A couple of months ago I joined a group Facebook for people who believe in Positive Deep Adaptation.
That is, people who believe that societal collapse as the result of climate change has started and is irreversible.
In other words, the shit has hit the fan and there is no going back. It’s not something that can be reversed with a different POTUS or electric cars or wind turbines or recycling or any amount of money.
Or anything else. Literally, anything else.
It seemed like a good idea at the time that I joined it.
A friend — a mentor — had posted on Facebook several times about her efforts to start a local sustainability meet up and then she dropped the name of the group.
I’m not sure what I expected. Some ideas for canning homegrown tomatoes, maybe. Thoughts on collecting rainwater or raising goats.
I have a long history of being interested in topics like peak oil and sustainability and urban homesteading.
My husband and I just moved our family, including his parents who both have Alzheimer’s, from Nevada to Pennsylvania in large part because as much as we love the desert, we don’t believe it’s somewhere people will be able to live very much longer.
There’s not enough water. It’s impossible to grow enough food. It’s too reliant on oil. And it’s too prone to catch on fire. Climate change will only make things worse in Nevada, even Northern Nevada where we lived.
In fact, we moved away last November just ahead of devastating fires in the area.
Overall, It’s a crushingly depressing topic, despite the name.
Positive Deep Adaptation sounds like it’s got some kind of trick up its sleeve. Like it’s a group of people who have decided to band together to . . . I don’t know, deeply adapt somehow. Postively.
I thought, Oh, yeah, these people are going to have a plan. And I wanted a plan. That’s how I roll. I always want a plan.
Mostly, though, that group is about fear.
Parents who look at their babies and panic, because they are sure that they will starve or burn or die of thirst.
Young people who believe that they have no future and will not have their own babies to panic about.
Older people who are hunkering down off the grid, preparing to die before the absolute worst sets in, upset that no one in their lives will listen to them when they warn that the sky has already fallen around their ankles.
And it’s overwhelming. Because maybe they’re right.
It’s easy to look at the world — at the sheer overwhelming evidence that we are in some serious deep trouble here — and believe these people.
I mean, coral reefs are dying. Glaciers are melting. July 2019 was the hottest July in recorded history. June 2019 was the hottest June. The Bahamas were just hit by the worst hurricane ever. The Amazon is on fire.
The idea of Deep Adaptation comes from a paper written by Jem Bendell called Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy.
Bendell is a professor of sustainability leadership at the University of Cumbria in the United Kingdom. He’s not some kind of conspiracy theorist.
It took me a long time to read his paper. The first few times I tried, my eyes literally glazed over. It’s too dense. I thought, no normal person would read this. The font is terrible.
But the truth is that it’s just hard to read. It has nothing to do with the font or how dense it is. It’s a paper that concludes that human society will likely collapse, worldwide, within ten years. And that near term human extinction is a real possibility.
So if you open that link and then click away and think I can’t read that, I won’t blame you. Here are a couple of other options for getting the information.
Here’s a video of Bendell speaking on the subject. It’s not any easier to hear, but your brain might take the info in a little better that way.
And here’s a Vice post about Bendell’s paper, which is at least less dense and has a better font.
The Climate Change Paper So Depressing It's Sending People to Therapy
What if I told you there was a paper on climate change that was so uniquely catastrophic, so perspective-altering, and…
So the Facebook Group, though.
What exactly does deep adaptation mean, anyway?
I’m afraid that the Facebook Group is pretty useless. It’s mostly full of people in a panic, trying to come to terms with accepting that their newfound belief that they are going to die.
It’s like a support group for people who have terminal diseases — and everyone they love and everyone they hate and everyone they know and everyone else on Earth also has a terminal disease.
So there’s a lot of posts from young parents asking how to tell their five year olds that the world is ending. Or from people aggravated by the fact that no one will listen to them when they try to tell them that the climate change has already passed its tipping point. And a lot of people getting upset at other people for being hopeful.
But what I really want to know is this: If we’re really at best a few years ahead of a Walking Dead societal situation (sans zombies, at least), then I want to know what to do.
Seriously, how exactly do I do this deep adaptation thing?
What’s very interesting, hearing Bendell speak, is that he seems to be winging it as much as anyone else. In 2017, he spent some time researching Climate Change, freaked himself out with what he learned, and wrote this paper.
He’s come to his conclusion, but he doesn’t have the answers about what to do now any more than anyone else does, which is at least one reason why no one seems to have them.
What he does do is break deep adaptation down into three parts: resilience, relinquishment, and restoration.
Resilience refers to what we can hold on to and how we can do that.
Relinquishment refers to what we will have to give up and what that will look like.
Restoration refers to what we’ll bring back.
And that’s a start. But what I want is someone to hand me a checklist and tell me do these things to deeply adapt to the fact that society is absolutely going collapse pretty soon here.
No one has done that. Not in the Facebook Group. Not on Bendell’s blog. Not anywhere that I can find.
More than 100,000 people have downloaded Bendell’s paper. Some people believe, according to that Vice article I linked to above, that it wasn’t academically published — not because the science is wrong, but because the conclusion is too grim.
And meanwhile, The President of the United States has called Climate Change a hoax and there are probably at least as many as 100,000 people who agree with him.
And that leaves billions of people who fall somewhere in between the extremes. Which is probably why no one has created my checklist yet.
Since no one is giving me an instruction manual . . .
I’m doing the best I can to figure it out for myself and my family.
And it’s hard, because my brain keeps skittering away from it. It’s difficult to even think about. It’s much, much easier to shake my head and tell myself don’t be ridiculous. Society isn’t going anywhere.
Except at some point that starts to feel a little bit like falling off a building and deciding halfway down that you’re going to be just fine.
Last fall our rent in Reno went up by 20 percent for the fourth time in three years in the same week that my husband was laid off of his job. We couldn’t find a different, less expensive house to rent, because the area is experiencing a severe housing shortage.
When we decided to leave the city, we could have moved to Las Vegas. My husband is a craps dealer and could have easily found work there. Most of my family lives there. I grew up in Las Vegas and my husband lived there for many years.
But it feels like a city that is balanced on the edge of disaster. Without extreme measures — water piped in, every scrap of food shipped in, air artificially cooled most of the year— it’s absolutely unlivable.
And who knows how long those measures will be available?
Around that time, I found this article that asked climate scientists where they’d live to avoid natural disasters. Pittsburgh, which is about three hours south of the town where my husband grew up, was on the list.
Here’s what the expert interviewed about Pittsburgh said:
“It’s somewhat ironic that the Midwest … has seen a reduction in population in recent decades,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist and a professor at Texas A&M University. “Not only will the Midwest avoid many of the bad effects of climate change, it will experience most of the good effects: less extreme cold and a longer growing season.”
We had 45 days to move and up and pick a state I’d never even visited, but we found a house to rent for about a third what we were paying in Reno and we went for it.
It was hard to leave the West in general and Nevada specifically. I’ve lived there all my life. My family is there. I miss the dry heat and the sunshine and the mountains and we all miss our friends. I miss feeling like I’m home.
But I think there will come a time when the people I love the most will need a more sustainable home base. Somewhere with more water, cooler temperatures, easier access to food.
What might be inevitable hasn’t happened yet.
This is the weirdest part, right?
And it’s what Bendell talks about in his paper and in the video I linked to. It seems to me it’s what he’s trying to get people to understand. He calls it the fourth ‘R.’ Resilience.
You know that song about finding out you have a few months to live, so you go skydiving and ride a bull named Fu Man Chu?
I think it’s a little bit like that. Like once you accept that things are really bad, then you can start living different. Because you aren’t dead yet.
It’s when you don’t figure out that there’s an issue until society has collapsed around your ears that you have a real problem, I guess.
But right now? Right now I can still focus on getting out of debt and saving money and maybe buying some property and learning how to do things like grow my own food or raise chickens or whatever.
There’s time for me to build relationships with my neighbors.
There’s time for me to talk to my dad and my brothers so that they know that when the time comes, they can come here.
There’s time for me to learn skills and make good decisions and adapt, which is another word for change.
Because life is still happening right now. It’s still going on.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.