Lecture 20 Class Notes

[Compiled from notes by various people]

Sitting at EPA desk, boss gives you a problem: farmers aren’t getting enough water, flooding, fish runs impeded by dam, budget is getting cut…what do you do?

[Rational Actor]
Explore all the options -> Look at pros/cons +/- -> assess probabilities of each possible outcome -> do a CBA and choose highest-value option -> implement solution -> (if we’re good) evaluate how it turned out

Something’s missing here…if boss gave you the problem, where did it come from? (The prior)
The pre-analytic sense of what the problem is, and by its very nature cannot be analyzed; if it could, there’d be another prior before that

Problem definition

  • If it is pre-analytic, is it just “whatever you think it is”?
  • No: the view one has of one’s world
  • In Cadillac Desert if you looked who came through:
    • First native tribes (Cordova)
    • Spanish explorers
    • Mormon settlers
    • American settlers
    • Army Corps of Engineers
    • John Muir, David Brower
    • Each one had very different worldviews of the same environment, define problems differently (e.g. “wasting water” meant not draining river dry for Bureau of Reclamation)

Our worldview changes as we develop psychologically

  • Infant’s world is what’s immediately in front of them
  • Adults have idea of entire planet, solar system, etc.
  • William James: “We inhabit the world we attend to”
  • You can choose your worldview to some extent (what you attend to), not just through brain development/exposure
    • Princen: walking to work via Huron Boulevard or taking parks & riverside walk
    • Do you put on partisan news programs or classical music when you get home?

Worldview is a combination of perception, concepts & values

  • Literally what you perceive through vision, hearing, touching
  • Also conceptual: “I see what you mean”
  • In Parson’s lectures: with cost-effectiveness, you start with a goal, some set of values

Dike builder in New Orleans: thought solution was just "higher & stronger"

  • Hurricane Katrina shattered that idea
  • Now consider upstream, downstream, wetlands, atmosphere, etc.
  • Appropriate to the extent that it fits the task at hand
  • Mechanistic worldview useful to engineer
  • But now working with people who look at social issues, upstream considerations

A thing called Robbie

  • Mechanistic model
    • In 8th grade anatomy: “a beautiful machine” of heart, lungs, legs, hands, eyes, etc.
    • Like a watch…lots of parts that fit perfectly together
    • If there’s a problem with a part, a surgeon/watch repairman can fix it
    • If one critical part breaks, the whole thing stops
  • Complex adaptive model
    • Also need to consider: what is he thinking? What relationships does he have with organisms/other people around him?
    • Also: Robbie will adapt if one part breaks (e.g. arm)
    • Hundreds of species of microorganisms in his mouth, on his skin, in his gut
    • So: who/what is Robbie? Where do we set the boundaries of this complex, adaptive system?
    • If we’re diagnosing a problem, what might we exclude that could be causing the whole thing?

A design for a park

  • Mechanistic: could create two straight paths going directly from one street side to another, with playground in the middle
  • Or: observe how people actually use park
    • Maybe an area of path floods every year, so people don't use it
    • When people get to a particular point, they slow down, talk, kids play games
    • Put paths where people naturally go (meandering), playground at natural convergence point
  • A system naturally develops emergent properties

Notes on Readings

Embracing Complexity

  • Managing interactions with systems instead of the system
  • Complex systems management neither maximize or minimize any variable: optimize somewhere in the middle
  • Limits are inherent in a complex adaptive system
  • Limited predictability in these systems – even if you know all the parts, you don’t know how the whole thing will behave (emergent properties)—must use precautionary principle
  • Predictability & precision (John Phillip Sousa marching band) vs. adaptive & spontaneous (jazz)
  • Rather than waiting to get it just right, adapting to what you have
  • Implications for sustainability: "need to change how we govern ourselves"

Places to Intervene in a System

  • You have a system and want to make it better (keep it from collapsing) follow some basic principles for intervening
  • Numbers: 95% of all interventions into the economy, forest management, involve numbers. In Meadows’ opinion these are the least effective intervention methods. None of the users of the resources actually count or use numbers, but rather have intuitively figured out how to use the system.
  • Higher-up intervention points: rules of the system and rules of self-organization – how do you design a system and what is the goal? Start with the goal because that has the most leverage.

Environmental Surprises

  • Limited predictability and limited control and things can happen very quickly
  • Implications for decision making:
  1. Be aware of trend lines – the trend of the trend line depends on the context and behavior of the larger system
  2. Reacting to problems is not good enough – anticipation is key
  3. When one must intervene, do so cautiously
  4. Irreversibility—there may not be any tradeoffs; perhaps there are no compromises
  5. Diverse solutions are necessary; there is not one, single right solution
  6. Assume that no matter what one does, there will likely be multiple effects, not just one outcome. Plan accordingly.
  7. Because they’re all dynamic systems, there are no permanent solutions