Monthly Archives: June 2019

Climate Change in CA: successful adaptive transformation

Maybe it was the holiday strikes of 2019, when the kids walked out, telling their parents and the world that they had nothing to be thankful for and what they wanted for Christmas was a planet they could live on.  Or maybe it was the unbearable hot, smoky August and September and October and the pictures of that fire raging through that school. Maybe the politicians finally listened to the polls saying that Californians were desperate to address climate change. But there were no real protests when Governor Newsom declared a statewide emergency and unveiled his shocking climate plan. People were prepared by the analogy to the WWII homefront, and were ready to do their part the way their grandparents did. It would take the rest of the decade to ramp up, but by the last few years, the benefits were already paying off.

Starting instantly

The State stopped making it worse. Oil and gas extraction ended on Day 1. (When the oil companies sued for takings, the State seized their properties and CARB instituted a retroactive carbon absorption fee for California’s atmosphere.)  Permitting for development in floodplains, wildfire areas and on the coast was immediately halted and cities that weren’t creating new dense housing lost their land use authority. The State imposed shocking gas taxes, and returned the proceeds to the poorest half of Californians. The ag districts in the SWP were immediately shut down, as were any dairies with more than a couple hundred cows.

Major research programs were begun.  Google and Facebook began a program to create carbon budgets for every person, measured and traded by phone. The weapons industry was told to do something useful for a change, and develop carbonless aviation and shipping.

Years 0-3

California immediately designated five new future UC campuses, in Visalia, Redding, Camp Roberts, Ventura and Fresno. It began building out residences for 40,000 people at each new campus. For the first decade, however, the future campuses would house refugees who wanted to earn California citizenship by doing four years of paid climate labor.

The potential work was endless. Fighting fires. Installing solar panels. Planting urban trees. Building housing. Installing cooling centers and pools. Clearing dead trees in the Sierras.  Building up sheep and goat grazing stocks to clear fire fuels. Moving levees back from rivers; restoring riparian habitats. Restoring tule marsh in the Delta, island by island. Building high speed rail. California was lucky to absorb tens of thousands of refugees and their families each year, willing to work for pay, education and state citizenship.

These early years felt hard. The hits kept coming: the heat waves, the fires, the drought. The disruption of construction on every block. People scrambled as long commutes became too expensive, but new housing close to work wasn’t built yet. The Olds hated the changes, talked about how everything used to be cheaper. The Youngs, though, just felt relieved that maybe they had a chance.

Years 4-7

By years 4 and 5, the building spree was beginning to pay off. Dorms and family housing at the five new campuses were nearly complete; the academic buildings were starting to go up. Throughout the state, the ex-urban fringes were emptying out, moving into town. People talked about their old commutes like a horror movie. Electricity from renewables, at least, was cheap and plentiful. People were adjusting to their personal carbon budgets, clamoring for the app to recognize the carbon sequestration in their backyard compost. The first group of refugees finished their four years of service.  Many stayed on, working the jobs they knew, in the places they had built. Others moved throughout the state, glad that they had had a stable transition. There were always more coming behind, hoping to fill their spaces.

The habitat work continued, led by Tribes, building on itself.  California set up a food security regime, creating an agricultural zone on three million acres of its best soils and most robust water sources, growing food for direct human consumption. CA would ensure this land would get water in the driest years. Other previous ag land was transitioned to sequestering carbon or solar power.

It was about year 6 that people started to notice that things had stopped getting worse every year. They had heatwaves, but everyone could get to cold water to cool off and mostly everyone had air conditioning powered by solar. In year 6, instead of losing an additional town to fire every year, CA lost no towns to fire. The fuels management, grazing and intentional burns, and the new building codes were starting to catch up. By good luck (and good choices when the project was selected) when the flood came, it was held within the new setback levees, where it sat, recharging groundwater for six months into the summer.  (The mosquitos were horrendous, but it was better than being washed away.)

Years 8-10

The carbon sequestration/habitat restoration projects were really starting to settle in and complexify.  People began to accept that they were the work of many lifetimes, and each of the new UCs had departments dedicated to the study of local restoration. Even these newly restored habitats were doing their jobs; seagrasses were reversing beach erosion and softening waves. Soils were re-gaining their organic content and holding more water; rivers were finding their old meanders and re-connecting to groundwater. The State proudly displayed their ticker of Total Carbon Sequestered on all of their websites.

The unceasing urban building boom in the most robust areas was finally catching up to demand. Housing was affordable, if smaller than before, and there were vacancies for incoming climate refugees.  All urban power had been renewable for a couple years.  The newly dense cities were also growing niche enterprises and becoming intricate. The trees planted ten years ago were starting to give useful shade. Micro-sequestration was the gardening fad. The State kept its promise and turned all five campuses into U.C.’s; tuition was free to all who had helped build them.

The upfront costs had been staggering, but by the end of the decade, they looked like a good investment. The news was no longer a weekly bludgeon of natural disasters. In fact, there was a steady stream of stories about species saved from the brink of extinction. Californians didn’t cough through smoke for two months in the Fall; the costs of fire management had leveled off. The Big Flood hadn’t incurred any response expenses; it had become an asset. The states who hadn’t prepared were now desperately asking for federal emergency money, but that had been long overwhelmed.

Mostly, people were used to it. The Olds resented how expensive meat and wine had gotten and missed their cars. But some found the low-carbon lifestyle familiar. It reminded them of a time with less stuff but better neighborhood life. The Youngs were used to living in dense cities; happy they could own their own place.  Their kids ran free in carless streets. A huge portion of their cohort had been part of the restoration projects and were forever attached to the trees, grasses and sea marshes they had planted. The worldwide need was still desperate, but California had shown people what could be done with a population willing to fight the emergency on every front.

UPDATE: This is bad form for a blog, but I am still tinkering with the post. If you think you notice small changes, you are likely right.

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Deep Adaptation: Framing After Denial

This section is as good as the rest of the paper and you should totally read it. But it is too sad for me to write about here.  I can hope that Dr. Bendell has noticed something universal when he writes (on this other page):

…I have found that inviting them to consider collapse as inevitable, catastrophe as probable and extinction as possible, has not led to apathy or depression. Instead … I have witnessed a shedding of concern for conforming to the status quo, and a new creativity about what to focus on going forward.

That would be nice.

Will continue with Agenda, Research Futures and Conclusions in good time.  I’d like to finish this paper, because now that you’re all back, I have new blog themes (within CA water, of course) for us to contemplate.

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Deep Adaptation: Systems of Denial, interpretive and implicative denial.

On a different page than any I have mentioned before, Dr. Bendell writes:

Some scholarship has looked at the process of denial more closely. Drawing on sociologist Stanley Cohen, Foster (2015) identifies two subtle forms of denial – interpretative and implicative. If we accept certain facts but interpret them in a way that makes them “safer” to our personal psychology, it is a form of “interpretative denial”. If we recognise the troubling implications of these facts but respond by busying ourselves on activities that do not arise from a full assessment of the situation, then that is “implicative denial”. Foster argues that implicative denial is rife within the environmental movement, from dipping into a local Transition Towns initiative, signing online petitions, or renouncing flying, there are endless ways for people to be “doing something” without seriously confronting the reality of climate change.

I am not going to do anything radical, like go read Foster (2015). That is not the blogging way. But I will latch on to the concept of ‘implicative denial.’ Because that shit is real.

To the extent that people take their cues from what official California is doing, when the State is dicking around instead of facing hard things, the implicative denial is contagious.  This is why it was (and is) so pernicious that the State Board wouldn’t ban new plantings of orchards during the drought years. They were telling us all that it was serious enough for every one of us to undertake moderate hassle, but their actions conveyed that it wasn’t serious enough for them to avert new, consistent, decades-long new water demand*. When people get two conflicting messages about how seriously to take the drought, denial will urge them to the weaker message.

Implicative denial also explains my impatience with each administration setting up a new water philosophy (CALFED, co-equal, portfolio, multi-benefit).  Seriously? Defining that and then working on a framework, performance measures, indices, alignment and re-org?  That’s what you are doing with your time? Now? In this era? Here, folks.  Here’s your resilience portfolio:

  • Zone 2M irrigated acres to feed CA vegetable calories; make sure they get water every year. Set additional 1M acre increments to get water depending on the water year. Work from east to west in the Valley. Turn the entire Delta to sequestering carbon. (ag)
  • Set instream flows 70% of unimpaired flows in every river. (enviro)
  • Set 55gppd for every person’s personal water use. Source those as close to the use as possible. Pay the staggering costs of replacing our aged-out infrastructure. (urban)
  • Get us out of the NFIP, set up new CFID to get people priced out of floodplains, pay for setback levees. (flood)
  • Supplement CIMIS with a new whole-state, public access remote sensing tool (data)

There.  That would get you 90% of the way to resilience until society collapses in my lifetime for thirty years. Now you can stop dithering over what the portfolio really means and start doing the necessary work.  In Water, Jerry Brown wasted his two terms. We do not have time for another administration to waste on implicative denial.

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Deep Adaptation: Systems of Denial, “four particular insights”.

Systems of Denial was one of my favorite sections of Bendell’s Deep Adaptation paper.  I can’t improve on it, but I can apply it to CA water politics. Again, I have to assume you have the paper to hand; I can’t provide much of it here. I’ll start by looking at his four insights about what happens when we communicate the state of the climate. (Last full paragraph of some page.)

Insight 1: I read this aspect of denial as a way of refusing to acknowledge the extent of how bad it is becoming. We’ve seen the greatest expression of this in the water dinosaurs, who believe that we should build new dams, because if you put concrete across a river, it is necessarily true that new water will arrive to fill it. Fortunately, that mindset is dying out, now largely held by a sidelined bunch of old cranks. But the truth (even if we don’t include near-term societal collapse) hasn’t sunk in either. From here on out, we will steadily have fewer water resources than we have had.  It will cost a whole lot of money to adjust our infrastructure just to provide what we have now. We will have disasters that knock out something we need and love, and will limp along without it afterwards. All of our modeling and future scenarios should reflect that. For example, it is no longer a good idea to do robust decision making because even if things turn out well, the robust choices are still the good ones!happyface! We can skip that part and do the robust choices because we know it will not turn out well. The uncertainty has closed; we can quit modeling the mild climate change future scenarios.  That level of acceptance hasn’t sunk in yet through agency practices; reports that do not support techno-optimism are released quietly, if at all.

Insight 2: Dr. Bendell writes

Second, bad news and extreme scenarios impact on human psychology. We sometimes overlook that the question of how they impact is a matter for informed discussion that can draw upon psychology and communications theories. … That serious scholars or activists would make a claim about impacts of communication without specific theory or evidence suggests that they are not actually motivated to know the effect on the public but are attracted to a certain argument that explains their view.

I cannot tell you how desperately the agencies need in house social scientists. Apparently, I am genuinely unable tell you that, because I have tried three times before with no success. Perhaps in 2030, I will make another plea for in house social scientists.

Insight 3: 

A third insight from the debates about whether to publish information on the probable collapse of our societies is that sometimes people can express a paternalistic relationship between themselves as environmental experts and other people whom they categorise as “the public”. That is related to the non-populist anti-politics technocratic attitude that has pervaded contemporary environmentalism. It is a perspective that frames the challenges as one of encouraging people to try harder to be nicer and better rather than coming together in solidarity to either undermine or overthrow a system that demands we participate in environmental degradation. (emphasis mine)

This was pervasive during the recent drought. So much bullshit about residential water conservation, imposing extensive mental burdens and chores on nearly every Californian.  Infinite praise for their altruistic response! All so they don’t look over at our unimaginably stupid water rights system and think, ‘the fuck?’ I said during the drought and I’ll say it again: one day 99.9% of Californians are going to realize they could revise water rights instead of carrying their  shower water out to their roses one more time, and that day cannot come soon enough.

Insight 4: I liked this discussion of despair and the appropriate role of hope when it really actually is this bad. Bendell is right to mention looking to cultures that have experienced collapse to see what might work.  Mary Annaise Heglar is even more thorough and convincing. I do hope that there is transformation and openness to new ways of life after despair. Since, you know, we will do the despairing part either way.

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