Publishing a book is a weird exercise in time shifting.
Last fall, I was finishing Science be Dammed, the new Eric Kuhn-John Fleck book, while simultaneously working on a new
afterward afterword to Water is for Fighting Over, out in paperback, well, tomorrow.
My friends at Island Press helpfully reminded me this morning that it would be good to reach out to y’all and encourage you to buy the paperback, so consider that box checked. But it’s also nice moment to catch my breath and reflect on what it is I’m doing here, and why.
Last fall was a tough time in the Colorado River Basin. Coming off of a very bad water year, nerves were fraying, deals were collapsing, and it very much looked like the rosy scenario I had sketched in Water is For Fighting Over, a story about our ability to solve problems, was in doubt.
As I turned to my brain trust to talk about what was happening on the river, I asked the same question over and over: “What should I write in the new afterward? Am I optimistic or pessimistic?”
At one point – we were at a reception at Hannah Holm’s wonderful Upper Colorado River water forum – one of my smartest river friends looked at me hard and said, bluntly, “John, you have to be optimistic.” Her point was not that optimism was right, but that someone has to frame this with an optimistic narrative, to help model what a good outcome might be.
Steven Pinker has tried unsuccessfully to coin a new word for this thing that I do – “possibilism“. It rightly hasn’t caught on – it’s a terrible word. But it nicely captures what this exercise of mine is about.
Water is For Fighting Over was about what a successful Colorado River, western water process might look like, based on storytelling, backed by numbers. It was a description of where our adaptive capacity might come from, what it might look like.
Science be Dammed is a chronicle of many of the mistakes that were made in the use of science on the Colorado River, mistakes that created much of the mess that we’re in now. But it too is “possibilist”, suggesting a path to solve problems by better use of science in the future.
And the new
afterward afterword to Water is For Fighting Over remains cautiously optimistic. I hope you enjoy it.