Using Systems Thinking to Understand Climate Change

The behavior of stocks and flows

Many of the most important concepts underlying both the science of climate change and our responses to it can be understood using systems thinking concepts.  ‘Systems thinking’ approaches take a holistic, long-term perspective that focuses on relationships between interacting parts, and how those relationships generate behavior over time. 

This short video explains how the behavior of a stock (i.e., anything that accumulates or declines) is determined by its inflows and outflows, and how 'stock-flow' behavior underpins many of the drivers of climate change, such as the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, or the imbalance of Earth's energy budget.  Similarly, understanding stock-flow behavior is critical to our own decisions about how we might address climate change (e.g., how much should emissions be reduced? how will the existing stock of our energy infrastructure influence future emissions?  how might the number of people who advocate for climate action change over time?)