Lab Sheet for Patient Earth


Introduction
Planetary Health
Base Line
Syndrome
Diagnosis
Prognosis
Therapy
Indicators and Indexes
Environmental Indicators
Indicators for the Humansphere
Basics of Indicators


Introduction

The “Lab Sheet” for “patient Earth” includes a number of planetary health indicator. For each indicator, we show the normal range, the baseline for a healthy planetary life-support shystem and we show where this indicator is today. As far as possible and appropriate, each indicator is shown from global down to local scales.

Besides these indicators, this web space gives access to Earth's viability indicators, indices and other evidence provided by others for the environment and the humansphere. We also give access to relevant theoretical background explaining basic concepts.

Approach

Our approach is based on the concept of viable systems introduced by Stafford Beer (1972, 1985). Beer's Viable System Models (VSM) apply not only to organizations but also to the complex adaptive system that a planetary life-support system represents. Moreover, Beer's statement “The Purpose of a system is what it does” (POSIWID) provides a key to the understanding of what systems are functioning in a sound way. Often, humans assign an “official” purpose to a system that that is in conflict with the de facto purpose and this conflict can rapidly lead to a degradation of the system.

We use viability models based on VSMs to identify the indicators that have strong predictive power related to the overall health and potential degradations of the planetary system from local to global scale.


Viable Systems: A recursively nested set of integral systems linking the local to the planet. This provides a comprehensive framework for understanding the systems consisting of the planetary environment and human settlements as they interact.

Viability Models: Nested computer simulation models for the Viable Systems showing the major dynamics (stocks, flows, and feedback loops) at each level. These models allow users to move up and down the scales from local to global as desired.


Measuring Performance of the Earth's life-support system

One approach to the performace of the Earth's Life-Support System (ELSS) is based on three capabilities defined by Beer (1972) for an organization:

  • Actuality: “What we are managing to do now, with existing resources, under existing constraints.”
  • Capability: “This is what we could be doing (still right now) with existing resources, under existing constraints, if we really worked at it.”
  • Potentiality: “This is what we ought to be doing by developing our resources and removing constraints, although still operating within the bounds of what is already known to be feasible.”

Looking at the ELSS, these capabilities can be described as:

  • Actuality: “What humanity is managing to do now, with existing resources, under existing constraints, and how this is impacting the ELSS.”
  • Capability: “This is what we could be doing (still right now) with existing resources, under existing constraints, if we really worked at it and aimed to safeguard the ELSS.”
  • Potentiality: “This is what we ought to be doing by developing our resources and removing constraints, although still operating within the bounds of what is already known to be feasible while safeguarding the ELSS.”

Figure 1: Three capacities are considered in determining to what extent humanity's interaction with the ELSS results in the achievement of actually safeguarding the ELSS.


Earth Viability Indices

On overview of the Earth Viability Indices (EVIs) will be made available here soon.

References

Beer, S., 1985. Diagnosing The System For Organizations. John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Beer, S., 1972. Brain of the Firm, Beer Allen Lane.


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