Food for thought … recommended reading
abstract : Sustainability is a “wicked problem,” and technology alone cannot produce sustainable societies. Multidisciplinary, combinatorial approaches from complex systems offer approaches better suited to the nature of environment sustainability.
In this article for the Journal of Industrial Ecology, Luís Bettencourt and Christa Brelsford provided a complex systems perspective on the problem of sustainable development. Researchers offered historical examples of the engineering approach, which tends to succeed “whenever objectives are clear and measurable and we have some means to intervene fast enough.”
Sustainability, however, is defined as a “wicked problem,” as are the related issues of economic growth and human development. Researchers explain how circular objectives, multi-dimensional causality, and evolving horizons place these issues beyond the scope of engineering because “the information necessary to solve society-wide issues is typically distributed across many different entities,” requiring “large-scale fluid coordination of many agents.”
A multidisciplinary, combinatorial approaches from complex systems offer approaches better suited to the nature of sustainability.
They describe how complex systems theory, combined with knowledge creation and engineered solutions, could respond to the growing needs of human societies on a finite earth. “To think of engineering systems in increasingly adaptable ways and over the longer term… [is] the place where emerging complex systems theory and methods may be most helpful in creating transformative new integrated approaches for a more sustainable planet,” they wrote. “The problem of incorporating current and future human behavior into the design of technological systems is that social and technological systems appeal to very different models of the world and strategies for problem solving (Bettencourt 2014)”.
Read the full article in the Journal of Industrial Ecology (March 11, 2015)
Reference : Bettencourt, L. M.A. and Brelsford, C. (2015), Industrial Ecology: The View From Complex Systems. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 19: 195–197. doi: 10.1111/jiec.12243
Issue published online: 17 Apr 2015
Article first published online: 11 Mar 2015