Dancing With The Great Unravelling

Image by Eric Perlin from Pixabay

What would it mean for each of us to declare our own climate emergency? What would we do differently? What would we say “yes” to or “no” to with that awareness of imminent threat at the center of our life?” (bold is mine) ~ Blogger, author and activist Miki Kashtan from The Fearless Heart


Three weeks ago, now (June 21 to be exact) I started a Facebook group called Deep Adaptation Discussion and Action Group. The group has almost 200 members now, and more request come every day.

For me, this is an exercise on community sharing and design and in accountability.

For many years, we have been told how bad things may become (if we didn’t do anything) but there was always this “window” that was rapidly closing yet seemed to always be open for us.

We were also always told that things would be better, and our wellbeing would improve (if we do the things we were supposed to do). Speaking about responsibility, consequences, sacrifices and suffering was (and still is in many circles), taboo.

For those of us who still have the privilege of access to screens, internet and power, tap water and markets full of “food”, relative safety and comfort and all the other things we in certain parts of the world and particularly in the middle and higher classes have been taken for granted and consider “normal”, here are some unwelcome news: the “window” has closed, there won’t be anything nice in the inevitable descent and there will be lots of discomfort and suffering.

Some may still have a few years ahead to live as they have done so far, but the chances to perpetuate or even spread widely a “middle-class” way of living will continue to be eroded. Some have called this “collapse”, but the term may not be the best to describe what’s coming.

First, I want to emphasize what I have posted many times: that this so called “collapse” is not new. What’s new is that its nature is now global and will affect us all, rich and poor. The other difference from previous or localized collapses is that this one will continue evolving from very different and sometimes unpredictable sources: it may be the food system or a particular type of foods; it may be through direct climate impact (what we call “natural disasters”), it may happen through human-made disasters (wars, dictatorships, nuclear) and it may be by the shrinking of the habitable places (for both humans and other species) and the subsequent displacement and burden on systems (migration).

It won’t be “one” collapse but many, sometimes in a domino effect. It may show as a descent in the quality of life for some (food, safety, jobs, financial) and a creation of a “new normal” that will resemble more and more what some call the “underdeveloped world”.

The reaction from governments, elites and businesses will be that of protecting the status quo (i.e., their privileges) by all means, which will create more opportunities for dictatorships, surveillance states, shortening of human and nature rights, disconnection and separation. The reaction will be crime, corruption, social unrest and chaos.

Many have already experienced collapse, and many cohabit with it, including the many species whose homes and food systems have been pushing them to extinction. Collapse is not even, and it hits the poor and the innocent first and worse.

Naturally, people react to the above news with a spectrum of emotions and behaviours that go from denial and attacking the messenger to looking for answers in different places. The most common reaction is that of survival. Many also react by making quick decisions in their lives and some fall into nihilism, despair and depression.

One of the most difficult themes among those who have accepted the inevitability of these “collapses” and the uncertainty of “how they will play out” is how to communicate with their own partners, children and extended family or colleagues and friends. This makes decisions even slower and more difficult. Changing on their own may mean consciously choosing to leave their current (yet artificial) sense of comfort, safety, belonging, identity and purpose.

Knowing what we know: how do we justify continuing with the same patterns?

We were told that “going green” was our contribution, but this has not been enough, and in some cases (like recycling and buying renewables to support a similar lifestyle) the changes are counterproductive.

We have been told that we cannot “unseen” but that is not true: if the feeling of frustration, not having answers or being stuck is too painful, we may reset to denial (even if we continue believing that all of the above is true, we will make up all kind of stories and excuses to keep doing what we are doing).

What are, then the answers?

I have not clue, and that is one of the reasons I have started to offer Zoom calls and also started a face-to-face group that will meet in Vancouver this coming week.

But I am scared…

For years, I’ve seen how people perpetuate the patterns of disconnection and seem oblivious to their own behaviour: some jump to judge, point fingers, blame and shame; others jump to protect the privilege they have; yet others (probably with the best intentions) take on themselves to analyze, prescribe and fix everything and everyone (they carry “the truth”). The game is complex and the players diverse…

My own “emergency” declaration has just started. I need to go through a deep review of my choices, barriers, challenges and approach those who influence or are influenced by them.

To start with, I used the suggested “four R’s” from Jem Bendell (author of Deep Adaptation) to select some of my starting points. I share them here in case they are useful to others:

Resilience, the first “R” asks the questions: what do we want to keep, preserve or create that will allow us as individuals, households and communities to be resilient in these uncertain times? This pertains to structures, systems, processes, beliefs, values, behaviours and relationships…

In my case, I chose to show up and not look away, even when most of the time it is too painful or uncomfortable. I also chose to allow emergent design to shape what comes as opposed to the more controlling “design” of things, relationships, spaces, etc.

I chose to seek and nurture honest relationships with like-minded people as well with the natural world.

Finally, I chose to keep my investment in learning new skills and nurturing, practicing and sharing the ones I have.

I find the second R even more useful but also the one that causes more anxiety and discomfort. Relinquishment ask the questions of what we may need to let go off: dreams, behaviours, stuff, relationships, etc. in order to be more resilient and not continue causing further harm.

It is easy to look at the past and see what we may have already accomplished as this may provide some inspiration and a source of strength: I let go of the expectation to drive or have a car, to take a plane (with rare exceptions such as family-related and training-related and only every few years), to have a “career” and to “retire”. I also let go of a full time “stable” job with benefits that no longer supporter the values I have for a regenerative, ethical and just world. Status and financial wealth mean nothing to me. There are many smaller things and behaviours I have let go off with the years and I feel freer now than then.

There are, however, areas where letting go is real difficult: relationships, eating patterns, how I use my time around technology/screens, where I live…some of these are attached (or so I believe) to other people’s choices and that makes the decision more difficult.

The third “R” is one I’ve been using for a long time: Restoration. This asks the questions of what beliefs, values, skills, practices, structures, etc. we may need to restore to become more resilient in uncertain times and avoid causing harm.

For me, these include ancient and old-times skills around food, shelter, clothing, sharing in community and entertainment as well as ancient ways to see the land and other elements and beings, old ways to approach health and learn from plants.

One of the biggest ones is “community”: not going solo so much as trusting the wisdom of others.

The last one is Reconciliation, one that I have also been practicing for a while and really resonates with me. It asks the questions about with whom or what we need to reconcile.

For me, this is a journey of reconciling with my troubled and traumatic past and that of my ancestors, the different lands I once called home and the displacement. Those I may have harmed and who hurt me as well as all the species that I, knowingly or unknowingly hurt and displaced.

Navigating these times is not easy, unless you choose oblivion and denial. For many (other humans and species) all this may be seen as navel gazing from a privileged person who is yet not facing what they had.

I cannot switch my place with them, and I don’t think doing so would create less pain and chaos.

But I can use my privilege to choose reducing harm and being there for those impacted the most.



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