"Overcoming Public Complacency about Climate Change: Systems Thinking for Complex Policy Challenges"

John D. Sterman
Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management
Director, MIT System Dynamics Group
MIT Sloan School of Management

Where:    Cary Library Meeting Room, Lexington, MA [directions to Cary Library]
When:     Tuesday, January 23, 7-9 PM, Free Admission


John Sterman

Why is the world so slow to address the risks posed by global warming? The problem is not lack of scientific understanding of the climate, but the failure to understand how ordinary citizens think about such complex issues. Most Americans believe climate change poses serious risks, but at the same time oppose policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through emissions caps or energy taxes. Many people-and federal policymakers-believe that we should wait and see whether climate change will hurt the economy before taking action. Such wait-and-see policies erroneously presume climate change can be reversed quickly once action is taken. Why do we underestimate the long delays in the response of the climate to changes in emissions? Through interactive experiments, we'll explore how systems thinking skills can improve our understanding of the complex feedbacks affecting the climate's response to policies and the need for urgent action today. We'll discuss experiments showing that even highly educated people with extensive scientific training misunderstand how the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere responds to emissions, violating the basic laws of physics. We'll learn how simple systems thinking tools can help overcome these problems, and explore implications for the education of our children, and for communication between scientists, policymakers and the public.

John D. Sterman is the Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and Director of MIT's System Dynamics Group. His research includes systems thinking and organizational learning, computer simulation of corporate strategy, and the theory of nonlinear dynamics. He is the author of many scholarly and popular articles on the challenges and opportunities facing organizations today, including the book Modeling for Organizational Learning, and the award-winning textbook Business Dynamics.

Prof. Sterman's research centers on improving managerial decision making in complex systems. He has pioneered the development of "management flight simulators" of corporate and economic systems. These flight simulators are now used by corporations and universities around the world. His recent research ranges from the dynamics of organizational change and the implementation of sustainable improvement programs to experimental studies assessing public understanding of global climate change.

Prof. Sterman's work on management flight simulators was selected as one of the top 50 articles published in the first 50 years of the journal Management Science. He has twice been awarded the Jay W. Forrester Prize for the best published work in system dynamics, won a 2005 IBM Faculty Award, won the 2001 Accenture Award for the best paper of the year published in the California Management Review (with Nelson Repenning), has five times won awards for teaching excellence from the students of the Sloan School, and was named one of the Sloan School's "Outstanding Faculty" by the 2001 Business Week Guide to the Best Business Schools. He has been featured on public television's News Hour, National Public Radio's Marketplace, CBC television, Fortune, the Financial Times, Business Week, and other newspapers and journals for his research work and innovative use of interactive simulations in management education and corporate problem solving.