The Benefits of Accepting the Possibility of Environmental Collapse and Human Extinction

By John BellS

British Professor of Sustainability Leadership, Jem Bendell, has recently published a thoughtful review of the scientific studies on climate change, called “Deep Adaptation”. He concludes that social collapse is inevitable, environmental catastrophe is probable, and human extinction possible. He says, dramatically enough to get our attention,

The evidence before us suggests that we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war

But when I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life. With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend on your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go. You will fear being violently killed before starving to death.

He thinks facing this can lead to individual and collective change and growth toward insight, compassion, and action. He proposes what he terms “deep adaptation,” which includes the following framework:

I hope the deep adaptation agenda of resilience, relinquishment and restoration can be a useful framework for community dialogue in the face of climate change. Resilience asks us “how do we keep what we really want to keep?” Relinquishment asks us “what do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?” Restoration asks us “what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?”

In reading the piece, I found myself relieved and encouraged.

Relieved because I too have been thinking about the likely collapse, thinking that the earth’s environment is past the “tipping point” in many areas, that we will lose more species that we can imagine, that there will be social chaos, that we need to grieve the current and looming losses, and that I may need to become a planetary hospice worker, or a climate chaplain, joining with others in trying to provide support, comfort, and perhaps some spiritual wisdom to help us manage the coming troubles.

I was also relieved because I too have been hesitant to share these kinds of thoughts publicly for fear of reinforcing discouragement and despair that most people carry. I haven’t wanted to be a voice of gloom and doom, since that usually helps disempower people. Prof Bendell addresses this fear by saying that refusing to look directly at the seriousness of our situation gives us false hope that somehow we can avert the worst, and thereby keeps us numb enough to go along with accepting things as pretty much they are, or just advocating for mild, piecemeal reforms, thereby sealing our fate.

Encouraged because I have long believed that what is required is radical transformation at the base of our civilization—an economy that promotes well-being and happiness, not based on greed; a society based on fairness, compassion, and cooperation where the “isms” have been healed and eliminated; a re-uniting of humans with the rest of the natural world, recognizing our inextricable interdependence and embeddedness; a human culture that encourages contentedness, sufficiency, caring, curiosity, and creativity. The author points in that direction.

This transformation seems like a dream, given the current trends. All the more reason to not continue the slow, incremental reformist moves that most of the environmentalists have attempted. This is not sufficient. Nothing is sufficient to stop the severe climate induced disruption and suffering already built in. But hoping that technology or the market or human decency or enough political will can “save” us from the worst is not sufficient either. We are called to a radical shift in consciousness coupled with deep changes in our behavior, policies, and structures in the external sphere, and correspondingly deep changes in the interior realms–our self-concept, beliefs, internalized feelings of powerlessness and unworthiness, unconscious biases that make us feel superior or inferior, and the underlying conditioning that makes us feel separate from each other, other beings, and the Earth.

The interior transformations needed require, among many things, dedicated and effective methods of healing trauma, providing emotional safety and safeguards in the home and public settings, a set of mindful ethics to guide our behavior, and ways of nurturing compassion, loving kindness, peacefulness, and enjoyment in the joy of others.

Contemplating the interior dimension of change needed leads me to three conclusions or directions for myself. a) To re-dedicate myself to do even deeper emotional work to release stored distress and childhood hurts so that I can think more clearly and act more boldly. b) To re-commit myself to meditate more diligently and to practice even more fully the ethical principles I’ve been engaged with, namely, reverence for life, generosity, kind speech, and mindful consumption, so that my actions point to the world I want, and c) To live more deeply into the insights of interdependence, continual change, and unbroken wholeness of reality from which I can’t be separated, so that I know that the Earth and I are one, that what hurts the Earth or other being, hurts me, that when I care for a river’s health I am caring for my health.

Contemplating the radical change in social structures needed leads me personally to commit myself to advocate for a bold vision beyond reform; to support big ideas like the Green New Deal and beyond; to participate in mass non-violent civil disobedience actions; to help dismantle white supremacy, patriarchy, and all the dominator systems; to support the creation of a new just, cooperative economy. A tall order for sure, but why not go for it!

We don’t and can’t know how the story ends. But starting by embracing the strong possibility of environmental collapse and human extinction can jar us into a deeper relationship with our true nature and other beings.

“Inner healing, social transformation. You can’t have one without the other.”
– the tagline of Tikkun Magazine years ago.

John Bell is a Buddhist Dharma Teacher who lives near Boston, MA, USA. He is a founding staff and former vice president of YouthBuild USA, an international non-profit that provides learning, earning, and leadership opportunities to young people from low-income backgrounds. He is an author, lifelong social justice activist, international trainer facilitator, father and grandfather. His blog iswww.beginwithin.info and email isjbellminder@gmail.com.

Poem: The Tactics of Our Antics

By Liz Darcy Jones

Let us be Up Rising!

Create a mighty swell:

Our words are magnetising

they say ‘Wake up! Rebel!

We’ll get up and we’ll stand up

for those who don’t or can’t

and if you’re not for marching

then find some trees and plant!

Let us be Up Rising!

Create a mighty swell:

Our words are magnetising

they say ‘Wake up! Rebel!

we will not stoop to fight or harm

but mischief-make with glee

‘til songs and chants and mass arrests

and our solidarity

wake up those in denial

and rouse the ones who sleep

‘til all can see we’ve got to change

adapt and make it deep!

Let us be Up Rising!

Create a mighty swell:

Our words are magnetising

they say ‘Wake up! Rebel!

If we can challenge and rise up

and rock the status quo

whilst keeping our hearts open
there’s just a chance we’ll show

revolting rigid concepts

(born of power or greed)

hold far more threat than you or I:

let fierce love be our creed

Let us be Up Rising!

Create a mighty swell:

Our words are magnetising

they say ‘Wake up! Rebel!

“Hitler denial” as a parallel to climate denial

By Zeeshan Hasan

I recently came across the online comic Hitler Denial by Australian artist Stuart McMillan. Two panels are shown below as a taster.

The whole comic is definitely worth reading, please visit Stuart’s site to see it! I would discuss it further, but don’t want to give away the whole thing. What I would mention is that I’m cautious about glorifying war time leaders like Winston Churchill; although he was indeed successful in fighting Nazi Germany, it was at the cost of presiding over a terrible famine in India which killed millions.

Nonetheless, I think the parallel with the second world war and the ‘war footing’ that the entire world economy needs to be put on to in order to fight climate change is a worthwhile one to make.


A Poem for the Bellingham Climate Strikers

By Rob Lewis

Bellngham City Hall, 3/15/19

Where the sun meets the earth

your education begins.

Where the gold light meets the green striving

the lesson plan is all laid out.

Your teachers sing from the branches.

Stored knowledge shines in the leaves.

Study closely this living encyclopedia.

Become friends with things

and they will reward you with their meanings.

Though the adult world seems to have abandoned you

The earth is behind you every step of the way.

You have on your side all flowers and all rivers,

mountains and sand grains and the universes

inside those sand grains.

You have the oceans around you and the one inside you,

which occasionally appears on the lip of your eyelid

in the brief relief of a tear.

You didn’t come across waves of time

to fulfill the educational metrics of the state.

You are not given sight, and hearing and imagination

just to elbow past the others

in an economy that’s liquidating the world.

Out of the earth you came.

You hold in your eyes

the sun’s own candles

Don’t be afraid to burn

a few bad ideas down.

Don’t be afraid to dazzle us

with your fire.

The economics of extinction: a reason for rebellion


Professor Jem Bendell and Rabbi Jeffrey Newman

What would a sane society do, knowing that one of its luxury food supplies was being exhausted? Consume less perhaps? Or grow more? Japan, knowing that the Bluefin tuna is going extinct, does neither. Bluefish tuna make the most profit for fishermen the nearer they are to extinction, as their rarity endows all the more status on their consumers.

Some might think that is a quirky Japanese behaviour or an anomaly of economics, but actually the free-market system in which individuals compete for profit is resplendent with such stupidities. How else could the investment in fracking or tar sands be explained? Or the way Brazil is consuming the lungs of the Earth to pay back its debts. Or the way industry externalises the cost of processing much of its waste, poisoning the Earth and its future consumers?

The logic that leads to these flaws has long been understood, and there have been waves of visceral protest as the ideology of markets became more entrenched. It is two decades since we were shutting down city centres hosting WTO and World Bank conferences; and almost a decade since Occupy camps squatted in the sacred places of decadent high finance. This time our issue is more than economic justice – it is the way governments are standing by as the global house we live in is burning down. We now see clearer than ever how a stupid financial system is driving an environmental breakdown and mass extinction which will undermine our very civilisation.

But for all the dissent about this situation, there’s little agreement or clarity on where within the financial system the real problem resides – or what could be done about it. Explanations from the marching crowds often invoke privatisation, corruption, greed, the power of banks, or the shrinking state. Deeper analyses point to something that many are unaware of, even economists. It is how private banks, not the government or central banks, create our money supply when they issue loans. It is this practice of issuing money as debt that over time creates a scarcity of money which encourages perpetual economic growth whether a society needs it or not. That means more junk, monotonous work, energy burned, natural environments ripped up, more waste, more money locked up in tax havens, and more unpayable debts. Lifting the veil on the monetary system reveals the interconnection between our social and environmental suffering. Through complex chains of profit-taking, the extortionate financial rewards taken by banks leads to people relying upon food banks while we trash the foundational bank that is a healthy planet.

Therefore, after decades of work on reforming corporations to be more sustainable, we both came to understand that we can’t change the way business does business unless we change the way money makes money. Given our perilous situation with the unfolding environmental breakdown, this change is more urgent than ever. As it oscillates along the knife-edge of debt maximisation and debt default, the current system is simply not fit for a future of climate-induced disruption.

But understanding the driving role of the financial system doesn’t give us a course of action and it certainly doesn’t help us to curtail it. For starters, we exist within the confines of this system. Many of us have little capacity to take radical action because we are working off our debts, or earning wages suppressed by employers servicing their own. That is hardly surprising in an economy with more debt than money.

So what might we do? We can move our money to building societies. But that won’t reform the big banks. We can work together to build alternatives at the local level, such as credit unions and mutual credit currencies. Yet in the UK this has proven difficult, as they are less available and less-funded than their competitors. So we might buy into crypto-currencies, yet many of them are run by speculators who make bankers look saintly!

So the only possible way to put the financial system into a reverse thrust is through government who, after all, unleashed the financial beast over thirty years ago.

It would seem though, that the present UK government imagines a different mandate for itself. In his 2018 party conference speech Chancellor Hammond claimed already to have ‘rebuilt the financial system’ since 2008.He said nothing about energy security, food security, climate change, the global migration crisis or indeed any future concerns except a future Labour government. One can’t imagine the sixth Mass Extinction keeping him awake at night. Rather than existential threats he focused instead on linguistic ones, repeating the term ‘21st century capitalism’ as if the next 80 years of economics were already written.

Hammond is out of touch with a public increasingly alarmed by climate predictions. After 30 years of warnings but no meaningful action, the current (very conservative) estimate is that dramatic changes are needed within the next twelve years, just for a chance of avoiding ‘run away’ climate change. Less optimistic readings of the data indicate that rapid and uncontrollable climate change has already begun. That will mean failed harvests and with it, exploding price rises and, understandably, social unrest. A new paradigm of Deep Adaptation  to environmental breakdown is needed to reduce harm and risk in a very uncertain future. As friends and neighbours we might stockpile food, nurture our gardens and install solar power, but government is needed to build the sea defences, mobilise emergency food production and distribution, rebuild transport systems and integrate large numbers of people fleeing droughts, floods and related conflict.

Governments around the world need to develop climate-smart monetary and investment policies. Such bold policies must involve a scaling down of our non-reserve banking system and an increase in government’s issuance of electronic money instead of bonds. All central banks must be instructed to stop buying bonds from companies with large carbon footprints and instead only buy bonds of firms providing low-carbon solutions for a climate-disrupted future. Governments should also ensure there are networks of local banks with a requirement to lend to enterprises that are focused on cutting emissions or drawing down carbon, as well as developing resilience to disruptive weather. Making that the RBS mandate in the UK is a ‘no brainer’. Government should also look at enabling local governments to issue their own interoperable currencies, as a way of helping local communities become more self reliant in preparation for future disturbances. Treasury officials could begin their education on these ideas by talking to the folks at Positive Money. Meanwhile our diplomats could get cracking on negotiating a global carbon tax, embedded into trade law at the WTO, with government commitments to invest revenues for carbon cuts, drawdown, adaptation and reducing impacts on the poor.

Given how bad things are with the environment we don’t know if such dramatic changes will be too little too late. But it is worth a try. And we are convinced that without an attempt to transform the monetary system then we aren’t really trying.

Let’s for a moment imagine what such changes could support. We can imagine what thriving ecosystems look like, so we let’s imagine a thriving economy. Waste would be minimised, and toxic waste eliminated. Most of what we needed would be produced nearby. There would be no unemployment and no shortage of money to pay for valuable work. Housing would be affordable as it was in the 1970s. Children would see more of their parents. Enterprises and population centres would be governed and managed less as pawns of London, Brussels, Berne, or Frankfurt and more by the people who have a stake in them and their continuance.

There must come a time when when it becomes necessary to flout the law to bring down an immoral or incompetent government. Philosophers call it the ‘right of rebellion’. Naturally they differ on the details, but generally a rebellion these days must use non-violent methods, and it must be against a government which is grossly incompetent, malignant, or treacherous. In upholding a financial system determined to burn all the fossil fuels while not protecting the people from the catastrophic consequences, governments are surely being grossly incompetent, malignant and treacherous.

On April 15th international rebellion week will create all manner of creative, exciting and loving peaceful civil disobedience to show the UK government and its financial masters that we can no longer support interlocking economic and political systems that threaten to curtail the life of our children. It is time to tell the truth, act in accordance with it, and set up Citizens Assemblies with mandates that include both financial reform and Deep Adaptation.

If international rebellion doesn’t startle our politicians into making the climate crisis their central agenda, then we must stretch the rebellion into our everyday lives. How many coordinated withdrawals and loan defaults might bring down a targeted bank? How many local councils issuing inter-operable currencies could create an alternative to the Bank of England? How many people joining networks with their own currencies, like Fair Coop, Credit Commons and Holochain, could make these viable alternatives? If government does not heed peaceful calls to change our economic system so that climate sanity is an economic norm, we may well find out.

We realise that initially our suggestions may be dismissed by some office holders in our current system. Religious texts remind us that privileged people “who detest the one who tells the truth” (Prophet Amos 5:10) are neither new or unusual. But the joy of generations coming together in a new spirit of fearless love, reminds us of the divine invitation to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Prophet Amos 5:24). We therefore invite more leaders in our current system to join this sacred flow of a peaceful rebellion for life on Earth.

Professor Jem Bendell is founder of the Deep Adaptation Forum and teaches leadership at the University of Cumbria.

Rabbi Jeffrey Newman is Emeritus Rabbi of Finchley Reform Synagogue and leads Shema (Jewish Action on Climate Change).

Further reading on monetary issues:

Currencies of Transition: Transforming money to unleash sustainability. Bendell, Greco (2013)

Re-imagining Money to Broaden the Future of Development Finance Bendell, Ruddick, Slater (2015) UNRISD

The future of sharing: it’s all about freedom, Open Democracy

Thwarting an Uber future for complementary currencies. Bendell & Slater 2017

Poetry Anthology #1

Author: Greg Cumbers

Almost Midnight 

Confused by the rhythm
And still, he stands up to dance
With Godheads and their hi-tech threats
Orange bleeds into red

He doesn’t wear a watch
Instead, he stares straight at the sun
Like a rabbit in the headlights
Beyond the point of no return

Confused by the rhythm
She sits down and puts the world to rights
A frightening place with nowhere to hide
The clock strikes closer to midnight

Tired, she’s so tired of waiting
For the sirens to start singing
Wound up like a spring with rage in her eyes
She crosses her heart and hopes to die

These are the days it never rains but it pours
You can run, but you can’t hide forever
The weather will have its way with you! 

——————————————————————————————————————–

Author: Santosha Tantra

Excerpt from the poem “One True Tribe

This is the time and the need for the One True Tribe to recognize itself and begin living.
Who is in this One True Tribe?
All Hearts everywhere
We cannot, not know each other.
There are no places we haven’t seen
And no one can live apart from the other, from how the other somewhere else affects everyone here.
We know of everyone’s suffering and everyone’s needs.
Our hearts are all the same, with the same impulse – to live and live well.

To live well all must know their own heart and recognize everyone’s heart.
The heart – the place and the knowing of love – the recognition of all as love.
Love is the impulse to serve without selfishness, to give so all can live with dignity.

Love makes happiness, purpose and enjoyment,
love does not cause suffering for others.
This is the time and the world has the need, for all of us to see itself as
One family, as the One True Tribe.

Potatoes and Football

By George Palen

In the game of football, no one ever grows potatoes. Not only is this a true fact, but no one is surprised by this fact. The rules and objectives of football simply do not allow for the planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting of potatoes. Everybody knows this. You would be laughed off of the field if you brought a hoe, some gardening gloves, and some seed potatoes onto a football field at the beginning of a game.

Similarly, in the game of western culture, Mother Nature is not supported. The rules and objectives of western culture, whereby individuals pursue as much wealth and power as they can, simply do not allow for the support of Mother Nature. And thus we should not be surprised that life on Earth is going away. Indeed we have seen how people in support of life on Earth have been laughed out of corporate board rooms, swept into the streets where their voices have no seat at the decision making table.

We are playing the wrong game. I refuse to play football. I would surely get hurt if I did and besides, the score at the end of the game is meaningless. Society should stop embracing the game of “get rich and powerful”. People just get hurt and the score at the end of the game is meaningless. Instead the rules and objectives of our society should support life. Let us change our game. Let us change our culture. Let us support life on Earth.