An experiment is a set of actions designed to test a hypothesis. Experimentation is the key step in the Scientific Method because it provides tangible proof that a hypothesis is (probably) true or false.

Why experimentation is important

The Scientific Method

1. Observe a phenomenon that has no good explanation.

2. Formulate a hypothesis.

3. Design an experiment(s) to test the hypothesis.

4. Perform the experiment(s).

5. Accept, reject, or modify the hypothesis.

Once you understand the power of experimentation, and then pause to look at how much experimentation is behind most environmental sustainability problem solving proposals, you will be horrified. There's nearly none. Instead, nearly every article, book, and media appearance is based on the intuitive conclusions of its author. Should we pursue a Global Marshall Plan, as Al Gore argued in Earth in the Balance? Or should we restructure society along the lines of what Natural Capitalism, by Hawken, Lovins, and Lovins, suggested? Or perhaps we should listen to those promoting sustainable development? Or what about Lester Brown's Eco-Economy, or Maurice Strong's Where on Earth Are We Going?, or Only One Earth: The care and maintenance of a small planet, by Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos? Which course is the one we should take? We can't take them all, because they differ.

The general root causes of a problem are the same no matter who performs the analysis. Thus effective solutions should be about the same. Whenever you encounter a gaggle of solutions that vary wildly, you can be certain that either all or all but one did not use root cause analysis.

What is the future of environmentalism?

Faced with an endless multitude of competing solutions like those listed above, what should we do?

That's the same question science faced for thousands of years: How can we determine what is truth and what it not? Science and scientists were totally unable to answer that question until recently, when the Scientific Method was perfected in the 17th century. After that the way forward was so clear, and so much easier to find, that the speed of scientific progress increased over a hundredfold.

The same could happen to the environmental movement if it changed from intuition to experimentation. The hypotheses to be tested all follow the same pattern: We should do so-and-so to solve this part of the problem.

Any environmentalist who is promoting a solution that is not based on formal analysis and experimentation is exactly where scientists were before they began using the Scientific Method. There were alchemists and quacks.

The right process, true analysis, and heavy experimentation lie at the heart of all efforts to solve extremely difficult problems. The ideas at Thwink.org are no exception. As promising as they may appear to be, they will never amount to much until they go through the Scientific Method's cycle of hypothesis, experimentation, and refinement of the hypothesis.

For more on experimentation, see the Wikipedia entries on experiment and critical experiment.

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The Experimentum Crucis of Two Centuries in a Row

According to our good friend Wikipedia, “In the sciences, an experimentum crucis (English: crucial experiment or critical experiment) is an experiment capable of decisively determining whether or not a particular hypothesis or theory is superior to all other hypotheses or theories whose acceptance is currently widespread in the scientific community. In particular, such an experiment must typically be able to produce a result that rules out all other hypotheses or theories if true, thereby demonstrating that under the conditions of the experiment (i.e., under the same external circumstances and for the same "input variables" within the experiment), those hypotheses and theories are proven false but the experimenter's hypothesis is not ruled out.”

The biggest problem of the 20th century was the environmental sustainability problem. The biggest experiment of that century was the hypothesis that popular solutions, which were all about the same from the perspective of Classic Activism, would solve the problem. They did not. The experiment showed the hypothesis to be false. It was the experimentum crucis of the 20th century.

We are now well into the 21st century. The same problem looms dead ahead as the world's biggest problem.

What solution strategy will the world's decision makers try this time, in their second experimentum crucis in a row?