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Dennis presents on climate change to the UK System Dynamics Society

At the 2010 annual conference of the UK Chapter of the System Dynamics Society, Dennis presented his latest thinking on the causes of and remedies to climate change.

His presentation comprised a (very big!) causal loop diagram, and also a system dynamics model of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The causal loop diagram combines 'the history of mankind on half-a-page' with a systems thinking interpretation of James Lovelock's Gaia Theory on the other half-page.

Building on the work originally published in Seeing the Forest for the Trees - A manager's guide to applying systems thinking, this presentation took matters further, demonstrating conclusively that a policy of reducing carbon emissions, though a 'good thing', will not solve the fundamental problem of climate change and global warming the fact that, now, there is just too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Reducing the rate at which more carbon dioxide accumulates just doesn't do the right thing: what must happen is to extract carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, as fast as we can.


There is a powerful analogy. Suppose you are the captain of a ship, and you have just been told that the ship has a major leak, and has taken a large quantity of water into the hold. The ship is in danger of sinking, but you don't have to man the lifeboats just yet. So, as the captain, what order, or indeed orders, do you give?


Think about that for a moment...


You probably decide to give two orders: "staunch the flow" to stop more water coming in, and "man the pumps" to pump out the water that has already come in.


But suppose you can give only one order, not two. Which order would you give? And why?


The wise captain will order "man the pumps", even if water continues to come in. For the wise captain knows that, as long as it is possible to pump water out faster than it comes in, then the ship will stay afloat indefinitely. But if the hole in the ship is plugged to stop more water coming in, there is the possibility that the ship will still sink, because of the water that's already on board.


The 'water already in the hold' is akin to the quantity of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) already in the atmosphere, and 'staunching the flow' corresponds to a policy of reducing emissions.


Ah. We have to pump the carbon dioxide out. Simply reducing emissions is not enough.


For more on climate change, global warming and Gaia, click on the image, and contact Dennis. 

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A systems thinking analysis of climate change/global warming
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