Systems Thinking and Environmental issues

In a previous post, I pointed out to the news report where the Royal Bank of Scotland was held responsible for the carbon emissions “of oil and gas projects which it finances” and the banks’ Chairman, Sir Tom McKillop suggesting that this would mean “banks would be responsible pretty much for the carbon emissions of the world”; assuming that everything is financed by banks in some sense.

I suggested that this was a non-sensical view to take by the report authors PLATFORM.

Rob Mattson, a long time Canadian reader of this blog comments that:

To take a lesson from ecology, everything is connected to everything else. As for cars …yes, the banks are to blame. So is the auto manufacturer, the guy who designed the ICE, the advertiseres who make us (some of us) believe we need SUV’s and the guys who drives them. Of course the government gets tax on it all. This mess is going to be a great finger pointing!!

I further added some ideas from Dr. Edward Deming:

Some quotes from Dr. Edward Deming…What is a system?

“A system is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system. A system must have an aim. Without an aim, there is no system. The aim of the system must be clear to everyone in the system. The aim must include plans for the future. The aim is a value judgment.

And the 85/15 rule:

Use statistical techniques to identify the two sources of waste — system (85%) and local faults (15%); strive to constantly reduce this waste.

When you consider these two statements, in the bigger picture it is the system which needs to be changed and not any one single entity is directly responsible.

If business need to understand that the economic system is part of the environment; then environmental activists need to understand that a “corporation” is part of the larger economic system.

In the IEM workbook from the University of Bath there is a good example of this in the context of transportation; especially cars.

  • At the business level you need product and manufacturing eco-efficiency.
  • At the local level you need facilities for inter-modal linkage with local, regional and national transport infrastructure (i.e. trains, buses, local car usage.)
  • At the national and international level, you need developments in transport infrastructure and actions to motivate usage of alternative modes of transport.
  • At the societal level, you need people and communities to alter their habits and expectations.
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