Ecocentricity - June Part 2

Foundation Director, John Lanier, has begun his own search for understanding sustainability and how it fits. He may have a long way to go, but he would be honored to have you join him along the way for his musings, recollections, and personal stories.

Systems. Systems thinking, to be precise. I love it. Prepare for my inner nerd to be unleashed.Actually, I wear my nerd on my sleeve at all times, but that is beside the point.The point is systems. And the point was made best by Donella Meadows in her book "Thinking in Systems: A Primer." I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's like the pistachio ice cream of books - oddly appealing, complex but not too much so, delicious in a waffle cone. You get it. But don't lick the pages unless paper cuts are your thing.

My Principles of Sustainable Management class at Presidio Graduate School this spring began with our reading of "Thinking in Systems." I've read many books in my life that have challenged me, more that have educated me, and more still that have entertained me. This book did all of that. It also ordered my thoughts, offering a new lens through which to view the world, in a way that nearly no other book has done.

Here is the premise - all things are a system. Whether physical or metaphysical, simple or complex, efficient or not, all that we encounter can be described by stocks, flows and feedback loops. The rapid expansion of population growth? A system driven by a reinforcing feedback loop. Consumption patterns of non-renewable resources? A system, one that literally cannot continue functioning without some change. My ability to find my car in an airport parking lot after catching a red-eye from San Francisco to Atlanta? A system, albeit an ineffective one.

We live in an interconnected world, and the subtleties of its workings are often astounding if we take a moment to observe them. So many of us want to change this world, leaving it a better place than we have found it. To change the world though, we must first understand it.

We must see the world for the complex system that it is. We must appreciate its myriad cultures, life forms, and physical constraints. We must look for the leverage points, those tricky little places where just the right bit of focus, pressure and insistence can make all the difference. Let's find those leverage points and then push until all that is sad, unjust and broken comes toppling down.Then let's build a better system. A better world. Together.


For more information on the author of "Thinking in Systems:  A Primer", make sure to visit her foundation's website.