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SYSTEMS-A WAY OF LOOKING AT THINGS 8 Systems Thinking and the 21st Century Until recently we usually assumed our world to be an infinitely robust and resilient, self-balancing and self- correcting ecosystem in which man could operate as a predator and exploiter without any concern for the long- term implications of his actions. According to one author, man once viewed himself like some cowboy wandering across a plain, taking all he wanted and discarding his rubbish as he went, but now he must think like an astronaut on a spaceship, with limited room fbr any more people and dwindling resources (everything must be recycled). Giscard dYEstaing, former president of France, stated that 'all modem curves lead to disaster'. Another author views modern man as a parasite fist destroying his host because his demands and population growth are running out of control. Much is being said about our living off the next generation, and on the 'environmental credit card: Technology has given us a power denied to all prwious generations. Materialism and modern-growth economics have given us the sanction, the motivation-yea the imperative, for transfbrming vast quantities of resources into wnsumables and thence into garbage (planned obsolescence, often of things we didn't need in the first place) thus causing huge problems and straining the ecological balance. Once our mother earth is dead, so are we. Hence we can no longer view the earth as a self- balancing purposive system but must now look upon it as a human activity, or purposeful system, in which man must play an active role maintaining or restoring balance. We must re-think the transformations we measure. When Dm came out we only measured the transformation from live insects to dead ones. No-one thought much abot modelling what efkct it might have on other species and how long before the problems might show up (lag- time). Do we 'just measure the transformation from soil and water to crops and money, or do we also measure and give equal importance to any transformation from good soil to degraded soil? We must ask how we might better monitor and intervene in systems in order to maintain stability, sustainability and equity-and still keep high productivity. If our past performance is anything to go by, trial and error has not proved very successful in ensuring things will work out satisfictorily in the long haul. Systems thinking is therefore now an essential discipline. Without concepts such as lag-time (as with the problem of soil degradation-it doesn't show up straight away) and measures of performance clearly in our mind, we are likely to continue to experiment with our social systems and ecosystems without systems-modelling of likely outcomes. For example the measures of performance of a fertiliser on irrigated cotton fhrms perhaps should include its performance in relation to algal blooms downstream. There is now no room left for mistakes. We are fast
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This note was uploaded on 10/25/2011 for the course POLS POLS 333 taught by Professor Evans during the Winter '11 term at Cal Poly.

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