Since late summer 2018, several authoritative voices have been telling us that the outlook on climate change is a lot worse than most published forecasts suggest, and that we urgently need to understand the implications. The most useful of these voices in my view is Professor Jem Bendell.  Whilst he strongly supports all efforts to reduce climate change, he cites extensive recent scientific evidence that it may be too late to avoid serious worsening: numerous adverse trends are already growing exponentially. 

Jem uses the term Deep Adaptation as a focus for facing and adapting to the likely adversities of the coming years: I agree with this view that we need to find responses which go well beyond resilience in the way it is mostly understood. He highlights four aspects to Deep Adaptation: 

  • Resilience: recognising what we most want to keep, and skills to do so, including how to handle deep emotions such as fear and grief. Facing the emotional impacts enables us to act more clearly and coherently. 
  • Relinquishment: This “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”. We need to make voluntary choices where we can. 
  • Restoration: This “involves people and communities rediscovering attitudes and approaches to life and organisation that our hydrocarbon-fuelled civilisation eroded.” For example, the mutual support of local communities. 
  • Reconciliation: “With what and whom shall we make peace as we awaken to our mutual mortality?” This recognises that the pressures ahead may intensify polarities, extremism, scapegoating, and we need to get beyond them.

The quotes above are from the original 30-page long paper by Jem Bendell, reviewing the climate change outlook and an outline of Deep Adaptation (pages 18 onwards): it has been downloaded over 500,000 times. To mark the second anniversary, and responding to both positive and negative reactions, Jem has published an updated version which I highly recommend reading it: PDF download link to the paper. Jem is a professor of Sustainable Leadership at Cumbria University, worked for several years at World Wildlife Fund, and is a policy advisor for Extinction Rebellion.

A distinctive part of Jem’s outlook is his belief that societal collapse is likely in developed countries like the UK within the next ten years. The most probable trigger for this is global food shortages. He shares the view of many experts that a Multi Bread Basket Failure is possible anytime from now: this means major crop failure in the same year for the few countries and staples most world population depend on. 

Jem’s expectation of societal collapse puts him at the pessimistic end of the climate experts I’m aware of. At the 2019 Findhorn climate change conference (see my blog here), I asked some of these other experts for their view, such as Jonathan Porritt, Vandana Shiva and Charles Eisenstein: they don’t think societal collapse is likely. My view is that there will be turmoil in many countries, and huge stress on western Europe from refugees, as well as food shortages. I’d hope that the UK can organise food rationing and maintain societal stability: but this will need a lot of preparation. I have commissioned research on how UK food growing can adapt, see research report here. I am also leading pilot work on raising food security in my hometown of Bridport, and we are happy to share what we learn: see more here.

The Deep Adaptation approach has attracted widespread support and participation: you can get a flavour of this at the Deep Adaptation Forum here. It has also attracted criticism from various quarters, especially in summer 2020. You can see a good response to this in the article in Deep Ecologist by Naresh Giangrande, who is a Deep Adaptation Advocate, and was previously a leading figure in the transition network: see article here. Jem has published a recent blog with his response, and introducing the updated version of the original paper: see more here. When Jem is asked what can be done now, he advises getting active in strengthening your local community, for example, by joining Transition Network and Extinction Rebellion. Growing more food is an obvious step, but he highlights the need for more water storage as droughts become more likely.

He also offers indicative ideas on how government and local communities can respond. Jem also refers to two ways we need to prepare for potential collapse, and find new skills and mindsets:

  • Collapse-readiness includes the mental and material measures that will help reduce disruption to human life – enabling an equitable supply of the basics like food, water, energy, payment systems and health.
  • Collapse-transcendence refers to the psychological, spiritual and cultural shifts that may enable more people to experience greater equanimity toward future disruptions and the likelihood that our situation is beyond our control.

One of the many things I value in Jem’s approach is that he acknowledges the deep emotional and spiritual impacts of facing a bleak outlook, and points to ways to process these impacts, including faith, and “a vision of people sharing compassion, love and play.” And he sees upsides and potential in what is likely to be a period of major, painful change. He is among numerous experts who see covid-19 as a symptom of accelerating climate change, and believe that there will be more pandemics to come. 

If you go to https://jembendell.com, you’ll find Jem’s latest blogs, as well as a link to the Deep Adaptation Forums on a range of topics, resources for emotional support, and a signup for bulletins and a quarterly update. To give you a flavour, here are a couple of his blogs:

  • Fourteen recommendations on living beyond collapse-denial: including self-care, spiritual resourcing, and positive visioning.
  • Notes on Hunger and Collapse: a valuable overview of the limited info currently available on food impacts of climate change, plus references.
  • The Love in Deep Adaptation: a really well-considered piece about the huge focus in Western culture on individual needs and control, and how deep adaptation and rising uncontrollability offers the potential for a return to compassion, curiosity, respect, and love.

For a short, 14-minute video of Jem giving the essence of Deep Adaptation, click here; for a fuller, 44-minute version click here. If you want to go deeper into Deep Adaptation, and get actively involved, you can find out more at Jem’s new website www.deepadaptation.info, and you can also join the Deep Adaptation Forums, including Food & Agriculture, Community Action, and seven more. You can also contribute to the discussion on Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/deepadaptation 

Deep Adaptation continues to be a major inspiration for much of my work: you can find some of my blogs and resources on these topics at www.naturalhappiness.net, and information about pilot programmes I am leading to offer practical responses at www.futurescanning.org. In late 2020, I am hoping to run a group at Hazel Hill Wood on the theme Deep Adaptation – a spiritual exploration. You can see more at the events page of my website.