Hey! We’re on the Same Team
On Addressing the Deconstruction of Deep Adaptation  and the Denial That Collapse Is Inevitable
by Kent Deal
Let me assume some pessimism can be directed towards the chances of human survival. We can face it, our prospects are not good, but we have choices we must make. Before us now, is a multi-generational fight to persist. Just as with those that laid down the foundations of the worlds greatest monuments, we will not know success, it will know us. Our hope being that, future generations look back in envy at our dedication and are captivated in wonder at the enormity of the challenge we now undertake.
So just to be clear, there are incentives inherent to the most valiant of efforts, to preserve a place in the future for humans. That success we aspire to, is one where war has been put behind us, equality among all humans becomes a global standard, and we clean up our environment to eliminate threats to life. We need to prepare, as so much of this transition will be about changing our expectations. While sometimes in our favour, it turns out the universe is a life-making machine. Some life, somewhere, will flower into something truly interesting. We are not interesting yet, but we could be.
Tragic Loss of Momentum
Team Human is doing pretty poorly — bordering on tragic. Just as tragic as this attempt to deconstruct Deep Adaptation, by Tom Nicholas and Galen Hall. It was a bothersome article at the time, but on second look, I found it to mark a tragic loss of momentum. As Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan…until they get punched in the face. Well, COVID-19 punched Extinction Rebellion right square in the nose. Once the initial shock wore off, some came out flailing. Unable to engage their usual targets because of social distancing, the movement was scattered. In true Monty Python fashion, we have the Judean People’s Front, picking a fight with the People’s Front of Judea.
Well Gavin and Tom, splitting off from the team, seem to indicate that we can all go home now. The crisis is over –sorry for the bother. Extinction, believe it or not, is off the table. Well, at least as it might be any kind of threat worth getting arrested over. Plenty of time to regret that decision right…Or is there?…
Is Extinction Possible?
So first, that truth…extinction, is it possible? It is not just possible, but it is the feature of life on this planet, with 99% of all species ever to have existed, going extinct already . Ok, but is it probable, as in happening on a time scale that sees people born now, not living a full natural life?  The answer to that is yes, but may depend on where on the planet that person is. For someone living in Syria, or Bangladesh, they are already facing reduced lifespans and sudden death, along with racial violence leading to death or great suffering.
That extinction is not limited to humans right…so do we see life being extinguished around us, at a rate falling into a category we call extinction? Oh ya, and then some — With estimates of extinction rates of 1000-10,000 times the natural rate, that could be over 200 species a day , and as of 2019, we can add two vertebrates per year to the list. Australia’s 2019 fire season marked a new feature of climate crisis, the ‘depopulation’ events. While the numbers above are statistical, it will be events like seen in Australia, where we lose species without ever having known them. Ongoing species identification in the Amazon will in some cases, name and classify a species, just as it is going extinct. Many will disappear never being known at all.
Ok…so let’s say it, extinction is possible and probable. That is not a statement of certainty, it is an expression of knowledge. We know, and have known for over thirty years, that we could bring about the extinction of 95% of the life on the planet, just by doing what we do. Great…nice right, but does that mean we are powerless to affect that future?
No, we recognized that population was a key factor in our survival over 50 years ago. In order to respond to this issue, China imposed upon its citizens to adopt a one-child policy. If they had not, the world would have many more people in this moment of crisis. The world owes a big debt to China for taking such a big leap.
The rest of the world failed to do its part to control exponential population growth. Much of the developed world sat back and made fun of them, ridiculing them for imposing this burden on their citizens. Never mind the fact that a woman’s right to an abortion is currently being threatened in the US. It would seem that no one else took the threat seriously. Well, population size matters, as it determines our collective expectations.
Continuing with Deep Adaptation
So what is going on here? Do Tom and Gavin have a plan? What I am reading is that, for the want of a handy target, they took to shutting down people that are their team mates in this struggle. You’ll not find people more eager to adapt, than those at Deep Adaption.
Their paper is more an effort to stand apart — to display difference in order to gain the appeal to a wider audience, which is in itself…fine. Their narrative behind the attack however, seems to assume the global response is more than robust, and well under way. Indeed success at keeping global temperature rise to less than +2°C, is considered easy and straightforward. So any assumptions of failure are counterproductive and faulty reasoning.
You’ll find no problem here, with setting out yet another new climate change platform with hopes for mass appeal. They do seem however, to be more concerned with slaying imagined dragons and burning fictitious witches. Their youth blinds them to the fact that these older dragons, have seen decades of such attacks. While it may sting to have friendly fire incidents, they move on just as before.
In an effort to help define this collapse thing, lets look at how it pertains to climate action. We could say that by properly addressing global heating, we set about shrinking our carbon emissions, in line with at least the current guidelines of the IPCC. Quickly, may be the word many use. Let me suggest, that the speed at which we must attain zero emissions and the onerous part of that being the next 9 years, defines a state of collapse. Our very real situation actually would have us zero out emissions, much faster than what the IPCC spells out. Our goal being to leave as much on the table for the next generations, as we possibly can. The goals of significant carbon sequestration are far in the future, perhaps decades. The real hard work of mitigation has to happen first.
Energy: What Must Happen
For instance, much of the industry that is heavy on carbon emissions, must disappear in the next few years. International shipping must stop, while functioning for only the most crucial of items, while we quickly retool our local areas to manage the day-to-day needs. Plastic production from oil must be halted immediately, substituting hemp-based plastics can be geared up to replace them eventually. All fossil fuel production must be heavily regulated through a globally-based system, with the immediate shutdown of sources like the tar sands in Canada. Only oil that is easily attained, at a return rate such as in Saudi Arabia, or fuel obtained by BECCS, can be brought to market. This must happen as soon as possible so we can extend our budget as far as possible.
Even beyond fossil fuels, energy use on the whole, must also be curtailed. In some respects, as there is no budget left, all emissions now are a burden on future generations. So, with just a taste of the actions needed, one can only say that we must collapse our world into a very small space. Much of the fossil fuel infrastructure that exists now, must be gone in the years to come. Population control must be global, with all countries adopting a one child policy. We are so fortunate to have had China lead the way on this, lets benefit from what they learned, by creating a system that ensures a softer societal impact. We have few templates for the change we must endure.
Equal Rights for Women
We have issues related to women’s rights, which is why we must establish equal rights as a global foundation going forward. Gender equality must lead, as the single most important aspect to an adequate response. To that cause, we must find and promote more women until they have equal standing and representation in politics. Happily we see this occurring already, with women leaders such as Jasinda Ahearn of New Zealand, standing out from the pack. Women are distinguishing themselves as being well suited to crisis management, just as one might expect.
Considering Our Situation
Now let’s move on to consider the situation, of having a glass half full or half empty of water. Even half empty, we may be able to find a way for it to be enough. That half full glass may not be enough for all our purposes, but could mean all the difference to some small life forms. In a closed terrarium, that half glass is all that is needed to support a micro ecosystem indefinitely. If we frame our pessimism properly, the glass holds all the ingredients for life. Framed in this way, even the most dire of pessimists, can find hope in the endeavour to create opportunities for life. And in so doing, they would be creating a personal positive route, to continue their struggle.
It may be important to keep in mind right now, that even in a 95% extinction event, life persists. If one could make room for just one more species to survive, they could give birth to untold quantities of life. The resounding effects of survival, over hundreds of millions of years, for just one species of shrew, gave us humans the chance to exist. A single mammalian species provided for all we see now.
The hard truth here is, there are threats so significant, as to drive this planet into a death spiral so dire, that even that 5% could be at risk. The multitudes of nuclear warheads, and the general instability of nuclear powers in a rapidly changing world, could undo all life. Uncertainty over the ultimate impacts of these liabilities becoming unstable, should have humanity remove these threats to life. We are well aware of the risks associated with nuclear warfare. With well over 20,000 nuclear missiles, we have no good use for, we have lots of work to do.
There is another, somewhat more dramatic radiation issue however. One that escapes focus because it is kind of a secondary risk. Containment ponds are filled to capacity awaiting proper storage. Nuclear power generation has a history of not properly assessing risk, resulting is world changing breaches. There are a variety of risks associated with electromagnetic pulse attacks. Solar flares, like in the Carrington event, will always be a threat as well.
Other threats to nuclear power stations include the various effects of climate change. Many reactors already face shutdowns in summer, due to the rising temperatures of the water sources drawn from for cooling. Many face a variety of threats not included in their original design. Earthquakes, hurricanes, storm surges and rising ocean levels all play a roll in making older stations particularly risky ventures, as we approach and exceed their life expectancy.
Our current containment practices are poor at best in many situations, and represent a secondary impact when confronted with certain other situations. For us to create the greatest breadth of opportunity, ‘cask and contain’ must be sought, as a workable crisis response to unmanageable situations. Immediate efforts should be taken to secure proper storage of spent fuel rods, to avoid unforeseen calamity.
These two young lads do not see radiation as much of a threat, Chernobyl could seem a minor inconvenience only killing 4000 people, really missing the point of the threat. Chernobyl was shrouded in a tomb of concrete and is still far too radioactive for any visit to the “elephants foot”, the melted core of the plant. It took the lives of many brave women and men to get the ‘Sarcophagus’ created. Support teams feeding materials, including a shit ton of concrete, were used to contain the plant. We don’t think of the millions of people sickened from exposure, or that died from cancers in the years after. It was contained 10 days after meltdown…but unconstrained, that fire would have spewed out radiation for many years.
Potential for Unconstrained Meltdown
On a site with large holding facilities, chock full of spent fuel rods, the fires could last many decades to hundreds of years, spewing ionizing radiation high into the atmosphere. The planet has not experienced a full meltdown that remained unconstrained for any long period of time. An unanticipated collapse of society, the power grids, or the much dreaded fear of civilization collapse, could have humans exposed to 450 nuclear power plants as unrestrained radioactive threats.
Delusional Characteristics of Hope
So, hear me when I tell you it is natural to move from despair to hope, however one must always account for the delusional characteristics of hope. We engage in wishful thinking when we use hope as a foundation to ground our expectations. This is an important aspect for movements. A collective hope is the favoured outcome, when orchestrating efforts to change how society functions. The people orchestrating this ill-conceived attack have lost sight of their goal. That goal is to bring people together, all people. We…are Team Human. We have to face the future with our eyes wide open, hand in hand, raging ‘against’ the dying of ‘our’ light.
The Grief of our Failure to Preserve
The folks over at Deep Adaptation have created a space for people to access a support network. I have witnessed people reaching out to find the hands of dozens of people there to catch them. Some of these people have been fighting for decades. People who feel a great deal of grief over our failure to preserve the abundance of the past. The young adults of our moment have no framework from which to evaluate, the loss already felt by people just twice their age. The loss of wildlife is profound, we have watched them diminish and in some cases go extinct. Fought for, and failed to bring about the change needed, long before they were born.
The young will not know this grief, but will find their own in time. It is right to point out we must work with that grief, for that is what is required. One cannot, however, require that people manage their grief well, but we should allow people to deal with their grief in their own way. One way people are doing that is through Deep Adaptation. I find these attempts to deconstruct it, as missing the point of movements such as Extinction Rebellion. It would seem like avoiding extinction is the point. We are required to believe that extinction is possible, even probable under the current system, if we are to take anything about our future as serious. It is a self-inflicted wound, to then take issue with the vary people that agree in the fundamentals of that truth.
What We Need Now
Well, unfortunately we have a pandemic that is partially facilitating change. We have been presented with a golden opportunity to learn about the exponential function. Global warming is getting away from us at a faster pace. We won’t get to transition if we are arguing over who’s version of collapse is correct. It seems ironic that this is the discussion at all, as the collapse is underway.
It falls to us to choose a controlled collapse, before one imposes on us suddenly, perhaps as a catastrophe the team never recovers from. Imagine the debates had in houses and on the streets of Pompeii. People arguing over what, if any action they should take in the face of certain doom.
Some folks are going to be trapped in their grief — that is part of the process. So too, many will be trapped in anger, unable to forgive the failings of the past. It could be, that whole hosts of people, never make it out of denial, or cycle through over and over. Well what we need now, are people that have managed to process the current state of affairs…and are prepared to act accordingly. Nothing short of an adequate response is even worth trying. Every shortcoming, every nuance missed, threatens the opportunities for life on this planet, home to Team Human.
Source: Open Democracy (Back).
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