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Learning to Deeply Adapt – Together

So, a climate scientist, a climate change denier, and a doomsayer predicting the ‘end of the world as we know it’ all walk into a bar…

Change the setting of a bar to a media interview, and this is often how these sorts of conversations play out.  We must have ‘balance’ right?

Instead, what about this as a premise? 

Here are three people (or 15,000 people, which is the number of people who have joined the Deep Adaptation community) who have all accepted that we face extreme disruption to our way of life, and possibly even societal collapse. 

But they are diverse: different political views, different backgrounds and cultures and socio-economic groups, and they live very different lives in very different countries all over the world.

Invitation to a Conversation

At the end of a summer in which more and more people woke up to climate catastrophe, and where:

  • The most important climate talks ever are underway at COP26 in Glasgow,
  • The Energy Agency Report from 13 October is subtitled “Adapt or Die”,
  • August’s IPCC Report is subtitled “Code Red for Humanity”,
  • June’s UKCC CCRA#3 Report states: “The UK is nowhere near prepared”,
  • Sir David King, Former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government says: “What we do in the next 3 or 4 years will determine the future of humanity”,
  • September’s study from Psychologists declares that 75% of young people are experiencing fear about the future,

A year during which we saw the Amazon Rainforest become a net emitter of carbon for the first time. 

A year when we’ve observed the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), of which the Gulf Stream is a part, shifting and collapsing – with massive implications for food growing.

A year in which people in the UK have watched the floods, storms, tornadoes and fires – and are waking up to the fact that they’re closer to home than ever before.

It’s fair to say the era of climate denialism is largely over in the UK.

Here’s the thing, though:  Hardly anybody is telling the truth about how very bad it actually is – at least in public.

More than ever, we need really good information now.  Surely this is the job of the media?  Many people feel that mainstream media hasn’t always done a brilliant job of this, constrained as they are by powerful interest groups and wealthy elite owners.

Take a look at the table below.  It represents paradigms that summarise four stances on where we are. 

There is a 5th column too, not depicted in this table – as it is still quite fringe.  That of NTHE or Near-Term Human Extinction.  Although it’s a certainty humans will be extinct at some point, I am not convinced this is imminent.

The interesting thing about this table is how fast it’s shifting and changing, in terms of the percentage of the population in each column. 

When we talk with local councillors and politicians, we often ask them “Which column are you in?”.  Their reply is often something like “Officially?  Column 2”. And then we probe further and ask: “Yes, but really?”, and nearly all of them say they are somewhere between Column 3 and 4.

Essentially, Column 1 is rapidly shrinking, and Column 4 is rapidly growing.  This Scholars’ Warning has now been signed by over 700 scholars, scientists, and academics: Scholars’ Warning December 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0frHoqXLB0&feature=youtu.be

The Academic Paper That Went Viral

In July 2018, Professor Jem Bendell, then Professor of Sustainability and Leadership at the University of Cumbria, published an academic paper called “Deep Adaptation:  A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy”.  You can read it (updated in 2020) here:

https://lifeworth.com/deepadaptation.pdf

It went viral and reached over a million people in less than a year.  It is the most downloaded academic paper of all time.

An online community was formed to connect people around the world who sensed the truth in what Jem Bendell was saying, and whose own research had led them to a similar place.

In addition, many local community groups have since sprung up – encouraging community resilience and adaptation, and our own group HEART is one of these, based in Hertfordshire, England.  (If you would like to find out more about the science and what we are up to, please visit our website at www.HEARTCommunityGroup.org)

Deep Adaptation is not NTHE (Near-Term Human Extinction).  It is not doom.  Rather, you could call it “post-doom”. It’s about living fully and joyfully now, while simultaneously responding lovingly and kindly to our predicament, and preparing for what might be coming our way. It is certainly not ‘giving up’ – far from it. 

The Importance of Local Community Resilience

Three years ago, having found some like-minded folk in Hertfordshire, we set up HEART Community Group – you can read about the first year of our journey in this blog: https://heartcommunitygroup.org/12-months-into-our-journey/

We are also seeing the setting up of what are called Climate Emergency Centres, or Resilience Hubs, in various parts of the UK – find out more here: https://climateemergencycentre.co.uk/

Living in Two Worlds

I know from our work in HEART Community Group that many ‘Column 4-type’ conversations are already happening across the public domain, but often in hushed voices, and with others who ‘get it’.  We hold out a hand to those who are feeling alone with all this.

More and more people are sharing their concerns about collapse and extreme disruption. We’re experiencing just a taste of it in the UK right now, with the inflated gas prices, and the fuel shortages, and the lack of lorry drivers, and the empty supermarket shelves.

People often talk about the intense cognitive dissonance that comes from feeling like they are living in two worlds: “Business as Usual” on the one hand, and the other world where they are pretty sure this society is essentially broken, and is about to get much, much worse.

Of course, it’s not just climate change and associated extreme weather events. Our globalised society is becoming increasingly fragile:

  • Collapse of biodiversity and eco-systems
  • Zoonotic diseases (e.g. COVID)
  • Economic fragility
  • Increasing social injustice
  • Resource depletion
  • Crisis of meaning
  • Disconnection and polarisation

The changes that are coming are huge – and we need to go way deeper than simply improving flood defences or insulating our homes.  Our current ideas and policies about adaptation are mostly woefully shallow.

Adapting has both inner and outer dimensions. A great deal of the inner work is about letting go of our current stories. Stories about what the future will look like, what it means to have a ‘good life’, or to be successful or happy, and even who we really are.

What’s Most Important Now? 

If we really face into what is happening already, and what is likely to come our way as a result of overshoot, and our obsession with infinite growth, we realise that we no longer have time for a gradual transition to a better, greener way of life.

Even if you consider societal unravelling or collapse only a possibility, it is worth asking yourself what really matters most now.

  • Is it really your next smartphone upgrade, or that overseas luxury holiday you’ve been planning?
  • Is it really getting your kids into a good school, so that they can get qualifications that will guarantee them a lasting career and a secure future? 
  • Is it really putting more money than you can afford into a pension scheme that will keep you comfortably in retirement?
  • Is it really staying on the hamster wheel of your job (especially if you despise your job as so many do) so that you can continue to fund your shopping sprees?

As many people in our country have become poorer and poorer, more and more would give a hollow laugh at the idea of being able to fund any kind of “life-style” at all. They are simply trying desperately to put food on the table.

The 4Rs Framework of Questions

The 4Rs is a framework initially suggested by Jem Bendell, covering Resilience, Relinquishment, Restoration and Reconciliation/Reconnection.

RESILIENCE

What is it that we most value and how can we keep that? How can we build and sustain our resilience – both inner and outer? What’s MOST important now?

RELINQUISHMENT

What can we give up (even if we value it) in order not to make matters worse?

RESTORATION

What can we bring back that has been lost?

RECONCILIATION/RECONNECTION

What can we do to make peace with, love, and support others?  How can we live with kindness and joy in our increasingly TUNA world? (Turbulent, Uncertain, Novel and Ambiguous)

I would argue that asking and answering the 4R questions is a pretty good way to live – no matter what may be coming our way!

The questions are the important thing – it’s important to start by looking within.

The 4R questions are not about “How can I turn all this around?” – but rather “How can I deeply adapt to what is likely to be a very different future?”

I’m not officially ‘speaking for’ the Deep Adaptation community in this blog.  In any case, it’s not a campaigning or pressure group – or a doomsday cult!

There are a huge variety of perspectives amongst the 15,000 members globally.

For me, it’s about being able to stand tall and look our predicaments in the face – from a place of resilience, wellbeing, courage, clarity and compassion.

And I’ve experienced massive personal growth as a result. 

So, What Is Available in the Deep Adaptation Community?

For many, Deep Adaptation is an oasis in a desert of denial. 

You can watch a video here of several people talking about what they ‘get’ from the DA Community (including me):

(543) DA Hotspots – Transition U.S. Testimonials – YouTube

This is a truly beautiful interview between Dean Walker, another elder in the DA Community, and a particularly empathic radio journalist called Timothy Regan: https://archives.kpfa.org/data/20211003-Sun1900.mp3

The Deep Adaptation community also offers useful validation that there is an alternative to ‘business as usual’, and we’re not going bonkers – especially if our family and friends haven’t yet woken up to our inter-connected predicaments:

  • Being deeply seen, heard, and accepted no matter what. A safe place, where we can show up with all our humanness. Deep connection, learning, nourishment, and a source of creative ideas.
  • Learning how to be more comfortable, courageous, resilient, and present in the face of radical uncertainty. Learning how to navigate without the maps we may have constructed and relied on throughout our lives.
  • A place to cry and grieve with others when that’s your experience.
  • A place to celebrate new possibilities with others from all over the world. 
  • A place to share our love for humanity and all of Life – and to rest deeply in this present moment.
  • A place of kindness, belonging, and a loving community.
  • Maybe even transformation.

For many, it’s like coming home.

Yes, But What Should We Do?”

We’re so conditioned to rush into action, aren’t we? To believe that we are in control, and we can fix any problem with our big brains.

Personally, I believe that a fundamental paradigm shift is required – depicted in the following image:  

Pause. Reconcile and surrender to reality. Reflect Deeply.

It starts with asking ourselves the 4R questions. Really getting clear about what’s most important now. 

Find your thread to pick up – whatever that is.  How are you called to contribute?

Deep Adaptation is not a community with a powerful leader who says to the rest of us: “I know what we should do! Follow me!”

Beware of anybody who claims to have all the answers – that’s part of what got us into this mess in the first place!

Rather, it’s a community of shared wisdom that encourages all of us to follow our own “nudges” and to pick up our own thread.

It’s not just a comfort-blanket to hide in for those struggling with eco-anxiety or climate despair. For me, it has been like a “trampoline that inspires and enables people to engage anew in Life on Earth” (one of the hopes expressed by Jem Bendell recently)

And we are slowly learning the crucial lesson that the whole of humanity so needs to learn – how to come together and do something important with a disparate group of people who may not always agree with each other.


Kimberley Hare is a writer, a coach, a facilitator and a heart-centred community activist. After 35 years of running a successful business developing leaders in organisations around the world, she closed this down in 2018, and now does all her work in ‘the gift’. She has been certified as a Master Transformative Coach and is a qualified iheart Facilitator. iheart is a charity taking a mental resilience and well-being curriculum into schools for 10 to 18-year-olds. She co-founded a community group to create resilient local communities and runs retreats and workshops designed to re-connect people with their innate resilience, courage and well-being. She supports people who are struggling with eco-anxiety and helps people to face into the climate and ecological predicament and identify their own personal path from a place of grounded wisdom, rather than fear. Kimberley is also an active volunteer and facilitator in the Deep Adaptation Forum community.

Figures and tables are the work of the author.

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