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Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

Studying real-world problems such as sustainability, food security, or even biodiversity loss means you’re dealing with complex systems. Complex systems are characterised by a few features that make them tricky (and interesting) — the whole is more than the sum of the parts (something you might call “emergence”), and things are connected in ways that are not always simple. If you fiddle with one part of the system, this has ramifications for the rest of the system — and those can even feed back to the very thing you thought you had “solved” in the first place.

So what does this mean for doing research on real-world problems? It means you can’t “solve” a given problem without dealing with the “complex system” context. In theory, this answer feels quite satisfying, and people like myself can preach this to others, and tell them they aren’t holistic enough.


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