The posts on this blog were mostly considered emails written to people interested in a particular approach to addressing the problems facing humanity and our relationship to the planet. If you are interested in what you read - please leave a comment...

September 28, 2007

Lovelock urges ocean climate fix

This is a very interesting story, not only for the item itself, but that for the first time in a headline news item, the need for systems thinking has come to the fore; that Ken Caldeira's comments on the possible implications of a large scale technological intervention into a complex system which is not fully understood are part of the story.

There is a clear argument that the very reductionist, mechanistic approach which has given us such prowess in technical effectiveness is one of the motors of the climate change crisis. This approach is the dominant model for problem solving in industrialised cultures. There is a huge danger that as the implications of climate change become more starkly obvious, that we will appeal to this dominant model for 'solutions'.

Yet the climate is the clearest example of a complex system system we have - being the context for the only popular reference to complexity that I know of - 'the butterfly effect' ( more technically - "sensitivity to initial conditions"). It seems clear to me that the version of Sod's Law that is the "Law of unintended consequences" is an observable feature of complex systems - a key characteristic of complex systems being that the computational effort required to accurately predict the outcome of any intervention is equal to or greater than the effort of simply seeing what happens - so that any perturbation of a complex system _will_ produce unintended consequences - although not necessarily adverse or significant. The problem being that you can't tell beforehand; with the obvious corollary being that the larger the perturbation, the larger the potential negative effects of unintended consequences.

So any simplistic, mechanistic 'solution' to climate change is rather likely to have problematic outcomes. Any sustainably effective response will need to be many stranded and multi-layered, and humans aren't good at this.

Which is where systems thinking comes in. The Santa Fe Institute, in New Mexico, focuses on engaging with complexity. I would be good to see/hear the BBC talking to them about climate change issues.

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