Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Jay Forrester on the nature of the problems we face

In a few sentences, Jay Forrester, still perfectly lucid at 95, outlines the origins of the problems we face with climate change and everything else. In the 1960s, Forrester developed a method of study of complex system that he called "system dynamics" and that was at the origin of the 1972 study "The Limits to Growth." Nearly 50 years later, the understanding of the behavior of complex systems by leaders and policy makers remains primitive at best. And it shows.

"People do the things they think they should do, but do not realize that what they are doing is causing the problems"

"[our leaders] reach maturity and come to positions of influence with a completely incorrect understanding of the systems they are dealing with"

"... and yet we are asking leaders to run systems that are way beyond any possibility for them to really understand them"

(h/t Tom Fiddaman)


  1. Exactly! Short and illustrative interview. But I also think Jay is a bit optimistic, if he thinks about the "next" century as the age of consequences. I really cannot help myself but it seems more and more to me that we are *already* living in the age of consequences, which are inevitably in the case of exponentially proliferating organism within finite environment. Look at Brazil and India these days:

    Emerging markets having trougles -- you know it - inflation, growing wealth inequality, rising population, rising food and energy prices.

    I wonder why should we wait for the next century for hiting limits to growth,


    1. Hi Alex, I don't think he meant "the next century", he probably meant the coming century or the coming one hundred years. In any case I agree with you that we should NOT wait.

      In the video from 49 seconds to 1:22 Jay Forrester says:

      “There is no place in academia where the nature of these complex systems is taught…and the historical subjects are for the most part contrary to understanding it …(therefore) it is not surprising that they (our political leaders) reach maturity and come into positions of influence with a completely incorrect understanding of the systems they are dealing with…”

      I suspect that by “the historical subjects” he means mainly economics though perhaps also some other disciplines such as political “science”. Both miss the point that society and its economy and politics take place within natural, ecological and physical systems that have various thermodynamic and physical limits for their sources and sinks. I don’t know whether he is right or not that “there is no place in academia where the nature of these complex systems is taught” but I suspect he knows what he is talking about and is correct.

      So another interesting question is: can this possibly be the case and why is it not being rectified at once”? Perhaps if it were our wise leaders presently attending the G-8 summit might have a completely different agenda instead of how to “restart economic growth” (not to even mention Syria and why that actually is happening since it is a big stretch to believe that any of those leaders or their states actually could care less about the Syrian people themselves)

  2. Here is the video communicating latest climate report for Australia. Australia should leave 80% of fossil fuel should stay in the ground. Will they?

    Climate Commission report says 80 per cent of fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground


    1. Hi Alex, this is a related article from Australia's "Climate Spectator" which also is good and has a number of other links in it, regards, Max

      and one more from Australia:

  3. Hello Ugo,

    I did not know this great man was still alive. Greetings from Germany and thank you for sharing a beer and your mind with me.


  4. Thanks for this interview Ugo.
    One remark could be that even if the systems are hyper complex, the root cause of our problems (a least a big part) is known : too much reliance on burning hydrocarbons) . And to me the prime "actions" should be on this which doesn't requires to understand or even less define the full system. By typically raising taxes on fossile fuel, lessening them on work.
    (however now extremely late ...)