Systems Thinking

Recently I have been reading a lot about systems thinking and how it serves as a critical viewpoint for anyone involved in planning the future. By thinking about systems as a whole, you can begin to see how specific things influence one another. The example that startled me is the electric car.

I have been a long proponent of Tesla cars and their incredible progress in the race to build a desirable electric car, but now I have myself asking more questions. The introduction of better electric cars only means that more people will continue to rely on cars. More cars will increase urban sprawl and defer interest in sustainable transportation systems such as trains or busses. Urban sprawl has been linked as a serious impediment for upward mobility. And furthermore, drivers of electric cars will pay no gas tax, an important funding mechanism for upkeep of roads and other public infrastructure.

Thus, you can see that in a transportation system composed of electric cars, the cascading effect of negative externalities may outweigh the benefits of a supposed savior to the CO2 emissions problem. I am not suggesting that the electric car by itself is unworthy of attention; cars such as the Tesla Model S are indeed engineering marvels. I am suggesting that we must be more careful when applauding these innovations as they may not actually help move us towards greater good when thinking about systems as a whole.

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John Marbach

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10 2013