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Linear thinking could doom humanity

March 26th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Linear thinking can doom an organization and/or a person.

Yes … and linear thinking might just well doom the planetary ecosystem’s ability to support modern human civilization.


People like simplicity.

Linear thinking provides safe, comfortable, and simple structure for thinking about problems.

To continue to look at something from one point of view. To take information or observations from one situation, place this data in another situation (usually later), and make a conclusion in the later situation.

Even more directly, linear thought is thinking directly along a straight path, almost wearing blinders to any diversions to the path or anything that might alongside it. Our language predisposes us to this simplification.

Language has a subtle, yet powerful effect on the way we view the world. English, like most other Western languages, is linear—its basic sentence construction, noun-verb-noun, translates into a worldview of “x causes y.” This linearity predisposes us to focus on one-way relationships rather than circular or mutually causative ones

And, our necessity is to be thinking in those ‘circular or mutually causative’ ways both for understanding our problems and identifying (and acting on) solutions to them. After all,

the most vexing problems …are caused by a web of tightly interconnected circular relationships

And, this is quite clearly true for the interconnected domains of economy, energy, and environment.

When it comes to Global Warming, I cannot count the number of times the response to ‘sea level rise’ has been along the lines of ‘at least I live in the mountains’ or ‘it is a chance to buy beach front property cheap’. Whether in jest or not (sadly, too often, likely not), this linear and stove-piped response misrepresents both the challenge and the opportunity.

Global Warming isn’t about

  • Sea level rise — and the resulting threats to human infrastructure (homes, ports, roads), agriculture (saltwater infiltration of acquifers), ecosystems, etc
  • Acidification of the oceans — and the threat to the oceans’ cycles of life
  • Species extinction and disruptions of food chains — with resulting threats to human food supplies and species/ecosystem diversity
  • Agricultural disruption — and the resulting economic dislocation and likely food shortages (read famines)
  • Severe storms — and the resulting threat to human life and infrastructure
  • Disease vectors — and the threats to human and animal health
  • This isn’t about …

Global Warming is not about any one stove-piped item, but the huge systems-of-systems factors. While one might ‘run’ from the sea level rise, the dystopian future that we are hastening to create not for our children, but ourselves, should terrify one and all to concerted effort to serious change.

It is difficult for individuals and organizations to think (and act) in a systems-of-systems fashion. Certainly, America’s political system inhibits effective systems thinking and action.   The simple fallback to linear thinking could well doom our hopes to turn to solving problems and seizing opportunities from serious, intertwined, challenges like financial system collapse, peak oil, and global warming.

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Tags: catastrophic climate change · climate change · environmental · Global Warming

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