I mentioned a book, The Floods of Knith, by New Zealand author Phil Ramsey, well it's here! Actually it's an e-book, rather than a paper book, to start with, anyway. In my estimation this is a good story for children ages 9-12 or so who are beginning to understand the crucial importance of the natural environment, who want to learn how to solve environmental problems (and other systemic problems) and how to manage the relationships that sometimes make solutions hard to find and or are even at the source of the difficulties. The main characters are elephants and mice, with several more jungle creatures making appearances along the way. The story is about friendship, teamwork, diversity, inquiry, problem-solving, and managing/resolving conflict. All this in the context of a mysterious environmental threat that spells trouble for everyone. Sound familiar? You can buy it at nobleplanet.com.
Not enough people are familiar with the ideas of the field called "systems thinking." The tools of systems thinking (related to system dynamics and systems modeling) make it possible to think clearly about very complex relationships of variables within a defined system. Any time you have a value of something that changes, that is, a "variable," it is possible to map out the causes of the changes (often in a causal-loop diagram, stocks and flows, or very fancy mathematical models). Don't let the MIT vocabulary throw you, really it is just common sense. The major point is that if something seems to be going wrong in a system, in order to intervene and get a better outcome, you have to understand the relationships among the causes with some confidence before you make a change, otherwise you may find that you have made things worse. Systems thinking enables you to think more clearly about complex systems and to make right choices when trying to fix them.
One famous systems model, the World Model, was developed by Dennis Meadows and his team at MIT a number of years ago and reported in the 1972 bestseller Limits to Growth. The third edition of the book with updated material came out in 2002 and Meadows later gave an in-depth video interview to the folks at Pegasus Communications (my employer at the time). Dennis made a lot of fascinating points that are profoundly relevant to some of the most serious problems our planet is facing today. See a portion of this interview in our "You Really Should Watch This" sidebar (near the top of the right column), presented with permission from Pegasus. When we stick a different video there soon, the Meadows video can be found in this post. You can buy the complete video at www.pegasuscom.com.
What does our children's story have to do with this? Well, quite a lot. I hope our kids will learn to use the tools that help them understand and manage complex problems that have profound implications for the planet and all living things. This little story is a great way to get a kid started. Getting a lot of kids started on this path may improve our planet's chances of survival. Look for more wisdom from systems thinking upcoming on this blog.