Analyzing and Addressing Cumulative Impacts Using an Ecological and Complexity Model

January 12, 2012
1:00 pm US Eastern Time

Slides & Resources

Dr. Schettler has provided slides to accompany his presentation.

Additional Resources

Implications of the Foresight Obesity System Map for Solutions to Childhood Obesity, Finegood, et al, Obesity Journal, Feb 2010

Places to Intervene in a System, Donella Meadows

Listen to Recording

This call was hosted by the Cumulative Impacts Working Group.

Cumulative impacts describe the harm to human health and environment resulting from multiple stressors over time. These impacts occur at progressively nested levels—from the subcellular to individual, family, community, ecosystem and planetary. Cross-talk flows back and forth across these levels, feedback loops influence behavior of the system and subsystems, and the timing and places of interventions also influence system behavior. This complexity can be modeled to help describe, analyze, understand and predict system or sub-system behavior. 

Models are interpretive descriptions of phenomena that provide intellectual access to the various features that the model describes. All models are representations; they are necessarily incomplete, often incorporate values and biases, and should be held lightly. Nonetheless, they can serve important purposes.

Ecological, eco-social or complexity models attempt to incorporate and facilitate access to various aspects of cumulative impacts assessments. We can concentrate on the whole or part of the model, depending on our purpose and other factors that influence where we set boundaries when addressing a particular problem or question. Of course, where the boundaries are set will influence the approach and outcome.

On this call, Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, CHE Science Director, and Science Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, proposed a general, higher-level, qualitative ecological model, focusing on several fundamental dimensions, that may be helpful in analyzing and addressing cumulative impacts. Several examples will illustrate opportunities and challenges.

The call will be moderated by Carolyn Raffensperger of the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN). The call lasted one hour and was recorded.