Thresholds, cascades, and wicked problems – Greenpeace International

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Thresholds, cascades, and wicked problems – Greenpeace International

Thresholds, cascades, and wicked problems

Rex Weyler 26 October 2020 | 0 CommentsShare on WhatsappShare on FacebookShare on TwitterShare via Email

I remember thinking, in the 1970s, that once people became aware of the ecological crisis — disappearing species, polluted rivers, poisoned air — that the necessary changes would be simple to achieve. Humanity only had to curb industrial waste and destruction, preserve wilderness for other species, put limits on our consumption, stabilize human population, and just be smart about how to live on Earth without destroying it. 

Of course, I was naive to think any of that would be easy. Since that time, human population has doubled, consumption of material resources has quadrupled, biodiversity collapse has accelerated, and after 34 international climate meetings, we are emitting more carbon than ever before. Meanwhile, we have not exactly ended war, vanquished racism, nor achieved gender or economic parity. Even worse, giant corporate interests actively work to halt and reverse any ecological regulation on industrial activity. 

Our emotional responses to crisis evolved over millennia, primarily to meet immediate needs, perhaps to benefit our tribe or community, not necessarily to solve complex, multi-dimensional, long-term dilemmas. Our ideas about “solutions” tend to be linear, short-term, and linked to a perception of simple cause and effect. Our educational institutions encourage this linear thinking about problems and solutions. Meanwhile, our social and ecological challenges are systemic, multidimensional, and complex. 

Living ecosystems are dynamic, always changing, and possess qualities such as thresholds, cascades, feedback loops, tipping points, lags, and generally unintended consequences to input. Maybe we need to learn more about how change actually occurs in nature, not just in our imaginations or in our engineering dissertations. 

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Thresholds, cascades, and wicked problems – Greenpeace International