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Reaching acceptance of deep adaptation

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

Many have read or at least heard of Jem Bendell's paper on deep adaptation and while some may refuse to engage due to it's bleak outlook, the confrontational nature of the paper can also force us to become more proactive and present in our connection with the earth and one another.

I cannot put my finger on exactly where my interest in the natural world began; whether it was helping my Grandpa with his compost and veg patch, making sure my Mum only bought "ozone safe" hairspray or being best friends with a farmer's daughter and seeing calves crying when separated from their mothers, all I know is that I am deeply sensitive to the living planet and have been for as long as I can remember. That is not to say that I haven't fallen into the same materialistic wormholes as most consumers at points in my life but something changed for me just after the Boxing Day tsunami;


My sister and I were lucky enough to visit Sri Lanka just 5 months after the tsunami, people thanked us in the streets for coming to the island as there had been very few tourists returning. We saw first hand along the coastal railway between Columbo to Galle the destruction and rebuilding that was happening, the loss of life and livelihoods as a result of something that the suffering communities had absolutely no control over. I was faced with my first fears of loss through environmental catastrophe and I developed my own (not so healthy) behaviours to cope with my inner apocalyptic Nostrodamus! In my head I started prepping, what would I do if... How would I survive in the event of... Anxiety prevailed and cognitive behavioural therapy ensued.


When I first met my husband, I had managed to channel my anxiety into positive action, writing the 8 R's for kids and developing ideas on how the younger generations can help to save the planet. After we had our own children, the anxiety returned as I was now responsible for two little humans that needed to be kept alive at all costs. Being a parent and understanding the implications of climate change is a very scary place to be. We adapted much of our lifestyle to be in line with our understanding of the sacrifices required to impact consumer habit change - eating healthily, locally and seasonally, removing sugar from our diets, becoming veggie then vegan, buying zero waste, living frugally and simply - but I felt like a weirdo, no-one else seemed to be making the same sacrifices and I couldn't understand why, when they had all the same information available to them that I had, why no-one else was changing their habits too.


After reading the IPCC report in 2019 and then Jem Bendell's paper on deep adaptation, I channelled my grief and frustration into action, taking to the streets with Extinction Rebellion and acting upon all my fears, worries and insecurities. I felt part of a supportive community of people who were experiencing the same realisations as me. Unfortunately "going back to normal" after the 2019 October rebellion was much harder than I thought, it felt like I was grieving for someone who'd died and everyone around me just carried on as normal like that person had never existed. There had been controversy around some of the movement's actions as well as a lot of negative media coverage and for the sake of my relationships I took a step back from activism and tried to become more mainstream in my approach to climate issues - only working with purpose led and impact brands in my career as a brand specialist, engaging in environmental discussions using non-confrontational and doom-free language while working on changing Earthkind from a zero waste shop to a consulting agency to try and encourage adoption of more sustainable behaviours. Although lockdown helped people wake up to many of the issues facing the planet and indeed the fragility of our food systems, few community groups based on deep adaptation and shared creativity for near term issues have yet to develop.


I re-read the 2020 revised Deep Adaptation paper which includes the addition of ideas around collapsology as well as JP Morgan's multiple risk analysis of the unlikelihood of remaining within 2 degrees warming - I have been fascinated by how this bleak paper has given me more courage and a sense of proactivity than ever before. I am spurred on by a new deep appreciation of life as well as being inspired with my own creative ideas on re-educating communities and am eager to love, learn and share. I wish to support those now going through climate grief and anxiety in a way that I wish I was helped when I experienced it. I am finally in a period of acceptance - the fifth and final stage of grief but also the most profound - grateful, humble, open, full of love and appreciation and ready to engage with those also wanting to adapt, create and discuss.


For more information on deep adaptation visit Jem Bendell's website you can also join the deep adaptation forum to discuss with other members of your field.


Get in touch to discuss ideas and collaborations or if you wish to arrange a talk or community group. If you feel ready to change your own lifestyle habits, see our consulting services for homes and businesses.


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