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In a mailing list on system dinamics, Jay W. Forrester wrote this:

In this discussion of climate change and the reputation of science, there are two big elephants in the room that very few are addressing.
These are population growth and the increase in industrial output per capita. Climate change is only a symptom of the two big driving forces. People in system dynamics should know that addressing symptoms is a losing game. However, the symptoms are more visible; it is easier to rally people behind fighting symptoms; and, in this situation, calling attention to the real underlying causes is politically incorrect.

With the two powerful forces that are causing the excessive demands on the environment unaddressed and unrestrained, there is almost no chance of suppressing the symptoms. Furthermore, the focus on symptoms like climate change, hunger, water shortages, wars over land, and many others, misleads people into believing that the future is being addressed.

One of the characteristics of a complex system is that it draws people into arguing over policies that have little leverage for causing change. I quote some lines from my paper, D-4895-1, "Learning through System Dynamics as Preparation for the 21st Century":

"4.2. Low-Leverage Policies: Ineffective Actions

"Complex systems differ from simple systems in another way. In simple systems, the policies to yield better results are obvious and they work. To avoid burning your fingers on a hot stove, you keep away from the stove. But in complex systems, the apparently influential policies often have very little effect.

"When I talk to a group of business executives I ask how many have ever had the experience of facing a serious problem, devising policies to correct the situation, and five years later find there has been no improvement. Most will hold up their hands. Perhaps you have experienced the same in education. The quality of education has been severely criticized, many educators have tried remedies, and often there is little change.


"I believe that a very high percentage, say 98%, of the policies in a system have very little leverage to create change. They do not matter. However, most of the heated debates in communities, companies, and governments are about policies that are not influential. Such debates are a waste of time and energy. Debates about low-leverage policies divert attention from the few policies that could lead to improvement."

Jay W. Forrester
Professor Emeritus of Management
Sloan School, MIT



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