Blog 9: Environmental Series, Using Systems Thinking – Going to 2050

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“Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems. The systems thinking approach contrasts with traditional analysis, which studies systems by breaking them down into their separate elements. Systems thinking can be used in any area of research and has been applied to the study of medical, environmental, political, economic, human resources, and educational systems, among many others. According to systems thinking, system behavior results from the effects of reinforcing and balancing processes. A reinforcing process leads to the increase of some system component. If reinforcement is unchecked by a balancing process, it eventually leads to collapse. A balancing process is one that tends to maintain equilibrium in a particular system.” Tech/Target

There are many definitions of “Systems Thinking” and the subject can be so complex that many books are written on the subject and it is used in many different circumstances. The diagram shown is a depiction of how nature affects mental health. The lines show some positive and negative feedback loops (There are several important ones in climate change: if the Earth gets warmer more polar ice melts. This decreases the Earth’s albedo, adsorbing more infrared radiation and encouraging further warming. This can run in the opposite direction: if Earth gets a little cooler more ice forms, more sunlight is reflected into space, and the Earth can get even cooler./Ferguson). In the diagram depression has several loops going into it and one going out leading to suicide.

Since one or several different things can affect something like a hurricane that what would be a 1 designation could go up to a 4 or 5 due to warmer seas, open seas, low pressure systems, el nino, etc. Each condition is a negative feedback loop and there are not any (or enough of) positive feedback loops to reduce the strength of the hurricane. This system analysis applies to medicine, nature, politics, business and many other topics.

Figure 1 is a diagram of a sustainable coffee plantation which is a project of the think tank, Zeri (Zero Emissions Research and Emissions). It describes the process as “A cup of coffee only contains 0.2% of the biomass of the red coffee cherries harvested. The process of fermenting, drying, roasting, grinding and brewing leads to the ingestion of a minute fraction of the 10 million tons of coffee produced worldwide. This understanding has given rise to the “coffee chemistry”, including farming of mushrooms on post-harvest, post-industrial and post-consumer coffee, the use of the spent substrate enriched with amino-acids as animal feed, the use of fine coffee particles as an odor control, UV-protector and even hydrogen storage system.” The diagram shows the process in a different system presentation.

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In this blog I will try to show how one problem in nature can become more powerful until it reaches a tipping point and the system collapses. For example different things can cause an increase in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and if they are happening at the same time a tipping point or an untenable condition can occur earlier than predicted. So just saying we have a problem in one thing and it will cause a serious problem in a certain time frame doesn’t take into consideration negative feedback loops that would make the problem occur sooner. Conversely a series of positive feedback can reduce or limit a problem. However, nature is not stationary and it is striving for a balance. Consequently, would too many people on the earth, with their present overuse of natural resources, cause a pandemic, excess heat or war which could reduce the numbers of people here?

I am going to list some occurrences or circumstances that could change our living conditions in 2050. Some could occur earlier by 2030 or later in 2100. These will be discussed in detail in later blogs. The purpose is not to be negative or overwhelmingly discouraging, but to make people aware of what could happen. The best option is preventive measures and encouraging people to learn what options, such as joining a movement, are available. This is the least we can do for our future. This will be discussed in Blog 10.

The information is obtained from private and public sources including the EPA, Science for Environmental Policy, Falter by Bill McKibben, Business Insider, American Petroleum Institute (API), Clean Water and Clean Air Act, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), UN Agencies, the internet, Union of Concerned Scientists and others.

Climate change is one of the most important problems that we have occurring at this time. However, present information from the Trump Administration is suspect because climate change information is being sanitized or committed by the USGS, Dept. of Agriculture and the Interior Department. (ClimateWire Reporter-Scott Waldman). EPA reports have been ordered not to show climate predictions past 2050 since predictions past 2050 are the most damaging.

Climate Change (22 Devastating Effects of Climate Change – Leslie Basher). Information fromUnited Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC) and others.

  • Climate change will be insanely expensive (All things mentioned will add up in costs)
  • Greenhouse emissions are now higher than before (risen 40% since pre-industrial times). The air pollution could increase lung and other diseases
  • Hundreds of millions of people may be displaced by 2050
  • Dengue Fever and Malaria could spread in the U.S. Diseases will be deadlier than ever due to the higher heat and this will expand the range of pests carrying the diseases. Now WHO said about 630,000 people died of mailer in 2018.
  • Four times as many New Yorkers could live in areas that flood by 2050
  • Millions of people and trillions in assets are at risk in coastal cities
  • Western Wildfires could burn up to eight times as much land by 2100
  • Global wheat and maize (corn) yields are already beginning to decline
  • An additional 8% of the world population will experience water scarcity by 2100
  • 100% OF REEFS MAY BE OF RISK OF EXTINCTION BY 2050
  • Increasing droughts will make the driest regions even drier
  • Many countries are losing their main dry season water source
  • Air pollution in China, India and California could create a serious public health hazard
  • Equatorial regions and parts of the Antarctic will see up to a 50% decrease in their fisheries
  • An additional 20 million more children will go hungry by 2050
  • Fake markets and the behavior of computerized trading. Roughly 85% of all trading is on autopilot. Markets so dominated betraying programs are subject to manipulation and hacking. Hacking could be dangerous as we witnessed in the 216 election.
  • Present industrial agriculture will have to change to regenerative agriculture to provide healthy soils and prevent erosion
  • Change the distribution and normal habitat of animals. New diseases.
  • Cause the extinction of animals, plants, insects and different location of diseases
  • The release of methane gasses due too the melting of the permafrost could kill people and multiply heat warming
  • Biodiversity loss would accelerate unless something is done to lower climate change. UN report noted keeping biodiversity is as important as actions of lowering climate change conditions. Millions are driving one million species to extinction (UN Report-IPBES)
  • Intensity of storms, wildfires will increase and do extensive damage. There are wildfires across Siberia now. Climate change will make hurricanes more frequent and severe along with more flooding. In U.S. bridges need repair from floods
  • Climate change will cause the spread of invasive species of plants and animals. In contrast insects are decreasing rapidly due to diseases and use of deadly chemicals.
  • The IPPC report noted that the brunt of these changes will start to kick in within 20 years and the consequences will last for centuries if we don’t start to do something like cutting emissions
  • The 10% of the richest people are responsible for 45% of the world’s carbon dioxide
  • Destruction of trees within the Amazon rainforest which is one of the world’s largest carbon offsets. 3 million acres has been cleared for chicken feed production and over 260 acres in the U.S. has been cleared mostly for livestock feed. In Brazil 245 million acres of forest has been cleared for GM soybeans. This has released enough carbon into the atmosphere to increase the rate of global warming by 50%
  • Extreme heat can affect workers working outside
  • By ignoring the need of localizing rural economies the number of people living in cities will likely triple. Cities will not be able to provide housing and there will be an increase in homelessness
  • In 2018 the zooplankton and phytoplankton level in our oceans has dropped 50%. This is food for whales and other fish and is a global phenomenon
  • The number of people with dementia will likely triple, rising from 36 million people to 115 million people. This would increase in many low income countries due to lack of early diagnosis
  • There is a hyper alarm decline in insects. The destruction of nature’s balance is a sign of earth’s destruction. Partly due to 6 billion lbs. of insecticide used-world
  • Bill McKibben notes in his book Falter. One researcher said that even if we reduce temperature rise to 2ºC pests could cut wheat yields by 46 percent, corn by 31 percent and rice by 19 percent. Hot weather increases the number of pests also. The deep sea is now warming 6 times faster than it was in 1960

 Other Problems Relating to Survival on the Earth (Mixed Sources)

  • The belief that “Green Capitalism” such as carbon credits will save the day
  • The destruction of capital and continual pollution of shale oil and gas
  • 90% of pesticide use (for agriculture) reach a destination other than their target and become pollutants. Estimates vary, but Americans dump approximately 70 million tons of fertilizer and 70 t0 90 million pounds of pesticides of pesticides on their lawns each year. America is the second largest user of pesticides in the world. More than 90% of sprayed pesticides reach a destination other than their target species, including becoming pollutants of air, water, and soil.
  • The extensive reliance on coal as a fossil fuel, especially in China and India
  • By 2050 superbugs could kill 10 million people a year. Part of this problem is the over use of antibiotic
  • Water pollution. Industrial agriculture sucks up 70% of the world’s fresh water supplies. The EPA estimates that 75% of water quality problems from agriculture run off in America’s river and streams. This can destroy ecosystems and be toxic to animals and humans. In 2050 50% of the populate may not have access to drinkable water
  • Strength of opposition (Koch Brothers, Trump, oil companies, etc.) against the need to recognize climate change. Short sideness of some governments especially the Trump Administration who are doing everything they can to hide the environmental problems
  • In the next ten years we may lose 4,440 metric tons of food because of higher heat, pollution, and transportation problems. If we continue to use chemical products the food will lack nutrition
  • Overuse of oil another natural resources coupled with the use of renewable energy such as solar, wind and wave energy.
  • Capitalism and neoliberalism as a dominant economic force in society which causes inequality. If shortages occur there could be riots
  • War, Terrorism
  • Being hit by an Asteroid or mass eruption of volcanoes
  • Pandemic that of diseases similar to the 1918 Spanish Flu which killed over one million people
  • The present economic policies by the Trump Administration and others is build-ing up untenable high debts. Social Security and pension problems is also in trouble with high debts. Social security just ran a $9 trillion deficit last year. The present economy is bolstered by just printing more money.
  • The high consumption levels means increased wastes and higher use of our natural resources. 30-50 percent of our food is wasted and put in landfills.
  • Nuclear plant blowup or leaking nuclear storage containers
  • Large scale blackouts could be commonplace
  • Extended growth on social media and the internet will require a greater level of transparency – meaning less privacy. Everything you do can be tracked
  • Cyberattacks could increase, causing tangible damage to the world
  • The higher demand for natural resources, especial oil, that are hard to obtain the more expensive it will become. OPEC’s Secretary-General predicts that the price could rise ti $200 a barrel in the future (Motley Fool)
  • The expansion of power funded by debt. The elite will try to maintain this system even in hard times. This will delay constructive actions

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There are many sources available to obtain further information. Global Tracker keeps updated accounts of what is happening regarding climate change for every country in the world. The UN-IPCC Reports offer additional predictions on climate change as well as reports from the EPA such as the 2015 edition “Climate Change in the U.S. – Benefits of Global Action.” The following illustration represents a presentation of what needs to be done within a time frame.

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Another book to read on this subject is David Wallace Well’sThe Uninhabitable Earth.” I just wish the politicians had some reading ability on the subject. Many people and politicians feel that we can use our present and future technology to solve these problems. False, any way so far. Read the article “Systems thinking and the narrative of climate change” from A Prosperous Way Down. The problems noted above are political, economic, social, environmental, and personal and it is difficult to make all sides come together, especially when you are dealing with linear and non-linear thinking. All of the problems noted can be happening at the same time with the problems noted being negative feedbacks and any reduction in carbon dioxide a positive feedback. The system is continually changing for better or for worse. Time, as well, is a continual factor that determines ever changing results because of the need of all the factors to stay in balance. The longer we wait to reduce problems the worse the outcome. There is a tipping point for everything and if we go past it there is little we can do to correct a situation. To provide hope some of the following articles on solar energy show how we are improving it.

A decade ago James Hanson of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies warned us about the consequences of rising temperatures. Today we are in the breach of the 1ºC upper limits. As of May 2018, the monthly average atmospheric C02 had reached 410ppm. This is the highest level of CO2 the earth has seen in 800,000 years. The UN’s new climate report informs us if we continue at this rate, the planet will warm to 1.5ºC in just 12 years, triggering a sequence of increasingly catastrophic impacts.

The IPPC says that this would be just the beginning; we are currently on track to hit 3-4ºC by the end of the century, which would lead to a largely unlivable planet.

This is just a partial list but it should make us aware of what is happening in the world. Time is running short, yet there are many ways we can prevent these things from happening. Bill McKibben stresses the use of public movements and extensive use of renewable energy (solar, wind, waves, etc.).

An article on the internet “Brand new material could lead to cheaper solar cells” (Oil Price). Scientists may have found a pathway to designing interfaces of hybrid materials that are capable of turning light into electrical currents with high efficiency.

The Guardian noted in “Device could bring both solar power and clean water to mil-lions.”The device that can produce electricity from sunlight while simultaneously purifying water. The researchers say the device is not only a source of green energy but offers an alternative to current technologies for purifying water. It can be used in a backyard or on an industrial scale.

From “Solar Power Cost vs Regular Electricity Cost” (Sunrun) The residential electrical utility rates are on average approximately 12 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). My cost in July is 11 cents per kWh. The cost of a solar energy system on your home will vary due to your location and weather. If Sunrun installs a home system the electricity will be free in 5 to 10 years. A home system may last 25 years or longer until its degradation rate is reached and this factor is constantly being improved. Worldwide average solar panel module prices have dropped and in some areas it offers the cheapest rates.

Green Tech had an article “New Solar + Battery Price Crushes Fossil Fuels, Buries Nuclear.” (Jeff McMahon). They noted that Los Angeles Power and Water officials struck a deal on the largest and cheapest solar + battery-storage project in the world. Later this month LA officials will approve a 25. Year contract that will serve 7% of the city’s electrical demand at 1.997 cents per kWh for solar energy and 1.3 cents per kWh for power from Batteries.

This is half the estimated cost of power from a new natural gas plant. The city will still depend, however, its supply of power. The plant will be developed by 8minute solar energy on 2,653 acres in Kern County. It qualifies for the 30% Federal investment credit. The EIA estimates the cost of advanced nuclear at 7,7 cents kWh. The lowest known solar price is 1.97 cents for a project in Mexico. Past projects for LA seven years ago provided power at 9 cents. The cost of electricity to the consumer will have to be determined.

This is encouraging but much more work has to be done soon to advert chaos. What is happening is our own making. What was the last time you heard your congress-man/women mention the environment?

In lieu of what is happening the next step is to discuss what can be done now to save the planet. Part of this would be to use my Pilot Demonstration as an example to show what is happening and what can be done.

Toward Self-Sufficiency
-George Hunt
-Greg Hunt