Jem Bendell’s “Deep Adaptation” is scaring many people, sometimes referred to as "The Climate Change Paper So Depressing It's Sending People to Therapy"- yet - it is not a published paper. It is an unpublished draft that has been rejected for failing the minimum standards of an academic paper. It is written by a sociologist, not a climate scientist. As its main cite, it uses a blog post by a system analyst recording a talk he gave to a group of businessmen. When he submitted this draft to a journal, they requested major revisions because it didn’t meet the minimum standards for an academic paper. They rejected it because the author didn’t do those revisions.

Yet many people treat it as if it was as authoritative as the IPCC reports themselves.

It is not. It is not a worst worst case scenario. It is not evidence based and is not a scientific scenario at all.

It is so widely believed to be true by so many people I thought it would help to do an actual debunk of the central claims, rather than to just dismiss it as non peer reviewed nonsense without any explanation, as most do. It seems to be the basis of the Extinction Rebellion's claim that we risk near term human extinction.

It’s based on two main claims, about the Arctic sea ice and about the methane clathrate bomb.

Short summary - the albedo effect is real, but though the Arctic is less reflective, there are more clouds in the tropics in a warming world, making the sunny tropics more reflective. If you take account of that, you find that the world as a whole is becoming more reflective, not less so.

The Arctic albedo effect is a minor effect in the Arctic. Even there it is not the main reason it is warming up. The UK and Europe, for instance, is warming up twice as fast as equatorial regions, and this is not due to an ice albedo effect, obviously, as Europe is not covered in ice sheets. The real reason is that there is more convection in a warming world, leading to more equalizing of temperatures between the equators and the poles.

The clathrate gun hypothesis was considered a possiblity originally but it is now effectively disproved. The latest research concludes that even in the most extreme case, the total methane emissions from the Arctic region are less than anthropogenic emissions of methane, indeed, we can compensate for all the Arctic emissions of methane and more by more ambitious reduction targets for anthropogenic methane.

Climate change is real and serious but it does NOT risk human extinction or the collapse of civilization. Science needs to be evidence based.

See also

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The paper says:

“In any case the IPCC estimate of a carbon budget was controversial with many scientists who estimated that existing CO2 in the atmosphere should already produce global ambient temperature rises over 5°C and so there is no carbon budget – it has already been overspent (Wasdell, 2015)."

If a high quality paper said “many scientists” you would expect it to cite papers in Nature or other high quality cites. Or perhaps to a review paper. This is one of the central points in his argument after all.

But instead Jem Bendell cites a non peer reviewed talk given by Wasdell to some businessmen!

Wasdell describes himself as a system analysist and he says this paper was presented to a two hour session of the “Alternative Business Club” run by one of the two organizers of the “Global Leaders Academy” run by two business advisors Sue Cheshire and Kent Allan. You can read the “About” page of the group here.

It’s no wonder that his paper was rejected:

The journal was the "Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal" who said about it, as interviewed by Vice magazine:

The decision was arrived at based on the merit of the submitted article and the double blind peer review process integral to academia and the advancement of knowledge. SAMPJ, and [editor Carol Adams] are proud members of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and adhere to the highest ethical standards in publishing.

We see no evidence that the decision of Major Revision was politically motivated.

Emerald requested the author correct their blog post to reflect the facts. This request was unfortunately ignored. The post continues to imply the paper was rejected because it was deemed too controversial. The paper was not rejected, and was given a Major Revision due to the rigorous standards of the scholarly output of the journal.

This should be enough to reject the paper on the spot and read no further. It's not written according to academic standards. The author has not vetted his cites for scientific credibility. But many do read on and so I feel I need to debunk it's main claims.

I’ll quote from Rupert Read, philosopher, spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, and colleague of Jem Bendell:

Given a reduction in the reflection of the Sun’s rays from the surface of white ice, an ice-free Arctic is predicted to increase warming globally by a substantial degree. Writing in 2014, scientists calculated this change is already equivalent to 25% of the direct forcing of temperature increase from CO2 during the past 30 years (Pistone et al, 2014). That means we could remove a quarter of the cumulative CO2 emissions of the last three decades and it would already be outweighed by the loss of the reflective power of Arctic sea ice.

His article is here, where he largely supports Jem Bendell - but claims not to be a catastrophist because he thinks there is a chance we don’t head to catastrophe:

After the IPCC report, #climatereality

He continues:

The situation is particularly grim in the Arctic. The albedo loss there is highly disturbing, threatening in itself to blow the IPCC scenarios away, as Jem details.

This map shows the change in total solar energy input from 2000 to 2012 where red and orange means it got more solar energy input, and blue and green means it got less:

“Change in total solar energy input from 2000 to 2012 as measured by the CERES dataset” Units: watts per square meter per decade

Arctic albedo changes are small compared with changes in cloud cover in the tropics

There you can see that the Arctic did have a big increase in solar flux. But at the same time some areas, especially in the Pacific had major decreases in solar flux shown in blue. Presumably they are becoming more cloudy in the warming world.

Averaged over the whole world the changing albedo since then has lead to a reduction in the global flux by 0.14 watts per square meter. Most of that reduction is in the southern hemisphere (reduction of 0.26 watts per square meter average). However even the northern hemisphere has had a net reduction in the solar flux (reduction of 0.03 watts per square meter). The increasing cloudiness elsewhere has more than compensated for the Arctic albedo effect.

So, it is not a valid way to argue, to say that an increase in solar flux over a small region in the Arctic should be averaged out as a global increase. This is an example of a scientist who ignores this global averaging process.

The climate models do not find any tipping point. It's neither irreversible nor does it take us into a new state of the climate, instead if temperatures overshoot and then come back down the ice will return to its previous extent

The IPCC say in chapter 3 (in the 2018 report on the difference between a 2 C and 1.5 C rise):

"Sea ice is often cited as a tipping point in the climate system. Detailed modelling of sea ice, however, suggests that summer sea ice can return within a few years after its artificial removal for climates in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Further studies modelled the removal of sea ice by raising CO2 concentrations and studied subsequent regrowth by lowering CO2. These studies suggest that changes in Arctic sea ice are neither irreversible nor exhibit bifurcation behaviour. It is therefore plausible that the extent of Arctic sea ice may quickly re-equilibrate to the end-of-century climate under an overshoot scenario. " Sea Ice

Rupert Read continues:

And above all there is the methane time-bomb. If that gets unleashed — if the staggeringly vast amounts of methane buried below now-thinning ice and ‘permafrost’ (sic) start to get liberated — then we will be not looking ‘only’ at the end of human civilisation, but at the possible extinction of humanity and of most animals: Dragon Watch - Reef To Rainforest Media, LLC | CORAL Magazine | Microcosm Publishing . Perhaps within a decade.

Deep adaptation puts it like this:

The debate about methane release from clathrate forms, or frozen methanehydrates, on the Arctic sea floor is even more contentious. In 2010 a group of scientists published a study that warned how the warming of the Arctic could lead to a speed and scale of methane release that would be catastrophic to life on earth through atmospheric heating of over 5 degrees within just a few years of such a release (Shakhova et al, 2010). The study triggered a fierce debate, much of which was ill considered, perhaps understandable given the shocking implications of this information (Ahmed, 2013).

How is a 10 C warmer world meant to make humans extinct anyway?

Even if you thought civilization would collapse and we’d lose our technology (and there is nothing in the IPCC reports about that), this idea doesn’t work.

With business as usual, burning fossil fuels at current rates, amd with no carbon sequestration all the way through to 2200, it takes until around 3000 for all the ice in Greenland to melt.

How long does it take for the Greenland ice to melt completely?

With primitive tools, humans can survive even in the Kalahari, and that we can live on almost anything - for instance shellfish were the stable for early humans in the upper latitudes.

How is this a world which is beyond the limit of human survival?

But this is out of date science. He cites a blog post from 2016 there.

That methane bomb / clathrate gun hypothesis is effectively disproved now. This is my summary of the most recent major reviews on the topic:

In December 2016, a major literature review by the 2107 USGS Hydrates project concluded that evidence is lacking for the original hypothesis[5]. In 2017, the Royal Society review came to a similar conclusion that there is a relatively limited role for climate feedback from dissociation of the methane clathrates[6].

The 2018 Annual Review of Environment and Resources on Methane and Global Environmental Change concluded that "Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that catastrophic, widespread dissociation of marine clathrates will be triggered by continued climate warming at contemporary rates (0.2◦C per decade) during the twenty-first century".[7] In 2018, the CAGE research group (Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate) came to a much stronger conclusion when they published evidence that the methane clathrates formed over 6 million years ago and have been slowly releasing methane for 2 million years independent of warm or cold climate, rather than releasing methane only recently as had previously been thought[8].

The 2019 report on Ocean and Cryosphere came to a similar conclusion. It found that on the most extreme methane emissions scenario, reductions in anthropogenic sources can help mitigate natural increases in emissions of methane from all sources.[9]. They cite a paper by Christansen et al (2019) which concluded that with a committed global effort to reduce anthropogenic emissions has far more effect on climate change than natural increases in emissions from even the extreme methane emissions scenario. [10]

See my

The IPCC 2019 Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate mentions recent reports of an estimated increase of natural methane by 10 to 60 Tg a year

Furthermore, most models described above do not include many of the abrupt thaw processes that can result in lake expansion, wetland formation, and massive erosion and exposure to decomposition of previously frozen carbon-rich permafrost, leading to medium confidence in future model projections of methane. Recent studies that addressed some of these landscape controls over future emissions projected increases in methane above the current levels on the order 10-60 Tg CH4yr-1 under RCP8.5 by 2100

However the range is so great that some of the more detailed models suggest that if you include the effect of the land based permafrost changes, the Arctic could remain a net sink through to 2100. Some models predict a net sink even with high emissions scenarios.

Figure 3.11 Estimates of cumulative net soil carbon pool change for the northern circumpolar permafrost region by 2100 following moderate and high emission scenarios (e.g. RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 or equivalent).

The dates shown at the bottom or the dates the assessments were made or models run.

From the context of the previous paragraph I think this includes all the Arctic sources: “Methane from northern lakes, ponds, wetland ecosystems, and the shallow Arctic Ocean shelves

From section of the 2019 Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate

They cite a paper from 2019 in the last paragraph:

As with total carbon emissions, there is high confidence that mitigation of anthropogenic methane sources could help to dampen the impact of increased methane emissions from the Arctic and boreal regions (Christensen et al., 2019).

The paper is here:

These are the four scenarios they look at in that paper:

  • No change - Arctic emissions unaffected
  • Modest: Tundra increases markedly, rest unaffected (50 Tg a year)
  • Large: Tundra and lakes increase markedly, ocean emissions double (100 Tg a year)
  • Extreme: Tundra and lakes increase markedly, extreme increase in ocean emissions (150 Tg a year)

Current legislation emission (CLE) and maximum technically feasible reduction (MFR) scenarios for anthropogenic methane reduction

They comment that the extreme level is less likely with the maximum technically feasible reduction in anthropogenic methane levels.

Their conclusion is that if we keep to existing legislation on methane then even with no increase in natural emissions, methane levels almost double by 2100 from 1423 to 2842 ppb. With the maximum reduction of anthropogenic emissions levels decrease on all except the extreme natural emissions scenario and even the extreme case only increases it by 42% over the case of no change in natural emissions, increasing it to just a little over present day levels.

So with a committed global effort to offset methane emissions we can compensate for just about all the effect of any increase in natural emissions, even with the extreme scenario, and reducing anthropogenic emissions has far more effect on climate change than even the extreme scenario.

More details in:

From the paper:

Currently, I have chosen to interpret the information as indicating inevitable collapse, probable catastrophe and possible extinction. There is a growing community of people who conclude we face inevitable human extinction and treat that view as a prerequisite for meaningful discussions about the implications for our lives right now. Forinstance, there are thousands of people on Facebook groups who believe human extinction is near. In such groups I have witnessed how people who doubt extinction is either inevitable or coming soon are disparaged by someparticipants for being weak and deluded.

Sadly I have encountered these people myself.

If you ask them to provide a cite, then apart from “Deep Adaptation” they have nothing.

I hope this is enough so that you can see that “Deep Adaptation” is not credible as a source.

Yet it is so widely treated as if it was of the most utmost reliability. The BBC is an example. They have several articles about how psychiatrists are helping people to cope with eco-anxiety based on this paper, for instance:

All they say about it is

"Meanwhile, an academic paper on climate change - that is so grim it apparently resulted in people going to therapy - has gone viral, with some reports suggesting it has been downloaded more than 110,000 times."

And, it seems, some people are indeed panicking, but, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issue and mindful of their position as just one person on a planet of billions, they feel powerless. This has led to the phenomenon of ‘eco-anxiety’, described by Psychology Today as “a fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting an increasing number of individuals who worry about the environmental crisis”.

This is one of a series of articles by the BBC covering the work of psychologists who are influenced by this junk sociology / junk climate science preprint that has never been able to pass peer review.

Climate Emotions

This article is part of our Climate Emotions series. Climate change is harming the planet, and it may be harming our mental health too.

From fear and anxiety to hope and healing, this series examines our complex responses to climate change, and how those responses will shape our ability to deal with the environmental challenge we face.

They have another article like that here:

Yet Hickman insists that climate anxiety – like climate depression or climate rageisn’t a pathology. It’s a reasonable and healthy response to an existential threat. “I’d kind of wonder why somebody wasn’t feeling anxious,” she says.

So the first step is to acknowledge the validity of these feelings. The job of a climate psychologist is then to ask: “How can we support you to make this part of your life and not all of your life?”

This is true even for extreme feelings. Hickman has counselled parents who fantasise about killing their children, out of fear of the climate-ravaged future.


The parents who confess these dark thoughts to her aren’t actually going to act on them, she believes, and it’s important for them to have a safe, shame-free mental space to express the depth of their anxiety. Psychotherapy and other psychology tools can help people become more comfortable with the uncertainty that is inevitable when it comes to climate change.

The work of Hickman, a member of the Climate Psychology Alliance, is influenced by the idea of “deep adaptation”. The concept is controversial among some climate scientists and psychologists for positing that societal collapse is inevitable. (This has driven some readers of an infamous, and influential, deep adaptation paper to move to the countryside and to visit therapists like Hickman.)

… One of the takeaways is that just presenting facts about climate change isn’t as helpful as encouraging people to reflect on that information, including any discomfort they might feel.

How to avoid being paralysed by climate anxiety

These psychologists are encouraging their patients to cope with their false beliefs, instead of helping them to challenge false beliefs.

This talk may help you if you are thinking about how to motivate both yourself and others, and also governments, to act on climate change:

(click to watch on Youtube)

The biggest obstacle to dealing with climate disruptions lies between your ears, says psychologist and economist Per Espen Stokes. He's spent years studying the defenses we use to avoid thinking about the demise of our planet -- and figuring out a new way of talking about global warming that keeps us from shutting down. Step away from the doomsday narratives and learn how to make caring for the earth feel personable, do-able and empowering with this fun, informative talk.


Climate change is real and serious. But we need to look to the science itself and examine it carefully before we do the sociology.

Current pledges are sufficient to stay within 2.9 C average, range 2.3 to 3.7 C. Some are underachieving but some are over achieving. We can increase on this target with each round of pledges in 2020, 2025, 2030 etc

How well are countries doing with their 2015 Paris pledges?

There are people in social sciences who work with the climate scientists. The IPBES report is a great example of this synthesis of the social sciences and the physical sciences working together. It was 33% social sciences.


See also


If you see any mistakes in this however small, or have any suggestions or questions, be sure to comment below, thanks!

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