Ecological Solidarity and the Deep Adaptation Agenda

Updated: Dec 29, 2021

On Friday evening I returned to St Ethelburga’s for the launch of the Radical Resilience programme. The purpose of the programme is to support community leaders to engage with the Deep Adaptation agenda, to find courage and meaning in the face of social and ecological collapse. It was fantastic to be back and see so many new faces in the audience for this conversation between Toni Spencer, Skeena Rathor and Justine Huxley.

The conversation began with an explanation of the basic framework of Deep Adaptation: Jem Bendell’s analysis of climate data in relation to nonlinear feedback loops which suggests we are much farther along the process of ecological collapse than his own professional sustainability field may care to admit. This analysis is accompanied by the 4 R’s of Relinquishment, Restoration and Resilience, with Reconciliation being added later on, to support individuals and communities to come to terms with the difficult reality that Jem convincingly portrays.

Solidarity was a strong focus of the evening, with consensus on the panel that climate justice needs to be front and centre of any conversation about Deep Adaptation. This is essential to recognise that collapse is already underway in many parts of the world and has been for many centuries; the result of colonial and neocolonial violence through political and economic policies for hundreds of years. If ‘we’ as Western Civilisation are to wake up to collapse as the truth of our times, this must be accompanied by i) a willingness to look at our own complicity in its creation and ii) to have honest conversations about how to stand in solidarity with those on the ‘front lines’ of ecological collapse right now, and indeed, with those who have already lost their lives, lineages, cultures and ecosystems.

This is an important point, to embrace collapse means to also carry the burden of responsibility to stop making things worse. This is psychologically difficult work, whereby we need to put ourselves under the microscope and consider the ways we are dependent on systemic violence – whether it be through our consumption habits in a system of global trade, lifestyles of comfort and excess, or career choices that contribute to perpetual exploitation and extraction. We then need to make different choices, no matter how difficult. For me this is how we can start to embody our compassion, to literally ‘suffer with’, from our own vantage point and life circumstance, and start to show solidarity with our trans-species planetary community.

As we begin to move our lives into increasing alignment with the reality of ecological collapse, this will also help us to read the social symptoms of a civilisation in ecological overshoot. Inequality, austerity, mental health crisis, technological and entertainment escapism, rising xenophobia and jingoist rhetoric – all point to a collective failure of imagination and capacity to come to terms with the reality of our times. Yet this is precisely what we need to move towards, to Restore the cultural practices to find collective meaning and purpose in our world as it meets us. To be responsible for each other’s well-being and create diverse communities that are strengthened by their differences.

Said in another way, solidarity is intrinsically connected to integrity in this regard. We need to be able to meet the expression and symptoms of collapse in our everyday lives. This is not just about something that is a reality ‘elsewhere’ and is coming for us later, this is about recognising our continued complicity in the destruction of life, and the choices we need to make to do less harm, both now and into the future. This is worth getting mad about, this is worth making sacrifices to find a deeper meaning for our individual and collective lives. This is how we can show solidarity with those already dead, those suffering right now, children growing up in this world, and the future generations of so many species (including ours!) that now may never be.

We are kidding ourselves if we think we can still vision ourselves out of this mess. There is too much energy in the system now, and the expression of this energy through increasingly severe weather events and hostile environmental conditions is out of our hands. Yet for many of us, we can still decrease our contribution to this process, we can still choose how to meet this rapidly changing world. Surrender is essential, and meaning must be found amidst the darkening. How we meet this darkening is our choice and, for me, this is where our vision must be directed – in how we choose to come together and live our lives in this uncertainty. By recognising that collapse is upon us, we can begin to have conversations about how we want to live in these times, and give up what no longer serves any of us, as a species or planetary community, for the sake of future life, human or otherwise.

This blog post is also available on the St Ethelburga's website.