In his article “Leadership and Management in a Context of Deep Adaptation,” British leadership scholar Professor Jonathan Gosling observes that leadership in periods of collapsing social structures requires maturity to tolerate, contain, and transform anxiety in constructive ways. Leadership of adaptation helps us to reconcile with the situation, evaluate the risks, grieve when we suffer loss, weigh our shrinking options, and choose pragmatic and courageous change. Success relies upon collaboration, partnerships, sharing, and organization. Political, media, and business leaders must also play their part in facilitating the policies and strategies to support deep adaptation.
This is the second of a three-part series of overviews of the book, Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos, Edited by Jem Bendell & Rupert Read (UK/USA 2021). Here’s the link to Part I: “Climate Chaos: Humanity’s Predicament.”
Part II (chapters 4 to 8) of the book explores the ‘shifts in being’ that can occur and be supported in the event of a societal collapse due to the planetary climate and ecological crises. In Chapter 4, psychologist and co-founder of the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA) Dr. Adrian Tait describes the ways in which psychotherapists are beginning to change in response to growing public distress, giving rise to the terms ‘climate-distress’ or ‘eco-distress.’
The CPA came into being in the United Kingdom during 2009-2012 following the mobilization of psychotherapists and academics in the field concerned about increasing evidence of climate and ecological destabilization due to human activities. The alliance has two main objectives:
To promote understanding of the way our minds work in preventing us from acting in the face of climate chaos, and
To develop support systems for those of us who are committed to persistent engagement in dealing with humanity’s predicament.
“Support is essential,” Dr. Tait notes. “If we have not been racked by grief over what is happening, then we are shutting its meaning out of our hearts and bodies. But if we remained immersed in grief alone, we would become part of the wreckage. The loss is continuous and mounting, which prevents us from moving on as in normal mourning. We need relief from the pain” (p.106).
We the inhabitants of Earth are in trouble. Serious trouble. Our failure, so far, to end our addiction to fossil fuels and change our consumption habits may well lead to societal collapse within our own lifetime. Such is humanity’s predicament.
In their book, Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos (UK & USA 2021), Editors Jem Bendell and Rupert Read present “an agenda and framework for responding to the potential, probable or inevitable collapse of industrial consumer societies, due to the direct and indirect impacts of human-caused climate change and environmental degradation.” (Introduction, p.2)
By ‘societal collapse’ they refer to an uneven ending of the consumer systems that make our lifestyles possible. These are systems that we take for granted: sustenance, shelter, health, security, pleasure, identity, and meaning. The term ‘collapse’ implies a permanent and total breakdown of these systems. There is no going back to the way things were before the breakdown. The word ‘deep’ takes us deeper into the causes and numerous ways in which we respond to catastrophe as individuals, organizations, and societies.
The Covid-19 global pandemic provided a preview of the vulnerability of our normal ways of life. Beyond the initial health crises, the pandemic triggered an ongoing series of cascading effects on our local and national economies—increasing joblessness, homelessness, and food insecurity. The domestic political upheaval continues to divide us. The disruption in our consumer and industrial supply chains plague us still.
The climate change issue is a perfect storm for conservative personality and conservative ideology. It is a form of impact science that represents a massive threat to the existing social and economic order, and in so doing, incidentally threatens demographic identity groups invested in the status quo. Solutions will require massive government intervention, the prospect of which is particularly threatening to the especially individualistic, small-government aspects of American conservative ideology.
Excerpt from “Science Denial” (Chapter 2, p.109), The Truth About Denial: Bias and Self-Deception in Science, Politics, and Religion by Adrian Bardon, Oxford University Press, New York, USA, 2020.
DR. ADRIAN BARDON is a professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University, North Carolina, where he teaches courses on political philosophy, philosophy of religion, philosophy of space and time, and the history of philosophy. He is the author of A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time (OUP 2013), as well as numerous scholarly articles on time, perception, politics, and the history of philosophy.
Some promises are made in good faith. Then, as often happens in our lives, another commitment that we consider more important or urgent sabotages our best intentions. This appears to be the case with pledges made by several of the 196 countries at the 2015 Climate Change Paris Agreement to lower their greenhouse gas emissions. What is alarming is that existing pledges, even if fully honored, fall short of attaining global net zero emissions by 2050. If we the people of Earth are to maintain habitable conditions for our species, we must get our priorities straight.
On May 18, 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA), made up of 30 member countries and 8 association countries committed to shaping a secure and sustainable energy future for Earth’s inhabitants, released a special report that is intended to put us on track. Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector is a comprehensive study of the way forward to a global Net-Zero Emissions Scenario (NZE) by 2050 with an emphasis on economic growth for all.
With just 29 years left for us to catch up, after decades on the path to planetary ruin, the NZE roadmap is no stroll along the beach or jog in the park. It calls for vast amounts of investment, innovation, implementation of skillful policy design, technology deployment, infrastructure building, international cooperation, and much more across all sectors. World War NZE 2050. A war for human survival. Success depends upon an unprecedented level of international cooperation.
According to the NOAA National Climate Report 2020, issued on January 12, 2021, last year was the most active wildfire year on record across the West. In California, thousands of firefighters battled five of the six largest wildfires in our state’s history. Nearly 10,000 fires burned over 4.2 million acres. The August Complex fire alone burned over 1 million acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. In Colorado, three extensive wildfires, burning over 500,000 acres, also broke the state’s historical record.
For 2020, the average temperature of 54℉ (12.2℃) for the contiguous U.S. (CONUS) ranks as the fifth warmest year in the last 126 years on record. On August 16th, temperatures soared to 130℉ (54.4℃) in California’s Death Valley—the hottest CONUS temperature recorded in 2020. Most of the contiguous U.S. experienced above average temperatures. Ten states across the Southwest, Southeast, and East Coast had their second-warmest year on record.
East Coast residents also faced several record-breaking storm events. Thirty named storms formed in the Atlantic Ocean, breaking the record of 28 set in 2005. Tropical storms Cristobal, Marco, Laura, Delta, and Zeta made landfall in Louisiana, the most storms on record for any state in one year. Hurricane Laura generated a storm surge of over 17 feet (5.16 meters) above ground level, which would be the largest on record for Louisiana.
The Midwest was not spared. In August 2020, the region was hit by a historic derecho, a destructive thunderstorm complex. The derecho raced across the Central States, causing damages estimated at $11 billion, the costliest to hit the region in four decades.
Perhaps, like me, you have not yet experienced loss of property, livelihood, or a loved one due to some climate disaster. Yet, we the working people all suffer the consequences of the economic costs of these weather and climate disasters. America’s annual loss in 2020 exceeded $95 billion, the fourth highest cost on record. Twenty-two of these events caused losses amounting to more than $1 billion each, shattering yet another annual record of 16 events made in 2011 and 2017. The total cost of U.S. billion-dollar weather and climate disasters over the last five years (2016-2020) exceeds a record $600 billion.
Unless we change the way we live and work, these weather and climate disaster events will continue to intensify and cripple our state and local economies, already under stress due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. On the upside, the lockdown and reduced economic activities in the U.S. and worldwide have led to a drop in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But, it is just a short-term reduction.
At the time of completing their Emissions Gap Report 2020, released on December 9, 2020, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that 126 countries, covering just 51 percent of global GHG emissions have net-zero goals that are formally adopted, announced, or under consideration. If the U.S. adopts a net-zero GHG target, as announced by the Biden Administration, the share would increase to 63 percent.
Apart from the USA, only ten other G20 members have set net-zero emission goals by 2050: Argentina, Canada, China (before 2060), European Union, France, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. Based on pre-COVID-19 projections, only nine G20 members are on track to achieve their unconditional nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
Without a firm commitment to significantly reduce GHG emissions, as set out in the Paris Climate Agreement, we the people of Earth will face a temperature increase of at least 3℃ (37.4℉) by the end of this century.
As at October 2020, global COVID-19 fiscal spending continued to promote high-carbon economic production. In planning the recovery from COVID-19, governments worldwide have an opportunity to catalyze low-carbon lifestyle changes by disrupting entrenched practices. (Clearing forests to rear cattle for beef consumption comes to mind.) Based on UNEP’s consumption-based accounting, around two-thirds of global emissions are linked to private household activities. Moreover, the richest One Percent of the world’s population account for more than twice the combined share of emissions of the poorest 50 percent. The report further notes that our participation as members of civil society is essential to bring about wider changes in the social, cultural, political, and economic systems in which we live. We have to change our lifestyles if we are to bridge the emissions gap. (Emphasis is mine.)
Watch the UNEP’s video, “Emissions Gap: A Turning Point,” released on December 9, 2020 (duration 1:35 minutes):
Change is inevitable. More so when we set the change into motion. In 2020, COVID-19 forced us into lockdown mode, bringing the global economy to a standstill. In the USA, our inability as a nation to agree on a strategy to combat a highly contagious, mutating, deadly foe will cost us more lives. Our economic recovery will take longer. Meanwhile, time is running out on tackling a global climate crisis that is gathering force with each passing day. Staying safe in place may not be an option.
“It is the policy of my Administration that climate considerations shall be an essential element of United States foreign policy and national security,” said President Biden.
In his Administration’s commitment to addressing the global climate crisis, he also confirmed the appointment of former Secretary of State John Kerry as America’s first Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.
Another first will be the establishment of the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Headed by the Assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor, the Climate Policy Office will coordinate the domestic policy-making process and monitor its implementation nationwide. The National Climate Adviser will also chair the National Climate Task Force that will be comprised of twenty-one members from across federal agencies and departments. With the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative, our youth—who were clamoring for urgent action before the pandemic drove them off the streets—will have the opportunity for training in conservation and climate resilience.
At last, a government-wide approach to addressing the climate crisis!
To achieve a sustainable clean energy economy and meet our commitment of net-zero carbon emissions by no later than 2050, our nation will need millions of construction, manufacturing, engineering, and skilled-trades workers to build new infrastructure.
President Biden noted: “Such jobs will bring opportunity to communities too often left behind—places that have suffered as a result of economic shifts and places that have suffered the most from persistent pollution, including low-income rural and urban communities, communities of color, and Native communities.”
It is my hope that the escalating evidence of Mother Nature’s fury will silence the voice of climate change deniers within the Biden Administration.
It is hot here in California. On August 16th, a heat wave sent temperatures soaring in Death Valley to 130℉ (54.4℃), believed to be the highest temperature recorded on Earth in over a century. With a historic wildfire season threatening life and property, Governor Gavin Newson has declared a state of emergency. On August 24th, as reported by Cal Fire, the state has had 7,002 fires this year, burning over 1.4 million acres…and growing. At the same time last year, 4,292 fires had burned 56,000 acres.
Depending upon where you live, you are probably facing your own extreme weather-related danger. Given our climate crisis, this is our new reality as inhabitants on Earth. Though the COVID-19 global pandemic may have forced our climate activists off the streets worldwide, they continue to press for urgent action.
Based on NOAA’s 140-year climate record, 2019 is the second-hottest year on Earth, after 2016. In their book, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis (Knopf 2020), Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, architects of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, remind us that we live in a critical decade. If we the people of Earth fail to attain our goal of halving our carbon emissions by 2030, it would be highly unlikely that we will attain net zero emissions by 2050. They invite us “to take part in creating the future of humanity, confident that despite the seemingly daunting nature of the challenge, collectively we have what it takes to address climate change now” (xxi).
To make clear the choices we face, Figueres and Rivett-Carnac devote two chapters to describe two possible worlds in 2050: the one we’re now creating and the one we must create. If we don’t limit our carbon emissions, extreme summer temperatures in the world we’re creating in 2050 force us to stay indoors. Working outdoors is a death sentence. Wearing a proper face mask is not an option, but a necessity for surviving in the hot, toxic air. Food and water shortages cause riots and wars. No wall is high or strong enough to deter the mass migrations worldwide. Economies are in free fall.
On the other hand, if we act now to reduce our carbon emissions to net zero and have avoided heating up our planet to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit), the authors note that, in 2050, we’re still dealing with the aftereffects of the record levels of carbon dioxide already in our atmosphere. Glaciers and Arctic ice are still melting. Sea levels are rising. Severe droughts and desertification are still occurring. But we enjoy a stable lifestyle. Our cities are greener and better places to live. Forest cover has expanded 50 percent worldwide. We no longer burn fossil fuels. Our energy now comes from renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro. All homes and buildings produce their own electricity. Food production and procurement become a communal effort.
As is already evident, Earth’s regenerative systems can no longer keep up with humanity’s exploitative mindset and consumption levels. To co-create a better world, the authors argue, we need both a systemic transformation and individual behavioral changes. They believe that this can be achieved with three mindsets: stubborn optimism, endless abundance, and radical regeneration. Considering the immensity of the task ahead of us, they admit that success is not guaranteed. But, for the future of humanity’s survival, failure is unthinkable. Stubborn optimism empowers us to create a new reality and energize all those with the same conviction. Creating endless abundance requires focusing on the benefits of limiting our carbon emissions. Radical regeneration bridges the gap between how nature works and how we humans have used extraction to organize our lives.
To achieve a regenerative future, Figueres and Rivett-Carnac set out ten necessary actions:
Action 1: Let Go of the Old World. We cannot go back to the way of life that created the climate emergency in the first place.
Action 2: Face Your Grief but Hold a Vision of the Future. The pain of loss should spur us to greater action rather than sink us into a pit of blame, despair, or hopelessness. Having a vision is essential to inspire the kind of commitment and energy we will need to get through the difficult years ahead.
Action 3: Defend the Truth. We must free our mind to new ways of thinking and learn to distinguish real science from pseudo-science.
Action 4: See Yourself as a Citizen – Not as a Consumer. Letting go means reclaiming our idea of a good life, becoming a better consumer, and dematerializing.
Action 5: Move Beyond Fossil Fuels. We must let go of the conviction that fossil fuels are necessary for humanity to thrive in the future and stand up for 100 percent renewable energy.
Action 6: Reforest the Earth. The future we must choose will require us to pay more attention to our bond with nature. We must plant trees, boycott products contributing to deforestation, and move to a plant-based diet.
Action 7: Invest in a Clean Economy. We will require a clean economy that operates in harmony with nature, repurposes used resources as much as possible, minimizes waste, and actively replenishes depleted resources.
Action 8: Use Technology Responsibly. We will need to be mindful of investments in AI: what it’s being used for and the regulatory systems in place.
Action 9: Build Gender Equality. Women are better at working collaboratively, with a longer-term perspective—traits essential to responding to the climate crisis.
Action 10: Engage in Politics. We must engage at all levels of government and elect only leaders who see far-reaching action on climate change as their absolute priority. At the same time, we can stop buying stocks, products, and services from corporations that fund and engage in political lobbying against citizen action on climate change.
Figueres and Rivett-Carnac conclude that meeting the challenge of climate change must become part of a new story of human striving and renewal. “This is not the quest of one nation. This time it’s up to all of us, to all the nations and peoples of the world. No matter how complex or deep our differences, we fundamentally share everything that is important: the desire to forge a better world for everyone alive today and all the generations to come” (161).
The time for doing what we can has passed. To survive, each one of us must now do everything that is necessary. Inciting hate, violence, and chaos is not the way forward to creating a better America today, in 2050, and beyond.
Christiana Figueres is a Costa Rican citizen and was the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010 until 2016. During her tenure at the UNFCCC Ms. Figueres brought together national and sub- national governments, corporations and activists, financial institutions and NGOs to jointly deliver the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, in which 195 sovereign nations agreed on a collaborative path forward to limit future global warming to well below 2C.
Tom Rivett-Carnac is a Founding Partner of Global Optimism and works across the portfolio of engagements and initiatives. He has spent 20 years working at the intersections of international diplomacy, energy policy and climate change in business, non-profit, financial services and international institutions. Learn more at https://globaloptimism.com/about-us/
Last week, a high pressure system over the overheated Pacific Ocean brought summer temperatures to Los Angeles of over 80℉ (26.6℃), reaching its peak of 88℉ (64℃) on Friday, February 28. Experts have observed that violent crime increases with hotter temperatures. Had the heat inflamed the man who entered our parking structure at 12:17 a.m. that Friday morning? Our surveillance cameras show him heading straight for a vehicle, dosing it with gasoline from front to back, and then setting it ablaze.
We were lucky. The winds blew the flames away from our apartment complex and onto the neighboring building, causing smoke and fire-hose water damage to two apartments. With concrete walls separating each four-vehicular unit, the fire did not spread throughout our parking structure. While only four of our neighbors lost their vehicles, the event left us all unsettled and vulnerable.
Meanwhile, further north, an extreme low pressure system over the Arctic has brought a warmer winter across much of Russia and parts of Scandinavia and eastern Canada. In Moscow, heavy snowfall arrived mid-January, two to three months later than usual. Beginning in December 2019, rising temperatures have broken the record, reaching 44℉ (6.6℃) last week. The spring-like weather in February, the snowiest time of the year with nose-biting cold below 5℉, have left many people in Moscow amazed. Ice skating enthusiasts are disappointed with Gorky Park’s melting ice rink. Continue reading →