This is a preview of my new submission to Ecological Economics Please have a look at and comment on the review copy FYI Some of the figures and captions are below
Jessie Henshaw firstname.lastname@example.org
Abstract: Organized human and natural systems generally develop by an observable process of growth, with a beginning, middle, and end. Examples range from the growth of organisms, cultures, and ecologies to that of businesses, social movements, weather systems, even personal and social relationships, and many more. Close observation reveals organizational growth to be a progressive building process of self-organization. Most recognizable are its recurring three shifts in direction, each followed by a development period. That six-stage pattern can guide the study of a growth system’s internal and external designs, recognizable as a series of milestones along an “S” curve assembly line. That common model allows useful comparison of all kinds of natural and human-designed growth systems, using a diagnostic as opposed to a deterministic research method, keeping what “ought to be” in close association with “what is.” Discussed are the historical roots of the field, a set of pattern recognition tools, three brief pedagogical case studies, and an eco-economy view of our global growth and its natural time to turn.
ow living systems develop their complex organizational designs by rapidly evolving self-guided growth processes has fascinated scientific observers for millennia. Natural growth also still resists scientific definition though. Perhaps the delay comes from scientists asking the wrong questions, looking for deterministic rules for nature’s creative processes, rather than generative patterns of natural design.
Here we start from the broadest patterns, like how growth processes are evident throughout nature, even in every kind of work people do. Growth generally displays a three-part development cycle of beginning, middle, and end, but like a tree expands on opportunistic rather than deterministic pathways. Our problem with understanding it, then, might come from having so singularly studied nature for the deterministic patterns we can rely on, pushing aside the study of nature’s indeterminate building processes.
Another commonality is that whether it’s the growth of a mammal, a business, or a snowflake, the ultimate end is a state of complex perfection of design. On close inspection, that highly organized end-state seems to come from having alternating periods of diverging then converging (positive and negative) development feedback, first getting growth to start-up to then turn to perfect the design as growth finishes-up, as if generating a framework then filling it in.
Every economy is also an ecology, both a self-organizing system of mutual benefits which also relies on having positive net resource flows; both beneficial design and net material profits. Together these two faces of natural systems make a complex whole one can study from many points of view, but rely critically on all its parts.
Networks of mutual benefits are mostly composed of organizational, design, and qualitative relations, like that a cup holds water, or that a fish swims, or whether someone knows how to work with you, or whether a shop serves its local culture. Those aspects of design, organization, and qualities have no numerical definition but create the systems of mutual relations on which the designs of life rely, Some may be products of nature and others of fine arts and crafts: a fine meal, a delightful garment, or a meaningful film as inherent benefits of life.
Those benefits of life are also needed for the systems that deliver the physical resource flows that market price and investment returns determine the investment in, letting one calculate the budgets by which our world economy is managed. So to understand any particular living system, one needs a clear-headed understanding of how those two sides work together.
“California suffers greatly because the best elements of the population fail to cooperate for the common good as effectively as the bad elements cooperate for evil purposes.”
He then goes on to eloquently advocate and express confidence in the higher purposes of American society to heal our troubled world, to bring peace and justice to the world. But life is not a simple contest of good and evil. That’s a simple problem to solve, just let people join the side doing good.
What seems mistaken is portraying the evil of the world as being an absence of people doing good. As with the German holocaust of the 1930s and 40s. It is historically common for people who feel themselves to be doing good to then lose control of their societies, not realizing till much later they were doing great evil. In authoritarian societies, the leader commonly appears misled by the results of using their power to multiply their power, unaware of how very societally destructive their own behavior will become. That mechanism also applies to investors and governments now using wealth to multiply wealth, unaware of how destructive to the earth that will become. For the people in the societies doing the growing harm, like ours, “life seems normal”.
The larger difficulty is a “problem of normality”.
It’s almost too offensive for people to consider that their own good intentions and their own good feelings of cooperation in working together for the common good could be susceptible to evil. Examples of societies acting in complete contradiction to their own cultural values, and people having their good intentions twisted to evil purposes, seem like they must apply to “someone else”.
The author of the 2006 paper,Emergence and Evil, in the systems science journal E: CO, nicely documents in intimate detail how teams of good scientists, while living very normal academic & professional lives, also devoted their talents to making smallpox more contagious than it naturally is, for use as an efficient weapon. That is a hideously evil thing to do. The Soviet biological weapons program is also well studied from other views, usually addressing it from the simplistic “good v. evil” perspective. The real problem was good AND evil, a true evil that is not so simple, one taking the reader inside what true evil is. You find how very “normal” it is and how “good as evil” is the real problem behind people cooperating socially for evil purposes, like destroying the earth.
That your social relations within a society “can feel good” while your labors are “doing evil” is the problem.
There’s some kind of “disconnect” between what makes us feel good about our work, that fools us about the nature of what our societies are doing as a whole are doing with it. As soon as you realize the nature of the relation, it’s fairly obvious why it’s a problem. It’s that the cells of an organism have a completely different environment from the body, and as cells of the human body, people are rather unobservant. That seems to be the “disconnect.” The cells of a body have their common genome that helps guide each one to act in the interest of the whole, but for quite a number of reasons, our social lives don’t have that for our societal lives.
Without thinking we use natural growth for many common tasks already, simply by starting things to finishing them with a minimum of waste. In each case you “save the world” from needless excess consumptive growth in getting things started, wasting your efforts and the earth’s other natural and human resources.
Every kind of life, and kind of effort too, begins with building up a system of demands for available resources, to further expand on what built up before.
That expansion by building on what was built is the universal start-up process of nature, also sometimes called “extractive growth.” You see it very clearly in every kind of start-up, of a new friendship, a business, a career, a seedling or a life from a fertilized egg. The all start with steps that build up from what was built before. The build up that making breakfast starts with, for example, begins with the idea of food that makes you hungry, that then gets you to reach into the cupboard, and refrigerator for supplies, and the drawer or shelf for utensils, building a customized system and supplies for making your meal.
That process could go wrong, the way mankind’s way of using technology to multiply our making of things on earth exploded, and we now don’t seem to know how to stop. In making breakfast it might similarly go wrong if you got carried away taking out provisions. You might start with a small idea of what you need from the fridge, and add to that bigger ideas as you explore what there is to take out, repeating it to exhaustion perhaps, till the fridge and cupboards, pantry, and cellar, are emptied and all the family’s provisions in reach are mounded on the kitchen and dining-area floor, as you get hungrier and hungrier and your eyes expand way beyond the limit of your stomach, putting nearly all the family’s provisions to waste. The particular outcome is rare, but it is very true that once you get going with growing a process of growing, the process itself can become addictive. Today we clearly see in how we are wasting the earth in somewhat the same way, and love to be moved to tears and laughter by watching Disney’s Fantasia when Mickey Mouse learns turn his chores over to his broom with a magic spell, which gets tragically carried away carrying water.
starting things to finish them with a minimum of waste
Of course, we don’t usually behave that way at all, but at some point near the beginning of taking out provisions to use, switch to thinking about how to get to end of having a satisfying meal. We almost never have the exact end in mind either, but perhaps initially take out eggs and cheese to perhaps put them back and take out bread for toast and milk for cereal if you’re in a hurry. As you put things together you also do various smaller and smaller things you discover to do, to perfect the end result while also arranging the timing to get all the parts to come together at once, with excess provisions put away, all part of getting ready to sit down, perhaps with together with others in the family.
In doing that, rather than letting the initial provisioning of breakfast get carried away, we have “USED NATURAL GROWTH TO SAVE THE WORLD,” most often without really realizing what an enormous contribution to the community and your family was done by simply not maximizing the waste of all available provisions in the process of making breakfast. Of course, it’s also important to do and to watch for in other circumstances, a natural duty for living in a commons.
It seems like a little thing but is actually a very big thing, that we casually do for ourselves and others many times every day
that we casually do for ourselves and others many times every day
People are plenty smart enough to see that this “RULE OF NATURAL GROWTH” (also called “nature’s integral“), to finish up what you’ve started up doing before you make a mess for yourself and others, should also apply to civilization as a whole, and at every scale in-between. People do see that ALL development creates disaster risks, for example, and that boundless development would always creates an all-consuming disaster. Our minds still “get in the way” somehow, transfixed by fantasies it seems, and we just trundle along on the clear path to that all consuming disaster not knowing what else to do.
How this would save the world is really something quite plausible. We already see in progress a great “change of heart” by businesses and investors around the world to join in on averting the clearly disastrous future now directly ahead of us. If that initiates a wave of common sense, with business and investors choosing to follow the wave of the “impact investing” community, averting the looming crises in the most direct way possible, and with much less government involvement. Following that wave of necessity to avert disaster would also turn our world onto the natural growth path for perfecting how we use the earth. You could ask yourself and others to join the wave! The choices of higher purposes include the Green Climate Fund, supporting various SDG goals. The real, macro-economic effect is to distribute wealth in the service of higher purposes while directing profits away from concentrating wealth and raising the economy’s ever growing demands on nature and humanity.
Various other journal entries here discuss more about “what to do”, there’s a whole category with dozens of good little articles and discussions of it. Still, the best way to learn about it is for yourself, from watching how all of life revolves around the variations in nature’s integral, seeing for yourself how ‘start-up’ processes yield to ‘end-up’ processes in taking things to the natural climax of releasing them for their useful life.
2019 UN HLPF side event scheduled Tuesday July 10 2019 1:15 to 2:45 at the UN Millennium Hilton, 3min statement. Further links to natural growth strategy below. – Jessie Henshaw
Thank you for coming. Find more of my statement and links at www.synapse9.com/signals
My name is Jessie Henshaw. I’m a natural systems scientist who developed
a fascination with how living systems transform as they develop, such as how
our economy once changed by small accumulating steps that got bigger and bigger. Those ever-increasing rates and kinds of
change are the key reason there are natural limits to growth. Growth is itself an organizational process that
pushes economies and their organizations in the direction of increasingly
For example, walking down the street
by bigger and bigger steps, making more and more progress at first and would
lead to losing control, and a painful fall.
Similarly, in the last 250 years, the world economy doubled its annual expansion
about 12 times, so our annual expansions today are about the size of the entire
world economy of 1920, truly enormous.
In part, we experience that as universal pressure, for increased economic performance from all people, all organizations, all societies, and of course, all of nature too. We are also feel surrounded by systems failing to keep up, and in crisis, crying for help, that we find hard to deliver. So today the true location of the most “vulnerable people” and most “vulnerable regions,” struggling with unmanageable demands, is now truly the whole earth. (to cut for time)
At first, the economy’s growing
demands were not overwhelming, and seemed very rewarding for large sectors,
having a negligible impact on the earth as a whole too. Continually multiplying them changed all that. Now they disrupt every environment and are breaking
through all silos of discussion. Now we
see there was no “economic decoupling,” but just detachment from our responsibility. Now we look around and see an enormous diversity
of crises that were not supposed to materialize, and need to decide what to do.
We need an “economic recoupling” with our responsibilities
for the earth and humankind. An easy
first step is to think of your responsibility for steering the economy as equal
to your share of the economy. It may
seem small, but in a global economy where it takes the whole world to deliver
every product or service, we are similarly responsible for a share of every
harm caused too.
The path ahead I see, for transforming
the economy is to change from compound
growth to natural growth, climaxing growth at a peak of resilience and vitality,
ready for a secure, enduring and creative life on earth.
“Finance Serving Life” introduces an updated version of the transformation journey for global capitalism envisioned by J.M. Keynes. He first described it with a biblical fable he called “The widows cruse” (or “Widow’s cup”) based on the 1 Kings 17 story of Elijah asking for food from a poor widow with scarcely any, just a last bowl of flour and flask of oil. To relieve the poor widow of doubt Elijah tells her that if she shares her scarce provisions it will provide generously for both of them, becoming inexhaustible as long as she is in need.
Keynes’ use of the fable was meant illustrate to the wealthy that if growth ever became unprofitable, they could sustain a healthy economy by spending rather than compounding their profits, and have their profits forever be return to them. It illustrates a true natural economic principle of sustainability, that at natural limits to growth spending the profits from investments will become necessary to keep them profitable. That principle is also observed in living systems that repurpose their surpluses at their limits to growth, from being used for multiplying their parts to perfecting their uses and designs in order to thrive at maturity.
Today we can observe that using profits to continue to multiply the parts and demands of the economy on the earth and humanity have become excessive, in total effect impoverishing rather than enriching the both the human and natural world. In principle, though also depending on how it is done, relieving nature and humanity of escalating demands for increased productivity by wisely spending, rather than reinvesting profits would assure that the same level of profits would become everlasting.
Philanthropy and sustainability are among many such good purposes that those with a “good eye for value” might choose at a time such as the present when compounding profits to multiply the parts and scale of the world economy has become increasingly unsustainable. In macro-economic terms, spending the profits of the economy as it approaches the natural limits of healthy development relieves the natural world from endlessly increasing extractive depletion and disruption, while repurposing the use of profits for perfecting the economy’s systems and their relationships with the natural world, potentially bringing endless vitality to the whole.
One of the fine points observers often miss is that a non-growing world economy, using its profits for perfecting its designs for thriving and caring for the planet, would not become a stagnant “cash-cow.” Like a natural ecosystem it could be a thriving and stable system for continual self-reinvention, maintaining as much creative change, i.e. “creative destruction,” as is comfortable. Maintaining that balance of healthy creativity, avoiding both rapacious growth and stagnation, is then the steering job of the transformed economic system.
People are such wonderful designers of systems they put their minds to, and life offers so very many wonderful examples of successful transitions of this kind, from compound extractive growth to long lived creative stability, it is hoped that now that we are faced with the challenge, we could put our minds to it and figure it out.
The current slide set for presenting the concept more fully as a talk or webinar has the same name “Finance serving Life.”
I’ve been observing the UN SDGs as a natural systems scientist since 2013 when I saw with some surprise that the one topic both Country delegates and Civil Society groups could agree on was the wording of the ideals for global development. Even when the Co-Chairs, Ambassadors Korosi, and Kamu, began persistently asking for the discussion to turn to means and methods it never did. Ideals are wonderful, but the strains the SDGs are responding to are still growing, as the global disruption of human cultures by the growing intrusions of the economies of the world powers continues. That’s a problem not yet to be studied and discussed. Why? Partly to be “diplomatic” and partly not having a model for human cultures as living social organisms that carry all our shared ways of knowing living. Still we need a way to discuss the rapidly growing strains on human and ecological cultures caused by accelerating economic growth, a global cultural sickness.
As growth presses the limits of the earth and challenges the world to ever faster rates of change, the damage to nature and human society is more and more lasting. That’s a conclusion you can reach from many directions I think. The communities the SDGs aim to help seem mainly deeply rooted old cultures that are now “failing to thrive.” That is a living systems problem, not a numbers problem, as the SDGs were designed to solve. Failing to thrive is more like a “lack of meaning in life” dilemma, requiring a different approach. It’s also a symptom that one can use to map the problem worldwide and begin to look at its real dimensions.
Failure to thrive seems to hit both indigenous cultures worldwide and communities within economies where “creative destruction” is leaving lasting scars, like rural flight or outsourcing that hollows out a region. One example is the deeply alienated culture giving support to Donald Trump in the US, distressed by the world changing so much around them. There are also non-thriving local cultures in North, Central, and South Africa, as well as in the Middle East and North, Central, Southern and Eastern Asia, as well as in Oceana, Australia, North and South America. It’s not “the same old thing,” but a truly accelerating global plight, seeming to be of all the cultures that didn’t welcome or were disrupted by the intrusive growth of the world powers.
Human cultures are truly the crown jewels of humanity, though, where most of our gifts come from and are on display. They are the unique individual species of the human ecology. If you think about it, there is no other place on earth for the safekeeping of all our ancient accumulated ways of knowing and living. Each culture either crafts its separate way of knowing and living or branches off from another. They are our most important gift, evidently now absorbing a great deal of abuse.
With each culture being its own “knowledge system” it keeps people from making sense of any other culture, or even our own. If you trace the evidence, it does check out. We get the large part of our ways of understanding things during early childhood, by what you might call ‘osmosis’. Some say it’s “too close for us to see,” or that our mental way of seeing is functionally like a camera and its lens, that are never visible in the pictures they take. Cultures also have a deceptive “cellular design.” Their ways of knowing and living are internally shared, and not experienced from the outside. Even with extended immersion, an outsider does not develop a native feeling for another culture’s roots.
The great challenge we face today is that growth is an ever faster process of expansion and change, *doubling* its demands on the earth and humanity every 20-30 years. That radical rate of increasing demands is what eventually overwhelms the adaptability and resilience of people and the earth. Living things are being pushed to keep mechanically doubling numerical returns for culture-blind investors, as if the earth was unoccupied.
That’s how the English occupied North America, a hundred years after the first settlements rapid expansion began with importing slave labor then a wave of settlers swept across the rest of the continent, as if it were unoccupied. Elsewhere the economic powers built systems for globally harvesting resources, placing overseers where needed to manage their access, as if there was no one else there. Today it continues with how global capitalism still relates to the world, measuring its success in rates of accelerating expansion alone, as if no one is here. What’s most surprising perhaps, is how very effective our cultural blinders are in hiding our blindness to our own and other cultures from us. That is, hidden until you have an indicator like the glaring disruptiveness of ever more sudden change.
So what would relieve our fast growing societal distress? There’s a new business model expressly for responding to it, to use biomimicry for how nature builds thriving ecologies. If interested there’s a longer discussion article on how healthy cultures are the foundations of healthy economies and the business model for nourishing our cultures, that I refer to as “True Public-Private Partnerships” (tPPPs) discussed more in the essay Culture, Financing for Development and tPPPs.
The new business model begins like any business, organism, or culture does, with a period of innovating and vigorous growth, making profits to expand its systems. When the environment responds with increasing resistance or stiffening competition, the new strategy is to choose when and how to switch from maximizing profits for growth to maximizing long-term profitability to pay it forward. That’s done by refining systems to operate in smooth harmony with each other and their world. It’s a more gradual process but would produce more integrated development and be more profitable in the end, to combine human ingenuity and natural design.
Do comment if this gives you questions or ideas!
[*] Jessie Henshaw consults as HDS natural systems design science, email@example.com, offering insight into nature’s processes of negotiating change. She uses natural systems thinking strategies (NST) with “action research” (AR) and architectural “pattern language” (PL) methods of collaborative developmental design. The start is from recognizing that organizational processes in nature follow a familiar arc, beginning with bursts of innovation, and then refinement, leading to a final release (IRR). That is not unlike how we all do home or office projects, in stages of immature then maturing growth then release, also seen in reproduction. The system produced is first “framed out” with innovations then “filled in” with refinements and “delivered” as the release when ready. Her current related research article is on how our Systems Thinking co-evolvolves with our Systems Making.
The Growing Effort to Decouple GDP from Energy use and CO2, is having no apparent effect, raising serious questions about the nature of our plan.
The graph below (Figure 1) shows the 46-year record of world GDP PPP, Energy, and CO2, during which their growth rates have been in constant proportion to each other, called their “coupling.” The things to read are 1) the lack of accumulative departure from the steady trends, and 2) how closely the exponential trend lines (dotted) follow the data.
It shows that the long trend still holds despite both big efforts and bigger promises that accelerating growth using more efficient processes would separate the expanding economy from its impacts. Focusing so much on the “positive” completely disguised the big picture, though, that in 46 years there has been no accumulative effect at all. So there’s a lot to explain, yes, but the graphs below show persistent regular behaviors of the economy as a whole resilient system, a problem not yet faced at all.
That energy use and CO2 emissions are now still growing at the same rate as 40 years ago is strong evidence that none of the sustainability measures such as exceptional efficiency gains said to decouple the economy from its impacts, have had any effect at all.
The irregularly fluctuating curves below (Figure 2) show the annual rates of coupling if world Energy and CO2 growth rates to World GDP (PPP). The scale at the left shows their locally averaged growth rates as a fraction of the locally averaged GDP growth rates (to somewhat smooth the curves) going below zero once. The important thing is to notice is that the fluctuations vary around nearly horizontal trendlines.
It’s as if the economy is guided by an “invisible hand” keeping the fluctuations symmetric to the near constant trend. It says the fluctuations have been adding up to no effect. The likely cause of this is how a competitive economy naturally works. Technology and resources are supposed to be treated as being fungible assets, to be constantly reallocated to maximize profits. In the data, that functional coupling between the physical and financial systems of the economy is shown working rather smoothly, replacing less with more profitable assets to maximize the growth of profits for the whole. That stable coupling of managed assets to growth is then an apparent natural emergent property of the system as a whole, as a partnership between human cultures and the financial world’s effort to maximize growing profits.
How the world community came to say that “sustainable development” would reverse this stable natural relationship between the economy and its resource uses is described in more detail in April 2014 in The Decoupling Puzzle. Small fluctuations do keep causing excitement for both devoted climate deniers and sustainability advocates, though, each picking out brief trends seeming to affirm their hopes, like the five periods of apparent rapid decline in CO2 to GDP coupling shown here. The real evidence is that the local fluctuations never seem to result in a change in the direction of the whole, like ripples on a pond that always level out. The latest dip in the CO2 coupling trend has been claimed as a sign of turning the corner by the IEA, clearly unaware of the consistent pattern of that metric repeatedly fluctuating around a near-zero trend.
Added perspective on the global data is gained by plotting the ratio of GDP to Economic Energy energy, the amount of wealth produced with a unit of energy. We call that variable “Economic Energy Efficiency,” the amount of economic wealth generated per unit of energy. Having its growth rate = 1/3 the GDP rate implying that improving efficiency contributes 1/3 of the value of energy to the world economy, growing Energy use contributing 2/3 if the value. That ratio demonstrates a general case of Jevons famous observation that in a growth economy efficiency results in growing rather than declining resource use and impacts. Any way one reasons it, what is crystal clear is that in the last 46 years strenuous effort to use efficiency for sustainability have had the opposite of the intended effect, recreating the original problem rather than solving it.
So we need to be suspicious of the world policy to maximize growth at any cost. The costs are rapidly swelling not shrinking. The other coupled impacts of growth also causing how people live being forced to change ever faster creating major disruptions and dissension all over the world is one of the biggest, though even the NGOs are very slow in recognizing. In nature, growth is how all kinds of natural systems begin, but those we admire for their perfection turn to refining their designs before they climax rather than, driving their growth to the point of being torn apart of being exhausted.
That’s the trick. Maximizing growth might seem logical as a way for societies to keep up with social distress and debts, but now it’s accelerating them. So now we need to balance the attraction of short-term profits and connect them all the unbalanced disruptive changes that now surround us. We talk lightly about replacing people with robots, for example, overlooking that the robots only work for the banks. That’ll make people and governments ever more indebted and incapable of responding to climate change, for one problem. And that chain of consequences goes on and on, that is as long as we keep ignoring how natural growth systems that avoid the problem work. More disruption is not the solution, only moderation.
There’s an alternative business model that could serve as a general design for growth without disruption, one that switches to paying the profits forward once any debts have been paid back. Once understood, that is what would achieve truly integrated, thriving and self-limiting development, as biomimicry of ecosystem designs. It is discussed in more detail in the article linked from my next post, Culture, Finance-for-Development, and tPPPs.
Use biomimicry for how nature uses growth to build thriving and enduring systems.
It would be a way for businesses large or small to begin to experiment with how nature succeeds in creating beautiful, thriving, and purposeful systems. It’s a fairly simple formula. It’s also a practice we all know well for how to successfully relate to other people and how to successfully complete business or home projects. It starts with building up innovations to then select what to refine for making the result resilient and purposeful in its environment. If we approached every new relation or project by piling on new experiments with no turn toward refining something to last in the end, all the effort would go to waste in the end.
To start you study the similarity between nature’s way of building things to perfection and how we do our own home or office projects! They all take place in “three acts.” The first act is for “innovating,“ the second for “refining,“ and the third act the “release” of the finished product into its waiting environment (IRR). You see the same three acts in the birth cycle, and in the start-up of new businesses too, as well as the formation of new cultures and most every other kind of individual development. The trick is really to pay attention to the inspiration that starts it off, as something to fulfill. That lets you anticipate and move smoothly between the stages of emerging development, first adding up more innovations, then refining the ones worth keeping to the end. It’s what comes most naturally when we can see the whole effect.
When you can see the whole it’s easy to recognize the point when adding more innovations begins to work against getting something finished, called a “point of diminishing marginal returns.” Of course on a home or office project what tells you it’s time to shift to finishing what you started is just sensing what can you finish while you have time and resources. For anything measurable, like wealth, the point of diminishing marginal returns is when it becomes more profitable to put efforts into getting things to market rather than try more experiments. To apply it to the world all you do is ask: “What is our real plan here?” and look around for how to perfect what we started, and at the right time stop taking on more and more that we probably won’t be able to finish. It’s a matter of shifting to pursuing achievable goals rather than hanging on to thinking ever bigger with no end in sight. Reaching for the right goal doesn’t necessarily make the work easy, of course, particularly for big personal, community or business projects. It just makes the work a lot better, and the end something fulfilling and rewarding.
I discuss that as a way to measure truly lasting success for the UN’s 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, instead of just “more, faster” the ways the UN’s goals are like the goals of business-as-usual, discussed in more detail in Culture, Finance-for-Development and PPPs.
The global GDP PPP curves show IEA data from 1971 to 2008 spliced to overlapping World Bank Data from 1990 to 2016. The curves for global Energy are from BP statistics, and the Global CO2 curves show data from WRI.
The Energy and CO2 curves were each scaled to the GDP curves in proportion to their average growth rates for a graphically clear and honest comparison.
dy/Y is the ratio of the change in a measure over the total, like an interest rate or growth rate measures. I get smoother curves by blending a bit, using a center-weighted 5 point bracket.
Setting Our Whole system goal,
Making the Earth our good home.
Much of my effort over the past five years fosuces on working with civil society organizations at the UN on the world sustainable development goals (SDG’s). This year, needing to take care of other business, I’m sitting out. It may be ironic, of course, as the challenges of implementing the UN 17 separate goals probably makes:
more and more participants think of how the goals need to all work together,
and can’t individually be achieved without the ‘nexus’ of the whole.
Ultimately my years at the UN was mostly spent identifying the widespread absence of systems thinking in the SDG’s, watching somewhat painfully as the UN spent all its time creating lists of separate goals, as if unaware of their interlinkage. The interlinkage most neglected of course was that of *MONEY*, our main tool and problem. So my writing of that time may be a little out of date. I can tell that much of the systems thinking I found so absent before still is, however.
I have lots of other writings on how “systems thinking” for our world needs to become “systems making”, the next step toward true “homemaking on planet earth”. Finding how societies can make their good homes on earth is the answer. Like ecologies of other kinds do, we can invent our way out of the deepening trap we now find our world economy in, using nature as a guide.
I got fairly frequent applause at the UN, enough to know people are listening, but to my knowledge no one ever followed up on my carefully reasoned recommendations, and no one ever asked me to be on a panel discussing them either. So here I’ve collected some of my old lists of observations on the process, and reiterate my offer to help people understand the guiding patterns of natural system design that I’ve spent my life studying.
A Youtube of one of my interventions for last year’s HLPF gets right to the heart of the matter too!
I also can’t help returning to a central subject of collective organization I’ve studied my whole professional career, the seeming fate of economies to bring periods of high cooperation to an end with total disaster. The main cause could of course be said that no one in particular is at fault. But there is science enough to identify who could intervene, and do something about it.
My previous post was on the work of Ernst Ising, the physicist who solved a range of collective behavior problems, and how pattern language design science might address the question of what kinds of environments are required for emerging local phenomena. Why economic collapse is always on the road straight ahead for our form of highly cooperative modern economies is one such subject I’d like find physicists using Ising’s work on with.
One might wonder about what keeps driving our highly cooperative world economy toward escalating conflict.
All of humanity seems driven by a “rat race” toward extremes of destructive competition all the time, unable to escape, with most everyone feeling they are reacting in their own defense. That’s not a model for a safe and secure world.
Could we possibly trace how the economic forces, like those driving everyone to achieve rapid growth in economic productivity, and so for the earth and humanity, creating circumstances ripe for triggering grand economic collapses. If we can identify the system doing that we could identify interventions well in advance, to engage a “general protection fault” to avoid the usual mad collective collapse.
I for one think it boils down to demanding people do impossible things, demanding of our society to do impossible things, like continually doubling the speed at which we collect and use energy and expand our control of the earth. That can only end in tragedy, like it has for economies again and again. Why economies are driven to it, to be ever more productive at ever faster rates, follows unavoidably from their organization for maximizing compound returns from investment, making ever more from ever less. Like being forced to “make bricks without straw”, the regular investment of profits in escalating to create ever more daunting competition ultimately compels cooperation in cheating. In the end that unavoidably disrupts the order, as one of the natural outcomes of pointlessly taking the compounding of returns to its natural limit.
We could do something else if we understood the problem…
An interesting global question is, to me, raised by Ernst Ising’s work in physics – (see the arxiv pre-print on his life and work if interested. https://arxiv.org/pdf/1706.01764.pdf)
Ising’s main work in the 1920’s was deriving a mathematical explanation for ferromagnetism, the ability of atoms in certain solid metals to develop aligned spins, and exhibit permanent magnetic fields in there surroundings as a result. The part of that might be of interest from a pattern science viewpoint is how his model has been successfully applied to numerous collective phenomena, both other emergent collective atomic behaviors like magnetism as well as emergent collective macroscopic behaviors like the emergence of organization in crowds.
The math, honestly, is beyond me, but there’s an interesting assumption in the work that might be discussed from a pattern science perspective, that the math rests on treating such phenomena as arising from purely local interactions.
Ising Said: “So, if we do not assume [ ] that [ ] quite distant elements exert an inﬂuence on each other [ ] we do not succeed in explaining ferromagnetism from our assumptions. It is [thus] to be expected that this assertion also holds true for a spatial model in which only
elements in the nearby environment interact with each other.”
What I suspect is that there’s more of a wave/partical type duality present, involving both local and contextual interaction
in bringing about collective organization.
In the collective phenomena we observe there is certainly has a strong local character, whether it’s snowflake formation, ecologies, social movements or probably also the punctuated equilibria of emerging species. All such collective phenomena seem to arise in relatively small centers and then spread mysteriously. They also seem to require specially primed and fertile environments, as global conditions that are receptive to the local accumulation of collective designs.
So my question is who else is talking about this pattern of nature. Is this raised in Christopher Alexander’s “The Nature of Order” or other pattern language writings? Is it raised in the work of anyone else writing in the pattern language field? More specifically, does it need to be understood to know how to describe the contexts we work in, perhaps such that a calm and receptive and so fertile context is needed to be a good host for pattern designs to flourish?
New systems science, how to care for natural uncontrolled systems in context