Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Post-Civilisation - IFLAS Occasional Paper 3

IFLAS is pleased that philosopher, Chair of Green House thinktank, and leading member of Extinction Rebellion, Dr Rupert Read has contributed our 3rd Occasional Paper.

Dr Read takes as his starting point the failure of political processes to respond to the challenges of dangerous man-made climate change that have been understood since the 1970s, arguing that the Paris agreements of 2015 are "absolutely nowhere near enough", and in any case stand "actually in stark contradiction to what [the countries] are actually planning to do".

The Occasional Paper is a referenced and edited version of a talk Dr Read gave at the University of Cambridge in 2018. In his estimation, what is required to 'get around' the current failure, is 'something completely unprecedented'. In the face of a total collapse of civilisation we can either talk about transforming our existing civilisation or building a new one out off the wreckage of the old. Whichever way, the civilisation we inhabit is finished: because if something survives from it, that something will be utterly different from what we are used to.

Those are themes he has explored elsewhere, but this talk was addressed especially to young people, such as students. He had a range of suggestions for them, starting with "Wake up!", starting a new honest conversation about our fears, and imagining a successor civilisation. We need to build lifeboats while implementing the 'holding actions' described by Joanna Macey to hold the damage at bay and slow it down. His final suggestion is to stop: to reflect rather than reacting only from anger or shock.

Along the way, Dr. Read positions his thinking in close relation to the “Deep Adaptation” paper of Prof. Jem Bendell’s, which was the 2nd IFLAS Occasional Paper. IFLAS issues Occasional Papers to stimulate wider and more rapid debate than is possible through peer-reviewed academic journal. Feedback is welcomed to inform revised papers for subsequent publication. To engage with others on these topics, consider the Deep Adaptation LinkedIn group. The latest thoughts from Prof Bendell are available via 

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Keynote at UN on blockchains - transcript

Blockchain Technology and Transformation in the Face of a Climate Emergency

Professor Jem Bendell

The text of the opening Keynote Speech at the UN Blockchains for Sustainable Development Session at the World Investment Forum 2018, UNCTAD, Geneva, October 24th 2018. Delivered in the Human Rights room to 700 attendees, in the European UN HQ. 

What a difference a few years makes. In 2012 I was in Davos, for the World Economic Forum. In the conference corridors, wide eyed and talking excitedly about the need for us to create new digital currencies and use blockchains.

I remember being looked at like a lunatic. Even by the tech entrepreneurs! And here we are, 6 years later at the United Nations. I might still seem a bit of a lunatic but at least I’ve got a bigger crowd. And a smarter one at that.

In those intervening years, billions in investment has been secured, indicating the potential some see in blockchains and distributed ledgers.

Mainstream media has also got in the on the act. One week they tell us blockchain will save the world. And the next that it will destroy the world. Never, in the history of humanity have people got so animated about something as exciting as a type of database.

OK, so blockchains are a bit more than a type of database. But I emphasise the simplicity of the technology here because I believe it’s not actually the technology that will deliver net positive outcomes for humanity. 

It never is. That’s why this session is useful. So we can discuss intentions and contexts. It is why I’m pleased my University is involved in co-organising the session, and grateful to the Blockchain Charity Foundation for supporting our work and being here today. It is impressive that UNCTAD have taken the initiative to provide member states and others the opportunity to learn more about the pros and cons of new technologies. 

So let me first cover some basics so that we are all on the same page. A blockchain is a record of data that is comprised of blocks which are added over time from a distributed network of participating computers. It means the data can’t be changed, hacked or lost. Blockchain was invented in 2008 to serve as the transaction ledger of the digital currency called bitcoin. Blockchains support much more than digital currencies now, as they offer immutable records that can be public and enable interoperability. This is interesting many governments that struggle with legacy IT systems that can’t talk to each other. Another function of blockchains that is driving interest is called a smart contract. That is a contract between two parties where a payment can be made automatically when a shipment arrives, or where dividends are paid automatically when profits reach a certain level. The technology moves fast and although we use the term blockchain here today, there are promising post-blockchain systems like holochain, which appear more nimble. But the general promise of all these distributed ledgers is greater data transparency, coordination, and automation.

Today, we will hear a range of examples of how distributed ledgers are being deployed for useful outcomes. One example we will hear of is in Kenya where blockchains are combining with grassroots initiatives to provide some of the poorest in society with new currencies to trade with each other. Another example I like is a cryptocurrency called Stellar that enables payments via chains of credit or, simply, promises, between account holders.

Many useful services have been built on top of these new rails, including non-cash remittances used by microfinance organisations across Africa. As this field is moving so fast, it is great that we will be hearing the latest from our panellists, as well as at the side event by UNRISD this afternoon.

Despite some positive examples, the use of these technologies for everyday applications is still rare. Some say that blockchain-based cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are dangerous to our financial system, our security and the environment. How we can address those concerns is something to discuss. As is the matter of how these technologies could be used to address critical dilemmas facing humanity today.

When exploring these questions it’s helpful to keep an open mind. With any kind of technological advance, we may look at it with a mix of intrigue, wonder, confusion or concern. But let’s not be na├»ve optimists or blind sceptics about technology. And let’s not be bystanders. Because technology is neither inherently good or bad for humanity. Instead, it needs responsible management to maximise its intended benefits and minimise its unintended drawbacks. That perspective means we can look at blockchain and crypto currencies and seek to guide their development for positive public outcomes. To do that well will require wider stakeholder participation in shaping the direction and governance of this technology. 

The Sustainable Development Goals offer one framework on public need. And we will hear of a range of efforts on different SDGs from our panellists. But I’d like to invite us to consider something bolder, more urgent. Although climate change is included in the SDGs, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change invites a reprioritisation. It implies that climate change is now a planetary emergency posing an existential threat to humanity. The artist who made this ceiling said he was inspired by a mirage in the Sahel where trees, donkeys and people all appeared to be melting up into the sky. We could take that a dramatic metaphor, in this human rights room, of the human face of climate change. So as our climate spirals away from one friendly to our civilisation, we need to face up to why we have been so incapable of changing our ways, collectively, at scale.

Despite decades of deliberation and initiative, carbon emissions continue to rise. One reason we have not stopped that is because action has always been an add on, not a starting point for our systems of economic organisation. So although it is typical for conversations like ours today to focus on how to improve the current global system, I want to ask us to consider something far bolder. That is the need to transform our economic system – and fast.

So here is the critique – and it’s not a shy one. Currently, stock markets incentivise the maximisation of company growth and profitability. That can encourage firms to manipulate people to consume more, while externalising costs onto society and the environment. But a deeper driver of humanity hitting natural limits is our monetary system, which is based on privately-issued debt. Nearly all electronic deposits are created by banks as interest-bearing loans. For the system to function normally, more of our Earth’s resources must be consumed to generate yields to service those debts. Otherwise, when existing loans are paid off, our money supply would dry up.  

This system was OK for a time, and OK in some places. But not now. The climate chaos we face is nature’s answer to our hubris that we could expand forever.

A systemic redesign of our banking and corporate systems is long overdue. Until now, people in senior roles have preferred less awkward explanations of our problems. But now that complacency has become a grave threat to life on Earth. We now know that many self-reinforcing feedbacks have begun to further warm the planet, threatening to take the future out of our hands. So if we don’t wake up from our delusions of what is pragmatic and appropriate, then shame on us.

What to do now then? It means there must be a gateway question for any new technology: how is it going to help us build resilience and reduce harm?

When I look at blockchain technologies and crypto currencies, I therefore look at what opportunities there might be to transcend our self-harming monetary and corporate systems. No less a question is sufficient given our planetary emergency.

So here are some questions that might arise from that starting point. Could we see forms of company financing through digital token sales which don’t necessitate share-price competition and the perpetual growth of corporations? Could we see forms of money that are tied to natural ecosystem maintenance, or issued fairly to people for work of real value? Could blockchains be designed to be as energy efficient as possible? Could they be designed not to enrich speculators or create new monopolies? Could they be designed to enable upgrades driven by the beneficiaries, rather than commercial interests? Could blockchain projects take an integral approach, where the code itself and the internal governance are aligned with sustainable outcomes? In technical terms, the answer is absolutely yes. But sadly these approaches have been marginalised if they do not promise a quick buck.

I will give you one example. Today, in 200 communities around the world, people are swapping goods and services with their neighbours without using any money, using software from the Credit Commons Collective. Because of a handful of volunteers, these communities don’t need to pay a company for an app, don’t see adverts, don’t have their data harvested, and they own their installation of the software. These people, around 30,000 of them, are using very basic software because no one is funding its upgrade. Because there’s no profit in it. So if we want transformative change, we will need a shift in ambition from our philanthropists and aid agencies to one of transformation.

Currently social impact projects using blockchain may be useful but are often based on sub-optimal technologies. As we face an existential climate crisis, it is simply not good enough to base environmental initiatives on systems with code that is toxic for our climate. That is once again a reminder that we need collective leadership to shape blockchain and crypto currencies for significant and scalable public benefit.

So as we discuss the potential of these technologies, let’s remember that any technology is really our knowledge and system for creating things. That depends as much on our intention as it does on any code or gadget. So as we look at the difficult times ahead, our intention for creating things needs, more often, to arise out of our love for humanity and creation. The technology we seek is not some new distributed database. The technology we seek is love.

So, as we hear the contributions in this session, I recommend asking how specific initiatives are empowering people and responding to our planetary emergency. If that is the basis of our conversations here today, then this is a useful gathering indeed. So please don’t hold back. Thankyou.

Professor Bendell teaches an intensive residential course on blockchain and society, in London, April 1st to 4th. Explore here
More information on Bendell's recommendations for Integral Blockchains is outlined here
More information on the near term threat of collapse from climate chaos is available here
The video will be available via

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Leadership Beyond Denial of Our Climate Tragedy

Transcript of a talk given at the Poetics of Leadership conference, University of Cumbria, Ambleside Campus, 7th September 2018, by Professor Jem Bendell, co-chair of the conference. Based on the conference paper “From Denial to Deep Adaptation: Seeking Leadership Amidst Climate Tragedy.”

"The topic that we will explore in this session is in the ether of our conference. Which may reflect how the topic is increasingly in the minds of some people in recent years, particularly in the environmental movement. It doesn’t feel right to me given the serious nature of the topic to just present a summary of my paper. We can’t avoid the emotional impact of this topic. And shouldn’t try to. Although my attempt to develop a “deep adaptation” concept was partly to take some of the sting out of things by inviting reflection within a framework, perhaps a life-raft for despair, I don’t see there is any way to just jump into this as a technical or philosophical discussion. 
Because it is such an important topic, connected to the most important questions of existence, and an emotional journey for me, I want to be more precise than I am usually. Therefore, I will abandon a habit of a few years, and actually read my talk.

What I want to do in this session is to invite you to consider simply: “What If?” 

“What if it is too late to avert a catastrophe in our own societies within our lifetimes, due to the impacts of climate change, particularly on agriculture. What might that mean for my life and work?”

Only if we consider that it could be too late could we explore implications for life and work - and deepen our dialogue on adaptation. I am no expert in that field. Instead, my role here is to invite more people to engage in that dialogue. Most people don’t engage, as they raise many arguments against the view that we now face a probable or inevitable collapse in our societies within ten years. So, to encourage more of us to move into that “what if” space to consider this and let it generate new insights, I will summarise some of my own story in arriving at this point of view. 

I was an environmentalist since the early nineteen nineties. After University my first job was with the World Wide Fund for Nature – that’s the large WWF charity with the famous Panda logo. I’ve known about climate change for decades. News of extreme weather used to be stories I would share as a call for action. But they started to come so thick and fast, that I began to wonder. Images like the one here have been appearing on our devices with increasing frequency (animated gif of temperature anomalies). I had assumed the authority on climate was the IPCC – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. According to them, an ice-free Arctic was a possibility by 2100. That sounds far enough away to calm the nerves. But real-time measurements are documenting such rapid loss of ice that some of the world’s top climate scientists are saying it could be ice free in the next few years. So, I couldn’t take for granted the official position of the IPCC anymore. For the first time in 23 years, I decided to look at the science myself. It was the start of a major shift in my worldview, self-image and priorities.

Sea-level rise is a good indicator of what’s happening, as a lot has to happen to change it. In 2001, the IPCC estimated a global sea level rise of 2 millimetres (mm) per year. By 2007, satellite data was revealing a sea level rise of 3.3 mm per year. Yet that year the IPCC offered 1.94mm a year as the lowest mark of its estimate for sea-level rise. Yes, you’re right: that’s lower than what was already happening. It’s as if the river had already flooded your living room but the forecaster on the radio says she is not sure if the river will burst its banks. Analysts have since revealed how the IPCC got it so badly wrong. When scientists could not agree on how much the melting polar ice sheets would be adding to sea-level rise, they left out the data altogether (1). Yeah, that’s so poor, it’s almost funny.

Once I realised that the IPCC couldn’t be taken as climate gospel, I looked more closely at some key issues. The Arctic looms large. It acts as the planet’s refrigerator, by reflecting sunlight back into space and by absorbing energy when the ice melts from solid to liquid. Some of the most eminent polar scientists predict the sea ice will disappear in the next few years. I suppose that is one way of interpreting “by 2100”. Once the Arctic Ice has gone, the additional global warming would amount to as much as half of all warming caused by our pollutants. That blows the global 2 degree target out the window. The implications are immense for our agriculture, water and ecosystems. Even just one warmer summer in the northern hemisphere in 2018 reduced yields of wheat and staples like potatoes by about a quarter in the UK. Unlike other years, the unusual weather was across the northern hemisphere. Globally we only have grain reserves for about 4 months, so a few consecutive summers like 2018 and the predicted return of El Nino droughts in Asia could cause food shortages on a global scale. (2)

Untethered from the IPCC, I discovered worse. I learned about the increasing concentrations of methane gas in our atmosphere, released from the melting permafrost. Methane is 80 times more powerful at trapping the sun’s energy than carbon dioxide. The huge amounts of methane stored in the relatively shallow waters off Siberia are now at risk of release as the water warms. Any release would mean a jump of global temperatures not seen since the Permian mass extinction 250 million years ago, which wiped out 95 percent of life on Earth. I think you know what that means. Even for Elon Musk.

Is it happening? Worried, I looked at the latest methane readings from satellite and land measurements. Mid-altitude measurements showed methane levels increasing about 1.8 percent over the previous year, with surface measurements about half of that. Both figures were consistent with a non-linear increase - potentially exponential. The difference between concentrations at ground level and mid altitudes is consistent with this added methane coming from our oceans, which could be from methane hydrates.

Then I discovered that scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science were reporting data on actual sea levels that was consistent with sea-rise being non-linear. That is a proxy for non-linear changes in our climate. It means that escalating feedback loops are now warming the planet further. It was harrowing research, and I summarise it in the Occasional Paper that we issued in July.  

As I considered whether to issue that paper immediately, rather than look for a new journal and wait a year for publication, I saw all the bad news on my screens. It was 30 degrees Celsius inside the Arctic circle during July 2018, which is 10 degrees warmer than it should be. The dark future was flooding in on the present. I couldn’t delay being more public about this situation and beginning to change my priorities.

I have worked in a profession where people said it’s not helpful to worry people. But without much evidence for that claim. I have worked in a profession that celebrated all the good things being done, such as reduction of carbon footprints and the development of renewable energies. All that is good and should be continue. But these steps forward are like walking up a landslide. They won’t change the temperature increases that are locked-in and the damage that will be caused. I had to conclude we face the kind of disruptive climate change that will trigger social collapse. By that I mean an uneven ending of normal modes of sustenance, security, pleasure, identity, meaning, and hope. It is not clear when such a collapse will occur. Yet all of us want to know “how long we’ve got.” So, on the basis of the impact on agriculture, I am guessing (yes, only guessing) that within 10 years a social collapse, in some form, will have occurred nearly everywhere on the planet. 

As a profession and way of life, academia invites us to believe we must be experts in order to engage in dialogue. We want to be understood and accepted as experts. I realise this is restricting us from exploring what is happening in the world around us. I am not claiming to be an expert in climate science, or in the implications for agriculture, or on the way collapse might occur. I am not claiming to be an expert on how we respond to this realisation personally, professionally or politically. Part of my reason for publishing the result of my study and the call for “deep adaptation” may have been a need to grieve in public. Or perhaps it was to push myself away from more years of denial. I don’t know, as this is a new situation for me to be in. It seems to be new to others too, and that is why I have started blogging on my unvarnished and non-researched reflections on my journey after accepting imminent collapse.  

Some of you will, quite rightly, be questioning the credibility of what I have just said. You may want to corroborate with other info. I recommend you do. For that, I recommend the full Deep Adaptation paper and then look into the sources I cite.

Some people who I have discussed this topic with did not try and double check but appeared to diminish the impact of the message on themselves. I have written about some of the ways such denial works, and how it may be institutionalised in the sustainability sector, in my paper for this conference. In a more accessible format, I have listed 12 typical patterns of denial on my blog at

That happens because we think, consciously or not, that we can’t bear it. Our protection instincts kick in to stop us from crying or losing our way. But many of us are probably feeling a bit anxious about the situation I have described. So, before I say anymore, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that anxiety. If you feel like it, I’d like to invite you to notice where it sits in your body, take a deep breath, and let it out, knowing that we are not in danger ourselves right now. I wonder whether we could find a way to welcome that anxiety for how it can invite us to change our beliefs and behaviours.

Some of us will want to grieve. I did. And I still do. Grief about this situation and what is coming will now be a companion to the rest of my life. But grief isn’t a feeling that exists alone. We grieve because we love life, including our own, those of others and the whole of life itself. Love is the basis of our grief. In recognising that basis for our grief, we can move beyond despair or numbness. We can start again, to explore what we might be and do now. Only after acceptance can new forms of meaning, new forms of hope, new kinds of vision be allowed to emerge. For most people that process of moving into and through despair towards a renewed basis for being and acting is not a quick one. And certainly not immediate. But we have just a few minutes more together in this session. So, I invite you to open the door. To begin to reflect on “what if?”

Some of you will have been through this process for some time, maybe even years. If you have, then I ask you to refrain from aspiring to have lots of answers. We may want to have a plan and reassure ourselves and others. But we can’t really prefabricate for collapse. I will therefore ask you now to turn to one person only and share with each other what you FEEL in response to this question. Just stick with feelings to start with. Let’s do this not as conversation but hearing our neighbour speak without interruption. I know this is a big ask but I’m going to ring a bell after one minute and ask you to then switch speaker. The person with the longest hair in your pair can start.

“What if it is too late to avert a catastrophe in our own societies within our lifetimes, due to the impacts of climate change, particularly on agriculture?” How would you FEEL?

Now switch.

Thankyou. Now check in with yourself. Aside from what you shared and heard, what else do you feel?

Thankyou. Now, please turn to another person, and share what you THINK in response to the same question, with an additional part: “What if it is too late to avert a catastrophe in our own societies within our lifetimes, due to the impacts of climate change, particularly on agriculture? What might that mean for my life and work?”

Now switch.

Thankyou. To conclude, please formulate a key question you now have that you want to answer because of this talk. If you want to, take a moment to write it down. I’ll give you a minute.

In my paper I provide more background on what has led me to this situation where I’m inviting conversations like the ones you have just had. I don’t have many answers, as this is new territory for me, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, even before considering the implications for strategies and policies. Instead, I invite you to keep having these conversations, and see what emerges. I realise this is quite tough for many of us and it has been for me. On my website I discuss the range of responses I have experienced or witnessed, as well as information on emotional support on this topic.

Thankyou for your attention and taking the time for reflection.


The paper draws on the studies analysed in the conference paper, available here. Other references include:


In the News
Professor Bendell's work on Deep Adaptation has received mainstream media coverage in New York Magazine and Bloomberg.
Next talks on Deep Adaptation by Prof Jem Bendell
30th October 2018, Kendal, Cumbria. Natural England. 12pm midday, Natural England offices. Private event.
17th December 2018, Carlisle, Cumbria. COWC and IFLAS. 7pm at Gateway Building, Fusehill Street. Public event, info here.
19th December 2018, Bristol, Avon. Labour Party and Momentum. 7pm. Public event, info here
If you could work professionally on this topic then consider the Deep Adaptation LinkedIn Group

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Monetary Innovation and Complementary Currencies Researcher Symposium

IFLAS is co-hosting its second Researcher Symposium on Monetary Innovation and Complementary Currencies, at the United Nations on Thursday 25.10.2018. We welcome post-doctoral, doctoral, and masters researchers who work on the topic of monetary innovation, monetary decentralization, in a digital currency or physical currency format, using a blockchain or cryptographically-secured currency or not, with a focus on the broader implications of these innovations for a sustainable society, whether from a legal, sociological, developmental, political, anthropological, management or economics perspective. Time: 10h00 - 13h00 (10:00 am to 01:00 pm). Venue: Room S4, Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland. Co-host: UNRISD, RAMICS, IFLAS,, SCC. Background: Blockchains for Sustainable Development is an event that will be held at the UN World Investment Forum at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on October 24th. This forum will be exploring the practical and regulatory implications of blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies. As the co-organizers of this session, Prof. Dr. Jem Bendell and Stephen DeMeulenaere have been active for many years on the subject of complementary currencies and the design of money for cooperation and sustainability, they have initiated this Researcher Symposium to encourage further research in this field. This Researcher Symposium, organised and facilitated by doctoral fellow Mag. Christophe Place, hopes to gather the contributions of as many postgraduate level students as possible. Every participant will present their research. The format will be 5 minutes presentation (researcher profile, research question, methodology, findings, contribution), 5 minutes questions and answers. UNRISD researchers will attend and provide feedback on the presentations. To request participation as a presenter, fill-in the form on by Tuesday 25.09.2018 with the following information: Forename, SURNAME, Institutional Affiliation, Research Title, Research Abstract (max. 200 words), Email, Phone (facultative). By confirming your participation, you agree on sharing this information and your presentation with all participants if selected as a suitable candidate to present. Register for the World Investment Forum via

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

New Paper on Deep Adaptation to Climate Chaos

Today IFLAS releases its 2nd Occasional Paper on themes of leadership and sustainability. “Deep Adaptation: A map for navigating the climate tragedy” addresses in depth some implications of the most recent climate measurements and science.

Sadly, the analysis leads the author to conclude that climate-induced collapse is now inevitable. Professor Bendell studied climate science as part of his degree at the University of Cambridge in the 1990s, and only returned to the primary studies this year after seeing the increasingly worrying news about current changes to our atmosphere and its impacts on our ecosystems at sea and on land. “For the past decades I had relied on the assessments and guidance from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – which was worrying enough” said Bendell, a full Professor of Sustainability Leadership. “But the measured changes in our current environment have outpaced even the worst predictions of the IPCC over the past decades. The leading climate scientists are reporting a much worse situation than the IPCC.” The paper looks at peer reviewed journals and supplements that with the latest data direct from research institutes on climate. “The whole field of sustainable development research, policy and education, and sustainable business in particular, is based on the view that we can halt climate change and avert catastrophe” explains Bendell. “By returning to the science, I discovered that view is no longer tenable. I then explored why people who work in this field, whether as researcher, activists or policy makers, may have been ignoring this difficult truth. It is understandable – none of us want to suffer, none of us want to think years of work has been futile, and none of us want to be admonished by colleagues or ridiculed online.”

The paper was recently rejected by anonymous reviewers of an academic journal which Bendell has published in before. He also guest edited an issue of the journal last year. “The reviewers wanted the paper to build on existing scholarship in the field, whereas, unsurprisingly, my literature found no prior publications premised on a social collapse due to a global environmental catastrophe” said Bendell. In saying the paper was not suitable for publication, one of the comments from the reviewers questioned the emotional impact that the paper might have on readers. “I was left wondering about the social implications of presenting a scenario for the future as inevitable reality, and about the responsibility of research in communicating climate change scenarios and strategies for adaptation.” wrote one of the reviewers. “As the authors pointed out, denial is a common emotional response to situations that are perceived as threatening and inescapable, leading to a sense of helplessness, inadequacy, and hopelessness and ultimately disengagement from the issue…”

That perspective is discussed in the paper as one that enables denial. Professor Bendell explains in his response to the Editor, that the response may reflect “the self-defeating hierarchical attitude towards society that many of us have in both academia and sustainability, where we censure our own exploration of a topic due to what we consider should or should not be communicated. There is both scholarship and experience on the impact of communicating about disaster, and I discuss that in the paper.” Moreover, Bendell consulted with practicing psychotherapists on both the motivational and mental health implications of this analysis and was reassured that perceptions of a collective tragic future should not in itself be a cause for depression. Instead, it could trigger transformative reflection which could be supported - and would be inevitable one day, given the inevitability of mortality for all human life. Bendell has blogged on his letter to the editor here.   

"I am releasing this paper immediately, directly, because I can’t wait any longer in exploring how to learn the implications of the social collapse we now face," Bendell explains. The paper offers a new framing for beginning to make sense of the disaster we face, called “deep adaptation.” It is one that Professor Bendell proposed in a keynote lecture two years ago and has influenced community dialogue on climate change in Britain in the past two years, including in Peterborough and Newcastle as well as being used by the Dark Mountain network.   
"Perhaps the paper will appear in a journal one day," says Bendell. "I still believe in the role that we in academia can play at this difficult time, but I can't wait around given the urgency of the situation."

The paper “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy” is downloadable as a pdf from here.

A LinkedIn group on Deep Adaptation exists to support professional discussion of the topic.

Professor Bendell will be presenting the paper at the Poetics of Leadership Conference in September at the University of Cumbria and exploring implications during the Foundations of Sustainable Leadership short course immediately after the conference in Ambleside, UK. 
Bendell provides links here to articles, podcasts, and videos to help people manage emotionally with this information. 

Data Update August 5th 2018:

After reading a version of the paper Professor Wadhams corrected a mistake in citing his conclusions on the reduction of the Arctic albedo effect. His finding of a 50% increase in warming from an ice free Arctic was misquoted as doubling the effect of warming from anthropogenic emissions. It has been corrected to say a 50% increase. The author is pleased with the reduction in the predicted heat exacerbating feedback, though concludes it makes no difference to the argument that IPCC predictions have been too cautious and that current measurements provide evidence of runaway climate change (which the author concludes will lead to social collapse, which therefore requires a shift in attention to "deep adaptation"). 

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Rural Innovation Ecosystems and Leading Wellbeing

There is much talk in government and academic circles of ‘innovation ecosystems’, in which focused government interventions create an environment (or ecology) in which companies can be nurtured, grown and developed. Similar to ecology where organisms interact with one another and with their physical environment, the expectation is that with the appropriate start in life, the innovation ecosystem will blossom, put down roots and eventually become sustainable. There are several well-known examples where this has happened around the world, mostly where there is a cluster of high technology companies located near a world-leading university. Within the UK, the example most frequently cited is Cambridge, where over many decades strategic corporate partnerships and spin off companies have worked with the University, leading to a plethora of science parks, supplier relationships and new collaboration opportunities. In the USA, there are several examples, notably Silicon Valley, California and Boston, Massachusetts. And there are other examples in Europe, Asia and even a fledgling ICT Village in Madagascar, facilitated by the United Nations. In an innovation ecosystem, there may be an ‘anchor institution’ (usually a university), that provides an environment for knowledge exchange, skills development, and networking. There will be many innovative small companies, which could be spin offs, subsidiaries of large companies or independent. There are opportunities to find out about new technologies and ways of working, leading to collaboration and the development of new products and services. Business angels and venture capitalists will be drawn to the area to invest, large companies will seek to develop their supply chain there, and all this should lead to new jobs and wealth creation. 

Apart from a few cases, most of the successful innovation ecosystems are in urban areas. Clearly, networking and collaboration are enabled by closer physical proximity, but there is no doubt that such activities would be of great benefit in rural areas, which are characterised by lower levels of productivity and economic performance. In a recent article in the Journal of Corporate Citizenship (Marshall and Murphy, 2017), we have explored some of the issues facing rural innovation ecosystems. Rural settlements are defined in terms of population density. The dispersed populations obviously mean that businesses and communities are more isolated, so that travel times to access customers or collaborators, or to undertake normal business activities are longer. There are other issues too. Opportunities for young people, particularly those with higher level skills, tend to be fewer; typically they leave and move to urban areas. This makes the population demographics relatively older. This effect is further enhanced as rural areas attract people in later life, as retirees, commuters to urban areas, or home-based workers – all seeking a better lifestyle, or enhanced ‘wellbeing’. Larger employers, in the public, voluntary and private sectors, are more likely to be smaller subsidiaries. There do not tend to be specialist medical centres, or leading research hubs located rurally. There is a vicious circle around attracting, retaining and developing skilled professionals into the area, as it is hard to provide a package that supports their career development.

However, rural areas do attract a particular type of mid-career, skilled professional. They may have held senior roles in larger urban organisations and may have good networks in their own field. They are often attracted to relocate to a rural area, perhaps to accompany a spouse taking up one of the few senior professional roles, or possibly more proactively because they seek a better work-life balance, a desire for a rural lifestyle and wellbeing. Many become self-employed and many are highly innovative. There is evidence that rural economies are sustained by more varied types of businesses, including new business models, social enterprises and clustering of micro-businesses. Unlike what seems to be the conventional image held by policy-makers, these business owners may not be desirous of growth, but to prefer lower risk choices. They may also be older and they may be more likely to be female.  Social enterprise models in which there is a major volunteer element (such as Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN)) are prevalent. There may be links to cultural industries, particularly associated with the landscape and heritage of the area. The reasons for these differences are, of course, related to the population sparsity, the difficulties in accessing resources, people and skills. However, there is emerging evidence that there are also differences in aspirations, lifestyle choices and preferences. Rural areas are populated by individuals, many of whom work in more than one part-time role. Their lives can be a complex mix of paid and unpaid work, self-employment, educational and caring activities. Of course, this is not only a rural phenomenon, but there are certainly fewer opportunities for more conventional roles, meaning that this pattern is prevalent. This means that a rural innovation ecosystem could be something very different from a conventional urban one. It may be less about supporting high technology businesses to grow fast and more about developing individuals to sustain a balanced rural economy. It may require different types of structure, leadership and ‘anchoring’. 

As a starting point, we need to understand more about the kinds of businesses in our rural economy, how they use new knowledge to innovate, how they network and collaborate, and what kind of external business support is useful to them. At the University of Cumbria, we are starting to explore this in a small pilot study on the Innovation Capabilities of SMEs, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Innovate UK, in collaboration with the Universities of Exeter, Edinburgh, Essex. For further information:


Alison Marshall, David F Murphy and Katie Carr
Institute for Leadership and Sustainability
12 July 2018

IFLAS Open Lectures for Autumn 2018 - we're three quarters of the way there!

Three out of four Open Lectures for the coming season have now been finalised, with just one more to be set in stone. So, we have...

Tuesday September 11th, James Rebanks - How to be a sustainable farmer.

In the last five years, James Rebanks went from unknown rural shepherd to international phenomenon.   Initially with his popular Twitter account - @herdyshepherd1 - and then with his critically acclaimed, and bestselling, memoir The Shepherd’s Life, he documented the unique pastoral farming system of the Lake District that has now contributed to the Lake District 2017 World Heritage Site status.  James lives and works around Penrith in the Lake District, in the valleys and fells his family has farmed for more than 600 years.  He was one of just thirty people nominated in The Sunday Times 2018 Alternative Rich List: “In the frantic modern world, he is not only doing a deeply satisfying and meaningful job, which has been needed for generations, he is also campaigning to protect the land he loves and works on.”

James will be talking from a farmer's perspective on the ethics, responsibility and sustainability challenges that we all now face.

Then in early October, we are delighted to welcome back (to IFLAS and to the UK!) Kate Rawles, fresh from a tip to top cycle ride in South America for a recollection of that epic journey - 'The Life Cycle - a biodiversity bike ride'

In 2017/18 Kate Rawles aka @CarbonCycleKate rode the length of South America on ‘Woody’ a bicycle made of bamboo that she built herself at the London-based Bamboo Bicycle Club from bamboo grown at Cornwall’s Eden Project. From Colombia to Cape Horn, (or as close as you can get to it on a bike), Kate and Woody – the UK’s first ‘home-grown bicycle’ - travelled for 8288 miles following the spine of the Andes through an astonishing variety of landscapes and ecosystems, from Pacific ocean to high Andes paramo; from cloud and rainforests to Bolivian salt flats and the Atacama desert. The aim was to explore biodiversity: what it is, what’s happening to it, why that matters and, above all, what can and is being done to protect it – and then to use the adventure story to help raise awareness and inspire action on this hugely important but relatively neglected environmental challenge.

En route, Kate, who rode most of the journey solo, visited a wide range of projects and met some truly inspiring people. From a school whose entire curriculum was based on turtles to a group of young people standing up against one of the largest gold corporations in the world; from a woman who bought millions of acres of Chile to turn then into nature conservation reserves to an organisation protecting endangered monkeys by showing local people how to earn money by turning waste plastic into high fashion handbags rather than by catching monkeys for the illegal (but lucrative) wildlife pet trade. Having arrived back in the UK by cargo ship, Kate will share pictures and stories of her adventure, the highs and lows, the challenges, the ethical dilemmas and sustainability learning, the people and places and of course, the bamboo bike.

Kate’s previous ‘adventure plus’ journey, The Carbon Cycle, a ride from Texas to Alaska exploring climate change, lead to a slide show and a book that was shortlisted for the Banff (Canada) Mountain Festival Adventure Travel Book Award. Writing The Life Cycle book is underway!

Kate will be here in Ambleside on Tuesday the 2nd October, 17.30 to 19.00

Our third free Open Lecture, on Tuesday the 16th October, will be a welcome return for regular IFLAS contributor Julie Hutchison.

Transforming Not-for-profit Governance: Fresh and more diverse leadership for a digital age

The composition of boards is increasingly under the spotlight, both in the corporate and also the not-for-profit sector.  With word-of-mouth recruitment methods and many roles going unadvertised, questions are being asked about whether not-for-profit boards are representative of the communities they serve. 


In an intervention intended to support change, IFLAS alumna Julie Hutchison has set up a consultancy Trusteeship Matters, which uses a range of digital methods to better publicise vacancies, offer education on trusteeship, and support charity trustees by means of an online community of practice called #trusteehour.  This Open Lecture looks at fresh leadership for a digital age and how this can help a not-for-profit board evolve to meet emerging challenges."

Again this talk, along with the others, will be here in Ambleside, 17.30 to 19.00 in the Percival Lecture theatre.

To register, please email us at . (The James Rebanks talk is likely to be over-subscribed, and once capacity is reached, those wishing to attend will be added to a waiting list. Transfer from the waiting list to the attendance list may be at very short notice as people drop out).

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Rethinking Leadership in the Lake District

The poor quality of leadership is a common complaint. Whether politics, business or social change, we often despair at the lack of character, vision, and decisiveness of those “in charge.” As economic, social and environmental problems worsen, some argue this leadership gap threatens our very security and wellbeing. They hope for a future where we would be able trust more of our leaders to do the right thing.

It is an understandable perspective. Indeed, psychologists studying our views on leadership tell us that wanting to be saved by leaders is a “hardwired” perspective. Once awakened to this tendency, we can think again about how to address the threats to our security and wellbeing. Rather than forever hoping for something different from above, we can begin to create something different from below.
Come see what Google sees
That philosophy of "collective leadership" is what is being
explored in the Lake District over 7 days this summer. Its implications for how we engage each-other in social and organisational change will be explored, as well as the implications of a troubling global context for our future choices.

The first part of this exploration is a 2-day conference of both academics and leadership coaches. It will explore the role of communication and emotion under the title the “Poetics of Leadership.” In one of the keynote talks, the world-renowned leadership academic and coach Jonathan Gosling will explore his initial ideas on what a coming climate catastrophe may imply for collective leadership. In addition to 40 sessions and paper presentations, the conference will host performance theatre and poetry to stimulate reflection. Vice Chancellor Julie Mennell will open the conference on September 7th.

The second part of the exploration is a 4-day course on this new approach to leadership. It is hosted by Professor Jem Bendell, who has advised senior leaders in business, charities and politics. In early 2017 he worked with the leader of the UK opposition party to articulate his approach to collective leadership during the General Election. Jem will be joined by Richard Little, from Impact International, who has advised leadership teams in the worlds largest organisations. Ed Gillespie, of the sustainability communications consultants Futerra, will help us explore the implications of global challenges. Katie Carr will host activities to enable better communication and connection.  

The course starts on September 10th. Before that, a free Sunday provides conference delegates the opportunity for their own self-organised activities, such as a visit to the Wordsworth Museum, boat rides and fell walking.

These 7 days in the beautiful Lake District provide a lovely opportunity to begin to resolve that angst we can feel about a leadership gap in addressing today's threats. It may inspire a new way of approaching your work and life in the context of global dilemmas.  

To register for the conference, organised in partnership with the Crossfields Institute, click here.

To register for the course, without enrolling as a student or seeking assessment and qualification, click here.

To register for the course, as an enrolled student with requirements for assessment and opportunity to obtain a Certificate of Achievement or progress to the full qualification in Sustainable Leadership, click here.

True learning is transformative. “This course changed my life” said one of our past students. It’s why we do it.  

Monday, 2 July 2018

Leadership Lessons from the World Cup

A flurry of social media posts described the “curse of world champions” after the reigning football champions Germany went out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the group stage. Since the finals in 2006, every world champion has failed in the group stage at the next World Cup. Italy, Spain and now Germany. As defending champions, France also fell at the first hurdle in 2002. Each nation fielded similar teams to the ones that had won four years before.

There may be a reason for this pattern other than a "curse". A reason to be found in our typical reactions to success, whether achieved by an individual, team or company. A reason that explains how leadership lessons can also be taken from the transformation of the England team at this year’s tournament.

Like politics, a week is a long time in football. So four years between World Cups is like an eternity. Players age, slow down, pick up injuries, and can lose form. And whether they are successful individually depends on whether a tactical system is suited to their strengths. Not only do those strengths change as they age, but those tactical systems should change as the opposition work you out.

In management studies, we look at why it is typical for successful organizations to fail. If we look at the top of the stock market, almost 100 were not in the S&P top 500 at the start of the last World Cup. That means about a fifth of the world’s largest companies have fallen out of the top ranking. Success can breed failure when people become fixed into routines while the context changes, due to inevitable changes in technology, markets and regulations. Leadership is often expected to come entirely from the successful professionals who have risen to the top, and whom are allied to the those existing routines. Instead, fast changing contexts call for work cultures that encourage initiative from across the organisation – something now dubbed “collective leadership.” 

As both an Englishman and a Professor of Leadership, I’m appreciating the England team’s approach to collective leadership, which is in sharp contrast to the failures of defending champions. The England team failed to achieve success in major tournaments since 1966. Their last run to the semi-final of the World Cup was 28 years ago. In the 2018 tournament they won their first two games for only third time in their history and did so with a lively pattern of play. For once, it was fun to watch. 

Experts point out that the team does not have better players than in the past. So what is different? Under the manager Gareth Southgate, the narrative about leadership has changed. Which doesn’t just mean the focus on the captain, but the shift to an emphasis on system, team and squad, rather than on the famous players. 

In the past, England always went into tournaments with a drama about the recovery from injury of a ‘top’ player, which then disrupted preparations and meant some players were half fit during a tournament. The role of captain was made so paramount that the manager almost always had to play the established captain, even when they were not suited to a tactical formation, or no longer the best player in their favoured position. England also kept playing its star players well beyond their best years - a parallel to what happened with the exiting world champions. 

This culture has been encouraged by the sports media, who always single out individuals after a match. It is far easier to tell the public that the key to a performance was whether a star player did something good or not, rather than explain tactics. It is commonplace for journalists to speak about the ‘talisman’ of a team – a phrase that literally implies magical powers of a special individual. It is a problem when football managers begin to believe these stories of magical powers, by openly describing a player as an automatic choice.  

This situation parallels what organisational psychologists have discovered since experiments in the 1980s. They found that whether or not there is any evidence for the view, the majority of people think that any outcome that is below or above average is more a result of the boss than other factors such as market conditions. They concluded that we have a romantic idea of the importance of a leader, and that this idea restricts our ability to act collectively for our common interest. 

Gareth Southgate broke this thought pattern. Immediately he downplayed the importance of the captaincy and rotated it. "We have this thing about 'an England captain', but really the captain is the person that is captain in the next game, isn't it?” the England manager explained. "Always the danger in any sport with naming a 'captain' is selection. Always there is a danger with form or anything else that it becomes a matter of debate." He said “you need leaders everywhere” and described the importance of a leadership group within the squad. 

How do you achieve that? In the leadership courses I teach, we focus on how to create leaderful groups, where anyone of any rank can step up in a moment to help the group achieve a meaningful objective. It is a philosophy of collective leadership which made me notice the shift in the England set up. Last year the squad were taken to see the Marines and camped out in a forest and undertook activities aimed at team building. "That would never have happened back in the day…” said Jermain Defoe, the striker who played for a few England managers. “We did not have our phones. I did things that I never thought I would do. There were times when I felt a little bit scared doing it, but you have to because your team-mates are pushing you on and it's all about building that trust.” 

During the World Cup, Southgate has been invited to succumb to the magical idea of the talismanic leaders who will save a team. After the win against Tunisia he was asked to single out players for praise. In reply, he said the result was due to the effort of the whole squad. He often mentions how football is a squad game – even widening the idea that it is a team game.

This approach to collective leadership and dropping the myth of talismanic players has reduced the risk that a loss of form or an injury would disrupt performances. It has avoided systems of play being chosen because of one or two ‘talismen’ who have been mythologised. The new approach has been noticed by some sports journalists as ditching the era of “Mr Big Stuff”. 

Ultimately, success in sport, as in business, depends as much on talent, luck and the competition as it does on a philosophy of management or leadership. But the lesson from the failure of past World Champions and the transformation of England this year is that our attitudes to leadership do matter.  

Professor Jem Bendell, Founder, IFLAS.