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To criticise Deep Adaptation, start here

Where does this conservatism of the environmental sector leave people seeking a political strategy for their collapse anticipation? Peaceful revolutionary libertarian-socialism or radical communitarianism, pursued through engagement in local politics may be options. How does one begin that quest? I wonder how many regular readers and tweeters of openDemocracy would actually risk losing everything, going to jail, to help other people gain influence in changing society? The point of solidarity is that one’s unity in struggling against a common enemy is more important than oneself being heard for how ethically correct one is. Unfortunately, the rise of reactionary populism is demonstrating how the chattering progressive classes are proving themselves to be politically inert and a drag on serious efforts at change.

Integrate more clearly?

A third important criticism is that many people involved in Deep Adaptation have been treating it as a separate field from mainstream Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) and its subfield of ‘transformative adaptation’. For some decades there has been research and policy making to enable changes in practices so they are less disrupted by climate change. These changes include irrigation for agriculture, new sea defences, storm-proofing buildings and such like. Within that field, there is also growing attention to, though little implementation of, transformative adaptation, which considers how to adapt in ways that are low-carbon and adjusted to more severe impacts. Some people involved in those fields suggest that the collapse-readiness aspects of Deep Adaptation could find an audience within the international and national policy processes on these mainstream approaches to adaptation. There could be connections in the areas of disaster risk reduction and preparedness for delivering humanitarian relief. If Deep Adaptation ideas and initiatives were able to be connected with these existing fields, then there might be more opportunity to mainstream the ideas in sectors such as education.

A contrary view is that the concept of Deep Adaptation is defined as distinct from, and as a criticism of, mainstream superficial adaptation approaches. The mainstream adaptation field can be regarded as counterproductive, by assuming the aim of maintaining industrial consumer societies, despite their contribution to climate change and forthcoming severe disruption from its direct and indirect influences. If the people, ideas and initiatives in the Deep Adaptation movement begin to be incorporated into mainstream adaptation contexts, then they may lose what is making them vibrant and imaginative. Worse, it might lead to a compromise with the eco-centrist ideology of mainstream environmentalism and thus the marginalisation of a revolutionary political agenda.

Given the differences of opinion, it appears that some mixing may happen in future, and the implications will depend on how much time we have before more societies become severely disrupted.

Map collapse better?

A fourth criticism from some people involved in the Deep Adaptation field is that the myriad drivers of societal collapse, in addition to climate change, and the mechanisms or stages of that collapse, have not been sufficiently mapped out. One part of this argument is that collapse needs to be better understood so that people can more confidently engage on implications and be listened to by others. Another part of the argument is that with more detailed mapping of collapse pressures and processes then people and policy makers will be more able to decide how to slow the process, reduce harm and prepare for what happens next.

Sometimes this particular criticism is offered as an invitation for me to study the various fields of scholarship that relate to societal collapse risks, and publish my views on that. I was reluctant to do so, as I did not want to be seen as someone who can tell you what to do about our situation. It was also difficult to find the motivation to explore the many different fields related to collapse so as to confirm a view that I had already concluded for myself and which had opened up a whole new arena of personal interests in psychology, facilitation, and spirituality. However, that does not mean other scholars should not do this work. It appears that people would be helped with more information on the processes of collapse, and so bringing more ‘collapsology’ to the Deep Adaptation movement appears important to do. That would enable more specific policy debates will emerge, such as what should be the best approach to nuclear power, what to do with industrial agriculture, how to develop and govern any geoengineering, how to change banking and finance, and what the future of foreign policy could be. It would also mean the general public and policy makers will have more knowledge to understand what the hedge funds and other financial institutions may be planning to do with their superior assessments of risk, and therefore respond better to any unhelpful pressures from those institutions. This enhanced expertise will also better inform any initiatives to develop Deep Adaptation as a social movement that seeks political influence.

Through work on mapping collapse better, this may help respond to criticism from some people that using the term ‘collapse’ is unhelpful. They point out that many people regard ‘collapse’ as something which must be complete and sudden, so do not consider how to moderate it in a more granular way, or consider how forms of collapse may be underway already. Therefore, some people argue that the term ‘breakdown’ may be more suitable as it conveys less of a total and permanent situation. Perhaps more mapping of the ways climate amplifies other stressors and the way these are then felt in societies will be helpful for that. This issue relates to the nature of sensemaking about the various disruptions that are happening already within societies around the world. Outbreaks of coronaviruses are made worse by habitat destruction and climate change, and it is clear that the pandemic of COVID-19 has led to a momentary collapse of some communities and the livelihoods of millions of families. However, this is not yet understood widely as a climate-related disruption.

Avoid safety of frameworks?

A fifth criticism is quite the contrary to the last two criticisms. It is based on the idea that there are extremely deep causes for our destruction of the biosphere, that involve our psychological and emotional states within a culture of modernity. We have become a species that experiences life as separate with the natural world and each other, which generates a deep and suppressed fear that then informs a range of assumptions and behaviours. This perspective on the deeper psychological processes that lead us to uphold a range of problematic aspects of modernity, colonialism, patriarchy and white supremacy, is not something widely understood but sensed in some way by many people who are able to let despair melt away their previous unquestioning allegiance to current systems and cultures.

This perspective suggests that any short cut to the path of personal identity disintegration and reconfiguration could impair the process for people. Therefore, by giving collapse anticipation a terminology and framework for discussion (with the 4Rs) that might give people a false sense of tangibility in a way that means they might not let themselves dissolve and reconstitute their own knowing and identity. That is because we have been schooled in a culture that invites us to feel better for knowing the ‘right answer’ in terms of correct facts, models, values and beliefs. That desire is related to the insecure ego that arises from a worldview of separation.

On the other hand, there is a benefit of there being a name for this field, like a kite in the sky that people can spot and orient towards to then meet other people, support each other and discuss ideas. The framework is deliberately just a set of four questions without answers, in order to keep the space fluid and emergent. Likewise, the DAF seeks to enable emergence of ideas and initiatives, and therefore a key focus for the forum is on ways of organising dialogues. However, even with that process focus, the framework and Forum arise from a particular culture and therefore will carry that legacy into those conversations. For instance, one legacy could be the assumed importance of meaning making and meaning sharing, rather than recognising it as inherently fallible and not the basis for right action in the world (which a more decolonised approach might invite).

The problem of a name and framework that has ‘gone viral’ is that some people are thinking of Deep Adaptation as a brand that has emotional resonance and therefore be attracted for the wrong reasons – popularity! Some people might be engaging partly for wanting to be involved in the latest ideas and discussions about society and the environment. As such they might bring an unhelpful energy and attention to how to grow, maintain or adjust the brand so that more people can be engaged and fewer people upset by this conversation spreading around the world.

Be less positive?

A sixth criticism is that Deep Adaptation is a framework that is a means of avoiding some of the worst-case scenarios, and so it could be less positive. Rather than looking closely at the evidence and theories for the risk of human extinction this century, the framework side-lines that issue by provisionally concluding that it is uncertain and merely a possibility. In the DAF platforms we even go as far as saying that people should not cite the possibility or probability of human extinction as a reason for silencing other people’s discussions on adaptation.

By side-lining the topic of human extinction, some people argue that we are not fully addressing the full information and possibilities. Or, they explain that although some of us have personally taken the threat of human extinction to heart in a way that has transformed us, we have decided not to bring this perspective to other people or discuss its implications. What might be being missed by that? Given that believers in ‘Inevitable Near-Term Human Extinction’ (INTHE) have their own networks to engage in, perhaps nothing is lost. But given that Deep Adaptation generates creative compassionate dialogue and initiative, perhaps a fuller engagement in the possibility of human extinction might lead to important insights and approaches. For instance, people might discuss whether to try and speed up the collapse of the current global order in order to reduce carbon emissions as swiftly as possible to give either humanity or other life-forms a better chance of making it through the current mass extinction event. One cannot know the kinds of conversations that might emerge once the handbrake of positivity is taken off.

Be more positive?

The seventh and final criticism I would like to describe to you here is the opposite of the last, suggesting that Deep Adaptation concepts and participants could be more positive. The way the DAF discussions are curated at present is with an agnosticism on what comes during and after any societal collapse. Perhaps there will be a chance for a new ecological civilisation, but perhaps there will not. The ethos of the Deep Adaptation concept and spaces at present is not to colonise people’s own explorations of the topic and to welcome unknowing. That is partly because a key aspect of the Deep Adaptation ethos is to find a motivation for enabling and embodying loving responses to our predicament without the expectation of a specific outcome.

However, many people disagree with not having a specific vision of a hopeful future. Some people believe they must have a material hope for the future because of their religious perspective. For instance, some Christians assume that the hope they are invited to have by their faith is a physical one rather than a metaphysical or spiritual hope. ‘Positive thinking’ has also become central to modernity and the assumption of progress. Some views on quantum mechanics have spread in popular culture in ways that are misleading about the implications. In particular, our individualist culture means that some people believe that each individual’s perspectives and intentions will shape what is manifested, no matter what anyone else is thinking or doing. Some other people think we all have to think a certain way for something to be manifested. This is not the place for me to explain the fallacies of such magical thinking. Suffice to say, we all are co-creating our realities with the rest of the cosmos at all times, and any desires for physical manifestations are more likely to arise from separation than unity consciousness and thus not have any effect at the metaphysical level. I realise that sentence might need re-reading a few times and then some discussion. But I would like to add that it corresponds with the mystic traditions of many mainstream religions that invite alignment with divine will, rather than petitioning it for our own ends.

Despite the various concerns, some critics still assert the usefulness and power of being clear about what it is that a person, group or organisation wants to see in the world. In the case of the DAF, we say we want to see more loving responses to our predicament and to embody that in the way we go about our efforts. For me that means building a culture that is less dominated by colonial patriarchal modernity and more welcoming of the wisdom from Buddhism and the mystic strands of most religions. However, I admit I am unwilling to answer critics who wish to hear something more specific than that.

Conclusion

The seven areas I have listed here are just a few of the significant criticisms and areas of discussion that exist in the growing field of Deep Adaptation. There are other criticisms which I have not listed as they are, in my opinion, based on misinformation about Deep Adaptation. For instance, that people become apathetic, despite empirical evidence to the contrary and the well-known synergies with Extinction Rebellion.

Some people’s resistance to the Deep Adaptation agenda is understandable, as it challenges assumptions of personal identity and purpose. As the climate worsens and societies become more challenging, so the ideas, initiatives, confusions and backlashes will all grow. Given the increasing stresses in society and on individuals, the way we show up in those conversations is key. The work of the DAF has therefore focused on enabling open-hearted and open-minded dialogue on various topics, with ways of holding space and facilitation being key. Volunteers from around the world have been collaborating to create ideas for what can be done to reduce harm in the face of societal disruptions. These ideas and growing projects form a necessary complement to bold efforts to cut and drawdown carbon, while regenerating ecosystems.

If you have considered the anticipation of societal collapse to be wrong or unhelpful, then we will still be here for when you are ready. As I hope you will agree, there is no one right way to respond to an anticipation or experience of societal disruption, with much to unlearn and learn as we go.

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