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International Conference on Complex Systems (ICCS2006)

A New Era of Causality and Responsibility: Assessing the Evolving Superpower Role of the United States

J. (Janet) Terry Rolfe
University of Saskatchewan

     Full text: Not available
     Last modified: April 28, 2006

Climate change is an emerging factor which strongly influences the perception of States. These perceptions are coloured both by history and future courses plotted in domestic and international policies. The evolving notions of “causality” and “responsibility” together provide a lens for international opinion and response: it will not be enough that flagship States find isolated or non-inclusive solutions to adapt to their own resource constraints or offer technological leadership to reduce damage either at home or abroad. This paper uses an interdisciplinary approach to bridge the notions of causality in science, politics and the law, assessing both individual and collective responsibility for reducing climate change damage in a complex systems framework. This framework situates the influence of globalization and the inter-woven roles of States and economic trading arrangements within the dimension of human evolution. On the positive side, human response to the accelerating and unpredictable cascade of environmental change can lead to front-line monitoring and innovation, community-centre empowerment, and optimism. But without adequate resources, flexibility and involvement, it will also drive despair, defensive strategies and desperate measures. There remain both expectations and reservations for the United States to use its accumulated advantage to contribute to climate change solutions in the international community. Whether or not this role can be accomplished under the banner of an isolated Superpower will be subject to continuing debate.

Complex systems theory tells us that streamlined administrative structures with visionary leadership are necessary to deal with increasing complexity and accelerated change. This argument may not always prove palatable for international relations built upon traditions of consultation and time-consuming negotiation. To what extent should the notion of "leadership" be flexible at various levels of socio-economic organization? Are the inefficiencies implicit in fostering non-exclusive involvement of all parties offset by full commitment driven by vested interests? Can these inefficiencies be offset furthermore by front-line efficiencies in monitoring and adapting to accelerated change? Insights from the international trend towards increased front-line stakeholder involvement in water management and climate change suggest we need to continually assess the notion of "leadership". In this area, the problems and solutions are often highly localized with site-specific implications. We are left to wonder if this might also be the case, in some circumstances, for health and education.

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