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Characteristics of Complex Systems

Cause and effect are not closely related in time or space

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Cause and effect are not closely related in time or space

Complex systems are composed of many interacting feedback loops. They often contain long time delays. What may appear to be an obvious reason for a particular problem is often not the fundamental cause of the problem, but only a symptom.

  • From the time a pollutant enters the environment, it may take decades for any ill effects to be seen. The ill effects can appear in many forms and thousands of miles from the source, making it difficult to trace back to the underlying culprit.

  • Social and economic policies have effects that reach beyond election cycles. The elected officials in power when a crisis becomes apparent are rarely directly responsible for creating the mess. It may look as though recently-implemented policies have had immediate impact, but the reality is often that the seeds of the problem took root long before.


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