Systems thinking and the narrative of climate change

By Francesco Gonella

The problem of climate change has become a part of the current global discussion, due to the Paris Accord. Current mainstream arguments focus on three specific components of the problem: (1) the disputability of global warming, (2) the relevance of anthropogenic contribution, and (3) the extent of the dangers associated to an increase of the global temperature. Key players appear to have difficulty moving the discussion past these three components of the problem, towards potential solutions. Instead, the discussion returns again and again to describing the problem, in greater and greater detail, with arguments stalling on various small pieces of the problem. Our inability to move past the problem to solutions is based in part on how the various critics frame the discussion. Critics on both sides of the issue are subject to a framing effect, where we house the problem mentally within the boundaries of the human economy. While opponents of climate change suffer from their own framing effect, this post focuses specifically on the proponents’ framing effect. Those who advocate for policies to limit climate change make four main assumptions that impact their thinking: Continue reading Systems thinking and the narrative of climate change

Hair of the dog, or, the limits of technology

By Mary Logan

This post is about the hopeful idea that technology is going to save us from having to adapt to descent. A recent article describes an episode of geopiracy to geoengineer the ocean, so we’re back at climate again, since this example provides particular insights and illustrations into our blindspots about the limits to growth and the limits of technology. Almost all environmental articles now mention climate, whether it is warranted in the discussion or not, so it is hard to avoid the topic. We are shoehorning every environmental problem into the same size small shoe of solutions. Is it lack of ecoliteracy? I also continue to beat this drum because one of Odum’s great concerns was that misunderstandings about the interconnected nature of our problems would lead to geoengineering of the planet. He recognized the hazards of industrial scale manipulation of the biosphere, and the danger of relying on the industrial machine for fixes.

Asking wrong questions….

Climate change is a situation where we have fastened on a subset of the real problem, which is population and economic growth. So we immediately frame the solution set in an even smaller space, which is geoengineering, or financial wizardry, or some other narrow solution to the wrong problem that benefits only a few, and further damages the environment. 

We have trained our minds to focus and analyze, thus we anxiously narrow our frame of reference when faced with big problems. Einstein said that  problems cannot be solved by the level of awareness that created them. He meant seeing the big picture, and avoiding doubling down on behaviors that got us where we are now. Or, in colloquial terms, What how fellow, thou knave, I pray thee let me and my fellow have a haire of the dog that bit us last night. And bitten were we bothe to the braine aright (Drunkard.com, from 1546). The idea that the hair of the dog was a cure dates back to the Greek, who believed that a dog bite would heal more quickly if you ate dog hair. Is technology a hair-of-the-dog cure for our energy bender?

We’re going to have to shift our world views to adapt. In an ongoing quest to broaden worldviews to consider the hierarchy of energy, here are some recent climate articles as examples of the limits of technology. Continue reading Hair of the dog, or, the limits of technology