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.

*Hey! The Almond Nursery report came out today. 41,000 new acres of almonds in 2018 and 32,000 acres of replacement almonds in 2018. So that’s exciting.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Deep Adaptation: Systems of Denial, interpretive and implicative denial.

  1. Unfortunately, I don’t have the appropriate language, but I really think that the issue around denial is as much about social power as it is about denial. There are several ways to look at this. One is to look at who poured $1 billion/year into the climate denial movement, at least back in 2013 (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/meet-the-money-behind-the-climate-denial-movement-180948204/). Another way is to look at the question of who would lose under proposals to rationalize the water (or any) system, and to look at whether they have the social and economic power to prevent such a loss. I think that too often we put the blame on mass social failures of will, when a closer look suggests that a few people who profit off the current situation are spending vast amounts of money to keep it this way, against the will of the majority. That’s a very different problem, and I think we have enough data to distinguish between mass moral failure and corrupting influences.

    A third way to look at power is to look at good old peer pressure. Right now, the city I live in is built around the profligate use of oil, and most of my friends and family live here. If I really wanted to decarbonize, I’d have to leave my family, move somewhere else, and start a radical new life with almost no money–voluntarily go homeless, in other words. And I’m not that gutsy. Is this denial on my part? Cowardice? Would the world be better if everyone in California abandoned their homes and lived on the streets to decrease their carbon footprint? (the answer to this is obviously not, due to the burden of sanitation and supply of water and food, if nothing else). But that’s a form of power in itself. We humans are social animals, and that means groups have power over our lives. We may be living, not in denial, but battling despair, seeing the problems, but unable to do much about them.

  2. Pragmatic Ag Type

    Some of this seems doable, but 2 M irrigated acres (scalable in wet years) may not be compatible with 70% unimpaired flow in all rivers, even if one is moving east-to-west when prioritizing irrigated acreage. After all, the Eastside is still heavily dependent on the CVP.

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