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What we can learn from the ‘post-doomers’

01 April 2022

The climate crisis is a threat to civilisation — but that need not mean living in despair, argues David Pott

MOST of those who believe in the seriousness of the climate emergency have, until fairly recently, thought that, if we work hard at developing renewable sources of energy and reduce our dependence on oil, it is reasonably likely that a major crisis can be averted, and that we can ensure a transition to a better future.

A growing number, however, now believe that we may have passed the point of no return. They argue that we should prepare for the possibility of the collapse of civilisation, and perhaps, even, the extinction of the human species.

One of these is Professor Jem Bendell, the founder of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability at the University of Cumbria. In 2018, he published a paper, “Deep Adaptation”, in which he contends that the indicators of the collapse of civilisation are already with us, and that we are not seeing the kind of policy changes from governments, or lifestyle changes from individuals, that will significantly reduce climate change.

In the light of the seriousness of the situation, Professor Bendell calls for “a commitment to working together to do what’s helpful during the disruption and collapse of societies”, and to adopt “an ethos of being engaged, open-hearted, and open-minded about how to be and how to respond”.

IT IS interesting to compare the end-of-the-world scenario that I encountered in my youth with that which I am now encountering. The 1970s version, which saw the Second Coming as imminent, was presented by Christians for Christians, or for the purposes of evangelism. It did not touch mainstream culture.

The present situation could hardly be more different. The predictions about our future are coming mostly from scientists. Convictions about the seriousness of the situation have very much entered the mainstream culture. Older people are more inclined to downplay the climate crisis, while younger people are much more likely to follow the lead of people such as Greta Thunberg; they are said to be the first generation who do not believe that they are likely to have a better life than their parents.

What has struck me about those who have taken up this position is that they are not doom merchants. While they fully face up to the seriousness of the human and planetary predicament, they urge people to be proactive in every way. It is similar to the person who receives a terminal cancer diagnosis and goes through a grieving process, but then becomes focused on what really matters and makes life meaningful.

The term “post-doom” has been used to describe their position. It can be defined as:

1. What opens up when we remember who we are, accept the inevitable, honour our grief, and prioritise what is pro-future and nourishing.

2. A fierce and fearless reverence for life, and relative equanimity, even in the midst of abrupt climate change, a global pandemic, and the collapse of both the health of the biosphere and business as usual.

3. Living meaningfully, compassionately, and courageously, no matter what.

John Halstead has commented that “what these ‘post-doomers’ have in common is that they have passed through a kind of ‘dark night of the soul’ with regard to climate change and environmental devastation generally, and they are now exploring the terrain on the other side of despair. It isn’t so much about recovering a lost hope, as it is figuring out how to live joyful and socially responsible lives in light of impending collapse.”

It is noticeable that spirituality features quite prominently in these circles: Christians such as Michael Dowd and Fr Richard Rohr are making their contributions.

Professor Bendell outlines four Rs to guide us towards appropriate adaptations to this situation, all of which resonate strongly for Christians:

• Resilience: what do we most value that we want to keep, and how?

• Relinquishment: what do we need to let go of so as not to make matters worse?

• Restoration: what could we bring back to help us with these difficult times?

• Reconciliation: with what and whom shall we make peace as we awaken to our mutual mortality?

WE NEED to ask ourselves this question: to what extent are we preparing ourselves and future generations to live well in the coming days? I cannot see much evidence of this either in schools or universities, or in our churches.

Some clues about ways to move forward can be found on the website of the educator Nikolas Winter-Simat: wintersimat.com. He argues that we need to educate in such a way that it becomes clear that “our current human systems, based as they are on mechanistic and anthropocentric ways of thinking, are completely misaligned with the planet’s capacity to support life”.

Education for the future, he argues, needs “to prioritise whole human development within the context of a highly interconnected more-than-human ‘living world’. A living world that bends towards relationships of collaboration, mutual benefit, and emergent novelty.”

While I will want to prepare my descendants to face an uncertain future with courage and resilience, I want to pass on to them a confident hope in God’s promises for a new creation. I also hope that they can grasp a vision for an exciting future as active participants in God’s call to work towards the realisation of that new creation.

David Pott is pilgrimage consultant for the diocese of Durham.

A longer version of the article can be read here

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