Is Deep Adaptation Mere Doomsaying?

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Is Deep Adaptation simply scary talk? Unscientific hyperbole? Depressing fatalism?

The irony of climate hyperbole is that while many people disappear emotionally and become immobilized, there are also many who believe catastrophe is inevitable. They may believe the science and they may largely understand that scientific modeling has consistently underestimated reality, but they may not grasp the breadth of action required.

Yet, while we ruminate, the predictions for the future are coming true sooner and with greater impact than anticipated.

On the other hand, another form of gloom is to believe Business As Usual cannot be interrupted, no matter how dire the predictions become, because if the last 30 years is any indication, the system is rigged in the interest of the polluters. Greed and corruption trump science.

The more dire those predictions do become, the more dismissive the pushback from the CEO class and those who resist their own straw man of a top-down master plan for civilization and cling to their “liberty” until their last choking and overheated breath. For them, participating in collective action is about as likely as giving up their guns…or tax breaks.

What’s different about Deep Adaptation is that future scenarios are unpacked, differentiated and labeled: social collapse, climate catastrophe, species extinction and everything in between. Each of these terms can be further broken down into real factors and evaluated by bioregion. What is going to break down… and where…and when? And what is required of us? What resources are required to build resilience?

There is a speculative aspect to such predictions, of course, but we already know who is likely to be most impacted and soonest by advancing disaster — because it’s already happening. These domains are all thrown together in the rhetorical reactions to extreme climate futures, rendering them all more abstract and the likelihood of personal impact becoming unrealistically remote.

We also can’t reliably predict where and when the next catastrophe is going to occur, or its nature. We only know the ingredients for such events are in ample supply. This is less predictable than determining where the next avalanche is going to occur on a snow-packed mountain. Yet none of the existing efforts to shift policy, build out renewable networks, upgrade and decentralize energy systems, use resources more efficiently, develop new technologies, educate the public or retrofit infrastructures should be abandoned.

The most appealing aspect to Deep Adaptation is its implication for transforming our relationships. The demand is to determine our values and stop procrastinating. Let’s make the world we want Right Now. If the world is indeed on a path toward social collapse or eventual catastrophe, the human impacts are incalculable in terms of economics, social upheaval, displacement, potential resource conflict, food and water insecurity….the list goes on.

Equal to all these issues will be the impact on mental health, social cohesion, our outlook on the future, finding meaning in existence. We are called upon to define our core values — and value to each other — if we are to survive the magnitude of upheaval on its way.

Refocusing and empowering individuals to develop local emergency resilience strategies, i.e. preparing for social collapse, is something else.

First they have to recognize and break through existing denial. They have to shift out of habitual “me” culture to “we” culture. We have to examine the integrated systems on which we all depend so heavily. Climate impacts are not something that only happens to others. The more local strategies are articulated, the more tools exist to identify and address personal and community resilience, the more people are drawn from their bleacher seats to a place on the field to fully play the game. That also requires empowerment. There’s nothing empowering about doom saying.

Anyone claiming Deep Adaptation is doom saying must believe we can’t walk and chew gum. Even scientists who claim doom saying is not scientifically supported are, in effect, taking the denial position relative to what we already know and have seen with our own eyes.

Doomsayers do not generally have practical agendas nor are they even likely to develop one. Doomsayers have given up.

The cartoon characters standing on the corners holding signs saying, ”The End is Near” are only holding signs. It’s easy to call them crazy because they aren’t offering any practical remedies, no path to resilience, no restorative strategies. Deep Adaptation is doing that, not merely for the sake of giving people something hopeful to cling to, but to save real lives in a real future.

No one is suggesting we all build bomb shelters and stock up on canned goods. But when we start asking the right questions, it turns out there are many practical ways to redefine infrastructure for the sake of local resilience.

The critics of Deep Adaptation appear to believe our greatest hope lies in continuing to deny the magnitude of the problem, to continue believing the myth of perpetual growth and closing our eyes to the degree of our entanglement with each other and the natural world.

We have to examine the steps we’ve trod for 30 years and stop acting as if a different outcome will happen if we simply persist.

Anyone who takes an unfiltered look at the science and the record of popular responses and even long-term organized initiatives on many fronts, would have to conclude the record of success is slim — too little and too late. Which only leaves room for a different approach, a shift toward compensatory measures, getting our hands dirty with the realities of multiple interdependent infrastructures, local resilience, a long-term view, redefining the resource inventory and planning for either an immediate or a phased response.

To those who would claim Deep Adaptation is unsupportable doom saying, I would say many of us are already suffering in deep and mostly unconscious or unaddressed ways. The prime directive of all climate action (even every life) is to relieve suffering.

However we might be suffering as we contemplate a very uncertain future for ourselves and for younger generations cannot be allowed to prevent us from building a thriving, humane, brilliant and creative, life-affirming and resilient world in the midst of advancing disaster. What could be more urgent?

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