Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Systems Approach To It

The article,"Systems Thinking and How It Can Help Build a Sustainable World", makes an important point about looking at the bigger global climate picture and identifying all the parts of a problem in order to solve it:

"Rather than asking why one should think in systems, perhaps the more piercing question is: why has holistic thinking been stamped out of us again and again over time, most vigorously so during the modern industrial age? The simple answer is that power and control are not compatible with a well-educated citizenry that sees the big picture. Modern industrial civilization is built upon the mechanization and commodification of society and nature, with those at the top benefiting from the enormous outputs generated by the “cogs in the wheel” toiling at the bottom. If we become aware of this vast, complex machine and start to understand how it works, we might want to break or change it! We might want to create a different system in which all parts of society and nature can flourish, not just those in power."

This kind of a conversation must involve everyone who is affected by it. A dialogue about the Sustainable Development Goals has to be undertaken at a global level. "The important and widespread understanding that was reached at COP22 in Marrakech is that climate change needs to be addressed systemically and not with carbon-myopia...We are facing a planetary emergency at the species level and we do need all nations — and what’s more all people — of this Earth to unite in a shared vision to redesign the human impact on Earth from destruction to regeneration."

This problem of tackling climate change requires a multivalent, systems approach to its solution, not a linear one. The primary concern is how to tackle the carbon-to-zero issue in our energy systems and our land use approaches. A framework focused on worldwide decarbonization is a first, major step that relies on economic system changes and global agreement. Then there's the rest of it, which involves fundamental changes in our society, its economics, and our culture.

I would outline the systems approach as a multiple-front strategy that focuses on key parts of the big problem: human population, intelligent organization, technology, human expansion and the methodology of this expansion. One thing I've always advocated since completing my graduate architecture thesis in 1979 on an Orbiting Space Base is that extractive industries should be exiled to on-orbit and lunar industry operations because humans will never stop exploring and reaching out for resources. Same process the animal kingdom employs, but there are natural ecological balance mechanisms for that, and unfortunately we've managed to escape those with technology. Animal populations crash in natural environments repeatedly, that's part of how the systems work when a population gets out of whack, with its checks and balances on resources driven by planetary cycles. This also applies to human civilizations across history, as well.

Humans must commit to a simultaneous ecological footprint and population reduction, with the economics grounded in making environmental restoration the most profitable industry. In other words, impose our own "smart crash" that does the least amount of harm. And it's not like we don't know how to do that. (birth control, limits to growth, restore the environment) It's a fairly socialist approach, think Sweden, but that's just fine. I've been to Scandinavia and they're happier than we are. Here's my specific points:

Human Population

But how do you achieve this preservation of the common global resources with a population that has already exceeded earth's carrying capacity since 1980? An interview with Bill Ryerson, founder of the Population Media Center, outlines how groups of people can be taught through stories to change their behavior. These stories are entertainment, soap opera, and educational documentaries. What this could do is help populations of people become self-limiting by choice, and thus diminish the demands on ecosystems that use up all available resources and diminish the critical diversity of species that is necessary for functioning ecosystems.

The fiscal reality check that we're currently experiencing on a worldwide basis has its parallel in natural system collapse, which is something that can be averted by the development of a steady-state system that produces a livable environment without consuming the world's common resources. That's the tragedy of the commons. Everyone's self-interests ends up devouring more than the planet can bear.

Intelligent Organization

The idea that human habitation can be used as a tool to regenerate ecology is finally coming into its own after experimentation with projects all over the world. It's not a zero-sum game, it's a way of bringing together all the environmental and engineering factors together in a place such that it renews natural processes instead of destroying them. It takes a great deal of skill, knowledge and experience to work out the systems that result in the creation of place that interconnects all these factors. Many major corporate engineering, design and development firms are investing in think tanks to take this to the next level, such as Arup, a global design, planning and engineering firm.


The building demonstrates how closed loop systems developed by space-based technologies can be applied to structures on this planet to bring their energy and carbon impact down to zero. Ideas such as the structural exoskeleton, use of natural light and processes, as well as a "bare-bones" approach to materials use can reduce human habitation demands on ecosystems as well as assist in the restoration of the natural world.

The planets we imagined exploring turns out to be the one we're living on.

Human Expansion

What about using a salvage yard in low earth orbit? It could provide a low-earth orbit platform for recycling and materials supply for providing industry outside of the atmospheric envelope, as well as conserving the metals used in the satellite construction which are already very highly processed. This is the essence of sustainability. We don't burn our trash in the back yard any more, why keep doing it out in the outer biosphere? Here's the online presentation of my low earth orbit base concept which could be used to develop industry and establish a foothold outside of earth's deep gravity well for interplanetary robotic launches and lunar mining processes.

Systems Design for Expansion

Key to this concept is understanding that to achieve this vision, there must be some major on-orbit infrastructure to support construction, development and launch of these exploration initiatives. My 1979 thesis outlines this strategy in a Relevance Tree and shows how a Low Earth Orbit platform, working in concert with lunar mining and large vehicle production outside of earth's gravity well allows for effective use of labor and materials, as well as providing "many futures" rather than just one projection line (dotted).

Update 11/12/18: A good climate policy rises above politics.

Update 11/16/18: Industrial agriculture and extractive industries must cease and be transformed.

Update 1/17/19: This systemic crisis is complex and requires new approaches