Five Early Lessons From Extinction Rebellion

By Chris Taylor

How the new movement for ecological justice is reimagining the world by reimagining the art of protest, protection and healing. By Chris Taylor / filmsforaction.org / Apr 25, 2019

Five Early Lessons From Extinction Rebellion

Photo: Ruth Davey/Look Again – Photography for the Wellbeing of People and Planet (www.look-again.org)

Like many in the UK I have jumped feet first into the Extinction Rebellion movement. It has captured something in the zeitgeist, bringing together people across cultures and generations in a movement for fundamental global change. It’s not just about climate change. It’s about a revolution of love, deep ecology and radical transformation.

There is a long way to go. Victory will be secured over years rather than months. This is the struggle for the heart and soul of the human species, not for a quick fix climate solution. But even at this early stage we are starting to see trends and approaches that are making the difference – and that show how world-changing movements will operate in the coming global transition.

  1. This is a Self Organising System. XR is based on careful study of mass movements for civil disobedience and disruption. Local groups are free to plan and implement their own actions so long as they stay within the movement’s guiding principles. The sites occupied in London had the same freedom – to organise actions, events and activities as they saw fit.

The whole movement runs on self-organising interlinked circles connected through virtual platforms including Basecamp, Google docs and WhatsApp.

The focus on self-organisation releases untold amounts of energy and creativity. It builds agency and ownership and avoids the traps and delays of hierarchy.

  1. There is a very strong set of guiding principles. Rebels are able to navigate how to act because of ten core values. These include a shared vision, absolute non-violence, welcoming everyone and every part of everyone. Because these values are upfront and out there, they build a shared culture, which mirrors the world we are trying to create.
  2. XR’s organizational culture is “regenerative”. It aims to be nourishing and sustaining for all members. There were “welfare” tents at all London action sites offering space to relax, recuperate, meditate, practice yoga, as well as providing medical care as needed. This regenerative culture avoids burn-out and is attractive to the general population. The police were at a loss as to how to deal with such friendly protesters. Commuters grew to value the calm brought to the city, the festival atmosphere and the decrease in traffic.
  3. The movement is paying attention to its ultimate vision. XR publicly declares three concrete short term demands: governments should tell the truth about the climate emergency, they should go carbon net-neutral by 2025, and there should be a citizen’s assembly to explore and devise solutions.

But this is just the short term. Alongside this is a much longer term transformational vision, which takes its map from “the map of the human heart”. This is a vision of radical social transformation and a rebalancing of humanity’s relationship with nature. That’s the ultimate goal.

5. At its core this is a profoundly spiritual movement (with a small “s”). It is jam packed with muslims, sufis, christians, jews, quakers, buddhists and people of no faith, all exploring thier common beliefs, beyond religion. What we have found is a yearning for deeper meaning, for the magic and mystery of life, for a felt connection to the entire eco-system of this Earth. XR is alive with ceremony, contemplation and a careful, conscious action in honour of life, love and abundance. We are becoming nature protecting itself, experiencing its own beauty and evolving into its higher self.

How this will all play out is not easy to see. The movement in the UK is taking a pause, to regroup, recuperate and shift to some serious political horse-trading. What tactics will be needed to bring about both short-term policy change and long-term global transformation, only time will tell. But for sure, we’re off to a great start.

As one activist friend of mine, Nikki Levitan, put it:

“At the core of my experience this last week I see that this is the first ever activism that is heart-led, no blaming or shaming, just taking action from a place of love and collective responsibility. 
A community of all generations who care and are able to self organise. 
It is amazing when humans step out into the world and really do something and be the change, it unleashes so much creativity, possibility and courage.”

Mao once said “The Revolution is not a dinner party”. XR is showing it might just start with a street party instead.

Earth Day, 2019: Some Of Us Have Seen What’s Coming

By Cody Petterson
For the first time in 15 years, I sat down in my car the other day and broke down sobbing. On the side of a dirt road, surrounded by mountains. Waves of sadness, frustration, rage, and despair welling up.
I’d spent the day planting and watering seedlings, which I’ve done for half a decade now. We have 300 acres on the north slope of Volcan Mountain, between Julian and Warner Springs. The property got hit by the Pines Fire in 2002, which killed two-thirds of the conifers. I grew up hiking in Cuyamaca, before the fires, and I got it in my mind to restore the conifer forest on the property. It took months to figure out what was what, heading up to the mountain once a week, taking pictures, coming home and trying to identify all the species, reading late into the night about botany, and forestry, and silviculture. I collected thousands of cones. I learned how to get seeds out of them and to stratify, germinate, and pot the seeds. I started growing seedlings in the backyard. I put together a working group with US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife, CALFIRE, and the US Natural Resource Conservation Service. We collected and sent 30 bushels of fresh cones up to the USFS nursery in Placerville, and I eventually got a thousand seedlings from those seeds.
I planted every which way I could, learning something new each time, year after year. The first year I planted in the open. The seedlings baked. Next in the shade. They baked. I learned to water every two or three weeks, which isn’t easy across 300 acres of steeply sloped terrain. The pocket gophers ate them from below. I caged the bottoms. Rabbits severed them at the base. I caged them above ground. Rodents climbed up and down into the cages and defoliated the needles. I caged the tops. The rodents ate the needles on all the branches that protruded from the cage, and the hardware cloth cages heated up in the sun and the metal killed all the branches and needles that were in contact with it. 
And all the time, the relentless heat and dryness killed any seedling left without watering for more than two or three weeks. Winter rains are good, but there’s no snow-melt anymore, and a winter rain doesn’t help a seedling survive in October when there hasn’t been a drop of rain in 8 months (the second half of 2017 was the driest on record here). In spite of thousands of hours of thought, and worry, and work, and care, I’ve lost probably 650 out of the 700 seedlings I’ve raised from seed and planted with my own hands over the last 5 years.
That day, after a long, dirty, hot day of planting, I walked to one of my favorite spots, a ring of granite boulders sheltered by a huge, gnarled Canyon Live Oak. There, lying shattered and rotting in the middle of the ring, was half the 60 foot tall tree. The other half was still standing, but covered in the telltale, tiny D-shaped holes of Gold-spotted Oak Borer (GSOB), a beetle that gets into the phloem, xylem, and cambium of our native oaks and kills them rapidly. GSOB arrived in San Diego on firewood from southeast Arizona fifteen years ago and has been slowly advancing north, laying waste to our native oaks. It’s killed maybe 80,000 so far. I wandered around to a dozen nearby trees, all big, ancient oaks. The trunks of every one were spotted with GSOB holes. I stood there stunned. The whole millenia-old forest was dying, as far as the eye could see. I wandered back to my truck, numb.
I sat down in the driver’s seat, staring out the window. At the oaks, dying in mass. At the stately, hundred-foot-tall Bigcone Douglas Fir, towering above the oak canopy. Each Bigcone drops maybe two hundred to a thousand cones, depending on size, every three to five years. Each cone has around 100 viable seeds in it. Maybe 40,000 seeds on average per tree, every few years. Times a few hundred trees. An average of somewhere around a million seeds a year fall on our stretch of mountain. And yet there’s not more than a dozen saplings growing naturally on the entire property, 300 acres. I sat there thinking about what that meant, year after year, a million seeds dropped and maybe one or two survive, and those only on the dampest, darkest parts of the mountain. It meant the days of the Bigcone are done.
I sat thinking about those thousands of oaks on all those slopes, and ridges, and hills. Dying. I thought of the Shot Hole Borer, working its way up through our canyons, killing all San Diego’s Coast Live Oak, and willow, and sycamore, and cottonwood. I thought of the Bigcone pushing their way up through the oak canopy. Last of their kind. I thought of all my seedlings. The hundreds I’ve planted over the years and the hundreds filling my patio and yard. I’ve lost too many to count, but I can somehow remember the moment I first saw each one had dried out, or been pulled under by gophers, or stripped bare by rodents, or gnawed by rabbits, or trampled by cattle from the neighboring reservation.
I’d thought about it all a thousand times. I’ve lain in bed so many nights trying to wrestle with it. I don’t know why, but that afternoon something in my mind buckled under the weight of it. I thought, ‘How do I tell my kids?’ and I started to cry. They’ve grown up with me storing seeds and acorns in the refrigerator, germinating seeds, potting seedlings, watering them, five hundred at any given time in the backyard, working in the greenhouses, unloading all my dusty tools and empty water bottles from the truck when I get back in the evening from the mountain. Their dad working in any spare moment on reforesting is all they’ve ever known. I thought of this photo we took a couple of years ago, sitting in front of all our hundreds of seedlings. So happy. How do I tell them that I don’t know what to do with the six hundred seedlings in the backyard? That if I keep them potted in the yard, they’ll get root-bound and slowly die, and if I try to outplant them on the mountain, they’ll die even faster? That there’s no place left in the world for these trees they’ve grown up with? And then the question that was probably there the whole time, waiting to surface: How do I tell myself? I think of all the love I’ve put into saving that forest. All the years. All the thousands of hours. All the thought, and worry, and hope, and faith. How do I tell myself that it’s all gonna die? I’ve spent so long among those trees. It’s not like trees in a park you visit. I don’t go to a different trail or campground or mountain every week. I go to the same mountain, every time. I know every corner of those three hundred acres. I can see the whole forest when I close my eyes. Those trees are like friends to me. I know their peculiarities, their personalities. I can identify some of those trees by their acorns alone. It’s honestly too much. To know they’re all doomed. And if my forest is dying, the same thing is happening everywhere on earth. My mind leapt back 20 years to when I was doing fieldwork up in Kenai, Alaska. I remembered driving past hundreds of miles of conifers dying from Spruce Bark Beetle, which had exploded without the cold winters to keep its population in check. I must have blocked it out for twenty years. But it was right there, just below the surface of my consciousness, foreshadowing.
The sadness, the fear, the despair comes over me in waves when I think about it. The whole biosphere, sixty-six million years of adaptation and speciation, is dying. I took personal responsibility for repairing, conserving, stewarding my half-mile square of it, and it finally hit me–what I’d been wrestling with unconsciously for a long time–that I can’t save it. No amount of wisdom, or sacrifice, or heroism is going to change the outcome. It’s been wearing on me for years, but when you’re raised on Star Wars and unconditional positive regard, you think that no matter how long the odds, you’re somehow gonna pull off the impossible. It’s been years of working, day-in, day-out, against odds that were unimaginably long. Only, they weren’t long. They were impossible.
And at the crescendo of sobbing and loss, the saddest thought I’ve ever had came to me: I wish I didn’t know. What else can you say, when faced with a catastrophe of such vastness, with the unravelling of the entire fabric of life on earth? I mean, we need to fight to save what we can, but the web of life as we know it is done. All the beautiful things we saw as kids on the Discovery Channel. The forests I grew up in. The mountain lions, and the horned owls, and the scat and the tracks in the washes. We’re so early in this curve, and the changes that are already baked in will be so profound. I don’t think humans are headed for extinction. We’ll survive, though many of us will suffer and many die. But all this life with which we’ve shared the planet, much of it won’t make it. I wish I didn’t know. I wish I didn’t know those ancient trees dying up there on the mountain. I wish I’d never hiked through Cuyamaca before the fires. Wish I’d never looked beneath rocks for lizards in the canyons before the bulldozers came. Or heard the frogs singing.
Some of us have seen what’s coming. Some of us feel, deeply, the oneness of all life, feel its fabric fraying. On the first of April, 2019, just after 3 o’clock, some faith–some fantasy inside me–died, and I felt despair for the world I’ve known and loved. We will not save what was. The world, the systems, the interrelationships, the densely woven tapestry, the totality we were raised to love will collapse. My responsibility now is to my children–to all our children–and the world that will remain to them. To rescue as much as we can from that global conflagration, from the catastrophes of famine, and flood, and fire, and conflict, and exodus, and extinctions that await. To end our dependence on fossil fuels, immediately. To dramatically change our food production, our transportation, our land use. Our way of life. To defeat anyone and anything that opposes or hampers that work. If there were ever a truly holy war, this struggle–to save the whole of life from ourselves–is it. There can be no compromise. No increments. No quarter. There is nothing left, but to go forth–with the grief, and desperation, and granite-hard determination–and transform the world. Utterly. Immediately.

Dr. Cody Petterson is an anthropologist and environmental activist. He is president of the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action and serves on the boards of the San Diego River Conservancy and the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego. He lives with his wife and two children in La Jolla, California, where he enjoys his passion for native habitat conservation and restoration.

Extinction Rebellion Tie-in Die-in, Kendal

By Lawrence Freiesleben

On Wednesday 17th April, members of Extinction Rebellion South Lakes staged a Die-in around Kendal market place. The weather was beautiful and who is ever going to complain about that? Unfortunately, far too many people still seem to share demagogue Donald Trump’s delusion that all global warming amounts to is lucky people in temperate zones getting more sun. As a recent casualty of increasingly unstable weather systems, the population of Kendal and villages nearby must be uneasy about this. Yet it’s always been amazing, how sunny weather and the onset of spring is apt to ameliorate or dim our fears – as if us and our beautiful landscapes with their trees in blossom and the cheer of daffodils will be here forever. Despite the broken bridges that remain broken, left behind by Storm Desmond, we are all too easily reassured. The body is simple in its reaction to warmth and light and the attractions of market day.

Setting up signs and banners in three different parts of the square, chiefly outside the low chains protecting the war memorial, at first, we passed unnoticed – the colourful signs and lettered flags taken for a precursor of carnival? Careful not to conceal any information already present on the windows of two untenanted shops, our own placards were propped or masking-taped to the glass. When we left, the only real sign of our presence would be the chalked lines around the fallen bodies, including those of children who spontaneously joined in. The only damage that occurred was caused by an officious security guard to whose initial crocodile smile we had granted a charitable benefit of the doubt. Taking advantage, while we were dying elsewhere in the square, he ripped down Wendi’s banner, also throwing her treasured bicycle to the ground – all part of the job, only doing his duty . . .

By contrast the community police officer who chatted with us a while, cheerfully agreed we were doing nothing he considered illegal: the disused shop was ‘a civil matter’.

With various members of the South Lakes group away for the duration of the main Extinction Rebellion event in London, our numbers were limited. Arrest however, seemed unlikely and the greatest block in many of our minds may have been embarrassment – that classic British trait?

Never underestimate the effect of embarrassment. If it wasn’t for crippling embarrassment, you never know, I might have taken up ballroom dancing, or any type of dancing. Or learned languages freely.

A Cornish friend of mine ,an eco-activist since the 70’s – who held secret midnight discussions with Swampy in the 1990’s and was an invited guest at C40’s 2011 conference in Sao Paulo – was adamant that action needs to be taken at every level, from every possible angle.

The thought that the Home Front is just as crucial as the Front Line, was one I kept in my mind to deflect disappointment at not being able to get to London – a regret of other members too. But if some considered Kendal a soft option, others were not convinced.

One interested office worker, who soon became a member, said she’d been down in London and felt quite comfortable joining the throng: the largeness of the company making her feel safe. In Kendal our group fluctuated at around 16. Crowd support and back-up were, to say the least, limited. That, she felt, would have made her think twice.

By contrast, a lady who died there and then, wished she’d known in advance that an expensive trek to London wasn’t necessary – nor incurring the irony of extra carbon to get to an event protesting against it!

Though I admire all those resolute, tireless, folk who walked to London, my ideal would have been to cycle. And maybe next time, if things don’t change fast, there will huge columns of cyclists all across the country, legally blocking routes everywhere – a wheeled echo of the Jarrow marchers. With enough warning there need be no idling engines. Everyone will know to put their cars and lorries away and stay at home.

In provincial towns, many of the public appear to know little or nothing about Extinction Rebellion. To them, it’s just a story on the news about some “pesky protesters” far away, “down in London”. Seeing Kendal residents they recognise – many of them pensioners with no experience of making a spectacle of themselves or braving abuse, determined for the sake of their grandchildren to make their point and explain what XR is about – really opens their eyes. It becomes personal rather than a fleeting headline. Our purpose in Kendal was not to disrupt ,but to try to publicise and explain, and although we had two or three hysterical people railing against us, generally, there was interest and support. Even the stallholders trying to make a living, were not all hostile.

Not wanting to disadvantage any of the stallholders in particular, after an hour we altered one of the locations of our dying. I asked the trader on the vegetable stall if he minded us dying nearby and he said not. Taking a leaflet to read at home, he only cautioned us against the shifting shade.

Undoubtedly, there is a vulnerability felt in lying on the pavement. With eyes shut, all the passing comments of support or scorn, impatience or contempt, become magnified. Yet talking was harder for me . . . at least at first. Others went through this same transition. My partner, who tends to be reserved in interactions with strangers, quickly warmed to the task. By the end she felt empowered. At last she was doing something instead of just worrying – and if things turned nasty we had a plan to ensure at least one of us would be free to pick the children up from school.

I’m not sure I felt empowered, but I did eventually manage to engage a few sceptics – who hopefully walked on with at least some idea of the crisis we are in.

“When you lot can do something about over-population let me know!” One woman challenged, and it was tempting to emphasise how wars, plagues and famines linked to climate change are already common and will only get worse. It’s always difficult to avoid the temptation towards fatalism that underlies the go-for-broke mentality so prevalent all over the world.

Throwing leaflets straight in the bin or refusing eye-contact were probably less common than the polite statement “I’m O.K. thanks” to proffered leaflets – a reaction which riled some of my comrades – struggling perhaps to resist the retort of “Not for long!”

The dilemma of how forceful we should be – purely verbally – stays with me. Long arguments with bitter opponents absorb valuable time, as does preaching to the converted. The background hope is that some people between these extremes, will later usefully reflect on a few points gently made.

The role of chief hysteric went to a woman ranting about our lack of respect for the war memorial. This, we stayed outside and fixed nothing to. We merely lay down nearby. Personally, I saw this more as a homage. What was the point of all those soldiers dying, only for us to trash the world they died for?

The war against extinction, against apathy over climate change and our own careless consumerism, is more urgent even than the fight seventy years ago, against the Axis powers.
(Photos by Kirsten Freiesleben April 17th 2019)

From XR Die-in, Seattle

By Rob Lewis

I am lying on sunlit bricks before the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building. I have died, and now look up at a twisted rectangle of sky framed by glass-sided buildings. A single branch waves overhead, reaching from a tree rising from a square of trucked-in soil. About twenty people have also died around me, and lay in the positions they fell in. We will stay dead for about twelve minutes.

That’s how many years we have to prevent climate hell on earth, at least according to the last fleet of studies.  Twelve years is not a lot of time. Perhaps I should have better things to do with mine. But then I realize, arms splayed out, looking slantwise up at the diamond-pointed sun, I’m doing precisely the thing I should be doing and want to be doing. I am dying into the truth of my time. I am dying into the dying. And it feels strangely restorative

The sea is near. I can smell it. And I begin thinking of orcas, in particular, one named Tahlequah. Last August, with her dead calf draped across her nostrum, she heralded her calf through the sea for seventeen days and nights? She made us look. She made us see what life is like behind the word extinction. It’s hunger, loss, attrition. Extinction lowered its mask of data and revealed a broken-hearted mother, grieving on a scale beyond our ken, a grief as big as the ocean. I am thinking I am lucky to be able to lie here and grieve for her, and for all of creation, really. I am thinking of how long I have needed to do this.

Those who can’t lie down join in standing-death. I can’t see anyone though, just this strange, powder-blue fragment of sky. On this chilly April morning the bricks are surprisingly warm, laying a deep bed of deep quiet amidst the clanging jack-hammers, staccato horns, rhythmic sirens. The city thrums on and I realize we are the lucky ones. We at least have found an off-ramp, a brief side exit from the techno-industrial race to ruin.

Though we appear to be sleeping, we are actually waking. We are shaking off an industrial drowse, grieving for a distracted humanity. There’s a feeling of honour to it, a solemnity. This is necessary work. It helps that the sun warms our faces. It helps that we decided to just do this, as awkward as it might have felt at first.

And now here we are, dying into something beyond ourselves, into orcas, snow geese, yellow tanagers, glacier-fed streams, snow-fed glaciers, salmon and seasons. Climate refugees, hurricane victims; we die for them too. By our bodies we have cleared and planted a small plot of human atonement, and inhabit it with a mood akin to prayer. A cloud’s view would see a city swirling around a spot of stillness. Is it a wound or a flower?

It is surely both.

Earth March Diary from Colchester

By Ness

Day one. Boudicca the litter collector of Colchester. We collected a dustbin sack full of cans, plastic wrap, fag packets, plastic bottles… Mostly all plastic. Sadly we filled a sack within a quarter of a mile, before we had to stop to recycle it. It actually felt like an ocean we couldn’t content with. We ceremoniously marked the sealing of the first sack by advertising the work of #extinctionrebellion in the form of wall papering a bus stop with some beautiful XR posters – You’re welcome.


Theresa, Janet and myself walked on, leaving the town behind for the main road out of Colchester, before leaving the beaten track for the tranquility of birdsong from hedgerows in country lanes; far less litter here. We passed a farm, with three tractors planting potatoes on a very small field; disproportionate for three machines; the three of us just watched, no words needed…. Shared yet unspoken calculations regarding pollution, energy and yield. The maths just doesn’t add up; the answer certainly doesn’t benefit us.

Day…. What day is it? Thursday 11th. After a tough walk to D’Arcy yesterday, i slept brilliantly. Fab campsite, hot showers and in bed by 7:45 – the only way to stay warm. Q: What’s the one thing every peri menopausal woman dreads whilst camping in the freezing cold? A: surprise period! Excellent. Luckily, i did pack two bullets for my pistol, just in case. Even luckier, our next door neighbour in the caravan managed to find a random tampon in her make up bag. Lady, i am eternally grateful. This may be an overshare; get over it. This has made me think about what it’s like for women sleeping rough; just something else bloody awful to contend with (‘scuse the pun). It was a bloody cold night, but it was mouse free and i slept really well. Theresa and i got ourselves packed up and set off at 10 this morning, as we were to part company at Tolleshunt Knights. On arriving there we discovered the bus service had been axed, but a kind Catalonian woman in the form Gloria, (79, district nurse) gave Theresa a ride to Tollesbury, after a great discussion about the Franco regime and introducing us to her friend Ines who serenaded me on the pavement with a Spanish song, before bestowing a leaflet about Jesus on me. Simply blown away by random acts of kindness.

Day four. Friday 12th. Danbury – Writtle. Despite it being only 7.5 miles, I’m being forced to take the day off. After 13 miles yesterday I’ve developed two really awful blisters, which are incredibly painful, preventing me from walking. Today I have no choice but to rest at my friend’s house with Poppy keeping me company. Due to this, my plans changed from camping tonight to sofa surfing courtesy of Miriam, an XR friend in Chelmsford. It also seems that I may not have dodged the bug…. I’m about to go back to bed in the hope I can shake this off a dreadful headache, sore throat and streaming nose. If I surface in a couple of hours feeling better, I shall make my way to Writtle, as the plan tonight is to meet up with Chelmsford rebels to make banners and keep warm before Miriam rescues me and let’s me sleep on her sofa. Fingers crossed this is just fatigue. I’m not done yet.

Day 5 – Saturday 13th – back home, currently game over. Ended up having to come home. It seems I didn’t escape Sophia’s bug. It was a hard decision to make, my best friend Bee looked after me in her home brilliantly, however there’s no place like home when you develop a temperature of 39 degrees. Those of you that know me well will know that my default position on everything is nearly always confrontational; I fight; but when it comes to health I believe that when your body shouts loudest you should listen; it’s your vehicle that will get you to your destination – so requires love and care. I’m glad I listened, because this morning I don’t feel well at all.
Part of the capitalist rhetoric – the “no pain, no gain” ethos is in stark contrast to regenerative culture; it is non compassion at the deepest level; something I am trying to change in nursing culture; a concept that formed a book chapter to inspire change in the way we socialise students into the profession.
So here I am, after a night of rigours and sweats; grateful to be warm in my home with my family, and not suffering the cold and damp in my tent.
Today, I would have been walking from Writtle to Kelvedon Hatch, having met up with fellow travellers Bob and Colin. Colin has taken the baton from me now, and Bob has sorted me out a place to sleep tomorrow night if I’m back in the game – which I intend to be. I want to thank so many people for their support, effort and care….. Too numerous to mention in my current state of being; you know who you are – all of you XXX

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.

What Will You Say to Your Grandchildren?

By Jeremy Lent

Facing oncoming climate disaster, some argue for “Deep Adaptation”—that we must prepare for inevitable collapse. However, this orientation is dangerously flawed. It threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy by diluting the efforts toward positive change. What we really need right now is Deep Transformation. There is still time to act: we must acknowledge this moral imperative.

Every now and then, history has a way of forcing ordinary people to face up to a moral encounter with destiny that they never expected. Back in the 1930s, as Adolf Hitler rose to power, those who turned away when they saw Jews getting beaten in the streets never expected that decades later, their grandchildren would turn toward them with repugnance and say “Why did you do nothing when there was still a chance to stop the horror?”

Now, nearly a century on, here we are again. The fate of future generations is at stake, and each of us needs to be prepared, one day, to face posterity—in whatever form that might take—and answer the question: “What did you do when you knew our future was on the line?”

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the past few months, or get your daily updates exclusively from Fox News, you’ll know that our world is facing a dire climate emergency that’s rapidly reeling out of control. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a warning to humanity that we have just twelve years to turn things around before we pass the point of no return. Governments continue to waffle and ignore the blaring sirens. The pledges they’ve made under the 2015 Paris agreement will lead to 3 degrees of warming, which would threaten the foundations of our civilization. And they’re not even on track to meet those commitments. Even the IPCC’s dire warning of calamity is, by many accounts, too conservative, failing to take into account tipping points in the earth system with reinforcing feedback effects that could drive temperatures far beyond the IPCC’s worst case scenarios.

People are beginning to feel panicky in the face of oncoming disaster. Books such as David Wallace-Wells’s Uninhabitable Earth paint a picture so frightening that it’s already feeling to some like game over. A strange new phenomenon is emerging: while mainstream media ignores impending catastrophe, increasing numbers of people are resonating with those who say it’s now “too late” to save civilization. The concept of “Deep Adaptation” is beginning to gain currency, with its proponent Jem Bendell arguing that “we face inevitable near-term societal collapse,” and therefore need to prepare for “civil unrest, lawlessness and a breakdown in normal life.”

There’s much that is true in the Deep Adaptation diagnosis of our situation, but its orientation is dangerously flawed. By turning people’s attention toward preparing for doom, rather than focusing on structural political and economic change, Deep Adaptation threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, increasing the risk of collapse by diluting efforts toward societal transformation.

Our headlong fling toward disaster

I have no disagreement with the dire assessment of our circumstances. In fact, things look even worse if you expand the scope beyond the climate emergency. Climate breakdown itself is merely a symptom of a far larger crisis: the ecological catastrophe unfolding in every domain of the living earth. Tropical forests are being decimated, making way for vast monocrops of wheat, soy, and palm oil plantations. The oceans are being turned into a garbage dump, with projections that by 2050 they will contain more plastic than fish. Animal populations are being wiped out. The insects that form the foundation of our global ecosystem are disappearing: bees, butterflies, and countless other species in free fall. Our living planet is being ravaged mercilessly by humanity’s insatiable consumption, and there’s not much left.

Deep Adaptation proponents are equally on target arguing that incremental fixes are utterly insufficient. Even if a global price on carbon was established, and if our governments invested in renewables rather than subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, we would still come up woefully short. The harsh reality is that, rather than heading toward net zero, global emissions just hit record numbers last year; Exxon, the largest shareholder-owned oil company, proudly announced recently that it’s doubling down on fossil fuel extraction; and wherever you look, whether it’s air travel, globalized shipping, or beef consumption, the juggernaut driving us to climate catastrophe only continues to accelerate. To cap it off, with ecological destruction and global emissions already unsustainable, the world economy is expected to triple by 2060.

The primary reason for this headlong fling toward disaster is that our economic system is based on perpetual growth—on the need to consume the earth at an ever-increasing rate. Our world is dominated by transnational corporations, which now account for sixty-nine of the world’s largest hundred economies. The value of these corporations is based on investors’ expectations for their continued growth, which they are driven to achieve at any cost, including the future welfare of humanity and the living earth. It’s a gigantic Ponzi scheme that barely gets a mention because the corporations also own the mainstream media, along with most governments. The real discussions we need about humanity’s future don’t make it to the table. Even a policy goal as ambitious as the Green New Deal—rejected by most mainstream pundits as utterly unrealistic—would still be insufficient to turn things around, because it doesn’t acknowledge the need to transition our economy away from reliance on endless growth.

Deep Adaptation . . . or Deep Transformation?

Faced with these realities, I understand why Deep Adaptation followers throw their hands up in despair and prepare for collapse. But I believe it’s wrong and irresponsible to declare definitively that it’s too late—that collapse is “inevitable.” It’s too late, perhaps, for the monarch butterflies, whose numbers are down 97% and headed for extinction. Too late, probably for the coral reefs that are projected not to survive beyond mid-century. Too late, clearly, for the climate refugees already fleeing their homes in desperation, only to find themselves rejected, exploited, and driven back by those whose comfort they threaten. There is plenty to grieve about in this unfolding catastrophe—it’s a valid and essential part of our response to mourn the losses we’re already experiencing. But while grieving, we must take action, not surrender to a false belief in the inevitable.

Defeatism in the face of overwhelming odds is something that I, perhaps, am especially averse to, having grown up in postwar Britain. In the dark days of 1940, defeat seemed inevitable for the British, as the Nazis swept through Europe, threatening an impending invasion. For many, the only prudent course was to negotiate with Hitler and turn Britain into a vassal state, a strategy that nearly prevailed at a fateful War Cabinet meeting in May 1940. When details about this Cabinet meeting became public, in my teens, I remember a chill going through my veins. Born into a Jewish family, I realized that I probably owed my very existence to those who bravely chose to overcome despair and fight on in a seemingly hopeless struggle.

A lesson to learn from this—and countless other historical episodes—is that history rarely progresses for long in a straight line. It takes unanticipated swerves that only make sense when analyzed retroactively. For ten years, Tarana Burke used the phrase “me too” to raise awareness of sexual assault, without knowing that it would one day help topple Harvey Weinstein, and potentiate a movement toward transformation of abusive cultural norms. The curve balls of history are all around us. No-one can accurately predict when the next stock market crash will occur, never mind when civilization itself will come undone.

There’s a second, equally important, lesson to learn from the nonlinear transformations that we see throughout history, such as universal women’s suffrage or the legalization of same-sex marriage. They don’t just happen by themselves—they result from the dogged actions of a critical mass of engaged citizens who see something that’s wrong and, regardless of seemingly insurmountable odds, keep pushing forward driven by their sense of moral urgency. As part of a system, we all collectively participate in how that system evolves, whether we know it or not, whether we want to or not.

Paradoxically, the very precariousness of our current system, teetering on the extremes of brutal inequality and ecological devastation, increases the potential for deep structural change. Research in complex systems reveals that, when a system is stable and secure, it’s very resistant to change. But when the linkages within the system begin to unravel, it’s far more likely to undergo the kind of deep restructuring that our world requires.

It’s not Deep Adaptation that we need right now—it’s Deep Transformation. The current dire predicament we’re in screams something loudly and clearly to anyone who’s listening: If we’re to retain any semblance of a healthy planet by the latter part of this century, we have to change the foundations of our civilization. We need to move from one that is wealth-based to once that is life-based—a new type of society built on life-affirming principles, often described as an Ecological Civilization. We need a global system that devolves power back to the people; that reins in the excesses of global corporations and government corruption; that replaces the insanity of infinite economic growth with a just transition toward a stable, equitable, steady-state economy optimizing human and natural flourishing.

Our moral encounter with destiny

Does that seem unlikely to you? Sure, it seems unlikely to me, too, but “likelihood” and “inevitability” stand a long way from each other. As Rebecca Solnit points out in Hope in the Dark, hope is not a prognostication. Taking either an optimistic or pessimistic stance on the future can justify a cop-out. An optimist says, “It will turn out fine so I don’t need to do anything.” A pessimist retorts, “Nothing I do will make a difference so let me not waste my time.” Hope, by contrast, is not a matter of estimating the odds. Hope is an active state of mind, a recognition that change is nonlinear, unpredictable, and arises from intentional engagement.

Bendell responds to this version of hope with a comparison to a terminal cancer patient. It would be cruel, he suggests, to tell them to keep hoping, pushing them to “spend their last days in struggle and denial, rather than discovering what might matter after acceptance.” This is a false equivalency. A terminal cancer condition has a statistical history, derived from the outcomes of many thousands of similar occurrences. Our current situation is unique. There is no history available of thousands of global civilizations bringing their planetary ecosystems to breaking point. This is the only one we know of, and it would be negligent to give up on it based on a set of projections. If a doctor told your mother, “This cancer is unique and we have no experience of its prognosis. There are things we can try but they might not work,” would you advise her to give up and prepare for death? I’m not giving up on Mother Earth that easily.

In truth, collapse is already happening in different parts of the world. It’s not a binary on-off switch. It’s a cruel reality bearing down on the most vulnerable among us. The desperation they’re experiencing right now makes it even more imperative to engage rather than declare game over. The millions left destitute in Africa by Cyclone Idai, the communities still ravaged in Puerto Rico, the two-thousand-year old baobab trees suddenly dying en masse, and the countless people and species yet to be devastated by global ecocide, all need those of us in positions of relative power and privilege to step up to the plate, not throw up our hands in despair. There’s currently much discussion about the devastating difference between 1.5 and 2.0 in global warming. Believe it, there will also be a huge difference between 2.5 and 3.0. As long as there are people at risk, as long as there are species struggling to survive, it’s not too late to avert further disaster.

This is something many of our youngest generation seem to know intuitively, putting their elders to shame. As fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg declared in her statement to the UN in Poland last November, “you are never too small to make a difference… Imagine what we can all do together, if we really wanted to.” Thunberg envisioned herself in 2078, with her own grandchildren. “They will ask,” she said, “why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act.”

That’s the moral encounter with destiny that we each face today. Yes, there is still time to act. Last month, inspired by Thunberg’s example, more than a million school students in over a hundred countries walked out to demand climate action. To his great credit, even Jem Bendell disavows some of his own Deep Adaptation narrative to put his support behind protest. The Extinction Rebellion (XR) launched a mass civil disobedience campaign last year in England, blocking bridges in London and demanding an adequate response to our climate emergency. It has since spread to 27 other countries.

Studies have shown that, once 3.5% of a population becomes sustainably committed to nonviolent mass movements for political change, they are invariably successful. That would translate into 11.5 million Americans on the street, or 26 million Europeans. We’re a long way from that, but is it really impossible? I’m not ready, yet, to bet against humanity’s ability to transform itself or nature’s powers of regeneration. XR is planning a global week of direct action beginning on Monday, April 15, as a first step toward a coordinated worldwide grassroots rebellion against the system that’s destroying hope of future flourishing. It might just be the beginning of another of history’s U-turns. Do you want to look your grandchildren in the eyes? Yes, me too. I’ll see you there.

Jeremy Lent is author of The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning, which investigates how different cultures have made sense of the universe and how their underlying values have changed the course of history. He is founder of the nonprofit Liology Institute, dedicated to fostering a sustainable worldview. For more information visit jeremylent.com.