The Adapters Movement, in summary

Adapt in place, live in the here and now, and truly make the world a better place whether times are good or . . .

This post summarizes the defining features of ‘The Adapters Movement’. I hope this post fills a gap, offering a healthy framework to respond to the critical time we are living in. As it becomes clearer that many systems we rely on will not suffice or survive in the future, I hope this and similar movements will serve as popular and robust alternatives to inaction or to isolationist (and sometimes extremist) forms of preparedness and survivalism. Let us lessen, not worsen, inevitable harm.

This movement was first introduced to me in the form of a long, winding post by a widely appreciated blogger Ross Raven aka Category5 on C5 Defines The Adapters Movement – Acceptance and Triage. Permies is the world’s largest permaculture forum (or so I’ve heard from them), and this Permies post was being discussed in an online community of the Deep Adaptation movement (which I introduce below).

I read the long thread introducing The Adapters Movement over a few days, and I found a lot of gems in it, representing the best of the ‘prepper’ and ‘survivalist’ movements, while explicitly revising many of those movements’ most off-putting and self-destructive problems. To help make the Adapters movement more accessible, I am sharing this relatively-short write-up introducing it and outlining its key themes. A heads up about what’s ahead: This post prints as four pages, which is much shorter than the many essay-length posts in the original thread that this intends to summarize.

A little more context. This ‘Adapters Movement’ fits the wisdom of Deep Adaptation well. Here is Deep Adaptation in a nut shell: Many systems we rely on (e.g. food, housing, medicine, water, wood, ‘waste’, wildlife, social systems) are in the process of collapsing and some will fail. Human extinction is possible but not probable, and so we need to adapt to minimize harm. The way to adapt, according to the Deep Adaptation movement, can be summarized with the “Four R’s framework for inquiry“:

  • Relinquish what we need to stop to avoid more harm
  • Resilience is a priority for what we have that we need to preserve
  • Restore what we need from the past to live in ways that remedy and reduce harm
  • Reconcile relationships to remedy and reduce harm

With that introduction, here is a summary of key points I took from that long Adapters movement post linked to above. I hope this helps inspire and clarify paths forward that are well adapted to grow bright, solarpunk futures out of collapse and change.

What are the key features and guiding principles that make someone an “adapter”, as distinct from a “prepper” or “survivalist”?

  • Acceptance: It is what it is. We are where we’re at. Observe and accept, and try the best next step. This also pertains to level of ability, accepting our strengths and weaknesses and the need to work together.
  • Location considerations
    • Self-sufficiency is a myth. Nobody does it, and even when you do, it can be lost in an instant!
    • Adapting will not cure your existential angst. Wherever you go, there you are…
    • Make food first again. This is what life’s about: Good food and clean water!
    • Grow it and they will come. Many hands are needed but not available, first do what you can for yourself and do it very visibly, then others will know they can join forces with you.
    • Openness and accountability. Don’t be secret squirrel, be dancing guy and leading-followers, see funny video on leadership below.
  • Build social capital. We need each other. Trust and relationships make life. Respect one another.
  • Triage: Distinguish between what can be saved, what cannot be saved, what needs no saving; work as a group to overcome trauma, as in the scenario of an overwhelmed life boat. Emergency management!
    • Don’t be a dick! Etiquette communicates respect, de-escalate, build inclusion and cohesion. It saves lives.
    • Don’t blame anyone but yourself for not adapting. Live in the moment, not a future scenario. To survive, you must be connected with land for food (directly or through some resilient relationships with land & life), access to water, and fuel if in cold climates.
  • Collapse now and avoid the rush! We are here, here we are. Live today as time to adapt. The smooth & steadier, the better, and so we adapt to energy descent and alternative systems as soon as possible. “If I can’t do something now – like eat a ton of radishes, or maintain my tools , or form a community, or chop fodder for my ducks – I sure wouldn’t be able to do so when life gets nuts!”

Focus. What concerns does the average “survivalist” vs. “adapter” dedicate attention, energy, and materials to? Survivalists might focus a lot on acute crises, such as nuclear catastrophes, sudden and complete economic and social collapse, bio- or chemical- terrorism. These are fairly extreme events, with somewhat slim but severe possibility, yet only a finite amount one can do about it. It can be reasonable to prepare for acute disasters, and governments often recommend some measures, as with FEMA preparedness outreach and nuclear power plant emergency preparations in the US. Adapters also recognize and accept those hazards, but the focus of adapters would be much more on the closer-to-home and closer-to-current emergency management. For example, resilient systems for them and their neighbors to access organic, healthy food, even in economic downturns and well adapted to the inevitable need to relocate climate refugees. Some of the same preparations are done by folks following an Adapter or a survivalist philosophy, but for Adapters the focus and motives are likely both more present and more long-term minded simultaneously.

Openness and accountability is very different than the “secret squirrel” mentality of survivalists, who hide their efforts and intentions lest others prey on their preparedness. To support the importance of openness, the Adapters Movement originator shared this comedic and clarifying video. Let’s lead the way to a solarpunk world we want for us and future generations.

The author who first suggested the Adapters movement, as an alternative to prepping or ignoring the world’s transformations, noted a few concepts to support the movement. These are summarized with additional interpretation below.

Four unavoidable disasters:

  • Climate Chaos
  • Economic Contraction and Dependence
  • Resource Depletion (fossil fuels, potash, copper, rare earths, aquifers, pollinators)
  • Social Destabilization (dissolution of family units, decaying tolerance with decreasing sense of abundance – also stages of response to terminally ill society: denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance)

Change is processed through 3 phases:

  • ridicule
  • violent opposition
  • acceptance as self-evident

Safe places are those that are currently and will continue to be:

  • well above sea level
  • not at the top of a bluff overlooking the sea that is being gradually eroded away
  • not situated so as to take the full brunt of tropical storms
  • not in the floodplain of a river
  • not in a desert or semi-desert that relies on water from fossil aquifers that are being depleted faster than they are replenished or rivers fed by glacial melt water
  • not subject to hot season temperatures or heat waves that are not survivable if the power goes out or you can’t afford air conditioning
  • receiving enough rain to allow for agriculture
  • with a growing season and soil that will support agriculture
  • avoid any place with a dam upstream or heavy industry that use chemicals, upstream of your water supply
  • not too isolated; weave a web of good relations

Rural areas that are very habitable exist:

  •    adequate energy can be had locally in the form of firewood which can be cut by hand
  •    potable water can be accessed from already existing wells that can be converted to hand or wind driven pumps and surface water that can be used with fairly simple filtration or treatment
  •    sufficient food for the local population can be grown on existing farmland within walking distance of town, without fossil fuel powered machinery
  • “When I speak of rural areas, let me make it clear that I am talking about small towns of a few hundred to a few thousand people, surrounded by farmland, not isolated farmsteads. It will take more than a single family or two to make this work. Indeed isolation is one of the most debilitating conditions that you can find yourself in as a human being.

In my own digestion of this, I also recognize the importance of relocating many people (essentially refugees of climate change and systems collapse) to more habitable places. We need to adapt in an open/visible and inclusive way to support a cohesive mesh of good relations and cooperative lifeways. Energy descent is a necessity, and we need a diversity of alternative systems up and running and ready to scale as needed to meet basic human needs.

Here is another summary of the Adapters movement, offered by Nicole Alderman, a staff-member who peer-reviewed the original Adapters post:

Adaption is for me:

       Using what resources I have available NOW (gas, electricity, TIME) to set up systems that are more easily sustainable/ For example:

       Building garden beds NOW. Those things take time to become productive, and they’re a big pain to make in a rush. If you sheet mulch and start the bed now, it doesn’t take nearly as much time, and you get a better product

       Scrounging for fencing and investing in galvanized fencing now. Durable, predator-proof fencing is hard to make in a hurry!..Figuring out how/where/why/what to scrounge

       Getting all those plants that multiply now, so that in 5 years my place is taken over by sorrel and strawberries and chives and other edible things.

       Insulating the house/adding more mass to the house, etc.

   Taking the time NOW to meet my neighbors and become friends and form bonds. Time is at a premium when life gets hard. Use it now while you have it!

       Changing my perspective. Thinking about what I NEED and getting in the habit of not wanting so much. Big, forced changes are HARD.

       Start eating what you can grow, and figure out what foods you like to eat and how to grow them. If you plant tons of daikon radishes, and they grow great and are pest resistant, but you can’t stand to eat them, then you really shouldn’t plan on surviving on them.

       Get used to driving less. Get used to waiting longer before you can buy something

       Learn to work hard now. Get used to spending all day working your tail off and not having time to watch netflicks.

   Start living without your wants. You may want to sleep in but don’t need to. You may want to buy your kids lots of toys, but you don’t need to. You might want to eat out or go for drives, but you don’t need to. At some point, you might not be able to do those things–if you’re used to going without them by choice, it’ll be easier when you DON’T have the choice.

       Everything takes MORE time when life gets hard. The end of the world isn’t playing boardgames inside to pass the time because there’s no electricity. It’s more like all your worst days put together: you get sick, you have less money, more bills, the weather is worse and more crops fail, your kids are screaming, you can and you have NO time to juggle all the balls you NEED to juggle, let alone time to learn those skills you hoarded books for. Get good at things now, because you’re not going to have time to do so when life goes nuts.

       See my thread (The reality of homesteading has dissolved my “prepper”/homesteading fantasies, where I learned that if I can’t do something now, like eat a ton of radishes, or maintain my tools , or form a community, or chop fodder for my ducks), I sure wouldn’t be able to do so when life gets nuts!

   Learn skills and get good at them now, so they are second nature and you get most of the kinks out before your life really depends on it. Figure out gardening, figure out raising lifestock, figure out mending and building, etc. Get past the worst of those learning curves–those can be steep!

   Use less. Reuse more. Our world is so wasteful. It’s ingrained in us to use more reseouces than our world can sustain. Make your life more “closed system” where you don’t need as many outputs and can reuse more of what you do have

   Help as many people move up the “Eco-scale” and be less wasteful, grow more food, and gain more skills. Why do you think I write?”

Nicole Alderman on

Nicole also adds about the importance of teaching Adaptation techniques to children, as they will be the ones inheriting this new world, and much of what we will be building is multi-generational in nature. We don’t plant an Oak Tree for ourselves. We do it so the survivors have acorns.

One way I like to think about it is: ‘Live like it’s the end of the world, because in many ways it kind of is almost there!’ For me, this is a really helpful mentality. I always liked dystopian novels. Now I can just think of myself as a character in one of those novels, and it’s suddenly more epic to be maintaining my tools or eating squash I grew!

Nicole Alderman on

So there you have it. An introduction and summary of some views on the Adapters movement. I see this framework as better than survivalism and prepping for various reasons, and better than being unprepared and maladapted for the present and changes to come. Deep Adaptation and the Adapters movement both offer principles and commonalities people can come together around, to the extent able, to… Adapt in place, live in the here and now, and truly make the world a better place whether times are good or times are bad.

What do you think?