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We need critical thinking from our City Council on climate change

By Mike Corbett

Given an understanding of what’s in the recent IPCC 6th report what would you expect a rational city council to do in response? Humans evolved because of our critical thinking abilities. So if a current city council possessed those abilities what would they be doing right now?

 You would expect them to convene a special meeting so the city could begin taking urgent steps to stop greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere as well as steps to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. They would make it a priority for their staff and commissions to find ways to take immediate steps to accomplish these crucial actions. 

 Since the Davis City Council declared a climate emergency two and a half years ago, little has been done. And as we approach the completion of the current climate action plan (CAP), our City's approach seems to be falling far short of what it should be. The recent survey of our citizens has revealed a very weak City understanding of all our options and what we should be doing today.  We need to employ more critical thinking.

 Critical thinking must first address the ability to find the most important thing or issue to focus on in any given moment or situation, from personal choices to issues within the global realm.  Additionally, critical thinking must start with the work of understanding a problem’s core by analyzing its depth and breadth. That means understanding the full context around the issue (in this case the IPCC report), and that means looking past biases or views that obscure the core of the problem.

 Critical thinking is a process that emerged from our early evolution. Human attention to pressing issues and acting effectively, often times by creatively inventing solutions, is what propelled our species to succeed.  Critical thinking also requires us to consider probabilities in our assessments, ranging from highly likely to unlikely. Early humans survived because their assumptions were based on likelihoods reflecting reality.  They would have noticed patterns that could be depended on (in our case according to scientists, a cascade of biospheric collapses), those that were somewhat dependable and those that were possible but infrequent. The survival of our ancestors would have benefited from psychological flexibility to reconsider things so they could adjust to new information and conditions as they arose. Critical thinking was a necessity but we have something else now, magical thinking.

 Science writer Louise Fabiani argues, magical thinking is simply dangerous. “The magical thinker combines that optimism with a self-interest that can take root when a solution to a problem conflicts in some way with their identity or values, or simply takes too much effort and time. As we lurch further into the Anthropocene, people comfortable with change will continue to bump up against those who aren’t. How can activists, policymakers, and even ordinary citizens mitigate magical thinkers’ disengagement with reality and responsibility?”

 As we lurch ahead, I believe it is time for our community and our City leadership to define our position.  Is it possible that we are magical thinkers not critical thinkers?  Is it time to demand a new direction from our leaders?


Alan C. Miller

Criticizing people for their lack of cognitive abilities not a solution. I am no climate change denier. I have degree in Geology from our local institution, and to deny climate change is deny four billion years of history. Global climate is always changing on a macro scale. What is up for debate is the degree to which humans are responsible. What I consider magical thinking is believing Davis can or should do anything about it. Sure, we should always be on a trajectory of cleaner air and reduction of fuel burning. But the 'climate change' narrative is political. Some change in Davis has no effect relative to third world countries coming of age and burning more fuel and doing similar damage to the atmosphere as the US and Europe in the 1800's and 1900's. Should we do nothing? Of course not. But what we need is to accept climate change and adapt to it, not try to turn an oil tanker with a puffin. It's too late. If humans did F-up the atmosphere, it's too late. If you really want to make a difference, stop flying. That would also stop new coronavirus variants from spreading around the world. Ready to stop flying, anyone? Any Greta wannabees wanna speak up? Those flying in glass airplanes shouldn't throw stones.

Donna Lemongello

Just like Davis doing anything is too small a droplet in the bucket, if I stop flying it has the same lack of effect, yet I have still considered it seriously (and indulge very little). I considered seriously to stop using gasoline when I learned in the 90s what oil extraction has done to native people in South America, but it simply would have done nothing but stunt my life, yet I take minimizing my consumption very seriously. Unless we act collectively, any individual act is essentially futile. And unfortunately a town alone is not a big enough collective for the affects we are looking for. In spite of all that, I still support acting, but I am realistic enough to know it is too late, it either has to be mitigated my means not yet invented or massive suffering has and will ensue. Greta did try harder than many to not be a hypocrite.

Alan C. Miller

Donna, pretty much agree. I'm all for individually reducing footprints, and in many ways live a simpler life compared to many. However, I also don't beat myself or my town up when I/we don't spend the dollars/time to make some insignificant gesture, possibly out of guilt. I know I do better than most, and that is enough for me.

Anyone got a problem with that? Catch me outside, how 'bout that?


Anything Davis might be able to accomplish on the climate front is comparable to a grain of sand on a beach.


Alan... what if we fail to do those things which are "cost neutral" or even income-generating? Not everything that's beneficial to our existence costs extra money and time. We spend money and time today to make things worse. Perhaps we could simply stop doing some of those things instead of worrying about ADDING expensive programs to "help"? Why do we spend so much time and effort to entice people to drive a car into downtown? And to drive at dangerous speed?

IMO, there is far more nuance beyond the two choices: "save money and do nothing" vs. "spend money and do something.

Roberta L. Millstein

I think that municipalities look to other municipalities when passing legislation. In that regard, what we do could have a multiplier effect. It's too late for Davis to be first in forward-thinking climate reduction policies, but it's not too late for us to be not-last and help to convince others to follow suit.

Alan C. Miller

DDD, I don't see where we are disagreeing. I'm all with you on doing better. It's the framing of this as 'climate change' and saving the world that bothers me, not in doing our best to be good to Davis and the planet. We aren't going to save the world, but we can be a decent City and an bit of an example. IF we don't get too large-headed about it.

Colin Walsh

"Anything Davis might be able to accomplish on the climate front is comparable to a grain of sand on a beach."
This is entirely untrue, or is at least very limited thinking. The second A of CAAP is adaptation. Davis mst plan and actively take steps to adapt to climate change. That runs a range from methods for coping with draught, to planting more climate ready trees, to provide more shade to help cope with rising temperatures, to how best to capture and reuse storm water and grey water, and to how to build a transportation system that is less carbon dependent as fossil fuels become more heavily regulated and more expensive. Along the way it is also reasonable to consider how Davis can contribute less to the problem.

Donna Lemongello

Colin and Others, I definitely misspoke when I said mitigations will come from things yet-to-be-invented . Everything Colin mentions is already an option and should be implemented. I do believe mitigations are what we have to work with however, I do not think we will stop or even greatly reduce the actual changing climate. And last night I read a fantastic article in the New Yorker magazine, Aug.9 2021, Eric Klinenberg, Manufacturing Nature. One of the most hopeful things I have seen in a long time.

Roberta L. Millstein

As long as we are talking about mitigations, another one I'd like to see is the use of regenerative agriculture on City-owned ag land (there is more of that than you might think, leased out to farmers). For those not familiar with the idea, it uses methods that tend to store carbon in the soil rather than release (so helping to draw down carbon in the atmosphere) and promotes soil health.

Alan Miller

CW, I'm not sure you're disagreeing outright with KO(BP). He/She (as BP) was speaking from the point of view of what that grain 'changing' would do for the beach, from the macro point of view of the beach. What you spoke of was largely how to make things better for that grain of sand (and maybe inspire a few other grains).

Colin Walsh

You're right Alan. What I really mean is as tempting as it is to throw up our hands and do nothing because we can't fix it on our own we have to resist that temptation. We both need to prepare mitigations for the coming challenges and do what we can to not contribute to making those challenges worse. Hopefully this is more like a bad junior high group project and less like The Purge.

Alan Miller

CW, as I recall, the main feature of bad junior high group projects is one or two people did all the work. Hmmmmmmmm

Roberta L. Millstein

AM, same as it is ever was.

Rodney E Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson on The New Yorker Radio Hour... KQED

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