Newspaper Column #8: Have Greens, Will Rain! – Part V


As it appeared in the Sunday Standard, Botswana on  Sunday Dec 9, 2012 edition.

Actions have consequences

When we bring a bowser to a place that needs water, is that a solution to, or a relief from the problem?

The test will be, if that’s the only time we have had to do it.  Then it is a solution.  Otherwise, it is a measure to stop the gap.  But the gap remains there.

To take care of recurrent (persistent) nature of water shortages of a nation, we would have to take care of the water cycle.  The whole cycle.  Not parts of it (as excerpted from Part IV of this series).

Except the truth is, most of us and organizations, be they units, departments, sometimes even whole Ministries are not designed to do so.  We work at best in parts.  And, as citizens, we have not mandated anyone to do so, otherwise.  Not as yet.

This allows stubborn problems to slip away from our focus, but they return to haunt us (you and I) more deeply each year.  It is a reminder of work to be done as yet.

The water cycle is one example of circles of causality, we have been ignoring for decades.  There are many more.

Nature of cycles

The cycle can go two ways (see Picture 1).

20121209Picture1

They could either reinforce positively or negatively.  When the cycle reinforces positively, we would see the world around us look more like the Amazons.  When the same cycle reinforces the other way, we would see the Sahara unfold right in front of our eyes.  The outcomes may be different.  But the circular causality is the same.  The difference is in knowing which way the cycle is reinforcing for us?

Causes of reality

In the last article, I left a question:  What are the consequences of the following actions on the water cycle?  Run a test against the cycle.  (see Table 1)

Table 1: What are the impacts over time of the following actions on the water cycle?

Action Plan Given and constraints Consequence Impact
Growing drought-resistant varieties of crops? Given there are already large-scale existence of drought-resistant plants that we grow in our gardens, and as vegetation and forests on the land. Persistent growth of such varieties cause persistent reduction of transpiration by plants and therefore the atmospheric moisture in the region Negative.  Would see reduced levels of rainfall and water tables over time
Producing livestock that depend on greens? When number of livestock exceeds carrying capacity of the land, it leads animals (including wildlife) to consume greens at rates faster than at which they may rejuvenate. Sees wipe outs of greens and humus in the topsoil needed to see sustained growth of vegetation leading to non-sustainable levels of transpiration. Negative.  Would see reduced levels of rainfall and water table over time
Production of brews? It can take up to ten cans of water to produce one can of beer.   When the consumption of water exceeds the water table recharge levels, it causes the distance between the topsoil and the water table to increase. Sees wipe outs of greens and humus in the topsoil needed to see sustained growth of vegetation.  The land appears drier, leading to non-sustainable levels of transpiration. Negative.  Would see reduced levels of rainfall and water table over time
Drilling or deepening of boreholes? When the rate of extraction of water table exceeds recharge levels, it causes the gaps between topsoil and the water table to increase. Sees wipe outs of greens and humus in the topsoil needed to see sustained growth of vegetation.  The land appears drier, leading to non-sustainable levels of transpiration. Negative.  Would see reduced levels of rainfall and water table over time
Presence of dams? One dam-full of water could see up to two-thirds of its water evaporate from its surfaces. The rate of evaporation is too fast unlike the more organic pace of transpiration by plants.  The land appears drier, leading to non- sustainable levels of transpiration. Negative.  Would see reduced levels of rainfall and water table over time

What do you notice?  While our actions were intended to be a response to declining water tables, continuing to take these actions, actually deepens the decline even further!

And as we do so, rainfall levels pushes downwards further.  On the surface, it would look like as if public and private sector initiatives and project implementation efforts are not taking off (see Table 2).

Table 2: What are the consequences (from over 20, 30, 40 year periods ago) of a negatively reinforcing water cycle on the following?

Growing of crops and raw materials (primary industries)  Negative
Food security  Negative
Sustained growth of secondary industries  Negative
Sustained growth of tertiary industries  Negative
Capacity to diversify and develop a manufacturing base  Negative
Competitiveness / Growth of profit margins of retail sector organizations  Negative
Growth of tax revenues from agriculture, manufacturing &  retail sectors  Negative
Growth of wages  Negative
Growth of employment in the formal sectors  Negative
Growth of household incomes  Negative

The reality is not merely at the mercy of the terrains we live in.  They are also the consequences of our actions.

What is happening?

While these cycles are natural systems, they are leading us (yes, even the humans within the system) to take decisions, that reinforce the direction the cycle is already heading into.  It is the self-seeking nature of the cycle that causes that to us.

Unknown to us, our thinking is now becoming set within these cycles.  It happens to the best of us.

It is easy to blame organizations out there.  It is harder to blame our thinking here.  Systemic Thinking offers a way to catch ourselves being trapped in such thinking.

So, should we take off from the next corporate retreat with a solution that we come up with, or would we need to first uncover together the circle of causality that keeps returning these problems to us?

You are right!  We need to be mindful of the latter.

What would we need to do, to solve the problem of water shortages then?  The clue is in the circle of causality (see Picture 2).

20121209Picture2

Take another look at the cycle the parts before “Level of Rainfall” (bottom right corner).  What do you see is leading up to it?  Does it say “Level of vegetation and (top right corner) and further up in the cycle, “levels of surface and underground moisture”?

That becomes a systemic solution.  “Have more greens, will rain more”.

This is the final segment of this five part series of this article.   In the New Year, we will work on understanding the persistent nature of HIV, its causes and its effects and how we may turn it around.

Ms Sheila Damodaran, an international strategy development consultant for national planning commissions welcomes comments at sheila@loatwork.com.  For upcoming programmes, refer to www.loatwork.com/Senior_Leadership_Introduction.html.

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