What is Deep Adaptation?

Deep Adaptation refers to a paper written in 2018 by Professor Jem Bendell. The paper explores the personal and collective changes that help (and have helped) us to prepare for – and live with – societal disruption and collapse. Mainstream work on adaptation to collapse doesn’t assume that our current economic, social, and political systems can be resilient in the face of rapid changes.

When using the term social or societal collapse, we are referring to the uneven ending to our current means of sustenance, shelter, security, pleasure, identity and meaning. Others may prefer the term societal breakdown when referring to the same process. People who consider that societal collapse or breakdown is either inevitable, likely or already unfolding, are using the term “deep adaptation” to explore responses.

We don’t know exactly what will happen, but we understand that, at the very least, disruption of the biosphere and climate is forcing us to change how we live, and may lead to global societal collapse. Deep Adaptation is a way of framing our current global situation that can help people to refocus on what’s important in life while our social order collapses under the weight of its own consumption, pollution, and inequality. We are finding new ways of being with ourselves and being together, no matter what happens.

There are two broad paths within Deep Adaptation:

  • Inner adaptation: exploring the emotional, psychological, and spiritual implications of living in a time when societal disruption/collapse is likely, inevitable, or already happening.
  • Outer adaptation: working on practical measures to support well-being, ahead of and during collapse (e.g. regenerative living, community-building, policy activism).

Many people spend time processing the emotional implications of the coming collapse before looking outwards to find roles on the local and global levels. Others, in the wake of their grief, turn inward and learn to trust their own hearts and emotions, which can be an invitation to others to do the same.

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