from vicious to virtuous: on strategic tipping points

eco tipping points

Systems thinking is all well and good, especially where it helps us identify feedback loops that shape the impacts of our actions.

Still, so much of our thinking has been focused on the vicious cycles leading our planet into catastrophe that we often neglect the virtuous cycles that reinforce our best efforts.

The trick is in turning the former (vicious) into the latter (virtuous) by exposing the strategic points at which the cycles can be reversed.

Nobody has studied this question more closely than the East-West Center's Gerald Marten, and you can watch his inspiring presentation of eco tipping points at this year's HCA conference.

Marten scoured the world for eco success stories, then pieced together their common factors to reveal the levers that can "tip" an eco-social system from decline to health and sustainability.

Application of the EcoTipping Points principle for communities to create more success stories is a matter of identifying vicious cycles that are driving the problem and homing in on levers to reverse them.

Says Marten:

"Environmental decline will be turned around only if the vicious cycles are turned around. The very same feedback loops can work just as powerfully to bring about restoration, and they spinoff new virtuous cycles to accelerate the process and lock-in the gains."

Virtuous cycles mobilize natural, social, and economic forces to work for sustainability instead of against it."

The EcoTipping Points principle is illustrated by success stories from Asia and the United States:

The stories show how the restoration of ecosystem biodiversity and health goes hand in hand with restoring valuable services those ecosystems provide for human welfare.

The key is catalytic actions (EcoTipping Points) that combine an appropriate environmental technology with the social organization to put it into effect. For success, the ensuing chain of effects must turn around the vicious cycles with sufficient force to transform them into virtuous cycles.

Word is, Marten is currently working on Hawaii's coqui frog invasion. Let's hope he finds an effective lever for turning this vicious cycle around.

Published by Ken on November 20th, 2007 tagged HI-specific, Systems Thinking

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