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ENVX Symposium

Aaron Fellows Osamu Kumasaka Modeling Apocalypse

Among the more captivating uses of systems modeling is its ability to predict outcomes of events. From Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population to modern models of sea-level rise, predictive models have long captivated public imagination with their forecasts of worst-case scenarios. But models, however useful, are necessarily simplified representations of systems. 

In the 20th century, we began to turn predictive models upon ourselves. By anticipating the growth of human populations and its effects, we recognize that we are an integral part of the world around us. Modern models have become increasingly sophisticated: using the immense analytical powers of the computing age, scientists are able to make guesses at the future of large, complex systems. Equipped with this power, we are able to consider not only how global systems affect us, but how we affect global systems.

When scientists forecast the future, they try to generate the range of possible outcomes. As a result of this variety, predictions emerge at one end of the results spectrum which border on the apocalyptic. Among such results, the outcomes predicted by climate change models in recent years have become increasingly dire. There is necessarily a degree of uncertainty in the worst-case outcomes of climate scientists, but we are left to determine what use can be made of them.

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