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The Pursuit of Interconnection

A feature that distinguishes RMI from almost every other organization is its unceasing search for interconnections between issues normally viewed as unrelated. The following story illustrates why we believe so strongly in the importance of a "vision across boundaries."

A Solution to One Problem May Lead to Solutions for Others

In the early 1950s, the Dayak people of Borneo suffered from malaria. The World Health Organization (WHO) had a solution: it sprayed large amounts of DDT to kill the mosquitoes that carried the malaria. The mosquitoes died; the malaria declined; so far, so good.

But there were side effects. Among the first was that the roofs of people's houses began to fall down on their heads. It seemed that the DDT was also killing a parasitic wasp that had previously controlled thatch-eating caterpillars. Worse, the DDT-poisoned insects were eaten by geckos, which were eaten by cats. The cats started to die, the rats flourished, and the people were threatened by potential outbreaks of typhus and plague. To cope with these problems, which it had itself created, the World Health Organization was obliged to parachute 14,000 live cats into Borneo (See the related article, "How Not to Parachute More Cats").

The true story of Operation Cat Drop — now nearly forgotten at WHO — illustrates that if interconnectivity is misunderstood, the resulting solution can impact all points of a chain with unintended consequences. Yet if the hidden connections between energy, climate, water, agriculture, transportation, security, commerce, and economic and social development is understood, then a solution can be devised to one problem (such as energy) that will also create solutions to many other problems at no extra cost.

Crafting solutions so that they multiply is RMI's credo and the basis of our success.