Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Because It’s Not a Drill - Presentation at a European Commission event on Climate Emergency

As news of our climate predicament worsens, more organisations are exploring the possibility of future disruption to our social and economic systems.

That was the topic of an event organised by staff of DG Connect of the European Commission on May 13th 2019. In the morning, invited speakers shared their views on the climate emergency and potential societal collapse. Then in the afternoon, a workshop was organised on Deep Adaptation to our climate predicament.

The originator of the Deep Adaptation approach, Professor Jem Bendell, gave a speech based on a paper he prepared for the conference. The paper "Because It’s Not a Drill: Technologies for Deep Adaptation to Climate Chaos." is downloadable here.

The paper is being discussed in the Government and Policy interest group of the Deep Adaptation Forum.


The climate emergency calls on us to explore what we can do, individually and collectively, to adapt to climate-induced disruption. Such adaptation must go beyond mere adjustments to our existing economic system and infrastructure, in order to prepare us for the breakdown or collapse of normal societal functions. A framework for exploring this issue, called Deep Adaptation, is summarised. Technologies will be important for helping us develop not only resilience but also collapse-readiness. Five areas of technology are outlined in order to illustrate the kinds of ideas that can emerge from applying a Deep Adaptation approach to our predicament. In outlining technological possibilities, it is emphasised that any technology should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, rather than from a general perspective on whether technology is helpful or not. In addition, the focus on technology in this paper and its associated discussions is not intended to distract from the political and psychological challenge of our climate emergency. Therefore, a transformative economic agenda is retained as a context for how we imagine policies to harness technologies for Deep Adaptation. Brief recommendations are offered for the European Commission   

Friday, 22 February 2019

Deep Adaptation Concept Unlocks Conversations Worldwide on our Climate Tragedy

The release of the Deep Adaptation paper by IFLAS in July 2018 has generated significant attention worldwide. It has been downloaded over 200,000 times, mentioned in media around the world (from Bloomberg to the New York Magazine), and inspired a new generation of climate activists, including some leaders in the Extinction Rebellion movement. Given that impact, Professor Bendell was one of the first academics to sign a public letter supporting the launch of the non-violent rebellion - one of the Guardian's most shared letters ever.

In his paper, Professor Jem Bendell reviewed the latest climate science as well as the pace of response to conclude that humanity now faces inevitable collapse of our societies due to disruptive climate change. He invites readers to explore what an acceptance of that situation could mean for our life and work. He created Deep Adaptation as a framework to aid that exploration. It differs from the mainstream agenda on adaptation as it is premised on the belief that we will not be able to maintain our current systems and way of life in the face of disruptive climate change. Bendell explains "the concept of Deep Adaptation has been unlocking conversations on our climate tragedy because it helps make it slightly more acceptable to discuss our fears about how bad things are and what to do about that."

In the past months Prof Bendell has given some speeches and interviews about this topic. These included a public lecture to 300 people in Bristol, UK in December, then an interview with Scientists Warning TV.

Jem was also interviewed by Extinction Radio and the Future is Beautiful podcast. In 2019 he will be speaking about Deep Adaptation at a range of events, listed here. The topic will also be explored in the leadership course he tutors this summer, over 4 days in the Lake District, UK. He is also now supervising doctoral researchers who are linking their work to the Deep Adaptation agenda.

Given the reaction to the paper, Professor Bendell provided further reflections in a blog on hope and vision in the face of climate-induced collapse. He will be discussing these psychological aspects at the Climate Psychology Alliance event in London in April.

To help the wide range of professionals who want to explore this agenda but are finding their colleagues too incredulous to engage, Bendell is launching a free Deep Adaptation Forum in March. This will enable closer collaboration than the 1000+ Deep Adaptation group on LinkedIn (join that to receive the information on the forum launch). 

Transformative Societal and Professional Learning in Troubling Times - researching aspects of Deep Adaptation to Environmental Breakdown

At IFLAS our cohort of doctoral researchers has expanded. While the topics are diverse, all relate to how we learn in ways that could transform our lives and societies; especially in difficult circumstances. Professor Jem Bendell is their lead supervisor, bringing a methodological emphasis on action research with critical consciousness and an invitation that we explore Deep Adaptation to potential environmental breakdown.

The doctoral students who have joined IFLAS this academic year are Dorian Cave, Cecilie Smith-Christensen and Jason Hocknell-Nickels. From France, Dorian is studying the learning of activists participating in online networks. From Norway, Cecilie is studying the professional learning on Deep Adaptation in the international cultural sector. From the UK, Jason is studying his practice as a coach enabling professional learning within the civil service. Summaries of their research follow below.

Dorian, Cecilie and Jason join existing IFLAS PhD students Jo Chaffer (studying leadership development and sustainability), Aimee Leslie Bogantes (studying the circular economy and sustainability), Christophe Place (studying currency innovation and sustainability), Arianna Briganti (studying leadership in international development) and Sonia Hutchison (studying leadership in social work). Their supervision teams are comprised of Professor Jem Bendell, Dr David Murphy, Dr Kaz Stuart, Dr Darrell Smith, Professor Jack Whitehead, Dr. Marie Huxtable and Dr Nicoletta Policek.

Cecilie Smith-Christensen is researching World Heritage, Deep Adaptation and Sustainable Exchange Systems. She summarises her work thus:

“Runaway climate change is an existential threat to habitats, human civilizations and life as we know it. Despite goals set out through the Paris Agreement (UNFCCC 2016) the World is not on the track to avoid it. Based on recent studies of climate change and its implications for ecosystems, economies and societies, the paper Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy (Bendell, 2018) concludes that social collapse due to climate change is inevitable within the near future. By breaking a taboo within academia and public discourse, the Deep Adaptation approach offers a perspective to consider new perspectives and options in response to climate change.
In my research I will apply the Deep Adaptation Agenda as a meta framing of the implications of climate change and inevitable near-term social collapse on the implementation of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention (1972) most known for the World Heritage List comprising 1092 cultural and natural heritage properties of Outstanding Universal Value. Many of these sites and related communities are already experiencing climate induced disruptions, forms of biological and social collapse, and even the threat of extinction.
In the face of climate change and various forms of disruption, collaboration emerges as the core mechanism to ensure survival and restoration post-collapse. The global network of World Heritage sites and stakeholders lends itself to scale collaborative efforts. However, a general challenge of applying an existing mechanism and social construct is its embeddedness in the neo-classical economic growth paradigm. A key problem is that economic growth on a limited planet cannot be sustainable, and hence even efforts towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals will be unsustainable and consequently contributing to our climate predicament.
Through action research involving a broad set of World Heritage stakeholders I aim to explore shared dilemmas in implementation of the Convention in the context of climate change, and furthermore explore how application and scaling sustainable exchange systems in and around World Heritage sites may help humanity face climate-induced disruption.”

Dorian Cave is researching how online networks enable collective mobilisation through learning. He summarises his work thus:

“The human species is living through a period of existential challenges unparalleled in history. Indeed, the planet Earth is undergoing rapid changes, caused by mankind itself, which could severely compromise human survival — including: the 6th mass extinction event; climatic disruptions; and topsoil losses. These issues are compounded by widespread systemic social and political failures, such as the economic growth imperative; entrenched fossil fuels dependence; rising inequalities; and failing democratic processes.
And yet, global efforts aiming at rising to this civilizational challenge seem scattered, piecemeal, and orders of magnitude below what would be needed; one need only look at current climate change “commitments” in the wake of the 2015 Paris Agreement. I believe that from the perspective of effectuating a global transition to a fairer and more sustainable world, insufficient attention and efforts have been devoted to the following aspects:
1. Education and consciousness-raising. A multitude of indicators point at the lack of awareness as regards our existential predicament among the general population. My hypothesis is that the reason for this is largely an insufficient understanding, especially on the direct emotional level, of what is at stake (not to mention plenty of ways to avoid having to think about it).
2. Means of connected mobilisation. Online social networks have become a central feature of our lives. These tools have been hailed by some as central to the development of new popular and democratic movements. However, when considering the multitude of grassroots initiatives that aim at creating positive social change on a particular topic, the lack of networks and other instruments specifically dedicated to federating such efforts is rather striking.

In the course of my research, I will be bringing together these two avenues of research, and thus, investigate how online networks may foster and enable collective mobilisation through learning.”

Jason Hocknell-Nickels is researching his practice as a values-based coach within the British civil service. He has created a website that chronicles his approach and findings, where he introduces his work as follows:

“Would you like to live well? By the term ‘well’ I personally don’t mean wealthy; although for you that might be part of what it means. By living ‘well’ I have in mind the idea of living authentically or living my values in real life and my professional practice. This is important to me because I work in complex change and transformation and being authentic helps my practice as a change coach. I am also interested in being authentic across my different life worlds or spaces. By this idea I mean that I desire to have a certain level of integrity in terms of my values. I am hoping that my values as actions-in-the-world can demonstrated across work, family, friends, as well as other voluntary work, and professional communities of practice, for example.
To these ends, I have decided to share my learning of the ways by which I live my life. I am hoping that I can create an account and then openly and honestly share the data that I will collect by way of evaluation. My intention is that my account will meet the criteria for a Doctorate in Living-Theory. You can read more about this approach to research here.

How do I evidence and learn from the ways by which I live my values in action? What values give rise to feelings of authenticity across my different life spaces? How do I learn? How do I communicate my learning to others?”

Our three new doctoral students add to the University’s engagement with key contemporary issues in ways that are interdisciplinary and use a variety of action research methods complemented by a philosophy of criticality. Given the significant international response to Professor Bendell's work on Deep Adaptation, he will begin a Critical Living Theory project on the practices of public intellectuals and forum convenors. Information on his engagements in 2019 is available here.

To reach the new doctoral researchers or their lead supervisor Prof Bendell, contact

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

IFLAS Open Lecture series - Spring 2019

Here at IFLAS we are delighted to announce the first three of the Spring/Summer series of Open Lectures.

On Tuesday 26th March we have the first Open Lecture in 2019:

Rob & Harriet Fraser: Making Sense of Here: Artful ways of reflecting on the Lake District National Park, a landscape of multiple truths.

What happens when you have a single place that’s celebrated internationally for its beauty and culture, yet has multiple and often conflicting land-use issues? Where is the common ground? How can creative practice and artful ways of thinking contribute to an appreciation of nature, and add to the debate about ways of finding balance in complex environments? Drawing on their work over the past seven years among environmental specialists, farmers and land managers, and their current project ‘Sense of Here’, Harriet and Rob put the Lake District under a ‘creative’ lens and invite you to join them on a provocative journey.

Writer Harriet Fraser and Photographer Rob Fraser work together as ‘somewhere-nowhere’. Their photography, poetry and installation work, which celebrates the beauty of nature while also exploring critical environmental issues, has been exhibited across the UK, and they work with schools and public groups with the aim of strengthening connections between people and nature. Their work frequently involves long walks and celebrates the value of slowing down and listening: meetings with experts across disciplines allows them to consider the complexity of place, and ranging from soil science to farming and forestry, environmental monitoring, hydrology and data analysis. There current project, ‘Sense of Here’, seeks out local views about the places we call home, and interconnectivity between different places, mindsets and visions for the future. Books include The Long View (shortlisted for Lakeland Book of the Year, 2018), Land Keepers and Meadow. More at

Then the next free-to-attend Open Lecture will be with Solitiare Townsend:

 How your good life goals can change the world

Individuals are as important as institutions when it comes to sustainability. For too long personal action has been neglected in the global climate and sustainability process, but with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), now calling for us all to change our behaviors to combat climate change, something is starting to shift.

Solitaire Townsend was the driving force behind the United Nations new Good Life Goals, a set of personal actions linked to each of the Sustainable Development Goals. She will explore the ways individuals can lever change at scale, and how people power is as important as powerful people to save the world.

Solitaire has been a passionate change-maker for over 30 years. As co-founder of Futerra she advises governments, charities and brands including Danone, Lancôme and Vodafone on imagining a better future, and making it happen. With Futerra offices in London, Stockholm, New York and Mexico City she admits that making the world a better place is a damn good business plan. You can watch her TEDx talks online and read her in the Guardian, Huffington Post, Forbes and more often as @GreenSolitaire. Solitaire was named ‘Ethical Entrepreneur of the Year’ in 2008 and more recently was Chair of the UK Green Energy Scheme, a member of the United Nations Sustainable Lifestyles Taskforce and a London Leader for Sustainability. Her new book The Happy Hero - How To Change Your Life By Changing The World is out now. 

Following on from this will be the third talk of the season, this time featuring Aimee Leslie:

Collaborating for Fisheries Sustainability: Perspectives from new research in Peru

Peru is mostly known for its industrial anchoveta fisheries, the biggest monospecific fisheries of the world. What people don’t know is that there are more than 44,000 artisanal fishers in Peru, and over 60% of them work in illegality. This means they have no fishing permit, no social security, there is no stock assessment of the populations they fish, continued illegal construction of new fishing vessels, and high levels of corruption in local fisheries authorities. WWF-Peru is collaborating with fishers to face these challenges by helping them set up fisheries cooperativas with sustainable business models, meet the legal requirements to get their fishing permits, denounce cases of corruption, and set up traceability systems. In this talk you will learn about about fisheries in Peru and the associated legal and sustainability challenges the sector faces, and what WWF is doing to try to address these challenges.

Aimée Leslie is doing a PhD in Leadership and Sustainability with the University of Lancaster and Cumbria. She has a Masters in Environmental Management from Costa Rica and a Masters in Education for Sustainable Development from Spain. She has been working for WWF for over 7 years, with WWF International as Global Cetacean and Marine Turtle Manager based out of Switzerland and as Director of WWF-Peru’s Marine Program since beginning of 2018. She is a member of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group, the IWC Scientific Committee, and the CMS Bycatch Working Group.

Each of these talks will take place at the Percival Lecture Theatre on our Ambleside campus on Tuesdays from 5.30pm and will finish around 7pm.

All of the above talks are completely free to attend, all that we ask is that you register by emailing us at stating which talk you wish to attend, along with your name, and the name of anyone else that you wish to bring along with you.

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 naïve 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