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Concepts for a New Generation of Global Modelling Tools: Expanding our Capacity for Perception

3. World Dynamics Model
Perhaps, the single most effective project undertaken by the Club of Rome was the development of World Dynamics Model. The Club of Rome commissioned the project to a team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology led by Jay Forrester using the system dynamics methods previously developed by Forrester. The results of the project were published in two volumes: World Dynamics, a description of the World Dynamics Model [Forrester, 1971]; and Limits to Growth, [Meadows, 1972]. The authors of Limits to Growth concluded that:

  1. If the present growth trends in population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next 100 years. The most probable result will be a sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.
  2. It is possible to alter these growth trends and to establish a condition of ecological and economic stability that is sustainable far into the future. The state of global equilibrium could be designed so that the basic material needs of each person on earth are satisfied and each person has an equal opportunity to realize his or her individual human potential.
  3. If the world’s people decide to strive for this second outcome rather than the first, the sooner they begin working to attain it, the greater will be their chances of success.

Limits to Growth served to identify the two most dominant elements of what came to be known as the world problematique, a term associated with the Club of Rome, namely the population explosion and the macro impacts of human activities on the environment.

Limits to Growth is remarkable for its success: some 10 million copies in thirty languages have been sold worldwide; it stimulated debate, generated the controversy that gave recognition to the Club of Rome, and brought about an increased awareness of the interactions that take place among the elements of the problematique. Yet in the final analysis, Limits to Growth failed to stimulate the action that might lead to a more harmonious and sustainable future. Why?

It may be that the inevitability of the overshoot and collapse predicted by the World Dynamics model led implicitly to the conclusion that nothing could be done with the consequence that nothing was done. However, the inevitability of the overshoot and collapse predicted by the model may be as much an artifact of both the paradigm to which the model belongs and the structure of the model as it is an accurate reflection of how human societies interact with global systems.

The World Dynamics Model belongs to the deterministic natural science paradigm in that it represents a closed system and presumes that the future of the system is predictable to the extent that the model captures the laws of motion of the system. It makes the user of the model an observer of a (closed) system rather than an integral part of an open system. The deterministic character of the World Model, by its nature, excluded the possibility that human societies can learn and adapt. The relationships of the model represent both the dynamics of the interactions among physical transformation processes and the behavioral responses. The Model does not have a direct representation of ‘process’; rather it represents stocks and the factors that influence the rate of change of stocks. The system of feedbacks, both positive and negative, is complete. Human response, one of the factors that may influence the rates of change of stocks, is triggered by the levels or rates of change of stocks. The model structure is such that human decisions are based only on what has happened; it does not represent the fact that human decisions are based on expectations of what will happen. Furthermore, expectations of what will happen are subject to change as humans gain a greater understanding of the world. For these reasons the natural science paradigm[††] is inappropriate in circumstances where social actors are viewed as the essential forces that structure and restructure social systems [Burns, 1985].

As well, the structure of the World Dynamics Model contributes to the inevitability of collapse. The Model portrays a human population living off a non-renewable resource base; as there is no spatial differentiation, the population is homogeneous and the resources are equally accessible to all. Ultimately, the system is rate limited, not stock

limited and it is the renewable resource base and the rate at which solar energy is used to fuel the biological process of photosynthesis that will determine the sustainability of human populations.

Many of the shortcomings of the World Dynamics Model were addressed in the Mesarovic-Pestel Model which introduced the concept of organic growth in a spatially differentiated world; it also introduced an explicit accounting for energy [Mesarovic, 1974].[‡‡]

4. A New Approach
What is needed is a new approach that builds on the strengths of the World Dynamics Model and its successors and that emphasizes the process of designing and using computer based global modelling tools as a means for developing the common base of understanding needed for effective societal action.

Such an approach is feasible because of advances in our understanding of ecological systems, the emergence of an evolutionary paradigm to augment the deterministic natural science paradigm, and a revolution in computer technology.

The evolutionary paradigm reflects advancements in the fields of general system theory, information theory, control theory, and ecology. References are provided in the bibliography. (See particularly the work of Jantsch, Prigogine, and Bateson.) Erwin Laszlo describes the evolutionary paradigm in the following terms:

The evolutionary paradigm challenges concepts of equilibrium and determinacy in scientific theories; and it modifies the classical deterministic conception of scientific laws. The laws conceptualized in the evolutionary context are not deterministic and prescriptive: they do not uniquely determine the course of evolution. Rather, they state ensembles of possibilities within which evolutionary processes can unfold. [Laszlo, 1987]

From this it is evident that models intended to predict or prescribe are of little interest. Rather what is required is a set of tools for exploring the ‘ensemble of possibilities’ of the evolutionary paradigm. The need is not for a ‘better’ model that might be developed within the confines of a small group to further the advocacy power of that group; rather it is to use the process of designing and applying global modelling tools to facilitate the communication of understanding within as broad a group of actors as possible.

The word ‘tool’ is used deliberately, as a tool is an extension of the user of the tool. The use of well-designed tools enhances the ability of the user to accomplish explicit tasks. A shovel facilitates the task of digging a hole and extends mechanical capabilities; a ruler makes more accurate the recording of the property of length of objects; a telescope enables visual perception of objects that could otherwise not be seen. Knowledge of the availability of tools suggests tasks or objectives that would not otherwise have been considered. The global exploration tools herein proposed are intended to enhance the ability of individuals and societies to understand the longer term implications of societal actions and to explore alternative global futures.

With this background, we conclude that there is both need and potential for the development of a generation of global modelling tools that can serve to facilitate and communicate a more appropriate model of reality such that human society can perceive the full consequences of actions. Such modelling tools can take advantage of both theoretical and scientific advances and advances in computer technology.

What follows is an outline of the features and characteristics of such global modelling tools and a discussion of the strategies for the organization of their development.

[††] Philosopher Roberto Unger and physicist Lee Smolin in their attempt to reconcile cosmology, the physics of story of the universe, and the standard model of physics, reject the Newtonian paradigm that seeks to find the universal and time-reversible laws that govern all universes for all time. They hypothesize a singular universe and time as a fundamental and irreversible reality. All else including the laws physics themselves come from within the universe. See Unger and Smolin (2015)
[‡‡] Mesarovic and Pestel saw the need to recognize the world’s regional diversities and to view the future as one that emerges from the interactions among diverse regions drawing inspiration from Mesarovic’s earlier work on the theory of hierarchical, multi-level systems.[ Mesarovic 1971] . This insight led to a second and more ambitious global modelling project, again funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, that resulted in the publication in 1974 of the Second Report to the Club of Rome by Mihajlo Mesarovic and Eduard Pestel entitled Mankind at the Turning Point. [Mesarovic and Pestel, 1974]


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