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What is Deep Adaptation?

Deep Adaptation refers to a set of ideas put forth in an academic paper written in 2018 by Professor Jem Bendell, and later expanded on with Katie Carr and others. The paper explores the personal and collective changes that help (and have helped) people to prepare for – and live with – societal disruption and collapse.

The term social or societal collapse is used here to refer 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. Deep Adaptation refers to certain responses, based on compassion, curiosity, and respect, to this predicament – which different people may view as likely, inevitable, or already unfolding.

No-one knows exactly what will happen, but within the DA Forum it is commonly understood that at the very least, disruption of the biosphere and climate is forcing people to change how they live, and may lead to the global collapse of modern-industrial societies – and also have a huge impact on other types of society. Deep Adaptation is a way of framing the current global situation, so as to help people refocus on what’s important in life whilst the social order collapses under the weight of its own consumption, pollution, and inequality. The aim is to find new ways for people to be with themselves and one another, 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 and reduce harm, 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.