the Labour Party is cynical. Their key racism, however, is to suggest that a significant majority of 3 million people will have a negative view of almost 300000 people and any politician who supports them purely because of religion. They don’t qualify the statement, so they could be implying that ALL Muslims should be assumed to have that kind of negative view of all Jewish people.

Despite me knowing Muslims and Jews in Britain, and not experiencing racism from them towards each other at any point in my life, and me witnessing Muslim-Jewish friendships amongst my own friends, I did not immediately see this racism from The Economist.  Therefore I cannot blame the person who wrote it, the person who edited it, or the person who shared it, or the people who did not immediately object to it. Instead, I could point this out to friends and colleagues, in a harmless way, such as a blog post.

Aha!

But before I click publish,  I should take a moment to dig deeper: to inquire into the complex reality of race relations and what to do about it.

A quick search led me to a study on anti-semitic opinion in Britain today. It found that on average Muslims express some anti-semitic views slightly more than the average in the UK. But the same study found that those who described themselves as far right are two to four times more likely to express anti-semitic opinions. In addition I found that one of the key questions used in the study to demonstrate increased likelihood of anti-Semitic views from Muslims was actually flawed. They asked for agreement or not with the statement. “A British Jew is just as British as any other British person.” The question is flawed because minorities in the UK may be more aware that any minority is less likely to be universally considered as “British” as a non minority. Let’s say you are a British Jew: you may be aware that British Pakistanis may not be seen by all Britosh people as British as any other British person. This question could have avoided that with a slight change into: “A British Jew should be considered just as British as any other British person.” Yes, a bit too much detail for a blog, but I’m an academic so I can’t let methodoligical mess-ups pass me by.  The result from the flawed question was that 80% of British Christians agreed and 61% of British Muslims agreed.

I also saw that different journalists had selectively chosen what data to present to tell the race-based story they wanted to tell. Which is why I wont link to them here as I havent got the time to pick apart all their mis-statements. 

The reality is that there is some racism in most organizations in all societies. Which is bad. But there is also a majority of non racist people. Which is good. That the Economist would make such a statement as they did, without validation, shows but they are not exempt from the problem of racism. The way for us to overcome this problem is blocked by both our pride and the desire to reaffirm our existing positions. Yet we should avoid reducing the individuality of people due to a category of identity just so that we can make a self-serving argument.

This insight on the racist assumption of views of Muslims in the UK was not difficult for me to arrive at. It involved me sitting still and breathing deeper than normal. Not tough. That enabled me to drop the feeling of combat and look at everyone with compassion and respect. It made me realize we often have a phobia of feeling such love towards each other. Because some of us have a phobia of not being right all the time. Yet there is no escaping this issue in the field of identity politics. Because the universal value that invites us to respect everybody no matter their religion, race, creed, gender, orientation or politics, is that everyone has their own dignity regardless of any identity ascribed to them. 

We need to be alert to anti-semitism and racism everywhere. We can always improve – all of us. To do that we need to overcome our “lovephobia”. By which I mean we can chill out and move into a spirit of compassion to all, thereby forgiving mistaken opinions and combative approaches, so we can raise the discussion to something more powerful. So I look forward to more celebrations of the inter-religious solidarity that I know exists in Britain today. It’s something I love about the country.

So how might we celebrate that? Here is an idea… A video of Muslim and Jewish friends reading that Economist article together and wondering if they aren’t meant to campaign together against capitalist exploitation.

I’d enjoy posting that in the WhatsApp Group.

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Doctoral Study on Deep Adaptation to Climate Disruption

Posted by jembendell on March 22, 2018

Some of us are waking up to the climate tragedy we face. To the disruptions to our way of life that will be unfolding over the next decade or so. To the inevitable collapse of our social and economic systems.

If this sounds too dark to you, please catch up on the latest climate science here.

There are so many ways to respond: some nihilist, some hedonist, some delusional, some loving, some ambitious. One way to respond includes attempts at combining our existing skills, knowledge and networks with the intention of growing into a different way of life.

In this situation we do not have time to waste on activities which are not, in some way, truly beautiful. For me there is something truly beautiful about research, which is now so often lost in institutional settings. That beauty is the transdisciplinary exploration of subjects, unlearning unhelpful assumptions, and making new sense of situations in ways that are meaningful to share. It is that kind of enquirer I seek to support and learn with.

globalmeditation

I am inviting initial enquiries, before the end of April 2018, to research for a PhD on deep adaptation to climate change that would start on October 1st. Information what that topic involves is here. These will be interdiscipinary studies, that parrallel your engagement with this subject in your daily life over the coming 3 to 4 years. Therefore, appropriate methods will be either action research, cooperative inquiry or living theory (google these if they are new to you, before getting in touch).

The PhD research can be undertaken either in residence in Cumbria for 3 years full-time, or part-time over 4 years, via remote-working with visits to Cumbria. These PhDs are entirely self-funded, we do not have scholarships for this opportunity. Information on fees etc is here.

Information on me, your prospective supervisor, and how I am approaching this deep adaptation topic is here.

I am also accepting PhD applications for people working on currency innovation and alternative exchanges systems as methods for community-based resilience.

Do you meet the following criteria?

  • You have a Masters degree
  • You have a 2.1 or above at undegraduate level
  • You can self-fund your studies
  • You can either move to Cumbria or do this PhD remotely part time with a few visits to Cumbria each year
  • You can start on October 1st 2018
  • You know what Im talking about by having read information on the links above

If so, then please prepare one page of A4, maximum, by May 1st 2018, detailing the following

  • What your topic is
  • Why you are interested in it
  • What intellectual schools of thought you anticipate drawing upon to research it
  • What your Masters was in
  • What your current work or volunteering is in and how it relates to your proposed topic
  • A statement that you have read my blogs on latest climate science on the deep adaptation agenda (the links above).

Please note that

  • We do not offer PhDs by publication
  • We do not accept people who have their own mega theory that they have already half written and would like a PhD for when they finish writing it.. because a PhD is about becoming a skilled researcher through the process of the 3 years, not just getting a label for existing ideas.

Send this to me via drjbendell AT (the ubiquitous) gmail.com

Unfortunately due to a full inbox, tennis elbow, and a growing self-respect, I will only reply to people who exactly follow the information above.

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A Summary of Some Climate Science in 2018

Posted by jembendell on March 22, 2018

CaptureConversations we have with people about climate change are rarely based on a comprehensive assessment of the current state of knowledge on atmospheric changes and the implications for our environment and society. We receive bits and pieces of news, often shared by friends on Facebook or Twitter, which make us worry for a few moments, before returning to busy daily life. We may think we have already integrated an awareness of climate change into our lives, by the career choice we made, or the way we shop, recycle or don’t eat meat. Most of us are not climate scientists anyway, there’s all kinds of other things to take care of, and we have bills to pay!

That was me, anyway, until this year. I decided to look more closely at the latest information from the range of sciences that give a perspective on our situation. The last time I studied climate closely was in 1994 when I was being taught climate science at Cambridge University. I do not claim to be an expert in any one climate-related field, but as a Professor who has worked and published in a range of disciplines, I have experience in assessing knowledge claims from various sources. In this summary I provide references as much as possible, so you can investigate further.

Many people working in the climate field look to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide the calm and authoritative voice on this complicated subject. That is what I used to do, as it made sense as a busy person who wanted to have a quick way of “making the case” to others. However, given that the IPCC has proven over the past decades to be woefully inaccurate in the cautiousness of its predictions, I now agree with some of the most eminent climate scientists that the IPCC cannot be looked to for telling us what the situation is. That is why I spent a few weeks returning to primary sources in academic journals and research institute reports, and piecing together a perspective myself. Given the long time span it takes for data to appear in academic journals, I often turn to the information direct from research institutes and their individual experts. The result of that process follows below.

This is Our World Right Now – not theory!

The simple evidence of global ambient temperature rise is undisputable. Seventeen of the 18 warmest years in the 136-year record all have occurred since 2001, and global temperatures have increased by 0.9°C since 1880 (NASA/GISS, 2018). The most surprising warming is in the Arctic, where the 2016 land surface temperature was 2.0°C above the 1981-2010 average, breaking the previous records of 2007, 2011, and 2015 by 0.8°C, representing a 3.5°C increase since the record began in 1900 (Aaron-Morrison et al, 2017).

The warming of the Arctic reached wider public awareness this year as it has begun destabilizing winds in the higher atmosphere, specifically the jet stream and the northern polar vortex, leading to extreme movements of warmer air north in to the Arctic and cold air to the south. At one point in early 2018, temperature recordings from the Arctic were 20 degrees Celsius above the average for that date (Watts, 2018). The warming Arctic has led to dramatic loss in sea ice, the average September extent of which has been decreasing at a rate of 13.2% per decade since 1980, so that over two thirds of the ice cover has gone (NSIDC/NASA, 2018). This data is made more concerning by changes in sea ice volume, which is an indicator of resilience of the ice sheet to future warming and storms. It was at the lowest it has ever been in 2017, continuing a consistent downward trend (Kahn, 2017).

Given a reduction in the reflection of the Sun’s rays from the surface of white ice, an ice-free Arctic is predicted to increase warming globally by a substantial degree. Writing in 2014 scientists calculated this change is already equivalent to 25% of the direct forcing of temperature increase from CO2 during the past 30 years (Pistone et al, 2014). That means we could cut CO2 emissions by 25% and it is already outweighed by the loss of the reflective power of Arctic sea ice. One of the most eminent climate scientists in the world, Peter Wadhams, believes an ice-free Arctic will occur one summer in the next few years and that it will likely double the warming caused by the CO2 produced by human activity (Wadhams, 2016). In itself, that renders the calculations of the IPCC redundant, along with the targets and proposals of the UNFCCC.

Between 2002 and 2016, Greenland shed approximately 280 gigatons of ice per year, and the island’s lower-elevation and coastal areas experienced up to 13.1 feet (4 meters) of ice mass loss (expressed in equivalent-water-height) over a 14-year period (NASA, 2018). Along with other melting of land ice, and the thermal expansion of water, this has contributed to a global mean sea level rise of about 3.2 mm/year, representing a total increase of over 80 mm, since 1993 (JPL/PO.DAAC, 2018). Stating a figure per year implies a linear increase, which is what has been assumed by IPCC and others in making their predictions. However, recent data shows that the upward trend is non-linear (Malmquist, 2018). That means sea level is rising due to non-linear increases in the melting of land-based ice.

The observed phenomena, of actual temperatures and sea levels, are greater than what the climate models over the past decades were predicting for our current time. They are consistent with non-linear changes in our environment that then trigger uncontrollable impacts on human habitat and agriculture, with subsequent complex impacts on social, economic and political systems. I will return to the implications of these trends after listing some more of the impacts that are already being reported as occurring today.

Already we see impacts on storm, drought and flood frequency and strength due to increased volatility from more energy in the atmosphere (Herring et al, 2018). We are witnessing negative impacts on agriculture. Climate change has reduced growth in crop yields by 1–2 percent per decade over the past century (Wiebe et al, 2015). The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that weather abnormalities related to climate change are costing billions of dollars a year, and growing exponentially. For now, the impact is calculated in money, but the nutritional implications are key (FAO, 2018). We are also seeing impacts on marine ecosystems. About half of the world’s coral reefs have died in the last 30 years, due a mixture of reasons though higher water temperatures and acidification due to higher CO2 concentrations in ocean water being key (Phys.org, 2018). In ten years prior to 2016 the Atlantic Ocean soaked up 50 percent more carbon dioxide than it did the previous decade, measurably speeding up the acidification of the ocean (Woosely et al, 2016). This study is indicative of oceans worldwide, and the consequent acidification degrades the base of the marine food web, thereby reducing the ability of fish populations to reproduce themselves across the globe (Britten et al, 2015). Meanwhile warming oceans are already reducing the population size of some fish species (Aaron-Morrison et al, 2017). Compounding these threats to human nutrition, in some regions we are witnessing an exponential rise in the spread of mosquito and tick-borne viruses as temperatures become more conducive to them (ECJCR, 2018).

To conclude, this data is consistent with non-linear changes to our environment. Non-linear changes are of central importance to understanding climate change, as they suggest both that impacts will be far more rapid and severe than predictions based on linear projections and that the changes no longer correlate with the rate of anthropogenic carbon emissions. In other words – ‘runaway climate change.’

Looking Ahead

The impacts I just summarised are already upon us and even without increasing their severity they will nevertheless increase their impacts on our ecosystems, soils, seas and our societies over time. It is difficult to predict future impacts. But it is more difficult not to predict them. Because the reported impacts today are at the very worst end of predictions being made in the early 1990s – back when I first studied climate change and model-based climate predictions as an undergraduate at Cambridge University. The models today suggest an increase in storm number and strength (Herring et al, 2018). They predict a decline of normal agriculture, including the compromising of mass production of grains in the northern hemisphere and intermittent disruption to rice production in the tropics. That includes predicted declines in the yields of rice, wheat, and corn in China by 36.25%, 18.26%, and 45.10%, respectively, by the end of this century (Zhang et al, 2016). Naresh Kumar et al. (2014) project a 6–23 and 15–25% reduction in the wheat yield in India during the 2050s and 2080s, respectively, under the mainstream projected climate change scenarios. The loss of coral and the acidification of the seas is predicted to reduce fisheries productivity by over half (Rogers et al, 2017). The rates of sea level rise suggest they may be soon become exponential (Malmquist, 2018), which will pose significant problems for billions of people living in coastal zones (Neumann et al, 2015).

Environmental scientists are now describing our current era as the sixth mass extinction event in the history of planet Earth, with this one caused by us. About half of all plants and animal species in the world’s most biodiverse places are at risk of extinction due to climate change (WWF, 2018). The World Bank reported in 2018 that countries needed to prepare for over 100 million internally displaced people due to the effects of climate change (Rigaud et al, 2018), in addition to millions of international refugees. This situation has led some commentators to describe our time as a new geological era shaped by humans – the Anthropocene (Hamilton, et al, 2015). It has led others to conclude that we should be exploring how to live in an unstable post-Sustainability situation (Benson and Craig, 2014; Foster, 2015).

The politically permissible scientific consensus is that we need to stay beneath 2 degrees warming of global ambient temperatures, to avoid dangerous and uncontrollable levels of climate change, with impacts such as mass starvation, disease, flooding, storm destruction, forced migration and war. That figure was agreed by governments that were dealing with many domestic and international pressures from vested interests, particularly corporations. It is therefore not a figure that many scientists would advise, given that many ecosystems will be lost and many risks created if we approach 2 degrees global ambient warming (Wadhams, 2018). The IPCC agreed in 2013 that if the world does not keep further anthropogenic emissions below a total of 800 billion tonnes of carbon we are not likely to keep average temperatures below 2 degrees of global averaged warming. That left about 270 billion tonnes of carbon to burn (Pidcock, 2013). Total global emissions remain at around 11 billion tonnes of carbon year (which is 37 billion tonnes of CO2). Those calculations appear worrying but give the impression we have at least a decade to change. It takes significant time to change economic systems and so if we are not already on the path to dramatic reductions it is unlikely we will keep within the carbon limit. With an increase of carbon emissions of 2% in 2017, the decoupling of economic activity from emissions is not yet making a net dent in global emissions (Canadell et al, 2017). So, we are not on the path to prevent going over 2 degrees warming through emissions reductions. In any case the IPCC estimate of a carbon budget was controversial with many scientists who estimated that existing CO2 in the atmosphere should already produce global ambient temperature rises over 5°C and so there is no carbon budget – it has already been overspent (Wasdell, 2015).

That situation is why some experts have argued for more work on removing carbon from the atmosphere with machines. Unfortunately, the current technology needs to be scaled by a factor of 2 million times within 2 years, all powered by renewables, alongside massive emission cuts, to reduce the amount of heating already locked into the system (Wadhams, 2018). Biological approaches to carbon capture appear far more promising (Hawken and Wilkinson, 2017). These include planting trees, restoring soils used in agriculture, growing seagrass and kelp, amongst other approaches. They also offer wider beneficial environmental and social side effects. Studies on seagrass (Greiner et al, 2013) and seaweed (Flanery, 2015) indicate we could be taking millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere immediately and continually if we had a massive effort to restore seagrass meadows and to farm seaweed. The net sequestration effect is still being assessed but in certain environments will be significant (Howard et al, 2017).

Research into “management-intensive rotational grazing” practices (MIRG), also known as holistic grazing, show how a healthy grassland can store carbon. A 2014 study measured annual per-hectare increases in soil carbon at 8 tons per year on farms converted to these practices. The world uses about 3.5 billion hectares of land for pasture and fodder crops. Using the 8 tons figure above, converting a tenth of that land to MIRG practices would sequester a quarter of present emissions. In addition, no-till methods of horticulture can sequester as much as two tons of carbon per hectare per year, so could also make significant contributions. It is clear, therefore, that our assessment of carbon budgets must focus as much on these agricultural systems as we do on emissions reductions.

Clearly a massive campaign and policy agenda to transform agriculture and restore ecosystems globally is needed right now. It will be a huge undertaking, undoing 60 years of developments in world agriculture. In addition, it means the conservation of our existing wetlands and forests must suddenly become successful, after decades of failure across lands outside of geographically limited nature reserves. Even if such will emerges immediately, the heating and instability already locked into the climate will cause damage to ecosystems, so it is will be difficult for such approaches to curb the global atmospheric carbon level. The reality that we have progressed too far already to avert disruptions to ecosystems is highlighted by the finding that if CO2 removal from the atmosphere could work at scale, it would not prevent massive damage to marine life, which is locked in for many years due to acidification from the dissolving of CO2 in the oceans (Mathesius et al, 2015).

Despite the limitations of what humans can do to work with nature to encourage its carbon sequestration processes, the planet has been helping us out anyway. A global “greening” of the planet has significantly slowed the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the start of the century. Plants have been growing faster and larger due to higher CO2 levels in the air and warming temperatures that reduce the CO2 emitted by plants via respiration. The effects led the proportion of annual carbon emissions remaining in the air to fall from about 50% to 40% in the last decade. However, this process only offers a limited effect, as the absolute level of CO2 in the atmosphere is continuing to rise, breaking the milestone of 400 parts per million (ppm) in 2015. Given that changes in seasons, temperatures extremes, flood and drought are beginning to negatively affect ecosystems, the risk exists that this global greening effect may be reduced in time (Keenan et al, 2016)

These potential reductions in atmospheric carbon from natural and assisted biological processes is a flickering ray of hope in our dark situation. However, the uncertainty about their impact needs to be contrasted with the uncertain yet significant impact of increasing methane release in the atmosphere. It is a gas that enables far more trapping of heat from the sun’s rays than CO2 but was ignored in most of the climate models over the past decades. The authors of the 2016 Global Methane Budget report found that in the early years of this century, concentrations of methane rose by only about 0.5ppb each year, compared with 10ppb in 2014 and 2015. Various sources were identified, from fossil fuels, to agriculture to melting permafrost (Saunois et al, 2016).

Given the controversy around this topic in the scientific community, it may even be contentious for me to say that there is no scientific consensus on the sources of current methane emissions or the potential risk and timing of significant methane releases from either surface and subsea permafrost. A recent attempt at consensus on methane risk from melting surface permafrost concluded methane release would happen over centuries or millennia, not this decade (Schuur et al. 2015). Yet within three years that consensus was broken by one of the most detailed experiments which found that if the melting permafrost remains waterlogged, which is likely, then it produces significant amounts of methane within just a few years (Knoblauch et al, 2018). The debate is now likely to be about whether other microorganisms might thrive in that environment to eat up the methane – and whether or not in time to reduce the climate impact.

The debate about methane release from clathrate forms, or frozen methane hydrates, on the Arctic sea floor is even more contentious. In 2010 a group of scientists published a study that warned how the warming of the Arctic could lead to a speed and scale of methane release that would be catastrophic to life on earth through atmospheric heating of over 5 degrees within just a few years of such a release (Shakhova et al, 2010). The study triggered a fierce debate, much of which was ill considered, perhaps understandably given the shocking implications of this information (Ahmed, 2013). Since then, key questions at the heart of this scientific debate (about what would amount to the probable extinction of the human race) include the amount of time it will take for ocean warming to destabilise hydrates on the sea floor, and how much methane will be consumed by aerobic and anaerobic microbes before it reaches the surface and escapes to the atmosphere. In a global review of this contentious topic, scientists concluded that there is not the evidence to predict a sudden release of catastrophic levels of methane in the near-term (Ruppel and Kessler, 2017). However, a key reason for their conclusion was the lack of data showing actual increases in atmospheric methane at the surface of the Arctic, which is partly the result of a lack of sensors collecting such information. Most ground-level methane measuring systems are on land. Could that be why the unusual increases in atmospheric methane concentrations cannot be fully explained by existing data sets from around the world (Saunois et al, 2016)? One way of calculating how much methane is probably coming from our oceans is to compare data from ground level measurements, which are mostly but not entirely on land, with upper atmosphere measurements, which indicate an averaging out of total sources. Data published by scientists from the Arctic News (2018) website indicates that in March 2018 at mid altitudes, methane was around 1865 parts per billion (ppb), which represents a 1.8 percent increase of 35 ppb from the same time in 2017, while surface measurements of methane increased by about 15 ppb in that time. Both figures are consistent with a non-linear increase – potentially exponential – in atmospheric levels since 2007. That is worrying data in itself, but the more significant matter is the difference between the increase measured at ground and mid altitudes. That is consistent with this added methane coming from our oceans, which could in turn be from methane hydrates.

This closer look at the latest data on methane is worthwhile given the critical risks to which it relates. It suggests that the recent attempt at a consensus that it is highly unlikely we will see near term massive release of methane from the Arctic Ocean is sadly inconclusive. In 2017 scientists working on the Eastern Siberian sea shelf, reported that the permafrost layer has thinned enough to risk destabilising hydrates (The Artic, 2017). That report of subsea permafrost destabilisation in the East Siberian Arctic sea shelf, the latest unprecedented temperatures in the Arctic, and the data in non-linear rises in high-atmosphere methane levels, combine to make it feel like we are about to play Russian Roulette with the entire human race, with already two bullets in the chamber. Nothing is certain. But it is sobering that humanity has arrived at a situation of our own making where we now debate the strength of analyses of our near-term extinction.

Apocalypse Uncertain

The truly shocking information on the trends in climate change and its impacts on ecology and society are leading some to call for us to experiment with geoengineering the climate, from fertilizing the oceans so they photosynthesize more CO2, to releasing chemicals in the upper atmosphere so the Sun’s rays are reflected. The unpredictability of geoengineering the climate through the latter method, in particular the dangers of disturbances to seasonal rains that billions of people rely on, make it unlikely to be used (Keller et al, 2014). The potential natural geoengineering from increased sulphur releases from volcanoes due to isostatic rebound as weight on the Earth’s crust is redistributed is not likely to make a significant contribution to earth temperatures for decades or centuries.

It is a truism that we do not know what the future will be. But we can see trends. We do not know if the power of human ingenuity will help sufficiently to change the environmental trajectory we are on. Unfortunately, the recent years of innovation, investment and patenting indicate how human ingenuity has increasingly been channelled into consumerism and financial engineering. We might pray for time. But the evidence before us suggests that we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war.

We do not know for certain how disruptive the impacts of climate change will be or where will be most affected, especially as economic and social systems will respond in complex ways. But the evidence is mounting that the impacts will be catastrophic to our livelihoods and the societies that we live within. Our norms of behaviour, that we call our “civilisation,” may also degrade. When we contemplate this possibility, it can seem abstract. The words I ended the previous paragraph with may seem, subconsciously at least, to be describing a situation to feel sorry about as we witness scenes on TV or online. But when I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life. With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend on your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go. You will fear being violently killed before starving to death.

What Now Then?

My conclusion from analysing the latest climate science is that we can ask ourselves questions about what is fundamentally important to us in our own lives. We are being confronted by our own mortality and that of everything we could contribute to. That reflection and reorientation is not a simple or fast process, and I recommend it is explored in community. Share this blog with friends and talk to them. I recommend Dark Mountain Facebook group as one place for that. I would like to recommend other very popular Facebook groups on this topic, but I have found them to reflect a lot of repressed anger. My own hope is that we can cultivate love within this darkness.

Then there is the broader question of how we could help our communities, countries and humanity adapt to the coming troubles. I have dubbed this the “Deep Adaptation Agenda,” to contrast it with the limited scope of current climate adaptation activities. I have created a LinkedIn group for people who work in related areas in a professional capacity.

All manner of personal and institutional pressures and incentives work towards making us ignore or de-prioritise the kind of information and analysis I have presented above. It will be difficult not to be seduced by those who make us think we have more time, or that things aren’t so bad, or that planting more kelp will save us. It will also be difficult to avoid seduction by those saying that praying will help fix things, or that this tragedy can be welcomed as God’s moment of return. Instead, I recommend exploring what is your heart’s desire after you relinquish concern for either conformity, certainty, status, security or self-preservation. That’s probably how we should approach life anyway… Oops. Not to late for that then!

I have written in length about my own journey on this issue here. I was interviewed by Dark Mountain about it here.

I will be exploring implications of this information for our own agency as professionals in a Sustainable Leadership course. Info here.

My thanks to Chris Erskine at Seedbed and Dougald Hine at Dark Mountain for encouraging me to prioritise this path.

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Arctic News (2018) Warning Signs, Arctic News Blog Post, 3rd March. https://arctic-news.blogspot.co.id/2018/03/warning-signs.html
Benson, M. and Craig, R. (2014) ‘The End of Sustainability’, Society and Natural Resources 27; 777-782
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After Climate Despair – One Tale Of What Can Emerge

Posted by jembendell on January 14, 2018

Last week I was interviewed by the co-founder of the Dark Mountain project. Dougald Hine has been promoting creative reflection on the future of culture during the decay and ultimate collapse of this civilisation due to environmental degradation and climate chaos.

Funzies.

Actually, I did enjoy it, as it was was the first time I’ve been asked to make sense of my own reaction to a realisation of that probable collapse. Ahead of the interview, I started to write down ideas for my own sense making. I dont keep a diary, and so this was a useful moment of reflection. It is what some of my postgraduate students do as part of a method called “Living Theory,” where they reflect on any “living contradictions” in their work that are causing emotional discomfort. Given that I have been troubled by the climate science emerging over recent years, it was about time I joined them in exploring my own discomfort!

As I reflected ahead of the interview, I realised that communicating my experience may be useful for others as they try to integrate the latest depressing climate science into their outlook and plans. I also realised that some of the decisions I have been taking may have been because of not having a community of fellow travellers… and if I want that now, then I should start by getting more honest about what is going of for me right now.

So, hello. What follows is a personal story of my journey over almost 4 years since I began to accept the scale of the climate tragedy and what that could mean for my life. This blog does not present the latest science that forms my starting point. For some information on that see here. To summarise, I have come to the view that when contrasting progress on climate action with the latest climate science, it is probable that our civilisation will collapse within the lifetimes of people alive today, and it is possible that humanity will be extinct by the end of the century. Some scientists are concluding a swifter demise than even that! I dont like exclamation marks but that one seemed appropriate. The main reason for this view about collapse and possible extinction is how feedback cycles are heating up the Arctic so fast it will release huge amounts of methane that will then trigger more feedbacks and thus ecosystem collapse, mass starvation and related conflicts. To speak of nearterm collapse and possible human extinction is seen by some people as ridiculous, alarmist, defeatist, irresponsible, or confused. Or all of that. Lots of words are thrown at people who are concluding it’s goodnight humanity. Typically such criticism comes from people who haven’t studied things closely. Or from those who censor this view by claiming it won’t help us to change. My experience has been the opposite. Seriously considering nearterm collapse and possible extinction has triggered major changes in me and others which didn’t lead to paralysis. But I will come back to that later.

Before I dive into the story, knowing some of you will be busy people wanting to cut to the chase, I will start back-to-front with some of the recommendations about how to approach the possibility that we face an unavoidable climate tragedy. I drew these up as a first attempt to share some lessons, after the reflection triggered by the interview with Dougald. I am very aware I am not a psychotherapist and so my basis upon which to analyse myself and draw out lessons is a bit shaky. But if things are as bad as just suggested, it’s time to get started. My recommendations are for people who are professionally involved in social, environmental or ethical careers, rather than the general public. That is because I am sharing from personal experience rather than broader research on how people respond when they conclude we face nearterm collapse and possible extinction…

Recommendations when facing the possibility of climate tragedy

Here are fourteen recommendations based on what has been helping me, or what, in hindsight, I think could have helped me!

Return to, or explore afresh, the idea of a divine or a spirit or a consciousness or a God that is prior to the Earth and moves through the Universe right now and forever more. Do so without seeking a simple story of explanation but a sense of faith that there is an existence and a meaning beyond our culture, our species and our planet. Such ‘faith’ helps anyone to experience and process the inevitable difficulties and traumas of life.

Listen to those stories from people both past and present who tell us that despair is not the end and therefore does not have to be avoided. Recognise how many spiritual traditions see despair as a gateway to our growth.

Beware when people are promoting their views on what they think the implications of information will be, rather than views on the information itself. The impacts of certain information about climate on other people’s motivations are not certain, and in many cases the darkest analyses have triggered a new level of creativity and boldness. Instead, look at the information and analysis directly for yourself, without second guessing what some interpretations might lead to.

Recognize that any emotional or intellectual resistance you may experience to information which implies catastrophe may come from what you have been consciously or subconsciously telling yourself about your own self-worth, purpose and meaning. Then remember how your views of yourself and the world have evolved through your life and still can.

Don’t panic. Give yourself time to evolve both personally and professionally in response to your emerging awareness, but ensure you stay connected to a group or an activity which keeps reminding you of the basis for your emerging awareness.

Recognize there is much work ahead for you to reconstitute concepts of meaning and what’s good and to align your life with those. It will not happen overnight, yet it will not happen if you do not give time to this work. There may be some time needed to bridge your existing life with the way you will want to live in future.

Plan more time and resources for you to do things which inspire wonder at life. This could be more time in beautiful environments, or with uplifting music, or in contemplation, or through creative writing, or being with loved ones and close friends. That means freeing up time from other activities such as TV, social media and mainstream news. It may also mean downshifting from your workload.

Look for opportunities for supported self-reflection and sense-making. This is because your worldview and self identity will undoubtedly transform overtime as you process the new information and analysis.

Expect a catharsis, both personal and professional. This will occur because the subconscious or conscious limits that you placed on yourself until now will be lifted. Go with that rush of energy and creativity, but be vigilant that those new activities don’t become so consuming they distract you from the personal work you still need to do.

If you are a mission-driven professional in fields related to environment or social justice then expect that you may be driven to rebuild a sense of self worth and that this need of the ego, while natural and potentially useful, could become a frantic distraction.

Expect a change in your personal relationships and how you spend your spare time. Some forms of small talk and light-hearted social interaction with acquaintances may seem pointless, while you may wish to spend more time with close friends and family. While for some this could be a welcome rebalancing, for others this can become a vector of reclusiveness and loneliness. Therefore it is important to find new ways of connecting with people on the new levels that feel meaningful to you.

Create a positive vision of people sharing compassion, love and play. It may feel that an eco-tragic outlook means you cannot have any meaningful vision of a better future for yourself, your community, or humanity. An absence of something positive to work towards can be destabilising and limiting. Some people will think you are depressed – or depressing – and need some “positive thinking”. For a personal vision, the answer may lie in developing a vision for how you will be approaching life, rather than imagining attributes of a lifestyle. This may parallel the dimensions of a collective vision. A future full of love and learning, rather than flying cars and fancy robots, could be a way to imagine a more beautiful world. And remember, the future will still be beautiful in its own way, no matter what life forms are in it – or if your favourite town is under water!

Don’t get dogmatic and avoid those who do. That comes from recognising that our terms for phenomena are not the same as the phenomena themselves. The words we use imply things which may have effects on us but aren’t necessarily so. Words like nearterm, civilisation, collapse, and tragedy, are our words, and may trigger ideas, images and emotions which aren’t inevitable consequences of the phenomena being described (more on that “social constructionism” later).

Do not prioritise maintaining your own mental and physical situation at the expense of the need to act in solidarity with future generations who will live with the future we are creating for them. Tomorrow’s children won’t thank us much for having joined a support group on facebook or taken up yoga!

OK, that ends my summary of recommendations which I have identified based on my experience over the past four years since I woke up to the scale and dimensions of our climate tragedy. The rest of this piece (after the picture) recaps some of that journey that made me conclude with those recommendations. It’s a long read, so now would be a good time to make a cuppa as you appreciate the sunrise over the Aegean from, Kalikalos Retreat.

Sunrise2

Climate Fever and Revelation

My journey with climate change really took a turn in March 2014. I had just finished delivering my inaugural lecture as a Professor at Cumbria University. I gave the lecture at a Literary Festival and the topic I chose was “the adventure of sustainability”. In preparation for the talk I sought to identify the common theme across my previous 20 years of research, teaching, advocacy and practice. A key theme was how we need to tell new stories about ourselves and society. I described how corporations are the most influential storytellers of our time. That is probably obvious to you, given the role of marketing and advertising. I explained how the influence of corporate storytelling went deeper than that into how we think about what is real or true in fields we might not consider corporate at all. I gave the example of diamond engagement rings, which is a corporate-produced tradition. And I also described how the banking system tells society a story of what is wealth, what life is like and the decisions we have to make in order to get by or succeed. It does that through its creation of our money as credit with interest to those it decides to empower with that new spending power. The speech was offering a “critical social constructionist” viewpoint. I suggested we needed to free ourselves from a dominant worldview to escape to sustainability. By that, I meant that unsustainability is not the result of a lack of ideas and effort, but the result of us being cajoled into certain ideas and efforts that are contrary to the original wealth around us. I framed the challenge as an adventure towards sustainability, because I already realized that the presumed pragmatism of an incremental approach to change, by engaging business and investors, was no longer a credible view. I also used the idea of adventure to reflect how uncertain our future path has become and to reframe the daunting challenge as something to inspire rather than discourage.

I didn’t practice my speech much because I was losing my voice with the onset of a flu. And what an awful flu it was, putting me in bed for a week from the day after the lecture. I was to discover just how emotionally powerful giving a speech that summarized and concluded a part of my life would be. In preparing for the speech I had thought it important to remind myself of the bigger context within which I had been working over the previous 20 years. I looked at the latest data on environmental degradation and poverty reduction, amongst other aspects of what we term “sustainable development”. So I knew that despite progress in changing some organizations and attitudes, the data on the big picture was really bad. I wanted my speech to summarize a key theme and truth from my range of professional activities over the previous 20 years. But it also needed to be somewhat relatable – and therefore somewhat acceptable – to my colleagues, wider academia, and the general public who would be paying to be in the audience. So although I had this grave fear I was coming to doubt the very possibility of sustainability I didn’t let myself explore that ahead of my inaugural.

Now in bed with a fever, I went back to some of the worrying stuff I had skimmed over during the past weeks. I read about methane. I read blogs, watched videos and then accessed the scientific papers that were being referred to. I learned about the amount of methane in the permafrost and the current rate of release. I learned about the amount of methane frozen in solid form on the Arctic sea floor. I learned about how geologists had concluded that the last mass extinction event which wiped out about 95% of life on Earth was most likely caused by methane release from the Arctic sea floor triggering a rapid warming of the Earth’s atmosphere. The quivering voice and slightly moist eyes of one of the Russian scientists when she was pushed to comment on the implications of ice shrinkage and temperature measurements was a memorable moment for me as I slumped feverish in bed.

Perhaps because of an experience of validation and conclusion from my inaugural, as I lay in bed, I was more able to let myself accept not only the probability of a near-term collapse of civilization, but even the possibility of the near-term extinction of the human race. That led me into a multi-dimensional experience of loss and of grief. There is the sadness about the suffering of all people, and of the people you know who are alive today. There is the fear of what will happen, and when, to your own life and to your loved ones. “How much time have we got?” one asks. There is sadness with the suffering and death of all other life forms. There is the trauma of having in one’s mind an imagined future so disturbed from how things look and feel today. I could no longer look at the beautiful landscapes in the Lake District and appreciate them for what they were without imagining what it might look like in 50 to 100 years. Would it be scorched, flooded, uninhabited, polluted?

Then there was a sadness, grief and confusion about a loss of my own self worth. Because a key part of my identity was regarding myself as an informed, dedicated and sensible agent of good who sought sustainability. Over the previous decades I had made conscious sacrifices to give my life to that work. Or at least, I had justified a lack of balance in my life and an absence of diverse forms of joy, as a necessary side effect of my commitment to a cause. So suddenly I experienced a wave of regret. This personal loss of self-identity and feelings of regret are something that I now see shaped some of my actions over the 4 years that were to come, in ways I was not fully aware of at the time. I’ll have to come back to that. Another form of loss and grief was of the cultural frame of reference for helping me determine what, from now on, might be right to think and to do. That is because I sensed our contemporary culture was no longer a solid framework from which to develop my ideas. I had difficulty finding people with whom to talk to about what I might think and do next. Related to that was a sense that nothing I could create or contribute to, at any level of physical, intellectual or cultural form, would last for much more than a few decades. As someone who was so focused on communicating ideas, at-scale, this was particularly difficult.

Looking back, I realize that I had some kind of faith or insight that there is an ultimate meaning to existence in general, and therefore to mine in particular, and therefore a meaning to my relationships with others. That has become more clear to me as I see how many people appear too fearful of despair to let themselves even consider possibilities that would trigger such despair. In my case, it might be a philosophical hangover from when I was a teenage Christian, who believed that God’s love for us transcends our understanding of it. It could also be because since I had become post-Christian (no, not an official designation), I had read Vedic, Jain and Buddhist philosophies about the nature of reality and the idea that consciousness precedes matter and energy. I had studied some of the latest insights from the Natural Sciences that seriously undermine the view of nature as an unthinking machine of separate parts. In physics we have quantum mechanics which suggests that matter is connected to a universal field no matter where it is. In biology we now not only have epigenetics to show environmental influences on gene expression, and more evidence of group selection. We also have evidence of mutations not being entirely random as they sometimes correlate with parents’ perception of their changing environment. This, coupled with knowledge that there were at least a dozen hominids that evolved from apes but which went extinct rather than evolving into homo sapiens, also made me see how our planet is constantly evolving life forms towards species like our own, as well as all others. I suppose this perspective that there is a divine or spiritual dimension to existence which gives rise to the flow and patterns of life on Earth meant I knew that the end of our culture and the end of our species would not be the end of meaning itself. I describe this worldview with an emphasis on concepts but what has been as key to me is that I have experienced this perspective in states of altered consciousness. The memory of those experiences gave me a life jacket as I slipped into despair.

That did not mean I was going to swim through despair that well. Since that time in bed with the flu, I have recognised it as a moment of change for me. But only when Dougald from Dark Mountain asked to interview me did I reflect on what I have been doing over almost 4 years since that moment. I think there is value in analyzing what happened to me and sharing it with others, which is why I am writing it down now. The value has become apparent to me as I’ve witnessed more and more people express their fear that despair leads nowhere. Not so. I have seen despair is not the end. It led to a range of new perspectives and activities for myself and then those I engaged with as a result. Some good, some not so good, some conscious and some not so conscious. Sharing this may help you reflect on what you are going through, or might experience if you ever come to despair. I say that while fully recognizing I am not a trained psychoanalyst of psychotherapist nor am I steeped in any one particular spiritual tradition or methods for its instruction. I still have much to learn.

A Climate Catharsis

Looking back now I realize that my past few years have been characterized in part by a professional catharsis. By which I mean an effort to express myself professionally in areas and ways that I restrained myself from in the past due to old stories which no longer made sense to me. My previous focus had been on having the most expertise and experience in a particular niche that was concerned with persuading and enabling large organizations to change. In effect, I was offering myself to existing power structures. In the name of being professional in the field of management studies and management consulting I was therefore very careful about how I presented ideas such as transforming capitalism. Now with the idea that this system is dying, the lid came off.

My first professional shift was to rework the leadership course I was about to teach into one that was explicitly focused on intellectual and emotional emancipation. The idea was already in the course outline, just as so many leadership courses offer self discovery. But I took it a step further in explicitly exploring the ways that our consciousness is held back by dominant ideas in our society. My idea was that if we arrive at a position of suspicion towards social norms, and connect to timeless wisdom, we will be more robust in taking a new approach to social and environmental issues, on the one hand, and professional development on the other. On the final day of the course I explained how I felt about the latest climate science and how it was currently destroying my sense of self-worth and leading to something else… which I wasn’t sure of, but which the course was part of. The course was one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life, and some of the students who participated in it became co-travellers in this post-sustainability exploration.

I had worked on currency innovation since 2011, and suddenly felt ambivalent about the long term resilience of technologically-dependent local currency systems. But I realised that rather than these systems being important to help complement the mainstream money systems, that they would help communities shift back to more local community reliance. I also felt that our delusions about money and wealth have been at the heart of the destructive path humanity embarked on to produce the climate tragedy, and so better understanding the history and nature of this phenomenon made sense. I immersed myself in this and produced a free online course on the history and future of money, which has been taken by thousands of students around the world. Key to this process was the ability to step outside my comfort zone and use insights from disciplines that I had not worked with before. Without my newfound boldness that would not have happened. It began a whole new dimension to my intellectual life, which is reflected by this book on my desk today “Money and the Ancient Greek Mind.”

A key step for me was to resign as Director of the Institute I had established, and go part time so I could free up some time and space to explore how I would integrate the new awareness into my life and work. I am still grateful for my University for supporting that move, which made the next phase of my life less scary. With that freedom, I joined the board of a multimillion-dollar social and environmental impact investing fund, specialising in technology and financial services. Sound a bit odd for an existential crisis? I liked the idea of being involved in the governance and funding start-ups that were using technology to try and unseat major incumbent businesses. It contrasted nicely to the past decades of seeking to make the large firms nicer from the edges. But, yes, it was still a bit corporate. And by 2016 I was beginning to let out a bit of a roar…

Suddenly I felt compelled to write in mainstream publications about mainstream politics. Trimming the edges of capitalism wasn’t enough. I was not going to be silent anymore about politics, and published on topics ranging from issues of security through to economy. Suddenly I was debating the former Lord Admiral of the fleet about Trident renewal and writing columns on Corbynism. This new line of work eventually led me to providing strategic communications advice to the Office of the Leader of the Opposition in the United Kingdom during the first 6 months of 2017. During the General Election campaign I ended up co-writing speeches and other documents. What was the connection to climate tragedy? For me it was clear. To avoid making matters worse as we experience the impacts of climate chaos on the UK directly and through supply chains and financial systems, we need to turn away from the neoliberal value set that leaves everything to market forces and disparages social solidarity through political action. I think we need some emergency socialism. For the first time in my life I was hearing a leader of a political party in the UK speak about how we are proud of our systematic compassion, that we are great because we care for each other. Jeremy Corbyn was bringing these ideas back into the mainstream of public life.

Looking back over the few years since my flu-bound revelations I can see how extremely busy I became during a time when I really needed to reflect. The rush of energy from this professional catharsis was also, in retrospect, fueled by the reaction of my ego to my new awareness. I had lost my previous identity and sense of self-worth. Part of my busy-ness may have been a felt need to reconstruct a sense of self-worth. It may also have been a desire for meaningful and consuming distractions from climate tragedy, as I did not know how to live day-to-day with that at the front of my mind.

The Personal Impacts

I have focused most of my reflections on professional matters. That is because my sharing on this topic is primarily about how we “work” in relation to it. But the distinction with personal life is not so solid, especially for something so profound as this. Looking at what has changed, I see that my social circle shrank. That can be normal for someone entering their 40s. But in my case, as a single guy with no children, that might not be so normal. I spent more time with closer friends and family. I found it more tiring and pointless to have small talk and thus more difficult to meet new people. Dating apps seemed torture. Instead, I felt drawn to spend more time in nature. I organised my life so I could take time out and live for some months in Bali, Indonesia, finding the beauty of the nature and the culture a balm for my concerns and a suitable backdrop to more philosophical explorations. I realise that I have not shed desires for wealth, status, fun and security, though I now aspire to. The fear of not progressing as I thought I might, or in comparison to others, as I age, still lingers in the background. Looking at that now, I think such factors have influenced my decisions and I feel disappointed about that.

Things may change, but for the past few years it hasn’t been easy to discuss this topic casually with either family, friends or colleagues. And as it is such an encompassing issue, this inability to communicate one’s reality can be isolating and diminishing. I limited my explicit exploration of climate tragedy to conversations and correspondence with a handful of people who had come to the same realisation. By mid 2016 I was not happy with myself for keeping this matter to that small group. I had been invited to keynote at a conference of climate academics and policy makers, in Australia. It was a long way to go and I don’t like to fly without a rationale. Another speech about corporate steps towards environmental sustainability felt a depressing idea to me. I was worried about how I would come across, but decided to go for it. I described climate change as a tragedy not a problem that would be fixed, and how we now need to spend as much time on what adaptation would involve, including adaptation to a collapse of civilisation as a result. It does not mean stopping efforts to curb emissions or capture more carbon, but means accepting that immense suffering and loss is going to happen – and soon. It means actively working on how to not make matters worse. I realised that people, like me, might be able to consider this if they had a map or a framework to help them navigate it, and so I offered one as a “deep adaptation agenda”. I was surprised and delighted at the response, with people coming up to me afterwards thanking me for my courage and sharing their reflections and metaphors on the same subject. Then a year later I discovered that the concept had been used by funders in the UK for their grantmaking.

Discovering that I wasn’t speaking into a void, that in fact there was resonance and people could amplify these ideas, helped me conclude the catharsis. It seems I had roared enough. The last four years were professionally transformative. I am now a political communications trainer and advisor and a leadership trainer and researcher with a consciously emancipatory approach to both. I am a currency innovation consultant with an overt attention to the social and environment implications. I have also now published academic papers in these areas as an academic, so have transitioned that aspect of my work into this new phase. But there has been a professional cost, as I disengaged with a community of research where I had status, expertise and networks, so might have been included in funding bids and special issues of top journals. To help those who respect my past work to consider a more radical approach today, I published a reflection on some of the implications of the useful but limited impact of existing partnerships. I have not yet published anything academic on the “deep adaptation agenda,” in part due to the cathartic rush I have been on with other work. Fortunately, I have begun to find academics in related fields who are explicitly addressing aspects of this agenda, such as Professor Jonathan Gosling in his recent papers on leadership during periods of cultural collapse. He will be keynoting at our next conference on leadership in September in the Lake District.

Interbeing

Where to now? Come the summer of ‘17 I knew I had not given myself space to explore the “deep adaptation” agenda as much as I had wanted to. Within that, I had not developed the kind of equanimity – or peace of mind – about climate chaos that would mean I could work on it directly. I realise many other people must be in this situation. If you have read this far, then I guess that includes you. I see equanimity as important if we are to respond to changing realities without fear, anger or sadness clouding our judgement. I see equanimity as a means of usefulness rather than simply coping emotionally. Where might that equanimity come from? In the past few months I have been in discussions and correspondence with people as I explore the spiritual or metaphysical perspectives that might make some sense in the face of our climate tragedy. I was fortunate enough that my University agreed for me to take a year unpaid leave from September 2017, and this has allowed me time to reflect, read, discuss, as well as participate in various meditative practices. In particular, I have been exploring the idea of “interbeing”, a term from Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn and popularised by author Charles Eisenstein. Being asked by Charles for feedback on a first draft of his forthcoming book on climate change also prompted me to clarify some thoughts. So here goes… (and this is a good moment to make another cuppa)…

Interbeing is a word describing a conscious experience of being more than our physical body and separate mind. It is another way of describing higher consciousness, so as to emphasise its more embodied form. The idea is fairly well established in non-Abrahamic spiritual traditions, as well as within the more gnostic threads of Abrahamic religions. The idea is that although we experience ourselves as separate due to our senses, consciousness is not limited to our brains or bodies. Rather, it is like a field of magnetism or gravity. Moreover, it may be like a field that is not limited in time and space as magnetism or gravity are, instead encompassing all of existence. From this perspective it can be said that consciousness is having an experience of itself through us.

How might interbeing raise you from the threat of depression if you sense the end of everything one can contribute to due to near-term extinction of the human race and the majority of species? Not by making us feel more as one with all humans who will be born to die young. Or more as one with all dogs and cats who will starve to death. Nor by feeling more as one with all the birds in the trees who will die of heat exhaustion. Or more at one with those landscapes we most enjoy seeing and experiencing which will transform out of recognition. Or more as one with the wonderful culture of ideas that we have enjoyed learning and contributing to, but that will vanish into ruins like other lost civilisations. The more we experience interbeing with all these deeply important things, the more we may suffer. An answer may lie in our sense of what there “is” to inter-be with. There are no half measures with interbeing. All is one, as that great phrase explains.

OK, you might say, “We are at one with everything. And if we are lucky we might experience states of consciousness where that feels real to us. But how does that help us deal emotionally with the loss of civilisation, the mass extinction of other species and potentially even human extinction?”

I think the answer lies in whether we see that greater consciousness as a source. In particular, does consciousness exist as an original phenomenon that gave rise to matter (and so lies within it, finding new forms through it), or does consciousness arise out of matter (which logically would imply randomly). There is a lot of support in the history of human thought for the former view of consciousness giving rise to matter. Now there is a lot of new scientific evidence for that view, including the latest in evolutionary biology and in quantum physics (which I will summarise elsewhere). If we have the view that consciousness gave rise to and works through matter, then we see how it gave rise to species, all humans and all civilisations. Therefore we are one with the potential for all things.

Thich Nhat Hahn has suggested we take time to reflect on the number of civilizations that have collapsed in the past. We could walk around the ruins, or watch a video of someone doing so. Imagine the thousands of lives, with the joys, heartaches, intense discussions, hopes for the future and stories of the past. All so intense at the time and all now gone. Then consider how these civilisations have kept arising again and again in different places and times. There appears to be an underlying impulse towards them. Or let’s go a step further. Take a moment to reflect on the way our planetary ecosystem has kept producing hominids, most of which never evolved into humans but went extinct. They were bipedal large brained animals with opposable thumbs and in many cases the desires to draw and to burn. Therefore, some scientists are beginning to consider whether evolution is entirely random. That doesn’t imply an anthropomorphic God that designs species, but a field of consciousness that gives rise to similar patterns of life. In one ancient tradition this is called the Akashic Record. It means that who we are and what we do now is both influenced by and will influence an eternal record that pervades all time and space. If a collective consciousness is understood and experienced in this way, the pain of the passing of life as-we-know-it may be lessened. Because we are one with the source consciousness that gives rise to all life and will do so again and again.

Many people who are troubled by climate change are “environmentalists” and many such people are interested in reconnecting with non human “nature”, as a means of sensing our interbeing. While this can be a useful first step, it may extend the awareness of self only partially in both time and space and could lead to new waves of pain, anger, sadness, distraction, and therefore distorted thinking on what to do now. Therefore, the climate tragedy invites us to see interbeing as all or nothing. You might rightly point out that I am at risk of proposing a worldview because it makes one feel better. This subjective distortion is the root of confirmation bias as well as the flaw of so many religions. “It must be right because it feels wonderful.” I currently have no answer to that problem, apart from that I know in my own life I have not arrived at this perspective quickly as a means of tranquility. Indeed, I think the more I embrace it and bring it into my daily consciousness, the implications may not be so easy after all.

The pain associated with an awareness of climate tragedy may be deadened with this perspective on total interbeing, but there remains a question of meaning for our individual lives. Given that our previous ideas of purpose and meaning have been shaken with the awareness of impending collapse, most people would seek a new basis for the meaning of their lives. That is something I will need to spend more time on this year, perhaps always. But I am already wondering whether our meaning can be found within a purpose of approaching this moment with as much awakened connection to universal source consciousness as possible. In that way, contributing to the akashic memory of that source consciousness at an unusual time in existence. I have a feeling that such an approach would involve heightened compassion and wonder. I also sense that the positive “vision” for what we can work towards while accepting a coming collapse will be about communities that nurture that compassion and wonder. But it is something I need to reflect on and discuss some more.

The perspective I have just expressed assumes some “free will” within us. Or to put it another way, some ability for original phenomena to be created by us, within us, to then add back to the source consciousness. How is it possible for there to be any agency in a part of a whole if all is one? How would we know if our view that we have free will isn’t actually determined for us? We don’t. But if we didn’t have free will to exist in ways that create novel input into the akashic record, then what is the consciousness within individual organic lifeforms for? Perhaps nothing. Or perhaps simply to express the intention of the whole. And that is what I have to conclude at this time: I do not know if there is any individual agency. Nevertheless, the implication is that to approach life from from a heightened connection to source consciousness will more likely align with the purpose of source consciousness, if there is one. Now is when we begin to speculate. It appears that source consciousness tends to diversify the complexity of matter. It appears it creates sentient beings who wish to avoid pain and experience pleasure. It appears that the process of unfolding complexity leads to new forms of reflective consciousness. Therefore, I could choose a purpose to reduce suffering, promote joy, enable reflection, and unleash emergence. This does not sound so different from the great wisdom traditions, as well as the common sense knowledge of most people I know, if not deluded by obsessions over race, nation, politics, status, wealth or religious correctness.

I am currently in Ubud, Bali, which attracts many spiritual seekers from around the world. It is a Hindu island, with an animist flavour, and many religiously observant families. Many of the foreigners participate in what some would call “new age” spiritual practices, such as shamanic breathwork or cacao ceremonies. Despite that, I have not yet discussed any of what I have written above with the people I meet here. Because I have often felt lonelier with people who are overtly on a spiritual path. When I hear of their focus on positive thinking, visioning, and being in touch with one’s body and emotions, I wonder if this is naive and self-serving. Yet the effect is nice enough and I don’t want to upset them. It is a cliche that some of the people with the most needs and fears gravitate to either religious devotion or new age spirituality. I do not think the worldview I have described in my writing today is an immediately self-serving one. It would be far easier to dismiss climate tragedy as hype and block it out as one does a warrior pose while breathing incense. I am discovering, therefore, that I may need to be proactive if I want to be part of a community of “spiritual” people, approaching life in full awareness of the climate tragedy.

Spiritual Critical Social Constructionism

From the amount I write, you may have noticed that I’m an academic. Though you also may have noticed I am not limited to one discipline or a narrow concept of validity for knowledge claims. I see logical positivism as a tool not a totality. Mostly I’m a sociologist, and before wrapping up these reflections, I’d like to share a realisation that critical social theory could be essential for developing equanimity in the face of the climate tragedy.

Social constructionism is a philosophy that recognizes that the words we use to describe phenomena are not synonymous with the phenomena themselves. Because the phenomena themselves are simply phenomena and our experience of them is simply experience. We label phenomena with words in order to communicate about them, but that does not mean that they exist only in the way that our words describe them. Social constructionism helps us to be aware of how we are applying the lens of our language to reality, in ways emphasise certain patterns and not others. Social constructionism does not deny that there is a reality but that such reality is prior to our interpretation of it. Critical social constructionism goes a step further in questioning how certain terms or “constructions” sustain certain power relations in human society, and are themselves the result of such power relations. So by “critical” we do not mean negativity or questioning. Instead, it reflects an emancipatory interest in the application of social constructionism. “Spiritual critical social constructionism” is a label I wish to offer for the importance of our exploration of how concepts used for the “spiritual” or the “ineffable” or the “divine” or the “metaphysical” or the “Godly”, are not synonymous with the phenomena being described. That also goes for any terms that relate to such matters – whether in religious or somewhat “new age” communities of discourse. The astute reader will see how this begins to sound very similar to the central teaching of Lao Tsu, who opened his book with “the truth that can be told is not the truth”. You might think he would pack up with his book writing ruse there and then. But with that caveat he then delivers a massive book. Because although words are limited tools, they are darn useful. As I hope you are finding right now.

The social constructionist perspective reminds us that when we speak of “probable near-term collapse of civilization” that each of those words mean different things to different people and, more importantly, are not synonymous with the realities they are helping us to consider. Words like nearterm, civilisation, collapse, and tragedy, are our words, and may trigger ideas, images and emotions which aren’t inevitable. In this field, like in any other, we must be vigilant against any new dogmas emerging.

New Community

Being without a partner or children, it may have been easier for me than most to take the time to explore the issues I’ve described in this piece. I realise that for many people it is tough to change the focus of one’s career or the situation at home in light of new information, simply because modern life is so jam packed with activities, responsibilities and the need to earn a living. So I see the need to support people with the process I went through. Therefore, I am trialling a “deep adaptation retreat” later this year, where participants who have reached or gone through despair over the climate tragedy will explore together how we reconstitute meaning and sustain ourselves.

The retreat is also a response to my realisation I need a form of philosophical community around the perspectives and processes I’ve described above. It starts by sharing more. So I have begun writing up my reflections and sharing them. This writing is also going to be key sensemaking so I more consciously choose what to do next. I will stick mostly to personal reflections, rather than extensive academic-style research. At this stage I don’t know how my participation in a philosophical community on this topic will develop. To help connect with people exploring what this path means for their professional work, I have created a Deep Adaptation group on LinkedIn. If you aren’t on that platform, then please join my mailing list as a way to keep updated. If you are organising activities on these matters, please let me know (or post to the LinkedIn group). And please tell your networks about the retreat.
It is possible that Dark Mountain may grow into the philosophical community I think is needed. Whatever happens, I’ll always be grateful that they kept this topic alive over the past decade, and then prompted me to reflect in this way. Dougald’s take on the interview with me, as well as an audio, will be appearing on their site soon.

My thanks to Katie Carr, Cam Webb, Susan Holden, Marc Lopatin, Charles Eisenstein, Jonathan Gosling, Dougald Hine, Georgia Wingfield-Hayes, Chris Erskine and Jonathan Leighton for correspondence and conversations along the way as I’ve pieced these ideas together, as well the facilitators of spiritual practices at Yogabarn and The Ark, Ubud. Thanks to Matthew Slater for showing me what dedication to one’s contrarian truth looks like.

Posted in Academia and Research, climate, Sustainable Development | 7 Comments »