The climate crisis and systems thinking

In the tenth edition of the Journey and the second one hosted by the Polytechnic University of Madrid, 40 international students took part in a 4-week learning session amongst peers and experts to examine different ways of addressing climate change. The students met with Professor Gloria P. Thomas, the Director of the Sustainability Program at Harvard University who gave an inspirational talk and lecture on systems thinking, as a method of solving complex problems.

Professor Gloria explained how humanity has prospered within the last 12,000 years while a global climatic stability allowed it. However, this is no longer the case. We would need to make dramatic changes in our way of life for us to maintain favourable conditions to survive. She explained that “climate change is a holistic problem and not just about rising temperatures and rising sea levels, but about issues like prolonged droughts— something that led to civil wars such as was the case in Syria.”

Professor Gloria believes that “The climate crisis can cause the loss of sovereignty by island nations that won’t longer have a homeland to live in, and populations in coastal countries at risk that will not have the resources to protect themselves or get out of danger. Since our world is an interconnected place, tackling the climate crisis can be done through systemic thinking to develop ideas and provide viable solutions.

We live in a connected world, whether through the traditional aspects of natural systems, socioeconomic systems, lifestyles, for the health of the people or the planet, all systems are connected, in positive and negative ways. The current problems of sustainability are transdisciplinary and complicated, and require skills to create new models, critical thinking, interpretation and, above all, communication.

Professor Gloria believes sustainability is more important now than ever and we must solve the urgent, complex and integral problems that the world faces today.

“Sustainability is not only about how jeans are produced, it’s also about how you take care of them, if you wash with warm water, the detergents we use, how we dry them. Everything has an impact,”, she said. As an example, she stressed that wearing jeans 10 times before washing them again can reduce the use of water by 77%.

She encouraged the Journey participants to use critical thinking to address the problems arising from the climate crisis, to define the problem and solutions. “In this way, we can lay the foundations to address and solve these problems and create a better future for all,” she concluded.

#QuixoteJourney: Madrid, Valencia and Hamburg

During this edition of the Journey, the students are learning about the science of sustainability, the chain of impacts caused by different production sectors, and systems innovation and food from different experts. Participants learned about how climate observation points work, and the spaces dedicated to undertake innovative solutions on climate change.

This year’s programme was designed to be more participatory—focusing on the knowledge of the context of our planet, emphasizing an immediate response to climate challenges and the need for innovation of current approaches. This summer school is one of 20 summer schools that will take place in different European cities, bringing together approximately 360 students from all over the world.

After nearly two weeks of intensive work in Madrid, the 40 students travelled to Valencia where they will continue with the program working on the development of ideas identified in the first weeks. After 10 days of work in Valencia they will travel to Hamburg, where they will meet the other groups and present their ideas to the EIT Climate-KIC community.