What is Adaptation?
What do we mean by collapse or societal breakdown?
We define collapse as the breakdown of our current political, economic and societal systems, which are no longer fit for purpose and whose side-effects are causing collapse of our life-support systems.
Essentially, we have exceeded the ‘carrying capacity’ of our planet, and need to prepare for a different way of life.
We have historic debt levels, a dire economic outlook, are experiencing vital resource depletion, and are witnessing a disturbing shift in politics and belief systems.
As the consequences of the ecological and climate crises accumulate, in particular mass migration, food and water security, and infrastructure breakdown, we expect an increasing loss-of-faith in the current system, uncertainty in the future and an inability to keep the current system going. All leading to eventual collapse.
What comes after this collapse in the current system, or develops alongside it, is up to all of us.
Slow, then fast…
It’s probably reasonable to assume that collapse won’t happen all at once – it will be patchy and messy, and depend very much on where we live. There are already several regions in the world that are in obvious collapse.
Because of globalisation, inter-connectedness and just-in-time systems, if we do nothing, there will come a point where systems fail to function.
What does collapse look like?
In one sense, look around you!
Collapse can be defined as severe discontinuity of all systems and infrastructure. To some extent, we’re seeing this now in the midst of the COVID pandemic.
Collapse can refer to social and political systems, and/or environmental collapse.
Environmental collapses that are already in process include:
- 9 of the 15 global tipping points have already been reached, and we are racing towards the others (see here in Resources section)
- The collapse in bio-diversity, nature, river and ocean systems (6th mass extinction), including the collapse of coral reefs
- The collapse of the Arctic ice shelf and sea ice, leading to sea level rises, which will increase warming by reducing the albedo effect, and impact severely on coastal cities
- The collapse of harvests in various parts of the world
- The collapse of a stable ‘Goldilocks’ climate (not too warm, not too cold) we have enjoyed for thousands of years
The following are more subjective, but could include a collapse or breakdown in important social and psychological factors:
- The socio-political contract
- Trust in political systems and politicians – perhaps even the breakdown of democracy
- Trust in science and scientists
- Neo-liberal capitalism and our current economic system
- Old stories of progress and infinite growth
- Certainty about the Future
- The idea that current social injustices can be allowed to continue, e.g. BLM
- The possible rise of authoritarianism
What is Adaptation?
We believe that the current focus on climate mitigation – whilst necessary – often neglects the need for urgent adaptation and preparation. Baroness Brown, Head of the Adaptation Committee inside the UK’s Climate Change Committee, recently described Adaptation as “being the Cinderella who never gets to go to the ball”.
Mitigation is about anything we do to ‘turn things around’ so that we achieve our carbon-emissions targets. That’s important, in that there are mitigation strategies that will at least avoid making things worse, or slowing down the worst effects.
Adaptation refers to those things we do to prepare for the conditions that we know are coming, but most people are still in denial about. Good examples are building sea-walls, changing buildings to cope with rising temperatures, food and water security, and re-wilding or permaculture to reduce current soil depletion. This could be called ‘Outer Adaptation’.
What is DEEP Adaptation?
Deep Adaptation is about asking some fundamental and profound questions about who we are, what’s most important and how we choose to live now. It includes psycho-spiritual approaches that deepen our resilience. And starting now to build resilient, adaptable and deeply connected local communities. This could be called ‘Inner Adaptation’.
In 2018 Professor Jem Bendell released an academic paper. He wrote of “deep” adaptation to distinguish conversations based on acceptance of the likelihood or inevitability of near-term societal collapse due to climate change.
You can read Jem Bendell’s paper (2020 update) here:
This paper went viral (it is the most downloaded academic paper of all time) and was the launching point for a global community, which you can explore here:
He offered four concepts and questions to guide people as they consider this predicament:
The Four Rs: A Framework for Inquiry:
What is it that we most value and how can we keep that?
What can we get up in order to not to make matters worse?
What can we bring back that has been lost?
Reconciliation / Reconnection
What can we do to make peace with, love and support others? How can we live with love, joy and peace?
There are two broad paths within Deep Adaptation:
- Inner adaptation: exploring the emotional, psychological, and spiritual implications of living in a time when societal disruption/collapse is likely, inevitable, or already happening.
- Outer adaptation: working on practical measures to support wellbeing, ahead of and during collapse (e.g. regenerative living, community-building, policy activism).
Many people spend time processing the emotional implications of the coming collapse before looking outwards to find roles on the local and global levels. Others, in the wake of their grief, turn inward and learn to trust their own hearts and emotions, which can be an invitation to others to do the same.
Deep Adaptation contrasts with mainstream adaptation to disruption and collapse by going deeper into the causes and potential responses, both within us and in society.
Is it unhelpful to anticipate collapse?
We think it’s actually helpful. It allows us to stand tall and look the facts in the eye. Many people become very engaged in social and/or political action to slow climate change, address and reverse injustice, and reduce impacts once they anticipate collapse. Additionally, the more time we have to adapt, the more likely we can hold communities together to keep one another safe and take practical steps.
Does global collapse mean the extinction of humans?
No. Although human extinction is a possibility at some point in the future, we are talking about the collapse of this industrialised global society – which has already breached planetary boundaries.
It wouldn’t be odd if this civilization was to collapse.
Looked at from an historical perspective, it would be odd if it didn’t.
Societal collapse has happened many times over the past 5000 years, over all continents (Roman Empire, Mayans, Easter Island, etc), and it has often entailed great population contractions. It was not automatically the case that everyone in a given civilisation or culture died as a result (see studies from Joseph Tainter, Jared Diamond, Dmitry Orlov and others).
All other civilizations throughout human history have collapsed. It takes a certain kind of hubris to believe that we are special and different from all the others.
However, there are two vital differences this time – when compared to civilizations in the past:
- We have exceeded the ‘carrying capacity’ of our planet.
- Globalisation and interconnectedness mean that the coming collapse would be planetary-wide (although not necessarily all at the same time)
By focusing on climate adaptation and not mitigation, it sounds like you’re just giving up?
HEART Community Group was set up to make sure climate adaptation gains the attention and actions it deserves.
Climate mitigation absolutely must be undertaken with urgency to at least avoid making things worse, or slow down the worst effects. Members of HEART Community Group contribute to action on this through existing organisations (e.g., Extinction Rebellion, Fridays for Future/Parents for a Future, Transition Town movement, local community groups, lobbying of elected representatives and by assessing and lowering their own carbon footprints).
HEART Community Group recognise that a huge amount has to be done to even adapt to the amount of climate change we have baked into the system already, let alone for future conditions if carbon emission continue to rise. We are committed to raising awareness of this issue, lobbying for its prioritization by government and also doing what we can to build local resilient communities.
In addition, many adaptation measures have a lower, zero or even negative carbon footprint, so contribute to mitigation at the same time.
You can watch Professor Rupert Read talking about the need for Transformative Adaptation here:
How are you different from Transition Town Groups?
Actually, there are many similarities: HEART Community Group and Transition share similar goals in terms of:
- Creating Community Resilience with a caring, supportive culture
- Developing Skills
Transition is a movement that has been growing since 2005.
It is about communities stepping up to address the big challenges they face by starting local. By coming together, they are able to crowd-source solutions. They seek to nurture a caring culture, one focused on supporting each other, both as groups or as wider communities. We share this intention.
At their best, they are reclaiming the local economy, sparking entrepreneurship, reimagining work, reskilling themselves and weaving webs of connection and support. They are often dynamic, inspiring and get many important things done, including influencing local politicians and business leaders.
It’s an approach that has spread now to over 50 countries, in thousands of groups: in towns, villages, cities, universities, schools. One of the key ways it spreads is through telling inspiring stories.
It’s worth checking if there’s already a Transition group in your local area which you can join. (There is a small one in my local village, which I was completely unaware of prior to 2019). You can check this on the main website.
As with any organisation or network, how successful each town or village is depends on the energy, skills and commitment of the people involved.
Some are very low-key – focusing on organising occasional litter-picks, or small community markets where local people sell food they’ve grown.
Here’s a short film created by Rob Hopkins, one of the founders of the Transition network, about a very optimistic future. A day in the life set in 2030. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTNhpXdyciM
We’d also recommend Rob’s book called “From What is to What if: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future we want”.
The Transition Network is relentlessly optimistic and hopeful, and the movement has generated many wonderful ideas. The Transition model is based on the idea that, by coming together, we can build a greener, more sustainable society without this one unravelling first.
Critics would say that it’s too little, too late – given the tipping points already passed.
Where we’re different is that we believe things are already much worse than most Transition Town organisations would admit (at least publicly!)
Already, we are seeing:
- Mass extinctions (animals and plants)
- Intensely unstable weather
- Methane emissions much higher than is sustainable
- A chaotic jet stream
- More forest fires
- Dramatic losses in soil fertility and harvests, and desertification
- Ocean acidification and sea level rise
- Mass migrations and conflicts caused by overshoot and climate change
We believe there is massive denial about all this – across all parts of our society – which, according to substantial amounts of research, is highly likely to continue.
We want to wake people up to the truth of our predicament, so that we can begin to prepare and adapt now.
Why are you focusing on local community resilience – don’t you want to fight for global justice?
In the event of societal disruption/collapse, decentralized, resilient communities will be crucial.
This model, supported by the Transition Town movement, also has benefits of being sustainable and low/zero-carbon.
We have more power to influence local government and community networks than on the wider stage, and people are also more likely to get involved in issues affecting them.
Along with similar groups around the world, we can share learnings and aim to influence neighbouring communities.
Members of HEART Community Group also recognise that there are many regions in the world that are suffering/will suffer societal stresses before us.
So, some of us actively participate in global justice initiatives through other organisations.
But in HEART Community Group, our central focus is local community resilience.
Where can I seek psychological help and emotional support?
We host regular group zoom gatherings – join our Facebook Group to find out future dates – or click to the Events tab. You may also wish to schedule a completely free one-to-one conversation with us.
“The Edge” – a 4-day retreat (free to all) designed to help you connect with your resilience, courage and well-being. To stand tall in the face of our predicament, whilst honouring your grief and other emotions, and to become more aware of your unique pathway in all this. https://www.heartofthriving.com/event/the-edge-2/
Blogs from Professor Jem Bendell about Emotional and Psychological Implications:
- Emotional support in face of climate tragedy
- After acceptance – some responses to anticipating collapse
- Fourteen Recommendations on Living Beyond Collapse-Denial
- Hope in a time of climate chaos – a speech to psychotherapists
- Forgiving the destructive tendency in everyone as climate chaos grows
- How Everything Can Collapse – my foreword to new book