Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Archive for the ‘Sustainable Development’ Category

environment, environmentalism, development, poverty, human rights, etc

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.

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Posted in Academia and Research, climate, Sustainable Development | 1 Comment »

Engaging the Climate Tragedy

Posted by jembendell on November 26, 2016

When discussing the sorry state of efforts to address climate change with professionals working on this topic, across sectors, I often hear a reluctance to question whether it is too late to avert catastrophic climate change, or what such a view might mean for the focus of our work. Various objections to this view are raised and prevent open discussion or an evolution of work. Therefore, I decided to deliver a speech at a leading climate business and finance event in Australia, at Griffith University, to seek feedback on my argument that we must now shift focus.

In my keynote, Nov 29th, I’m outlining the following:

  1. There has been some progress on environmental issues in past decades, from reducing pollution, to habitat preservation, to waste management.
  2. Much valiant effort has been made to reduce carbon emissions over the last twenty years.
  3. There have been many steps forward on climate and carbon management, from awareness, to policies, to innovations.
  4. Larger and quicker steps must be taken and can be now that there is COP21 and major Chinese engagement on the issue.
  5. To support the maintenance and scaling of these efforts is essential.
  6. Small steps have been taken on adaptation to climate changes, such as flood defences and planning laws.
  7. Yet these steps on climate mitigation and adaptation are like walking up a landslide. If the landslide had not already begun, then quicker and bigger steps would get us to the top of where we want to be. But the latest climate data, emissions data and data on the spread of carbon-intensive lifestyles tell us that the landslide has already begun.

That the ground is already moving beneath our feet is summarised thus:

  1. 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, migration and war
  2. If the world does not keep further anthropogenic emissions below a total of 1,300 billion tonnes we won’t keep average temperatures below that 2 degrees warming.
  3. If we are not already on the path to dramatic reductions we will not keep within this limit.
  4. We are not on such a path, with emissions still at around 50 million tonnes of CO2 a year and the decoupling of growth from emissions minimal.
  5. The uncertainties on the edge of scientific consensus do not suggest a respite, with some increased carbon sequestration through increased vegetation not as significant as the methane emissions not factored into most models, and where Arctic warming is already progressing beyond even the most extreme predictions.
  6. Therefore, we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war.
  7. The implication is that we need to expand our climate work into a deep adaptation agenda, including resilience, relinquishment and restoration while learning why this tragedy is occurring.

I will explain more about that deep adaptation agenda in a moment. I realise that at this point the reader, or listener, might feeling a bit affronted, disturbed, or saddened. In the past few years, many people have said to me that “it can’t be too late to stop climate change, because if it was, how would we find the energy to keep on striving for change?” With such views, a possible reality is denied to permit a continued striving which has its rationale, therefore, not in serving the expressed goal but in maintaining self-identities related to espoused values. This form of denial is different from outright climate denial, but is also unhelpful, as John Foster argues well in his book After Sustainability (2015).

It is emotionally difficult at first, but we need to move beyond that pretence if we are to remain relevant. In doing so, we open ourselves up to discuss a ‘deep adaption’ agenda as well as exploring why this tragedy has begun and why we have been so poor at responding effectively. I will make some brief comments on these topics before concluding with some thoughts on how we evolve our research accordingly.

A deep adaption agenda will involve increasing resilience, relinquishment and restoration Resilience involves people and communities better coping with disruptions. Examples include how river catchments can better cope with rains, or how buildings can better cope with floods. What I’m calling relinquishment, involves people and communities letting go of certain assets, behaviours and beliefs where retaining them could make matters worse. Examples include withdrawing from coastlines or giving up expectations for certain types of consumption. Restoration involves people and communities rediscovering attitudes and approaches to life and organisation that the hydrocarbon-fuelled civilisation eroded. Examples include re-wilding landscapes so they provide more ecological benefits and require less management, or increased community-level productivity and support.

There will be increasing discussion about what is to be learned from the tragedy of climate change, and honest inquiry existing alongside strategic attempts at framing disruption, degradation and loss to maintain one’s relative power in society.  Disruption, degradation and collapse will be framed by different people as a resulting from foreigners, capitalism, industrialism, individualism, consumerism, patriarchy, anthropomorphism, secularism, liberalism, progressivism, and atomism (where we see things as separate). We are even seeing framing of disruption by religious fundamentalists, who, to my knowledge, don’t discuss climate but seek to respond to the disruption it has already caused. One study by Columbia University argues that in Syria, the worst drought in 100s of years, made worse by climate change, led to 1.5 million people being displaced from their lives in rural areas and increased food prices in cities. Some radical Islamists were able to thrive in this situation with their explanations of cause and solution, replacement stories of personal identity and purpose, and offers of sustenance.

My own analysis is that the West’s response as restricted by the dominance of neoliberal economics since the 1970s. That led to hyper-individualist, market fundamentalist, incremental and atomistic approaches. By hyper-individualist, I mean a focus on individual action as consumers, switching light bulbs or buying sustainable furniture, rather than promoting political action as engaged citizens. By market fundamentalist, I mean a focus on market mechanisms like the complex, costly and largely useless carbon cap and trade systems, rather than exploring what more government intervention could achieve. By incremental, I mean a focus on celebrating small steps forward such as a company publishing a sustainability report, rather than strategies designed for a speed and scale of change suggested by the science. By atomistic, I mean a focus on seeing climate action as a separate issue from the governance of markets, finance and banking, rather than exploring what kind of economic system could permit or enable sustainability.

Given this context, while the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the culture they reflect are helpful for non-climate related matters, given the systemic nature of the impacts of global warming, they may be ill-focused. Instead “minimum survival goals” would be more appropriate, to reduce the rate of increase in starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war. We don’t need consensus on that, but a shift right now from those who have a professional income, skill set and network to work on matters broadly related to climate change and its effects.

The implications for researchers working on climate issues, whether on campaigning, policy, business, finance, include asking the following questions:

On other’s research:

“How might these findings inform efforts for a more massive & urgent transformation to resilience & relinquishment in face of collapse?”

On one’s own research:

“If I didn’t believe in incremental incorporation of climate concerns into current organisations and systems, what might I want to know more about?”

“How might neglected theories of political economy suggest I inquire into this or related topics?”

To explore some of these ideas further, my recent writings may be of interest, on implications for the future of the climate debate, on what sustainability leadership involves, on how we need to heal capitalism, and how we need to ask ourselves tough questions if we consider ourselves climate activists. Better still, these publications will help you explore this emerging “post-sustainability” paradigm:

Benson, M. and Craig, R. (2014) ‘The End of Sustainability’, Society and Natural Resources 27; 777-782

Foster, J. (2015) After Sustainability (Abingdon: Earthscan from Routledge)

Hamilton, C. (2010) Requiem for a Species (London: Earthscan)

Hamilton, C. et al. (eds.) (2015) The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis (Abingdon: Routledge)

Jamieson, D. (2014)  Reason in a Dark Time (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Mulgan, T. (2011) Ethics for a Broken World  (Durham: Acumen)

As the point of no return can’t be fully known until after the event, ambitious work on reducing carbon must increase. But a new front of work on deep adaptation is as important today. Understandable emotional traumas from realising the tragedy that is coming, and in many ways upon us already, shouldn’t prevent us from exploring what this probable reality could mean for our choices now. Moreover, from social psychology, there is some evidence to suggest that by focusing on impacts now, it makes climate change more proximate, which increases support for mitigation.

In my talk at Griffith I explore more about the nature and future of leadership in light of this assessment of the climate tragedy.

More on the event is here.

UPDATE: I am hosting a retreat for environmental professionals to explore the “deep adaptation” agenda, in June 2018 in Greece. Information here

Posted in Academia and Research, Sustainable Development, Talks | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Do a PhD part-time from anywhere with me: Jem’s Quarterly #7

Posted by jembendell on September 22, 2016

Studying for a PhD can seem like a terrible idea. All that isolated reading and writing, and for what: to disappear into your own world of abstraction? Well it doesn’t have to be that way. Three or more years to explore questions that are deeply important to you, in ways that draw upon a range of scholarship, is an incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I look for people who are less concerned about a career in academia or getting the  letters PhD, and more interested in inquiry. I am seeking 2 new PhD students to start next year in the general field of “leadership” or “leadership development” or methods by which individuals can support social change through organisations or networks.

TALKING ABOUT MY BOOK

TALKING ABOUT MY BOOK

I will say more about the PhD in a moment. In the past quarter the future of money and investment was a significant theme of my work. 60 people completed the 4th cohort of our free course on Money and Society. Alumnus of this online course are gathering in Indonesia in December. The next cohort starts in February and you can enrol here. Back home, this summer we hosted retreats for the Finance Innovation Lab and the Positive Money campaign, two initiatives that share our view that the financial system must be transformed to enable more fair and environmentally friendly economies.

The impact investment group I work with has made a significant move forward with a 100 million dollar investment for one of its ventures, to bring a tech smart approach to the Australian superannuation (pension) sector. The potential to enhance business analytics and engagement on environmental, social and governance factors is large. Trimantium also plans an IPO for a business that helps incumbent firms to embrace the disruptive potential of digital technology.

I published a few articles on spirituality, leadership and politics in the Huffington Post. My next keynote is in November, at Griffith University in Brisbane, on the topic of the kinds of leadership we won’t need to stop making the climate crisis worse. You might need to read that sentence again.

Now back to that PhD opportunity. At the University of Cumbria, it doesn’t cost a fortune, you engage a contrarian intellectual tradition of the Lake District, and can come on our great leadership courses but don’t have to be based here all the time, nor do it full time. You also receive a PhD accredited by Lancaster University (a top research Uni). We don’t have funding to offer at this moment. If interested, please write one page only on what issue you are interested in, what literature you know of that relates to that, and why you want to do a PhD. Before that, please read some of my thoughts on “sustainability leadership” here.

In Q4 I will be focusing on a new research project on perceptions of world leaders on what forms of leadership, and leadership development, are necessary to address global challenges. We are seeking an additional sponsor for the report launch at a high level event next year, so if you can help, do get in touch. Below follows a box of info on what is happening at Cumbria Uni which may be relevant if you are based nearby or passing through.

Thanks for reading, Jem

Professor of Sustainability Leadership, Institute For Leadership And Sustainability (IFLAS) and Non-Executive Director, Trimantium Capital. Next update is in 3 months.

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Some relevant offerings from the University of Cumbria

The intersection of governance, ethics and investment – Julie Hutchison IFLAS Open Lecture 4th October, 530pm, Ambleside Lake District Campus, Cumbria University, Ambleside, UK. Info here.
Leading Wellbeing in Rural Contexts – One Day Conference by the Brathay Trust and University of Cumbria. 1st November 2016, Ambleside, UK Info here.
Participatory Mapping as a research Method – Dr Chris Loynes lunchtime research seminar 30th November, 12.00-13.00 Kitching Room, Ambleside Lake District Campus, University of Cumbria, UK Participatory mapping is an approach to collecting, interpreting and analysing data about the places people inhabit. Come and make your own maps of your landscapes and see how they can work as a research tool. Register: Letty.Ashworth@cumbria.ac.uk

The University of Cumbria is always taking applications for its suite of MBA programmes which involve specialisms in sustainability, delivered in partnership with the Robert Kennedy College. Info here.

Posted in Academia and Research, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Wild Over Algorithms: Jem’s Quarterly 5

Posted by jembendell on March 14, 2016

I ignored it for a while. But as a Prof, it was time to submit to Google Scholar and let their algorithms pass judgement on my work. So I’ve an h-index of 20 and an i10-index of 35, from over 2000 citations. Have I lost you yet? Well at least most of my publications are now in one place. My latest thoughts are on the “Impasse in Western Leadership” which I presented at a conference on leadership in Asia in January.

I continue to work with Dr Neil Sutherland and Richard Little on a collection on leadership and sustainability that arose from the Leading Wellbeing Research Festival last summer. On April 9 the team at IFLAS are hosting a reunion in Ambleside, which will be a great weekend to share relevant initiatives. These ideas relate to our new MA in Sustainable Leadership Development, which is designed to fit around the work of busy leaders. It kicks off with a week in the Lake District this September.

I now work part time with the University of Cumbria, and am adapting what I know to offer wilderness retreats for leadership development. Working with Georgia Wingfield Hayes, our first Leading Wild retreat is in Costa Rica in January next year. We conceived the Leading Wild retreats because we know the most powerful learning is difficult to enable in typical corporate formats. I like hosting learning where we are ready to let go of what brought us success and think afresh about the situation we face. A wilderness retreat invites that approach. 25% of revenues will go into forest conservation. It’s also 25% off if you book now!

Somewhat sooner, if you are in London on April 13th, please join us near the Docklands for a lecture by the founder of the Positive Money campaign, Ben Dyson. At 530pm he will talk about how government issuance of digital cash could kick start the UK economy and pay down the debt. It’s an opportunity for participants in our free online course on Money and Society to gather. Over 120 are currently completing this MOOC that I developed with Matthew Slater (Global Ecovillage Network) and 8+ will study our Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Exchange in April. This will be co-tutored by Leander Bindewald, whose PhD at IFLAS on the (misleading) discourses of money is getting interesting. I’ll be sharing some of our ideas in a keynote at the Guild of Independent Currencies conference in Liverpool on April 20th.

In February I visited Melbourne to work with my colleagues at Trimantium Capital. They ran an event at Parliament House on the future of superannuation (pension) investments for a more sustainable Australia, and introduced tech investors from Silicon Valley to a range of Australian start-ups. En route back to the UK, I visited the Indian Institute of Directors, to discuss with board directors how we can encourage cultures and systems for firms to seek disruptive innovation for sustainable development. In 2016 I will be doing more work on “impact investing”, to promote the necessary transition to a better economy.

At the Indian Institute of Directors course for non executive directors, where I lectured

At the Indian Institute of Directors course for non executive directors, where I lectured

I’ve listed my future event attendance below… maybe see you in London, Lancaster, Lake District, Kuala Lumpur, Geneva, Tokyo, Brisbane, Melbourne, or Boston?

Thanks, Jem

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Upcoming Lectures, Panels and Event Attendance

Leading Wellbeing: from theory to practice, Co-host of workshop on sustainable currencies, Ambleside, April 9. Link.

The Guild of Independent Currencies Annual Conference, Keynote, Liverpool, April 20th, Link.

Global Prosperity Institute, UCL, Participant, London, May 10. Link.

The World Economic Forum on ASEAN, in Kuala Lumpur, June 1-2. Link.

HELP University, Lecture on “Leadership Lessons from WEF”, Kuala Lumpur, June 3 (tbc)

University of Geneva, CSR Leadership lecture, CSR Summer School, June 30. Link.

Finance Innovation Lab, Fellows Retreat, Ambleside July 1-3.

Cumbria Research and Enterprise Conference, Lecture on Sustainable Enterprise Zones, Lancaster, 8 July.

Positive Money Leaders Retreat, Lectures on Leadership and Currency Innovation, Ambleside, September 9-10.

Forum of Young Global Leaders Annual Summit, Tokyo, October 18-21 Link.

Griffith Centre for Sustainable Enterprise, Open Lecture on “Leadership for Sustainability”, Brisbane, last week of October (date tbc). Link.

The New Metrics Conference, Keynote on “Sustainable Impact Investing,” Boston, November 15-16  Link.

Leading Wild, Retreat Co-Host, Corcovado, Costa Rica, Jan 3-8, 2017 Link.

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Sustainable Development | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Cutting Love – 4th Quarterly

Posted by jembendell on December 14, 2015

Every 3 months I send an update. In my 4th I focus on listing some links for resources and events, before a few thoughts on “cutting love.” You can sign up to receive this Quarterly Bulletin.

First up, the culmination of a year’s efforts, today the UN publishes a paper I co-wrote on how Ewtonterprise Zones can contribute to the new Global Goals for sustainable development. These zones are popular with some governments, from India to the UK, but they aren’t without criticism, in terms of what they achieve. Now with changes in trade rules, Zones are going to have to come up with new ways of staying competitive. We argue that embracing social and environmental excellence is a clever response. I explained this in my article for the World Economic Forum. I was pleased to present the preliminary findings at the public forum of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva in October, and the report is launched this week in Nairobi at the ministerial. You can read it here (pdf). I’m grateful to Dr Tony Miller at UNCTAD and also for colleagues at the University of Cumbria for supporting me to do this work.

In September I stepped back from Director of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) so I can focus on my research and teaching as a Professor of Sustainability Leadership (as part time) as well as new role with an impact investing fund. I’m pleased Dr Caroline Rouncefield is the Acting Director and joins an Institute with 5 MBAs growing well (over 2000 international students), as well as co-delivery of an MSc in Strategic Policing and a new MA in Sustainable Leadership Development. One of the last projects I worked on was to initiate a partnership with the National Trust, to promote innovation in the heritage and conservation sectors, which was recently launched with some fanfare. Our Deputy Director Dr David Murphy will lead on the project for IFLAS.

Trimantium Capital are the Impact Investors that I’ve joined the board of. Headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, it is making waves for attracting hundreds of millions of dollars into a fund directed at financial services and health technology with a clear social and environmental purpose. As the Paris climate summit started, I shared what some of us impact investors are thinking about the future of fossil fuels, in a WEF article.

Looking ahead from the winter, at IFLAS we will turn our efforts towards to the IFLAS Spring School, for two weeks in both London and the Lake District. It kicks off our new MA, but can also be attended as a stand-alone course. Lots of mid-career execs do our courses and become co-conspirators on future projects. The Spring School will also involve a reunion of participants in the Leading Wellbeing Festival, on April 9th in Ambleside, which will also be the annual meeting of the Cumbria Environmental Network. If you are interested in the new MA or the Spring School, please fire off an email to iflas@cumbria.ac.uk

Some of the ideas behind the MA are contained in a co-authored paper just published by the Journal of Corporate Citizenship (JCC). I’m grateful to Richard Little at Impact International for having schooled me in critical leadership thinking these past 3 years. I also presented the paper at the International Leadership Association in October and will share some similar ideas at the ‘Lead in Asia’ conference in Bali on the 21st January.

The 2nd cohort of our Mass Open Online Course (MOOC) on Money and Society went well, with around 100 people completing all 4 assignments over the month. That means they can now progress to the Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Exchange, with the 5 day residential happening in our London Docklands Campus in April (as part of that spring school I mentioned). This labour-of-love for me and course co-tutor Matthew Slater, this free course is “bloody brilliant” and “mind bending”. The next cohort starts on Feb 14th and runs for a month online. Read more and sign up here.

Since my last update I was pleased to receive an award for my past work on cross-sector collaboration for sustainable development. The award made the local news, and my paper on the future of such partnerships (think disruption and revolution) is available here.

That’s nothing compared to being made an honorary fellow of the University of Cumbria. In November, my friend Funmi Iyanda became the first African Woman to be recognised in this way by the University and gave a powerful speech in Carlisle Cathedral. Her talk really reflected our ‘transmodern’ times, where we purposefully and playfully mix old and new ideas from all corners of the world to discover ways of rethinking progress today. Read her super speech here on the IFLAS blog, which is now also home to a regular series of articles on leadership themes.

In October I was pleased to host Professor James Wilsdon’s at our Lancaster Campus to discuss the future of how we are going to be assessed as academics. James is the chair of the Campaign for Social Science. As the University sector has been blasted by austerity measures over the past years and will continue be, James does important work reminding everyone why it’s good that we do what we do and how to do it better. Britain has an incredible heritage of intellectual leadership of international importance, based on the country’s love of learning and its institutions of research and education. Sadly we have now become the most expensive place in the world to get a degree, while many Universities cash in on their heritage in the form of sponsored buildings and uninspiring pack-em-in courses.

Unfortunately just the week after the celebrations in the Cathedral, a large part of Carlisle went underwater due to a storm that damaged many towns, villages and roads in Cumbria. The increased frequency and intensity of extremes of weather is in line with predictions from climate models. The events in Cumbria made climate change that much more personal, as explained in a first hand account by IFLAS Advisory Board member Becky Willis. The beginning of climate chaos is already upon us, with weird weather fuelled by a raised global ambient temperature of 0.8 degrees Celsius over the past century, along with seas warmer by 0.7 agrees and higher by 8 cm, on worldwide averages. The most concerning thing is the extremes, with the north-pole being about 5 degrees warmer than hundred years ago. After the floods people have begun to ask why the investment in flood defences and watershed management wasn’t increased in line with the known growing threat from a disturbed climate. The answer, again, is austerity. The floods are a reminder that you can’t ignore nature because of your politics.

Looking across the country, the cuts in government spending can be seen as cuts in a nation’s commitment to its shared assets. Whether it is flood defences, education or care for the disabled, all the things being cut are the things that reflect a country’s capacity to love itself: to care for its towns, its people, its culture and its future. When a government is cutting back on love, people must fill the void, as has been the case in Cumbria, with a wonderful community spirit emerging. If you want to help support people who have been flooded, please see the Cumbria Foundation or Spirit of Cumbria.

Although an agreement in Paris is important, the key is implementation. To make changes quickly, finance and trade ministers will need to shift incentives, hence the reason for my WEF blog. Ultimately we will need to redesign of our monetary systems, to allow us to thrive without requiring exponential economic growth, as I explain in the free intro to my last book.  A COP21 climate agreement is a piece of the puzzle; but the puzzle is already burning. We will have to live with the weather that’s coming and that calls for us to go deeper in our discussions and planning, as I described for Open Democracy earlier this year.

If any of these topics interest you, then do engage in the Sustainable Leaders linked in group, or see my latest musings at www.jembendell.com

I hope you have a good holiday wherever you are,
Jem Bendell

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Posted in Academia and Research, Sustainable Development, United Nations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Towards a Multi-Currency Eurozone

Posted by jembendell on July 6, 2015

The New Scientist magazine has published my views on the creation, in Greece ,of parallel currencies to the Euro, at both local and national levels. Unfortunately the mainstream financial press continue to mislead the public about the potential for a multi-currency system.

Even the basics are poorly reported, such as how the major bailouts for Greece were for the creditors, mostly German and French banks, not for the Greek government or citizens (as even the IMF recognises). But when it comes to the possibility of governments issuing their own parallel currencies, mainstream journalists move into a mode of lampooning and scaremongering.

Typically we see reports of banking analysts scoffing at proposals for new Government-issued currencies as ‘extreme measures’ of ‘money printing’ that are ‘liable to devaluation.’ It is only possible for such views to sound credible because most of us do not understand the way the banks currently create our money. In advanced economies, well over 90 percent of money is issued by commercial banks when they make loans. As the Bank of England had to correct economists last year: new loans are effectively new money. This process is difficult to justify when a bank’s privilege to create money from nothing and lend it to government for a nice profit starts to clash with democracy, as it may now be doing, given the protests against austerity. The mainstream media continues to avoid representing the informed views of those who completely reject a system where banks create money from nothing and use it to buy government bonds and charge interest on them, even at a 44% interest rate, as happened in 2012. It is why in 2011 at a European Broadcasting Union organised TEDx event I called on over 300 people in media to offer more insight on monetary issues.

In the last few years, the fame of the digital currency Bitcoin has helped people to see that there are alternatives to official money. However, the answer for Greece and other countries facing austerity is not Bitcoin, or any currency that the average citizen has to buy with their scarce funds of official money. Instead, what is needed are new currencies that turn the future value that citizens can produce into a form of IOU today: the types I mention in the New Scientist article. There are many such innovations around the world, with particularly exciting initiatives in Kenya, as I explained at the United Nations recently.

The former finance minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, is aware of some of these innovations. He told the Telegraph “If necessary, we will issue parallel liquidity and California-style IOU’s, in an electronic form. We should have done it a week ago.” Better still, he should have done that on Day 1 in office. But it seems the mainstream financial press cant deal with such imaginative ideas. Immediately the Wall Street Journal reported various unnamed sources as guessing the government sacked him for that idea. That’s strange, when previous (less left-wing) Greek governments DID EXACTLY THAT IN 2010, when they issued IOUs for payments of medical supplies as I explain in the New Scientist article. Instead, it seems he stepped aside for the reasons he implied, to stop personality issues being the cause for, or excuse for, a lack of agreement.

Why are the mainstream media so allergic to currency innovation, especially if led by a government? Is it

a) they haven’t got a clue about monetary economics or the history of currency

b) they are so immersed in the delusion that money is wealth that to consider how communities and governments can create their own money threatens their whole world view of how society should function

c) they are deliberately trying to undermine government and community currency innovation in order to please some in the banking sector who do not want nations to escape the debt-enforced transfer of wealth to the few, via austerity and privatisation

d) all of the above

I hope Yannis now has some more time to work on alternative currencies. It is important way beyond the borders of Greece. As I say in the New Scientist:

Although people are focused on what to do in Greece and the Eurozone now, the implications are far wider, inviting all of us to think about the kind of monetary systems we want in a 21st century where humanity seeks to transition to a fairer, more sustainable world….

…Once the Greek government joins their citizens and entrepreneurs in creating alternative currencies that can exist alongside the euro, we will see the emergence of truly multi-currency societies. It would be apt as the birthplace of money, with the drachma over 2500 years ago, for Greece to lead the way into this future.”

In preparing the article I’m indebted to my friend and colleague Tom Greco, who has been in Greece for the past month working with communities, business networks, local governments and some members of the national administration to create a circulating exchange medium on the basis of future tax revenues. He calls them “Tax Anticipation Warrants” but I prefer to dub them The Greco, The idea is this currency:

1. Be spent into circulation by the government,

2. In a form that can be circulated,

3. As payment at par with the euro,

4. To employees, pensioners, contractors, and suppliers,

5. In amounts no greater than anticipated tax and other revenues in a six month period.

6. That they not be given legal tender status,

7. Nor be redeemable for euros,

8. But only in payment to the government for any taxes and dues, at par.

9. That they carry an expiration date to be one or two years after their first issuance.

10. But be exchangeable at par, prior to expiration, for any new warrants that the government might issue in the future.

Godspeed to Tom and other volunteer alternative currency designers in Greece and elsewhere.

Excited? Bamboozled? Take our free course starting 23rd August. www.ho.io/mooc

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Occupy, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

An immigrant walks into a bar…

Posted by jembendell on April 23, 2015

An Eastern European Immigrant to the UK (aka: human) walks into a bar: “A key reason I came to the UK was because of education for my kids. I grew up in communist Hungary but the education was so much better than the values they are teaching now.”

Me (slightly pissed human): Why do you say “but”? Why not “so”?

Immigrant: …… (Silence, maybe confused.)

Me, point maybe made: “So you like the UK for its schools?”

Immigrant: “Yes, but it was tough at first with my different landladies in Oxford. I realise they don’t differentiate between types of foreign residents. Its crazy foreigners can get benefits. But most of us don’t. I don’t think people know that EU migrants to the UK are a net economic benefit to the UK. I think its crazy you have a system that funds people to not work and have babies, that can be taken advantage of by foreigners, so then we all get the blame.”

Me: “Why isn’t it something to celebrate about Britain that we look after the basic needs of vulnerable people and all babies?”

Immigrant: “Well its impossible to pay for everything”

Me: ” Where did you get the idea we can’t afford that? We afford to give billions more to bankers, including many foreigners, for bail outs, than to single mums. I don’t think your landladies have considered Eastern European bankers in London having been a net drain on the economy. So where are they getting their bad impressions from? They’ve been given a narrative of blame. Are you joining that?”

Immigrant: “But don’t you think you need to tighten up as Britain is an island with only so much space. You can’t have all these people coming for benefits”

Me: “Ah, space. You means house prices and rents? UK population growth in the past decades was less than the amount of new housing built. The cost of housing is driven by our banking system where about 80 percent of new money is created as loans for property purchases. Immigration is a not a significant factor for the systemic problem of cost of housing in the UK. The fact you haven’t heard much about that reflects the mass corporate media and BBC agenda to ignore systemic political issues.”

Immigrant: “Something is wrong when my husband finds its easier to sign on for unemployment benefit than open a joint account to access our own money. Your benefits system is too easy.”

Me: “Maybe banks should be more efficient: it sounds like they could learn from job centres! We might improve the benefits system but its a secondary or non issue for the state of the UK right now. You sound like you tried to find common ground with your landladies but end up blaming others less fortunate than yourself. It seems there’s a cascade of blame on every one lower than them on the power ladder. I remember there was a kid at school who was bullied and who tortured insects”

 

Reflections

This was a very educated lady, works at a top University. My reflection is that once narratives of blame are maintained by mass media then a spirit of wanting to connect to people living in societies with such narratives can then lead us to find complementary narratives to the power structure that those main narratives of blame protect. We all peck the smaller bird.

My speech at the UN on the housing crisis:

https://www.opendemocracy.net/jem-bendell/from-castle-to-cage-what-to-do-about-housing-crisis

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Upcoming talks and workshops in 2015

Posted by jembendell on February 13, 2015

Ive finalised my calendar for talks and workshops for the first half of 2015. To find out more information or book a place, follow the links provided.

March 18th-21st London, UK: Lecturing on Sustainable Exchange masters module.

A talk in 2014

A talk in 2014

March 19th London, UK: Panellist at Tomorrow’s Transactions Forum.March 30th Geneva, Switzerland: Disruptive Leadership, talk at Hub Geneva.

May 16th-17th Copenhagen, Denmark: Keynote on Leadership, Transition World opening summit.

June 7th New York, USA: Transforming Money, speech at the Global University of the Entrepreneur’s Organisation.

June 16th Ambleside, UK: Disruptive Leadership: Innovating major changes for sustainability, Open Lecture at Institute for Leadership and Sustainability, University of Cumbria.

June 17th and 18th Carlisle and Lancaster, UK. Engagement and Influence: How to Communicate Your Work, a workshop at the University of Cumbria. Request attendance via iflas@cumbria.ac.uk

July 10th-15th Lecturing on the Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Leadership.

July 16th Ambleside, UK: Opening Address at Leading Wellbeing Research Festival, July 16-18.

Sept 7th to 11th Ambleside, UK: Workshop on Values-Inspired Leadership, at Impact International.

If you would like me to keynote or run a workshop from September onwards, let me know with an email to jb [at] jembendell dot com.

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Why are the British Museum and BBC misinforming us about money?

Posted by jembendell on February 5, 2015

I love the British Museum. An awe inspiring collection of amazing cultural artifacts housed in a wonderful building.

Could anything better ever come from mass theft?

In researching my Institute’s forthcoming free online course on Money and Society, I visited the Museum’s exhibition on the history of money, that is sponsored by Citibank. I was pleased to see that the Museum presents clay tablets from ancient Sumeria as the first examples of money. Over a few thousand years old, these tablets show the earliest known accounts, with promises of beer and other crucial daily items! Despite this, my Museum guide moved swiftly on, to suggest that ancient coins from Lydia were the first forms of money. Was this just one misinformed volunteer? I searched online and found two videos made by the museum and the BBC (see below). They show that the British Museum staff and BBC editors are probably misguided, and definitely misguiding their publics.

They assume money has to be a thing, a precious metal, rather than an agreement about a unit that can enable exchange.

The Sumerian tablets show to us that records of promises are the first forms of money we have on record; that doesn’t mean the commodities that were being promised were the money. Promises, i.e. credit, is the first form of money we can discover from digging things up!

The BBC video for schools also invents another fictional story when they say that Emperors put their faces on coins for ego reasons. Maybe they had egos but that isn’t reason. The origin of coins is that the Emperors made a certain object a currency that they then required as taxes/tribute in order to force a population(s) to provide real good and services to soldiers, who would be given the coins as the armies/authorities controlled the mines and the mints. Unless the coins were then demanded as taxes from the population, the population probably wouldn’t bother wanting them and therefore might not give the soldiers any food, drink or hospitality. So coins were born through war and oppression. The practice continued through the European empires, where colonial powers demanded taxes from Africans, Asians and others be paid in a currency the Europeans invented and controlled.

In a few thousand years people wont be able to dig up the trillions of credit there is in our current economy, but they may find some 20 pence coins. Will they conclude we all traded with 20 pence pieces?

In my research for the course, I’ve discovered how much nonsense is presented about the history and nature of money, by our professional economists, business and finance journalists. One key nonsense is the idea that money was invented to cope with the difficulties of bartering goods. That was a story invented by economists like Adam Smith, who simply invented this history of money emerging from barter as it suited the emerging discipline of economics.

What might the avoidance of the real history of money and banking be about? Do we not want our kids, or the general public, to understand how money and banking evolved, with a lot of push, secrecy, squabble and shove?

The problem is that the projection of current assumptions onto the past, combined with the limits of what we can dig up, and the self-convenient fictions of orthodox economists, collectively maintains a view of money that restricts our sense of what money is or what it could be. At a time when we are ravaging our communities and planet in service of these things we call “money” and “debt” this is delusion that must be exploded now.

It’s why I think our free course is important. After taking it you might wonder if the British Museum and Citibank are distant cousins. Our course starts next week!

Posted in Academia and Research, Occupy, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Future lines of debate and action on climate

Posted by jembendell on September 28, 2014

Last week’s climate summit and week of side events in New York got people talking about climate change. But I looked at the 400,000 person march with a heavy heart. The climate science has moved on. It was hinted at by Leonardo DiCaprio in his speech to the UN, when he mentioned the plumes of methane rising from the ocean floor. What’s been happening in the Arctic the last few years is far beyond even the worst case predictions. It amounts to localised 5 degree warming already, and the summer pack ice disappearing in the next few years, when just 7 years ago we were told by scientific consensus that might happen in the 22nd century. The warming in the Arctic has been exponential. There are signs that this is already affecting the frozen methane on the sea floor, leading to methane release into the atmosphere. Over 20 years, methane is 84 times more potent than CO2 in greenhouse effect. Mass release of methane is a mechanism that scientists have known for years was the cause of the last mass extinction, the Permian, which ended 95% of species on Earth. (For videos on this, see Last Hours, or 10 minutes of this)

Given this information, the future debate about climate will be very different to what was considered appropriate in either the conference centres or on the streets of Manhattan last week. It is this future debate that we need to explore ourselves, urgently, even if politicians, businesses, and mainstream environmental groups are not ready to yet.

On the sidelines, I’m seeing four future lines of debate and action on climate: profound change, emergency response, local resilience, and transcendence.

Profound Change is the theme we heard from Naomi Klein, Leonardo DiCaprio and others in recent weeks. The argument is that the efforts to incorporate climate concerns into current economic systems has failed to have any significant impact on aggregate carbon emissions. The arguments that such approaches are “pragmatic” and “non-ideological” no longer have any evidence to support them. Instead, the only intellectually or morally sound environmentalism is now an explicitly revolutionary one, that seeks to change our political economic systems. Ideally, peacefully – I’ve not heard of any one calling for armed struggle! Klein’s new book (This Changes Everything) explores this Profound Change analysis.

Emergency is another approach to the latest climate science, whereby people think that a Profound Change in political or economic system is not sufficient, as we are now on course to experience abrupt climate change within the lifetimes of humans already borne. Therefore, such as emergency paradigm starts with calls for urgent geoengineering to cool the arctic to save our civilisation and even our species. The argument is that the risks are now so great that we have to take the risk to geo-engineer. The call becomes one not only of scientific research and experimentation, but also for intergovernmental frameworks for implementing such an approach and dealing with possible damaging consequences for some peoples and regions. This emergency approach can also trigger discussion about how to deal with climate-induced collapses in societies, including humanitarian responses and security responses. For instance, this could include new roles for atomic energy agencies to bring nuclear plants to cold shut down in situations of social and economic collapse. Authors exploring these ideas include Mark Lynas (The God Species) and several writers in The Ecologist. While people thinking within the emergency paradigm are often talking about physical adaptation, such as higher sea walls, they are not often discussing deeper psychological adaptation to climate change, which is where two other lines of debate come in.

Local Resilience is a third approach I have been hearing on the sidelines. This is when people consider that it is too late to avert a collapse in the current civilisation due to catastrophic climate change, even if profound change occurs in our economic systems and geoengineering is underway. A belief in near-term collapse leads to people focusing on what forms of life could be sustained, what values and aspirations might help up in a transition to that different way of life. This isn’t the well-known agenda of transition to a post carbon world, but a transition to a way of life where basic facets of our current societies no longer exist, such as the nation state, industrial agriculture, pharmaceutical drugs, and so on. The film Collapse introduced the world to the late Michael Ruppert, who expressed this view quite eloquently. Some of the more radical elements of the Transition Towns movement give space to this line of argument, as do authors like John Foster (After Sustainability), Charles Eisenstein (The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible), and projects like Dark Mountain, that encourage new cultures to emerge to help in this traumatic transition ahead. A key insight from this approach is how to not make things worse through attachments to ways of life and values. Are brands, properties, or nationalities so important? There are many things that we hold to be true and important in our societies which we need to be better at letting go of.

Transcendence is the name I’ll offer for a fourth line in the emerging debate on climate. It is when one allows oneself to consider that near-term extinction of the human race is now probable. Obviously to most people that is a harrowing and saddening thought. In my experience most people, like myself, attempt various forms of denial when faced with this idea. Many consider it would imply fatalism and risk states of despair, depression and inaction. However, those who do accept this analysis, at least for reasons of intellectual and emotional exploration, are finding a range of different insights result. For people like me, who since 15 years of age defined self-worth in terms of contributing towards sustainability and protecting the climate, this process can be extremely destabilising, involving some grief. Yet despair can be transformative. It can lead you to transcend your previous sense of self, and allow a new one to emerge, less framed by attachment to notions of self-worth or progress. Others may find they stop working on sustainability altogether. Others may enter depression, especially if they cannot cope without a story of self-efficacy. This line of debate is difficult for me to describe at this time, but appears to emphasise that we reflect on fundamental questions about the meaning of our lives and the meaning of life itself. Some will turn to religion for answers, and yet others will find existing religious explanations as fundamentally limited in how they address such dilemmas. The writings of Carolyn Baker (Collapsing Consciously) explore these issues, by deriving insights from hospice care. I think the writings of others who study what we learn from suffering will also be helpful in this line of thinking, such as those of Mark Matousek.

I recently brought these hidden debates on climate science into the classroom with our mature students at IFLAS. Most have been engaged for years on matters of social and environmental progress. None of the four perspectives I outline above suggest that “progress” has a future. As such, these ideas can destabilise one’s sense of self. I’ve always believed that real education is of the heart and soul as well as the mind… I just didn’t think it would have to involve such a difficult topic. I’m informed that the potential trauma from certain perspectives on climate science is not something that therapists have been widely discussing or have experience with treating. The climate category on “Therapy Today” indicate something of the state of the debate in this profession. I realise many people will shy away from this debate, and instead return to positive things such as the price of solar falling below that of coal. At a subconsious level people who do that will know they are simply changing the subject from what the latest climate science is suggesting about the changes we are already locked in to. Denial may be tenacious, but wont last.

I’ve mapped out here 4 lines of debate on climate science and action that were largely hidden during last week’s events on climate change in New York because I find them bubbling up in more and more conversations, and after broaching this subject I feel a responsibility to provide further information. There will likely be more lines of debate. There are also insights that can be blended from each. For instance, perhaps some forms of geoengineering could be supported by those who think that it’s too late to save this civilisation or the human race. One thing I am convinced about already is that many of our current institutions, including things as basic as our monetary institutions, are not designed to help us address this tragic new agenda. I am also convinced the more that senior decision-makers are attached to the idea of being good and self-efficacious, and being seen to be such, the more they will make things worse for humanity. Instead, we need people to approach this difficult time with greater humility, equanimity, gratitude, inquisitiveness, compassion, love, playfulness and hope. I am also convinced that the institutions we have created in our political, economic and social sphere have not promoted such qualities within them or to the top roles. So the greatest leadership challenge I see today is therefore one of unlearning a lot of deluded notions about self, success, and progress.

If this stuff is new to you, I recommend you talk to someone about it.

Im not a therapist.. If you think you might benefit from talking to one, here are a couple of links relevant to UK readers:

http://www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk/therapists/

http://www.emdrassociation.org.uk/home/index.htm

 

 

Posted in Sustainable Development, United Nations | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »