Did Climate Change Cause Hurricane Sandy?


The answer depends on how you think – are you a Direct Causation believer or a Systemic Causation believer?  By the way, it’s not an either or choice.  If you are looking for a direct, linear causation relationship between climate change and Sandy, then you may choose to ignore the event and/or react to it by building a wall to block the surge.  If you believe in systemic causation, then you may choose to increase solar and wind power and reduce fossil fuels to reduce the storm surge.  You can follow an excellent discussion on this by George Lakoff.

Unfortunately, we have all been trained and conditioned to seek direct causation and base our actions and decisions based on that.  And because of that, we end up making bad decisions and in some cases, decisions that actually increase the problem we are trying to solve.  I distinctly remember an incident from India where the farmers were having water shortages and dug more wells and dug them deeper – because they were looking for a direct causal relationship.  Unfortunately, all they managed to do was to lower the water tables in the area and made the problem even worse.  Had they been applying system causation, they would have come up with a totally different solution?

Lackoff also points out that because systemic causation is less obvious, it is more critical to understand.  “A systemic cause may be one of many – may be indirect – may be probabilistic – may require a feedback mechanism”  etc. etc.  And L. Michael Hall opines that “most of our social, personal and internal problems arise……..because we keep thinking in terms of direct causality”

Our work cultures of finding a problem; identifying the direct causal relationship and fixing the problem unfortunately lead us away from systemic causation.  And that fix, at best, may be a temporary patch that might buy some time (surge protection wall) or worse, will actually worsen the problem (dig more and deeper wells).  As Lakoff points out above, because systemic causation is less obvious, indirect etc., linear thinking and processes cannot deal with it.  The need to be able to connect dots gets in the way.  Looking for direct metrics or measures to prove causation are bound to fail.  The AGILE movement in software development readily acknowledges this when it says that there is more value in ”responding to change over following a plan” because it approached software development through the lens of systemic causation.

How then to address this problem?  According to THE bard (Shakespeare), “”The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”.  We first need to acknowledge the difference between direct and systemic causation.  We need to add the latter to our vocabulary and thinking.  We need to stop looking only for direct linear relationships and direct metrics to prove progress.  This becomes especially difficult in can do and just do it now cultures because it requires a different context.  It feels like slowing things down and taking much longer.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

We can either build surge protection walls and dig deeper wells, or we apply systemic causation and start solving the problems.  Your pick?



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