While politicians either deny that climate change exists or, if they admit that it is happening, do not believe we are in a state that requires emergency action, a professor from the University of Cumbria believes that climate-change scientists themselves are unwilling to communicate to the public the likelihood and nature of the catastrophe we face.
As examples, Jem Bendell, Professor of Sustainability Leadership and Founding Director of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) quotes climate scientist Michael Mann who warned against
presenting the problem as unsolvable, and feed[ing] a sense of doom, inevitability and hopelessness.
Or he quotes environmental journalist Alex Stefen (2017) who tweeted that
Dropping the dire truth… on unsupported readers does not produce action, but fear.
And he cites Daniel Aldana Cohen, an assistant sociology professor working on climate politics, who called a recent publication
climate disaster porn.
But despite these and similar responses from climate scientists, Bendell concludes that
there will be a near-term collapse in society with serious ramifications for the lives of [everyone]… Disruptive impacts from climate change are now inevitable.
Bendell tries to take a constructive approach for dealing with this.
If we allow ourselves to accept that a climate-induced form of economic and social collapse is now likely, then we can begin to explore the nature and likelihood of that collapse.
He offers what he calls the “deep adaptation agenda” which involves resilience to change, “relinquishment” and restoration. His paper on Deep Adaptation published in 2018 is available as a PDF here and as an mp3 audio recording here. A video of him talking about it is available here.
Resilience is the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances so as to survive with valued norms and behaviours. This can involve psychological as well as physical adaptation to change. Resilience asks us “how do we keep what we really want to keep?”
What Bendell calls relinquishment involves people and communities letting go of certain assets, behaviours and beliefs where retaining them could make matters worse. Relinquishment asks us “what do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?”
Examples include withdrawing from coastlines, shutting down vulnerable industrial facilities, or giving up expectations for certain types of consumption
Restoration involves people and communities rediscovering attitudes and approaches to life and organisation that our hydrocarbon-fuelled civilisation eroded. Restoration asks us “what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?”
Examples include re-wilding landscapes, so they provide more ecological benefits and require less management, changing diets back to match the seasons, rediscovering non-electronically powered forms of play, and increased community-level productivity and support.
Bendell hopes the deep adaptation agenda of resilience, relinquishment and restoration can be a useful framework for community dialogue in the face of climate change.
How does this “deep adaptation agenda” relate to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals? According to Bendell:
the era of “sustainable development” as unifying concept and goal is now ending. [Deep adaptation] is an explicitly post-sustainability framing, and part of the Restoration Approach to engaging with social and environmental dilemmas.
Finally he concludes:
[Research in 2018] suggests that human societies will experience disruptions to their basic functioning within less than ten years due to climate stress. Such disruptions include increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, disease, civil conflict and war – and will not avoid affluent nations. This situation makes redundant the reformist approach to sustainable development and related fields of corporate sustainability that has underpinned the approach of many professionals. Instead, a new approach which explores how to reduce harm and not make matters worse is important to develop. In support of that challenging, and ultimately personal process, understanding a deep adaptation agenda may be useful.