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Cause, effect, solution

Dr. Nathan B. English talks about cause, effect and solution, a perspective used by scientists to address issues in environmental science
<v ->In steps nine, 10, and 11,</v> you learned about the triple bottom line or the quadruple bottom line sometimes. And you learned about how organizations oftentimes look at building sustainability into their programs or why they want to build sustainability into their programs. Look, in this step, we’re going to talk about cause, effect, and solution. And this is a much more in my mind, scientifically oriented pursuit because it sort of removes some of the values drive behind the triple bottom line. And it simply looks at the relationships, both qualitative and quantitative behind environmental issues. The root of the cause, effect, solution perspective is to find the relationships, to quantify those relationships, and to know what those relationships are.
Because once you find those, you begin to work on a solution. So, oftentimes when we look at cause effect solution, we’re looking at that in temporal order and it sounds nice, but as a scientist, oftentimes we’re looking at that effect and saying what’s going on here? And we need to back up a little bit and start looking for the causes. Now, whether those causes are biological, chemical, maybe even legal. So there’s some law that’s driving an important environmental issue, it’s causing something? We want to look for what those causes are.
So, when my work, when I’m looking at Himalayan river chemistry, the effect we saw in the rock record was that about 60 million years ago, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere started to drop. We’re really interested in that effect. What caused that? And so we went and we looked at the rivers and we looked at what was driving that decrease in CO2. And it turns out it wasn’t what we thought it was. It wasn’t rocks in the Himalaya absorbing CO2, it was rocks in Indonesia and elsewhere around the world that were absorbing CO2. But we did this through measurement, observation, and sometimes even experimentation. And that’s how we help drive what’s that cause.
Once we’ve quantified and qualified what the cause of that effect is, then we can begin to craft a solution. So for example, lots of places around Australia are experiencing beach erosion. And you can see this through a sort of big scarps, the beaches are smaller than they used to be, the beaches may not be where they used to be, this is the effect. So the beaches are different than they used to be. And so people have looked, and actually what we found is there’s quite a few different causes to this issue. So, rising ocean levels are moving sediment around in different ways than they used to.
Another cause is human activities, four wheel drives, human foot traffic, could be the building of port infrastructure, all of these activities can impact sediment and impact vegetation that holds that sediment in place. Another cause may also be climate change. You’re simply not getting the plants growing on these beaches that used to grow there and hold those dunes in place. So there’s a whole host of causes that are causing that effect, and oftentimes in science, it isn’t simple. We often find complex causes to these complex effects and problems. And this is what we refer to as wicked problems because you can’t just change one thing.
And oftentimes when you’re crafting that solution, how do we keep beaches the way they are now? When you’re crafting that solution, you’ll change one thing. Well let’s remove four wheel drives from the beach, that will have an unintended effect that you weren’t able to capture in the causes. So it can be really complicated. But what I want you to do in the following step is I’ll propose, I’m going to give you a problem that has a cause and effect and a solution. And I want you to try and to communicate and use some of the numbers I give you as well to communicate what the causes are, what maybe percentage of the effect is caused by one cause or another.
And then when you craft your solutions, you can think about actually which problem do we need to focus on first? Where should we put our energy? And so that’s the real strength of the cause effect solution approach is it helps you not just address the problem, but it helps you to use your resources most effectively to try and find a solution. And for instance, litter and rubbish, those are a big problem. The effect you can see litter all around you. Sometimes the solution is simple. For instance, you could just put a bin in.

Now that we have a better idea about the benefits and drawbacks of Triple Bottom Line reporting, let’s examine a scientific perspective we can apply to environmental issues.

Watch as Dr. Nathan B. English discusses the cause, effect and solution perspective that scientists use to address wicked environmental problems.

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A Beginner's Guide to Environmental Science: Wicked Problems and Possible Solutions

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