Thinking Systemic

In class we had a discussion on various topics and how they are linear and systemic. In the video Science for the Future and the Future of Science, Dr. Khosla covers multiple concepts involved with the science of sustainability.

While he does not explicitly state what degenerative or regenerative means, he makes these distinctions obvious through terms and examples to model what these practices look like.

Dr. Khosla referred to a concept called ecological rucksacks and illustrated this by displaying a diagram on “Choice and Production of Food and Ecological Costs.” Ecological rucksacks are the amount of material that is needed to be moved in order to get 1 kg of material you want to use.

On the right side of the diagram shows traditional food production that is sustainable, where 1 Calorie of energy goes into agriculture and yields around 10,15,20, or 100 Calories of food energy. On the left side shows unsustainable food production, known as supermarket production, where 500 Calories of energy goes into agriculture and yields only about 1 Calorie of food energy.

The way our economic system is designed favors the supermarket spectrum and pushes us toward that side. The supermarket spectrum is linear because way too much energy is going into the food that we eat when we’re not even getting much out of it.

Large areas of land are being used specifically for agriculture or to grow the food to support livestock. This takes a lot of energy just to convert the land, harvest the food, and simply maintain it. Then the food is distributed, processed, and packaged, which further requires mass amounts of energy. In addition, most of the food we eat doesn’t just come from one location and travels hundreds of miles to get our grocery stores sucking up, you guessed it, even more energy. By the time the food gets onto our plates, the actual energy we are getting from it is ridiculously minimal compared to the entire energy used up until the point it got to us.

The traditional spectrum is regenerative because it maximizes energy through making choices that choose systems where the outputs are greater than the inputs. Some examples would be to buy local, purchase food in the bulk section to avoid packaging, get involved with a community garden, have your own garden, or best yet; grow a food forest.

Another interesting perspective on systems thinking came from the audio recording of Fritjof Capra. He talked about Leonardo Da Vinci and how his painting formed a tight connection between art and science.

He followed a process similar to the scientific method and made scientific discoveries through observing, understanding, and painting nature.

According to Da Vinci, “The eye, which is said to be the window of the soul, is the principal means whereby sensory awareness can most abundantly and magnificently contemplate the infinite works of nature.”

He really focused on natural forms and underlying principles of how nature looks and operates, forming an intimate connection with nature when trying to answer questions about the environment and science.

Regenerative studies does exactly the same thing when it comes to systems thinking and trying to find answers and solutions to real world problems. This discipline involves having an understanding that nature and our problems are complex and that there are many inputs and outputs to a situation, not just one single cause and effect.

Both of these approaches emphasize on observation in the early stages to gain a deep connection and understanding on how systems operate, look, and all its inputs and outputs.

From this, one will be able to ask the right questions to come up with well-thought out solutions, that take on a holistic approach.


2 thoughts on “Thinking Systemic

  1. The industrialized food system is so real – it’s geared toward mass production and mass consumption utilizing mechanized means. It isn’t really good for our bodily health, our diet, or the earth! There is such an undervaluing of food and how it got onto our plate. As you said, it takes so much energy because conventionally, food is not localized whatsoever resulting in a lot of transportation (aka greenhouse gas emissions). My friends and I visited the Lyle center for the first time; it was very cool to see sustainability practiced in terms of food because they grow different kinds of food in an organic matter right by housing!


  2. Totally agree, the quality of our food in this country is embarrassing really. Compounded by how GMO components seem to be in so many foods and drinks as well, and its almost as if we aren’t eating real food. Well written post, thanks for your thoughts.


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