Conference Earth - A decade of action


The System

"No man is an island, we are all part of the main; therefore, never seek to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for us all." John Donne.

Quietly, in American laboratories, scientists are getting closer to cloning humans.

Not only is the trade in body parts booming, from suitable executed prisoners, but the ability to manipulate the human genome, easily exposes those in our community with disabilities, to feelings of guilt and worthlessness.

In the 21st century, we could easily hear children bemoaning the fact that their parents have not done enough genetic manipulation on them, as they were still finding things about themselves that were not good. How terrible that a parent's lack of money meant their child was still prone to bipolar nervous disorder or familial cardiovascular complaint. In this future scenario we see that economic rationalism still wins even to the extent that we may find there is a 2 tiered human race - one of cloned worker bee status, the other being the powerful minority of elite super intelligent genetically enhanced human beings. Certainly, the race for this prestigious prize does not come from Governments. In fact, as Paul Anderson has pointed out, "Governments have yet to be hit by globalisation, but they are going to be hit very hard". The arbiters of tomorrow's values may well be the multinational companies, which play to the consumers' desires and whims.

Globalisation has concentrated food production in the hands of a shrinking group of multinationals. All the major food companies in Australia, are now owned by overseas multinationals. In a few years a handful of giant corporations will control entire global food production from seeds to supermarkets. They include


These companies genetically manipulate organisms, and the farmers are charged royalties on seeds which are often sterile after 1 crop. In this race for competitive supremacy, there is a race between states and super- empowered corporate individuals. Is this system likely to be sustainable when the masses of people on the planet are subject to economic roulette played out in the Stock Markets with the big players being :

The War Machine
The Food Companies
The Pharmaceutical Industry

Competition and above all, a rationalist ethos which is concerned only about numbers and figures completely negates anything to do with human values and meaning. Our age of meaninglessness, alienation and anomie, is ruling our youth. What used to be a world full of values and myth is being dragged down into sterile butchery, where people only have the great monolith of money and greed to worship.

Web of Democracy
Roy Madron & John Jopling

Despite systems thinking having become increasingly influential in every field of human endeavour from from astronomy to agriculture, from economics to health, little use has been made of it in tackling the social and political problems that we faceLiving organisms and ecosystems are 'self-organizing'. This means that their behaviour is not controlled by some external agency but is established by the system itself.Like living systems, purposeful human systems are also self-organizing. The more complex these systems become, the more they self-organize and arrive at their own form of order - though the form of order they arrive at may or may not be helpful in achieving the system's purpose.All members of the system are interconnected in a vast and intricate network of relationshipsas societies become ever more complex, their leaders have less and less control over the internal and external complexities they face. There is simply too much information for a small group of decision-makers, with limited skills, knowledge and time,We live in a world full of 'wicked' problems: homelessness, drug dealing, terrorism, racism, overfishing, global warming and so onAccording to systems thinker Professor Horst Rittel, almost all the major problems that confront our societies can be classified as 'wicked': they are problems that arise from non-linear systems' complexities, as opposed to 'tame' problems, which arise from linear system faults. The main features of 'wicked' problems are:

  • There is no definitive statement of the problem because it is an evolving set of interlocking issues and constraints.
  • You only begin to understand the problem when you have developed and tested an interim solution.
  • There are many stake holders. This makes the problem-solving process fundamentally social rather than technical.
  • Because there is no objectively 'right answer', stakeholders work out and accept whatever solution looks most promising.
  • The constraints on the solution, such as limited resources and political ramifications, change over timeand with the nature of stake holders and participants who come and go
  • Since there is no objective version of the problem, there is no definitive solution.
  • The problem-solving process ends when you run out of resourcea - not when the perfect solution emerges.

The wicked problems arising in complex human systems requires the people involved in the problem situation to be actively involved in a constant cycle of thinking, acting and learning together. They need to understand each other's perspectives; to do what they can to make things better and then to evaluate how successful they have been before starting the process all over again. This is a participatory, whole-systems approach to ordering our societies.

The more we understand about systems, the better we will be at learning how to create the democracies that will enable our societies to become more just and sustainable.

The "new" science of complexity which describes emergence, adaptation and self-organization was established mainly by researchers of the Santa Fe Institute (CAS Complex adaptive sytems-- John H. Holland, Murray Gell-Mann, Harold Morowitz, W. Brian Arthur,..)- and is based on agents and computer simulations and includes (multi-agent system (MAS) which have become an important tool to study social and complex systems. CAS are still an active field of research.

System reconsideration

David Price: "Human beings like to believe they are in
control of their destiny". This belief may now be wavering in many
people's minds, due to things the media can't hide, for example, evidence
of climate change, the inability to control terrorism, etc. If so, that
could perhaps be immensely significant in undermining current value systems
and unquestioning acceptance of current structures. Control was easily
accepted as part of the dominant human worldview (one of the components of
the Global Monetocracy) so long as humans saw ourselves as in control -
control of the rest of us by the political/financial elites could be seen
as control on our behalf. Once our belief in that is shaken, the whole
system is (hopefully) more readily up for reconsideration. Just a thought.

Information V/s MisInformation

Higher education could be available to all via the airwaves, as in Britain's Open University. Education no longer needs buildings, only the voluntary communion of the minds of our greatest teachers and of all who thirst fir knowledge and understanding.

In the past two decades highly educated citizen groups, with their academic advisors in tow, forced onto national agendas: (1) energy efficiency standards, conservation, and renewable energy sources (solar, wind power, etc.); (2) recognition of biodiversity as a fundamental natural resource; (3) self-determination for the world's indigenous peoples; (4) human rights; (5) equitable, resource-efficient, sustainable forms of development mindful of future generations; (6) restructuring of the World Bank and the IMF; and (7) overhauling of the gross national product (GNP) to deduct social and environmental costs.

The more legitimate fear, shared by founders of the United States, is just as real: that a truly direct democracy could not sufficiently filter the emotions of voters and might lead to a tyranny of the majority. In computer terms, would too much participation make the social system too sensitive to feedback and produce rapid overcorrections, which could lead to destructive oscillation, loss of equilibrium, and chaos? In short, are humans too irrational to build a rational society?

Failed development models (Wicked Problems ) have proved to be overcentralizing, resource-wasting, often poverty- exacerbating, ecologically unsustainable, and finally have led to today's global debate about what we mean by "development." Archeologist Joseph Tainter (1988) identified precursors to the onset of collapse of earlier human civilizations. He noted a flurry of collective activity, often involving construction, just prior to the collapse of both the Roman Empire and the Myan civilization, as if the societies were trying to counter rising stress. Today we see countries using massive public works projects to hype growth and we see growing megacities in construction booms that Economists attest to their vitality.


History shows how earlier human attempts to organize growing populations repeatedly derailed. Hierarchies collapsed and leaders toppled because of lack of feedback from the governed, i.e., the feedback lacked the requisite complexity and leaders received too little valid, reality-tested information

De-structuring and devolution are about a key issue: how to flatten or replace old hierarchical structures by substituting lateral, networked, real-time information flows to allow all parts of complex system to coordinate and align their knowledge of changing environments and move their activities toward flexible, adaptive responses.

Political scientist Benjamin R. Barber points the way in An Aristocracy of Everyone (1992). Joseph Tainter adds, "Complex, differentiated industrial societies are an anomaly. For over 99 percent of our history as a species, we lived as low density foragers or farmers in egalitarian bands or villages or no more than a dozen persons. ... More complex societies are more costly to maintain than simple ones, and require greater levels of support per capita. ... Moreover, to maintain complexity depends on continuous assessment of energy and other resources. It takes energy both to become complex and to remain so."

I came to a similar conclusion: that the three-hundred-year industrial era has been a unique one -- based on consuming a large percentage of the fossil fuels that were laid down in the Earth's crust over sixty million years ago. Thus, I saw the march toward increasing social complexity as a sign that industrialism had reached the evolutionary cul-de-sac I termed the Entropy State

. This would mandate a shift toward renewable resources that I envisioned in The Politics of the Solar Age, and hopefully a new, wiser Age of Light. This would require relearning the arts and sciences of sustainability and non-material forms of development.

A headline concerning Rupert Murdoch's empire simply read, "Man Buys World."\ Only when the UN is reshaped, together with other needed global institutions, can a more limited but effective form of sovereignty be exercised by nations -- in new partnerships with both private and civil sectors.

Hazel HendersonHenderson, Hazel. Building a Win-Win World: Life Beyond Global Economic Warfare. (Berrett-Koehler, 1996). Innovations that would allow ethical corporations and politicians - and human and natural communities - to win in a competitive world. Chapter 11, "Perfecting Democracy's Tools" features creative use of polling and telecommunications technology.

Social Systems and Ecosystems

Post Carbon Newsletter #6, 1st August 2005


Just as our social systems need to be reconfigured in order to meet the requirements for sustainable living, we must also look at the artificial ways we have configured, our present boundaries. Bioregional configurations, which take into account the ecosystems within them, are more purposeful than are the city, county and state boundaries which divide us today and which are mainly political divisions. Watersheds and other boundaries provide natural divisions within which may lie several different ecosystems.

Proper planning takes into consideration all of the nuances of an ecosystem and thereby determines where communities may be constructed without interfering with the natural flow of the ecosystem. Different ecosystems also have different carrying capacities; therefore, population growth is determined by the ecosystem itself and it will be up to the human family as the voice of the earth to control population growth accordingly.

Whereas the artficial boundaries of today, e.g., nation-states, etc. tend to act as divisive forces, the natural configuration of bioregions and ecosystems tends to bring those within them into a culture of mutual interest based in stewardship

As outside employment decreases and people are forced to find work to do and do it, we will see more and more people constructing their own homes and communities. So it is important that we develop viable models which people can easily replicate with location specifics. In this type of locally-based community economy, we will turn rmore barter and trade as production for self and community is emphasized.

As we turn toward sustainability, we will use more materials like staw bale or cob (a combination of cement and straw) and other natural and easily replenishable materials such as adobe for constuction purposes. At least in the interim time, while even more sustainable products are being developed via technology. That is technology which may provide us with materials lasting for a hundred years or more without wearing out. .

Beacon Energy {http://www.beaconenergy.co.uk/}, a not-for-profit organization near Loughborough, England, which is designed to promote renewable energy techniques. Tony's farm is a demonstration site for renewable energy production from wind turbines, photovoltaics, pump storage (into a two-acre lake), hydro heat pumps, and roof collection of rainwater. The farm now also has a static hydrogen storage system of four Megawatt hours capacity.