The curve of change

Mike Jones Swedish Biodiversity Institute
Mike Jones, IUCN Resilience Theme Lead

Mike Jones lays out a compelling framework for understanding change in our first podcast.  He brings up key concepts that are essential as we move into a climate changed world.

I want to highlight one portion of his message.  He makes a strong case that, “we need a very different way of thinking about the world and our place in it.”  He says we need to move from simple systems thinking which is based on a mechanistic idea of the world where we can predict what will to happen to a complex systems perspective where we recognize the extraordinary uncertainty we face as global systems reach or exceed their tipping points.

Jones’ advice rings true for me as he suggests that we need to be doing pilot projects that test new approaches that can help us to be more flexible and adaptable to changing conditions.  For example, city planners and architects who understand what climate change has to offer recognize that there is tremendous uncertainty about the kinds of weather extremes we will be facing in the future.  We can no longer count on the historic weather record as a reliable guide to sizing of heating and cooling systems for buildings.  So what do we do?  How can we design buildings that last 50 years when we don’t know the kind of weather challenges it will face?  If we under-size the systems, we’ll be too hot or too cold for comfort.  If we oversize the systems we may be wasting millions of dollars for capacity we never need.  So what does a smart decision-maker do in the time like this?

If we have to wait for the future to reveal what we need, Jones says that means that, “We are always a step behind the curve of change.  That means that we need to be very quick in the way we adapt.”

But how do we know what will work?  Here Jones suggests the need for action right now with, “…a lot of people doing small scale experiments with all kinds of things – looking at the future, looking at the uncertainty and saying, ‘under these kinds of conditions, these kinds of innovations will be really useful.’”

These types of pilot projects can help us learn what might work and what challenges we might face to implement them.  What flexible, innovative, renewable strategies do we have up our sleeves?  Where can we test them to figure out how well they can work for us and our city?

The results of these pilots become exceptionally valuable after a disaster event when a community finds itself reconstructing buildings or elements of their infrastructure. Because it is in those most trying of times that people are most open to innovation.  If we have experience with new approaches thanks to our pilot projects, then they may be candidate solutions that we adopt wholesale to accelerate recovery and to make sure we don’t just rebuild what broke so that it can break again.

Check out Mike Jones interview here.

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