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By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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The Loch Ness Monster and Climate Adaptation

Uploaded: Aug 30, 2020
I believed in the Loch Ness monster for an inordinately long time. I remember learning about it as a kid and thinking it was the coolest thing that there was still a living vestige of a dinosaur swimming around in a deep, cold lake somewhere. Who knew where else there might be one? Over the years there would be some news about it—I remember one article about a study using sonar to look for it—and I would pay attention if it seemed promising, and wonder what went wrong if they didn’t have much luck, and look forward to the next search. I figured that since it’s a big, dark lake, it’s going to be hard to find it, it will take a few tries. I mean, I saw the photo with my own eyes, it has to be there.

The years went by, and various killjoys would say how it can’t possibly exist, or it might be an eel, or … but I knew in my heart it was there and for whatever reason some people just didn’t want that to be true. I ignored them. Even ten(?) years ago I probably would have said there’s a 50-50 chance it’s really there.

I guess I’m less invested in the Loch Ness monster these days, but somehow I’ve come around to the fact that it’s probably (definitely?) not there. Just now, while writing this blog post, I learned that the one photo I always “knew” of as Nessie is a hoax. Argh! It’s kind of dispiriting, like a happy dream that vanishes when you wake up.

The point being… I am as susceptible as anyone to confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. Confirmation bias is when you pay more attention to information that confirms what you believe, and you disregard contradictory information. For example, I tended to read articles (or at least headlines) that held out hope of the monster’s existing, and didn’t read the bubble-bursting write ups that dismissed the idea. Motivated reasoning is where you are more critical of contradicting evidence than supporting evidence. For example, I questioned the comprehensiveness of the numerous expeditions to find the monster, but never doubted the provenance of the photo or wondered why there weren’t more recent ones. I was unconsciously fortifying my own beliefs. As Abhijit Banerjee and Esher Duflo write in Good Economics for Hard Times, “We look for evidence that we are right; we overweight every piece of news, however thin, that supports our original position, ignoring the rest. Over time, the instinctive defensive reaction we started from is replaced by a carefully constructed set of seemingly robust arguments.”

This is true across the political spectrum, and even among the most “open-minded” of us. Members of The Flat Earth Society tout themselves as “free thinkers” who promote the “intellectual exchange of ideas”. Is that free thinking or delusion? Similarly, when contrarians repeatedly take contrarian positions, it doesn’t mean they are more open-minded. Our tendency to reflexively fortify our own identity and beliefs, whether hastily formed or the result of decades of investment, is universal, and stronger with more emotional attachment. We pay more attention to what we want to hear.

I think that is partly why, as we experience increasingly severe wildfires, sea level rise, storms, heat waves, and more, we don’t think as much as we should about how we will adapt. Instead we concentrate on how we will get things back to normal. We are deeply attached to the places we live, the things we do, our traditions. It is wrenching to consider that our world is changing from global warming. Once we get past denial, we focus on how we will fight climate change and turn it around. But the difficult reality is that we also need to adapt. It is harder to accept, let alone get excited about. But nature keeps calling our attention to the warming that has already happened. It’s as if the water started to drain out of Loch Ness—it is harder to believe what we want to believe. Things won’t go back to the way they were. Climate change is here, and we need to adapt.

That is why I was so impressed to see a recent article about sea level rise in the New York Times. It describes how the US is starting to relocate entire neighborhoods that are subject to repeated flooding, overcoming years and sometimes decades of denial. So-called “managed retreat” is hard to come around to. We are facing similar issues in California in areas prone to fire or coastal flooding. A terrific article in the Los Angeles Times last year describes tense discussions in coastal California towns like Pacifica. Sea walls are destroying beaches and the supply of sand to replenish them is running low. The real estate market has begun to respond to the crumbling cliffs. What actions will our towns take?

Palo Alto is not immune; we are located right by the rising Bay. The city has done some work on sea level rise, but few seem to know or care about it. Palo Alto will be hosting a webinar on September 9 at 3pm. Where are we going to retreat, and where (and how) are we going to fortify? Where will we continue to develop and where will we have a moratorium? How much will it all cost and how will we fund it? And what will be happening elsewhere around the bay? I’d encourage you to turn some of your attention to adaptation and dial in. I will also report back on what I hear.

In the meantime, think about whether you have a “Loch Ness Monster” equivalent when it comes to climate change. What beliefs are you holding onto that are increasingly challenged? What have you come around to over time? I expect it’s going to be an on-going process...

Notes and References
1. Our desire for cognitive consonance is surprisingly powerful and universal. This study showed that 4-year-olds and even monkeys exhibit reasoning patterns designed to avoid cognitive dissonance. This NY Times article has a good overview of cognitive dissonance, and references this study.

Current Climate Data (July 2020)
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

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Posted by Tom, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Aug 30, 2020 at 11:31 am

Tom is a registered user.

Thanks for another provocative post, Sherry.
I was trained to look for cognitive bias in order to provide good unbiased advice. But I can admit to only very slowly awakening to the magnitude of the crisis and magnitude of the emissions reductions needed and the magnitude of the opportunity for new meaningful action.
When I first heard (in 2004?) the CA goal of 80% CO2 emissions reductions (by 2050) I thought there must be a typo. They must mean a reduction to 80%. That was my denial speaking.
But they were right. To stop the worsening of the soon to be terrible multi-pronged impacts of stifling the earth's ability to radiate excess heat, we will need to achieve zero net emissions. That's just physics, not ideology. And an 80% reduction is one milestone on the way to zeroing out more contribution to the problem.

Friends have made me look at the undeniable problem of sea level rise. Some tools are available here: Web Link
And it is frightening for my city of Menlo Park and yours of Palo Alto. These two cities need to demonstrate the transition to rapid reductions in emissions to inspire (or at least cooperate with) massive similar action worldwide to give sea walls a chance at allowing us to slow the sea's advance and our retreat to a society-preserving speed.
And because sea level rise is just the tip of the iceberg, there is much more at stake and action-time is upon us. Will we choose to rise to the occasion faster than the sea?

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 30, 2020 at 8:16 pm

neighbor is a registered user.

hi sherry

thanks again for your good words, including what you wrote last time about the cpau contributions to the methane gas lobby.

unfortunately (as you know) flooding is only one - tragically worsening - problem because of our ongoing pollution of the atmosphere. there's also wildfires. and hopefully i'm wrong, but won't famines and economic/political unrest/cruelty follow?

on a lighter note, i visited loch ness many years ago. i looked out and saw...only water. plus, the lake/loch isn't really all that large.

Posted by Victor Bishop, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Aug 30, 2020 at 8:18 pm

Victor Bishop is a registered user.

Post removed, off-topic. This should tell you how to contact the appropriate people: Web Link

Posted by Neal, a resident of Community Center,
on Sep 1, 2020 at 8:22 am

Neal is a registered user.

A perfect example of shortsightedness is the planned development of Treasure Island. San Francisco is in extreme denial.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Sep 1, 2020 at 11:47 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Tom & @neighbor: Yes, the ramifications of global warming are many and significant. We are getting a sense of that in California right now with the heat, fire, and drought. I thought the map of "vapor pressure deficit" above was interesting. Other parts of the country are seeing storms, sea level rise, agricultural issues, etc. These compound, draining our time/energy/finances, and you get migration on top of that, and conflict, and isolationism, and it's a cauldron of some kind of wicked brew.

@Neal: Yeah, that's an interesting point. The developers say they are accommodating for it in the design, but is it enough, and is it the best use of funds and of the island?

Posted by margomca, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Sep 2, 2020 at 1:01 pm

margomca is a registered user.

We bemoan global warming at great length, but little is said about what we, as individual citizens, subject to the damages of same, can do. Here are several things that I have done. I would welcome other suggestions. In 2014, when I was ready to replace my car, I bought a Chevy Volt. It doesn't have a very wide range, but it has a backup gas tank. Since I don't drive great distances, I find myself filling my car 2-3 times A YEAR! I charge my car with solar panels. Yes, it costs a lot, but not as much as replacing my house or my lungs. On a smaller scale, I hang my clothes to dry and seek to minimize energy use. In the future? Replace my gas cook top with electric, as well as my gas furnace. Probably the biggest impact is the EV. Not only does it not pollute, but also, major pollution comes from refineries, as well as at the wells. Transporting petroleum adds to the problem. Ask yourself, could you solve your transportation needs with an EV? Don't like the design? Is that more important than your child's health? Can't afford? Think how much I don't pay for gas. I even save some on the license. What are you doing? Please share with us. This is OUR PROBLEM! If government isn't going to solve it, can we? We can't afford not to.

Posted by margomca, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Sep 2, 2020 at 1:30 pm

margomca is a registered user.

I also have an electric blower, but I insist my gardener rake. Any blower adds particles to our already cruddy air. It's not just the pollution from the motor (as well as noise pollution). Would you prefer to breathe or have an immaculate yard, which lasts for only a short time anyway?

Posted by Ardan Michael Blum, a resident of Downtown North,
on Sep 2, 2020 at 2:08 pm

Ardan Michael Blum is a registered user.

This makes me laugh (not out loud) as our current focus is on avoiding Covid-19 and smoke fires that can reach our lungs. The timing of this post could not be worse.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Sep 2, 2020 at 2:12 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@margomca: Thank you for emphasizing how important individual action is and for sharing what you are doing and why. The sharing and explaining are imo as important as taking the action!

I agree with you that for everyone living in our area, the most important thing we can do is to drive a gas-powered car less. There are lots of ways to do that: work from home, bike or e-bike, EV, carpool, transit, etc. It is by far the top source of our direct emissions.

Other very impactful and inexpensive (or even money-saving) things people can do:
- eat less beef and lamb (and less meat and dairy more generally for extra credit); and don't waste what you do buy
- use a thermostat with conservative settings (78 in summer, 68 in winter and cooler at night); for extra credit, use a smart thermostat that shuts off when you are away
- find ways to reduce, repair, and reuse rather than buying new
- limit your flying (especially across the continent or ocean)
- if you have an EV, charge it during the day, before 3pm
- plant a tree

For those with extra money, heat pumps, solar panels, and home batteries are all effective ways to reduce emissions. Quality carbon offsets can help to mitigate the impact of what is left.

Posted by Ardan Michael Blum, a resident of Downtown North,
on Sep 2, 2020 at 2:37 pm

Ardan Michael Blum is a registered user.

Want to retract what I said above. Annoyingly this posting does not let one edit for more than a few minutes (can people with milde Dyslexia get longer access?). It is not for me to judge what is right and wrong timing. Just seemed that we were in overdose mode already about breathing risks.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Sep 2, 2020 at 3:12 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Ardan, thank you for the nice post, and no worries. 2020 is definitely overdosing us with problems. Hopefully we can walk and chew gum at the same time. The longer we wait to address climate change, the more expensive and the more difficult it gets to dig ourselves out. On the plus side, I think many of us are learning more about driving and flying less.

Also, I forgot something very important in my list for @margomca, which is to vote, to encourage like-minded people to vote, and to find ways to support candidates who care about addressing climate change.

Posted by Tom, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Sep 3, 2020 at 11:34 am

Tom is a registered user.

@margomca and @sherry you are right to focus on what actions we can take. It also helps us deal with the emotional issue of grappling with the big problems. I'm enjoying making the changes you've both mentioned in your lists. But my future steps still include 2 things: 1)Replacing the washer and gas dryer with a combined washer/condensing drying machine that frees up a circuit for EV charging and it frees up some floor area (9 sqft that some folks can use to switch from tankless gas water heaters to Heat pump water heaters that have their own stored hot water for resilience)), 2)Replacing our 7k mile/yr gas Prius with an EV.
Volunteering with local nonprofit Web Link helped me learn circuit and conduit skills to do my own electrification work, so going solar and electrifying has been cheaper than staying with gas. It's not rocket science, it's appliance science. I was going to have to spend money to replace my aging gas water heater, my 1980's gas furnace and problematic gas cooktop anyway. This way I did all that and my DIY mini-split heat pump gives us air conditioning as well.
What would happen if individuals looked at saving the climate as a new hobby?

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Sep 3, 2020 at 7:00 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Tom, oh geez, you don't think the firemen (and women) already have enough fires to fight? :) If the plumbing and electrical work is really that straight-forward, then we should find a way to make electrification an easy and appealing career alternative or supplement, competitive with Uber/Lyft driving, warehouse working, etc. I haven't read this report on climate jobs yet...

If we could better harness everyone's capabilities, we could get a lot more done.

Posted by Staying Young Through Kids, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 4, 2020 at 9:52 am

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

@Sherry As CAISO warns of potential blackouts this weekend due to heat I have a quick story that has always stuck with me.

Years ago when Gov Davis was in office we experienced similar situations (yes, energy traders contributed to make it worse). One of my roommates was working on this and was meeting regularly in private discussions between Gov. Davis and the energy providers to make sure plants remained in operation during periods of increased demand.

One provider had taken a natural gas facility offline for maintenance several weeks before a heat wave due to having met their allowed emissions (pollution) allotment that period. Gov Davis insisted they bring the plant back online. They were eager to do so both to help and to sell more energy (probably more of the latter). They only needed the Gov to temporarily suspend their emissions restrictions or have some mitigation of the steep fines they would suffer for exceeding their limit. The Gov insisted neither was possible. His stance was the penalties were unavoidable and they should instead operate at a loss and in violation of the law. That plant remained offline. Blackouts, which could have been avoided, were the result. Gov Davis was subsequently impeached in no small part due to situations and decisions just like that.

I'm not suggesting we should roll over for energy providers, but we certainly can't expect them to operate in violation of their air quality agreements and suffer steep fines whenever CAISO says we need more power.

This story provides even more evidence of our need to conserve energy, to be able to provide energy on demand even for extended periods of need, and to provide that energy via a more modern and flexible grid with storage capacity.

The money spent on this infrastructure will pay dividends for years and years to come. Private industry should shoulder some of this cost, but energy is a public benefit and the government must also support this goal with new funding.
To help with regional warming (record/rising temps across the West), We need a new version of the TVA of our generation.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Sep 6, 2020 at 6:31 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@SYTK, thanks for the comment. FWIW, for the touch-and-go situation today (Sunday), Governor Newsom voided air quality rules in order to get supply onto the grid. From the Sacramento Bee: "Newsom issued an emergency proclamation Thursday suspending certain air-pollution rules to enable generators to produce additional power supplies. Meanwhile, the ISO secured an order from the Trump administration Sunday that allows a handful of plants in Southern California to operate at full capacity “notwithstanding air quality or other permit limitations.” The federal order should add about 100 megawatts to the grid." It's got to be hard to quibble about air quality during this kind of power emergency when forests are burning like they are :(

So far the grid has managed to avoid rolling blackouts, despite losing over 1 GW of hydro and solar due to the fires. This was due to some terrific conservation efforts. Thank you to everyone who ratcheted down your use.

With the sun going down, you can see that net demand (demand minus solar and wind) is still growing. It normally peaks around 7pm. So that may be the trickiest time.

I would like for all of this conservation to happen automatically with flexible demand hooked into the grid so the grid itself has some control (and customers get compensated for that). It happens on a limited scale today. We'll see how things evolve.

Posted by Staying Young Through Kids, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 7, 2020 at 5:08 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

@Shery Fascinating! Good to know some things actually do change and that communication between the providers, the State, and the various Federal departments actually works better than before!

Your knowledge of this subject matter is truly astounding. I learn something from every column and from most of the comments. Beyond your insight you also have a well informed readership!

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