An All-Hands-On-Deck Moment

In reading the recent back and forth between Jeremy Lent and Jem Bendell, I have the feeling I’m watching two great intellectual stags locking horns, jockeying with each other for dominance. These two climate philosophers are quite polite as they tear into each other’s work, and I think they both mean well. But do we have time, really, for this kind of academic jousting?

Does it really matter whether we counsel “transformative hope” (Lent) or “positive deep adaptation” (Bendell)? Does it matter whether we say social/environmental collapse is “likely” (Lent) or “inevitable” (Bendell)?

Both thinkers are really going for the same outcome, which is a cultural shift into confronting the seriousness of our current predicament (as a species, but also in terms of the stability of our planetary ecosystems). Both acknowledge that we may have to take some time to work through our despair and grief over the inevitability of change; and that ultimately we will need to turn to our neighbors and do our best to salvage what we can as we power down the old western civilization and power up, hopefully, the “ecological civilization” Lent has been calling for.

I am grateful to both of these guys, along with George Monbiot and Greta Thunberg, for getting climate breakdown and social collapse out of the realm of dystopian cli-fi and into the mainstream media.

Yes, what they are saying is scary. We are living through scary times—not just because of the current occupants of the White House, but because of the increasing chaos in our planetary life support systems. The Holocene is coming to an end, the Anthropocene is beginning, and it’s going to be a hard time for most species on Earth—human beings very much included.

We have to talk about this, and we can’t sugar-coat it. We humans need a wake-up call in the strongest terms, and sometimes a little fearmongering is necessary. It’s all very well for Charles Eistenstein to say that we need to come at the climate issue from a place of love rather than fear, but let’s be real. How many of the 7.6 billion people on the planet are in a strong enough relationship with Gaia to be motivated, purely out of love, to work hard to resuscitate and stabilize her?

But if you show people pictures of wildfires, flooding, hurricanes and droughts; if you tell them that agricultural systems are threatened, that climate refugees are already on the move, and that the entire natural food chain is collapsing both on land and sea…well, you might just be able to get their attention.

Right now we’re in a kind of agonizing slo-mo catastrophe. Sometimes it’s so slow that you can fool yourself into thinking everything’s fine. That’s why the work that Lent, Bendell, Monbiot, Thunberg and other activists are doing is essential—saying loud and clear, in no-nonsense terms, that THINGS ARE NOT FINE.

Although the Gaian indicators have never been worse, I find myself more hopeful now that I was a few years ago, when even a “good guy” like President Obama was posing with fossil fuel pipes behind him and refusing to kill the Keystone XL. At least we don’t have that kind of liberal hypocrisy running the show anymore.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal make me hopeful.

The Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion make me hopeful.

Student climate strikes make me hopeful.

The worldwide interest in the Findhorn Climate Change & Consciousness conference makes me hopeful.

I find hope in my own small contributions towards waking people up and helping them find their way to what Joanna Macy calls “active hope.” For example, in the workshop I’ll be giving here in the Berkshires on April 27, “Aligning the Personal, Political and Planetary for a Thriving Future.”

I would like to see Jem Bendell and Jeremy Lent go out for a beer and work out their ego-driven differences with some good old-fashioned humor and humility. We need all hands on deck now, pulling together into the thriving future we yearn for.

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16 Comments

  1. Diane Husic

     /  April 13, 2019

    Jennifer, I was glad to see your recent rededication of your blog. Thanks for calling attention to this debate on deep adaptation or deep transformation. I will have to catch up. Your call to set aside the “academic jousting” is on spot on as is the need for “active hope.”
    I have been in a number of conversations over the past few years trying to get scientists to spend more time talking with and especially listening to members of the public, to be more engaged in advocacy, to work at the science-policy interface (locally, nationally, internationally…anywhere), etc., etc. They remain hesitant under the guise of the need for science to remain objective and to put the data out there and hope that others use it wisely. Ugh. Some groups will argue that research is policy relevant, but cannot be policy prescriptive. Why not? Evidence-based policy and (better yet) action is what we need.

    Given this, I was (pleasantly) surprised to see this opinion piece in Science magazine entitled “Concerns of young protesters are justified.” https://science.sciencemag.org/content/364/6436/139.2.full The piece was co-signed by countless scientists (52 pages worth) from around the world. Better yet if this had been in The New York Times or something, but it is a start.

    Michael Mann is one of the authors. I get to hear him speak on Tuesday evening.

    Reply
    • Diane Husic

       /  April 13, 2019

      Oops – just noticed the typo.
      Sorry about that.

      Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  April 14, 2019

      Thanks for this reference, Diane, I will check it out. I shared this TT piece with the Deep Adaptation Forum on Facebook, and it was interesting to see the pushback, people reading me as criticizing Jem and Jeremy–but I am really calling out academic culture as I see it showing up in these two guys, who should be working together, not spending times splitting hairs. Our time calls for collaboration, not competition. I wonder if academia can ever really embrace that concept?

      Reply
  2. jisabellam

     /  April 13, 2019

    From time to time I’ve realized I was missing Transition Times – but for the same reason you said you stopped writing, I probably would have stopped reading! Like you I haven’t stopped acting on my concern for the planet. Hopefully your return is part of a new stage in the general battle.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  April 14, 2019

      May it be so! I do feel like we’re entering a critical new phase…and truly, I need to get myself back on deck! Thanks for still being here alongside me….

      Reply
      • Thank you for this clarity and clarion call, Jennifer. Indeed, we are on the brink of unprecedented shift — crisis and opportunity — and there is even less time than many hoped. My question is, how to help people who are just beginning to wake up to the mess we’re in to accept that reality? Particularly when their own livelihoods depend on keeping the system afloat. Kindly, yes, but also without soft-pedaling.

      • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

         /  April 14, 2019

        Thanks for this thoughtful response, Marika. My way of helping others is to look back at how this process of shift/transition/collapse has been happening throughout our lives, building gradually in intensity to the present moment; and then to take the next step of envisioning, more intentionally with our new awareness and understanding, how to co-create the kind of future we’d like to live into. The vision grows out of the acceptance of what has been and what is…it is not pie-in-the-sky thinking but rather tapping into the potential for positive adaptation, as Jem Bendell puts it; or movement towards an ecological civilization, as Jeremy Lent prefers. Without vision we cannot create…so that is where I start.

        Re your important point of how we are all implicated and complicit–in the current system, to some extent or another, all of our livelihoods depend on the status quo, unless we are living a totally off-the-grid self-sufficient existence in the wilderness. This is part of the analysis we do in my “aligning the personal, political and planetary for a thriving future” work–part of the process is seeing and accepting our own responsibility for our current predicament.

        I am focusing a lot on the “personal” end of things now, because I believe we each have to wake up, individually, before we can take effective steps towards collective political, planetary action. And also because I am following the guidance that’s been coming from various quarters lately to listen and perceive with the heart as well as the brain. Heart = emotion = storytelling, and we are, to a great extent, the stories we tell about ourselves. As Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Joanna Macy and Charles Eisenstein have been telling us, it’s time for a new story of interbeing and connection to emerge. I think it’s going to emerge through heart connections. Hence I am much more interested in the stories we tell each other, rather than in the academic citations or honors we compete for.

  3. Diane Husic

     /  April 14, 2019

    Jennifer,
    I completely agree about the need for collaboration instead of competition.
    I think the pressure for rankings, impact factor, # of publications, etc. at R1s sets up a competitive structure which has gotten worse with grant funding cuts. At smaller institutions (where teaching is still highly valued), collaboration and community connections are more likely to happen and be recognized in the reward structure. But…faculty don’t have the same clout.
    I am struck by the new Sustainable Development Solutions Network – US Chapter which launched in December. It had much potential, but is already leaning towards prestige and name recognition rather than action that makes a difference towards building resilience communities.

    Reply
  4. Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

     /  April 14, 2019

    Yes. The culture of competition for scarce resources is intense–“resources” including living-wage academic positions, otherwise known as tenure-track jobs. Part of the rot in academia comes from the adjunct labor system–a lot more could be said about, though it’s not pertinent to the current post. “Action that makes a difference towards building resilient communities”–that is what I’m after! And being able to work together is key.

    Reply
    • Diane Husic

       /  April 14, 2019

      I could argue that the adjunct labor system problem is relevant here. Academe (at least parts of it in the U.S.) has been too busy chasing prestige and has largely forgotten to care about people and communities. I am fortunate to work at a small historic college that retains is community-focused mission and truly cares about people.

      Reply
  5. I agree that we need as many people as possible working on whatever pieces of the crises inspire them. I don’t think it’s necessary (and sure hope we needn’t wait) for everyone aligned towards the same outcome to settle all their differences. Discussion of different perspectives can be valuable, so long as the exchanges deepen commitment and improve efficacy. Part of that is knowing when to agree to disagree and just get back to the work we each find meaningful.

    Two sets of direct actionists who inspire me to keep agitating for radical transformation:

    The Valve Turners, who literally turned shut-off valves on tar sands pipelines to temporarily stop the flows.

    Ruby Montoya and Jessica Reznicek, who repeatedly sabotaged the Dakota Access Pipeline while it was under construction. The two of them delayed completion by about two months, causing almost as much delay as the entire #NoDAPL/Standing Rock movement managed.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  April 15, 2019

      Thanks for these references, Norris! Yes, big kudos to everyone brave enough to undertake direct action against the fossil fuel companies. I am writing about that in a novel about a pipeline resistance movement…so far the closest I can come is through fiction. For now, words are my weapon….

      Reply
      • Ooh, that sounds great! Fiction is perhaps the best avenue for pursuing the possibilities and limitations of direct action, especially underground action. I look forward to it!

      • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

         /  April 15, 2019

        I have been gathering up contact info for a few early readers for my novel, to give me feedback on the pipeline resistance scenes that I depict. Not quite ready to share yet, but perhaps you’d be interested/willing to give me some feedback when the time comes?

      • Absolutely! I assume you see my email address when I post comments; let me know if not. Thanks for the opportunity!

      • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

         /  April 15, 2019

        Great, thank you! Yes, I will be in touch!

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