Deep Adaptation: Our Non-Linear World and Looking Ahead

I re-read World War Z over the weekend, which felt more like a soothing fairy tale about people doing extraordinary things to combat a visible menace that couldn’t be denied or ignored.  So addressable! Such a functional response!

Our Non-Linear World and Looking Ahead

I’m not going to discuss these two sections at length. I do have more to say about later sections.

On this one page, Prof. Bendell wrote:

IPCC … has a track record of significantly underestimating the pace of change

On some other page, he writes:

[R]eported impacts today are at the very worst end of predictions being made in the early 1990’s.

And on yet a different page that comes later, he writes:

The politically permissible scientific consensus is that we need to beneath 2 decrees warming. … That figure was agreed by governments that were dealing with … pressures from  vested interests, particularly corporations.

All the while detailing why the predictions we do have likely underestimate the danger.

The thing that strikes me is how the seriousness of climate change, already underestimated, then gets diluted down the chain of governmental layers. Although California’s 4th Climate Change Assessment is willing to predict large sea-level rise, the most the Coastal Commission requires is that local governments “consider” managed retreat from the coast.  The local governments “consider” managed retreat by promptly dismissing it, and go back to planning* for groins and beach replenishment.

For SGMA, DWR offers climate change guidance (presumably backed by the models with the limitations that Bendell describers). The GSA’s will choose a politically expedient middle ground which may or may not survive review by board members who do not value climate change science.

Although the models aren’t dire enough, and our emissions are outpacing the models, I also see dilution as each level of government walks back a little more from what would be required to face climate change.

Continue reading


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Deep Adaptation, first two sections

Introduction/Locating this Study Within Academia

Prof Bendell doesn’t number his pages, so his analysis is clearly inadequate and civilization will survive after all!  Therefore, I don’t have to wrestle with any implications, which is just as well, since they all suck and I don’t want to. The lack of page numbers is going to make referencing the article difficult.  I’m going to have to approach this by sections.

I have been surprisingly floored by this paper since I read it last week.  More grief and fear than I expected; wakeful nights.  I’ve been glibly cynical and pessimistic for years, but as it turns out, I do not want to do the tasks of grief for societal collapse.  The questions are too hard, and I keep slipping back into denial.  Which is super easy, because we are all doing that together and everything that is ongoing in my life is not about near-term unavertable collapse. But today I’ve read a few more of their papers and agree with them.

In his introduction, Prof. Bendell writes about why he is writing this paper.  He was struck that his review found no academic planning for the most likely outcome.  Rather, everything we see says ‘if humanity doesn’t do this complex and unselfish task on a scale never seen before, it will really be bad’.  Of course, there is no evidence that we will undertake a complex and unselfish task at any scale, so the likely outcome is the really bad one. But even though I thought I had realized it before, seeing that explicitly laid out without the ‘absent a miracle’ step was pretty painful.

I will also say, that none of you brought me any cheer at all.  Nope.  The lot of you, including my mother, were all “yeah, we know.  Gonna be terrible.”   So, I have been in grief and anger this past week, and also switching back the dailiness of our entire surroundings, which make the whole thing easy to ignore.  I’ve thought of a few selfish, white-privilege kind of plans to help my own kid.  But half of the despair is the returning feeling that nothing on a larger scale would work even if I did it.  I would do effective things in a heartbeat, but I cannot imagine what they are. (Do not inform me about green-motivated personal austerity.)

I do want to draw parallels from the failures of world-scale climate change dialogue to the failures of California-scale water dialogue.  Prof. Bendell writes, on some fucking page:

The … field of climate adapation is oriented around ways to maintain our current societies as they face manageable climactic perturbations.

Which looks to me a whole lot like every Californian administration’s water goal of “please, what we have now for just a while longer”.  Which, I am sorry to say, is all I can detect in Crowfoot’s “portfolio approach”.  Portfolio approach TO DO WHAT?  To supply the world with cheap snacks?  To provide clean drinking water to everyone?  To have thriving rivers?  To retire 3 million acres of irrigated ag with equity and dignity?  I can apply a portfolio approach to any of those. But I am worried that the Newsom administration will stick to the default, even as climate change hits us.

We are all doomed.


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Not light reading.

Everyone knows that when a blogger wishes to resuscitate a moribund blog, the best way to do that is by reading and commenting on a difficult text. I well remember the eager clicks and fervent commenting from our last reading of Unbundling Water Rights. For the next while, as I can bear it, I will be reading and commenting here on Prof. Jem Bendell’s paper Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy.  This paper lays out his thinking that ecologically-induced social collapse is imminent and unavertable.  I cannot find fault with his argument, nor do I see pockets of robustness that he has overlooked.  I have been heartbroken since I read it, as he knew his readers would be.

Back before 2012, I read a lot of post-apocalypse fiction.  Some were pretty good stories and I thought I had decent odds, post-apocalypse.  You have no reason to know this, but I have some mild actual skills unrelated to blogging.  Then some bad stuff happened, and I lost the western illusion that I was favored by chance and that stories all turn out well.  Then some other stuff happened and I felt horribly vulnerable and in deep need of society and complex economies the way we have them now, thank you.  It was several years before I was willing to return to post-apocalypse fiction. I’ve now read a few more, including the water-related ones.  My current preference is for Carrie Vaughn’s Bannerless series, partially because it describes the fall as piecewise and slow, with workable remnants. As I read Professor Bendell’s paper, I hope for that scenario.

I have noticed a theme in other fiction I’ve read in the past year.  I notice a streak of women committing satisfying, righteous but extrajudicial violence against asshole men.  I gotta say, it fills a need.  I just got caught up on a contemporary fantasy series, in which humans live in small enclaves in a world controlled by the usual monsters (werewolves, vampires) and much worse.  It was medium-good, but I kept reading.  In every book, the human wrongdoers ignore environmental rules and want to expand beyond their limits.  When they persist beyond one warning, they are immediately slaughtered and eaten.  Is it possible that I am so starved for accountability that I want to see environmental extractors dismembered and eaten at the onset of the second infraction, left in bloody scraps by extremely literal all-powerful monsters?  Yes!  Yes, it turns out!  I read all seven volumes of accountability porn.  I have not encountered that genre before, but I won’t be surprised to see more of it.

In the days to come, OtPR will go piecewise through Dr. Bendell’s  Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy, wishing it weren’t so persuasive.


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Gov. Newsom’s announcements today.

I assume you all saw the news; Governor Newsom declared that he will change the nature of the AroundDeltaWaterGo from two tunnels to one smaller tunnel. My thoughts:

  • It would be lovely if he also abandoned the fucking insipid branding efforts. We are neither children nor consumers to be fooled by CoolNames with internal capitals.  It is tedious to be forced to use them. I hope that era, started by Schwarzenegger and marked by the influx of PR staffers into appointed positions, can come to a quiet end.
  • Governor Brown went to quite a bit of effort to insulate his projects from the next administration.  It is administered by a JPA and they just selected the engineering firm for the design.  Governor Newsom may have less power to change the project now than he anticipates.  It isn’t only a state project run by his administration any more.
  • Governor Newsom’s interest in the Valley has held strong, even unto the second month of his administration.  He has a good understanding that there is a lot more to the Valley than ag; this may allow new political bargains with Valley residents who have been long neglected.
  • Looks to me like Gov. Newsom is leaning heavily on the PPIC’s body of work.  I’d be cool with that if they didn’t substitute economic analysis for moral values.
  • If Felicia Marcus is at leisure, it’d be wonderful to see her as DWR Director.


ADDED 2/14:

This morning, I realized why the branding felt so insulting.  I suspect that the concept of branding WaterFix and EcoRestore was pitched to Gov. Brown and while he was personally indifferent, he thought that perhaps we all would fall for it.  If my assumptions are accurate, it would be symptomatic of the contempt he felt for us all.

His contempt for us was evident, not just in the most famous example, but throughout this ACWA speech as well.  I had begun thinking that the reports of his genius were overblown, but whether they were or weren’t, the whole concept of ‘Jerry Brown’s special genius’ allowed what was fairly evident (his clear opinion that he made better decisions than the people of California) to go unremarked on.

I had been feeling unhappy about Gov. Brown for the last couple years of his term, but hadn’t teased this out yet.  But with him a month gone, I strongly notice the contrast.  It is a relief to have a governor who doesn’t feel open contempt for his own people (and, you know. Anyone he talks to.).  Gov. Brown seemed to have gotten the “known asshole” exemption.  That’s the one where everyone knows someone is an asshole (or, “irascible” or “blunt”, or “doesn’t like small talk”, or “genius”), so grants that person much more leeway to be an asshole.  But I think the world would be better off without that exemption, if we held known assholes to even stricter standards of behavior.  Besides which, only powerful men seem to get the known asshole exemption, and I am so fucking over powerful men taking license.



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Thank you, State Board

They did it! I am so relieved and pleased. I really worried that there would be political considerations that forced the bullshit voluntary settlements on them and once again, I would have to be giving my own allies the benefit of the doubt as they punt on something that very clearly needs doing. But they did it! They made a choice for living rivers, against turning public rivers into private money for the few. I wish it were more; I wish it were stronger. But it is such a wonderful step in the right direction that I am inspired again.

It has been hard to write when it is hard to believe that the side of the very basics, the obvious fundamentals will win out. Without optimism, I have not believed that we are capable of choosing anything over capitalism, even the very ecosystems we need to live. I am in a fair amount of despair over what we are leaving to our children. Frankly, I do not give western modernity good odds in the next couple decades. Part of why I haven’t written has been that I could only add bile and gloom; when I can’t add value, I try not to say anything.

But today I am delighted and inspired! In the face of an actual hard choice (as compared to some win-win bullshit), the State Board got it right. You know, it is time for the infinite number of Governor Brown retrospectives and of course, the discourse would be incomplete without mine on his water efforts.  He didn’t entirely align with my preferences, so naturally I’m tempted to think that little got done. But that isn’t the case. Far as I can tell, the State Board got revitalized and became wonderful. DWR got sucked into the vortex of Gov. Brown’s obsession with the Delta Tunnels and languished.

It wasn’t that long ago that I called the State Board a bunch of fearful twitchy wretches. And they were! But it has been a couple years since I’ve noticed that they are all hoppity now. They bound into meetings with a ton of ideas and energy and they look young. Honestly, in the Brown administration, the State Board has been like the American in Paris. They’ve gone from overwhelmed and scared in traffic to a fabulous jazzy finale. Felicia Marcus has been the face of that, but I imagine that she would share credit. Anyway, the State Board has a whole lot to be proud of. Not just last night’s work, but the internal transformation. (Re-listening, I can even hear the drought years in the American in Paris.)

Congratulations State Water Resources Control Board. Thank you. In addition to helping our rivers, you’ve revitalized at least me, and I suspect many more.


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A couple side thoughts about the Lower San Joaquin River flow objectives.

Members of the State Board, I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of arguments for and against the flow objectives.  I’ll add a couple more arguments in favor, hoping that I am not repeating the comments you’ve already heard.

  • I saw the rally outside the capital today.  There were a lot of people holding signs, saying that they depend on the status quo.  I point out that the rivers would have had a similar constituency had they not been destroyed and blocked off from the public.  If the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne were still living public rivers, there would be people who love them to rallying at the capital to urge you to protect them.  If the situation were reversed, if you were deciding whether to let the flow of the Russian River dwindle to 11 percent, or dry to muddy flats in the summer, you’d have everyone in Sonoma and Mendocino counties at rallies at the capital, telling you that their river is crucial to them.  Yes, there was a crowd at the capital today, speaking for diverting water to ag.  The other side is missing because their rivers are missing.  The people who remember those rivers still yearn for them.
  • If you believe that systemically returning flows to rivers for the sake of California’s ecosystems should be done, then I hope you also realize that this is your best chance to do it.  It is a weighty responsibility, and I know you take the opposing perspectives seriously.  (A lot more seriously than I would prefer, honestly.)  But this moment won’t necessarily come again if postponed.  After the administration changes, you could be just like the rest of us, sitting at a screen, wishing we could make things right, trying to find the right words to convince people with the authority you have right now to bring back our rivers.  Affirming the Lower San Joaquin River flows will earn you a longlasting reputation on both sides.  In the long run, I think you will be proud of wrenching Californian water onto a parallel track, where rivers live and private economic uses of water are checked.


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Have a great weekend!

In December 2016, I wrote:

Thought 3:  I am not sure that water policy will be the dominant force on CA agriculture this year.  Immigration and labor could be big.  But I’m looking hard at trade.  Trump seems to be going out of his way to offend China and India, who are large markets for tree nuts.  If Trump provokes a trade war, or a real war, with China, I’m thinking that this post of mine will seem prescient.  Almond orchards are all the same asset; holdings in tree nuts are not a diversified portfolio.  If there’s an overseas market bust, there will be an unbelievable surplus of harvested almonds, with more new orchards coming into bearing years.  Although the instream flow proposals are being touted as a terrible pressure on northern San Joaquin Valley economies, after a China/India trade bust, it may be that land prices collapse and easiest ways to get flows back in the river are to simply buy up abandoned almond orchards.

And today we get Indian tariffs on almonds.  This comes a month after the Chinese tariffs on almonds.  We should not be surprised if land prices for almond orchards collapse.  We should be considering how that land can be used next (rewilding) and who will bear the costs of cleaning up abandoned orchards.

It was always clear that Trump destroys everything he touches.  Californian growers may be blinding themselves to that, but the destruction he causes will come for them anyway.  He was never on ag’s side; he is a New York developer.  To the extent that agricultural voters chose him, they were choosing this.  If we escape the Trump presidency without a nuclear war, for the rest of my life, I will always boggle that he caused more damage to Nunes/almond growers/Valadao than my advocacy ever could.

UPDATE 6/28/18:  Naw. Valley Republicans are in thrall to Trump.  I never worry that the current version of Republicans will take sensible preventative measures that would avert a disaster for their constituents.


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