System Dynamics Seminar: “The Wicked Problem of Marine Debris: A System Dynamics Approach”

Friday, May 17, 2019
10:00 am to 11:00 am
Floor/Room #: 

In this week’s CLM (Friday, May 17th, 10:00 - 11:00 AM ET, @ Salisbury Labs SL313), Dawn Driesbach ( will be presenting her work:

The Wicked Problem of Marine Debris:  A System Dynamics Approach

Abstract: The field of study that is wicked problems is not routinely associated with international relations (IR) as it is most commonly associated with urban planning, yet wicked problems have a growing body of literature and, arguably, are well-suited to IR due to their complexity and global applicability. Like climate change, marine debris and its principal protagonist plastic, is an increasing environmental concern that has a global reach. Considering that oceans cover more than 70 percent of the earth and constitute a major feature of the global ecological balance, this paper argues that the rapid growth and pervasive nature of global marine debris, coupled with an absence of significant efforts to formulate a solution, promote its designation as a wicked problem. While the field of study that is wicked problems has only recently begun to gain a footing outside its urban planning foundation, using a system dynamics approach, this paper asserts that a causal loop diagram can account for the wickedness of plastic marine debris. Using a construct of global issues provides a context from which marine debris (plastic) variables are derived for construction of four causal loops that highlight reinforcing cycles in three of the four. IR economic and security themes including globalization, global plastic production, consumption, and threats to the marine ecosystem are utilized as stock variables.  Meanwhile nine independent variables have been selected, due to their potential “wicked” effects, for application in each causal loop. Each causal loop provides support for the argument that cyclical degradation or significant detrimental impacts of the marine ecological system will occur if the challenge of marine debris (plastic) is not urgently addressed by world governments.  While governance of a global common remains a complex and challenging issue for states and international institutions, continued degradation of the marine environment, if not stopped, may reach a point at which it cannot be reversed.

Biography: Dawn Driesbach, is a retired US Navy Captain who holds a BS in Physical Science from the United States Naval Academy, a MA from the Naval Postgraduate School in National Security Affairs: Strategic Planning and International Organization and a MS from the National War College in National Security Strategy, with concentrations in the Middle-East and Russia. She is currently pursuing a PhD in International Studies at Old Dominion University with concentrations in security and global political economy.

She has a diversified background serving overseas tours in Japan, the United Kingdom, Bahrain and New Zealand predominately working in the political-military arena. Among her stateside positions she had held command, has worked on both the Navy and Joint staffs and has represented DoD at NATO headquarters in US manpower negotiations.  

Dawn has been an undergraduate instructor of International Relations at Old Dominion University and continues to travel abroad developing her knowledge and understanding of global cultures and regional issues. 

Hope to see many of you there! If you can't make it in person, join us through
If you are interested in presenting at our CLM, please contact Christine Tang (