Analysis of Subproblem A - How to Overcome Change Resistance

If you reached this page before reading the Summary of Analysis, read it first. This will give you a bigger picture.


We are about to commit environmental heresy. Everything you are about to read runs against orthodox environmentalism so it can't possibly be true. It can't possibly work.

The analysis divided the sustainability problem into four smaller subproblems. The most important is: How to overcome change resistance. This is the crux of the problem because if it can't be solved none of the other subproblems are solvable. Once change resistance is overcome the system will "want" to solve the other three subproblems because social agents are now biased to solving any and all problems whose solution would benefit the common good.

Change resistance is the tendency for a system to resist change even when a surprisingly large amount of force is applied. If a problem has resisted attempts to solve it for long, that proves that change resistance is the crux of that problem. Change resistance must be treated as a distinct and separate problem to be solved first. Therefore:

Until system change resistance is overcome,
all other work is largely wasted effort.

Seeing things this way is environmental heresy. It's also the only way forward.

If environmentalists sincerely want to solve the sustainability problem, they need to stop doing what they're doing and switch to overcoming change resistance. Solution work like promoting ways you can be green, lobbying to get stronger regulations passed, campaigning on this cause and that one, and conservation efforts should stop. It's making only a little difference. It's feel good environmentalism, not effective environmentalism.

Seeing things this way makes plenty of logical sense. It also made sense to the editor and two referees who approved the paper on Change Resistance as the Crux of the Environmental Sustainability Problem. But it doesn't seem to make sense to the hundreds of environmentalists I've personally communicated with, because they are under the beguiling spell of Classic Activism.

I was discussing why this might be so with my cousin over the Christmas holidays in 2011. He said "To admit another approach could work is to admit that your approach is wrong."

Substep A - Find the immediate cause of the problem symptoms in terms of the system's dominant feedback loops

Subprobem AThe symptoms of change resistance are successful opposition to passing proposed laws for solving the sustainability problem. Change resistance is so strong that:

In 1999 the US Senate voted 95 to zero against signing the Kyoto Protocol climate change treaty, despite a democratic president and a strongly pro-sustainability vice-president, Al Gore, at the time.

The Kyoto Protocol is now nearly dead. China, India, and the US refuse to support it. Canada and Japan have pulled out. All the nations of the world could agree on at the latest summit in 2011 was to keep talking, though more optimistic interpretations are possible.

Global Ecological Footprint growth continues with no end in sight, despite the work of millions of environmentalists for over 30 years. The planet is now at about 50% overshoot.

Economic growth mania continues. Nothing else is more important to nations than GDP growth. Yet that mindset needs to change. Nothing can grow forever. Only a steady, non-growing GDP can be sustainable. Furthermore, to correct the massive effects of decades of overshoot, negative GDP growth will be required until the Ecological Footprint is below the world's carrying capacity.

The analysis model is The Dueling Loops of the Political Powerplace. The model begins with construction of a feedback loop called The Race to the Bottom among Politicians, as shown.

Structure of The Race to the Bottom

The loop grows in strength by using corruption in the form of highly appealing falsehood and favoritism. This increases the number of supporters of corrupt politicians, which increases their influence, which in turn increases their power to peddle still more falsehood and favoritism. Over time the loop can grow to tragically high levels.

Here's how the loop works. Special interests are a minority by definition. If they want something that benefits them and not the common good (such as preferential treatment via new laws) then they can't use the truth to argue their case. They must resort to falsehoods, called false memes on the model. These are broadcast via articles, talk shows, books, speeches, biased think tanks, biased media outlets, and so on. The false memes are broadcast to Not Infected Neutralists, also known as swing voters or uncommitted voters.

Depending on how high memetic infectivity is, a certain percentage of neutralists will be infected. Once the infection matures, they move from the pool of Not Infected Neutralists to Supporters Due to Degeneration. They have become degenerates. They have descended from the norm of believing the truth. These degenerate supporters will use their influence to spread even more false memes, and the loop begins all over again.

The Dueling Loops model has another loop opposed to the race to the bottom: The Race to the Top among Politicians (shown later below). The race to the top relies on the truth to gain supporters who believe in optimizing the common good of all instead of the uncommon good of special interests.

The symptoms of change resistance show that The Race to the Bottom among Politicians is currently the dominant loop in most nations. The loop is the immediate cause of successful change resistance.

Note how radically different these conclusions are from main stream environmentalism and how they rely on analysis instead of intuition. That's why they are so heretical. They must be the work of some crackpot.

Substep B - Find the intermediate causes, low leverage points, and symptomatic solutions

Subprobem AWhat you have just read is totally outside the mental model of conventional wisdom. The world's environmental activists are not thinking in terms of root cause analysis. Instead, they confidently walk up to the sustainability problem and intuitively conclude that various solutions will work because it's obvious they should. When solutions fail they intuitively try another one. And another.

They fail because they attempt to resolve intermediate causes. The central intermediate cause is the universal fallacious paradigm that Growth Is Good. It's not if it's unsustainable. To attack the Growth Is Good paradigm and replace it with Sustainability Is Good, environmentalists push on the low leverage point of more of the truth. This is the truth about the problem, the truth about solutions like renewable energy and recycling, and the truth about how we need to adopt these solutions now. A more subtle truth is the world needs to move away from quantitative (monetary) growth and towards qualitative (quality of life) growth.

The truth is identified, promoted, and magnified by a number of symptomatic solutions: technical research, environmental magazines and articles, awareness campaigns, marches, sit-ins, lawsuits, lobbying, etc. These solutions are symptomatic because they try to solve the problem by treating the symptoms. They fail because that's like treating a patient's fever by plunging him into a bath of cold water. That won't work and may kill the patient. Much better and more sane is to perform a diagnosis, also known as finding the root causes.

The strategic purpose of this substep is to find what problem solvers have been doing wrong, prove it's wrong by modeling and documenting it, and then use that knowledge to persuade problem solvers to stop all that wasted effort. However, people will not stop what they're doing to solve a problem unless they have a clearly better alternative. That's what this analysis is trying to provide.

Next the analysis performs the trickiest step of all: find the root causes. Rather than the vague task of "finding the root causes of the problem," the process tells us to "find the root causes of the intermediate causes." That's a much more focused and hence easier task to perform correctly. All it requires is studying the model and expanding it as necessary to show the root causes.

Substep C - Find the root causes of the intermediate causes

Subproblem ASubstep A found that The Race to the Bottom among Politicians is the immediate cause dominant loop. Substep B found the intermediate cause of this is the universal fallacious paradigm, primarily Growth Is Good. What is the root cause of that intermediate cause? That the same asking: Why is The Race to the Bottom among Politicians dominant most of the time? What is the root cause of that dominance?

It took several years of work to study the system and build the initial simulation model. But once the race to the bottom was identified, the model grew quickly into the one shown below.

Dueling Loops, basic model

The race to the bottom and top loops are battling to see who can gain the most supporters. Special interests use deception to snare supporters. Virtuous politicians use the truth.

Currently the race to the bottom is winning. How exactly is it winning? What's the root cause?

Examination of the model shows the root cause is excessive undetected false memes. People cannot tell an undetected false meme from the truth, so they are equally infective. That's the exact mechanism used to make the race to the bottom the dominant loop, so it's the root cause.

This satisfies the five characteristics of a root cause: (1) It's clearly a major cause. (2) It has no productive deeper cause. The model tells us that. (3) It can be resolved. The model also tells us that. (4) Its resolution will not create bigger problems. The sustainability problem is the biggest long term problem the world has. Resolving this root cause to solve the problem cannot conceivably create a problem anywhere near that big. (5) There is no better root cause. The model is simple. It explains all major problem behavior. It's hard to imagine another better model, one based on inspection of the system. Still a better model and a better root cause might be possible. However, the one we've found is plenty good enough for a first iteration analysis. The root cause thus satisfies the five characteristics of a root cause.

From the model's point of view, "excessive undetected false memes" is the the root cause. However, this is not an easy phrase to grasp, so considering what the strategy of The Race to the Bottom among Politicians is, we've elevated the abstraction to:

The root cause of successful change resistance appears to be effective deception in the political powerplace. Too many voters and politicians are being deceived into thinking sustainability is a low priority and need not be solved now.

Corrupt politicians and their supporters use deception to win. That's their unspoken top strategy. It used to be that force was used to control your supporters. That's what kings and dictators did to put down dissent and encourage consent. But since the invention of democracy, revolution is no longer necessary to change rulers. The ballot box now does that. So if you can no longer fire bullets at people to get them to behave, why not fire false memes at them? These invisible bullets work so well that:

A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. – Vladimir Lenin.

It does not matter how many lies we tell, because once we have won, no one will be able to do anything about it. – Statement by Dr. Joseph Goebbels to Adolf Hitler, early 1930s, from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L Shirer.

Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception. – Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger, 1910.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. – H. L. Mencken, In Defense of Women, 1917.

...the leading competitor for the title "father of public relations" is Edward Bernays, an Austrian immigrant to the United States and Sigmund Freud's nephew. In his 1928 book The Business of Propaganda, Bernays put into words something that every demagogue in history probably knew instinctively. He wrote, "If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it? The recent practice of propaganda [this distasteful term was later changed to 'public relations'] has proved that it is possible, at least up to a certain point and within certain limits. - James Hoggan, Climate Cover-Up, 2009, page 17.

Back in 2000, George W. Bush made a discovery of enormous consequence: you could base a whole political campaign on claims that were flatly untrue, like the claim that your big tax cuts for the wealthy went to the middle class, or the claim that diverting Social Security funds into private accounts would strengthen the system’s finances, and reporting would never point this out. That’s when I formulated my doctrine that if Bush said the earth was flat, headlines would read Views Differ on Shape of Planet. - Paul Krugman, Lies, Dammed Lies, and Elections, 2011.

The hypothesis is that the root cause of successful change resistance is effective deception in the political powerplace. How can we resolve that root cause?

Substep D - Find the feedback loops that should be dominant to resolve the root causes

This turned out to be the easiest substep of all. The Dueling Loops model showed that when The Race to the Bottom among Politicians was dominant, lies would win and the sustainability problem was unsolvable. But if the strength of that loop could be greatly reduced, The Race to the Top among Politicians would go dominant. This would lead to the truth about the problem dominating political decisionmaking, which would solve the problem.

We're almost done. How can we make The Race to the Top among Politicians loop go dominant?

Substep E - Find the high leverage points for making the loops in substep D go dominant

Subproblem AThis was also a surprisingly easy step. The high leverage points emerged as the model was constructed and thousands of simulations (each a quick low experiment) were run to see how pushing on the model here or there caused it to behave. There are two high leverage points, as shown below.

Dueling Loops, basic modelThe first high leverage point is repulsion to corruption. The higher this is, the more repulsion memes appear when detected false memes goes up. As repulsion memes increase, so does supporter desertion due to repulsion. This causes Supporters Due to Degeneration to move back to the stock of Not Infected Neutralists.

The second high leverage point is general ability to detect political deception. An increase here causes an increase in detected false memes. That affects two other nodes. It increases repulsion memes and decreases undetected false memes. In other words, the more people can spot deception, the fewer the lies that go undetected.

Of the two high leverage points, general ability to detect deception offers much higher leverage. It affects two nodes, not just one. It also affects the all important node of undetected false memes, whose normally high level is the root cause of successful change resistance. Therefore general ability to detect deception is the high leverage point.


The high leverage point for resolving the root cause is to raise general ability to detect political deception. We need to inoculate people against deceptive false memes because once people are infected by falsehoods, it’s very hard to change their minds to see the truth.

What happens when we push on this high leverage point? Here's how the model behaves before we do that: (Please remember this is an uncalibrated model. It's only useful for general relative insights, not exact predictions.)

Run 16

The Dueling Loops are cyclic. As the percentage of degenerate supporters grows, it requires more and more deception to gain more supporters. Politicians are competing for support from large for-profit corporations and their owners, the rich, for donations and influence. The bigger the lie, the more supporters a degenerate politician gets.

But once the lies get too big, the system self-corrects. The lies are now so big they don't fool as many people. After a delay for people to figure this out and the word to spread, the public's general ability to detect political deception spontaneously shoots up. As it does, supporters flee for the lives from the race to the bottom to the race to the top. They don't want any more of those false wars, unnecessary recessions, false enemy attacks (like on gays, blacks, non-believers, etc), corruption, excessive income inequality (like what the Occupy Movement is protesting against) and so on. The race to the top then becomes dominant for awhile.

However, because there's currently nothing to keep general ability to detect political deception permanently high, people forget. And those scheming bad guys can perfect new forms of deception. This causes race to the top supporters to gradually move back to the race to the bottom, and a cycle begins all over again. This cycle is easily seen in the way political party dominance waxes and wanes in national elections.

What happens if society decides to make people truth literate permanently by pushing on the high leverage point? Something like this:

Run 16

General ability to detect deception is raised from low to high starting in 1900. It takes the system a long time to adjust, but after about 30 years crossover occurs. The percent rationalists becomes greater than percent degenerates. The rationalists keep rising, and soon The Race to the Top among Politicians is highly dominant. It stays that way indefinitely.

This is important, because the definition of sustainability is the ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely.

This completes the analysis of the change resistance subproblem. Are these radically different conclusions heresy? Is it a new approach that could work? Or is it just the muttering of some tired old crackpot?

The complete analysis

First warm up with this 29 page easy-to-read paper, one that was not written for academic journals but for you! The paper was written immediately after creation of the basic Dueling Loops model, so it has a fresh and vital quality.

For the complete analysis see the Cutting Through Complexity book. See the chapter on Subproblem A – How to Overcome Change Resistance.