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A thread about exponential growth in honor of today's #ClimateStrike.
One of the many ways complex systems fool people's intuition is because of the exponential growth behavior generated by reinforcing feedback loops, where change feeds back on itself to create more change.
Exponential growth is the reason for all the warnings and worry about tipping points in the climate system where, after some point, warming creates more warming, regardless of human mitigation efforts.
But I think the surprising nature of exponential growth also limits our ability to imagine radical transformative change in our lifetimes.
Ideas, political will, courage, and clarity also spread via reinforcing feedback, like snowballs rolling downhill. Courage in you generates courage in those around you, and their courage spreads too. Truth-telling engenders more truth-telling. And so on.
One child in Sweden with courage and clarity has mobilized hundreds of thousands, in thousands of spots on Earth, with courage and clarity.
Reinforcing feedback produces the kinds of graphs we've all seen, that are very flat, almost imperceptibly rising for a long time, until they suddenly shoot upwards.
For those laboring during the time where the graph of 'action and will to support climate mitigation' has been in a very slow, sometimes imperceptible rise (among which I'd count my generation of climate advocates) it is easy to wonder if change is happening, at all. But....
My systems teachers used to tell a riddle: Imagine a pond, with water lilies floating in it. The lilies are growing, doubling the area of the pond's surface they cover every day. In 30 days you know they will grow from imperceptible spots to covering the full surface of the pond.
If day zero is the day of imperceptible spots, and day 30 the day the surface is fully covered, on what day will the pond be half covered?
The 29th day.
Now imagine the surface of that pond as political will, and the pond lilies people ready to act. Imagine, when the pond is fully covered power shifts enough to pass laws and direct spending and build infrastructure in support of a livable climate.
What will the pond look like, on the 26th day? The 27th day? The 28th? Or the 29th? Not very full, right?
I don't know what 'day' we are in in the climate movement, and at some point the analogy breaks down, but, unless you are very practiced at thinking about exponential growth, you might look at the sparsely covered pond (after all these days and weeks) and loose heart.
But systems thinking would say that now, as we sense the imperceptible rise turning upward more steeply, is the time to try your hardest. Now is the time to let your clarity, your courage, and your truth-telling shine out the brightest.
It's a foggy, rainy, slushy day here in my corner of the world, but on my lunch break I'm going to go stand for a while with the #ClimateStrike the next town over, and I'm going to cheer the students - and all of us - on.
Post-script: My favorite sign from the event near us...Along with activists and organizers I think a generation of political cartoonists is rising up.
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