Monday, April 15, 2013

Post Scriptum to "Our Warming World" : A Broader Analytic Framework for Consideration

The various systems of Earth listed below are under ongoing stress from changes in several key variables all of which are anthropogenic.

The first is increases in temperature which was described and explained in the earlier post.  

The second is diminishing fossil fuels and other resources (peak oil, peak uranium, but also peak various other minerals and etc.)  (it is explained in a number of peak oil articles by various experts)

The third is the increase in human population;  (well explained by demographers)

The fourth is increasing pollution and the degrading of the environment through assorted micro pollutants (various toxins in both the atmosphere, the land and the oceans and macro pollutants such as trash in the oceans and etc.)  (and much literature exists on this too) (but including also carbon dioxide and other gases which cause the increases in temperature)

So the basic and main stressors are increasing temperature, diminishing resources, increasing population and increasing pollution.

Each of these factors stresses each and every one of the following systems and the effects of each factor are of course interactive with the effects of all the others.  

And all the systems being stressed are characterized by some of the same properties of all complex systems and namely by complex internal feedback loops of both an amplifying nature and a dampening nature and by generally non-linear and interactive dynamics and by phenomena such as phase transitions, collapse, certain types of singularities and others. (Any good general systems theory book observes these characteristics in the empirical world and then explains them)

On the current Earth three categories of systems exist and each has several categories or subsystems within it:

PHYSICAL SYSTEMS  (created by and in the different phases and periods of cosmic evolution; and these are subject to the laws of physics and other sciences)

-Geophysical systems
-Geochemical systems
-Geobiological systems

BIOLOGICAL SYSTEMS  (created by biological evolution)

-Single organism systems

-Ecological multi-organism systems (with both macro and micro and flora and fauna organisms as their constituent elements; typically the organisms in these multi-organism systems co-evolved in complex webs once cosmic evolution progressed to the point where biological evolution could begin; their ecology and reciprocal relationships are therefore in a sense "locked in" biologically)

-Partial or regional or Biosphere-wide systems composed of several ecological systems (and so called habitats) also in ongoing interaction

SOCIAL SYSTEMS  (created by man and each based on various institutions)

-Economic Systems
-Social and Cultural Systems
-Political Systems

Each of the sub-systems under each main category of systems above interacts with all the others in that category

Each main category also interacts with the other main categories.

All the main categories of systems and their sub-systems react to changes in the four key anthropogenic variables listed at the beginning and namely:

-Temperature  (increasing)
-Resources  (decreasing)
-Population  (increasing)
-Pollution  (increasing)

Naturally the above main categories and sub-categories of systems are simply the way man has chosen to break down the overall single organic system which is the total actual indivisible interactive reality of physical, biological, and social systems that exist on planet earth,  into "mind-sized" human academic disciplines and their respective theories and "models"

A superior intelligence from outer space probably would not choose to create artificial disciplinary boundaries but would instead consider the overall earth system as a single organic and interactive whole.

By doing so, he/she probably would make fewer mistakes in describing, explaining and anticipating its behavior.

Bearing in mind that fully anticipating the behavior of the entire system is actually impossible because of certain characteristics of complex systems.

Namely certain conditions and drivers of the system only arise unpredictably at certain points in time and then have significant causal effects.  It is impossible to determine what those effects will be before their (in turn unpredictable) causes even have arisen and developed sufficiently to have effects.  Multiply this phenomenon a thousand or a million fold and one then easily understands why articulating anything but the broadest and most general scenarios is impossible.  (also mathematically and logically)

But in rough terms it is actually quite easy to predict that there will be significant changes and that the overall organic system is not stable and also non-linear in its behavior.  

There are just 9 types of systems responding to 4 types of variables.

Just keeping that in mind may help to steer (or at least understand) the overall system better.

Recapitulating the 9 systems are:          And the 4 stressing variables are:

Geophysical         Temperature
Geochemical         Resources
Geobiological                  Population
Biological                  Pollution
Social & Cultural

Displayed as was done above it is easy to see how each key variable will affect each system and how all the systems continually interact with one another.

All one has to do is draw a matrix of two way arrows between the variables on the right and those on the left and another set of two way arrows vertically next to each set of variables (those to the left and those to the right) to indicate their own interactivity among themselves.

And Donella Meadows article on "Leverage Points" at the following link  is one of the best papers on systems theory in existence regarding how one can go about trying to steer an overall complex system by intervening in time and at the right leverage points- (intervening late or on the wrong leverage points presents an entirely new situation and so Yes, "the boat CAN be missed") to try to guide the overall system in directions which presumably are more desirable in the short term. (to humankind)

And “presumably” only because it cannot be a foregone ex-ante axiomatic conclusion that preventing a 95% collapse of human population on earth in the next 50 or 100 years (if that even proves to be possible) may not in fact be the very  best thing for the longer term survival of humanity.

Assuming that that too could be an axiomatic objective, a view that amoebas, paramecium, bacteria and grasshoppers and fish and grass and algae and oak trees could well beg to differ with?

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