If things go wrong and we fail to overcome the climate crisis there will be profound consequences for society and humanity. The Deep Adaptation Forum exists to help people prepare for this worst case scenario, and you may find some of this interview disturbing or depressing. My guest is Fernando Garcia Ferreiro and he has offered to talk personally to anyone who is upset or concerned by the ideas we discuss. His contact details are at the end of this text, together with links and references.
This conversation was recorded in the week before Easter.
Well, Nando, good morning. I think we all agree that there's a climate crisis. In fact, the whole thing's been emphasised by yet another report, which came out this week from the IPCC. I think we all agree that there's got to be adaptation. We are going to have to change to deal with the climate crisis, but adaptation means a lot of very different things to a lot of very different people. The IPCC has gone into a lot of detail in this latest Working Group III report. The Deep Adaptation forum is something else. And maybe you can tell me more about what your belief is and how you feel that society should or can adapt to what we're facing.
Yeah. Okay. Thank you. Thank you for the question. Big one. And yeah, let me start by saying that it's more than a climate crisis. It's a planet crisis. We tend to focus only on what happens in the atmosphere, which is creating the global warming and these extreme weather events. But if you look to other areas, like the biosphere. What is happening with life on this planet over the last 50 years, it's a massive killing. You might have heard of this report by the Academy of Natural Sciences in the US about the biomass. Maybe you heard about that. There was an article in the Guardian, when they look at the biomass and this is only an example of the mammals on the planet. There are three figures that came up on that report, which is three years old, 36% of all the mammals is already humans, 60% is livestock.
4% is wild mammals. So all whales, elephants, tigers, you name it, is only just 4%. In another chapter on the birds. 70% of all birds are chicken and turkey. And all the ostriches and all the hawks and eagles... So I mean, and insects is also massive. When you look at other areas like resources, already 50 years ago, now. 50 years ago, the limits to growth report, which was controversial at the time. I mean, came with something which anybody should know, that some resources are not renewable. A number of resources are renewable. Others, there is a limited quantity of them. And in particular those who are fuelling this society, which is fossil fuels, oil, coal, gas. And again, this is controversial or was controversial. The whole idea of the peak oil, so that there is a point where the production starts falling.
It's not that there is a depletion, many people misunderstand the concept of peak oil. I mean, there is a lot of oil. The problem is that the easy oil, the good, easy oil is gone. And this is the international agency for energy, which is saying this. I mean, it's not Greenpeace. I mean, it's a big thing. So the easy oil is gone. So now we have to go to Alberta and go for tar sands, which is a very, very heavy and difficult oil to extract, or fracking or things like that. So oil, which is the engine, which is the blood of the system, is rapidly going down.
Is that a bad thing? Because oil leads to emissions, which lead to global warming.
Absolutely. Absolutely. But are we capable of running our society without oil and with a growing demand for oil? So that's part of the things that we explore. We don't explore them. I mean, people working in or involving Deep Adaptation, we don't discuss these things. I mean, we discuss the consequences. We discuss how to deal with this. Frankly, in our forum, we take for granted that most people are informed about these things. And we don't spend too much time, but I mean, what I... Sorry, because I went a bit long into clarifying that it's not only the climate and the climate is bad enough. It's the whole system; it's water, it's the oceans, it's the soil, it's everything. For the first time now in Europe, we started talking about the food crisis. So it's a big thing.
So it's a perfect storm. And Deep Adaptation is basically a framework or a community of people who each of us coming from different places. I used to be a commission official. I worked in the European Commission for 33 years. I'm not an activist. I'm a normal citizen. I'm a lawyer by training. So I'm not a scientist. And already, 12 years ago, I started reading about these things. Then I got very interested saying, listen, I mean, is this sustainable? I mean, can we go on like this? And Deep Adaptation, which was created by a paper written by a professor, Jem Bendell, in 2018. Basically is an invitation to explore or contemplate this possibility, which for some of us is more than a possibility, it's a probability.
The possibility that our system is not sustainable. And therefore at one point it will collapse, or there will be a growing number of disruptions. And the idea is to explore, okay, what if this is a possibility. And in my case, I used to be a Senior Manager in the European Commission and we stress quite a lot, the need for a precautionary principle for risk management. Come on. I mean, if there is something major that may happen, you need to look into that. You need to look into that, how probable is it? What big is the impact? And what can you do about it? And you can explore the material, the practical issues about that. For instance, food crisis. Okay. Let's make sure that we have some cereals in some place, but also, and probably more importantly, I'm sorry for the long answer. I'll give you back the floor, now.
Is exploring the emotional or even the psychological impact that these things have. I happen also, to be exploring mortality over the last couple of years. I've been training as a death doula, and reading a lot of mortality and death. I'm also volunteering in hospitals with cancer patients, and you will agree with me, Anthony, that death is a predicament. I mean, there is no solution, as far as I know, people tend to die. And therefore, death is not something that you can solve. Death is something that you have to deal with and when people tell that we people in Deep Adaptation are pessimist or whatever. I always make the parallel with that. What is the optimist approach about death?
Probably the optimist approach about death is having a good life and having a good death. The optimism is not avoiding death. So, the best you can do is do it the best you can do, so that you have a good life until the moment you die and have a good death. That's the optimist approach to death. I tend to apply the same thing to what I believe is going to happen, and is happening already in some places in the world, look at Venezuela, look at other countries, which are in full collapse. Full collapse in the sense that the infrastructures and the access to food, safety, shelter, et cetera, et cetera, is no longer assured by a legal framework.
So I tend to think that if this is possible, what is the optimist approach to that, is probably not believing too much that we can avoid it, but to see, okay, how can we live as best as possible until then? How can we accompany this? And, of course, how can we save as much as possible? Most people in Deep Adaptation, like me, we are massively and deeply involved in activity. I'm part of the transition towns and I'm volunteering. I'm doing all sorts of work, and the all people in Deep Adaptation, we are not crying in a corner, and saying, oh, my goodness. No. I mean, there is a lot of activism. Sorry. It was long.
So you are painting a picture of a disaster, which is much more widespread than simply the climate emergency. And are you saying that you see this as inevitable? Something that we cannot stop, but we must adapt to.
And this is my personal belief. I'm not a scientist. I insist. I might be wrong. I hope I'm wrong. I have children and I'm here in my parents' house because I cannot have this conversation in my house, where my daughter, who is 20, is studying. Because she goes crazy, when she hears me talking about this. What I believe is that we cannot continue the way we are going. We cannot continue growing. I mean, there is no possibility. I mean, resources are limited. We cannot continue going like that. And we keep continuing like this, if you see the emissions of CO2 have not stopped. We've been discussing this since the 90s and keep growing.
Limits to Growth
And we had Paris, they keep growing. So nothing has stopped, so that's the first thing. I mean, already we're stabilising it and we have to start descending. And the longer we wait, the steeper the descent is. Had we started the descent in '72, when the report, the Limits to Growth was published, probably it could have been quite a mild descent, slowly and gradually. Now, we are coming to a point, where the descent looks very vertical. And who is preparing for that. So that's the first thing. The second thing is, unfortunately, the way our political system works. I don't see any politician in this world who would come with a project, with a program.
Make America Small Again
Okay. Let’s descend, let’s go smaller, make America small again. Who would be voted with that. Let's reduce consumption, let’s warm our apartments to 17 degrees, rather than 21. Let's fly less, let’s eat less meat. Who would be voted with that? No one.
Now with the crisis in Ukraine. They are, again, subsidising fossil fuels, so that doesn't make me particularly optimistic that we will have bold courageous politicians, who will really come with a program where we can organise the descent.
But isn't the problem that if they stand up now and say, reduce, reduce, reduce, as you say, nobody will vote for them. But isn't the problem the fact that the actual facts of what the situation is, have not been explained to the population at large. There hasn't been a national debate. And if people don't understand how serious the situation is, if we get to a point where suddenly very stringent restrictions are placed on people, they are going to react.
Enough Bad News
Agreed, agreed. You saw what happened in France with Macron and the gilets jaunes when he introduced these taxes. No, and, of course, but first people have already enough bad news. That's the first thing, and second, these are complex matters. I spent quite a lot of time, hours, reading articles and reports. And some of these topics are not easy. I mean, this is the most complex things, it's systems thinking. You're trying to explain things like the greenhouse effect. On how CO2 or methane... That's the second point. And thirdly, denial, denial. I was part of an elite in the European Commission, very highly educated people there.
You don't get a job in the European Commission without massive diplomas. And people are well educated. People speak in many languages, et cetera, et cetera. And around me, the level of awareness or information of all these things was astonishingly low. And I was wondering, if you read in the Guardian, an article saying, that the surface of the Arctic has shrank by 30%. And that this can have massive, massive, positive feedback loop effects. I read into that. And I realise that around me, my friends are all educated. Most people don't go beyond the headline. Why? I don't know. Same thing happens with death, Anthony. I organised death cafes. Nobody wants to talk about death. I was yesterday in the hospital, in the chemo unit, talking to people who were getting the treatment. They were amazingly courageous and amazingly humane. And they were saying that nobody wants to... When they say, I have cancer, people change conversation. So nobody wants to confront this. And something similar happens with this predicament.
Yes. You talk about people at the top of the European Commission and obviously other similar organisations, adopting the precautionary principle. And yet, as far as this is concerned, nobody does seem to be adopting the precautionary principle. They seem to be saying business as usual. We look at the situation where we've decided that we can't actually run our cars and our transport fleet on fossil fuels. So we'll run them on electricity, but, of course, that is fraught with problems. That's a business as usual solution. The solution is probably not cars at all, but in the short term, governments will say, that's what we're going to do. And the same applies with home heating. They're saying, well, we're going to get rid of gas boilers, and we're going to give you heat pumps. And that only works, of course, if the electricity, which runs them is not generated by gas or other fossil fuels.
Well, yeah, coal is still very significant on a global scale.
So the inescapable conclusion is that the political leadership has not got the courage or the foresight to actually take the actions, which are necessary. Probably in the knowledge that the worst consequences won't actually occur until they have retired or left office. So that means, well, what sort of future do you see? Are you one of these people who are stocking up with tinned food and things like that, so that you at least will survive? Or is your philosophy or belief different from that?
The End is Near
Absolutely. Yes. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I confessed that when I came to this realisation, that was in 2009. I read this article in The New York Times, The End Is Near! And it is still there, you can Google it. And in fact, the title was much more alarming than the content. The content was an interview with Rob Hopkins, the founder of Transition towns. And it was an explanation of the concept, which was starting at the time. I think transition towns started in Totnes, Devon, in 2005, something like that. And it was an explanation why this concept of... And this is part of my answer. The idea of transition towns, and I've been in the Spanish hub, and now I'm part of a transition initiative here in Spain, is to make sure that we have local communities, which are resilient as possible and whose environmental impact is as low as possible.
So the two principles of transition towns is local, is communities, is reducing the impact and is increasing the resilience. Increasing the resilience in many ways, very simple ways. You transform a parking lot into a vegetable garden. You plant fruit trees, I've been planting fruit trees in a plot that I have. You re-skill people, you recycle. So this is the idea. The idea is that probably we'll have to go more rural. I'm following very closely what is happening in France. And in France, there is this near ruralism movement. Many people from the cities going back to the countryside. And of course, very ill-equipped because, I mean, frankly, I can do PowerPoint and little less when I just bought a piece of land. I got a few manuals on how you grow vegetables. How you plant a tree, et cetera?
So the idea is not only to save yourself. There are two aspects. The material, the only way is communities. The only way is communities where people together can find solutions and combining the different skills. And some people are good at building. I have friends here in Northern Spain who are very good in bio-construction, constructing with cob, other people, edible gardens, et cetera, et cetera. So it's communities where there is not only sharing skills is also support. And that is one aspect of a thing. But probably, again, the other aspect, which is probably more important, at least for me. Or at least should come first is the inner work that you have to do, which is, okay, let's see first of all what the contemplation of this predicament makes into you. What kind of impact you have? And of course, the emotions that you confront when you look straight into this is fear, of course, is anger, is sadness, is helpless.
And I happen to be a facilitator. I don't know whether you're familiar with this practice, which is the Work That Reconnects. Maybe you've heard about that. And if not, I fully recommend that you look into this. The Work That Reconnects is a sort of a training, is more of a retreat, which was designed already in the 80s by Joanna Macy. You've heard of Joanna Macy? Is an American activist, a professor, scholar in System Thinking, and a Buddhist as well. And she was extremely involved. She's now 93 or something like that. She's an amazing woman. You can look up her videos. And she noticed in the 80s that there were many activists going in burnout, because the task is so huge. That many people were simply dropping their efforts. And she designed this workshop, which are called Work of Reconnection. In order to help people have a safe space, where you discuss with other people these difficult emotions. You give people new insights or new perspectives based on deep ecology, et cetera, et cetera.
And you re-boost them for them to continue acting, because what nobody wants is passivity. And I'm also involved in that. I'm organising these kinds of workshops. They normally last for four days, and you work with that. And what you're doing is this inner work, helping people look into these emotions. And very quickly, it takes you to more philosophical kind of questions. Who are we? Why has this happened? Why are we so intelligent, and at the same time so silly not to understand that there has to be limits to what we're doing? In ecosystems, you know that probably better than me. There are two equations, how many resources you extract? How much pollution you throw into that and the capacity of the systems to regenerate? And this is a whole concept of overshoot, which was already discussed by William Catton in 1980. 1980, this fantastic book by Catton, Overshoot.
So when you're extracting more than can be renewed. There comes a point where there is a collapse. So it's either the descent or fall. It's only that. I'm talking out of logic, I'm not a scientist. I insist. And I might be wrong, and I hope I'm wrong.
Well, let's just step back a little bit. You talk about people coming together and using the land and things like that. But as far as I understand it, over 50% of the world's population now live in cities and towns. Now we can't relocate those all out into the countryside. So can you adapt this as well within the urban environment?
I think it's going to be extremely difficult, frankly. And that's what makes me believe that probably we'll go for a collapse. Probably we'll go into panic. You see what happens when a supermarket goes empty, when there is no petrol in the petrol stations. You see what happens. And what you're talking is massive, and I think it's more than 50% in cities. I think it's more than 50%, probably in Europe is closer to 70%. And the skills, we've all lost those skills. We don't know how to live in the countryside. That's part of my concern, how you organise that? And again, I'm more familiar with what is happening in France.
I've been following a few webinars and in France, and I see that the local authorities, in the UK probably, as well. The local authorities are more interested in creating the concept of buyer regions. Trying to reorganise the territory in terms of buyer regions, and trying to see, okay, what would happen with transport? Lorries on electricity doesn't work too much, probably the weights of the batteries would make it... So it's trains, etc. So I think it's going to be extremely difficult to repatriate into the countryside, all those populations. And thus, probably we are headed to dramatic situations. I was reading recently a difficult book Choosing Earth, which maybe you know about by Duane Elgin. Duane Elgin was an advisor of the White House.
He must be 80, now. A fantastic book. You can download it on PDF. Of course, if you buy it, he will be happy. But you can download it on his sites. And he comes with three scenarios for the future. He was an expert in futures. He says, okay, see three scenarios. And in the coming decades, and this is what is very worrying, because this guy is a serious guy. But McPherson, I don't know. I watch McPherson from time-to-time and I cannot judge whether he's exaggerated. But this guy looks like a sensible guy. And, he says, three scenarios. First scenario is in the 20s, in this decade, growing breakdowns, which, as we are seeing now with semiconductors, breakdowns in gas, breakdowns in oil. The chains are falling, and suddenly don't have oil or suddenly you don't have chickpeas or whatever. Suddenly things start operating properly.
The next decade is probably collapse as many people have studied in the Soviet Union. For instance, financial collapse, then social collapse, political collapse. And then in the forties, massive dying. This is what he says. And then he says, and that is no matter what. You will love it. It's quite compelling, frankly. You need to fasten your seat belts before reading that book. And then he says, okay, I see three possibilities. The first one, which I think is over-exaggerated is human extinction in the 40s. The second one is also very worrying, which is authoritarian regimes, ecofascism. Okay, there is fairly little, so let's organise it. And, of course, there are experiments in China going on already for the last decades on social control.
This is amazing. I've been reading that in China, they know how many stops you have not respected with your car. They know what you're posting. And on that basis, you go to a job interview and they say, no, sorry. It's amazing, and with the digital control. So that's the second scenario. So we'll manage to survive because the state will grab control of the few resources and rationing, et cetera, et cetera. And the third one, which is the one I work for and my friends in Deep Adaptation work for and transitions. OK, after this dark night we have an opportunity to create a new kind of humanity, much more respectful of nature, much more in sync with the limits of the planet. So there is this third scenario, which is the one that we have to work for. But the other two are very compelling. So if you go for the book, be careful because it's quite heavy stuff.
Well, there's some quite, I would say disturbing and certainly thought provoking ideas that you shared with us there. On balance, are you optimistic?
I go back to what I was telling you about optimism and pessimism in the face of death. I am a cheerful person, also, because I have a good life. And this exploration has given me the opportunity to deepen into many emotional, psychological, even spiritual. I think spiritual maybe is a big word for this podcast. Spiritual in the sense, okay, part of when you start digging, why are we, where we are? The key word is separation, is the disconnect, is the belief that we are in nature rather than we are nature. If you think about it, Anthony, I mean, it is not that there is a planet and you’re planted there coming from, I don't know where. We came out of the planet.
We came out of it, we like a branch of these trees. We are the planet. And when you start looking into that kind of thing, that's spirituality. Spirituality is that we belong to something much bigger than ourselves. And this is what makes me not optimistic, but I have a bigger view of what the human life is in these time. And probably a sense of duty and responsibility to be the best version of myself, to be of help. Be of help with the cancer patients. I'm planting trees here with the local green groups. I'm helping out all of the place. I'm trying to do what Deep Adaptation is about.
Deep Adaptation Mission
I don't know whether you know the mission. I read you the mission of Deep Adaptation. The mission is to embody and enable loving responses to a predicament so that we reduce suffering while saving more of society and the natural world. So saving society in the sense of creating networks, communities, creating islands of sanity, as authors like Carolyn Baker, you might know her. Islands of Sanity. We are headed towards a lot of insanity, and creating areas where people feel a bit safer. Saving as much as a natural world as possible, when a species goes it's gone. When the last tiger goes, it's gone. And therefore, saving as much as possible, but also developing or growing, instil ourselves with the capacity for loving responses, kindness, compassion. This is what we do. I would like to invite you to one of our events, where we discuss our emotions.
And it's the kindest place in the world. I mean, the people I've met - over Zoom, unfortunately. I had a retreat with Jim Bendell and Katie Carr before the pandemic. But in general, I interact with people on Zoom and it's the kindest, less aggressive place you can find, because these are all people who have already confronted these truths. And trying to see how you cope with this and how you create around you the nicest more compassionate way to live with this, without depressing people around.
Denial or Depression?
But that's the challenge, how you talk about this without, and I'm sorry if I created in you some disturbance, when I was mentioning the work of Duane Elgin. How do you share this point of view without creating suffering in other people? It's very difficult, but is denial better? I don't know.
Well, this is the problem: denial, and I've done quite a lot of research into denial. People wed themselves to their beliefs to the extent that they will hold onto them even in the face of contrary facts. You mentioned that your daughter is, I would say, in denial from what you said. It is so difficult. Isn't it? To deal with people, even people very close.
And get the message across.
The Youth Perspective
I have a son, who is 26. Who was trained as an engineer in Edinburgh University, and he's a chemical engineer. And he's adventurous, strong, and he's very much into this. And I can speak very frankly with him. I bought this piece of land and he's very motivated to grow in trees there, so no problem. And he's an expert in methane; he gets these things. He gets these things. And it is easier. My daughter, she's studying biomedical sciences and she's much more sensitive. And every time I've talked about this, of course, for this generation. It's very difficult to understand that you are killing... She's studying like crazy, and I'm wondering what high tech laboratories will there be 20 years from now doing the kind of research that she's preparing for.
And with my son, for instance, with Miguel. I'm working much more into directing him into low tech. And again, in France, there is a whole movement on low tech, because low tech is amazing. You can have quite a good level of comfort with sustainable, reliable, solid systems for anything. So that's a very difficult conversation. And indeed with my daughter is little by little, but I frankly don't know how to tackle that. And frankly, I don't know. And I've lost many friends, I've lost many friends, many friends in the sustainable movement. I said to you a podcast that was done by a friend of mine, which is called, Is Sustainability Realistic? A very good friend of mine, when I share these things.
Maybe you're interested in that one. It's a 40 minute podcast, where I basically go a bit more in detail. And I think I lost my friends because of this kind of conversation. And also because I tended to be a bit self-righteous. I was insisting on being right at that time, I'm no longer. I hope you people who believe that we can make it, you're right. I really hope, but just in case. I'm preparing emotionally, spiritually, and also materially with building a small community for the storm that I see more and more coming.
I think we could continue this conversation for hours. I really do. You've raised an awful lot of questions, an awful lot of points, an awful lot of things, which we need to think about to absorb and understand. But I'd like to thank you very much, Nando, for sharing these thoughts with the Sustainable Futures Report. And well, we are going to have to see how things develop sadly, but to do what we can to protect ourselves and maybe do what we can to prevent things from getting as bad as they might be. But thank you again, for talking to us.
Talking it Through
Can I say a last thing, because this is difficult to hear. And in Deep Adaptation, we have a group of guides and I'm one of them. People who are ready to listen to people who when they learn these things, go into suffering. So if one of your listeners wants to have a conversation with me about this, or with any one of the guides, please give them my details. And I can have a soothing conversation with them and help them navigate these things. But I hope it goes well.
Well, thank you very much for that. That's very much appreciated.
Fernando Garcia Ferreiro from the Deep Adaptation Forum, and, as we mentioned, you’ll find a link to him and other Deep Adaptation Guides below. There are links, too, to the other articles and organisations that he mentioned.
And if you can become a patron you’d be most welcome. Your support keeps the Sustainable Futures Report independent and ad-free. One day I might have enough supporters to keep it solvent as well!
That’s it for this week.
That was the Wednesday Interview from the Sustainable Futures Report.
I’m Anthony Day.
Until next time.
References and Links
Deep Adaptation Guidance
Overshoot by William Catton
The work that Reconnects
Podcast where I discuss: "Is Sustainability realistic?"
Islands of Sanity