This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

USA Systems Practice Searching for Context

As revealed in the last blog post, a new Systems Practice course was begun, centered again in but not restricted to the United States. This differentiates it from an apparently United Kingdom-based course dealt with in previous blog posts, a difference based more on philosophy than geography. The SP USA course comes across as more pragmatic in my view. There was actually little practice with the SP UK course, more philosophical indoctrination but it did help to realize some important insights more fully.

One is a need to appreciate the difference between people finding themselves in a complex system and those finding themselves in complex situations, recognizing that these aren’t mutually exclusive. People in the actual applicable problem situation will have different perspectives from those considering a relevant abstract system. Currently, there are no actual on-the-ground stakeholders involved in the system map we are building. So this is another systems thinking simulation experiment. We are going to imagine that this is the real world, it isn’t.

Another is a need to better appreciate the need for a general knowledge of systemic relationships and for specific knowledge of the content of the subject itself. I’m not particularly knowledgeable about plastic pollution’s environmental impacts or about Bangkok, Thailand and its current economic and demographic makeup. Even less knowledgeable about the conjunction of plastic pollution and Bangkok, Thailand which will be even more unique. There will still be systemic parallels with other locations.

At this point in the Systems Practice process, we were trying to understand the issues through a more content based analytical perspective. Despite the use of Plectica with the Complexity Spectrum Map featured in the last blog post and a Plectica map on Plastic pollution and impact on the poor of Bangkok, the challenge is still being seen through a more reductionistic lens focused more on the content of the issues rather than their systemic relationships at this point.

The sources for the following came from preliminary suggestions by other team members, as a beginning to providing the knowledge background for the challenge.

Professor Kennedy, (Steve, recognizing his professional expertise), explained that Thailand was one of the top producers in the world of plastic pollution finding its way into the oceans and that he and a team were looking to go to Thailand this summer to work with local entrepreneurs in collaboration with corporate sponsors. Politically, the son of the King has succeeded his father and the Thai people have accepted this succession, so while there have been tensions for a long time, Thailand and Bangkok are now relatively stable.

There are viable business arguments for Sustainability Thinking in general. Social entrepreneurship can be seen as an attempt to draw upon business techniques to find solutions to social problems which is an objective in interacting with entrepreneurs in Thailand. Yet even if they have access to funding and outside expertise these efforts will still require time and energy. How these are utilized will determine impact.

Bangkok, Thailand is seen a significant contributor to plastic trash on the ocean floors being the sixth biggest contributor to ocean plastic. The added ramifications of income inequality paint Bangkok as a city of glitz and a city of desperation as it struggles to fight its addiction to plastic bags.

The root causes of the pollution might be found outside of the locality, assuming the plastic is produced outside of Bangkok and transported into the city in the shape of products and packaging. However, Thailand turns out to be a major net exporter of plastic. Local pollution of plastic in waterways in Bangkok is a locally generated input but upon entering the water system the plastic pollution becomes exceedingly mobile geographically after entering into the oceanic systems and the global impacts of plastic pollution in our oceans can be startling.

A diverse set of ideas were generated by members of the team. Each entrepreneur involved could have different desires, and capabilities. Team members could brainstorm suggestions similar to those suggested in this YouTube with 50 ideas from crafts, to fences, to boats and other ideas.

One approach could be knowing the recycling identification codes and producing an online manual. Recycling 10,000 tons produces approximately six times the number of jobs than sending it to landfill, someone pointed out. This would arguably increase earnings potential and would contribute towards income equality.

Another question raised is how to live in a petroleum based plastic-free world or a world that is perfectly circular economically with plastic re-entering into the technical cycle after every use phase? What is the potential of moving to bio-based plastics, even with added considered issues such as food vs fuel or others?

One opportunity for Thai entrepreneurs might be to tap into overseas foreign aid programs, but this 'you support us and we will buy your rubbish" approach as noted in China may not continue to be a dependable long term market.

Professor Kennedy told us that, “Here in the Netherlands we have the Ocean Cleanup dedicated to removing plastic from the oceans - although this does not stop new inputs of plastic. There is also the Dopper Foundation.”

Another supposedly market based solution to ocean plastic is the PlasticsBank, headed by David Katz, who gave a TED Talk on the subject. Though this seems to be another what the SP USA course would later deem a downstream solution.

Another approach is experimenting to see how the plastic could be de-constructed into its original raw inputs or experimenting to see if plastics, once shredded can be part of the road surfacing, aiming is to reduce the use of petroleum raw materials. Since June 2010, DSM and Roquette Frères, the global starch and starch-derivatives company headquartered in France, has had a formalized a joint venture agreement, named Reverdia, for the production, commercialization and market development of the first non-fossil feedstock derived chemical building block that allows customers in the chemical industry to choose a bio-based alternative with a lower eco-footprint for a broad range of applications, from packaging to footwear. Another example, closer to Thailand, is Avani from Bali, an SME seeking to replace disposable plastic products with 100% biodegradable, as shown in this Facebook video.

None of this, however, approaches the challenge on a systemic basis. Instead, appealing to a desire to find a silver bullet fix for the problem.

According to Professor Kennedy we have seen, on a global scale, a number of diverse approaches to how to 'solve' the problem of plastic pollution, including Pigovian taxes on plastic shopping bags such as in the UK and outright bans on plastic bags as was recently passed in California. In some cases though, this has resulted in unintended consequences, at least by those endeavoring to reduce and eliminate plastic pollution. The case of Rwanda resulted in a vicious feedback loop of economic disruption and government oppression. 

Professor Kennedy expressed the view that there is not much evidence that proposed solutions will have the desired long-term effects.

"The problem of plastic pollution in terms of quantity of material flows is relatively predictable - if we were to dredge a Bangkok waterway we could perhaps predict what we may find. Plastic pollution, however, is a highly connected problem to the local and global consumption and production systems."

Professor Steve Kennedy

Professor Kennedy sees a high potential for self-organization and emergence of new dynamics for the system. Solutions proffered though would need to be long-term and infer a change in the system purpose.

A great deal of insight using systems thinking remains developable. There was greater access to insightful advice this go-around. A course catalyst, Yeu Wen (耀榮) Mak (麥), provided advisory insights starting with the team's first submittal.

Yeu Wen pointed out that a challenge, particularly a wicked challenge, can be viewed at many levels or scales in both time and space, an important aspect of systems thinking which will determine the impact of the intervention.

Therefore, although our Complexity Spectrum scores and their rationale made sense, by changing the scale, global versus local, each score could potentially be changed too.

The environment, for example, is obviously dynamic at the broadest scale but can be very stable down to an atomistic scale such as with the activities of an individual at-a-defined-period of time or at an event level.

The work to come will greatly extend the perspective of the system but it will begin with gathering some basic factors, determining a destination and course, and setting a star to navigate towards.

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