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What is Deep Adaptation about adapting to, exactly?

The ongoing or anticipated disruption and collapse of industrial consumer societies, due to the direct and indirect impacts of oppression and exploitation, which drive climate change and environmental degradation. The necessary adaptation is both within ourselves and societies.

What is meant by “societal collapse”?

Our civilisation was formed in a more or less stable climate, and has become very complex. It is very hard to know how resilient it is to the kinds of disruption that climate change promises. Events such as sea level rise encroaching on our habitat, unexpected movements and mutations of diseases, changing weather patterns reducing crop yields and disappearing glaciers drying rivers, will all have multiple and far-reaching consequences on our  global society. Combined with things like peak oil, a financial system on the edge of collapse, authoritarian and belligerent governments, growing antibiotic resistance, and the above additional issues related to oppression and exploitation, it is easy to predict the end of industrial consumer societies. With the term “societal collapse” we mean an uneven ending of so-called Western modes of sustenance (like shelter, food, water, health), security, pleasure, identity, meaning, and hope. For some people these needs may be met in new ways. For others, needs may be met in ways that reflect their culture’s traditional values. Rather than environmental, economic or political, the word “societal” is important as these uneven endings will pervade society, and challenge our place within it.

What do you mean by “deep”?

It contrasts with mainstream adaptation to disruption and collapse by going deeper into the causes and potential responses, both within us and in society.

Is this just about climate change?

No, but climate change is a massive stress on ecological and human systems and is not something that humans can stop entirely, and might not be able to stop much at all. Dangerous climate change is not just another wicked problem amongst many. It is an unsolvable predicament which (alone) will likely or inevitably create the collapse of industrial consumer societies, no matter what we do…

Who is experiencing collapse? Why, when, how?

Some communities have been experiencing collapse for centuries, which have included additional factors beyond  abuses or changes from manmade climate change. Some communities are now already experiencing breakdown (and perhaps collapse, depending on if they can regenerate) due to direct or indirect impacts of anthropogenic climate change, as well as issues relating to Covid-19, failures of capitalism, racial inequality, to name but a few. We do not know when impacts will increase and more communities will be affected but we agree with the United Nations that, importantly, climate impacts are already here now and everywhere. More research is being done on when and where, though that is ultimately difficult to predict and can be a distraction from other causes of disruption and collapse, and from reflection on the root causes, and meaningful action to be taken.

Is it unhelpful to anticipate collapse?

No, because many people become very engaged in social and/or political action to slow climate change, address and reverse injustice, and reduce impacts once they anticipate collapse. Additionally, the more time we have to adapt, the more likely we can hold societies together to keep one another safe and take practical steps, like the cutting and drawing down of carbon emissions.

When will societal collapse occur?

For some peoples, societal collapse has been occurring for centuries. For others, they are witnessing it now (and may have been for many decades). And for some of us, we have trouble imagining that our lives could change so drastically. When we look at climate change, in particular, the complexity of climate and human systems makes a prediction difficult, if not impossible. Collapse may come due to factors other than climate change, or along with climate change. We plan to publish more ideas on the ways collapse will occur and make predictions about the timeline. Some say collapse due to climate has already begun and can point to the role of the unprecedented drought in Syria since 2010 in destabilising rural communities and creating conditions for extremism, war, and refugees. Others point to the growth in rebellious attitudes amongst electorates as indicating a widespread subconscious recognition that normal is over. 

Should we still try to slow down or stop climate change?

Yes, but not via existing reformist approaches and not with the idea that we can stop it and not with the idea we will succeed and not with the idea that this aim overrides all other considerations.

What is the Deep Adaptation Agenda?

In 2018 Professor Jem Bendell explained the mainstream research and policy community on adaptation to climate change is based on the assumption that our current society can continue, rather than collapse. He wrote of “deep” adaptation to distinguish conversations based on acceptance of the likelihood or inevitability of near term societal collapse due to climate change. He offered 4 concepts and questions to guide people as they consider this predicament:

  • Resilience: what should we keep?
  • Relinquishment: what should we let go of?
  • Restoration: what should we bring back?
  • Reconciliation: who and what should we make peace with?

See The Four Rs: A Framework for Inquiry.

Does global collapse mean the extinction of humans?

Societal collapse has happened many times over the past 5000 years, over all continents (Roman Empire, Mayans, Easter Island, etc), and it has often entailed great population contractions. It was not automatically the case that everyone in a given civilisation or culture died as a result (see studies from Joseph Tainter, Jared Diamond, Dmitry Orlov and others). The current situation is more threatening to our species than these historical situations, especially as the end of aerosol masking could lead to a 0.5 degree rise in temperatures within weeks, leading to further risks of catastrophic levels of methane release from the Arctic. While we must consider the possibility that a collapse of our global industrial civilisation may hasten rather than delay human extinction, we don’t yet see it as an inevitability. 

Where can I seek psychological support?

Within the Deep Adaptation Forum framework, a number of ‘Guides’ are available to help you get support, in a way that fits your needs and worldview. We have Guides from all over the world, who speak a variety of languages and use a variety of online and in-person approaches. You can find out about them, and seek help, here.

Alternatively, there are other groups that can offer help too – for example, the Climate Psychology Alliance has begun to develop therapeutic support for groups or individuals who may want support or are experiencing distress in the light of the current climate change predicament. In the first instance, they ask for your geographical location & some idea of the support you would like. Contact Caroline Hickman via the website.