Everything is Connected to Everything Else

Everything is Connected to Everything Else

In this blog post, our summer intern, Madison Sabol, writes about the interconnected of systems, reflecting on an article written by Donella Meadows in her Global Citizens column. Madison recently finished her third year of undergraduate study of Environmental Studies and French at Dartmouth College. She is closely working with the Donella Meadows Project (based in Norwich, VT) this summer. Madison researches wine and cider in Vermont and will write a senior thesis on the topic this coming school year. Acquiring a deeper understanding of the systems thinking approach will enhance her research abilities and analysis.

Outside of her school work, she enjoys swimming in the Connecticut River, helping out at the Dartmouth Organic Farm, improving her sommelier skills, and running.

The way it is usually told, the message Everything is Connected to Everything Else is not fun to hear. It is intended to cause repentance and reformation. More often, of course, it causes guilt, fear, and an uncontrollable urge to avoid environmentalists.

What we are rarely told is that solutions are as interconnected as problems. One good environmental action can send out waves of good effects as impressive as the chain of disasters that results from environmental evil…

Many of these environmental solutions are considered “uneconomic”, but that is because the economics have been figured only for the most short-term and close-in links of the chains. If we calculated the effects on the whole system, we’d see that the wages of environmental sin may be deadly, but the wages of environmental good sense can be enormous.

Everything is connected to everything else on this planet. That can be good news as well as bad.

Donella Meadows in Problems are Connected – and So Are Solutions

In this Global Citizens Column, Donella (Dana) Meadows highlights one of the most encouraging, and yet troubling, aspects of the intersection of systems thinking and problem solving – the solutions are as interconnected as the problems.

We can be encouraged in knowing that some of our systems interventions will produce endless chains of positive effects in the world. And at the same time, the opposite can also be true, which demonstrates the more troubling parts of systemic problems and solutions.

At Dartmouth College, I study Environmental Studies and French. Most of my courses aim to teach students about the world’s environmental problems and provide us with systems thinking tools so that we can be active leaders in communities attempting to combat these issues. As a result, I oftentimes find myself traveling the long, guilt-ridden path of “Everything is Connected to Everything Else,” so how am I supposed to do anything to change the status of our world’s systemic environmental problems?

Dana Meadows lightens this burden and makes systemic issues more approachable. A strong believer in the transformative power of mindsets, Dana suggests that by viewing systemic issues and solutions as elements of the same system, we can, as individuals, create ripples of positive change.

For example, if we were to consider a typical urban area in the United States dominated by flows of vehicle traffic, we may think that replacing all of the cars with bikes would be the perfect solution to certain social and environmental issues. Before implementing our systemic intervention, we may ask ourselves, how would these sustainable actions affect traffic in the community? How would it affect the community’s businesses? If people were to cycle throughout the city, perhaps bike shops would become more common than gas stations. Public showers might be available at more locations so that people could rinse off after arriving at work. In this case, I am only really considering the positive effects of a recently transformed biking community.  There are many assumptions that I make as I ignore the possible negative repercussions. What does this biking community translate to for those who are unable to bike? What about car service centers where people’s livelihoods depend on repairing vehicles?

I believe that it is systems thinking exercises like these that Dana challenges us to do. She challenges us to question everything. Question the problem. Question the solution. If we were to think about the effects of our actions and ideas before implementation, would our solutions look differently? Dana says think. And then think some more. Think about why we think the way we do, and challenge our mindset. This is what it means to be a Systems Thinker.

To listen to Dana speak about envisioning a sustainable world and the importance of mindset, click here.

Warmly, Madison

[Image courtesy of Pixabay]

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