The Power of Denial

Today in the New York Times, a story about the washing away of homes on the Carolina Outer Banks. The article points out that some of these homeowners, climate change believers bought their homes as recently as last fall! What kind of denial needs to exist to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in homes within yards of the ocean? What kind of denial are all of us in regarding the effects of climate change?

Here on the Olympic Peninsula, we all suffer from denial. For the majority of us, the denial of a major earthquake of such magnitude that only struck here 322 years ago, is our biggest. Then, tsunamis 33 feet high wiped out many native villages on the shore. Many modern Olympic Peninsula people were woke to this issue for the first time when the New Yorker published a sobering article about just how unprepared we are for this. The Seattle Times followed up with this piece a few years later.

As humans, we all live with denial. Denial that our health will not hold long into older age is one that many of our old population is familiar with and engaged in on a daily basis. And here on the Peninsula, as climate change wreaks havoc across the globe, we deny we are at risk. Let’s count the ways:

  • Forest Fire – Clearly, living on a tree farm with most of us at close proximity to timber, this is the most likely short term issue. We have seen the east side of the Cascades burn in massive wildfires, as well as B.C., Oregon and California. How many years do we have before the forests around us are on fire?
  • Sea Level Rise – Cities, from what I’ve seen, are simply kicking this can down the road. PA and PT especially are at sea level. Water Street is at, yes water level. Are there any serious plans to the business district uptown. Nope. Are there mitigation plans at work? Not that I’ve seen.
    • At Point Hudson, there are houses literally at sea level. A good friend owned one that faced out to the Strait, until they woke up to waves crashing on their front window panes. They sold and now live high on the hill above the Fort.
    • Beckett Point – A disaster waiting to happen, Beckett Point will likely be the first place you see houses washed away as in the NY Times article above.
    • Cliff dwellers like Seaview Drive – Our county development foolishly allowed houses to be built within 50 feet of the cliff edge in the 70s and 80s. Even trying to change this rule has been a struggle with home and land owners fighting being pushed back from the cliffs even 50 feet for future construction to be a very hard issue to convince them of supporting. Unfortunately, we have seen cliffs sluff over 100 feet back on Whidbey Island. The bottom line is that scientifically, cliffs sluff. That is the nature of a cliff. Putting thousands of pounds of concrete weight, water in the form of lawn watering, and septic tanks only helps destabilize the cliff more. Want to see a cliff sluff in action? Walk from North Beach to the Fort on the beach. That is an active sluffing cliff.
  • River course change – The Dungeness has reclaimed many homes over the decades from folks denying the ability of the river to do that. Now the Jamestown S’Kallam Tribe and Clallam County are working to give the river the room to “breathe” as one biologist once called it. The floodplains, he said, “are the lungs of the river. If you dyke them, you give them emphysema.”
  • That certain business activity won’t destroy our natural resources – The DNR decision to allow a commercial aquaculture farm inside a wildlife refuge is another case of denial that your decisions won’t destroy what you claim you love.

You can do your bit, by asking yourself “what am I in denial over?” Are there direct things you can do now to protect yourself from being the next to find that “you can’t fool Mother Nature.” That may mean much harder decisions than you ever thought. Just ask the folks on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

6 Responses

  1. What you said is so true!

  2. Thanks, Al. Right on, Norm!
    The Denial List goes on and on -Denial has an adaptive brain function & a maladaptive one for each of us & collectively denial is a cloud over all of us.
    On the NOP let’s keep adding to the “Denial” List like our collective denial of consequences of Bangor Nuclear Submarine Base & its nuclear weapons.
    Denial hardens out resistance to really doing any thing like Cleaning up theToxic pollutions in the air, water & earth that we breath, drink & ingest, AND that our behaviors have created. So let’s keep this List expanding & sharing it …..

  3. I see mention of insurance in this article. Can you really get insurance for a low-bank home like this? At Beckett Pt or similar places? I was of the understanding that you cannot get insurance, and thus no mortgage, and have to pay cash only and self-insure. Similar story in California foothills over fire concerns.

    I see they were liable for cleanup. I wonder if that was under state or federal laws.

    • You can and the article in the NY Times shows that the insurance company was only willing to pay for the house if it was washed away. Government based insurance is always available to homeowners in areas like this that regular insurers won’t touch. . It has been routinely attempted to end this practice, but our Federal Legislators know that if they end that insurance program it will come back to haunt them in the elections, because these homeowners become enraged. It has happened a number of times recently, after Katrina, after the NY City hurricane, and others. Denial is what they all are about.

  4. Well said, Al.

    Unfortunately, it just proves what I believe that modern America doesn’t recognize a problem until it’s really a problem and then they expect the problem to be fixed by someone else. So many of our environmental problems have this basic problem – it’s not a problem until it is and then that problem becomes an even bigger problem to fix.

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