Whole Systems Design

To solve problems we need holistic thinking.

Once we recognize that everything is made up of interactive, interdependent systems, it becomes obvious that our individual health and wellbeing is closely tied to the health and wellbeing of both our society and the natural environment. To ignore this is to distort social priorities and investment decisions. Designing solutions to complex problems requires us to adopt a holistic (whole-systems) approach, one that recognizes all relevant factors. Sustainability means being environmentally, economically, technologically, and socially viable — which means it will be possible to design sustainable solutions only after we have defined these critical boundary conditions.

Bad Science and Good Intentions Prevent Effective Climate Action

With current policies, the Paris Agreement’s maximum safe temperatures will be passed within a few decades. Experts warn that this will cause irreversible, catastrophic damage to critical ecosystems and the global economy. Although large-scale climate geoengineering measures have the potential to rapidly reducing warming and mitigate dangerous overshoot, at this time their feasibility and safety is unknown.

This article provides a comprehensive overview of the latest science; explains why both climate overshoot and mitigation risks have been gravely underestimated; argues for prioritizing international research on the comparative risks and costs of all potential options for preventing dangerous climate change, and outlines the requirements for a viable risk management plan.

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Read companion piece: Managing the Risks of Missing International Climate Targets


Is a Long Depression Unavoidable?

Until underlying structural problems are addressed, the global economic recovery will be uneven, partial, and fragile. Consequently the 2020s are likely to be dominated by a protracted economic depression and growing political, economic, and environmental crises.

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Spaceship Earth Mission Assurance

We feel safe taking plane trips because we know that airplanes are designed and maintained to ensure maximum safety. If our children are to have lives worth living, we need to apply the methods and standards used in the aerospace industry to the problem of preserving a safe environment and ensuring a safe future.

Andrew Wilford explains in this engaging video talk . . .

Viability: A Priority Criterion for the Mitigation of Climate Change and Other Complex Socio-Ecological Issues

This paper makes two interlinked proposals for developing better — and more credible — tools for modeling critical global issues and identifying and managing threats. First, proven risk management methods from other fields can be usefully applied to the assessment and mitigation of large, complex socioecological problems. Second, using viability as the priority criterion for the design of our models will not only highlight systemic threats, but also help us develop constructive interventions.

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A Realistic (Holistic) Approach to Climate Mitigation

This article examines the Paris Climate Conference (COP) 21 agreement on climate mitigation; explains why current efforts are based on false assumptions and likely to fail; argues that holistic, integrative methods are needed to avoid disaster; and uses these methods to develop a three-track strategy for accelerating systemic transformation.

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A Win-Win Strategy for Fossil-Fuel Producers and Environmentalists

Resolving the climate/energy dilemma will not be easy, but it can be done. We do not have to choose between the environment and the economy, or between the interests of the developed and the developing world. There are win-win solutions.

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The Ecology of Adventure Therapy: An Integral Systems Approach to Therapeutic Change

Adventure Therapy (AT) has been rightly criticized for not recognizing the ecological paradigm of therapy conducted in wild nature. By including principles from integral systems theory, we offer adventure therapists a map, allowing for these seemingly disparate parts to fit together into a coherent whole. In addition, we propose that wilderness is a crucial cofacilitator in the change process. If seriously considered, these ideas pose a number of important questions for AT theory and practice.

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Designing the Future: An Introduction to Rurban Design

Given the challenge of sustaining 9 billion people in a world with diminishing energy reserves, we are unlikely to do better than accept the well-tested principles that living systems convey. Doing so will have transformative implications for the design of our urban and rural environments, our economic and governance systems, and our education systems. In this light, Richard Mochelle advcoates “rurban design”. The starting point of rurban design is the water catchment area, water being the most vital element in sustaining human life.

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