Seeds of Change - Heiner Benking's Blog -    
 Global Challenges: Blessing or Curse? Beware of overwhelming mind-bugs/-boggles!
picture picture picture 11 Jul 2012 @ 08:50
Have we got “the best and brightest in town“ to discuss the human and environmental dimension of repairing the mess of our Planet Earth, massive means to “engineer” complex, dynamic sytem? To be clear I mean the best and brightes stakeholder in the proper mix of expertise and experience. We come back to this later secure the requisite variety needed for last efforts.
What a special time, scientists from Santa Fe, Potsdam, Berlin, Harvard, Stanford, Delhi, …  leading Geo- and Environmental Scientist worldwide discuss Global Sustainability and Engineering  Global Sustainability Summer School 2012: RISK, UNCERTAINTY AND EXTREME EVENTS – CHARACTERISTICS OF HUMAN-ENVIRONMENT INTERACTIONS and find time to publically discuss tonight Geo-engineering - Blessing or Curse?"

PART I of this blog, a handout prepared beforehand.
The first part is a discussion paper to be shared with some participants before the evening discussions – Below follows my report on the event, responses and outcomes.
The term the “best and the brightest” was used by Noel Brown, Director of UNEP in North-America in charge of steering the Earth Summit Rio 1992, and requested after the summit, in view of all the stuff that was going on before and after Rio and even before in view of THE PROBLEMATIQUE in 1969, that these leading scientists and policy-makers should do something very special: Establish Common Frames of Reference, develop a common understanding, harness our considerable scientific capabilities, initiate a more solid scientific foundation for the policies and strategies,  and many more important proposals/requests.
But where are we 20 years later? We still have no “elevator” between the scales and sectors, we separate, segregate, and specialise more and more, avoiding the bigger picture and the necessary integration and holistic approaches requested, and that in view of alternatives already proposed more that already 22 years ago!
I am a concerned generalist who was “on deck” during these years, but have experienced and learned that the proposed ways to see and work more comprehensively have been ignored and single issues rule the agendas. Twenty years on, the new, embracing basics have not been learned. Every summit and convention sails under their own flag. Comprehensive proposals to investigate International Encyclopedia of World Problems, Human Potentials, Actions, Options, Strategies and for example Intersectoral Strategic Dilemmas should be revisited and we schould invest again into the Harmonization of InformationCommon Terminologies and Repositories,concerted policy training and development.

Science policies today seem to be too focussed on syndromes and isolated issues, instead of the systemic deep drivers, root causes, and shared approaches for joint solid and scalable procedures and actions.

The book presents that Humans can find tricks and strategies to overcome some risks for personal or few winners benefit. We have experienced this in the Global Finance Roulette these days. But all this is always one-eyed trying to avoid impacts and for personal gain.
When I now observe that we try to win over the “Gods” and start exerting influence over massive, dynamic, cross-scale and sector matters, untested, with  episodic and epochal impacts, I wonder….

Have we at least started to find answers to the requests and mandates above? Have we looked into Dissipative Systems and revisted Ilya Prigogine?, have we looked carefully into the Soil-Water-Vegetation-Vapour Dynamics Nexus (Wilhelm Ripl), or possibilities of massive and large-scale natural carbon sequestation securing remedies for our mistreated soils and vegetations? (e.g. Terra Preta, Permaculture, Urban Farming, …) and what this means for interactions along and across scales and environmental-human-socio-cultural dimensions?
One important step would be for me also to look into public domains and free knowledge stored in deep and comprehensive proprietary encyclopedia repositories I mean for example an old shelved project worth to take up again as the question is who is concerend with the whole field as adressed here, at a table when General Systems research was founded, but scientist felt not been in charge, as the whole subject space was not their field ! aas only few where "Longing for unified knowledge".

I happened to be presenting with the Founding Editor of the International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics Charles François the 2nd edition in 2008. François lectured about vague subject areas and in highly complex dynamic living environments and possibilities to avoid undercomplex answers, the trend to overclaims and oversimplifications, another trick or possible mindbug… as mentioned below. Here another text of much concern today by the Founding Editor of the Encyclopedia of Systems Charles François: Hidden long term systemic constraints in present day socio-economical global mutation of mankind (2000).
So what can we do in the face of scalable effects on the Grand Challenges mentioned above? Again, I feel much of what can be done is already at hand, it is all there and written and proposed, here only one example: Lynton Caldwells “Is Humanity Destines…” and the concern of the missing “Schau” in an an age of virtual, disembodied Show

  • Improve soils and restore the vegetation, prevent extreme water run-off, desertification and the restore the natural capacities for carbon sequestration, avoid quick-fix single-issue “energy harvesting” and instead look into really self-sustaining not depleting sources like solar, wind; wave, geothermal, as already all covered in the Global Change exhibition from 1990.  See for the recommendations: Global Youth Conferences GYC 2010/2011 (see here also the SDG/MDG issue from Rio+20  and the IHTEC / Council of Global Issues proposals over the years and presented at the EarthFocus Foundation GYC conferences.
  • Look into participation, dialog, deliberation and peace-making efforts over the last 40 years.  -
  • Look into Common Frames of References (see above) and SuperSigns and Superstructures (simple models) not only Global Commons ! A subject I fully agreed with Elinor Ostrom since long.
  • I have recently explored Mindbugs and Mindboggles, where ignorance, apathy, and fallacies are paramount, or where we are emotionally and intellectually overwhelmed. I feel this applies to the fields of Education, Cognition and Policy-making, … another avenue to follow.  Please check below Dolphin Solutions from 1992 and an extract from the and the web-page  footnote PS:  Mindbugs & Mindprints - Mind-Fallacies and Mind-Ignorance/-Denial

    When looking back, I was not only with Mandelbrot in 1993 around Future Studies  where I already covered at the conference our topic today and with youth revisited our mindsets and rulesets.
    Later we made proposals for example about scale effects, socio-cultural impacts and technology assessment and implementation scales. The conference "Africa Beyond Poverty"  in 1995, and beside our Robust Paths for Global Stability in the Economy and Futures Track need to be printed on day… Or we had Yehezkel Dror here in Berlin at the UN Climate Summit 1995. But who has read our Capacity to Govern Recommendations and the full version “Ist die Erde noch Regierbar” in contrast to the executive-summary like English version published years later. We also  learned a lot from the Santa Fe Institute conferences on the study of the hindsight or later later learned form the Scientific American article by John Horgan: From Complexity to Perplexity ! Quite a research agenda to be revisited. But we have not learned yet answers to the concerns raised by Horgan and others not only in this article. So I am eager to learn from this session, let us see what will happen this evening.

    PART II The event, questions, answers,...
    PART III Outcomes and learnings of the Public Event