Climate Conversations

Share your thoughts on books or articles on climate change, and how they have impacted you.

All We Can Save: Truth, courage, and solutions for the climate crisis, 2020. (Johnson, A.E. & Wilkinson, K.K., eds.). One World: New York.

 

All We Can Save is a diverse collection of contributions about the climate crisis, written by women for everyone. All of these contributors embody a sense of courage to meaningfully address the challenges of a warming world, despite political inertia, corporate malfeasance, and personal fear. Mary Heglar writes: “But the community that prides itself on its scientific nuance can learn to embrace emotional nuance. It is absolutely possible to prepare for the disasters already, terrifyingly, upon us while also doing our damnedest to quit baking more in. We can acknowledge the storm of emotions that comes with watching our world burn. We can process those emotions and pick ourselves up to put the blaze out as best we can” (p.282).

 

One of the strengths of these writings is the sensitivity to intersectional issues relating to environmental degradation, best articulated by the aspirations of the Green New Deal which not only demands ‘secure clean air and water, climate and community resiliency, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment’ but relates it to the need to ‘to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of frontline and vulnerable communities, including Indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.’

 

In this vein, Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasse observes that the “overall lack of diversity within the patriarchal colonial paradigm has had a suffocating impact on creative intelligence and a divisive impact on society” (p.23). This monoculture of imagination tends to have a preponderance of techno-solutionism, like uploading our brains into The Singularity or establishing life afresh on another planet. But Mika McKinnon says, Earth is easy mode: “If we can’t maintain habitability here, we’re utterly f**ked trying to pull off long-term survival anywhere else” (p.141). In other words, we have to show a greater commitment to preserving a stable climate on our own planet.

 

There is also a general consensus in this collection that the climate crisis has not been caused by ‘mankind’, but by a small and identifiable group of individuals often referred to as the 1%. Rhiana Gunn-Wright argues that “fighting against a warming world depends on the ability to reroute power away from the 1 percent and back to the 99 percent and the political and economic institutions designed to serve them. If we are going to become an economy that serves people and the planet, then the people - all of the people - need power, and we need it now” (p.98).

 

But the main message for me was that people must get engaged – any way they can. Abigail Dillen writes: “We underestimate the power of contribution - of acting within our own sphere of influence to tackle the piece of the problem that is right in front of us” (p.58). Emily N. Johnston similarly says that “In any moment, we can choose to show up” (p.260).

 

Indeed, everyone is invited, it is a matter of showing up. No effort is too small.

 

Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos, 2021. (Bendell, J. & Read, R., eds.). Polity Press: Cambridge.

First there was mitigation. With some long-term planning, some investment in new technologies the world could have decoupled the economy from material consumption and transition away from fossil fuels. That didn’t really happen. Next there was adaptation. Given that we have committed our biosphere to some warming, we should continue to try to mitigate against higher levels of heating while planning to protect ourselves from more severe heatwaves, drought, extreme weather events, rising ocean levels, etc. It doesn’t appear that this is really happening, either. The next step is ‘deep adaptation’ and, according to the book by the same name, we should be preparing for societal collapse.

By ‘societal collapse’, the authors of Deep Adaptation mean “an uneven ending of industrial consumer modes of sustenance, shelter, health, security, pleasure, identity and meaning. […] The term ‘collapse’ does not necessarily mean that suddenness is likely but rather implies a form of breakdown in systems that is comprehensive and cannot be reversed to what it was before. […] People who engage in dialogue and initiative for deep adaptation believe that societal collapse in most or all countries of the world is likely, inevitable or already unfolding” (p.2). Deep adaptation is, therefore, a form of ‘post-sustainability’ thinking (p.7).

Though there is some material preparation implied in Deep Adaptation, much of the discussion relates to the impact of extreme scenarios on human psychology. With respect to communicating the threats of climate chaos, there is “some evidence from social psychology to suggest that by focusing on impacts now, it makes climate change more proximate, which increases support for mitigation” and, further, “that ‘hopelessness’ and its related emotions of dismay and despair are understandably feared but wrongly assumed to be entirely negative and to be avoided whatever the situation. […] ancient wisdom traditions see a significant place for hopelessness and despair […] as a trigger for a new way of perceiving self and world” (p.60). The authors quote Tommy Lynch: ‘In abandoning hope that the one way of life will continue, we open up a space for alternative hopes.’ In other words, Deep Adaptation considers ‘hopelessness’ as a stimulus for meaningful change and for psychic strength.

The authors provide a conceptual map for the Deep Adaptation movement that involves resilience, relinquishment, restoration, and reconciliation. Resilience of human societies is conceived to be the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances while maintaining valued norms and behaviours – presumably solidarity and civility. Relinquishment involves the letting-go of certain assets, behaviours and beliefs that will impede adaptation. Restoration involves people and communities rediscovering attitudes and approaches to organized life that have been eroded by hyper-individualist, market fundamentalist, incremental and atomistic behaviours in an acquisitive economy. Reconciliation, finally, is how we collectively suppress panic, how we work together and support each other, and how our efforts will make a positive difference despite the knowledge that our situation will become more stressful and disruptive going forward. (p.72).

But Deep Adaptation is mainly about communicating and how to approach societal collapse. In basic terms, this means “bringing the somatic, the affective and the relational – the wisdom of our bodies, hearts and communities – wholly to bear on how we face the unfolding predicament” (p.176). It also means, as Joanna Macy suggests, that “no longer hiding the facts, no longer holding back in the expression of our truths, and sharing within a benevolent collective all that we feel, provokes a revival of energy and a kind of release of enthusiasm leading to joy and action. […] Emotions are not enemies; denial is” (p.94).

The basis of denial is presented by the acronym e-s-c-a-p-e: Entitlement, Surety (or certainty), Control, Autonomy, Progress, and Exceptionalism. “The ‘ideology of e-s-c-a-p-e’ is a summary of mental habits that rise from, and maintain, restrictions on our affinity with all life – human and beyond. [They] give rise to attitudes like individualism, nationalism, fundamentalist religiosity and selfish spiritualities, as well as systems like colonialism, capitalism and neoliberalism” (p.124).

As an example, the authors provide a critique of our current ideology:

“There may be a habit of entitlement to avoid emotional pain like despair and to preserve their persona of an ethical agent of positive change. There may be an adherence to the project of natural science in an unsophisticated way, not admitting the fairly arbitrary socially constructed conventions that underlie the creation of subject disciplines and the norms of statistics, for example. That may suggest a need for surety to an extent that can lead to stupidity. Whether explicitly or implicitly, there is often a story that humanity is in control of our destiny within a turbulent environment and that we should somehow control our own emotions and those of people who listen to us. There is also the idea that individuals have the autonomy to change within our current system through voting, through consuming differently or through activism, as if we did not have bills and taxes to pay, creditors breathing down our necks, children to feed and clothe, intransigent politicians, security services infiltrating our activist movements and unrecognized ideologies calling us like sirens to our collective destruction. There is also a quasi-religious attachment to the idea of material progress and therefore the inability to conceive of courageous creative action without guarantee of material betterment. Then there are assumptions of exceptionalism, such as when activists ignore how it is already too late to avoid climate-driven collapse or catastrophe for many people who have experienced that already” (p.139)

Deep Adaptation is an approachable book despite the worldview being presented, which may be jarring for many readers. The basic message is that our current ‘ideology of e-s-c-a-p-e’ will be a barrier to current approaches to mitigation and adaptation. And that societal collapse is ‘likely, inevitable or already unfolding.’ As such, we should begin to communicate authentically - like it really matters. In conclusion, the authors “affirm the ethical imperative to do what we can to ensure a softer landing, to minimize suffering, to save what can be saved to prepare the ground for the possibility, at least, of life-sustaining societies that might not only survive but flourish on the other side of collapse” (p.201). The Deep Adaptation movement is forming affinity groups to advance this process – like it really matters (https://deepadaptation.ning.com/).