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

  1. John Ragozzino

    And yet another great water year! Shasta and Oroville are a couple of feet from full!

  2. clew

    I don’t understand why the summers of carrying our graywater out to the roses don’t reinforce plans to improve the water rights system, etc. I thought our cranky primate selves were reliably sensitive to unfairness in the sense “someone else is getting something I don’t have”.

    • onthepublicrecord

      I think eventually, they will. But for the last drought, the plea was for altruism to get through the drought, rather than revolution against the system.

  3. Noel Park

    Another good example of looking at past collapsed civilizations and political systems is “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. The parallels to where we stand today as a nation and a world are striking. Another cautionary tale for those who can see past denial.

    As to dams, at risk of restating the obvious, “Cadillac Desert” by Marc Reisner has an excellent commentary on their futility. He chronicles how the Bureau of Reclamation, in its obsession to build ever more dams, built them on progressively less appropriate sites. Finally, one collapsed before it was even filled, wiping out a town downstream.

    My current favorite is Temperance Flat. As you point out, wishing for water to fill it will not make it happen. Credible hydrologic studies show that there will not be enough runoff in the San Joaquin River to ever fill it