Positive Deep Adaptation: beginnings of an inquiry

Positive Deep Adaptation (PDA) is the name of academic Jem Bendell's Facebook group for people to discuss their responses to a paper he published a year ago on something called "deep adaptation” (referred from here as DA). If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend you do. The article linked goes into it. The paper can be found here: www.lifeworth.com/deepadaptation.pdf.

Jem is a professor at the Institute of Leadership and Sustainability at the University of Cumbria in the UK. He took a year off as a sabbatical to spend time reviewing the literature on climate change from climate scientists and this paper is one of the outcomes of that year. The paper is a radical departure from the traditional and muted academic journals that speak about the near and long-term effects and impacts of major climate change. Jem describes “near-term societal collapse” as something that is “possible, probable or inevitable.”

In Jem’s own words on his paper:
”This paper was rejected for publication by reviewers of Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal (SAMPJ), as reviewers made requests for major changes which were considered by the author as either impossible or inappropriate to undertake. Impossible, as the request to build off existing scholarship on this topic would require there to be publications on the implications of ecologically-induced social collapse, globally, upon which to build. A literature review indicated that there is not such scholarship in management studies. Inappropriate, as a reviewer’s request not to dishearten readers with the claim of “inevitable near-term social collapse” reflects a form of censure found amongst people working on sustainable business and discussed in the paper.”

Jem has started a Facebook group called Positive Deep Adaptation for people who want to continue discussing the issues he talks about in his paper. An article recently written by Jem was posted on there, the link being: https://jembendell.com/2019/07/12/dont-police-our-emotions-climate-despair-is-inviting-people-back-to-life/?fbclid=IwAR2X8FMG7rSQICBcR1slmNyd6KDDzh-jDsUgJ4SK_l2yF-YpB7uXxGPtkAA.

In this article Jem explains PDA and also DA. This is an excerpt:

"A difficulty for our ability to consider our predicament head on is that we live in a culture that is averse to impermanence, uncontrollability and death. That means our culture is also averse to the possibility of the absence of hope in a materially better future that can be shaped by us.

Yet there is a way of being incredibly passionate and engaged about reducing harm and suffering and living your truth, without the belief that we will create a materially better future.

... We call it “positive” Deep Adaptation, because being collapse-aware does not need to lead to hedonism, nihilism, apathy or negativity. On the group all ideas about the implications of our predicament are welcome, so long as they are not violent.

Many ideas are shared about how to prepare both practically and emotionally. I don’t see many people giving up, but read about people discovering life in new ways, including climate activism."

My response on the post was this:

Numbness and nihilism are very real responses to the reality of our time. The people feeling those emotions ought to be welcome here too. Whether "hedonism, nihilism, apathy or negativity", people need to grieve and move through to "seeing with new eyes" once they truly allow themselves to feel that apathy and negativity fully. I don't agree with the "positive" part of "Positive Deep Adaptation" at all.

When I wrote this on the PDA Facebook group, Jem replied, on a thread in the Positive Deep Adaptation thread:

“Having coined the term deep adaptation (DA), I named the group positive deep adaptation (PDA) in order to signal to people joining this group that we do not want to spend time on the latest news on doom, or complain about people who are in denial, or dismiss people for not just accepting human extinction is nigh, and instead focus on what to do about deep adaptation to societal collapse.

I propose 4 questions to frame that discussion about what to do. They are summarised by 4 Rs; resilience, relinquishment, restoration and reconciliation. The link to my blog in the about page provides more info on that. So the difference is that DA is a term describing a framework. PDA is a phrase describing a tone for discussion in this group... it is not a framework, not a term.”

My response to this was,

“Is there also positivity in discussing the negative feelings? The feelings of nihilism, emptiness and sorrow? I think there's a nuance here - maybe "negative" and "positive" are really inadequate for describing what we are talking about here. It's the emotion I witness in my teacher Joanna Macy and other experienced trainers of climate grief work: there is hope and beauty in the sorrow, in the struggle. In fact, there are 'flip sides' to the emotions we traditionally call “negative”:
- Sorrow... an expression of love for the things we hold dear.
- Anger... a passion for justice.
- Emptiness... a space created for the new to emerge.
- Fear... what we need to feel in order to feel courage.”

This inquiry into what kind of spaces people need for grieving and making sense of their future continues to be a very live inquiry for me. I will be writing more on this subject, and have agreed to join for one of the PDA online webinars, to speak more about the Work That Reconnects and other methods and practices that can be used to help host people in difficult emotions around this topic.