11 Aug

Deep Adaptation and the new Three R’s

It seems that Professor Bendell’s paper entitled “Deep Adaptation” is being quite widely circulated which is great. Following on from Rupert Read’s piece, http://greentalk.org.uk/this-civilisation-is-finished/, published here a year ago and in line with much other thought and discussion about what comes next and how to live in it the Deep Adaptation paper is a really useful contribution in widening the debate. 

You can read the paper here, and Prof.Bendell’s blog is here. Rupert’s piece is linked above and has now also been published elsewhere and he has ‘come out’ as the author, his (very) occasional blog is here – I think he is more active on Facebook but I don’t go there any more.

Firstly, how wonderful that people in academia are starting to break through the wall of silence. Thank you to them for their honesty and having the courage to stick their head above the parapet of the ivory tower and be counted. Last November in Bonn for COP23 I met a group of early years researchers starting out on the academic career path with similar concerns. They were focussing on communicating their knowledge directly to the grass roots in a very practical way, rather than filtered through the approval of the status quo.

As this week’s Media Lens alert highlighted when discussing the craven bias in mainstream media reporting of Palestine/Israel “journalists and editors are themselves subjected to a ‘filtering’ process as they rise up the career ladder. They are selected for positions of ever-increasing responsibility only if they have demonstrated to corporate media owners, managers and senior editors that they can be trusted to say and do the ‘right’ things; even think the ‘right thoughts’. “. I suspect that much the same process applies in academia, and indeed in many spheres of public life. It is what allows a BBC journalist taking part in BBC Radio 4 Feedback discussion of foreign affairs reporting yesterday to say, quite honestly “I have never in 30 years been censored by the BBC”. Frankly that is shameful – she has never said anything that has upset her bosses, never questioned the status quo. Not surprising that she is a ‘senior’ trusted reporter to put up to answer criticism – 30 years of not digging beyond the establishment narrative. They have ‘trusties’ in prisons too.

Anyway back to Bendell’s paper. He devotes much of it to background and the path that has led him to self publish after having it rejected by his journal. He refers to, rather than builds, the case for near term (?5-30 years) societal collapse and doesn’t really offer much depth on how that typically plays out (see Greer and Orlov for example for a lot more detail).

For me it gets really interesting when he starts to talk about the need for ‘deep adaptation’. “I will not be reviewing that [climate adaptation] existing field and scholarship. One might ask “why not”? The answer is that the field of climate adaptation is oriented around ways to maintain our current societies as they face manageable climactic perturbations (ibid). The concept of “deep adaptation” resonates with that agenda where we accept that we will need to change, but breaks with it by taking as its starting point the inevitability of societal collapse (as I will explain below).

He identifies three framings for current commentators on collapse –  collapse itself (which may be partial or total), catastrophe (essentially a rapid collapse with no time to plan or prepare a transition), and extinction (changes to the earth rendering human extinction complete within a very few generations). He describes his position as interpreting the data as meaning inevitable collapse, probable catastrophe and possible extinction.

By implication the previous (and largely still current) agenda of sustainability and resilience in discussing adaptation to eco-system changes are deeply flawed as it essentially seeks to preserve the existing cultural norms as far as possible in a shallow adaptation.

He then introduces a framework for community dialogue about deep adaptation which goes beyond, but still includes, the concept of seeking resilience, adding to it the need for relinquishment and restoration.

“Resilience asks us “how do we keep what we really want to keep?”
Relinquishment asks us “what do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?”
Restoration asks us “what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?””

This seems to me an very useful tool for developing effective future action – both at a personal level and at community level. Bendell goes on to give examples of how it is changing his approach to his work.

It shifts the focus of resilience subtly from actions trying to maintain what we have in response to a disruption (shallow adaptation), to actively deciding what do we really want to keep. What are the key values, norms and behaviours that we value and how are these realised or articulated in the real world. It frees us to go with the flow of changes we can not control.

It recognises the need for positive letting go and grieving in a process of relinquishment that leaves us better off rather than impoverished by our loss.

And it links in the need to take whatever actions we can to restore the ecological balance, the web in which our existence is suspended.

The new three R’s – Resilience, Relinquishment, and Restoration. Think on’t.

For me I feel incredibly lucky or privileged that I have managed to get debt free and retired from paid work already. That opens up a space for personal reflection, exploration, un-stuffing (relinquishment), re-skilling and attentive engagement with the world around me.



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