Apollo-Gaia Project

Director: David Wasdell

Complex Solutions for Complex Problems:

Mobilising social response to accelerating

climate change in a post-Copenhagen context


Presentation by David Wasdell on 28th January 2010

at the London School of Economics,

chaired by Professor Eve Mitleton-Kelly

An introduction to the dynamics of climate change lays the foundation for an examination of the complex system of interactive feedback mechanisms and the phenomenon of amplification of the system response to the precipitating anthropogenic disturbance. Distinction is made between systems of complexity which can dominate behaviour in sub-system dynamics, and the higher level complex system-dynamics which determine the response of the earth system as a whole. The interplay between the two is explored.
The approach is then developed to provide a framework within which to examine the boundary conditions of runaway climate change, an evaluation of risk, and assessment of the implications of the new analysis for strategic intervention
The second part of the seminar focuses on the dynamics of social systems in response to the climate crisis. The escalating rigidity and complexity of command and control structures reduce the resilience of the social system. The institutions of international negotiation become dysfunctional as a means of mobilising effective global problem-solving. The dominance of powerful vested interests in the politico- economic arena constitute a virtual veto on essential action, reinforced by the psychodynamics of resistance to change in conditions of rising social anxiety.
The insights of complexity science may offer an alternative approach, mobilising the deconstruction of the command and control dynamics and catalysing the emergence of a zone of contained turbulence (the "chaotic" state) in social behaviour. Connectivity, self-organisation, multiple parallel processing and the emergent properties of a metamorphic transformation of global dynamics, could generate response that is able to get ahead of the curve of the developing crisis. The precipitation of the required phase-change in social dynamics from the rigid, slow response characteristics of the solid state, to the resilient flexibility of a liquid phase may constitute the best hope of achieving a sustainable form of human civilisation within the definitive constraints of the planetary environment.
Two fully illustrated pdfs, covering both parts of the seminar, are accessible via the links below.
Link to LSE Complexity Seminar Part 1 Link to LSE Complexity Seminar Part 2
The visuals in the pdfs have been reduced to enable easy reading. Access to the full set high quality visuals are accessible via the very large file of the powerpoint slides pdf
Further details regarding complexity can be found on the web-site of Eve Mitleton Kelly where links to this presentation can also be found.