The Fish Game

& Systems Thinking
Peg Cornell
Crescent Valley High School
The Fish Game
 We are going to run a fishing industry
 Each person in the group will fish for swordfish in the same ocean. One person in
each group will act as the banker, and control the envelope of fish (“nature”). To
start the game, the banker will put 20 fish in the middle of the table (the
 Twenty fish is this ocean’s carrying capacity for swordfish.
 Traditionally, people fish for swordfish in the three following ways:
1) Harpoon fishing: take one fish
2) Long-line fishing: take two fish
3) Free-for-all long-line fishing: take three fish
 Each person can take up to three fish per turn, depending on the instructions for
that game.
The Fish Game
 After each round when all players have taken their fish, the banker (“nature”)
will count the number of swordfish left and add 25% to the pot, up to, but not
exceeding, 20 fish (round up if you need to).
 Example: If there are 12 fish left, 3 fish (25% of 12) will be added to the
pot, bringing the total up to 15.
 The added fish represent the number of baby swordfish made by the swordfish
that were left after everyone has taken their fish (the ones that were left in the
ocean to reproduce).
 In real life, swordfish produce far fewer than 25% new offspring each year—
they are like humans in that they have few children over the course of their
 The goal of each game: To have as many fish as possible after playing all
10 rounds.
The Fish Game
 There are four ways to play the game:
 Game 1: Everyone chooses a fishing technique at the start of the game
and sticks with it until the end of the game
 Game 2: Everyone chooses a fishing technique, but can change
technique each turn during the game
 Game 3: Everyone is a harpoon fisher, and can take no more than one
fish each round
 Game 4: Everyone can choose any fishing technique and can change that
technique each turn. At the end of each round, add 10% instead of 25%.
(You still can’t exceed the carrying capacity of 20 fish.)
Fish Game Data
(# Fish You Took)
(Total # Fish You Have)
Fish Stock
(# Fish in the Ocean
After Restocking)
How many of you made it through all 10 rounds in
every game you played?
If your system crashed, why did it crash?
Fish Game Reflection
 If your group ran out of fish before you were able to play 10 rounds,
then the way your group fished collectively resulted in more fish
being taken from the ocean than what the ocean was able to
 We call that unsustainable.
We need to teach sustainability
in a deliberate and thoughtful way
because students are constantly
exposed to unsustainable practices,
which are both easy and common
A sustainable practice is one that does no long-term
environmental, social or economic harm, and that
meets the needs of the current generation without
jeopardizing the ability of future generations of
humans and other species to meet their needs.
Unsust ainable Example
Sust ainable Example
Total # Fish
Total # Fish
Time (Rounds)
Time (Rounds)
What were you thinking?
Thinking drives behavior.
Behavior causes results.
Mental Models
 An individual’s thought process
about how something works in
the real world
 They help shape our behaviour
and define our approach to
solving problems and carrying
out tasks
 Why are they important to
recognize and acknowledge?
“We don’t see things as they are.
We see them as we are.”
~ Anais Nin
Classic Mental Model
 The Titanic
 Assumption of Scarcity
 There isn’t enough to go
 We’re going down
anyway, so grab all you
can, while you can.
Classic Mental Model
 The Bummer
 Things are the way they
are and there is nothing
I/we can do about it.
Classic Mental Model
 The Social Trap
 If others do it, I may as
 If no one else does it,
why should I?
Classic Mental Model
 The Self-Serve
 Maximize Gains for Self
 The “invisible hand”
leads all individuals, in
pursuit of their own selfinterests, to produce the
greatest benefit for
society as a whole (and
vice versa).
Classic Mental Model
 The Rescue
 Theory of Confidence
 The market, technology or
someone or something will
take care of it.
Classic Mental Model
 The Way We Were
 This is the way we have
always done things, why
should we change?
 The way things used to
be is the way they are
Classic Mental Model
 The Illusion of Away
 Our trash goes away, our
pollution goes away, our
oil spills go away, our
food comes from away,
Classic Mental Model
 The Illusion of Other
 You are different from me.
 Humans are separate from
nature, there is a hierarchy
of living things.
Classic Mental Models
 What’s behind what people say?
 “Humans are the central and most significant entities
in the universe”
 “Resources are unlimited and everything is
 “We are in control”
 “I wasn’t thinking at all”
Mental Models
 Incomplete and constantly changing
 Not accurate
 Uncertainty about their validity does not prevent
them from being used even if incorrect
Results of These Classic Mental Models
 We often operate without the information we need
 We ignore and/or can’t see the feedback
 If we cannot hear or see feedback, we cannot perceive relevant
data for our brains to filter
 We exhibit characteristics of insanity
 Our “fixes” backfire on us or we shift the burden
Mental Models
 How might you use the concept of mental models with
your students?
 How do mental models impact sustainability?
Toward Sustainability
“We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking
we used when we created them.”
~Albert Einstein
Sustainable Mental Model
 Live by the natural laws
 We must operate within
natural laws and principles
rather than attempting to
overcome them.
 They are non-negotiable.
Sustainable Mental Model
 Consider the 7th
generation when
making decisions
 What legacy will we
leave our children?
 A guiding principle of
the Iroquois Nation
Sustainable Mental Model
 We are all responsible
 Everything we do and
everything we don’t do
makes a difference.
 “In the face of rapid destruction of the natural world,
how much should we care? First, it is pointless to care
for things we cannot affect. Care is squandered where it
overreaches our power. Second, our power should not
overreach our care. Not to care for things we affect is to
act carelessly - that is, destructively.”
~John Nolt
Professor, Environmental Ethics
The University of Tennessee
Sustainable Mental Model
 We are all in this
 We are dependent on
each other and on the
natural systems upon
which all life depends
 We are all connected
and part of a system the web of life
Let’s experience a system!
The Systems Game
 Stand in a large open space,
either indoors or out.
 Select two other people in the
group, without indicating whom
you have chosen.
 Move so as to keep at all times an
equal distance between you and
each of these two people. Note:
This does not mean just standing
at the midpoint between the two
other people.
 What did you experience?
The Systems Game
 This activity provides a direct
experience of the dynamic
nature of open systems.
 It is very useful in dramatizing
the new paradigm view of
reality, especially these two
features of it:
 1) Life is composed not of
separate entities, but rather
systems - relations between the
 2) These relations are
continually self-organizing
Systems Thinking
 The parts of a system can best be
understood in the context of
relationships with each other and
with other systems, rather than in
 Views "problems" as parts of an
overall system, rather than reacting
to specific parts, outcomes or
events and potentially contributing
to further development of
unintended consequences
(“revenge effects”)
 Stands in contrast to Descartes'
scientific reductionism.
Systems Thinking
 Reductionism or mechanistic
thinking was the scientific
worldview from the
Renaissance to the early 1900’s.
 Newton’s Laws of Motion
 Mechanistic thinking proposed
that the universe is completely
understandable and completely
 Mechanistic thinking suggests
it is possible to understand the
whole by understanding the
separate parts.
Systems Thinking
 Systems thinking
suggests that
understanding the parts
in isolation is not
sufficient to
understanding the
 Can you think of an
example in which
reductionist thinking
resulted in a social,
economic or
environmental problem?
Systems Thinking
 The Easter Island society collapsed due
to extensive deforestation and intensive
 Read Jared Diamond’s account at
Systems Thinking
 Many oppose the
reintroduction of the wolf into
 However, the top predator’s
return has triggered a
cascade of unanticipated
positive changes in the
park's ecosystem.
 Wolves benefit scavengers,
young trees, and other
associated species.
 See William Ripple’s work on
trophic cascades at OSU,
Towards Systems Thinking
You can understand systems thinking without
understanding sustainability, but you cannot understand
sustainability without understanding systems thinking.
Sustainability, Reprise
A sustainable practice is one that does no long-term
environmental, social or economic harm, and that
meets the needs of the current generation without
jeopardizing the ability of future generations of
humans and other species to meet their needs.
The international organization The Natural Step
( has identified four systems
conditions that must be in place for an entity to be
considered truly sustainable
Remember the mnemonic
 Take
 Make
 Preserve
 Respect
We’ll consider schools in our examples
Condition 1
 Reduce and ultimately
eliminate our
dependence on
resources such as fossil
fuels, metals and
 Use renewable
resources whenever
 Pay attention to what
we take from the earth
Condition 1: Take
 What does this look like in a school?
 Use efficient transportation for students and staff
 Use local items to limit transportation requirements
(e.g., food, office supplies, etc.)
 Conserve electricity (even in Corvallis, about 70%
comes from coal)
 Limit the use of plastics, which are petroleum based
 Reduce overall number of purchases
 Purchase items made of recycled content (metals,
minerals, plastics, etc.)
 Other?
Condition 2
 Reduce and ultimately
eliminate our dependence on
persistent chemicals and our
use of man-made, synthetic
 Use biologically safe
products whenever possible safe for human health and
the health of other species
 Pay attention to what we
make & leave in the
atmosphere, lithosphere,
biosphere and hydrosphere
of the earth
Condition 2: Make
What does this look like in a school?
 Use nontoxic cleaning supplies
 Use and dispose of laboratory chemicals properly
 Use low/no VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints
 Limit the use of plastics and other “disposables”
 Don’t use pollutants or toxic substances
 Evaluate new purchases (computers, printers, etc.) for
 Other?
Condition 3
 Reduce and ultimately
eliminate our degradation
of and encroachment on
nature (e.g., land, water,
wildlife, forests, soil, etc.)
 Protect natural
ecosystems whenever
 Preserve biodiversity
Condition 3: Preserve
What does this look like in school?
 Reduce waste to limit landfill requirements (reduce, reuse, and
recycle, in that order)
 Reduce paper use to preserve forest ecosystems
 Offer vegetarian and vegan food to reduce pollution and land and
water degradation
 Conserve water
 Maintain exterior grounds without pesticides & herbicides
 Protect riparian areas (in Corvallis, Jackson and Dixon creeks)
 Restore native wildlife habitats on campus
 Remove invasive species
 Other?
Condition 4
 Support people’s capacity to
meet their basic needs fairly
and efficiently
 Treat people with dignity
and purchase materials that
are produced using this
principle whenever possible
 This condition refers to
social justice and human
rights as an integral part of
 Respect the rights of all
people, both local and
Condition 4: Respect
 What does this look like in a school?
 Offer sweatshop-free school logo clothing
 Treat colleagues, students,parents and community members fairly
and with respect
 Implement school district policies relating to social justice (e.g., no
bullying, no harassment of students or staff, etc.)
 Evaluate support for low income students (can they succeed
without a computer at home, can they participate in sports, etc.)
 Evaluate support for ELL and IEP students
 Include sustainability as an integral part of classroom instruction
 Other?
“Injustice anywhere is a threat
to justice everywhere.”
~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Two Final Considerations
Triple Bottom Line
Cradle to Cradle Design
Triple Bottom Line
 Consider and evaluate environmental and social value in addition to
economic value
 Businesses and organizations
 For personal choices visit
 (responsible shopper)
 Remember as the “Three E’s”
 Economic
 Environment
 Equity
Cradle to Cradle Design
 Rather than thinking that all
items have a “lifespan”, with
an end in the landfill,
rethink items as never
becoming waste
 Items following cradle to
cradle philosophy are
designed to last forever or to
be reused and recycled
 There is a certification
process (MBDC) for
products similar to LEED,
ranging from Basic to
Platinum (
All chemicals in product identified down to
100ppm level (0.01%)
No PVC, chloroprene, or related chemical at
any concentration
All materials and chemicals assessed for
toxicity to human and environmental health
Strategy developed to optimize all remaining
problematic chemicals
All materials defined as technical nutrients to
be recycled or biological nutrients to be
Resources & References
 The Cloud Institute for Sustainability (CIS), New York
 Jamie Cloud (founder and director)
 The Fish Game, Mental Models
 The Society for Organizational Learning (SOL), Cambridge
 Peter Senge (engineer, social systems theorist, founder of SOL, and director of the
Center for Organizational Learning at MIT)
 Mental Models, Systems Thinking
 The Natural Step (TNS), Sweden, Portland
 Four Systems Conditions for Sustainability
 The Sustainable Oregon School Initiative (SOSI), Portland
 Lori Stole (manager)
 Sustainable School Practices
 The Center for Ecoliteracy, Berkeley
 Frijof Capra (physicist, systems theorist, and director)
 Books: The Turning Point, The Web of Life, The Hidden Connections
 Movie: Mindwalk
Resources & References: Books
 Ecology
 Silent Spring, The Sea Around Us, Rachel Carson
 Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things, John Ryan
 A Green History of the World, Clive Ponting
 Earth Odyssey, Mark Hertsgaard
 The Wild Trees, Richard Preston
 Big Coal, Jeff Goodell
 Garbageland: On the Secret Trail of Trash, Elizabeth Royt
 The Diversity of Life, Biophilia, The Future of Life, E.O.Wilson
 Mama Poc, Anne LaBastille
 What We Leave Behind, Derrick Jensen
 Human Rights & Social Justice
 The Culture of Make Believe, Derrick Jensen
 When Corporations Rule the World, David Korten
 Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich
 Food
 Diet for a New America, The Food Revolution, John Robbins
 Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser
 Harvest for Hope, Jane Goodall
 The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food, Food Rules, Michael Pollan
 Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver