Category Archives: Policy discussion

We have more than one problem

Thinking about the global crisis, the people who feel it think so differently than those who don’t, and the solutions of the latter seem to be at the very root of the problem (problem A).

We need solutions that would work in practice. That would take a real understanding of the problem and its origins. Easy-sounding solutions only mention the endpoint and skip how the process of getting there starts and develops. Decentralizing the economy, for example, sounds good but would also destroy the economy, as every product today physically comes from everywhere! Social values can make excellent design principles, but they are not system designs. We have many good designers and managers, too, but they are not doing the job needed today. So “problem A” seems to be that our system designers and managers are following century-old rules that today have become globally destructive. That implies that changing their jobs is more important than changing the people. We still need the same talents but doing the right things.

That presents a huge but possibly practical challenge. The people we’d need to communicate with are largely very communicative and, from their view, caring. It’s our world culture of wonderfully educated, risk-averse, and successful professionals from good families – who steer the world’s institutions and economy while also being blind to the side effects of their steering. They even call the existential threats they cause “externalities” and don’t know what to do about them. In truth, those so-called externalities are internal system breakdowns caused by our long history of applying Many Too Many Solutions while Blind To The Side Effects.

This cream of the world crop of educated professionals is NOT intentionally blind to their impacts, now destroying the earth at the economy’s maximum rate of acceleration. They also do have access to the data on the global system breakdowns. However, their thinking is in terms of the CONCEPTS of their work (simple models of profit), not noticing how their choices became disconnected from their CONTEXTS (the rich meanings of all the living worlds they touch). So, the problem is they don’t-feel-a-thing.

Feelings and their meanings come from contextual awareness, not abstract concepts. So blind to the effects of their work, they blindly follow the outdated rules to multiply everything that was once highly creative but now is quickly destroying the earth. Yet, if you get to know them personally, it is quite ironic how they do largely seem to be caring, responsible people. They’re from good families and try their level best to secure their homes and care for their communities. Those ironies present are where the openings for real communication are!

So, how do we get them to look at different rules to follow, like for the rest of us, please “pay attention to the planet.” There are two necessary parts to freeing professionals from their “true beliefs” and opening their eyes. (((#1 One is experiential.))) Someone needs to personally lead them out to explore the world and have direct experiences of the natural beauty of life spoiled by rising global demands and dysfunction that urgently need relief from growing pressures and good care. (((#2 Another is mining deeper cultural knowledge.))) Caring for your home is as deep a tradition as any in human cultures, but our elite professionals have totally lost track of it in wildly shaping (and reshaping) our world.
The first link shows some history of what happened to cause the blindness of experts to develop. It implies the task is to help the world’s leadership recover their ability to care for the earth as our genuine home, and NOT a concept (a). It helps to see the breadth of our crises (b). a) https://synapse9.com/signals/bronze-age-roles-of-hestia-and-hermes/
b) https://synapse9.com/_r3ref/100CrisesTable.pdf

They’d never do most of the wrecking crew work they do if they followed the customary practices of “homemaking” or if you prefer “home science.” They are fairly simple and reliable practices for 1) having wide awareness and 2) respecting common interests that we all follow in our homes. We all follow them when doing tasks, too, at home, at the office, or in the community. They are the same as the universal system-making model nature follows for Making Things To Fit The Context. When making changes, it starts with building on some idea, “confluence,” or inspiration of nature. When activated, it becomes the ‘germ’ of a new working system that grows as fast as it can at first. Then it sometimes passes the test of when and how to stop.

The universal test is simple, taking resources from growth for Responding To The Growing Needs Of The New System as those needs start competing with the values of more expansion. An endless expansion gives a system more to take care of (and more complexity that prevents it) than is manageable; a fatal problem. When making dinner, for example, the natural turning point is when you have collected and started preparing what is needed and then turn to finishing and gracefully serving. That must be before you startup too much to finish. That turn from starting to completing a design process also happens when new organisms become fully formed and ready to start learning about their new world. That occurs at birth for mammals when the new life starts to explore with family support for a while as they “fledge” and then be freed. People call it “youth” and “graduate,” the preparation and point of leaving the nest.

So, communicating to professionals about their ignorance threatening the planet is a dicey proposition. That is helped by really knowing what you’re talking, protesting, or singing about. Since negativity usually reinforces opposition, it helps to take a caring rather than aggressive approach.

A good example of that came up with the US supreme court starting to take away universal rights. The idea of forcing the country to adopt radical Christian Right (CR) values by packing the court came from their decades-long quest. Now it looks like there may be more to come than denying every woman’s right to privacy in their reproductive choices. Every living thing on earth needs individual and home privacy, though, so it seems to violate nature to deny it to others unless you are seriously injured.

So to turn that all around, ask: “What in the world happened to the CR to make them feel so directly harmed” And why was the only solution to deny the world around them universal rights??”
Were they feeling an egregious loss of their home and privacy? The world around them has indeed been changing ever faster (due to problem A). The threat of ever faster change around their very fixed beliefs could have made them feel alienated, without a secure home anymore, and only able to think of lashing back? That makes it plausible that sympathy could sometimes be a better tool than antagonization, and of course, it would go both ways.

________________________________________

JLH

System change? It’s also birthing new lives

from One community Global: Living In a New World
https://www.onecommunityglobal.org/living-in-a-new-world/

A comment on a post by Joss C.  for an Offering of tools for systems change on the Systems Innovation Network, a quite beautifully done Systems Innovation Starter Kit for which courses are offered.

__________________________________________

Yes, quite nice work. I think learning how natural systems develop and change as wholes seems needed too, though.  We are often easily confused by how easy it can sometimes be to change the parts of systems we want to change as a whole. Systems generally develop as wholes and change as wholes, though, of course, unless broken up. Learning how to foster whole system change often comes from attempting to engineer some living system, to then see it fail over and over, learning how from experience by deep emersion in the context to understand its needs.  That’s often how businesses evolve, by the deep emersion of its people in creating order from the chaos their first attempts cause. That’s still likely to happen, but might be made easier if people studied how actual systems emerge and change. 

Real system change is more like the birth of a child, something developing as a whole and emerging as a whole, to then find it has to actively explore and adapt to find its place in the world.  That applies to the birth of new ideas for new kinds of organization within a business, for or in a community, or in the world.  It always first starts with the germination of its growth, then development and maturation on the way to having a life. Each stage is a unique challenge and experiential learning and growth process. The first creates its insides and then develops its relationships outside, to fit with the environment it emerges into. 

What we’re struggling with globally is, of course, moving the world system in a profound and dramatic way. Though it is very different from learning to personally host and guide the birth of innovations in our work to fit their contexts there is a lot about global change we can learn from it. For a global change, we need to recognize first that we are not in control of much at all. Secondly, we need to recognize that systems are systems primarily because they are self-controlled, work as wholes, and though they have flexible parts and do often change by themselves, they really ONLY change as wholes and not by pushes and shoves, but by themselves something like we do. 

That’s where it’s useful to study our experience with systems that change by themselves, our groups, friends, communities, selves, and children are things we know a lot about. There are only a few ways an outside approach can help, or hinder. For systems that one is part of one can spread the feeling of the pressures and any useful knowledge of opportunities for a whole to change on its own. There are often places where a developing whole system awareness is not getting through, and different forms of whole system awareness are needed. That is what seems to prepare a system for some sort of inspiration of its own, sometimes called “animal spirits,” that trigger whole system change, in a direction that motivates the whole. 

We see it in our own behavior, as with what makes us overcome habits and do something new. It takes deep and ultimately inspiring feelings. If you think about change moments for other things, other words for it might come up, but it’s one or another kind of holistic response to awakening and opportunity. It needn’t be awakening due to growing life-threatening pressures, but we do hope indeed they will help motivate and inspire our world. When the system awakens to the opportunity it triggers the animal spirits to be felt by and move the whole.  

Of course, that is IF successful. Let us hope that’s what humanity will have in mind to do as push comes to shove and the terrifying game of “chicken” we keep playing with ourselves, of using power to multiply power as a way of life, finally breaks.  

_______________________________________

jlh

Behavioral ironies for our moral values

It’s wonderful to have so much movement in the movement now, the passion and connections making such awakening waves around facing our global crisis of growing crises.  Capitalism isn’t amenable to the kinds of change mostly offered, moral suasion, that I hear voiced by the great host of determined voices rising in response. 

The people actually most responsible are the class of highly educated successful professionals from good families ruling the world.  We need to study ironies like that, looked at as non-verbal cues from nature to look more deeply at the problem.  Another irony is that the educated professional class running the world, who like everyone else, exhibits highly successful survival instincts in their personal environments, evidently also seems to think nothing of destroying the home of nature and humanity at ever-accelerating rates; another irony. 

The many ironies surrounding our escalating world crisis all suggest some kind of profound blindness, on the part of nature’s most intelligent species. There is one that the ironies can help us pick out. One of the other ironies that have been talked about for decades now, is that it seems our solutions are the source of our problems. That is particularly clear in how you just can’t talk to people offering great temporary solutions for growing long-term problems. They’re not motivated to look for the flaws in their proud designs. That disappointing truth is pervasive throughout the world sustainability movement. For the biggest example, even the climate change effort amounts to an enormous effort to find a temporary fix that absolutely can’t last. Its aim is to phase out one ever-multiplying energy source for another, taking no (0) account of the ever-multiplying impacts of generating and using the new source for multiplying our control of nature.  What we’re using the energy for is probably a bigger actual environmental problem than how we obtain it!

In short, we’re behaving like confused 2-year-olds with respect to some of our most important tasks, as we also act like grownups with respect to some others. For some reason, I started noticing these kinds of ironies a long time ago. They would just pop out at me.  I noticed in first-year physics almost 60 years ago, for example, that physics does not study the parts of nature that can’t be turned into a formula!  Of course, no one would listen then or ever since, though recently I may be making little bits of progress.  The insight that triggered that observation came while being taught about the parts of simple behaviors that fit formulas, like a ball thrown in the air. We were not taught about the little non-linear energizing and de-energizing transients that begin and end every case of similar events. 

Conceptual thinking, the identification of simple patterns in complex contexts, is I think, at the heart of our problem. We spend so much time with our concepts, observed patterns simplified and detached from our contexts. that we lose track of their contexts, that is, except for the contexts we are deeply immersed in.  The one you can’t feel and the other you can, and that has EVERYTHING to do with behavior.

Thus our good survival instincts are in familiar places and we tend to lose them if all we have is abstract data. That divide also means that we naturally think our social concepts and values rule the world because they touch our emotions so directly. It tends to make the behavior of the natural and institutional systems that really run the world go largely unnoticed. The worst part… is that the simple rules of science and finance for profitably (and blindly) growing our control over our nature and each other (rules we see as detached from their contexts), then also multiply ever-faster. So, naturally, they take over the world those “powers of our minds” (for multiplying our power) are unleashed. Looking at the long history shows the scope of the dilemma. We’ve been doing that for thousands of years, over and over, blowing things up and suffering the disaster. And we are still at it today.  Of course, if this like of questions helps us see the problem, maybe we can do something this time.

So what do we do?  Well, I can’t say what path to take, as that will be determined by first looking for then finding the openings in our blind convictions, to breathe fresh air into them. Then the need appears to be to at least start a cure for the very heart of the problem, how our powerful concepts blind us to the world we take power over.  If we could feel what’s going on around their use we would be able to read the non-verbal cues to the state of our relationships, and not be helpless. Where we don’t feel the state of our relationships we’re blind to the effects of our choices and helpless. The main example is of course our pension for multiplying money, not having any feeling for the extensive evidence that what we do with money is rapidly destroying the earth, for example, the Top 100 World Crises Growing With Growth. 

The list is too much to absorb all at once, but it’s one of the healthiest things to try. https://synapse9.com/_r3ref/100CrisesTable.pdf The solution is – conceptually – simple too. Learn from the examples of how both we and nature so often steer the growth of new systems to become lasting good homes for their builders!

So we need to somehow bring feeling to the environments our conceptual thinking has isolated us from and prevented us from feeling at home.  Sound good? Do you perhaps wee any openings to explore? Lots of the ones I hear about people looking into seem to me to be just the right type. It’s a diagnosis connecting the emotional and moral openings with a practical behavioral understanding of the problem that is really needed.  I think that coupling is what’s missing.

______________________________________

An edited version of a comment on Jeremy Lent’s “Patterns of Meaning?

JLH

Betrayed by the power of our minds

The radical separation of humans from nature, our being so self-absorbed and seeing nature as defined in our heads rather than the other way around, has been a deep mystery for a long time.

My interest in it came from noticing how mathematics became our standard for representing nature but cannot describe or help us study what makes life so lively, the abounding creative processes of nature.

I’m not against math, a fabulous art, that does help us identify certainties, however, our desperate search for certainty is what seems to have betrayed us, splitting our minds between attentiveness and total blindness to our environments, having defined in our minds nature as our rules for how to control nature…

A general systems theory and demonstration of the problem and solutions are to be presented on Jul 9 at 3:30 at the 2022 ISSS world systems science conference. See the preprint Holistic Natural Systems – Design & Steering – Guiding New Science for Transformation.

____________________________________

First Openings

The search for answers in mathematics, the language of determinate relationships that science uses, has proved extraordinarily profitable, leading to growing human comforts that have also taken us to the point of our increasingly destroying the natural world. Our mysterious detachment from nature seems very directly at fault. The animation of life, its rich relationships, and creativity are all left out of the formula when people are guided by determinate rules. It’s something I’ve long studied as a physicist, having first noticed that every event begins and ends with some little dynamic transient of change.

I think part of the problem is that language was actually reflected our first highly useful systems thinking, with all its words and grammar arranged to communicate important experiences, designs, and relationships IN THE NATURAL CONTEXT. Math makes rules abstracted from a natural context, that are most profitable when offering easy ways to control nature without concern for the context. So they work great but pass on no information on when they are being overused. That is as clear in the simple cases and most extreme cases, such as the world consensus plan to maximize our economic growth rate, for regularly doubling the wealth we extract from nature while ignoring its rapidly degrading impacts on nature, called “externalities.”

But who is it that is blind to what, and how in the world do we face an existential dilemma evidently buried so deep in human consciousness?

Finding the right path forward

We see humanity’s deeply split personality, generous and playful as well as obsessed with expanding our control of the world but need to find its source. Then we will finally begin to make progress, to slowly dig our way out of the terror our powerful minds seem to have created for us. Somehow we allowed our truly wondrous designs to create a new world of enormous cruelty, following their promise of relieving nature’s cruelty. That’s definitely happening, and definitely not good.

One of the paths to a cure could come from studying the differences between how people behave in one or the other way. We might then cure the blind way of abusing our powers by restoring the principles of staying in touch with environmental contexts. The direct approach, helping others immerse themselves in the natural environments they are in trouble with, works great using an experienced teacher. The living systems scientist like Ostrom or Midgley do it by lead communities through a process of exposure to how their worlds work, leading to their making much better choices.

As parents we also talk to our kids that way too, helping them to understand problems of insensitivity to others. Every good family does that, but the children still grow up to follow the rules of maximizing growing profits and ignoring the economy’s ever-growing impacts. That very clearly defines the split between how people behave in familiar contexts, where they can feel the strains on relationships, and in the public sphere where they don’t. In the public sphere rules for profit give people only feelings of self-interest and blind them entirely to the enormous building strains in the wider world’s relationships.

I’m not saying that is the only strong force causing humanity’s spiritual separation from life, but one we can see plainly enough to realize we very much need to act on it, despite the difficulty of communication that recognizing errors in our plans naturally creates.

Modern society presents other special problems of communication too, confronting us with thousands of self-serving silos of narrow beliefs, personal, social, religious, national, and professional. I look at them all as “cultures,” the “cells of knowledge” we build to guide us on how to think, work, live, and talk to give us some local sense of security in a confusing world. Cultures are also a saving grace as well as a way to divide us, given how most are deeply rooted in what worked in the past, with authentic copies passed on from generation to generation.

Of course, individual people have individual saving graces too, to use in helping us climb out of the trap we find ourselves in. Some have vision, steady hands, charisma, moral clarity, persistence, or wonderful person-to-person good hearts. Those don’t come from theories of control, that betray our powerful minds. They come from the opposite, from our loves and cares largely cut out of the public sphere by the rules we blindly follow. Saving graces in our institutions seem harder to find. We mostly built them around ideas of expanding control or being funded by it, not on learning how to make free associations work well.

What it seems we need to rely on is family culture and their central one for all and all for one life agreement. I’d include in that both the home and work families we center our lives on, which generally make us acutely aware of the non-verbal as well as verbal cues indicating openings and strains on our relationships. That is the very kind of environmental awareness that enables our personal and family survival instincts.

That is what seems most missing from the public sphere institutions, seemingly blinded by following abstract rules rather than navigating relationships with the world. It’s not even that the world doesn’t act as a whole. It certainly can and does, as you see in the effect of managing a global economy to work as a whole. To feel where the world is going, and change our collective steering, we’d need to count all the global strains we have not been counting.

An Experimental Partial List of the mostly uncounted growing strains on our relationship with life.
The Top 100+ World Crises Growing With Growth
__________________________

(note on the home science of Hestian proto-Greek culture now the new post: Bronze Age Roles of Hestia and Hermes

JLH

a leading edge of the research

Paul Maidowski @_ppmv offered to respond to some of the tough questions about Climate change. On Jan 16 I posted the following image of how climate change has only accelerated parallel to economic growth, with no recent bumps or bends in the curve, starting the short discussion below (w/ minor edits for clarity).

Paul, Why don’t climate scientists take into account the main accelerator of climate change, investors using the economy’s profits to continually multiply the scale of business? Don’t they see the trap? https://synapse9.com/_r3ref/100CrisesTable.pdf…

Paul’s response

Hi JL, amazing document, thanks! I believe the training of climate scientists keeps them from speaking with authority on other fields – or even engaging non-mainstream analyses. they’ve been burned with the hack in 2009 before COP15 at U of East Anglia, and never recovered. Structurally I link this to whatever causes allowed Nordhaus and the economists to sideline Forrester and system dynamics in the 1970s / 80s.

They may see it as individuals, but in their functions, as scientists or in their institutions, they feel they cannot speak to these questions. I think this is changing now, slowly. But of course, it’s very late. What do you think? It greatly puzzles me too.Image

Jessie’s response

Paul, Good points. I think another major factor is the backroom control of public interest organizations by financial advisors. I’ve seen that at the UNEP and the WRI, two premier research centers, much adding to hesitation to explore outside the rails. There are systemic sources too, like data representing reality to formal research, and money exchange erasing all negative information, the reality of the growing impacts seems to vanish. So, nearly all decision-making is blinded to the growing threats.

Along with every field operating within its own boundaries and the systems sciences failing to make physics methods work (omitting the myriad autonomous systems) about the only honest voices are of protestors who don’t quite see that the problem is really that the financial system is flying blind, IMHO. FYI

My own approach has been to focus on how most people become experts in starting, resourcing, and perfecting their complex home and work designs. Those are like making dinners, doing office projects, and developing lasting relationships, all of which also follow nature’s plan for making new things that last.

So, if we study how people make systems that work well and it is written about, it could give professionals and protesters both a good idea of what we need to do. The critical point in every complex system design is reading the signals to turn from starting to finishing when perfecting the work becomes the key to making its value last. The recent paper on it is: https://synapse9.com/ISSS-21/ISSSJul11NewSci-IndividSys-MS.pdf

What A-R-E we doing?

From a natural systems science view, every culture change is a growth process.

As with all growth processes, the start is small exploratory steps that if successful settle on some main direction, or directions of new development.

That development then either switches to refining its internal design and maturing its environmental fit, to establish a lasting way of working in its new world, or it starts breaking up for not establishing a home.

In a world like ours, changing ever more rapidly, as a rule, our cultures like our economies driven to redesign and reorganize ever more rapidly, we now see them also tend to split up and follow divergent paths, too, unable to predict or control their own growth as the old ways holding them together are torn apart. In the past we called it creative destruction. Now it’s become destructive creation and multiplying technology and investment disrupt social contracts and our ways of working multiple times in a work-life and driving growing angry discontent in every direction.

The problem isn’t growth per se, but not even intending to finish it, not heading for the steps needed to make the culture change of the modern world something of lasting value, to both our many societies and its environment.

My friend Linda, among many others, said “the problem is we leave out Nature, the true ruler of our destiny. This is the big correction taking place. But because we have left out Nature, we do not understand it. No system can override Nature.”

I told her “Yes, and though everyone is feeling the strain, not understanding how we left out nature we also don’t see what to do.”

What I’ve come to is one possible way to close the gap. There’s a key level of all our cultures that displays how everyone does indeed nature’s method of building lasting complex systems. It is in our familiar methods of doing work projects at home or the office. We start and finish them to give them lasting value. We don’t leave our work half-finished to get ourselves fired or divorced.

The normal way is to start efforts with some small intent and look for how to build on it, then discover that it needs to fit a range of intentions and fit with the world around it, making adjustments and adding details to finish it off for delivering a lasting service to family or clients.

In other words, it’s not starting but finishing things that give them lasting value, placing the key in the arch that lets it stand up, furnishing a home that makes it liveable, coming to an agreement that is the purpose of negotiation.

However, … the internet is designed to endlessly multiply information and exponentially change how we live ever faster, like the economy too, making ever-bigger changes in how we live, sure to keep becoming ever-more unmanageable and to derail sometime, making nothing to last.

Who’d think the host of “experts” the world relies on would all make the same fatal blunder that everyone at home or work knows how to solve??

We need to pass it on I think. There must be a way that the people who care to make things work in their own lives can have a say in our common lives. Every system begins with growth and our ancient cultures seem to have all learned from nature about how to make things that last, making nature part of our design!

JLH

________________________

https://synapse9.com/signals

How our world can Escape its long DEATH SPIRAL

To make our escape there’s not just one requirement, but the main path is to join the emerging understanding that our new age of growing environmental chaos is a natural result of overextended compound economic growth. In nature, growth is a tricky two-edged sword, the greatest of gifts to begin with then the greatest of threats if not converted to things more lasting (1).

Living systems invariably begin with a period of multiplying the parts that capture more resources than they use. Starting things with an explosion of new life is part of nature’s beautiful complex process, so we should be glad for it, but only to a point. The catch is that for our world to survive its period of rapid growth we need its growth to climax in time. Otherwise, growth will generate huge surpluses of false profits as it undermines its own foundations and spreads chaos throughout its environment.

We see that in every corner of the world today, enormous creativity going into generating false surpluses disrupting the environments the economy is supposed to serve, but now attacks instead, spreading chaos rather than healing. For example, COVID seems to be causing chaos around the world, a natural virus not immediately our fault. However the chaos is enabled by our extreme overpopulation, our strings of inadequate responses, growing mistrust, and belief in conspiracy theories, led by magical thinking that the earth can be profitably exploited to infinity, Our world consensus plan is actually TO MAXIMIZE OUR RATE OF GROWING EXPLOITATION OF THE EARTH AND HUMANITY FOREVER, as if we didn’t see what that does. All those compounding factors generate more virus variants and more chaos. Lookout. Here it comes.

So what we need to do is “get the big picture” and start using our collective profits for better purposes than terrorizing our home planet. The best way forward is to use your own life as leverage for guiding your world. There are lots of good things to do and lots of better business models too, though almost no one seems to understand the right way to address their global impacts.

OUR TRUE SHARE OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ENVIRONMENTAL CHAOS WE ARE CAUSING COLLECTIVELY IS EQUAL TO OUR SHARE OF THE ECONOMY. In a global economy, one’s share of the economy’s impacts is also what we pay for. For example, a business pays for every impact of its entire supply chain. That is by requesting, paying for it and profiting from it. Yes, it is a shared responsibility with its supply chain, of course, not exclusive, and a business has no direct control over much of what its supply chain does too. However, the impacts would not occur if they were not paid for too. So the UNIVERSAL RULE OF THUMB IS TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY, IN PROPORTION TO YOUR SHARE OF THE PROBLEMS THE WHOLE ECONOMY CAUSES, BY USING YOUR LIFE AS LEVERAGE TO CARE FOR AND STEER OUR WORLD TO SAFETY.

I made a very well-received talk on the subject, called “Understanding Nature’s Purpose in Starting all New Lives with Compound Growth.” That was on 11 July 21 to the International Society of Systems Sciences (ISSS) meeting, in the Special Track on “Future Society”. It was a wonderful group of a dozen presentations, all focusing on the heart of our global problem. As systems science, each is a bit difficult, but the consensus was that each one was also converging on much the same great truth, that like all great truths, could potentially set us free. I’m not sure when the others will be posted, but my talk is on YouTube and it and the paper are linked from my one-page Abstract for the paper.

Let’s clean up our act and get going. We have lots to do. It’s not a straight path but once you get your sense of direction it will be extremely satisfying.

JLH

1) Understanding Nature’s Purpose in Starting all New Lives with Compound Growth; Well received systems ecology research for ISSS 2021

Transformation pathways

A. STRUGGLE AND BREAKTHROUGH

After inception originates a desire, a long struggle for change follows and then a fast breakout and establishment 

– To understand these best, think of examples in different circumstances from your experience, personal, business, world, or in nature. 

For the transformation to an Ecological-Civilization there’s the barrier of needing to introduce people to something very new.  If we study examples of how transformations happen in our memory we can find ways to convince people to explore what’s possible.

 

_________________________________________________________________________

B. FORMING NEW LIVES

the universal stages of growth and adaptation that create new systems with lives of their own, small, medium, large, in a permissive environment.

Studied carefully, it’s possible to use nature’s own method of building new systems to guide our long-term path, showing us how to move forward from growth.  Stage One of new lives is the germination of a seed pattern followed by a start-up burst of development when the new life defines itself as an individual. For enterprises it’s the handshake that sets things in motion and its period of rapid growth. Stage Two is for a new life to find its lasting place, maturing as it adapts to both internal and external limitst, Arriving at it peak of vitality ready for Stage Three, its long creative life. The curves tracing this story line are highly generalized, as are the terms used, but any startup faces these challenges.

Once you get the idea it’s astounding how many kinds of familiar transformations, on all scales, follow this natural system-building process for new lives.  For projects large and small we execute our plans first starting with a concept, then working it till it is ready for its climax environment, — individuation followed by maturation and fulfillment  

  1. The start of new life is a “germ,” “spark,” or “seed” pattern, a vision or a fertilized egg, that soon starts to multiply on its internal resource and organize its internal parts, usually in a very protected and forgiving environment.  For a human embryo that’s its womb, for an Eco-civilization it’s the virgin earth, giving us whatever we wanted for a long long time.
  2. Then along with a dramatic change of environment at the limit to growth, there’s a change of life — a “turn forward” to maturing to make new relationships.  Like birth, the end of compound growth is a perilous change requiring a great change in relations, resources, and expectations, a big test of survival a system’s will-to-live. It’s called the “turn forward” because attention turns from extrapolating from the seed to making a mature life in the future, in a more challenging environment.
  3. For our newborn Eco-Civilization, hitting the limits to growth comes as a complete surprise, and will take the emergence of a great will-to-live, and lots of work to pass nature’s universal test of survival for new lives. Most of the human population is still blind to the profound change at hand and thinks growth is life, and that overcoming our troubles will be like returning to the past.  It won’t BE THAT AT ALL!  We’re heading for mature life, which given nature’s ways could be far better.

As humans, we have distinct advantages for charting our course. We have loads of experience in giving birth to all kinds of systems and giving them lives of their own. Personal relationships are one, requiring that we follow each step in the process and making good choices about going too slow or too fast, among other things. Making dinner is another, needing to be lovingly imagined, assembled, and perfected to serve its purpose. Both home and office projects fit the model too, starting with a seed that grows and is made to fit into the world around it.

So the fact that large systems go through much the same birthing process as small systems is a new discovery. To manage the end of growth for our Eco-civilization will call for all our personal wisdom for what’s right to help us understand what’s too slow and too fast, among other things, for the transition to an Eco-Civilization.

It will also have to do with money, so tied up in driving what seems like a growth imperative for civilization to operate, but is really just a choice of what to invest in. And now we need to invest in better things, like #FAIR_Money.

_________________________________________________________________________

C. Three Horizons:

Allows different people to think of working on different paths, which all work out together naturally. Small steps needed for bigger ones, big strategies that make room smaller ones,  things to wind down, things to build up, temporary measures for both.

______________________________________________________________________

D. Panarchy Adaptive Cycle

Based on forest of cultural succession.  A very loose model, much of it misleading for transforming our growth system.  Might be applicable to the progress of humanity through its long series of failed civilizations, making cultural progress all along.  Might be applicable to the ebb and flow of the ‘forests’ of political and intellectual fashion as some of us stumble around trying to imagine the future and others find ever more dastardly ways to say NO.

____________________________________________________________________________

D. Doughnut Economics:

A wonderfully intuitive model, starting with local innovation in designing for internal human needs and external responsibilities builds familiarity with the natural system model of cells in the environment, envisioned to extend to our whole world to take better care of ourselves and the planet. Join the movement.

___________________________________________________________

E. Ever-growing systemic crises.

The only way to address our global limits is with global coordination, and for many things global coordination is absent. The nine planetary bounds referred to in Doughnut Economics are certainly critical, but there are a great many others going unmentioned, equally critical. These include:

  1. escalating disaster risks due to overdevelopment and climate change
  2. the growing long-term economic damage to capital resources,
  3. government problem-solving failures
  4. growing governmental lust for power
  5. aging & inflexibility of ever more interdependent and complex systems
  6. growing social polarization, ….. and other great systemic world crises.

Here’s my long list of planetary boundaries we are rapidly crossing, my Top 100+ Global Crises Growing with Growth.   It is based on collecting lists from high-level reports, the major crises getting brief notice in the news, and my own description of flashpoints of unsustainable systemic change. Here’s a link to the 2021 Global Risks Report.

It is my belief that these kinds of growing systemic threats can only be reversed by a movement of global business and investors choosing to shift resources from pushing the harmful limits of wealth to fitting in with a healthy world society and environment.

FAIR_Money (Principles of Fiduciary Asset Investment Restraint)

A concept in development with the
r3-0.org Sustainable Finance Blueprint

The FAIR rules act as an overflow valve, to redirect excess savings of passive financial income (normally used by investors to extract exponentially more) back to the free circulation marketplace of the pond to keep from draining the pond and guide investor self-restraint in extracting profits from the earth.

FAIR_Money sets a UBD, Universal Basic Distribution, a standard % rate at which investors need to distribute their excessive savings from passive income.

Fig 1. Finance adds funds to free circulation commons, but with strings attached for taking out more as ever-growing profits and escalating drain on the common pool, causing punishing inequality when the economy faces natural limits. To restore balance the FAIR rules ask investors to distribute accumulated profits to qualifying non-profits serving long-term societal needs. That would sustain the profitability of an economy seeking balance with the planet and our need for a good home. .

[See also the Medium article on FAIR, “Call it a great act of Love“]

Date                 2020 – 5/25/, 6/30, 7/26

Title                 Principles of Fiduciary Asset Investment Restraint (FAIR), simple rules to restrain the compounding of unearned income to reverse the present worldwide continued overproduction of demands on nature and society, our great tragedy of the commons. Ownership comes with natural responsibilities.

Topic                Compound investment (adding profits to investments) is required to get any enterprise going, but as seen throughout nature is only what starts things, not what makes them sustainabnle. If overextended what it does is globally multiplies the power of the owners of the world over all others, creating the great array of world crises of neglect disrupting global society and nature we see today.

Asking investors to take responsibility for bringing growth to a climax peacefully, tempering their greed for the common good, appears quite necessary for long term peace and prosperity, even if it still seems quite impossible socially. It seems to conflict with the absolute rights of blind ownership. Now lots of owners are beginning to see the grand catastrophy their habits are causing, and that society’s rules should reflect how people would like to live without looming threats in every direction.

Pitch                Flatten the curve of growing environmental and cultural exploitation, to reach a thriving peaceful economic climax.

Image             

50050

Fig 2 The universal pattern of emerging systems that sustain their climax

Draft Simple Excel Model: FAIRtestModel.xlsx

Statement The world financial system has but one value, to use the earth and human societies to maximize the growth rate and concentration of financial wealth. That leaves out concern for the resulting matching degradation and disruption of natural capitals and human society. To secure the wealth of nature and humanity we must then have Fiduciary Asset Investment Restraint to prevent the rapid decline of whole system value, and secure a good home for ourselves.

In all fairness, FAIR is just one appealing, comprehensive, and eminently fair way to rebalance the compounding of profits consistent with the long term interests of the earth and humanity. There are also tax and negative interest rate means of “topping off” excess passive savings to restore global balance. The value of FAIR is its focus on everyone’s shared duty to serve common interests. It would of course be backed up by legal penalties and alternate means of distributing excess financial savings, once people see the real need to change our way of living. Of course, all three means could be combined, perhaps led by FAIR distributions by individuals accepting their natural fiduciary duty to care for the earth.

FAIR rules would also only gradually reduce the financial imbalance caused by compound investing, and adjusted to not stifle individual financial creativity as it limits punishing demands on nature and society. Spending a fixed annual share of accumulated profits from investments in times of severe imbalance like today, torturing nature and tormenting wide sectors of humanity, would give investors global guidance on how to value the gifts of nature and human society. One must also caution against the use of FAIR distributions for just reliving symptoms of the systemic overaccumulation of savings, as simple symptom relief would fail to steer people’s lives onto sustainable paths. For example, food and services should be offered, but take a back seat to strong socially led education and self-organization efforts.

This is actually a strategy first discussed by JM Keynes in Chapter 16 iii & iv of his General Theory. I’ve interpreted it as an “overflow valve” for excess financial savings to relieve unhealthy burdens on the earth system, dialing back unsustainable extractive investment and relieving the whole economy’s pressure on all our cultural and planetary bounds.

The degree of relief from excess demands on the system would be adjusted with on experience, starting at 10% a year of accumulated for argument sake. That rate would most often not increase wealth distribution to undermine the individual life styles, just skimm off the top. The rate would be adjusted to gradually stabilize the economy’s impacts on earth and society at a comfortable level, both for long term profit and to treat a living world with respect.

In the end, finance would stabilize to generate steady flow of profits for personal and priority needs, the economy thriving as a continually innovating cash-cow business enterprise. In Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons, the equivalent would be for the rich farmer to see the error of killing the commons, and devote his excess cattle to relieve community suffering, hosting periodic feasts to save the commons and bring the community together, seeing their right to become a welcome hero for giving up the role as the devil himself.

Need       Even ignoring the COVID pandemic, the world faces a considerable growing plague of plagues from centuries of growth putting excessive demands on societies and the environment. A sobering list of The Top 100 World Crises Growing with Growth illustrates the problem. While mainstream finance is starting to recognize the need to not just maximize profits at any cost, so far that has largely been only to factoring the risks to ever-growing profits, not harm to our future. Since maximizing the compounding of profits seems to be the real problem, a new way to do it doesn’t really solve the core problem. It also ignores the very numerous other global crises threatening our future, exposing the grand “tragedy of the commons” of global overinvestment for which we are responsible.

Is that partly a matter of the kind of investment we built civilization with? Of course. A tree can’t change its own trunk, roots, and branches though, only slow the new branches to halt destabilizing overgrowth, if it’s not too late. So we should expect a natural Fiduciary Duty for investors and businesses to develop, to the best of their ability, and guided by the progress of the global crisis. That is a way for responsible investing to become universal without expecting investors and businesses making their decisions to understand all the up and downstream impacts on others or the system’s pressures on its whole range of planetary boundaries. In a way, both forgiving and frustrating, the research on global measures of our economic impacts (Henshaw 2011 Systems Energy Assessment) strongly suggests that causation for whole system impacts is so widely distributed it’s generally necessary to consider them as equally distributed per share of the economy, like today’s nominal average CO2 Emissions of 0.26 kg (0.6 lb) attributed to every $ of GDP PPP. Understanding the CO2 has both historically and currently increased in lockstep with the world economy shows the real problem that forces us to remove the growth imperitive as part of responding to climate change.

Fig 3 the history of Atmospheric CO2, with fixed growth rates from 1780 to 1940 and 1960 to the present

The main determinant of success for FAIR distribution of excess savings is not just the relief of pressure on the global commons it would bring. What matters as much is whether the money is well spent, and delivers “good works” of long term value. The expectation is that people with accumulated profits to distribute, with some technical guidance, would have an “eye for value” and see what the world needs to be successful, having demonstrated a comparable “eye for value” to make themselves successful.

Spending to serve the common interest presents the same kind of creative investment problem only looked at in a new way. FAIR spending is an investment decision for serving the system as a whole, that will be returned with profits of other kinds you couldn’t buy. That is the same way a family benefits from spending savings on educating its children. That is saved profits well spent. It’s a question of “feeding” the world something nourishing, not “controlling” it.

Well spent, FAIR distributions would teach both people and institutions about the patterns of growth in nature, and how investment at the limits is returned manyfold.

Because the FAIR spending of assets is something of a new investment field, it would need guidance and support from economic research and modeling. Also needed is a connection with the social networking of practice communities, both to guide to creating lasting value. Initially, it would be a voluntary adherence to a community principle, and then later formalized to be more widely applied. With new proposals for expansive strategies, the devil is generally in the details so serious economic modeling and rulemaking study to explore options. The scientific study of how finance is coupling with its growing planetary impacts, reliable sponsorship, and teamwork in building the global movement are all critical.

The hope is that the principles are practical and clear enough that they could spread naturally and become socially expected. Even connecting idea that growth is responsible for our problems continually racing out ahead of our solutions should be a task for a global IPCC-like scientific network, perhaps called the IFIC (International Fiduciary Investment Council). That would focus work on systemic research, to guide national organizations on rating impact investments for the commons. Someone will need to attempt to “qualify” the likely impacts of different kinds of for-profit and non-profit grants and investments.  Coupled with each investor’s eye for value that could be relied on to steer the economy through its many present crises, including COVID, to a thriving and lasting climax.

Challenge: This proposed “human duty” (to go along with our “human rights”) for investors and business to devote a share of their financial savings to serve the common interest seems simple enough to define and discuss in principle. What’s harder to define is how much time we have to avoid the next wave of crises, as in the past, likely to be as unimaginable to us now as the present ones were before. We should “Build Back Better,” and with an eye to economic, planetary, and environmental justice.

Restoring the economy to maximize its long term growth is the most dangerous course of all, inviting a crippling systemic delayed response like the delayed responses to COVID-19 which caused most of the deaths. If we just restart the growth economy, already severely weakened, you might expect the kind of failure at the limit shown by the light blue upper curve (Fig 4). That choice amounts to no response in the end and leads to system failure. We seem already well beyond the sustainable limit and so only have a last-chance response, to turn toward the sustainable limit like following the purple curve.

Once the world realizes that businesses and investors do really have a natural duty to steer the world economy in the common interest we’ll find more ways to do it. The physics of responding to natural limits (Fig 4) shows that early responses to natural growth limits don’t significantly delay the approach to the limit. It is mainly delayed responses you need to worry about. FAIR principles, perhaps combined with other strategies for topping off excess financial savings, are today likely the only option for making a transition to a thriving climax without major disruption.

Fig 4, The high risk of delay in responding to exponential threats. From Models Learning Change (Henshaw 2010)

Origin of the FAIR Concept: A series of tweets 05/24/20 … and historically, from the work of JM Keynes, 1935 General Theory, Chapter on Sundry Observations on the Nature of Capital” Chapter – 16 III & IV, describing why the natural financial climax of the economy requires financial savings to climax to prevent the very worst effects of capitalism, implying that the wealthy need to learn to spend rather than save their profits to preserve them, by making the system as a whole sustainably profitable.

JLH

Growth Constant Fingerprints of Economically Driven Climate Change

A tour of the evidence, from the 1780 origin of the greenhouse effect through its the major post-WWII acceleration

A preprint of a pending journal article of the same name is here. It’s a fairly short but thorough study, a data story, using the climate science we all know, to trace how humans have long organized our use of the earth to maximize the growth rate of our economic intervention in the climate. That exposes the fatal flaw of nearly all promoted solutions, the boundless plan for doubling our total energy use about every 33 years. Every kind of energy use for replacing fossil fuels would still then need to repeatedly double its disruption of earth systems, overshooting all planetary limits. That was actually the problem with fossil fuels, that if we had stabilized our energy use by about 1960 we would not have exceeded the earth’s long term buffering capacity and there would have been no climate crisis.

In the following figure you can see it quite directly from the long periods of constant compound growth in atmospheric CO2, before WWII and after. The ancient CO2 data comes from from ice-core air samples, until 1958, and the modern data from mountain top air sampling after that. WWII is seen as halting the accumulation of CO2, and the period after when we globally reorganized the economy using advanced science, technology, institutional and government cooperation to maximize the economy’s exponential rate of expansion.

What this implies is that climate change is not really caused by CO2.

Rather the climate crisis is being driven by our constant haste to reorganize the economy again and again to expand its conversion of resources into dollars as fast as possible. That we are not changing that organizational design of the economy would then seem to be the reason we are unsuccessful in getting agreement on how to reduce the quantitative reductions in CO2.

What is needed is to include in the economy’s equation for profits the value of the material, ecological, environmental, and cultural resources of the earth. The trick is to start with what you can measure, make the units “shares of the total,” and work to measure more. That would lead to a fuzzy but holistic and complete map of where we are really going economically. For reference, a model for that was proposed for inclusion in the UN’s SDGs in 2014, called “the World SDG.”

JLH