Systems Inside Systems

It continues to be difficult to focus on sustainability while the financial markets are so turbulent. But the importance of systems thinking grows as the crises deepen. Herman Daly, who has for many years seen limits to growth rooted in the real coupling of our economic system to the natural world, recently offered his always deeply thoughtful views on the present situation. For us who at this point in life rely largely on our hard-earned assets, his words are not terribly reassuring.

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Is Consumption an Endangered Species?

The financial debacle has many tentacles, each threatening to strangle our sense of security and plans for the future. Jobs are in jeopardy because the credit crunch stops the normal pattern of business borrowing dead in its tracks. The typical assets of saving families have lost 20-30% of their value. Maybe the rise over the past few years was illusory but that matters not at all when the investors have to readjust their present spending and plans for the future.

Fears of a recession are fueled by a drop in consumer spending which sends signals to producers to reduce output which causes job loss which leads to lower consumption which continues on and on, hopefully not ad infinitum.

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Monday Morning Quarterbacking


Maybe I should start doing this every week after the weekend break in the hurly-burly of the typical work week. I started this blog to talk about sustainability and, of course, introduce you to the ideas in my book. I have, as you probably now know, pretty deep-seated academic roots although my time in academia came on the tail of a long career in the “real” world of business and government. But given all that is happening out there, I feel OK with straying from this theme and the comfort of academic arguing.
It is hard for me to decide which crisis to follow: the financial market, the election as an indicator of the mess that goes for our political/governance system today, a collapsing global environment, or whatever seems to pop up with increasing frequency.

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Is Sustainable Development an Oxymoron?

In a post on the Athens Banner opinion page, Harold Brown, emeritus Professor at the University of Georgia, asks if sustainable development is an oxymoron. Development is a process and, in any living system, goes on forever or at least until life stops. He, as I do also, interprets sustainable development to mean that the present state of the world should last indefinitely. While not truly an oxymoron, the phrase is certainly a contradiction of terms.

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News about the Website and the Book

Now that the book has been on the shelves for a few weeks and I am beginning to get out and talk about it, there is some news being generated. I actually got reviewed this week and it was a terrific first for me. Matt May gave me high marks in the same column where he panned Tom Friedman’s new book by comparison. Last week I appeared on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC, the New York NPR station. This was my first exposure to this medium. In addition to his prepared set of questions, Lopate had tuned into this… Read More

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To GDP or Not To GDP

Looking for something relevant to today’s turmoil in Washington, I came across a month-old article from the New York Times talking about the relevance of GDP as a measure of well-being. Unsurprisingly the article by Louis Uchitelle grabbed onto many previous critical commentaries and pointed to fairly obvious flaws in the standard accounting system used to calculate GDP. This is just another example that shows how existing economic models and theories fail badly to track reality. I got the sense today that those working out the solution were engaged in a dialogue of the deaf and looking for the solution… Read More

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Flushing for Sustainability


Is luxury defined by disdain for shutting off lights? It would seem so if one listens to managers thinking about adding environmental features to their hotels. Speaking about a system widely used in Europe, a master switch that is activated by your room keycard when you enter, US hoteliers expressed skepticism about the acceptance of this in the US.

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