Integral Theory and Climate Change

1.   Introduction

I am going through the Core Integral program which is an interactive media presentation on the elements of Integral Theory, the synthesizing philosophical framework developed by Ken Wilber.   One of the main ideas is that of learning to see a problem through various perspectives called quadrants, based on the following diagram.



There are two contrasting dimensions to perspective, the interior versus exterior perspective, and the individual versus collective perspective.   If you have the intersection of these two dimensions, you get a total of 4 possibilities of perspectives as seen in the diagram above.

2.   Example:   Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC is putting out its 5th Assessment or AR5, and there have been a lot of news articles regarding this, mostly favorable to the findings report but there have also been some articles that criticize its findings.    I wanted to understand the issue of climate change better, and I realized that one way to approach it is to show how the various perspectives of Integral Theory could be put to bear on the problem.

a.   Objective (upper-right or “IT” quadrant)

You would think that this is a matter for scientists, since the questions of

  • whether the climate is changing
  • and if so, to what degree and at what rate it is changing
  • and if so, what can we do NOW to prevent those changes

seem to hinge on the relationships between observations and scientific theories.

b.  Interobjective (lower-right or “ITS” quadrant)

Because these scientific questions deal with “global” climate change as opposed to change in any specific area of the globe, any solution to the question would have to involve the world’s governments, and so you must involve this quadrant because that is where systems are found.    Technology is also a system and any technological solution will have its origin here.     Global warming will have an economic impact, and since economics is also a system, this quadrant will come into play regarding questions of “how much will global warming cost the global economy, and how much will it cost the global economy to control it”.

c.  Intersubjective (lower-left or “WE” quadrant)

The real impetus for the contrarian view (the so-called “climate change deniers”) does not seem to be scientific, but political in nature, with the majority of the deniers being funded by conservative think tanks like the Heartland Institute that are funded by those with economic interests in resource-extraction companies, like the Koch brothers in the US, or Lord Lawson in the UK.    Politics, religion, and culture are all “value systems” (as opposed to the systems of physical or social phenomena like in the lower-left quadrant).

If you want to understand those who are supporting the climate change assessment by the IPCC, and those who are denying its conclusions, you will have to confront the politics based on who the stakeholders are, that is, those who be affected by any possible measure to control climate change.

d.  Subjective (upper-right or “I” quadrant)

Where does the “I” quadrant come in?    If you want to convince someone that there is global warming, you will have to take that person’s own personal values into account.    They may derive these from politics, from religion, or culture.   You will have to take that person’s own personal experience into account.   How much do they know of climatology?   Have they had personal experience of any extreme weather events (tornadoes, floods, hurricanes)?    You will have to change your message depending on how much they know about climatology, and you will be able to relate more easily to those who have had a personal experience of an extreme weather event, because it will connect the future of the climate with their present reality, which is the best starting point for a discussion.

In short, I find that the quadrant system developed by Ken Wilber is an excellent way of categorizing and organizing the perspectives that you must take into account when trying to approach a complex problem.    Let’s put it another way:   solving a multi-dimensional problem will take a multi-dimensional solution, and you are more likely to grasp the true outlines of such a solution if you take the various perspectives outlined in Integral Theory into account.


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