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© Loughborough University, 2004 "Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static 'snapshots'...Today systems thinking is needed more than ever because we are becoming overwhelmed by complexity. Perhaps for the first time in history, humankind has the capacity to create far more information than anyone can absorb, to foster far greater interdependency than anyone can manage, and to accelerate change far faster than anyone's ability to keep pace." Peter Senge,The Fifth Discipline Why Systems Thinking
© Loughborough University, 2004 "By becoming ecologically literate, we can apply the lessons of ecosystems, the language of nature, to our human communities. From the Parts to the Whole, Systems Thinking in Ecology and Education. Frijtof Capra Why Systems Thinking
© Loughborough University, 2004 Capra tells us that nature does not show us isolated building blocks, but rather a complex web of relationships between the parts of a unified whole. The importance of each component of a system is tied to its relationship to the whole. And the essential properties of a living system (whether an organism or community) are properties of the whole. By looking at just one component in isolation (for example, an atom), we would not have realistic picture of its importance. Why Systems Thinking
© Loughborough University, 2004 The essential properties of a living system are properties of the whole, which none of the parts have. A major application of systems thinking is that human communities and ecological communities are all living systems. Systems thinking is reflected in the corporate, governmental, and non-profit sectors. The applications of systems thinking have led to many innovations in the workplace in terms of how employees work together and how organizations plan for the future. Why Systems Thinking
© Loughborough University, 2004 The power of systems thinking comes from a focus on systemic structures, which is where the greatest leverage for problem solving and positive change lies. A systems approach can help shed light on current problemsespecially those that seem to continually repeatby viewing them from a different perspective. Systems thinking offers a range of tools for gaining deeper insight into problemsfrom simple causal-loop diagrams and systems archetypes to more complex computer simulation models. Why Systems Thinking
© Loughborough University, 2004 These are powerful tools to graphically describe, and find, the greatest levers for changing the systemic structures that have been created around the linear take-make-waste production models and mechanical organizational designs that dominate most public and private organizations today. For some two centuries we have known that the Earth is a closed system with finite resources. As planetary explorers completed the task of mapping the lands and waters, people slowly grew to understand that there are no "new" resources. Why Systems Thinking
© Loughborough University, 2004 We have only one Earth. All of our activities are but a small part of this larger system. Viewing our human systems as operating within the larger ecosystem is crucial for achieving a sustainable relationship with the environment, and assuring our own species' continued survival on the planet. Each natural resource used by human beingsfood, water, wood, iron, phosphorous, oil and hundreds of othersis limited by both its sources and its sinks. Why Systems Thinking
© Loughborough University, 2004 Resources should not be removed faster than they can be renewed nor disposed of more quickly than they can be absorbed. Although environmentalists used to be concerned primarily about running out of sources, today more people are concerned about running out of sinks. Global warming, the ozone hole, and conflicts over the international shipment of hazardous waste are all problems that have arisen from our attempts to dispose of resources faster than the environment can absorb them. Why Systems Thinking
© Loughborough University, 2004 Systems thinking requires us to understand that while there is only one Earth, it is composed of a multitude of subsystems all interacting with each other. A variety of models have been developed to explain the Earth's subsystems. When measuring our progress toward sustainable development, these models provide useful frameworks for choosing indicators. The differences between the models show the specific perspectives which groups bring to sustainable development and embody their differing values. Why Systems Thinking
© Loughborough University, 2004 These subsystems are connected together by intricate feedback loops. The science of complexity suggests that in some systems a very small occurrence can produce unpredictable and sometimes drastic results by triggering a series of increasingly significant events. –Emissions in the North have thinned the protective ozone layer over Antarctica, increasing rates of skin cancer in the South. –Financial crises in Asia have threatened the economies of other countries around the world. –And ethnic violence in Central Africa has led to refugee migrations that are overwhelming the support systems of nearby regions, triggering further crises and migrations. We have learned that the consequences of decisions made in one part of the world quickly affect us all. Why Systems Thinking
© Loughborough University, 2004 Martin & Hall (2002) developed a framework within which to explore the concept of sustainability. It has a number of key characteristics: –the earth as a sustainable system is dependent on the activities of a number of well-defined bio-geo-chemical cycles –the earth as a sustainable system is open to flows of energy and closed to matter (based on the first and second laws of thermodynamics) – there are four principle ways of undermining the bio-geo- chemical cycles –the framework is set in a future perspective A framework for Systems Thinking
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