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Climate Change as a Metaphor of Social Change

Systemic implications of emissions, ozone, sunlight, greenhouse and overheating (Part #1)


Produced on the occasion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Poznań, Poland, December 2008)


Introduction
Metaphorical comparison
Deleterious systemic excesses
Towards a periodic table of change processes?
References

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Introduction

Since "climate change" is now framed as THE crisis faced by humanity on the planet, and all creative resources are to be mobilized in response, there is a case for exploring how such a crisis may be understood in other ways. The merit of doing so, irrespective of any direct fruitful outcome, is that it may offer insights from which it may be easier to learn fruitful responses.

As argued in an earlier exercise (Systemic Crises as Keys to Systemic Remedies: a metaphorical Rosetta Stone for future strategy?, 2008), there is already a confusion of metaphor between other crises and that of climate change. There are numerous web references to "financial climate", "financial hurricane" and "frozen economies", for example. It is also apparent that the earlier understanding of a "climate of change" is now itself being confused with "climate change" (Climate of Change Misrepresented as Climate Change: insights from metaphorical confusion, 2008).

The exploration below therefore builds on the approach suggested in the first paper by identifying -- in systemic terms -- the varieties of "emission", "ozone", "sunlight", "greenhouse effect" and "overheating" as providing metaphors through which the more conventional understanding of climate change might be understood otherwise. Determining whether this approach proves to be of any value is a reason for the exploration.

The question raised by this approach is whether the conventional focus on climate obscures a more systemic challenge faced by humanity that has its origin in a mindset that is manifest in other domains which may, or may not, be currently understood as problematic. Is "climate change" a symptom of a more fundamental systemic challenge? By highlighting the potentially problematic nature of other domains, understanding of their dynamics may offer insights into other ways of approaching the challenge of climate itself.

The juxtaposition of processes in the following table -- as being in some way systemically comparable -- is undertaken tentatively, provocatively and playfully as a means of eliciting further insight, in the spirit of arguments formulated elsewhere (Humour and Play-Fullness: essential integrative processes in governance, religion and transdisciplinarity, 2005; Playfully Changing the Prevailing Climate of Opinion: climate change as focal metaphor of effective global governance, 2005; Liberating Provocations: use of negative and paradoxical strategies, 2005).

The first such exercise was inspired by the report for the Club of Rome by Jay Forrester (World Dynamics, 1971) and his Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems (1971). That exercise appeared as World Dynamics and Psychodynamics: a step towards making abstract "world system" dynamic limitations meaningful to the individual (1971). The approach owed much to the pioneering work elicited by the Society for General Systems Research and its General Systems Yearbook.

for_General_Systems_Research#General_Systems_Yearbook">General Systems Yearbook.


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