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Systems thinking is critical in developing solution to sustainability challenges Essay Example

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System thinking is an approach which focuses on how the issue on study interacts with other related issues and not merely isolating it. Over time, it has been used to address various complex issues (Banson et al. 2014, p.173). Wicked problems are one of these issues addressed by it in a successful way. It is also useful in solving recurring problems which prove difficult to solve. Basically it is composed of various parts which are related either directly or indirectly. They all entail processes which produce outputs from inputs. It is not only dynamic but also holistic and seeks to produce results of the complex problems.

Systems thinking is the only critical way to solve complex issues impeding sustainability challenges and develop quality solutions. Since its conception in 1920 by Jan Smuts Holism, it has developed and solved many issues (Gharajedaghi 2013 558). Pollution is a complex issue which is intertwined in different processes and impacts in diverse ways. Thus, the topic is significance in pursuing ways to help solve the pollution.

Ocean pollution also referred to as marine pollution is a wicked problem which has been increasing in complexity day in day out. This is because of the increasing population growth which stands at 7.2 billion worldwide (Noga & Wolbring 2013 p.3615). The increased industry establishment is directly proportional to chemical waste which settle in the oceans. It causes death of marine animals and plants hence poor marine ecology.

The aim of this essay is to use the knowledge and skills acquired in role of systems thinking to address Ocean pollution as a sustainability challenge. It will explore various sources of ocean pollution, types and elucidate possible strategies which could be adopted as mitigation measures. The effects of ocean pollution will however not be left out. Systems thinking will be used to address how the issue can be used to solve the complex issue using various linked processes.


Pollution is experienced when pollutants are emitted or disposed in the environment. Ocean pollution is therefore the spreading of harm causing substances into the ocean (Weisberg 2011, p.11). These substances include chemicals, plastics, soil, oil and agricultural waste.

Causes of ocean pollution

Large scale oil spillage

Ship transporting oil across the sea form one port to another may break and cause leakage. Oil coats the water layer and blocks oxygen from penetrating into the water hence leading the marine animals such as fish to suffocate. The plants leaves are soaked in the oil hence hindering them from breathing (Weisberg 2011 p.12).They end up dying hence their ecology is impaired with.


This is brought about by wind blowing soil particle, objects and plant parts from dry land into the ocean. The soil particles cause siltation which is harmful to some marine animals and could reduce the sea level. Siltation could lead to growth of unwanted weed in the water which compete for nutrients with the water plants (Noga & Wolbring 2013, p. 3619). This definitely leads to survival for the fittest which render most ocean plants dead. Some of the objects are plastics which are non-biodegradable. More often than not, they pose as food to marine animals and kill them in return as they swallow them.

Toxic chemicals from industries

Agricultural and industrial wastes are discharged directly into the ocean. The chemicals cause thermal pollution which renders the ocean plant and animals to die. The quality of sea water also decreases and thus global warming (Gregory et al. 2013 p.563). In addition, sewage wastes contain metal toxic and hazardous substances such as lead and mercury. These are too harmful for survival of most plants and animals since oxygen supply is interfered with.

Effects of ocean pollution

Coral Reefs cycle is disrupted due blockage of spores by oil hence poor photosynthesis. It thus leads to their death. If systems thinking is not applied to solve the issue, then we will face coral reef extinction. Oil spillage and chemical substances leads to oxygen depletion in the ocean water. Marine animals thus die due to suffocation (Noga & Wolbring 2013, p. 3625). The general food chain is disrupted. When the small animals ingest the chemical substances, they are preyed on by the bigger fish. These are later consumed by human beings as poisoned sea food.

Therefore, the effects of ocean pollution cut across all living objects. Both land and ocean ecosystems are interfered since the disruption of sea level leads to global warming. As a result, extreme temperatures on the land result to little or no precipitation (Gregory et al. 2013, p. 363). Drought is the result which leads to environmental degradation due to dryness. In case it rains, flooding cases increase and this in return leads to ocean siltation as a result of run off. These processes are all depended on each other and thus ought to be solved together for quality results. Systematic thinking is definitely the end result solver of this big menace which could otherwise lead to extinction of many lives including human beings.

Importance of ocean

According to UN forty percent of world’s population live within the shores of ocean. This is due to rapid urbanization as a result of the growing population. Small Islands Developing States are vulnerable to changing oceanic climate and the increased pollution. They face danger due to impending tsunamis as a result of environmental degradation and unpredictable weather changes.

Fishing and aquaculture is depended on ocean. Fish feeds millions of people worldwide and it is a livelihood for those who venture in to as a source of employment. Tourism attraction at the beach is a source of income to the country hence helps boost the economy (Noga & Wolbring 2013, p. 3627). Energy can be earnest from tides in the oceans and help compensate other energy sources especially natural timber which is facing risk of extinction.

Relationship between ocean and poverty alleviation

Poverty alleviation is the main requirement for sustainable development. Fishing activities are a source of income to a number of individuals. Therefore, depletion of fish in the ocean renders them jobless (Noga & Wolbring 2013, p.3631). Lack of employment is a dimension of poverty hence success of efforts to alleviate poverty will depend on pollution free ocean.

Systems thinking and causes of ocean pollution

The cause of ocean pollution are interrelated. Increased population has led to increased deforestation in search of land to settle and cultivation. There are no leaves to intercept the heavy rain water drops therefore, splash erosion occurs. Continued erosion cases gullies and flooding which leads to siltation in the oceans. Deforestation also leads to heavy winds carrying the eroded soil particles and other components of litter in to the ocean. Increased population has blend unemployment and underemployment. Innovation has chipped in to help solve the problem and thus industrialization (Banson et al. 2014, p. 33). The wastes drain into the ocean causing toxicities. This is fueled by the fact that man cannot regenerate natural resources at the same rate he uses them. This runs down to inability to sustain. Systems thinking seeks to address the interrelated issues. However, it may be hard even though it is one of the best ways to solve complex situations.

Literature review

Systems thinking and sustainability

According to Gregory and Miller 2014, sustainability and systems thinking must be regarded as complementary aspects. They argue that one can essential without the other but their function is not sufficient. I agree with their argument systems thinking offers the theoretical ground for discussion in regard to sustainability. On the other hand, sustainability forms the practical basis for application of the theoretical procedures. In their paper, they focused on the interconnectivity of curriculum which has to be viewed critically not only by students but also their tutors. However, the long term infusion of systems thinking has not been successful in many programs. Even though it brings about mind shift among students and teachers in the way they view issues in the outside world, much needs to be done to ensure its sustainability

Mai & Maani 2010, tourism is a complex industry with such interacting systems as socio-demography, economy and environment. It has many stakeholders and all the issues arising in the sub systems ought to be solved with inclusive participation. Their point of focus was Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve in Vietnam. Its sustainability has been notable due to improved collaboration among all stakeholders ranging from the government to the management. They argue that adoption of systems thinking has proven to be a powerful tool in success of the Reserve. It has simplified the complexities that existed and enhanced decision making. Systems thinking seems to be a long process since the collaboration of all stakeholders leads to a long decision making process. However, if the long process bear fruits worth a harvest in the long run, then it is a critical tool for addressing sustainability challenges.

According to Kim 2012, sustainability is a day to day word applied in development. In order to resolve today’s challenges, systems thinking is the key tool to use. Since it sees interrelationships rather than individual patterns. According to Nguyen and Bosch 2012, it helps conceptualize and act towards the integration of social economic and environment dimensions. Bosch et al. 2013 agree that use of system thinking can help reduce the complexity of issues. I agree with them because many approaches have been used in the past but they have not succeed in ensuring sustainability. On the other hand, I would disagree on the basis that the other approaches were not fully integrated and that is why they did not work.

According to Chris and Susan 2010, sustainability challenges are adaptive as opposed to routine. I tend to agree with her because when one challenge is solved, another crops out to counteract the measures put across. This is what systems thinking tries to solve. Also referred to as technical challenges, they are hard to solve and may remain unsolved forever if the right measures are not applied in the right way. I agree with their argument that our actions can spread over boundaries within a short period of time before we even notice their impact on us. For example due to the interconnected nature of economy globally, fall of housing bubbling in United States affected all the economies in the other countries. In addition, it was recently discovered that emissions in Midwest are the cause of environmental pollution in New England.

Banson et al 2015 argues that the adoption of systems approach will be the engine that fosters empowerment to emerging agribusinesses across Africa. They believe that it will be a stepping stone for solving other sustainability challenges. The holistic approach will lead to synchronized links in agricultural inputs, market, expertise and improved appropriate technology

Systems thinking and ocean pollution sustainability

From the Literature review, systems thinking is an adoptable method which is however not always sustainable. In this case, ocean pollution is complex problem whose effects impact on socio-demographic, economic, environmental and cultural dimensions (Gregory & Miller 2014) In essence, all the three are intertwined and for them to be addressed, a model has to be adopted. The demographic changes and increased population call for the government to collaborate with national not for profit organizations to promote family planning use across the countries. This will help reduce haphazard population growth. At the same time there has to be funds to ensure sustainable supply of family planning methods.

The cultural dimension however is tricky in that cultural beliefs differ among individuals. Uncontrolled population growth leads to deforestation hence environmental degradation. Most countries adore their natural plants which in this case face extinction. These are a source of income since they form beautiful scenery for tourists’ attraction (Noga & Wolbring 2013, p.3635). On the other hand, some cultures are against family planning utilization thus this calls for empowerment and creation of awareness through the ministry of health.


In summary, the causes of ocean pollution are diverse and interrelated. The effects cut across the socio-demographic, economic environmental and political dimensions. This is because one can exist but cannot thrive without the other. Systems thinking therefore is useful in addressing the diverse challenges which hinder the sustainability of ocean pollution. Although the process may take a long process due to complex decision making processes, it remains to be the only critical way to solve the challenges and cultivate sustainability in the oceans.


Banson, K.E., Nguyen, N.C., Bosch, O.J. and Nguyen, T.V., 2015. A systems thinking approach to address the complexity of agribusiness for sustainable development in Africa: a case study in Ghana. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 32(6), pp.672-688.

Banson, K.E., Nguyen, N.C., Bosch, O.J. and Nguyen, T.V., 2014, April. A systems thinking approach to address the complexity of agribusiness for sustainable development in Africa. In Proceedings of the 57th Annual Meeting of the ISSS-2013 HaiPhong, Vietnam (Vol. 1, No. 1).

Gregory, A. and Miller, S., 2014. Using Systems Thinking to Educate for Sustainability in a Business School. Systems, 2(3), pp.313-327.

Gregory, A.J., Atkins, J.P., Burdon, D. and Elliott, M., 2013. A problem structuring method for ecosystem-based management: The DPSIR modelling process. European Journal of Operational Research, 227(3), pp.558-569.

Gharajedaghi, J., 2011. Systems thinking: Managing chaos and complexity: A platform for designing business architecture. Elsevier.

Kim, S 2012, ‘Can systems thinking actually solve sustainability challenges? Part 2, the

Diagnosis’’, Creating sustainable world through the power of business, Erb Perspective Blog, 25th June, 2012, University of Michigan.

Nguyen, NC & Bosch, OJ 2012, ‘A systems thinking approach to identify leverage points for

Sustainability: a case study in the Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve, Vietnam’, Systems Research and Behavioral Science

Noga, J. and Wolbring, G. (2013). An Analysis of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) Discourse Using an Ability Expectation Lens. Sustainability, 5(9), pp.3615-3639.

Van Mai, T. and Maani, K.E., 2010, December. Systems Thinking for Sustainable Tourism in the Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve of Viet Nam. In Proceedings of Regional Conference on Tourism Research (p. 26).

Weisberg, R.H., 2011. Coastal ocean pollution, water quality, and ecology. Marine Technology Society Journal, 45(2), pp.35-42.