Archive for the 'Systems Thinking' Category

(Chronologically Listed)

the physics of sustainability: on zero entropy systems

max entropy

My 2002 book stressed “closing the loops”, and we’ve since learned much about how this can be done.

In one key moment, physicist Mae-Wan Ho half-accidentally discovered that “living organisms appear like a dynamic liquid-crystal-display”. This must mean, reasoned Ho, that living organisms are highly organized, and "coherent energy is being mobilized and transformed in the organisms”.

Ho set out to reformulate the thermodynamics for living systems, based on this core principle, which has “large implications for ecosystems, food, health and economies."

Most important, our "maximum entropy" model is precisely wrong. We need a "zero-entropy" model of sustainable systems.

Published by Ken on May 2nd, 2010 tagged Sustainability Science, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

another ooops story: of road salt and watersheds

road salt impacts

My grandots in snow country will love this one! It's a real howler about our "system blindness". And about how un-sustainability means doing all the wrong things.

Wudja believe all that road salt we spread for "safety" purposes actually ends up somewhere our groundwater and streams. (You mean there is no "away" place we can throw this stuff?) Duh!

Yet, it took these new studies from Toronto and Minneapolis to make us realize road salt is a huge mistake (via treehugger).

Nor is this just about the impacts on aquatic life and drinking water. It's also about destroying roads, shortening the life of cars, and killing vegetation. WTF?

Published by Ken on March 5th, 2010 tagged Best Practices, Ecosystems Research, Island Ecosystems, Systems Thinking | 1 Comment »

what more can one say? on the need for sustainability action

can all u can

People are compelled to act when the alternatives are worse. This gem from Sharon Astyk captures the essence of all the study I've been doing since launching this blog 3 years ago.

Says Astyk, "It is not necessary to offer optimism...We know it may already be too late...What people feel is a necessity, a sense of urgency and a shared crisis." (via casaubonsbook).

As one of Astyk's commenters puts it, "we need to forget about the top national political leaders doing much, or even much at the state level. We also can’t think of ourselves as survivalists with a bunker mentality."

Published by Ken on August 25th, 2009 tagged Community Initiatives, Systems Thinking | 1 Comment »

think “one pound per mile”: on emissions reduction priorities

1lb emissions

Embedding balanced thinking in every day life is an essential part of the "resource literacy" we're promoting, right?

So, sustainability thinking involves much broader awareness of emissions 'metrics' the numbers in this chart. Wanna know the relative emissions impacts of, say, plastic bags versus driving. Here ya go!

Let's see: if we use an average of one plastic bag a day, we could go two weeks before accumulating the equivalent of one pound of emissions.

Now, perhaps if we all held in our minds the "one mile, one pound" metric associated with our vehicles, we might work harder to reduce our miles.

Published by Ken on August 19th, 2009 tagged Best Practices, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

more HCA video: Ramsey Taum says keep it REAL


There are many solid reasons to watch this presentation at last week's Hawaii Conservation Alliance conference, especially including where Ramsey Taum ends up after a marvelous romp through native insights on sustainability.

Taum opens with this quote from Marcel Proust: ""The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." Then he adds, "Sustainability acknowledges the systemic relationships between activities and entities that at first glance may not reveal their connectivity." Yeah, try them new 'eyes'!

Taum's presentation is all about the special sustainability challenges in these islands, sitting on the mountaintops of the "Blue Continent".

Published by Ken on August 12th, 2009 tagged HI-specific, Sustainability Science | Comments Off

sustainability courses, KIUC get local news play

kcc sustainability

Nice piece in today's Garden Island on my upcoming series of sustainability short courses, and yesterday's op-ed by the venerable Walter Lewis on the need for a KIUC rate hike was also kewl!

Have to say our island sustainability conversation continues to amp up, and I'm getting more and more "pinch me" moments as our community learning and dialogue advances. Seems like only yesterday that sustainability was 'fringy' stuff...

Sadly for most of us, getting in this conversation takes some homework. For openers, we gotta change how we think, and that's as tough a task as there is.

Published by Ken on August 9th, 2009 tagged Community Initiatives, Sustainability Science | Comments Off

Holdren on climate policy: lead or be cooked

john holdren

As Copenhagen looms, Obama's science advisor John Holdren says "industrialised nations need to get their acts together..and developing countries have to join pretty soon, or we're going to be cooked" (via newscientist).

Holdren still sees a chance for Senate passage of "commitments that will move us onto a declining emissions trajectory", and if so, "we will see a degree of progress at Copenhagen that will surprise people."

For now, Holdren sees cap-and-trade as a vital stepping stone, with "more ambitious" targets to be added over time.

Such adjustments are "likely", says Holdren because two things are going to happen:

Published by Ken on August 3rd, 2009 tagged Climate Change, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

sustainability ain’t philanthropy: Werbach on corporate strategy

adam werbach

Sustainability is not about "doing good" or "protecting the environment", says Adam Werbach, and corporations must integrate sustainability into their core business strategies (via SFS).

"Yes, it's important to reduce waste and toxins in a company to protect our diminishing natural resources", says Werbach.

Still, "an environmental strategy is not enough to sustain most businesses for the long haul", says Werbach, and "too often, a 'sustainability strategy' is simply an environmental strategy with a new name."

Instead, Werbach urges business to focus on a "strategy for sustainability", and underscores the difference with three telltales. A company has a strategy for sustainability when it:

Published by Ken on August 1st, 2009 tagged Best Practices, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

fulfilled with little: more low-hanging fruit

fulfilled consumer

'Tis hard to sense loss as the financial sector reels...if ya got no portfolio to lose.

Hard, too, to stay focused on holding-on to 'stuff' if ya got nothin'. And, it's hard to stop givin' back to community if that's all ya got.

Sure, I'm an economist, yet I've let all the recent financial news just wash over me. (I gave up 'stuff' after Hurricane Iniki.) I'm amazed that so many folks who've worked hard to "make it" are now not much better off than the rest of us.

Reading Nate Hagens, I'm wondering if it's all about "self" (via oildrum).

Published by Ken on July 26th, 2009 tagged Systems Thinking | Comments Off

learning about sustainability: on creating courses for Kauai

sus courses at KCC

Can't recall more fun than conceiving effective methods for communicating the scope of what we're learning about sustainability...and shaping this into accessible short-courses!

That's been my focus for the the past several months, and I'm delighted to report that the inaugural learning opportunities will launch in 3 weeks at Kauai Community College through the Office of Continuing Education & Training (OCET).

Fortunately, I've had some practice with previous seminars for Kauai leaders, yet this field is advancing so rapidly that it's truly challenging and inspiring to sum up what we're learning, especially regarding the challenges facing this small rural island.

Published by Ken on July 23rd, 2009 tagged Community Initiatives, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

sustainability is not the absence of un-sustainability

ehrenfeld book cover

"Greening" is about making us less un-sustainable. Sustainability is something else", and "we'll need both", says John Ehrenfeld (via sloanrev).

Ehrenfeld's new book defines sustainability as "a positive vision of the possibility that human and other life will flourish on the planet forever…It is an emergent property that only appears when the whole system is functioning properly.”

Greening, or working on eco-efficiency, is critically important, yet this is not sustainability. This is perpetuation of our 'quick fix' obsession, which might reduce our un-sustainability, at best.

"Creating sustainability requires a new story of how the world works and how humans act", says Ehrenfeld.

Published by Ken on July 17th, 2009 tagged Sustainability Science, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

where we’re headed: top minds on past/future perspectives

speakers sterling + orlov

The best guy to envisage the near future gave the closing keynote at Reboot's "Practical Visionaries" conference last month, and now you can watch Bruce Sterling's fascinating 40 minute presentation. Kewl!

And the best guy to remind us about the lessons of the near past gave a marvelous romping speech in Dublin last month, and now you can watch Dmitry Orlov draw parallels between the demise of the Soviet Union and America's current state of affairs. Kewl.2!

Either way, our outlook is so screwy that these views just might help you get your mind around the grimness of what’s coming…

Published by Ken on July 13th, 2009 tagged Best Practices, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

sustainability thinking is crucial says Prince Charles

prince charles

Prepping for teaching short courses on sustainability thinking at KCC, I'm struck by the cacophony of  voices saying we need a new way of including Prince Charles.

Last Wednesday, Charles concluded the Dimbleby Lecture by advocating "a much more integrated way of thinking and perceiving the world", noting that new technologies and lifestyles won't be enough (via bestfootforward).

"We are still conditioned by Modernism’s mechanistic thinking...invariably seeking a solution to one problem without thinking of the impact this will have on the whole...which has led to our disconnection from the complexity of Nature", says Charles.

Published by Ken on July 11th, 2009 tagged Climate Change, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

think science and markets drive policy? look at climate change

william rees

Bill Rees invented the ecological footprint concept, and in the dozen ensuing years has become one of Canada's leading public intellectuals.

Now, Rees wants to see science and markets drive climate policy, yet he's bumping up against climate denial and market hypocrisy (via themark).

Both Canada and the US are science-based and market-based societies, right? Says Rees, "if you accept this conventional wisdom, you’d be wrong on both counts."

“Public policy on climate at both the federal and provincial levels bears almost no relation to current climate science”, and “ecological dysfunction represents gross market failure.” We’re “wallowing in deep denial.”

Published by Ken on July 9th, 2009 tagged Climate Change, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

what’s (wrongly) on second: sustainability and the greater good


"Selfish maximizers" are headed for lonely coping with "the privations of a post-peak oil world", says Kurt Cobb, yet only "altruistic sacrificers" engaged in collective action can "forestall ecosystem collapse" (via oildrum).

Cobb highlights the fatal flaw in "negative freedom" that drives conservative's anti-government propaganda.

Go ahead and join those "huffing and puffing at the imaginary enemies of freedom", says Cobb, while "the real basis of your freedom, an intact and functioning nation and community, starts to degrade inexorably".

Where will “the wealthy backers of fossil fuel intensive industries” be then? “Decamped to their second homes in more habitable places”.

Published by Ken on June 8th, 2009 tagged Systems Thinking | Comments Off

thinking about thinking about Hawaii’s food system

fixes that fail

Some folks are attracted to “system dynamics” because its tools enable us to practice thinking about human support systems in new ways.

Lord knows we need new ways of thinking...perhaps more so regarding our food system than elsewhere.

Why? Hawaii is stuck at the end of the American 'food chain' (heh) and the systems we've inherited are not well-suited for sustainability in these tropical islands.

Worse, many otherwise thoughtful studies, such as RMI's "whole system" food map for Hawaii Island, focus on competing in the existing scheme, whereas we're better served using these tools to re-invent our Hawaii food system.

Published by Ken on June 3rd, 2009 tagged Community Initiatives, Food, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

keeping track: what happened to sustainable development?


Sheesh! Was it 17 years ago, already, that our eyes turned to Rio and the Earth Summit?

Don't know about you, but I haven't been closely tracking the progress of the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) that emerged from the Rio deliberations to ensure effective follow-up. Too bad, too!

Howzat? It seems the CSD has been marginalized at precisely the time we need these efforts most. After all, COP-15 in Copenhagen arises because we haven't done much since Rio...except conduct some important research and draft some strategic plans.

So says Adam Parsons in lamenting this state of affairs (via commondreams).

Published by Ken on June 1st, 2009 tagged Climate Change, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

keywords for sustainability: essential, inevitable, and feasible

sustainability transition

Hopefully, folks 'get' that "going green" ain't enough...that there's no such thing as "sorta sustainable".

At the same time, this or that "green" initiative may be seen as a "choice", yet there is no choice but to quickly transition to sustainability. Period.

As the "Transition Town" gang puts it, "climate change makes the carbon reduction transition essential, peak oil makes it inevitable, and transition initiatives make it feasible, viable and attractive."

Notice we're talking "3 Spheres": In economies we will inevitably switch energy, in ecologies we will essentially adapt to climate change, and in communities we will viably re-invent from the bottom-up.

Published by Ken on May 31st, 2009 tagged Climate Change, Community Initiatives, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

six steps from illusion: countdown to copenhagen

copenhagen climate council

Forget the long-term targets for emissions reduction by 2050, and focus on dramatic cuts by 2020, or else none of this matters, says Per Meilstrup (via copenhagenclimatecouncil).

"A (2050) vision without a (2020) plan is a (2009) illusion”, and the US plan for reductions to 1990 levels by 2020 is “simply not enough”, says Meilstrup. "Without a firm emissions target in 2020, a 2050 target is will never get there".

"In 2020, at least a 25% reduction for the developed countries – and probably 40% if we are to believe the latest science – is required in 12 years time."

Published by Ken on May 31st, 2009 tagged Climate Change, Systems Thinking | Comments Off

sustainability needs balanced thinking in everyday life

bottle litter

If recycling your glass bottle could save a quarter-pound of CO2, and if your car spews a pound of carbon per mile, how many bottles could you cart how far in order to capture the maximum recycling benefits?

These "routine calculations" reflect the "necessary resource literacy" we'll need to "embed balanced thinking in everyday life", says Craig Simmons (via bestfootforward).

Same goes for your "local, organic" food purchases. Recall that the Seattle food project found that if you drove more than 4 miles to get your "green" plate, you'd blow the whole advantage over the "standard supermarket" plate.

Published by Ken on May 18th, 2009 tagged Community Initiatives, Systems Thinking | Comments Off