Defining Example: Global Climate Change
System: The system is composed of interactive atmosphere, land, and water components that affect and are affected by human institutions/societies. Local and global climate condition changes due to human activities lead to unequal sharing of burden and opportunities which, in turn, lead to conflict affecting nation states and multi-national corporations, and, in turn again, the climate. The dynamics are intrinsically chaotic but dominated by negative feedback, which tends to balance the system. Human activities tend to alter natural balancing forces; it is imperative to understand the controls within the system to manage risk from unbalancing activities.
Environment: Since the system includes nature and human activities that affect nature, the environment must be nature beyond earth (space exploration is moving this boundary), and human activities that have no environmental impact (if such exist).
System of Systems: This system of system includes all the disparate aspects of nature and all the earth’s peoples in an evolving set of interrelationships and dynamics.
Complex: The behavior of individual components (e.g. humans, weather) has been shown to exhibit complex/chaotic behavior. The number of components and their interconnections guarantee the possibility of complex system behavior.
Adaptive: The climate-earth system is a feedback process that evolves and adapts. Humans excel in adaptation (and mis-adaptation). We must learn to adapt to climate change at a simultaneously global and local level. Humanity has never faced this challenge before.
Aspirations: Recent studies indicate that over 2.7 billion people will be within the turmoil of war and nation-state destabilization over the next few decades. In addition to the already crisis-laden extreme weather events caused by global warming, accelerating changes in the Arctic will impact the world economy, global ocean currents, and the world’s weather patterns. Aspirations include controlling the system to achieve global stability and international security, adapting to climate-constrained resource production levels, and restabilizing climate conditions impacted by human activity.
Approaches: Approaches include technological changes in sources of energy and efficiency of energy use, behavioral changes to reduce energy waste, social attitude change regarding standards of living, instituting controls, possibly economic, that affect energy use.
Attainability: Fundamental issues include disagreement about the severity of the problem, issues of achieving behavioral change at international, national, corporate and individual levels, technological challenges to seek less-impacting, more efficient solutions. Interestingly, there is a trivial solution to the problem if we don’t solve it, nature may just solve it for us. We may not like the answer.