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Economic Growth and Sustainability - 1st Edition - ISBN: 9780128022047, 9780128031087

Economic Growth and Sustainability

1st Edition

Systems Thinking for a Complex World

Author: Karen Higgins
Paperback ISBN: 9780128022047
eBook ISBN: 9780128031087
Imprint: Academic Press
Published Date: 17th November 2014
Page Count: 228
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How to sustain our world for future generations has perplexed us for centuries. We have reached a crossroads: we may choose the rocky path of responsibility or continue on the paved road of excess that promises hardship for our progeny. Independent efforts to resolve isolated issues are inadequate. Different from these efforts and from other books on the topic, this book uses systems thinking to understand the dominant forces that are shaping our hope for sustainability. It first describes a mental model - the bubble that holds our beliefs - that emerges from preponderant world views and explains current global trends. The model emphasizes economic growth and drives behavior toward short-term and self-motivated outcomes that thwart sustainability. The book then weaves statistical trends into a system diagram and shows how the economic, environmental, and societal contributors of sustainability interact. From this holistic perspective, it finds leverage points where actions can be most effective and combines eight areas of intervention into an integrated plan. By emphasizing both individual and collective actions, it addresses the conundrum of how to blend human nature with sustainability. Finally, it identifies primary three lessons we can learn by applying systems thinking to sustainability. Its metaphor-rich and accessible style makes the complex topic approachable and allows the reader to appreciate the intricate balance required to sustain life on Earth.

Key Features

  • Highlights the application of system thinking in economics
  • Identifies systemic leveraging actions for achieving sustainability
  • Outlines a comprehensive and integrated plan for achieving sustainable stewardship in the future


Undergraduates, graduate students, and researchers working on issues of economic growth and sustainability worldwide

Table of Contents

  • Dedication
  • Preface
  • About the Author
  • Introduction – the Looming Challenge of Sustainability
  • Chapter 1: The Secret’s in the Overlap: Sustainability as an Integrated System
    • Abstract
    • 1.1. Environmentalism and sustainability
    • 1.2. Systems thinking
    • 1.3. Lessons for the future
  • Chapter 2: Living in a Bubble: A Mental Model of How the World Works
    • Abstract
    • 2.1. Defining our predominant mental model
    • 2.2. Economic growth and human thriving
    • 2.3. Energy and technology advances
    • 2.4. Population growth and pollution
  • Chapter 3: The Ant Who Lives Forever: A Systems Interpretation of Our Mental Model
    • Abstract
    • 3.1. Systems depiction of our mental model
    • 3.2. Implications of our mental model
  • Chapter 4: Addicted to Growth: Economic Growth Promises Happiness and Well-Being
    • Abstract
    • 4.1. Addicted to economic growth
    • 4.2. Economic growth trends
    • 4.3. Repercussions of economic growth
    • 4.4. A promise broken: creating a new perspective
  • Chapter 5: Two Faces of Happiness: Instant Gratification versus Sustainable Well-being
    • Abstract
    • 5.1. Blending eastern and western ideals
    • 5.2. Sustainable happiness and well-being
    • 5.3. Long-term/short-term balance
  • Chapter 6: The Bubble Bursts: Population and Pollution Become Our Concern
    • Abstract
    • 6.1. Population growth
    • 6.2. Increased pollution
    • 6.3. Interaction among population, economy, and environment
  • Chapter 7: Applying the Brakes: Factors That Limit Growth
    • Abstract
    • 7.1. Ancient civilization and limits to growth
    • 7.2. Carrying capacity
    • 7.3. Limiting factors
  • Chapter 8: The “I”s Have It: A Systems View of Sustainability
    • Abstract
    • 8.1. Integration and interdependence
    • 8.2. The system diagram
    • 8.3. Mental model and integrated system compared
    • 8.4. A video of the future
    • 8.5. Imperfections and lessons
  • Chapter 9: Creating Balance: Effective Interventions
    • Abstract
    • 9.1. Sustainability solutions: systemic or suboptimal?
    • 9.2. Analytic approach
    • 9.3. Areas of intervention
    • 9.4. Proposed actions
  • Chapter 10: Pieces of the Puzzle Level I: Paradigm Shifts
    • Abstract
    • 10.1. Synergistic plan to achieve sustainability
    • 10.2. Building the foundation
    • 10.3. Area 1: mental model
    • 10.4. Area 2: balanced cultural values
  • Chapter 11: Pieces of the Puzzle Level II: Structural Changes
    • Abstract
    • 11.1. Altering feedback loops
    • 11.2. Area 3: energy cost
    • 11.3. Area 4: births per year
    • 11.4. Area 5: median age
  • Chapter 12: Pieces of the Puzzle Level III: Transition to the Future
    • Abstract
    • 12.1. Attending to the present
    • 12.2. Long-term versus short-term conflict resolution
    • 12.3. Area 6: environmental technology and policies
    • 12.4. Area 7: energy technology and policies
    • 12.5. Area 8: food and water technology and policies
  • Chapter 13: From Bud to Blossom: Nurturing Sustainable Stewardship
    • Abstract
    • 13.1. From anxiety to hope
    • 13.2. From mental model to integrated system
    • 13.3. From integrated system to sustainable stewardship
  • Chapter 14: The Global Commons and the Uncommon Globe: System Insights and Conclusions
    • Abstract
    • 14.1. The global commons
    • 14.2. Insights from systems thinking
    • 14.3. Where to now?
  • Glossary
  • Index


No. of pages:
© Academic Press 2014
17th November 2014
Academic Press
Paperback ISBN:
eBook ISBN:

About the Author

Karen Higgins

Karen Higgins

Dr. Karen Higgins has a B.S. in Mathematics, M.S. in Electrical Engineering, and an MBA and PhD in Executive Management. She has extensive experience in executive leadership and in leading research and engineering teams. Throughout her 32-year career with the Naval Air Warfare Center, Weapons Division at China Lake and Pt. Mugu, California she held technical, functional, project and executive management positions for efforts that integrate state-of-the-art and commonly-used weapons systems onto some of the newest jet fighter aircraft. As a member of the Senior Executive Service, she was one of the most senior civilians within the U.S. Department of Defense. In her Executive Director and Director for Research and Engineering roles, she had responsibility for a $1B budget and over 5,000 employees. She has received the highest civilian awards for her services to the Navy and the Department of Defense.

As President of ÉLAN Leadership Concepts, Dr. Higgins serves as a leadership consultant for government and industry. She is an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University, where she teaches Project Management, Systems Thinking, and Morality & Leadership. She enjoys her grandchildren, practices yoga, does research, and writes. Her recent book, Financial Whirlpools (2013), analyzes the financial crisis of 2008-2009 using a systems perspective. Her second book, Economic Growth and Sustainability (in print, 2014), investigates the relationship among Economy, Environment and Society also using a systems perspective.

On a personal note, she enjoys ballroom dancing and "loves, loves, loves" the LA Clippers!

Affiliations: Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA, USA (Adjunct Professor) ÉLAN Leadership Concepts, Ridgecrest, CA, USA (President) Effective Edge, Austin TX, USA (Performance Catalyst)

Personal website:

Expertise Executive leadership, project management, systems thinking, sustainability, ethics, interpersonal communication, culture shaping

Affiliations and Expertise

Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA, USA


"There are many books on systems thinking and many on sustainability BUT none to my knowledge that brings them together. This book brings these two topics together in a unique and refreshing manner." --David Sundaram, The University of Auckland

"Karen Higgins makes use of system thinking to explain the many linkages and interactions within a globally needed sustainable development. Reflecting her explanation about environmental damage, economy and society (mainly caused by growth) with causal loop diagrams and illustrative examples without losing the scientific background makes the book a must to read. I’ll look forward to using the book in class." --René Scheumann, Technische Universität Berlin

"The author analyses the challenges posed by the sustainability concept from a new perspective. A lot of literature has been written on sustainability, but this book shows an innovative path to reach a sustainable development by ‘blending the two faces of happiness: instant gratification vs. sustainable well-being." --Marzia Traverso, Technische Universität Berlin

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