- Navy: Climate and Energy
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The impacts of climate disruption on the Earth's environment system can be many and varied, complicating the understanding of issues like food security and water availability. The relationships between the various subsystems that complicate the comprehension of climate effects are represented in the "Bretherton diagram" (below) developed to illustrate the interactions between the various subsystems on Earth.
The Bretherton diagram was developed by a committee in 1986 chaired by James Bretherton to facilitate understanding of the Earth as a system. A simplified version of this diagram is usually presented, (see, e.g. the section on remote sensing in the NASA remote sensing tutorial. The full version above comes from a presentation by Bromley et al. on Earth System Science.
Note that the human effect on Earth systems is represented by only two small ellipses on the right side of the diagram. Of course, decision makers need to focus on those regions and consider the ways that society affects and responds to environmental changes, which is another separate complex layer. A representation of the different ways that humans interact with the Earth Environment is captured in the "Social Processes Diagram" (original can be found in this Bromley et al., Earth System Science presentation.)
The social process diagram shows 3 elements of the human relationship to the environment - the structure, connections, and dynamics. In the Social Processes diagram above, the Bretherton Diagram is represented by the green "Global Scale Environmental Processes" box.
How Can Decision Makers Understand Courses of Action Given Such a Complex Problem?
One approach to take to get a handle on the options available to decision makers and the resulting consequences is to use simulations - virtual scenarios with real people playing the roles of the relevant actors in a given regional environment. The development of these simulations must be comprehensive and rigorous in order to capture the important effects and adaptation options.
(see attached document for details on the strategic simulations and competitive influence gaming done at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab).