Deep Adaptation: from the end of “normal” to solidarity

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By Silvia Di Blasio

Last night, I re-watched “Children of Men” where the depiction of a dystopian future of collapsed cities and ecosystems, garbage clogging the streets and streams, terrorism, armed police and the incarceration, enslavement and torture of displaced peoples (refugees) seem all too close and almost documentary-like in 2019.

Refugee camp – Image by David Mark from Pixabay

A few weeks ago, I re-read
the controversial, unorthodox and courageous paper called “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy”, where professor Jem Bendell shares the results of his review of the latest climate data and how he “chose to interpret the information as indicating inevitable collapse, probable catastrophe and possible extinction [emphasis added].”

After finishing reading that paper, I gazed through my living room window in Surrey, Canada: children were safely playing on our middle class street, an oblivious neighbour was mowing the lawn, the spring (felt almost as summer) was glorious and I recalled that line I read more than 30 years ago from a Carl Sagan book – a line that has stayed with me all these years: “the last day on Earth will be as perfect as a summer day.” I floated, still in shock, to my kitchen: magically, the tap gave me drinking water, the power was still a switch away, I could walk to the market if I ran out of anything. I recalled the time when this was not my reality, when clothes and furniture were scarce, when water came from a well, when I ran barefoot on unpaved streets. These days were far away now, almost surreal, and yet, I know they are also a flight away, like when I went back home to Argentina for the first time in 15 years and remembered what “societal collapse” looked like. 

“I’m safe here” I tell myself …and yet, a sense of urgency burns  inside, a sense of uneasiness

“I’m safe here” I tell myself …and yet, a sense of urgency burns  inside, a sense of uneasiness: a recent UNHR report showed that we have the highest ever number of displaced peoples: an unprecedented 70.8 million people around the world have been forced from home, with nearly 25.9 million of them being refugees; most treated as a burden, put into camps or worse: into detention centers as if they were criminals, only a small percentage (usually the most privileged among them) make it to Canada, the United States or Europe.  Another (UN) report reminds me that we are already experiencing an “unprecedented” rate of species extinction and that up to 50% of the species could be extinct in only a few decades. More recently, the UN warns that we may be having a climate disaster per week! The list is endless… yet I still could sit safe in my balcony.

In a recent post about training people to facilitate Deep Adaptation (DA) conversations, the author calls all this “the end of normal”. The post starts with “it’s started”… What exactly has “started” and for whom? Blood rushes through my cheeks, I feel something else coming: the end of what “normal”? Why is this business as usual called “normal”?

Our “normal” was more important to keep than theirs

Our entire civilization was built on disconnection, hierarchies, othering peoples and species, oppression, not caring for what happens to other humans or other cultures–looking away and not showing up when the worst was happening to “others”. It was easy: our “normal” was more important to keep than theirs, be this the habitat of a species or an entire culture.

After many weeks of reading, joining and creating groups, offering both online and in-person discussions and even exploring the design of a WTR workshop incorporating DA, I came to the conclusion that what scares us most from reading Deep Adaptation is that what has been happening to other cultures and species will now be “coming home.” Those of us accustomed to the middle class we call “normal” may fear losing our privileges, the aberration we thought was a birthright: a sense of control and safety we could buy and demand –  jobs, entertainment coming through screens, plenty of packaged and long-distance food to choose from, tap water, fuel for our cars, human rights. We forgot that for decades and sometimes centuries, collapse has been the “normal” for many species and humans, and that many cultures have designed their normal around different values from those above.

Understandably, people have been expressing fear, anger, and anxiety, with many looking at how to “prepare”, how to “survive the hordes” and how this may affect their near future choices: should we cash the retirement moneys, move to the mountains, build a bunker, take survivalism courses? And all these emotions, doubts and questions are valid, just not many of them are available to those where collapse is already underway.

As a WTR facilitator, both the paper and the movement that is arising from it are (as the blog post on “the end of normal” mentions, possibly the only and most important thing we should be considering from now on: at the center of all we do, our facilitation, our groups, our decision-making, our commitments, our going forth. I also invite you to consider: at the center of a radical “seeing with new eyes”.

We may face the different ways people will try to ignore, deny, negotiate and interpret the DA concept; as author Jem Bendell presents in “barriers to discussion on deep adaptation.” How do we focus back on the work we do and how will our work as facilitators, activists and changemakers be affected by this knowledge?

As Jem Bendell writes in “The Love in Deep Adaptation” about what DA is: Deep Adaptation refers to the personal and collective changes that might help us to prepare for – and live with – a climate-induced collapse of our societies.”

Deep Adaptation refers to the personal and collective changes that might help us to prepare for – and live with – a climate-induced collapse of our societies.

He also suggests we explore the questions under what he calls “the four R’s” within ourselves, with or loved ones and our communities:

  • Resilience: what do we most value that we want to keep and how?
  • Relinquishment: what do we need to let go of so as not to make matters worse?
  • Restoration: what could we bring back to help us with these difficult times?
  • Reconciliation: with what and whom shall we make peace as we awaken to our mutual mortality? to our very real connection and inter-being?

“These questions”, continues Jem: “ invite exploration of Deep Adaptation to our climate predicament in order to develop both collapse-readiness and collapse-transcendence.”

“Collapse-readiness includes the mental and material measures that will help reduce disruption to human life – enabling an equitable supply of the basics like food, water, energy, payment systems and health.

Collapse-transcendence refers to the psychological, spiritual and cultural shifts that may enable more people to experience greater equanimity toward future disruptions and the likelihood that our situation is beyond our control.”

For decades, facilitators of the WTR (starting from our root teacher, Joanna Macy) have been aware of the real possibility of the Great Unravelling. However in our workshops, we usually end the spiral with a positive and proactive note: Going Forth represents our choosing life, choosing the story of the Great Turning. We know that this choice of how we invest our energy and time does not correspond to a guarantee that things will turn out well. We do this because we feel it is the right choice, to side with Life.

But for a long time, the WTR has also been a practice for mostly white middle class people in the so-called First World countries. While there is no doubt the pain, anger and other similar emotions expressed in these workshops are real, most people attending WTR workshops (as well as facilitators), usually come back to homes where there is nothing close to societal collapse happening.

Deep Adaptation brings close the challenge we have to face as facilitators, as well as individuals and communities for whom collapse is still “far” and abstract, but approaching. Jem Bendell says: “collapse is already underway, just unevenly distributed.”

We may need to prepare ourselves to be both hospice workers for a world that is dying and doulas for an uncertain future that may emerge.

We have privilege: we can anticipate this coming; we have time to sit in circles and discuss how this is affecting and will affect us; we have tools and resources to build some resilience; we have means to re-skill and make choices. We can move from dimensions in the work that represented mitigation (not perpetuating and causing further harm) to adaptation (building structures, behaviours and systems that will need to respond to uncertainty, the unknown and unspeakable loss and suffering). We may need to embrace gratitude from a different perspective and we may need to prepare ourselves to be both hospice workers for a world that is dying and doulas for an uncertain future that may emerge.

How does all this look like going forth as facilitators? As carriers of privilege? 

I have no answers, so I’m deeply inviting and exploring community: human and beyond.

Only one thing is clear: I am happy for the end of “this” normal. Maybe in the future, if we survive as a species, we will create a very different normal, one where solidarity is present in all our choices.

Click here for a conversation between Jem Bendell and Joanna Macy on Deep Adaptation and the Work That Reconnects. 

Silvia Di Blasio is a Work that Reconnects facilitator and activist. She uses principles from permaculture and other regenerative approaches to share workshops on resilience for communities and regenerative livelihood design. Silvia also works as an eLearning consultant and facilitator at Gaia Education, as a Coordinator of the Work that Reconnects Network and support worker for refugees and vulnerable communities at a small NGO in Surrey, BC.

6 thoughts on “Deep Adaptation: from the end of “normal” to solidarity

  1. Hi Silvia,
    Great article, and it was a treat chatting with you this weekend.
    Thanks for the good work you do.
    Sincerely, Kees and Helen

  2. Thank you for your clear exposition of the Deep Positive Adaptation work.

    I too am involved in Permaculture, though lots of human systems rather than bio-systems. At best bio-mimicry.

    I am most upset that we humans do not seem to be taking responsibility for the 6th mass extinction, and all the unravelling of the sublimely complex ecosystems and other planetary “life systems”.

    For me personally, it is the rapid disappearance of Puffins, as I grew up with them, and they are both strong and ridiculous, and mate for life, raising their young in holes that they dig in the ground.

    Only today I realized no insects means mostly no flowers. Crazy climate means most plants are rapidly disappearing from this world. Both wild trees and shrubs are globally threatened.

    And to grow food, clothing etc, you need a reasonably predictable climate, and that is exactly what we are destroying.

    Our contribution of plastics, bio-weapons and updated hypersonic nuclear missiles does not seem to be sufficient compensation for our destruction of almost “all life”.

    A few bacteria and virus will survive whatever we humans do, so “Life on Earth” is secure, just diminished by a few 10s of millions of years of evolution.

    Just my opinion…

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