When Dr. Gail Bradbrook, one of the co-founders of Extinction Rebellion, appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme earlier this month, she said something I found interesting:
“… I don’t want to wind people up, and I do apologise for the inconvenience caused, but you can hear the emotion in my voice – I’ve two boys, 10 and 13, and they won’t have enough food to eat in a few years’ time. Do you understand that?”
It wasn’t picked up on by anyone in the studio – host Richard Madeley was more focussed on the disruption to ordinary people’s lives in the capital – but it was a somewhat bizarre statement, even for a climate activist.
She was stating, as a matter of fact, that her children would not have enough to eat “in a few years’ time” and implying that it would be due to climate change.
Where has this idea come from? Not from orthodox climate science, although the notion that climate change (and overpopulation) will cause food shortages in the future is of course part of the orthodoxy. For example, the IPCC’s 2014 report (Fifth Assessment, WGII AR5) says: “Global temperature increases of ~4°C or more above late-20th-century levels, combined with increasing food demand, would pose large risks to food security globally and regionally”. But that isn’t “in a few years’ time”, by any stretch of the imagination.
An answer can be found in the writings of sociologist Jem Bendell, who is a Professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cumbria and whose 2018 paper “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy” has been very influential in the Extinction Rebellion movement. He is a proponent of the “Deep Adaptation Agenda”, an associate of environmental groups such as the Dark Mountain Project and also, incidentally, has been a speech writer for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.
This paper (which failed peer review, for what that’s worth) has been downloaded and read by at least 100,000 people, according to Vice magazine this year and has been apparently causing many susceptible readers to tumble into a downward spiral of depression and despair. One reader is quoted as having experienced a “mix of heartbreaking sadness and extreme anger” and says “I guess in some ways it felt like I was diagnosed with a terminal illness”.
The abstract of the Deep Adaptation paper starts as follows:
“The purpose of this conceptual paper is to provide readers with an opportunity to reassess their work and life in the face of an inevitable near-term social collapse due to climate change.”
And on page 13 of the paper, it says:
“We do not know for certain how disruptive the impacts of climate change will be or where will be most affected, especially as economic and social systems will respond in complex ways. But the evidence is mounting that the impacts will be catastrophic to our livelihoods and the societies that we live within. Our norms of behaviour, that we call our “civilisation,” may also degrade. When we contemplate this possibility, it can seem abstract. The words I ended the previous paragraph with may seem, subconsciously at least, to be describing a situation to feel sorry about as we witness scenes on TV or online. But when I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life. With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend on your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go. You will fear being violently killed before starving to death.”
One can understand why vulnerable individuals might have felt somewhat low, after reading this.
So how will this “inevitable near-term social collapse” happen? The paper lists various worst-case scenarios and suggests that a runaway concatenation of these will bring about the end.
One cause will be an ice-free Arctic, predicted to happen “one summer in the next few years” by Peter Wadhams (according to the author, one “of the most eminent climate scientists in the world”) which will “likely increase by 50% the warming caused by the CO2 produced by human activity”. There might be the possibility of a “near-term massive release of methane from the Arctic Ocean”. And there’s also extreme weather events, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, biodiversity loss, etc., etc.
As for food shortages, the paper mentions climate models (under “mainstream projected climate change scenarios”) that “predict a decline of normal agriculture, including the compromising of mass production of grains in the northern hemisphere and intermittent disruption to rice production in the tropics”. However, these are longer-term projections for the 2050s, 2080s and the end of the century. Developed-world children going hungry in “a few years’ time” implies that there will be acute shortages in the 2020s, which is just around the corner!
And that’s the thing about the Deep Adaptation paper – it bundles together a few worst-case scenarios and alarming medium to long-term projections and somehow brings everything forward in time in an attempt to make the case for a practically imminent collapse of civilisation. As to whether this is inevitable, Bendell does state several times that “we do not know”, and that “people describe different degrees of certainty” but throughout the paper, he stresses the possibility of a breakdown of society again and again, as if it was indeed the most likely outcome. And on page 19 he voices his personal opinion.
“Currently, I have chosen to interpret the information as indicating inevitable collapse, probable catastrophe and possible extinction.”
Clearly, Jem Bendell has gone beyond the bounds of normal climate science in his paper, which has helped to whip up such a sense of urgency among the Extinction Rebellion people and their followers. Have any climatologists responded? Well, according to one science blogger, Michael Mann has seen the paper – and dismissed it with a single, uncomplimentary four-letter word.
So, if orthodox climate science has plenty in it to be sceptical about, “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy” represents a whole new stratum of dubious claims below that, even. It’s something to bear in mind, perhaps, the next time we hear an XR activist proclaim that today’s well-fed Western schoolchildren will be facing starvation before they reach adulthood.