Things are getting better and better and worse and worse, faster and faster. —–Tom Atlee
Conditions are changing so quickly at the emerging edge of climate response, culture, politics and technology that we’re perpetually building a raft as we hurtle down the rapids. What is still very much undecided is whether we’ll end up crashed and splintered against a rocky reach or spill into a vast and placid common future. Many would say there’s a far greater probability of the former than the latter, but that we’ll more likely muddle along with great uncertainty and increasing risk.
When Jem Bendell wrote his article launching Deep Adaptation, his analysis was based solely on an assessment of climate science. His conclusion was that social collapse (due to climate factors) within 10 years was a virtual certainty. The primary critique he received was from climate scientists or psychologists worried his conclusion would be too difficult to assimilate and only throw us into despair–and inaction. Those who have gravitated to Deep Adaptation, aligning with this assessment, considered themselves “collapse-aware.” There are others, outside the membership of the Deep Adaptation Forum or Facebook group, and preceding it by a significant period of time, might also consider them selves collapse-aware.
Now, two years hence, what was once lurking quietly at the periphery of movement politics, gaining traction, adding adherents, analysts, writers and organizers, and due largely to the blatant inequities revealed by COVID as well as recent and shocking displays of racist policing, is now exploding into awareness across the entire progressive spectrum as an ideological singularity; namely, that racism, climate, public health inequities, economic inequality and the entire extractive economy are a single issue. The implication being that by bending any distinct manifestation of the global operating system, whether it be economic inequality, the extractive economy or racist policing, toward justice would result in reduced overall violence and be reflected as a reduction in carbon emissions.
Simply stated, the determination that ‘climate’ refers not strictly to the state of the atmosphere or the oceans, the polar ice caps or the Siberian tundra, not solely to an unfolding extinction event, but to the ‘climate’ of the entire macro system driving us toward extinction. And as well, the micro conditions in which we find ourselves, the deeply troubling cognitive, ethical and spiritual conflicts are also part of that larger operating system. The deeper we go into the neuro-linguistic labyrinth where we address personal and collective trauma, the degree to which we have all been colonized by the macro system, the closer we get to the roots of that system, to understanding its power dynamics and the engine driving it.
From this view, we may regard emissions as a derivative marker of global violence, not as a single issue among many to be assessed and prioritized, but as a summation of the effects of economic extraction and oppression, social control, the authoritarian politics of domination and cruelty and exclusion across all domains and geographies, not to mention all the financial crimes inherent to its operations. Just look at Brazil as one example. To address emissions as the primary driver of global climate change without demanding fundamental economic and political change is to save one tree while letting the entire forest burn.
America is its own poster child for this view. The systematic (or at least attempted) deconstruction of environmental regulations, emission standards, the preservation of sacred lands, attacks on indigenous populations, reopening offshore oil exploration, combined with renewed rhetoric and secret subsidies to the fossil-fuel economy while undermining the renewable energy industry harken back to Ronald Reagan’s Interior Secretary, James G. Watt who, 40 years ago famously said, “When you’ve seen one tree, you’ve seen them all.”
From the Trumpian view, it’s clear that the response of the global operating system to the approaching dangers is to double down, to prevaricate and procrastinate, to camouflage reality in public relations double-talk, to co-opt and to funnel more money upwards toward toothless ‘remedies’: in short, to hasten the apocalypse. All of it is the definition of insanity.
To be looking at global emissions as a separate marker among many, devising policies and practices to directly limit global emissions and focusing on the renewable energy build-out as the principle remedy for avoiding climate catastrophe has for decades been the organizing principle behind the climate movement. Along with the integration of decolonization as an approach to personal and social transformation and examining how our reflexive responses to the ethical and moral issues of our time can get in our own way, we are realizing that the calculation of global emissions is a symptom, not the disease itself.
The modern extractive economy was originally (and ultimately) based on oppression, colonization, violence, slavery and even genocidal policies. The social structures maintaining racial and economic hierarchies remain deeply entrenched and largely in place. The minority view of white capitalist patriarchy is the primary obstacle to the realization of gender, racial, economic and democratic egalitarianism at the heart of the movement for social and political transformation across the world.
In this context, Deep Adaptation represents a critical shift away from direct opposition to entrenched climate policy to direct organizing of local resources to develop adaptive systems and practices in anticipation of imminent (or ongoing) collapse. Deep Adaptation is an alteration of our sense of time and a search for efficacy beyond control. How do we avoid the pitfalls of the control mindset in the presence of obstacles, ideologies, contradictory surges of events, side currents flowing into the mainstream — all of which intend to become the mainstream?
Deep Adaptation largely remains a niche phenomenon. As we discuss the Four Rs and even as we expand them to include more R-words, how much attention is spent reinterpreting Deep Adaptation in terms of the emerging singularity at hand? Are we becoming more facile with cross-systems thinking and less wedded to linear causality? Are we escaping reductionism and understanding the exponentially disruptive nature of emerging technologies? Can we be fully aware of the forces directly opposing us even as we explore the spaciousness of Deep Time in which there is no urgency, only an expanding possibility of relationship and common purpose?
What are the prominent obstacles to the transformation we seek? There are many to choose from, but I would list three in particular: Incumbency, white nationalism and property rights.
Incumbency is one obstacle to the propagation of a different view and a different ethic because it carries the expectation that the continued exercise of economic and political power in the future will be by the same players and in the same ways as in the past—also known as insanity. Incumbency presumes legitimacy and appeals to our own natural resistance to change as much as to any intrinsic resistance by the incumbent. Incumbency relies on linear forecasts not taking the full complexity and potential near-term disruptive power of emerging forces into account. If they did, the continuity of any primacy accorded them would immediately come into question.
This goes, of course, for economic and political players, primarily central banks, investment banks and asset managers. It goes for monopolistic utilities, Big Oil, airlines and other large transportation interests, multinational corporate interests, trading interests (WTO), global supply managers and the primary resource extraction interests. This is the priesthood of ‘normalcy.’ And of course it goes for the giant global technology interests, who may well have a better view of the future, but are also no less interested in retaining economic control of it. The inertia of incumbency, as we well know, is also buttressed by the money-driven political system, populated by players whose fortunes are wedded to Business As Usual.
A second less well-known or understood obstacle is white nationalism. Given that the Trump administration is populated by numerous authoritarian white-nationalists whose primary interest is to dismantle the gains of collectivist environmentalism, one would find it odd, not to mention disconcerting, to know that there is a ‘green’ faction within the white nationalist movement labeled ‘eco-fascists.’ A very recent extensive article on this topic resides here.
Two of the most recent and devastating mass shootings (2019), in Christchurch, New Zealand and El Paso, Texas, were committed by avowed eco-fascists whose manifestos provided an open window into their ideology. A third eco-fascist actor, Anders Breivik of Norway, was responsible for the slaughter of 77 youths in 2011. He also left an extensive manifesto, providing the ideological basis for the Christchurch shooter, Brenton Tarrant.
In eco-fascism we see a convergence of white nationalism, environmentalism, anti-Semitism (attributing anthropocentrism to Judeo-Christian influence and blaming Jews for capitalism and the destruction of the natural world) and eugenics (a pre-occupation with population control). The most recent example of the potential for environmentalism to be coopted by this ideology was Michael Moore’s movie, Planet of the Humans and its director’s (Jeff Gibbs) preoccupation with population control.
In fact, Trump and the Republican Party have now positioned themselves as passive executioners of minority populations and the elderly, those most susceptible to COVID-19, whom the eco-fascists regard as the actual virus and thus expendable for the sake of reopening the economy. But being ‘environmentalists,’ eco-fascists also advocate for biodiversity and thus also support racial diversity—human biodiversity—even bioregionalism, except only under strict segregation into ethno-states. In other words, North America belongs to them. Everyone else must go.
These ideas, like high-volume tributaries entering mainstream ecological thinking, are also propagating among numerous known and obscure nodes of cyberspace, all anti-immigration and anti-egalitarian, and are–believe it or not—each gaining a foothold in the environmental movement. Though their advocates will carefully couch and dilute their ideas in acceptable language, they are as much a part of the deep cover of politically influential actors as Christian Dominionism is to the person of Mike Pence. The danger of eco-fascism is that they also recognize oncoming…and even wish for…looming social collapse. Their objective is to be provocateurs, to hasten that collapse, and to then exploit it for their own purposes.
In the words of author and activist Daniel Denvir—[white] nationalism “poses a greater threat to addressing global warming than climate denial-ism.” The environmental movement, particularly the collapse-aware cadres of DA, must recognize that the ground will continue to shift, that a threat of cooptation exists, and remain vigilant to what this threat portends for the larger crises to come.
Finally, a third obstacle to the transition we seek is the entrenched machinery of intellectual property. This could be extended to general property rights, but in this case, privatizing IP is even more threatening to a viable future because the frontiers of technology are extending into the territory of DNA manipulation (CRISPR) and Precision Fermentation. These are emerging technologies already showing signs of prominence in our future. There will be thousands of opportunities to create new biological entities that could improve human immune function. PF may have profound influence on nutrition and health, producing food at a fraction of current costs, all while improving safety and using fewer resources.
The promise of these and other technologies will propagate and be enhanced in an open-source world, whereas restricting what will likely be a mushrooming of benefits to a few companies holding the secrets of low cost, healthy nutrition not dependent on physical land will essentially privatize innovative, inexpensive and mobile production systems for food at a critical time when humanity will be needing such developments to address the consequences of widespread social collapse. Few developments could be less democratic and more damaging to a world in transition than such a scenario. Yet a tenacious and vigorous and pitched legal battle for retention of property rights over essential life support is virtually guaranteed.
All of these technologies can either become extensions of, even accelerators of the organizing system currently driving us toward catastrophe (shortening our ‘time’), or they could be turned to the dismantling of that system, transforming human culture into an open-source, transparent and egalitarian structure benefiting all (lengthening our ‘time.’)
We might even observe that there isn’t much time to deliberate. Yet to regard these matters as urgencies and to find ourselves reacting as if they are real emergencies is to regress into the capitalist definition of time and to allow ourselves to become fragmented and diverted from our primary purpose, which, among all the things Deep Adaptation may also be, is about stepping out of conventional time and not being wedded to and swept away by views misaligned with the natural pace of emergence.
“The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world.
The end of the world as we know it will be the end of a way of knowing the world.”