My takeaway from this week’s material is that our planet is in a constant tug of varying systems. Large, complex systems that often seem random and complex viewed from afar, but manage to sustain themselves in relative harmony. For example the industrialized food system has both adopted to and influenced the planet’s water cycle. Each system is a set of forces that gives and takes to all other connected systems. As outlined in the “Thinking in Systems” Slideshare, a sustainable system is resilient. Ecosystems are of course prime examples that endure a great deal to accommodate invasive species, industry, and climate change. On it’s surface a random grouping of flora and fauna is really a network of forces competing and thriving together as whole.
The Slideshare touched on resilience, also covered in the Complexity Academy’s Course videos. Resilient system leaders identify groups of systems and maximize their efficiency as demonstrated by the globalization of industry and mass production. Political ecology, Paul Robbins reminds us, that a system can both maximize efficiency and sustain other (greener) systems for the overall good of the planet and humanity. While we model our systems after nature’s, perhaps we can think of its health on equal footing with ours. Like the large, all-encompassing global systems interconnect, I too must think of my person as a system that gives as much as it takes.
This week I was most interested in the vast amounts of water to produce everyday food products. The water needed for food brings together many complex systems becoming rapidly more strained by global warming, industrialized food demand, and food shortages. Virtual water, as discussed by María J. Beltrán, is a concept I’ll forever think of both as a student and in my personal life. The intertwined food systems consume resources and commodities at each stage- one of the most precious of which is freshwater. As major cities and entire populations face water shortages- not just for agriculture but for drinking- our western demand must make accommodations. María J. Beltrán writes that water usage for food brings together many scientific realms and any solutions will be the product of holistic cooperation across systems. She writes,
“It is through the dialogue between perspectives of ecological economics and political ecology that the contradictions in the virtual water approach can be illustrated, unravelling controversial concepts such as ‘scarcity’ and ‘efficiency’.”
What I find most interesting about water shortage is the universality of water. Every living organism, village, and city consumes water daily yet the experience varies so widely. In our culture we expect clean water- at any temperature- to be constantly available while farmers half a world away have no potable water for their plants. While the concepts can be controversial, surely the fundamental necessity for water, like air, can be globally protected.