Design And Engineering

Finally, there are a set of principles that inform the design and engineering of ESEM systems.

• Know from the beginning what the desired and reasonably expected outcomes of any intervention are, and establish quantitative metrics by which progress may be tracked. Additionally, predict potential problematic system responses to the extent possible, and identify markers or metrics by which shifts in the probability of their occurrence may be tracked.

• Unlike simple, well-known systems, the complex, information-dense and unpredictable systems that are the subject of ESEM cannot be centrally or explicitly controlled. Rather than being exogenous to a system, the earth systems engineer will have to see herself or himself as an integral component of the system itself, closely coupled with its evolution and subject to many of its dynamics, which will require an entirely different psychology of engineering.

• Whenever possible, engineered changes should be incremental and reversible, rather than fundamental and irreversible. In all cases, scaling up should allow for the fact that, especially in complex systems, discontinuities and emergent characteristics are the rule, not the exception, as scales change. Locking in of inappropriate or untested design choices as systems evolve over time should be avoided.

• An important goal in earth systems engineering projects should be to support the evolution of resiliency, not just redundancy, in the system. Moreover, inherently safe systems are to be preferred to engineered safe systems. An inherently safe system, when it fails, fails in a non-catastrophic way; an engineered safe system is designed to reduce the risk of catastrophic failure, but there is still a finite probability that such a failure may occur.

At this point, it is apparent that the science and technology, institutional and ethical infrastructures necessary to support ESEM on a significant scale are not yet developed. The issue is not, however, whether the Earth will be engineered by the human species: that has been occurring and will continue to occur. Indeed, the Kyoto process is an example of incipient ESEM, although it is not yet a conscious or systematic activity. The real issue is whether humans can, and will, improve their management of the Earth rationally, intelligently and ethically. The development of ESEM, informed by industrial ecology, is an important step in developing that capability.

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