MONDAY, JUNE 19, 2017

Modeling Biophysical Reality

It's an ecolacy thing

Eric Lee, A-SOCIATED PRESS

TOPICS: START WITH WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW, FROM THE WIRES, MAKE IT SO

FLATHEAD LAKE (A-P) — First, consider what we should have done in the mid-1970s to model Earth's biophysical system but didn’t. Second, assume that we should nevertheless do what we can because we still can. We don’t know enough to know that what we may now endeavor to do is too little too late.

When Limits to Growth 1972 was published to become a worldwide bestseller based on the World3 modeling, the proper response should having been for the UN to fund a global NASA level think tank, perhaps divided into ten teams, to develop a World4 model. Starting with World3, each team would endeavor to develop a ‘better’ model as defined by Nature who has all the answers, and after the first year all teams would meet to hammer out a World4 consensus best-guess model before immediately resuming to iterate towards a better model the next year. The work would be supported by and based on the collection of ever vaster amounts of vetted data. Over the years some teams may merge as their thinking converses, such that today we would be up to World48 with teams a, b, and c working on World49 for 2018.

Progress would have seemed slow, but policy and decision makers might have gradually learned, likely the hard way as usual, to run their proposed changes through the current World model to have a better grasp of what unexpected changes to the world system their ‘solutions’ might actually have. Humans could have gradually come to realize that when it comes to biophysical reality, they don’t get a vote. Within the set of what actually works, human preferences could be assessed by allowing the people to vote their deeply held preferences, but otherwise Nature has the vote. Facts and best-guess views cannot be voted on by humans who need to live reality-based lifes to be around over the long term. The point could have finally been learned that the universe doesn’t care what humans like or dislike.

What we actually did was marginalize the study, then eventually come to believe it had made predictions, that the predictions hadn’t come true, and therefore the Limits to Growth study was disconfirmed, that it’s claim that there are limits to growth was totally wrong, and that the authors were pathetic, likely feebleminded, Chicken Littles with a computer.

That the intelligentsia of the Growth Hegemon didn’t like the Limits to Growth study and won’t fund a proper model of Earth’s biophysical economy as human life-support system is a likely given. This is equivalent to saying Microsoft won’t fund the development of an alternative operating system to Windows. The alternative (e.g. Linux) is open source design. If programmers want to realize their inner vision of an alternative open source software product (e.g. Gimp, LibreOffice…), they do. Some may provide support services such that enough income is involved to enable them to increase their contributions to the project. Scientists and scholars are no worse than geeks, some are geeks, and pro-Bono scholarship may be forthcoming when a project makes sense and may be a matter of survival.

Actual development of biophysical models is best done by those who are not intellectual fast-guns for hire determined to capitalize/monetize their talent. The optimal project might be for those involved to make enough money to support their continued work, especially for the top contributors wanting to work full time. Some combination of crowd funding and philanthropic support may be enough. State and corporate support would have to be of the no-strings-attached sort.

That we don’t know enough to model the Earth system is irrelevant as we’ll learn only by doing, just as we can never ‘know’ the truth but only iterate towards it. Perhaps World42, for 2011, would have been the answer to life, the universe and everything by modeling what we need to know to understand and live properly on the planet. If we had continued to model the world set in 1973 and develop systems science, we might have come to understand enough by now to be living the prosperous and equitable life of enough while still leaving room for Nature. As it is we may not know enough of the principles of systems science to develop a complete enough model, but that just means we need to work on the science of systems as well as iterate towards better models.

It nerds and open-source/open-society supporters can help with an open science project to model biophysical reality, then let's make it happen. The first core of the science team needs to pitch the idea, vision and potential in an online article. Instead of an Ecomodernist Manifesto, maybe a Biophysical Systems Science Manifesto. Boil it down to a paragraph with link and post to Slashdot.org: News for Nerds, stuff that matters. High functioning members of the open whatever community can be contacted, connections made, and the project made to happen. Pitch the project and see what self-organizes. The SYSTEM and its intelligentsia that still believes in the Growth's Mandate narrative will not be enthusiastic supporters. Since no NASA level support can be expected, Forget a Windows/corporate/nation-state level project and think Linux. Slashdot is a portal to an alternative source of talent that could help make a World42 model happen and maybe there is an eccentric Si valley billionaire or even Russian billionaire who will offer support. In complex systems more complex than we know or can know, we can't know what might work or what self-motivated scientists and nerd supporters can make happen.

 


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