Fires in Russia & Floods in Pakistan: Case for System Thinking?

While Russia burns and gets baked to a drought; Pakistan & northern India experience heavy rains and floods affecting human lives, homes and food.

Are they related? Surprisingly, they are not only connected as a whole but also interdependent thus providing us with a fine example of System Behavior and a case for System Thinking.

The upper atmosphere (the part through which the jet streams run) is gently rocked by what are known as Rossby waves—movements of air towards and away from the poles. These waves usually travel east or west, depending on various conditions. But they can also stand still, trapping the weather beneath them. Presently it is in a gridlock.

As the air stands still and the pressure is high no clouds form. So the ground below starts releasing the heat and the water it holds along with the heat. These heat waves along with the water vapor quickly gets carried to other parts experiencing low pressures (in this case moved towards Northern part of the Indian sub-continent). Since it meets a low pressure zone it starts forming excessive clouds and rain — flooding the area (the potential energy is now released into kinetic energy).

In the meantime, the ground that released the water owing to the reinforcing heat wave cycles became dry. The first effect is the drought, the worst that Russia have had in the last 100 years. Prolonged exposure to this condition starts off bush fires. And why does the smoke stay low and affect people? It stays low because the high air pressure still being exerted on it does not allow it to float upwards.

So, while fires, drought, rains and floods, all of which affect people badly, form the system ’emergence’ (’emergence’ is a set of problems) what is the cause or the ‘essence’ of such emergence?

‘Entropy’ is the ‘essence’ that causes the emergence.

From second law of thermodynamics we know that entropy can’t decrease. It can only increase or more or less remain steady. If it goes up, chaos increases and our problems (emergence) are accelerated. We can contain the problems in a sustainable way if it remains constant.

Unfortunately, at present entropy is going up. The rate of utilization of resources (energy) is much faster. With the entropy going up an equilibrium point is soon reached when all the free energy of a matter possessed is given up. Naturally what happens next is emergence leading to death.

There is another thing that happens with the rate of dissipation (arising out of increase in entropy) changing. Let us consider the world as a thermodynamic system with the outline of the earth along with its atmosphere as a natural boundary of the system. Energy enters the system (from the Sun) but finds it increasing difficult to get out of the system boundary, owing to ‘greenhouse effects’. When this happens we are allowing heat in the system to gradually increase (reinforcing cycle) and with such an increase the water in the ocean and matter like ice of say icebergs start to change form (water to steam and ice to water). Same would happen to the air and it starts changing its density at different layers and starts changing its state from that of say a ‘non-chaotic state’ to chaotic state (turbulent flows). If that be so, entropy starts increasing in the system. As entropy starts increasing the wind and the water of the oceans start changing directions of their flow patterns seeking new paths of least resistances and the velocity of the flow also goes up to keep up with the increase in the entropy within the system (they just try harder enough to dissipate the energy through increased friction of ferocious storms or creating regions of high and low pressures – the only way available to Nature so as to maintain a constant rate of change of entropy). But slowly it loses the battle. What happens next is easy to understand from the viewpoint of nature. Climate changes, vegetation changes, species start their desperate attempt to adapt for survival. But when the ‘adaptation rate’ is slower than the change itself, species (both plant and animal) die.

This is exactly what is happening.

Shall we wake up and ‘not blame it on Rio’?

Do we still have time to do something?


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