Thinking in Systems: A Primer

Thinking in Systems: A Primer

Donella H. Meadows

Language: English

Pages: 240

ISBN: 1603580557

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In the years following her role as the lead author of the international bestseller, Limits to Growth―the first book to show the consequences of unchecked growth on a finite planet― Donella Meadows remained a pioneer of environmental and social analysis until her untimely death in 2001.

Thinking in Systems, is a concise and crucial book offering insight for problem solving on scales ranging from the personal to the global. Edited by the Sustainability Institute’s Diana Wright, this essential primer brings systems thinking out of the realm of computers and equations and into the tangible world, showing readers how to develop the systems-thinking skills that thought leaders across the globe consider critical for 21st-century life.

Some of the biggest problems facing the world―war, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation―are essentially system failures. They cannot be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others, because even seemingly minor details have enormous power to undermine the best efforts of too-narrow thinking.

While readers will learn the conceptual tools and methods of systems thinking, the heart of the book is grander than methodology. Donella Meadows was known as much for nurturing positive outcomes as she was for delving into the science behind global dilemmas. She reminds readers to pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable, to stay humble, and to stay a learner.

In a world growing ever more complicated, crowded, and interdependent, Thinking in Systems helps readers avoid confusion and helplessness, the first step toward finding proactive and effective solutions.

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final pgs 25 5/2/09 10:37:35 26 PART ONE: SYSTEM STRUCTURE AND BEHAVIOR your bank account is a flow that you can adjust in order to increase your stock of cash to a more desirable level. If your bank account then grows very large, you may feel free to work less (decreasing the inflow). This kind of feedback loop is keeping your level of cash available within a range that is acceptable to you. You can see that adjusting your earnings is not the only feedback loop that works on your stock of

After 28 years, while the capital stock has quadrupled, extraction is starting to lag because of falling yield per unit of capital. By year 50 the cost of maintaining the capital stock has overwhelmed the income from resource extraction, so profits are no longer sufficient to keep investment ahead of depreciation. The operation quickly shuts down, as the capital stock declines. The last and most expensive of the resource stays in the ground; it doesn’t pay to get it out. What happens if the

faster and faster rate, TIS final pgs 66 5/2/09 10:37:38 CHAPTER TWO: A BRIEF VISIT TO THE SYSTEMS ZOO 67 growth goal investment depreciation capital B R capital lifetime profit price B yield per unit capital regeneration resource harvest regeneration rate Figure 42. Economic capital with its reinforcing growth loop constrained by a renewable resource. because it can take advantage of unused nutrients or space in the ecosystem. But at some point the fish reproduction rate reaches its

mind and heart and soul. Here are just few of the questions that were prompted by our insights into how systems work. A systems insight . . . can raise more questions! Systems thinkers are by no means the first or only people to ask questions like these. When we started asking them, we found whole disciplines, libraries, histories, asking the same questions, and to some extent offering answers. What was unique about our search was not our answers, or even our questions, but the fact that the tool

stock can be increased but also by decreasing the outflow rate. Everyone by decreasing its outflow understands that you can prolong the life of an oilrate as well as by increas- based economy by discovering new oil deposits. It ing its inflow rate. There’s seems to be harder to understand that the same more than one way to fill a result can be achieved by burning less oil. A breakbathtub! through in energy efficiency is equivalent, in its effect on the stock of available oil, to the discovery of a

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