Deep Adaptation

About two months ago, a friend and mentor passed me this article. The author, Jem Bendell, makes an argument that near-term societal collapse is imminent because of climate change, and suggests that “Deep Adaptation” is needed, to get past denial, wrap our heads around this reality, and think about how we want to live in light of it all.

To say that it was perspective shifting would be a lie. There is SO MUCH to write and think about on the subject of climate change and the changes that will play out in my son’s lifetime. I get upside-down when I try to think about how to write about it here. But last night I listened to Iditarod coverage and heard how the mushers are seeing open ocean, all the way to the horizon, on the last leg of the race. I have zero interest in pretending like that doesn’t mean something. We have ring-side seats here in Alaska and I’ve been watching it shift for years.

That is where the earth is going.

(Need something more than open ice in the winter in the Arctic to get you thinking? Try this article by David Wallace Wells, which shares a title with his new book: The Uninhabitable Earth.)

Deep adaptation, to me, means getting honest about the hardship that is ahead, and then trying to imagine how to live through the hardship with kindness and grace. I’ve been taking some strength from Meg Wheatley in recent weeks, who has also shifted her work to this perspective. I like that she’s not trying to fake that it’s all going to be okay.

The Facts of Life

All living systems rise and fall in the cycle of existence: there is birth, growth, flowering, decline, death. The cycle repeats over and over; everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Each phase of the cycle requires different behaviors:

–At the beginning, discovery, creativity, learning and invention playfully fill the space of possibility. It is an exciting, high energy time when anything seems possible and hope abounds.
–In the middle, what has been created gets stabilized into complex systems that provide capacity, efficiencies, standardization, and sustainability. Hierarchy and bureaucracy develop and people settle into roles that make the systems work.
–In the final stages of decline and collapse, protection and preservation are essential to save values, ideals, and programs that are being destroyed by the powerful few. As solutions fail and crises proliferate, suffering grows; serving others becomes critical.

This is the cycle of life, irrefutably evident in the history of every civilization. Meaning and purposeful actions shift dramatically depending on which part of the cycle the society is in. Our current global culture cannot be saved by grasping onto the myth of progress or thinking we are unique and different. At this time, it is foolish to strive for innovation and sustainability when what is so clearly needed is protection and preservation.

–Meg Wheatley at

I’ve been thinking for more than 10 years about the likely hardships ahead. Now I have very strong motivation—in the body and spirit of my little A., to get real about what I will do help our family and community navigate on these stormy, ice-free seas.