Saturday, June 02, 2007

Sustainable chaos

Interesting short paper by Jacques Nihoul of the University of Liège on the role of chaos theory in models of sustainable development, which ties in with a number of subjects recently mentioned here. From the journal press release:

Current approaches to sustainable development do not fully involve complete methods and techniques for using, recycling, and replacing natural resources. Moreover, they do not take into consideration the effects of ongoing economic policies and fluctuating human populations. This is where the butterfly effect of chaos theory fame must be resurrected, says Nihoul [...]
Chaos theory is a major component of the computer models used by climatologists and weather forecasters as well as economists seeking patterns in the rise and fall of stock market values. However, Nihoul explains that while these models can provide useful information to feed into a global sustainable development policy, they must also take into account those butterflies on the periphery too. "Models of sustainable development on the ten-year and century-long timescales, must take into account both the diversity and the ‘turbulence’, the fluctuations on much shorter and more local scales," explains Nihoul.
Nihoul has developed a new modelling approach to climate, resources, economics, and policy, that sees the world system as interconnected local happenings rather than taking the smoothed global view favoured in much simpler studies. The earth cannot be modelled as a whole, he says, but rather as a mosaic of different systems, each with its own network of smaller systems and so on. Such an approach recognises the importance of global effects but also of the tiny deviations, the exquisite flapping wing of a butterfly as having a potentially enormous effect, chaotically speaking.

Jacques C.J. Nihoul, "Chaos, diversity, turbulence and sustainable
development", Int. J. Computing Science and Mathematics, 2007, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp 107-114
available here.

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