We need not be enemies in the climate movement
Hundreds of scientists and scholars have spoken out, calling for a more honest and sober discussion about the increasing likelihood of societal disruption, breakdown and collapse due to environmental change. The weight and urgency of their call must not be ignored or disregarded.
Surveys reveal that large percentages of populations in the Western world now anticipate collapse of their societies within their lifetime due to a range of disruptive changes. It’s vital that any considered collective response acknowledges and includes ways of processing the difficult emotions in order to find constructive ways ahead.
Hundreds of millions of people have already experienced their own livelihoods and communities collapse due to the increasing direct and indirect impacts of climate change over the last decade. We must acknowledge that climate chaos is a growing humanitarian crisis that calls on our active compassion through humanitarian aid, peace-making, and global justice.
Hundreds of thousands of people have prioritised their climate activism in the last few years because they now feel an imminent threat to life-as-we-know it, rather than their knowledge of parts-per-million, or threats to polar bears by the year 2050. Understanding and engaging with the motivations of these people will help us all to maximise our impacts in slowing the fall and softening the crash.
These simple truths can be drowned out by the messages communicated by corporations that own our mass media, publishing houses and social media platforms. Such messages appear to invite the general public to stay calm and believe that better technology and better technocrats can fix our future. We disagree. Although we are not at war with such perspectives, we have discovered that some people consider themselves at war with those of us who experience or anticipate societal disruption or collapse and want to make that the basis from which we imagine the agenda for the future.
We know that anyone who looks closely at this topic will find it hard to believe the argument that a key threat to effective climate action is a small but growing network of people supporting each other in positive ways to respond to disruption and collapse anticipation. We know that going on the offensive against a new ‘enemy’ to distract from the failure of one’s own values and efforts at reform is a tactic at least as old as the human capacity for storytelling. And we know that our very existence can seem like a threat to the identity of people who believe in human control of nature, or who want to keep their lifestyles and politics intact as they witness the tragedy unfolding around us.
The latest attempt to describe groups like the Deep Adaptation movement as misguided and counterproductive comes from the climatologist Professor Michael Mann in his book ‘The New Climate War’. He writes this about us:
“Doomism sometimes masquerades under a nom de plume. Consider what has come to be known as ‘Deep Adaptation’, … it breeds disengagement from the climate battle… Bendell’s paper [on Deep Adaptation] is a more powerful tool for disengagement than any article ever written by a climate change denier.”
The Deep Adaptation agenda represents a crucial part of the emerging global conversation and response to the severity of the unfolding climate crisis, and so it makes sense for Professor Mann to be talking about it as he seeks to be up-to-date on the climate movement. We realise that he and his publishers – like us – are trying their best to galvanize action to reduce harm in the face of dangerous environmental change. Yet, through working directly with climate activists, and many of us being activists ourselves, we have a very different experience to him and his advisors. It is no surprise to us that the sense of existential threat has radicalised people to birth a new wave of climate activism. It is no surprise to us that psychology research on anticipated difficult futures finds that it does not necessarily lead to mental health problems, while the suppression of emotions does.
Given the misrepresentations of what Deep Adaptation is about, we think it helpful to restate our approach. The concept of Deep Adaptation is based on the view that multiple societal collapses due to the direct and indirect effects of environmental change are now either likely, inevitable or already underway. The scientific basis for that is now way beyond the original Deep Adaptation paper, as it incorporates the broad field now known as ‘collapsology’. In any case, unlike Professor Mann’s assertion, the original paper and the concept of DA do not conclude that a massive methane release is definitely occurring in the Arctic. Instead, the original paper concludes that we cannot be certain either way, which is shocking enough in itself to justify sober considerations of its implications.
The DA ethos is to respond to the emotions associated with an anticipation of collapse in a positive way, by which we mean we want to engage with each other to seek to reduce harm. We do that by offering a framework and means for people from all walks of life to come together in open-hearted dialogue about how they feel and what they are considering doing. From this approach a whole range of imaginative projects have been emerging over the last two years. The Cadence Roundtable is an initiative for people who wish to use their professional insight to introduce narratives of deep adaptation and collapse into the policy-making culture of public service. The DA Business & Finance group are rethinking economics, companies, and innovation by calling professionals to connect and produce content and actionable items that will push the current system beyond the “business as usual” agenda. The DA Parenting group provides a safe and nurturing place for parents to share their thoughts, emotions, ideas, and resources on the topic of raising children in this challenging time.
These are just three examples of initiatives that have arisen within the DA Forum without any effort at outreach through the mainstream media. So we hope the world’s environmental groups and environmental journalists will start listening to the hundreds of academics who are now pleading for a space in public discourse to explore the likelihood of and possible ways to slow the process of societal breakdown to save more of society and the natural world. They are the scientists who take the precautionary principle to heart. Therefore, they do not demand a scientist prove it is too late before they will begin to consider implications of widespread collapse of the systems that people depend on for sustenance and security. Rather, they sensibly ask if scientists can prove with data that we are on the path to avert catastrophic change. If a scientist cannot state what evidence would disprove their theory that it is not too late to avert catastrophic change, then they are not doing science. In the case of Michael Mann, he already stated in 2009 what data would demonstrate that it is too late to prevent a catastrophe. Along with other top climatologists he said that by 2020 world emissions would need to be falling rapidly, and stay falling, to avoid catastrophic warming. Our view is that even if there is a hint of possibility that widespread catastrophic impacts are coming, then we should be considering that very carefully indeed, no matter how emotionally difficult that may be.
If we can’t face it, then others will. By demonising individuals or groups who are calling for mature deliberation and collaborative responses to the possibility or likelihood of catastrophic effects of climate breakdown, Professor Mann is contributing to a narrative that is preventing governments, communities and institutions from considering ways of supporting people into this increased fragmentation. Some of the world’s militaries are planning for it (behind closed doors). They are not the ones who should be left to determine how societies should respond.
If some climate scientists want a climate war of words where everyday climate activists and citizens are pawns or collateral damage in their attempts at gaining attention and influencing power, then there is nothing we can do apart from welcome refugees from that fight. We hope such climate scientists consider if there might be a war within themselves, as they fight back their own emotions of despair. It is something that climatologist Dr Wolfgang Knorr has spoken about eloquently when calling on climatologists to open up to wisdom on our global predicament. The Deep Adaptation Forum has developed approaches to dialogue which provide ways of living with thoughts and feelings that we may have previously experienced as unbearable. So we hope to work with more scientists in the future. One of the reasons we want to engage scientists who are currently averse to our perspective is because of what could come next after the denial of the likelihood of collapse. If difficult emotions about our predicament remain unprocessed, then we may see some scientists slip into other kinds of warlike rhetoric – demanding authoritarian and defensive responses to the crisis as it unfolds.
If you are a scientist and want a different approach to the one being taken by Professor Mann, please consider the following possibilities:
- Reach out to us, by joining our research group
- Sign the international Scholars Warning on collapse risk, and participate in their dialogue of hundreds of scientists
- Take nonviolent direct action with the Scientists Rebellion group
- Publish your own responses to scientists who are misrepresenting the work of climate activists, including those who anticipate societal disruption and collapse.
Image by Michael Gaida, on Pixabay