September 19, 2014
How Systems Thinking Can Impact Climate Change
Systems thinker: a phrase that has come to define my method for problem solving, my approach to tackling the world’s greatest challenges, and most importantly, who I am today. When I was asked to serve as the CEO of the Clinton Climate Initiative, I had the opportunity to reflect on what led me to this point and how my identity as a systems thinker would ultimately shape our mission moving forward to confront the complicated threats of climate change.
I was fortunate to be raised by systems thinkers as I grew up in the Netherlands, where everything and everyone is close together. Since there is no wilderness, very little land and very little space, we have to be thoughtful about our resources and about each other, and I have carried these lessons with me to where I am today.
The world, as I see it, is made up of systems, and is the result of any interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves an outcome.
The world, as I see it, is made up of systems, and is the result of any interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves an outcome. A tree is a system. A forest is a system. I am a system. Systems are often embedded in larger systems, which are embedded in yet larger systems. The earth’s climate is a system comprised of the subsystems of our atmosphere, our oceans, the land, and human society.
The earth’s climate is a system comprised of the subsystems of our atmosphere, our oceans, the land, and human society.
“Systems Thinking” views outcomes as the result of the interactions between the various elements of a system and recognizes that systems often contain within them the causes of their own success, and — this is critical— the causes of their own failure. Similarly, “Systems Problems” are problems that have origins in the interactions of the elements of a system, characterized by a high degree of interconnection and interdependence with other variables around them.
Climate change may well be the most complex systems problem that we have ever faced. In our modern economy, almost every human activity is linked to the use of fossil fuels or other sources of climate-altering greenhouse gases. Every time we buy or download a book, every time we cook a meal, every time we travel across town, we are impacting the climate.
In our modern economy, almost every human activity is linked to the use of fossil fuels or other sources of climate-altering greenhouse gases. Every time we buy or download a book, every time we cook a meal, every time we travel across town, we are impacting the climate.
At the same time, almost everything that sustains and enriches our lives is affected, directly or indirectly, by the changing climate. At the Clinton Foundation, we realize that access to clean water, the price of our food, national security, the health of ourselves and our loved ones, economic opportunity for this generation and those to come, all are placed in jeopardy by climate change.
We must insist on solving more than one problem at a time and on tackling multiple interrelated challenges at the same time. We need the resolve to address systems rather than symptoms. A solution will not be effective or enduring if it creates new problems. And so, we need new business models, new technologies, new policy frameworks, and most importantly, new ways of engaging with each other.
We are moving away from focusing on single technologies to using a whole systems approach as we recognize that there is no single silver bullet solution to stopping climate change.
The Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) does exactly that in its unique systems thinking approach. We are moving away from focusing on single technologies to using a whole systems approach as we recognize that there is no single silver bullet solution to stopping climate change. Rather than narrowly focusing on one approach, like renewable energy as the only solution, we take a more holistic view to developing systemic solutions. We collaborate with world-class partners to increase the resiliency of communities facing climate change and to create replicable and sustainable models for others to follow.
At the core of our engagement philosophy is Systems Thinking; identifying and activating leverage points that can create significant, positive impact in climate change mitigation and energy transition for communities around the world. CCI has worked with governments and communities to build data systems to better inform decisions and policies on the management of land and natural resources. CCI has also developed waste, water, and energy strategies with our Small Islands partners to create impact from boosting the local economy to women’s empowerment. Finally, CCI has introduced innovative financing mechanisms by partnering with employers to bring energy efficiency benefits to lower home energy expenses and improve people’s lives and their living and working environments.
Through our programs, focused on landscapes and land use, energy supply and energy demand, and energy efficiency, we aim to work together to tackle these systems problems. Now we call on you to take action, to start thinking about your home, your country, your world, and your climate as a system. We ask that you join us in creating solutions that take into account the entire system and all its complexities. Together, we can work to create measurable, meaningful and lasting contributions—one system at a time.