Monday, 23 November 2020

Facilitation for Deep Adaptation- IFLAS Occasional Paper 6

How can people be helped to engage each other in kind, courageous and generative dialogue?

Where they help each other notice and transcend the fetters on their ability to connect and explore together?

Where they engage in the most difficult issues of our time, as societies are increasingly disturbed and disrupted?

A new IFLAS Occasional Paper offers an approach: facilitation for deep adaptation.

It is available in pdf download.


This paper supports people with designing and facilitating gatherings on Deep Adaptation, whether online or in-person. The term ‘Deep Adaptation’ describes an agenda and framework for responding to the potential, probable or inevitable collapse of industrial consumer societies, due to the direct and indirect impacts of human-caused climate change and environmental degradation (Bendell, 2018). It involves the inner and outer, personal and collective, responses to either the anticipation or experience of societal collapse. Gatherings on this topic within the Deep Adaptation Forum have given attention to how we can cultivate a state of presence, connection, and equanimity, from which engaged action may arise. A facilitator to support participants to learn collaboratively and experientially has been key to that focus.

In this paper some of the aspects of Deep Adaptation facilitation that have emerged from a community of practice of volunteer facilitators are summarised. These aspects include containment, with the intention of enabling co-responsibility for a safe-enough space for difficult conversations to occur with difficult emotions. Another key aspect is welcoming radical uncertainty in response to the anxieties people feel, as their sense of self, security and agency are challenged by the anticipation of collapse. A third aspect of this facilitation is making space for grief, which is welcomed as a natural and ongoing response to our predicament. A fourth aspect is a curiosity about processes of othering and separation. That arises due to our assessment that a seemingly innate process of imagining separation, and therefore ‘othering’ people and nature as less significant or meaningful, has been a habit in modern society that impedes responses to social and environmental crises.

Three specific modalities are summarised. First, Deep Listening groups are small gatherings in which participants are invited to share honestly and openly about how they are feeling, and what they are experiencing, as they grapple with the implications of the unfolding climate tragedy. Crucially, they are not dialogic. Second, Deep Relating circles invite people into a relational meditation practice, or an approach to relating with others in a way that is grounded in a detailed awareness of present moment experience. Third, Death Cafes provide a safe and confidential setting for people to talk about death and dying, so with that awareness they might clarify what they want to do with their finite lives. Many other modalities are emerging in the Deep Adaptation field, which can be found from the links provided in the paper. 

It is available in pdf download.

Occasional Papers

Occasional Papers are released by the Initiative for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) at the University of Cumbria in the UK to promote discussion amongst scholars and practitioners on themes that matter to our staff and students. This paper follows on from two previous Occasional Papers on the climate crisis, written by Professor Jem Bendell (#2 on Deep Adaptation) and Professor Rupert Read (#3 on the approaching end of our current civilisation)


Katie Carr MA is a facilitator of collaborative, participatory learning processes with fifteen years experience within formal education settings, with communities, and within organisations. Her practice focuses on bringing conscious loving awareness to the relational space between us where connection happens, and where we can explore what it means to be human and alive together. As Senior Facilitator for the Deep Adaptation Forum (DAF) Katie has led the development of the community of volunteer facilitators of in-person and online gatherings, and has guided the development of practices of hosting. Katie teaches leadership at Masters level and also acts as a guide and coach to senior leaders in the voluntary, private and public sectors, who are working on the climate crisis. 

Dr. Jem Bendell is a Professor of Sustainability Leadership with the University of Cumbria ( and Founder of the Deep Adaptation Forum ( He works as a researcher, educator and advisor on social and organisational change, with over 25 years experience in sustainable development initiatives in over 20 countries, with business, voluntary sector and political parties. With 100+ published texts on environment and international development, including reports for the United Nations, and involvement in establishing and growing international multi-stakeholder initiatives, he was recognised as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum 2012-2017. He now specialises in leadership, communications, facilitation and currency innovation for Deep Adaptation to climate chaos. In 2018 he authored the viral Deep Adaptation paper, downloaded around a million times. See and

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

IFLAS Occasional paper 5 - Early recollections as a research method for finding fuller meaning in the values of wellbeing

During a global pandemic practitioner wellbeing is an important topic, many people are working from home and delivering their usual services over video conferencing technologies. Whilst this may have some benefits for a better work life balance and is hugely reducing the environmental impact of travel, many people are feeling more isolated which can reduce wellbeing.
This paper was written based on a workshop delivered at the International Committee of Adlerian Summer Schools and Institutes (ICASSI) in July 2019. Although the workshop was delivered before the pandemic, the topic is more relevant than ever as it is looking at a research method that enhances practitioner wellbeing. Adler was a contemporary of Freud and although his idea’s are most often drawn upon for psychotherapy, they also have wider uses in areas such as coaching and professional development. This paper explores using Adler’s ideas to create a research method for self-studies particularly Living Theory which was created by Jack Whitehead. You can read more at This paper is focused on how creating an Adlerian syllogism based on a practitioner’s early recollection of living their values increases self-awareness and can be useful as a learning stage in understanding and identifying how to improve values-based practice. Sonia Hutchison has written a number of papers looking at her own values-based practice in the leadership of charities and how her development of her living-theory of caring as mutuality may influence others learning. You can read more at Dr. Robyn Pound based her thesis on her living-theory of alongsideness and continues to write about how her ideas have developed since gaining her doctorate in 2003. You can find out more about Dr. Robyn Pound’s recent work at Download here

Monday, 12 October 2020

"It is too late to save the society in which we live" - interview in daily newspaper by Professor Bendell

Professor Jem Bendell was interviewed for the daily newspaper 20 minutes, the Paris equivalent of the UK's Evening Standard. The translation of the interview by Laure Beaudonnet follows below, along with a short video of the interview. It marked the publication of his book in France: Adaptation Radicale, about how to respond to the coming disruptions from climate change.  

Bendell will be discussing these issues at this year's International Leadership Association conference online in November and in a keynote at a University of Bath online symposium in December. 

"It is too late to save the society in which we live", according to Jem Bendell, author of "Adaptation Radicale" the French translation of "Deep Adaptation" which inspired Extinction Rebellion in 2018

Original article in French is here

Every Friday, the newspaper 20 Minutes invites a personality to comment on a social phenomenon. 

On the occasion of the publication of a book including the translation of Deep Adaptation, a paper that inspired Extinction Rebellion in 2018, Professor Jem Bendell, founder of IFLAS (Initiative for Leadership and Sustainability) at the University of Cumbria (Great Britain) returns to what leads him to believe that the collapse of our society is inevitable and soon.

"Collapse is the irreversible end of our lifestyles: shelter, security, health, identity, pleasure..."

This is the prophecy of Jem Bendell, environmental and sustainable development specialist and author of Radical Adaptation (published by LLL). 

The original article, Deep Adaptation, became a real phenomenon when it was published in 2018. Downloaded almost a million times since it was posted online, it has inspired the civil disobedience movement Extinction Rebellion.

Q: The civil disobedience movement Extinction Rebellion was inspired by your article. What are it's links with the Deep Adaptation movement?

Jem: These are two distinct movements that arise from the same basis of the failure of environmentalism. Extinction Rebellion focuses on non-violent direct action to force governments to be carbon neutral while Deep Adaptation believes it is too late to save the society we live in. Many people are part of both movements. If you think that the general effort for the environment has failed, that there is no point in trying to reform the capitalist system in order to achieve sustainability, then it is natural to both commit to carbon neutrality and prepare for future disruptions. It is true that some key members of Extinction Rebellion have joined the movement after reading Deep Adaptation, but some co-founders had already planned their action before the publication of my paper.

"You cannot bypass sadness, if you think you can find a guide to find serenity, that would be a lie."

Q: What are the main differences between your ideas and those of collapsology?

Jem: I am not an expert in that literature. Pablo Servigne and his colleagues concluded that the collapse of society is very likely to occur after their analysis of a wide range of social stresses. I was already aware of these social stresses - our financial system, the terrible inequalities that exist, the biodiversity crisis - when I studied the climate again at the end of 2017. My conclusion that the collapse of current society is inevitable was based on knowing these other stresses, but I did not analyze them for the paper. Collapsology takes a broader approach to societal stressors while I focus on climate. This is the main difference.

Q: Is the coronavirus crisis a first step towards this collapse you are talking about?

Jem: I don't have a crystal ball. We will know how to talk about the pandemic in relation to collapse in the years to come. But if it is a first step towards collapse, it is partly linked to the climate. Climate change coupled with erosion of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems makes zoonoses [diseases from animals] more likely. If Covid-19 creates collapse, it will be through political and economic processes. We are seeing more and more people from the lower economic classes, in many countries, claiming to be anti-masks, anti-lockdown, and we look closely, the campaigns are often associated with the far right. So one of the impacts of Covid-19 could be a political destabilization of European countries.

Q: You give eight years before society collapses. How are we supposed to live with this idea?

Jem: There is no right answer. I have no legitimacy to tell someone what to do in response to this realisation. In the new book I say people should talk about it, find people with whom you can explore, share your difficult emotions, your fears, your sadness, your anger. Talk about what you could do and you will find an idea that satisfies you. I'm worried when people lock their emotions away, or when they turn to any story that helps them feel safe, or any story about blaming others. Those responses are used to manipulate, but they don't help people. You cannot bypass sadness, if you think you can find a guide to finding serenity, then I think that would be a lie.

"We have to accept that we may have to do with a lot less very quickly"

Q: For example, you say that going into exile in the middle of nowhere to seek self-sufficiency comes down to a survivalist conception of things. However, this is the idea of ​​many people and, according to some, staying in big cities could be even more dangerous in times of collapse?

Jem: I do not discourage people from going to the countryside to cultivate their vegetable gardens and find their own source of water. I invite them to realize that that does not mean that they will survive if society collapses, because, even if we do that, we still rely on industrial society. If you live in a country like UK or France, which has over 66 million people: what will you do with your vegetables if hungry people knock on your door? The idea of ​​going to live in nature is wonderful, but for other reasons. Living in the city could be less dangerous if the government supplies people with basic foods. You are more likely to collect them in a city than in the middle of nowhere. I encourage people to stop thinking individually and to focus on thinking about what we can do collectively. How can each country improve its food security, keeping in mind the poor cereal harvests to come in the decade? We have to accept that we may have to deal with much less very quickly.

Q: One of the main criticisms of your article is that by giving a date for the collapse, you are leaving science. How do you respond to that?

[Editor's note: the original Deep Adaptation paper does not give a specific prediction of a date for societal collapse. Prof Bendell offered his own guess in later work, that societal collapse will be happening in most countries by 2028). 

Jem: For me, it's a natural question: how much time do we have left? I don't mind going beyond science on this issue. Science is a language: statistics and mathematics are languages ​​based on specific epistemologies. They are not the only way to seek knowledge, and they are certainly not the only way we have to access knowledge. We deal with data in an infinitely complex world. People are afraid, they cling to their models of what is right and wrong and in this way they can sometimes turn away from complex assessments.

Q: That is to say?

Jem: My anticipation of societal collapse within a decade is the feeling that I got from analyzing all kinds of data and a lot of experiences. I've lived much of my life outside UK/Europe, and I've seen things change with the desire for material progress growing around the world. We have created all these high carbon lifestyles. Many people, climatologists and environmentalists, live in their European bubble. They don't understand the hundreds of millions of people who are trying to make ends meet and who, right now, need fossil fuels to do so. I don't see things changing rapidly enough.

"We must remember that many people are already suffering from our system"

Q: In two or three years, will we be talking about 2020 as the “good old days”?

Jem: We can stop thinking that we can speak for all of us. Who are we when we talk like that? There are nearly eight billion people on Earth. Is this the "we" that we are talking about? Will they look at the past and say to themselves: "2020, what a great year"? This question seems a patriarchal attempt to access universal knowledge about the human condition. And this ideology is the root of our destruction. We must recognize that each individual has a unique experience of this world. Telling people that such and such an experience is universal experience or that one has objective knowledge of people's experience is problematic. Some people will think 2020 was their best year. Other people will have died or will be stuck in depression because they will have lost loved ones in 2020.

Q: Will happiness exist after the collapse?

Jem: Yes, and in some cases even more. We must remember that many people are already suffering from our system. For instance, there are fishing villages that have always caught, ate and sold their fish, and suddenly they don't earn anything anymore because of industrial fishing, because of the appetites of people thousands of miles away, the appetite of capitalists and bankers thousands of miles away. Many lives have been destroyed by the current system. So the changes won't all be bad.

A video of a segment of the interview is available here

You can engage on these topics via 

Bendell's next course with Cumbria University is over-subscribed and the next opportunity to study with him is in April 2021 in the Lake District, UK. 

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Adaptation Radicale and Collapsology discussed in France

Talk to mark the publication in French of Adaptation Radicale, by Jem Bendell

30th September, online, by Adaptation Radicale Groupe Francophone

Hello, I’m Jem Bendell. I’m pleased to be able to offer some comments to mark the publication of my first book on Deep Adaptation, which is available in French and is being published in France by a publisher whose name I won’t try and say in French, but I love the translation into English. They’re called “the bonds that free us.” I’d like to thank the translator Elise Roy, as well as the team at the publisher, also Pablo Servigne who encouraged me to collaborate to make this happen. He also writes the foreword. Also I’d like to thank the volunteers at the Deep Adaptation group in France, including Julian, who have been helping coordinate some outreach about the book.

So, what I’m going to do is offer about five minutes of reflections to help put the book in context. The book is a compilation of writings for people who are already open to the idea that the collapse of our way of life within an industrial consumer society is now either likely, or inevitable, or already occurring. I think the book is suitable for a French audience because since 2015 when Pablo Servigne and Raphael Stevens published their book on what they called ‘collapsology,’ the discussion and level of dialogue in France is more advanced than in many other countries - particularly the countries that I know about because they’re English-speaking.

Both in France and around the world we are hearing from people who are critical of those of us who are having these conversations. In response, I would suggest one way of talking to them would be to show them this graph, which just came out from a member of the Breakthrough Institute, which shows simplified emissions pathways for climate targets. This is based on Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) data and analysis, but it removes the suggestion that we can roll out carbon capture technologies which would strip carbon using direct air capture from the atmosphere.

You see the carbon emissions and how rapidly they have increased over the last 20 years. The red line shows that if we wanted to achieve a 50 percent chance, only a 50 percent chance, of staying under 2 degrees we would need, over the next 20 years, to reduce our carbon emissions as rapidly as we have been increasing them over the previous 20 years.

So that’s not like slamming on the brakes of a car heading towards a wall, that’s actually slamming it into reverse and immediately going at the same speed in the opposite direction. We should recognize here that our carbon emissions prior to 2020 have been increasing in terms of the rate of increase. In fact, one scientist has suggested that it looks like an exponential curve of carbon emissions. So we all know that if you do that with a car that just damages the engine and isn’t actually possible with the current technologies to just suddenly slam a car into reverse like that. There is obviously a lot of inertia in our hydrocarbon society.

So what’s happening when people criticize those of us who want to talk about preparing for collapse, whether in the collapsology field or in the Deep Adaptation field, or other fields, they’re telling us that we have the burden of proof on us to say that the red line is not the future path for our carbon emissions let alone the safer lines. Really, we should be aiming for at least the green line. I believe that the burden of proof really should be on them to show us, against all evidence, how we’re going to go down any of these simplified emission pathways to reach these climate targets. I  think they can’t prove that this is happening, or will happen, because it’s not been happening.

It’s almost like these conversations at the intergovernmental level and within the scientific community on climate change are trying to maintain credible myths about what is possible, in order to take us away from actually staring at the trouble directly ahead of us.

“Adaptation radicale” is the most effective French translation of the term “Deep Adaptation” which I introduced with a paper by that name in 2018, which has now been downloaded around a million times. So this is my first book to follow that up and it does include an updated version of that 2018 paper, but that’s the sum of the climate science in the book instead. And I don’t go into more discussion of the various mechanisms of societal collapse. Instead the book really focuses on the people who already have this outlook and are really wanting to engage kindly, wisely and creatively in what to do about it, both in their individual lives, in the community and also through the political process. So it’s a compilation of writings that I shared over the last two years to support people who are using the Deep Adaptation framework for their own lives and their own work.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been humbled and inspired by so many people from around the world who have engaged creatively with this anticipation of societal collapse. People are doing amazing things, many of which I could not have imagined. People bringing meditation and mindfulness practices into schools. People working together on community gardening. People deciding that they will give up their freedom to peacefully protest against governments on climate inaction. Scientists who are giving up their old career in order to look at new things such as designing mirrors that will float in the Arctic ocean to try and replace the albedo effect. People who are learning about how to hold online death cafes so that people can share their very difficult painful emotions around the predicament we find ourselves in. There’s such a great diversity and I know that this is a field where people, many people, will have quite strong opinions and some of the things I’ve just mentioned they may be confused or annoyed at. But for me it’s all welcome if it’s with an open mind and open heart. Because nobody has the answers. We’ve never been in this kind of situation before as a species.

Some of that creativity, some of that collaboration, is happening within a place called the Deep Adaptation Forum which is an online community for people to connect with each other, to learn from each other, and to try and create resources that will be helpful for when there’s a much wider mass awakening and people start to engage more widely. That forum has over 100 volunteers now and engages at least 15,000 people on its platforms and so I do recommend you check out if you haven’t already.

In my experience people engaging in Deep Adaptation do not equate societal collapse with the extinction of the human race - they’re two quite different ways of understanding our situation. My understanding is that people do not become apathetic - so many people have allowed this information to transform their lives to prioritize truth and love in their lives and become very socially engaged in ways that they hadn’t before. I’m noticing that many people do not respond in an individualistic way about just simply trying to protect themselves and their loved ones. People soon realize that that is so limited and that we need to act collectively together in order to try to reduce harm, reduce suffering, and give ourselves a better chance in the face of this calamity.

Over the last couple of years I’ve come to see how important it is for us to hold space for each other’s difficult emotions - whether that’s fear, grief, sadness, or anger, in a way where we don’t then escape into stories of safety or blame, but actually just recognize that each of us are having difficult emotions because we are fully awake to the situation that we modern humans have caused.

Because as we all feel more vulnerable, we could be more easily manipulated with a simple story of safety or blame. But neither will help and instead if we can support each other to neither act from or be averse to these difficult emotions and instead keep fully present to what the situation is and keep open to new ideas and learning from each other and unlearning with each other about what on earth do we do next. Then I think we’ll see much more interesting ideas emerge and initiatives emerge and for me that is what has been happening both in collapsology and in the Deep Adaptation field over the last couple of years.

Like me many people have been on a journey of inquiry into why we caused this mess and when I say we I’m talking about modern humans. That inquiry reveals how we have othered and oppressed other humans often because they just don’t look like us or sound like us and also othered and oppressed wider life itself. So many people are arriving at a deeper commitment to uncovering mechanisms of oppression and therefore more people are prioritizing racial justice and healing as part of their work on Deep Adaptation. Many people are prioritizing work on gender justice and healing as part of their response to Deep Adaptation. And many more people are thinking about economic justice and healing as part of a comprehensive response to our climate predicament. I think that’s really important because it is quite distinct from how some people are responding, or probably will respond, when they feel vulnerable because of growing climate chaos and related societal pressures. Many people will tell us that the situation means that we just need to do ‘what’s necessary’ and they’ll come at it from a very fear-based place, not actually looking at how so much of our society is built on that fear-based place of separation and othering and oppression.

So thank you for listening, thank you for reading the book, and please consider joining the Deep Adaptation francophone group, which you can connect to on Facebook. I’ll put the link to that and any other relevant groups in French, for example the collapsology groups, in the video notes for this video. Thank you.

French translation to follow.

Some of the writing in English that went into the book is available from Jem's blog here.  

An interview with Jem to mark the launch of the book is here

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Leading in the face of societal disruption - unique online course

Here are some thoughts from the Founder of the Initiative for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS), Professor Jem Bendell:

As we experience increasing disruptions to our lives, with the risk of more to come, more of us are wondering how to turn things around.

There is one question I often hear asked:

“Where have all the good leaders gone?”

I have come to understand that could be the worst question for us to ask.

I mean it is unhelpful if the aim of our conversations is to determine new ways to help our friends, colleagues, and fellow citizens to address the many challenges that humanity faces today.

Because within the question itself is an assumption that does not help us to act together for significant change.

The assumption is that what is most important to positive or negative outcomes is the competence and character of the individual at the top of a hierarchy, rather than other factors. Yet those other factors are many and significant, such as the ability of people at all levels of community, society and organisation to be willing and able to learn and act for common cause. So a focus on the individual leader dumbs down our conversations about why there is so much suffering and risk in the world. It also means we don’t look at ourselves and what we might do or not do in future.


teach and coach leadership and leadership development for people in many organisational sectors and from many countries. I believe that the first thing to learn is to better question how our assumptions of leadership and change might be limiting our imagination on how to approach today’s challenges and predicament. After that, a whole new vista of competencies arises, as well as the motivation and confidence to make changes in one’s life and work.

For the past couple of years I offer that support within the context of increasing societal disruption and likely collapse.

If that is something you are interested in, please consider joining my highly participative and transformative online course in sustainable leadership and deep adaptation this November. It takes place over 4 days, with preparatory work over the few weeks beforehand. The last cohort is still meeting every month on zoom to provide peer support as they apply their new ideas and approaches in their lives, work and communities. Here is what some of them said about the last course:

“A course not only for the brain but for the heart. Transformative in its true sense. Truly thought provoking and challenging. Respect and warmth at its core. Humbling.”

“Leadership is not something I associate with myself, so going on this course was pretty scary. It was such a relief to see the old notions and patriarchy cemented in to the expectation of leadership being thrown up in the air to land in completely new, available and inspiring ways. It was intellectually stimulating, deeply connecting and very motivating.”

“I’m so grateful to have had the chance to be a part of this module; it’s given me more confidence in my ability to navigate, and cope with, systemic and environmental change – and to be of support to others. It’s also reminded me of how to keep a focus on appreciating everyone, and everything, in every moment – even the uncomfortable ones! Thank you Katie, Jem and all the people who took part”.

We encourage diversity amongst the participants, and so on the last course were a Vice Chancellor, management consultants, school teachers, XR activists, professionals facilitators, politicians, and social workers, amongst others!

After November, it will be a year before I offer this online course again. There are 8 places left and the deadline is whenever we sell out, or October 15th 2020. Find out more and book here.

To learn more about ‘deep adaptation’ to climate chaos and the ethos it suggests for collaboration, see this introduction. To see the latest activities by people using this approach in their lives, see this newsletter. To read how the anticipation of collapse is motivating people to lead changes in their communities, see here.

Thanks, Jem Bendell (Professor of Sustainability Leadership, University of Cumbria, UK)

Monday, 8 June 2020

Does anticipating societal collapse motivate pro-social behaviours?

Does anticipating societal collapse motivate pro-social behaviours?
Initial evidence from the Deep Adaptation Forum.

Jem Bendell and Dorian Cave, Deep Adaptation Forum and University of Cumbria

One story we have heard from many environmentalists over decades has been that we must be hopeful, no matter how bad the news on our planet becomes. That story says we must avoid predictions of catastrophe, or we will produce upset and apathy. It is a view we hear today from some climate scientists who question or even admonish their colleagues and others for suggesting it is now too late to avert dangerous climate change. 

Most of these conversations occur without reference to any analysis or data - as if it is common sense and the field of social psychology did not exist. Research in that field offers a range of perspectives, including how a sense that climate change is a current calamity can increase engagement (1). One of your authors has summarised some of the relevant theories and ideas that suggest people are not necessarily  more motivated by stories of material hopes (read here on denial, here on taboo emotions, and here on non-material hopes). But our intention with this article is to contribute to this discussion with data from our work with people who anticipate that their own societies will collapse due to impacts from, or made worse by, climate chaos. 

First, we will summarise some data from surveys of participants in the networks and initiatives of the Deep Adaptation Forum. Second we will quote from some of the key figures at the centre of the Extinction Rebellion campaign group. Our data suggests that many people are transformed by their acceptance that near-term societal collapse is either likely or inevitable, and with the right support can engage in more, not less, pro-social behaviour. This is only preliminary data, but we hope that it will better inform future discussions about the merit and means of communicating information on the worst case scenarios. 

Two surveys were shared with over 10,000 international participants in the various online networks of the Deep Adaptation Forum. The first survey closed in February 2020 (2) and the second survey (which was conducted by the University of Cumbria) closed in May 2020 (3). In total, there were 275 responses. The quantitative data indicates that participants in the DAF who answered the survey are experiencing a greater sense of engagement and contribution to society because of their participation. For instance, in a question about emotions, which did not require participants to choose any option, 73.2% of respondents declared themselves to be “less isolated” thanks to their participation on DAF platforms. 53% reported that they were more curious, compared to 2.4% reporting being less curious. 22.3% reported that they were less apathetic, compared to 2% reporting being more apathetic (the raw data is shown in the Figures 1 and 2 at the end of this article). Here are some of the responses provided:

My sense of connection to like-minded people has deepened immensely. I no longer take anti-depressants because I no longer feel alone and near-despair in this work."

"Through my involvement with the network my faith in humanity is being restored - this is a powerful learning & enables me to contribute in meaningful ways to my community and communities of interest."

"Professionally, it has driven a keen sense of purpose into my choices of where to put my professional skills and time."

"I am remotivated… to continue with a practical project building a small sustainability/practical PDA demonstration site here in Portugal”

"My willingness to keep engaging would have waned (if not collapsed) without the deep connections I found.. I feel much less isolated and alone and, after almost 40 years at the front line of fighting for Gaia, my exhaustion & frustration is much relieved."

There are many ways of being active in seeking to reduce harm in the face of climate-driven disruption to societies. In the first survey 43.6% reported finding their participation to be useful in their professional life. In the second survey, participants were asked about where they witnessed leadership. The responses are summarised in Figure 3. 60% of respondents considered that volunteers for Deep Adaptation are leading, which was far higher than staff in organisations. In addition, almost half respondents consider that they themselves are taking acts of leadership, once again higher than staff in organisations. These views are consistent with the idea that engaging in Deep Adaptation motivates people to act beyond their normal jobs. A qualitative review of their actions from the first survey (too numerous to list here), indicates that these are diverse pro-social behaviours, ranging from volunteering to leading meditation classes at schools to engaging the police in community dialogues about disaster readiness. 

Figure 3: Where leadership is observed by people engaged in Deep Adaptation 

This perspective on leadership reflects what an esteemed scholar of leadership studies recently wrote about types of leadership for adaptation. For the International Leadership Association, Professor Jonathan Gosling writes: “Leadership of adaptation is diverse and sometimes hardly recognisable as leadership. It may be found in counter-cultural experiments, in some protest and some policing, and often persistent and undemonstrative in the sustaining institutions of society (schools, churches, professions etc.). It helps us reconcile with the situation, measure the appreciation of risks, grieve when we suffer loss, weigh discretion when our options seem narrowed, and to choose pragmatic and courageous change.”

Some reporters and commentators on climate activism may not understand the sentiments of activists, and assume that climate activists would not share the view that it is too late to prevent dangerous climate change. This would be a false assumption. As 39.9% of respondents to the first survey reported finding participation in DA networks to be useful in their political activism, we can deduce that many people who hold the perspective of anticipating societal collapse are politically active. That confirms our own experience with engaging with activist groups. Some of the people at the heart of Extinction Rebellion provided on-the-record statements about the impact of the original Deep Adaptation paper, in response to an enquiry from the BBC. To conclude this blog we will quote from them directly. 

Andrew Medhurst, XR Finance Director, email to BBC Feb 28tb 2020: Jem's paper challenged my why (which in late 2018 was working for a pension company) and the emergence of Extinction Rebellion gave me a new and wonderful one. DA has been a lens through which I more clearly see the world and to act accordingly, motivating me from a position of simply being a helpless bystander. Giving up? No chance!
Rupert Read, XR Spokesperson, email to BBC Feb 28th: 2020: For me, the importance of the DA agenda is that it is about how we prepare for that possibility/probability, of collapse. Which is something that we must now do. Preparing is something active - it is the antithesis of 'giving up'. Furthermore, the very act of preparing - individually, psychologically, as a community, as a society - for possible societal collapse makes the possibility so much more real to one. And thus it can be a massive motivator for radical action, to try to head off that collapse, or at least to soften our crash-landing. This is why DA has motivated many to join XR... The antithesis of 'giving up'.
Gail Bradbrook, XR Co-founder, email to BBC Feb 28th 2020: Jem’s paper has been deeply influential across XR and that’s not to say everyone is in agreement with the conclusion of anything of inevitability… some may prefer a term such as extremely likely.
Sarah Lunnon, XR Political Circle, email to BBC Feb 28th 2020. A bit late to this party, having spent the day in the rain with Bristol Youth Strike for the Climate and my 14 year old daughter. My experience after reading DA in June 2018 was to reassess my involvement in traditional politics and the value I place on my relationships with those I love. To reassess from a position of realism, of having turned around and faced the 'dark mountain' of the risk we face and the actions we need to take. My focus has shifted, my activism increased, I accept that change is coming, I accept much of what we cherish may be lost, however the future is not yet set and as Gail notes above, by acting we strive to make it less bad.

Only time will tell us whether awakening to common vulnerability in the face of climate chaos will lead more people to respond in pro-social rather than anti-social ways. The evidence from these studies means that any hypothesis that anticipating societal collapse does not reduce apathy or motivate pro-social behaviour can be rejected. In some cases, engaging in Deep Adaptation is motivating new pro-social behaviours. The Deep Adaptation Forum exists to invite more people to explore how to embody and enable loving responses to our predicament. If scientists choose to hide their worst fears from the public, we wonder whether this will reduce the time people have to process their emotions and find positive ways of responding. Indeed, members of the Climate Psychology Alliance recently wrote a letter to the Guardian in support of those climate scientists who have stated that it is now too late to stop dangerous climate change and so while our efforts at cutting and drawing down carbon must be far bolder, a focus on adaptation must now be a central concern.  

Like the CPA, volunteers in the Deep Adaptation Forum are aware that many people can experience difficult emotions when faced with news of calamity of any kind. Therefore, we encourage everyone involved to share information on how to look after ourselves if experiencing difficult emotions.

Do you work on either social psychology or communications? Are you interested in how best to support dialogue on the worst case scenarios that might lead to pro-social behaviour? If so, please consider joining the Holistic Approaches and Guidance discussion group here, at the Deep Adaptation Forum. Are you a researcher who could help us publish the full data set in a relevant journal? Please contact Dorian Cave (here). 

The full report of the first survey can be obtained here


  1. McDonald, R.I, Chai, H.Y. and Newell, B.R. (2015), “Personal experience and the ‘psychological distance’ of climate change: An integrative review,” Journal of Environmental Psychology, vol. 44, pp.109-118
  2. A link to the DAF User Survey was shared with people who are engaged in the Deep Adaptation (DA) movement and reachable by the DA Forum. This included approximately 6000 subscribers to the DA Quarterly Newsletter, 10,000 participants in the Positive DA Facebook group, and 2000 participants in the DA Profession Network. The survey was open for near 8 weeks during January and February 2020 and attracted 168 respondents. The survey was designed by D. Cave & J. Bendell with advice from K. Soares and N. Maljkovic.
  3. A link to the University of Cumbria DA collaboration survey was shared with people who are engaged in the Deep Adaptation (DA) movement and reachable by the DA Forum.This included approximately 6000 subscribers to the DA Quarterly Newsletter, 10,000 participants in the Positive DA Facebook group, and 2000 participants in the DA Profession Network. The survey was open for 2 weeks during May 2020 and attracted 107 respondents.

Figure 1: From the Positive DA Facebook Group

Figure 2: From the DA Professions’ Network

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Fact Checking the Climate Crisis: Franzen vs. Facebook on False News

Critique of Climate Feedback fact checking exercise of an article by the writer Jonathan Franzen in the New Yorker, published September 8, 2019, by leading climate scientists Wolfgang Knorr and Will Steffen
Fact Checking the Climate Crisis: Franzen vs. Facebook on False News
Last year, the writer Jonathan Franzen, not known for mincing his words, took up an opportunity offered by the New Yorker to bring his very own perspective to the debate about the impending climate crisis. The headline read: What If We Stopped Pretending? The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it.
Image 1 
Screengrab of Facebook false news warning 
Feb 15th 2020
You would think that this was just another opinion piece on the climate catastrophe, this time by a writer from whom you would not expect new insights about the climate system, but maybe some other truths related to the general human predicament. If you happened to be a social media user, however, you might be in for some surprise. On February 15th, the moderators of the Facebook group Positive Deep Adaptation received a “partly false information” warning about Franzen’s New Yorker article having been posted in their group. The warning explicitly referred to an article by the fact checking site Climate Feedback (see image 1). Following considerable political pressure, fact checkers are now routinely used by social media sites to prevent the spread of “false news”. Sanctions for repeat offenders include reducing visibility for the group or site, or removing the ability to earn income (see image 2). 
This gives Climate Feedback’s verdict considerable weight. In this article, we will review the fact checking exercise itself, in order to see if the matter has been handled with the necessary care and level of responsibility. According to their web site Climate Feedback is a worldwide network of scientists sorting fact from fiction in climate change media coverage. As senior climate scientists, our goal is to help readers know which news to trust.
Fact checking the fact checkers
The first thing we noticed was that from the headline and the information below it, it was not possible to tell the exact claim that was being assessed. While the headline read “2°C is not known to be a ‘point of no return’, as Jonathan Franzen claims”, the actual claim by Franzen stated further down was “The consensus among scientists and policy-makers is that we’ll pass this point of no return if the global mean temperature rises by more than two degrees Celsius.” What was left out is some text that in the original article follows immediately after and is therefore an integral part of the claim made by Franzen: “(maybe a little more, but also maybe a little less)”. The verdict: incorrect There is an important distinction here: is the claim being reviewed that there is a consensus – which Climate Feedback easily refute because none of the scientist reviewers seems to subscribe to this supposed consensus – or is it rather about the existence of a supposed “point of no return”? In the following, we will discuss both possibilities.
Contrary to the claim by Climate Feedback, and the entire point made by the last reviewer, Marcus Fontela, there is indeed a scientific basis for Franzen’s article, even though he vastly overrates the degree of consensus or the level of scientific understanding of such a hypothesis. 
All scientist reviewers – except for one who did not provide references at all – referred to an article led by one of us: Steffen and co-workers (2018) Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene1. It appears that the reviewers correctly identified the source of Franzen’s “point of no return”. The article in question hypothesizes the existence of mutually reinforcing tipping points, or positive feedback mechanisms, in the earth’s climate system. It does not provide definite proof of the existence of such a “tipping cascade”, nor does it say they will all suddenly happen when 2°C of warming is reached, but rather sketches out a plausible scenario. It also provides estimates for the degree of warming required for tipping to be triggered. “Tipping” here means irreversible changes that a return to a lower degree of warming will not be able to stop – or “point of no return”. According to our understanding, the following tipping elements might be affected at 2°C of warming:
  1. West Antarctic Ice Sheet – likely tipped (i.e. irreversibly on the pathway to eventual collapse)2
  2. Coral reefs – likely tipped (wide-spread destruction from heat stress and ocean acidification)
  3. Arctic sea ice cover – likely tipped (irreversible situation arises from increasing heat provided by the darker ocean surface as summer ice disappears)4
  4. Amazon rainforest - likely tipped taking into account current rates of human deforestation (i.e. the loss of forest itself decreases regional precipitation rates, thus increasing the overall reduction in rainfall, further influenced by a weakening AMOC – see next point)5,6
  5. Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC, the ocean current that brings warm waters to western Europe) – probably not tipped, but significantly weakened7 
  6. Permafrost carbon stores – probably not tipped, but significant carbon emissions.3 

The Special Report on 1.5°C Warming3 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also backs up Franzen’s claim – to some degree. The IPCC assessed the probability of “large-scale singular events” at 2°C of warming and gave a rating of "moderate to high" (Summary for Policymakers, Figure 2). And a recent commentary in the journal Nature by Tim Lenton and co-workers8 shows evidence that some of those tipping elements may have already been activated.
Another point of potential confusion is that the reviewers do not provide a clear definition of what they believe was meant by “point of no return”. They only suggest that Franzen was talking about a sharp boundary at 2°C warming, for example Patrick Brown: “[...] There was never a scientific consensus that 2.0°C represented some well-defined bright line where impacts suddenly became much worse or feedbacks suddenly became completely self-perpetuating.” Franzen does indeed talk about one point being crossed, but it is not clear if he means a sharp and clearly defined boundary, or rather that somewhere around 2°C a tipping cascade will be triggered. And if a tipping cascade exists, then it will be triggered at a single point, so by definition there would have to be a clearly defined point of transition. It is only questionable if it could be characterised simply by degrees of warming. We must also note that Brown’s 2.0°C “bright line” is a rhetorical ploy designed to ridicule the author’s scientific understanding, where Franzen in fact concedes that his “point” may not be reached at exactly 2°C.
A charge repeated by several reviewers is that Franzen does not understand how climate models work. In fact, Amber Kerr and Charles Koven seem to base their criticism entirely on modelling results. This must be a clear misunderstanding: neither does the New Yorker article refer anywhere to computer modelling, nor has it ever been claimed that it was possible to reliably model tipping cascades. Instead, it is the reviewers who display a remarkable lack of apprehension for the limitations of modelling. For example when Amber Kerr writes: “He says that ‘As a non-scientist, I do my own kind of modelling,’ but he seems to be unaware that scientists have already carried out many qualitative and quantitative climate risk assessments, using policy changes and human behavior as variables.” But even the supporters of such models stress their limitations, while others argue that they are entirely unsuitable for the job
The most serious criticism brought forwards by the reviewers is that of Franzen’s fatalism, when he claims “that additional warming over 2°C doesn’t matter” (Amber Kerr). This is a criticism we share. We note, however, that Franzen's apparent misinterpretation of the science is based on a gross overstatement of scientific certainty, which is interesting given the reviewers’ own faith in modelling results. As climate scientists having worked with and developed computer models we rather share Franzen’s pessimism about what models can achieve. For very similar reasons, other scientists who have worked specifically on the possibility of catastrophic climate change have based their conclusions mostly on evidence from past climates, using only minimal modelling9.
The most balanced and objective review, in our opinion, is the one by Alexis Berg, whose main point is the speculative nature of the tipping cascade scenario. He is also more honest and cautious when referring to modeling (italics included by the authors): “Climate model simulations, for instance, which do include some of these feedbacks, do not suggest runaway climate change beyond 2°C.” It is true that the article by Steffen and co-workers is “intended to highlight [...] the high side of the risk distribution”. Franzen seems indeed to have ignored that he has based his whole essay on a hypothesis that was just that – a hypothesis and a warning of what could happen if we continue on the current path.
One more important question that the reviewers, and possibly Climate Feedback in general, should address is whether statements that are inherently about the future can even be fact checked. It is true that the review mostly talks about our current understanding of the climate system. But the event this refers to is in the future. We have therefore no way of empirically either proving or refuting the hypothesis of a discontinuity in the climate system. Hence the repeated reference of the reviewers to model results. What they don’t seem to realise, however, is that models are themselves nothing else than codified hypotheses.
Our recommendation
We believe that this New Yorker article – classified as a “cultural commentary” – should never have been fact checked in the first place. Other authors should of course be free to criticise it, as they have done repeatedly. But at the very least Climate Feedbacks should have clearly stated that the fact checking exercise does not concern the possibility of a tipping cascade being triggered – which can be neither proven nor refuted – but only the level of scientific consensus. For such cases, Climate Feedbacks’ methods provide for a set of well-defined categories that should be stated in the details section of the overall verdict:
Overstates scientific confidence: Presents a conclusion as conclusive while the hypothesis is still being investigated and there remains genuine scientific uncertainty about it.
We would have agreed with such a verdict. Instead, the details provided characterise Franzen’s article as “Misleading: While positive feedbacks exist that amplify temperature changes, scientists have not identified a ‘point of no return’ at 2°C.” 
This overall verdict is itself incorrect, or at least seriously misleading. Scientists have indeed identified the likelihood of such a point of no return, even though it is unlikely the point exists at a sharply defined temperature threshold. Identification does not imply there to be a definite, or even a strong scientific proof. And the overall presentation of the verdict is itself misleading for several reasons: it blatantly omits the final part of the sentence being criticised where the author concedes that he does not believe in a definite threshold value, the rhetorical use of “2.0°C”, the reference to climate models and the claim the author does not understand them, while creating the impression the reviewers don’t understand them either, and the lack of understanding that it is not possible to fact check assertions about the future.
In fact, if one is to “fact check” statements about the future, then the criterion for judgment should be whether there is enough credible evidence – be it from paleo studies, observational evidence, modelling results or, more appropriately, a synthesis of all such types of information – to make a well-reasoned case that the statement represents a plausible future. In other words, when dealing with future risks and events in general, the emphasis should be on whether or not the statement presents a plausible risk assessment rather than a “scientific fact”.
The elephant in the room
What most scientists commenting on his piece did not seem to have noticed is the value of Franzen’s article in naming the elephant in the room: that while emissions keep on rising inexorably, no political action even remotely strong enough to address the problem can be seen anywhere on the horizon. Let us listen to his words here:
As a non-scientist, I do my own kind of modelling. I run various future scenarios through my brain, apply the constraints of human psychology and political reality, take note of the relentless rise in global energy consumption [...], and count the scenarios in which collective action averts catastrophe. [...]
Vast sums of government money must be spent without wasting it and without lining the wrong pockets. Here it’s useful to recall the Kafkaesque joke of the European Union’s biofuel mandate, which served to accelerate the deforestation of Indonesia for palm-oil plantations, and the American subsidy of ethanol fuel, which turned out to benefit no one but corn farmers.
Anyone with even the faintest inkling of today’s political reality will agree that it is irrelevant whether we can still prevent major disruptions of the climate system in theory10, when the heads of state of the largest economy and of the country home to the largest tract of rainforest are outspoken climate change deniers. Needless to say, the so-called integrated assessment models used by the IPCC to run various scenarios contain no concept whatsoever of politics.
Fact checking and difficult truths
Our own view of the situation is somewhat different from Fanzen’s – it does not matter at precisely which level of warming tipping points will be reached, but it does matter how much planetary heating we will generate. As long as there is enough carbon11 contained in fossil-fuel reserves to triple even the current already high amounts of atmospheric CO2, and with no mechanism in sight that could guarantee us an end to fossil-fuel extraction, sooner or later the degree of global heating will reach a critical threshold that leads to major disruptions to human society. The question of whether it is already too late is not one that depends so much on the climate system, but on the ability of human society to rapidly change course. Most scientists, policy makers and even activists seem to tend towards optimism. Franzen disagrees, and we believe scientists should at least listen. 
Difficult truths are always hard to deal with, especially when they concern one’s own and all of humanity’s survival. Even if there was a sliver of truth in Franzen’s message, it would be a cause for great concern and anxiety. Since no scientist so far has said what Franzen does here, that it might not only be time to panic, but already too late, the predictable reaction of professional climate researchers has been almost universally negative. Someone known for his provocative writing style was treading on their turf!
We believe that fact checking is not a helpful approach to improve the debate about the climate crisis. It is not helpful when we need to confront a difficult truth that many, including scientists, find difficult to accept. It is also not helpful, because it supports a mistaken view of the sciences as being foremost about hard facts, and not about interpretation, debate, truth seeking and philosophical attitudes. And even more importantly – as George Marshall has amply demonstrated in his book “Don’t Even Talk about It” – opinions in the climate debate are very rarely swayed by facts. But users of social media have the right to know the position of the scientific community with respect to assertions made on matters of climate science. A much more helpful approach would be to offer this view in the form of reviews, critiques or other forms of essay, as it is done traditionally in the print media. Rather than being sent warnings with a threat of sanctions for repeat-offenders, publishers on social media could be required in certain cases to provide a suitable link so that the reader is helped to form his own opinion. In the case of the Franzen article, a simple disclaimer that his view of the climate system is seen as a low-probability but plausible scenario would surely have been appreciated. The climate crisis requires us to build bridges and not to exclude certain groups from the debate. Publisher's notes: On February 20th 2020 the "false news" warning is no longer showing on the admin panel of Positive Deep Adaptation facebook group. We will send this article to Facebook, Climate Feedback and the New Yorker for information and advice. An interview with the co-author of this article, climate scientist Dr Wolfgang Knorr, goes in to more detail about how climate scientists might often mislead audiences through typical modes of communication. An article by IFLAS founder explores the extent to which assumptions about social psychology underpin the motivations and arguments of scientists and activists to criticise people for publically considering the implications of worst case scenarios. Co-author of this article, climate scientist Dr Will Steffen recently called for more research, dialogue and action on the possibilities of societal breakdown or collapse due to climate impacts. Last year IFLAS released a compendium of recent research that indicates the worst case scenarios for societal disruption from climate change are now increasingly likely. This was produced by Professor Jem Bendell, the initiator of the deep adaptation framework to climate change response. To discuss the issues arising from this article and issue, consider the Narratives and Messaging group on the Deep Adaptation Forum.
1 Steffen, W., J. Rockström, K. Richardson, T. M. Lenton, C. Folke, D. Liverman, C. P. Summerhayes, A. D. Barnosky, S. E. Cornell, and M. Crucifix (2018), Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(33), 8252-8259. (link)
2 IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (IPCC, 2019). (link)
3 IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (IPCC, 2018). (link)
4 Drijfhout, S., S. Bathiany, C. Beaulieu, V. Brovkin, M. Claussen, C. Huntingford, M. Scheffer, G. Sgubin, and D. Swingedouw (2015), Catalogue of abrupt shifts in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate models, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(43), E5777-E5786. (link)
5Lovejoy, T. E. A., and C. Nobre (2018), Amazon tipping point, Science Advances, 4(2), eaat2340. (link)
6 Brayshaw, D. J., T. Woollings, and M. Vellinga (2009), Tropical and extratropical responses of the North Atlantic atmospheric circulation to a sustained weakening of the MOC, J. Clim., 22(11), 3146-3155. (link)
7 Caesar, L., S. Rahmstorf, A. Robinson, G. Feulner, and V. Saba (2018), Observed fingerprint of a weakening Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation, Nature, 556(7700), 191-196. (link)
8 Lenton, T. M., J. Rockström, O. Gaffney, S. Rahmstorf, K. Richardson, W. Steffen, and H. J. Schellnhuber (2019), Climate tipping points—too risky to bet against, Nature, 575, 592-595. (link)
9 Hansen, J., M. Sato, G. Russell, and P. Kharecha (2013), Climate sensitivity, sea level and atmospheric carbon dioxide, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 371, 20120294. (link)
10 Anderson, K. (2015). Duality in climate science. Nature Geoscience, 8, 898-900. (link)
11 Global Energy Assessment (2012), International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria. (link)