Saturday, January 22, 2011

Recent Travels to Singapore and Sri Lanka

Among the many amazing applications on my Mac Laptop and iPhone is a calendaring feature. It allows one to change time-zones effortlessly and to specify the time zone of events when making entries. I found this particularly useful during December when I was making plans for the new semester and planning short, intense visits to Singapore and Sri Lanka. Entries for DC, Sri Lanka and Singapore were often being scheduled on the same day.

The Singapore trip’s purpose was to push forward with System Dynamics computer modeling initiatives, to catch up with friends and to begin discussions about a possible additional stay or two, beginning in January 2011. In Sri Lanka, I helped “Launch” the second set of Paradise Poisoned translations into Sinhala and Tamil, entitled Lessons from the War II – Path to the Crisis and firmed up plans for the third set, to be launched at the Colombo Book Fair at the end of September.

The pace of this trip gave me an opportunity to appreciate in a small way, the demanding schedule that is routine for my son, an international businessperson who travels extensively in Asia. I left Washington on a Monday morning and arrived in Singapore early Wednesday morning – absorbing a 13 hour time change. Meetings began Wednesday afternoon and continued through the week. After the meetings, there were follow up communications and further discussions. Over the weekend I was completing the syllabus, and a “remote” first lecture for my AU spring course and preparing a guest lecture to be delivered to systems analysis graduate students at the Lee Kuan Yew School. There were two long meetings about a future System Dynamics modeling project, to be conducted under the auspices of the National University of Singapore’s Global Asia Institute where I am a fellow and there was correspondence to be completed related to the upcoming launch. The process continued virtually up to my departure from Singapore on Thursday mid afternoon.

The pace of life in Singapore is swift. Each day is full and opportunities to make a difference seem to abound. But it is relatively easy to meet the demands of a tight schedule. With few exceptions, people are on time for appointments. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive. People with whom one meets are not offended if one sticks to a meeting agenda, addresses several topics in a short period and ends at a scheduled time, even abruptly.

Sri Lanka is different, though, with the conclusion of the war, some government leaders are striving to bring more Singapore-like efficiencies to the “Island of the Dhamma” (the Island of Enlightenment.) It is not clear to me that this goal will be attained or even that it should be. What I have always cherished about Sri Lanka is the slower pace of life and the attention given to human relationships. This does not mean, of course, that it is, perpetually, the “Paradise” of perpetually smiling faces, now being extolled in post-ward tourist publicity. But it does mean that meetings and discussions rarely “get right down to business” without first attending to the human relationship side of things. This is especially true when one has been away from the Island for a period of time, as I had been. The logistics of day-to-day professional activities can also be challenging, especially when one is on a very tight time schedule. On this trip, I lodged on the “Executive Floor” of a downtown Colombo five-star hotel. I thought this was the best way to optimize my use of time – and it was, to some degree. But not everything worked smoothly or as advertised. For an experienced Sri Lanka hand, as I am, sorting through the “small problems” (a common Sri Lankan expression) that arose only required patience, time and good humor. But on a visit spanning only three full days, time was a scarce commodity. I kept repeating the mantra I chose for my stay “Remember that time is your friend, not your enemy.”

Fortunately, I do not have to choose between the two islands – they are only an inexpensive plane ride apart. Sustaining my ability to function in both cultures will probably help to sustain mental and physical health. In fact I intend to spend much of my projected Sri Lankan sojourns in a relatively remote Southern town, best reached by a seven hour train ride with the last two hours on a 30 KPH maximum single tracked line dotted with frequent, often picturesque, colonial era local stations. There are no Executive Club accommodations in Matara, but there is a small Buddhist temple, located on an island and accessible only by a narrow footbridge. There, the sound of ocean waves on the rocks and nearby beach can be heard as one meditates. This is not a place to be “fitted in” on a three-day visit, however.

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viewing the past year - post holiday newsletter

18 January. Written over the Pacific enroute from Tokyo to DC

Dear Family and Friends,

This was a year of travels and the beginning of transitions. If I am to keep to my self- imposed 1 page length, I can do little more than recount events, with few reflections. As some may recall, I stepped down officially as Director, Center for Teaching Excellence and began a one-year sabbatical in July 2009. In early January, I loaded up books, electronic equipment and other necessaries for a 7-month stay in Singapore as of Visiting Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. The environment was welcoming. The Lee Kuan Yew School, located adjacent to Singapore’s Botanical Gardens occupies buildings on the site of what was once “Raffles College,” where the late Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew, Choo Kwa, ranked first in her class and “Minister Mentor” Lee ranked second as secondary school students. I moved into a spacious two-bedroom 10th floor apartment in National University of Singapore subsidized housing. Each day, I could view Singapore awakening from my balcony.

My principal projects were completing a paper drawing lessons from Singapore’s post independence history that would be relevant to global sustainability issues, deepening my knowledge of Singapore’s political economy and promoting the use of System Dynamics computer modeling as a planning tool to Singapore government officials. I pursued these while my wife, her horses and our cats were coping with mountains of snow in the worst winter Washington DC had encountered in years. My Singapore sojourn offered the advantage of easy, inexpensive access to Sri Lanka, where the project to translate Paradise Poisoned: Learning about Conflict, Development and Terrorism into 16 pamphlet sized booklets (8 in Sinhala, 8 in Tamil) continued to progress. The second two were “launched” in January 2011, just a day or so ago. The summer concluded with presentation of a paper at the Annual System Dynamics Society Meeting in Seoul entitled “The Relevance of Urban Dynamics to Singapore’s Development: Lessons for Moving Beyond the Crisis.” This was co-authored with Lee Kuan Yew School graduate student colleague new friend, Elizabeth Ong Ling Lee.

Full time teaching was the fall semester’s principal agenda, including an undergraduate class “International Development” that was my first attempt and a graduate class “Quantitative Research Methods” that I can taught many times, but not for 10 years. Both classes were relatively large – 25 in the graduate class; 33 in the undergraduate. I had forgotten how long correcting papers can take, especially if one provides fairly extensive comments. Fortunately my students were both bright – and patient – which made things easier.

For Christmas, I drove to Kentucky to spend three days with our four grandchildren, my son, and other family members. Once retirement transition is settled, I intend to spend more time “grand parenting,” Its fun. Wife E… continues to live an intense and interesting life dividing full days and evenings between teaching, riding, caring for her horses and spending time with friends. She won the prize for “most helpful member” at the Old Dominion Endurance Riding Association’s annual banquet. Daughter H…. divides full days between her landscaping, restaurant serving and a new practice – mosaic murals, including an awesomely large and beautiful production in Tarpon Springs Florida. With friends, she has purchased property in Panama that she hopes to develop as a resort. Son J…’s broodmare nurturing business in Kentucky appears to be doing well; he continues to pursue a vocation he loves in some of the most beautiful country in the US. Son B…’s work as President of Shaklee International appears to be thriving. I attended events in Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and was impressed with his charismatic platform presence before what appeared enthusiastic cadres of salesperson-representatives… That’s all the news one page will allow – my love and best wishes to all in the New Year. Dormgrandpop.

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Helping policy makers to view climate change as a system

In early August, I attended the Annual meeting of the System Dynamics (computer modeling) Society, held in Seoul, South Korea. My last visit to Seoul was many years ago when I attended the International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences, organized by the Rev. Son Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church. I was amazed at how city had grown and how much more relaxed and self-confident the Koreans I encountered in my walking about appeared to be. Among my conference roles was serving as Rapporteur for the concluding plenary session, focusing on environmental issues. I thought the two papers given and the issues raised, summarized in my notes, were of sufficient interest to merit a more general sharing. I do acknowledge this is a bit long for a blog posting.


John Sterman, Andrew Jones, Thomas Fiddaman, Elizabeth Sawin, Travis Frank, The Road From Copenhagen: Supporting International Climate Negotiations with the C-ROADS SIMULATION.

When John Sterman, spoke at the 27th International Conference in Albuquerque, the Climate Interactive Group, which he leads, was preparing for the December 2009 Copenhagen Conference. The audience mostly comprised true believers, who accepted climate change as a manifestation of global overshoot and collapse. They respected – perhaps even revered – John’s work as the best System Dynamics modeling has to offer. Most were aware of the C-Roads Model. Some had used its findings as a basis for similar presentations, workshops or university courses. Yet John’s passionate delivery brought to mind the prophet Jeremiah’s vivid description of probable scenarios leading to the conquest of Israel and the privations its people would face. In retrospect, I believe John may have been using the Albuquerque venue as a warm-up for presentations he would be giving to less congenial audiences in the upcoming months.

John’s post Copenhagen retrospective delivered in Seoul highlighted many climate change projections that the Albuquerque audience had heard. (Many participants in the Seoul conference had not traveled to Albuquerque and were less familiar with C-Roads.) Temperatures were rising more rapidly than had been projected. The impacts that are already visible will become more severe. Coastal cities will be threatened, the ecosystems that support present agricultural production systems will be altered, the trend of more frequent extreme weather events will proliferate. “Runaway changes” with unpredictable, irreversible effects are becoming more and more probable. “We are playing Russian Roulette with a revolver in which nineteen out of 20 chambers are loaded,” John concluded this part of his talk. “The risks will be borne by our children.”

But vitally though this message was, it should not be the most important take-away for Seoul participants. The take-away should be about how difficult it is enact any significant policy change, requiring transformation of deeply held attitudes, where the status quo is reinforced by entrenched institutions, limited grasp of system complexity, myopic time horizons and self serving powerful actors. In 2009, John drew an analogy between reversing climate change and effecting meaningful civil rights policy. In 2010, his message was that effecting policies to reverse climate change is, for a variety of reasons, the far more daunting task.

Since the early days of the Club of Rome and the IIASA Global Modeling conferences, an aging generation of System Dynamics Modelers has grappled with the challenges of changing public attitudes and influencing policy makers regarding global-scale challenges. The work of the C-Roads team demonstrates how much has been learned, by at least some members of our community. The work is grounded in high-quality scientific research. There is a serious commitment to dissemination and recognition that dissemination is fundamentally different enterprise than research, with its own imperatives, technologies and pitfalls. There is recognition that raising public consciousness and influencing policy makers, too, are different, though interdependent enterprises. The work is being carried forward by a talented, multifaceted team with adequate funding and a commitment to the long haul. There is much to be learned from their experience. We can help forward their important work with our approbation, our support and our prayers.

Andrew Ford, Greening the Economy with New Markets: Lessons from System Dynamics Simulation of Energy and Environmental Markets

That I have less to say about Andy Ford’s fine paper and presentation should not be interpreted as a reflection on its quality. In fact, the two plenary presentations and the issues they raise are interrelated. Andy is grappling with climate change proposals under consideration at the national level. His paper “focuses on the CLEAR Act introduced by US Senators Maria Cantwell (of Washington) and Susan Collins (of Maine). It calls for the imposition of a scientifically based cap on CO2 emissions. The cap would apply to the upstream companies that produce or import fossil fuels. The higher prices of fossil fuels would then work their way through the US energy system, sending improved signals to al business on the value of avoiding CO2 emissions.” Legislation such as CLEAR, backed up high quality modeling work such as Greening the Economy… describes, will necessarily play an important role in reversing the process of climate change, if it is to occur.

Greening the Economy…, presenting a model Andy describes as “preliminary” is none the less an exemplar of how public-policy oriented System Dynamics modeling should be executed and documented. It is the sort of paper I assign to my students with the injunction “if your final project paper looks like this, will have met my expectations.” The model, of mid-level size, is presented with a stock-flow Vensim diagram that is easily understood. It illustrates a strength of System Dynamics modeling, the ability to seamlessly combine physical and financial stock-flow dynamics within a single structure. It provides the capacity to explore scenarios that fall within the CLEAR legislation’s purview and those that extend beyond it. Model results show that the “cap and dividend’ mechanism proposed by CLEAR shows promise, but that market volatility is a possibility under some scenarios, raising concerns that may need to be addressed in regulatory regimes that are implemented under the legislation. Further work at the University of Washington is envisioned.

Juxtaposing this model alongside C-Roads raises the evocative question of how the team at WSU should set its priorities. The next milestone in their project seems clear: refinement of the model and publication of results in one or more peer reviewed journals. But what then? The experience of the Climate Interactive Group and others in our community point to the challenges a commitment to dissemination poses, and the resources it requires. In academic communities, there is little agreement that the sort of dissemination C-Roads represents is an appropriate activity for university faculty members, especially those seeking tenure. Once this fine model has moved beyond the preliminary stage and results have been published, Andy’s team will face the challenge described so beautifully by Poet Robert Frost in “The Road not Taken.”

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