Monday, November 26, 2007

Water, Water, Water: The three secrets of climate change

The physical-systemic dimensions of human-generated global warming are increasingly well understood by natural science, but other aspects of anthropogenic warming are much more difficult to characterize, including LL quadrant issues, for instances, issues having to do with intersubjective, developmentally-differentiated cultural attitudes that both promote enormous carbon fuel use and discourage people from taking seriously the consequences of burning so much carbon fuel.
Currently, I am a member of a small committee seeking to understand what the business community wants and needs from scientists in terms of mitigating global warming and adapting to such change. Eventually, the committee—funded by a national science center located in Boulder--will organize a major meeting at which scientists and business people will focus on a particular climate change issue.
Business is an all-quadrant affair. That is, a businessperson contemplating the introduction of a new product must take into account not only socio-economic perspectives (LR quadrant), but cultural (LL) perspectives as well. Natural science methods, in contrast, uses perspectives belonging exclusively to the right hand quadrants, which take an objective, third-person attitude toward phenomena under investigation. One scientist, who taught a climate change course for science students and business students at a major Midwestern university reported that when it came both to understanding and devising solutions to global warming, science students were much more reductionistic (right-hand quad oriented), whereas business students used multiple perspectives (including value considerations drawn from the LL quadraqnt).
During our discussion, a well-known climate scientist opined that just as the three secrets of real estate are "location, location, location," the three secrets of climate change are "water, water, water." I knew there was a relationship between climate change and water, but had never heard it identified so starkly.
We began discussing the possibility of hosting a conference focusing on climate change and water, the latter being a very big concern to the Colorado business community, which is dependent on water for recreational industries (especially skiing), agriculture, power generation, and real estate development, among others. The science center that would sponsor the major business/climate change meeting happens to be doing research on the consequences of climate change on water, so the potential for a useful dialogue between science and the business community exists with regard to this issue.
Two issues emerged in connection with the water focus. First, by focusing on how to cope with how climate alters water (weather in terms of drought, storms, flooding, smaller snow accumulation in the Rockies, and so on), we would turn the conversation away from mitigation (that is, retrofitting global economies, so that we release far less carbon into the atmosphere) and toward adaptation (that is, finding ways to deal with climate-changing problems, some of which may already be appearing). Mitigation is a much more challenging issue, not only because it demands so many technological developments and so much capital investment, but also because the business community and the political establishment have a time horizon that typically extends only a few years into the future. The relatively distant future—fifty years or a century—is heavily discounted, that is, business focuses on near-term investments and profits, rather than on investing for possible profits that might (or might not) be harvested long after most current investors are dead.
The second issue that arose in connection with the water-focused conference was this: Could the water focus be a way of significantly heightening the importance of climate change in the general public’s ranking of issues of the day. In Break Through, Nordhaus and Shellenberger note that public opinion polls show that—despite Academy Awards and Nobel Prizes—climate change remains a low priority item for most respondents. If it could be demonstrated, however, that pocketbook issues and national defense--usually high priority items for the public—will be and perhaps already are being affected by climate change, members of the public will value more highly steps taken to adapt to climate change, and may also take more seriously the intergenerational moral issues related to continued profligate use of carbon fuel.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Nordhaus and Shellenberger at CU Boulder

On November 12, 2007, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger appeared at the CU Law School to give a lecture and to field questions in connection with publication of their new book, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility. Sarah Krakoff, associate professor of law at CU Boulder’s Law School, ably served as commentator. The question and answer session was lively, as might be expected in a community full of self-described environmentalists faced with authors stating that Old Time Environmentalism—based on limits, regulation, and litigation—will not work in connection with dealing with global climate change.
Nordhaus and Shellenberger (N/S) gained notoriety a few years ago when they published their provocative article, “The Death of Environmentalism,” on which their new book is based. N/S maintain that in order to deal with global climate change, we have to move beyond pollution-control models that worked in some cases, and also beyond the “limits to growth” attitude and “doom and gloom” scenarios that characterize much of environmental rhetoric in the past thirty years. To move beyond the status of another liberal special interest group, environmentalism must become affirmative in its outlook, celebrating human creativity, and harnessing human energy in the search for alternatives to carbon based fuel. It is crucial, so N/D maintain, to admit that China and India will continue modernizing (and thus using lots of coal) no matter what we do. What we can do is to put into action what amounts to a kind of Manhattan Project that would spend upwards of $70 billion per year in creating technically and economically viable alternatives to carbon fuels, especially to coal.
In the Q&A session, both Professor Krakoff and several others took exception to the divisive tone of Break Through, which argues that major environmentalist groups remain committed to policy approaches that may have worked for pollution control, but which won’t work in the case of anthropogenic global warming. Environmentalists need to demand enormous investment in clean energy proposals that have as their goal not only slowing global warming, but also helping to produce greater wealth for billions of people who are still living in difficult material circumstances. Hitching environmentalism to a progressive vision of political emancipation, personal empowerment, and material well being would certainly transform the environmental movement.
The discussion contained some very interesting moments, including Ted Nordhaus’ discussion of how in his remarks leading up to his famous “I have a dream” speech in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. had been making gloomy predictions about the future if Civil Rights legislation failed to pass. In the background, Mahalia Jackson can be heard saying “Tell them about the dream!" Fortunately, MLK, Jr. listened. According to N/S, environmentalists need to give their own version of that speech. “We have a dream—that billions of people can be lifted out of poverty and can gain personal/political freedom, even while we discover how to generate the non-carbon emitting modes of energy production needed to end poverty and promote freedom.”

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Technologies of Humility

In a recent issue of Nature, Sheila Jasanoff (professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University) published an important essay that in effect calls for an integral approach to ecology. Her essay, "Technologies of Humility," calls for policy makers to recognize that for real-world problems, such as climate change, "science offers only part of the picture." In the face of the incredible complexity involved in understanding and forecasting climate change, science cannot achieve certainty. Hence, Jasanoff maintains that policy makers "need to focus on when it is best to look beyond science for ethical solutions. [....] Capacity building in the face of uncertainty has to be a multidisciplinary exercise, engaging history, moral philosophy, political theory and social studies of science, in addition to the sciences themselves." Jasanoff offers a prescription "to supplement science with the analysis of those aspects of the human condition that science cannot easily illuminate."

Jasanoff is a member of the conversation about "post-normal science," which contrasts with normal science conducted under controlled conditions. Post-normal science investigates inherently complex systems outside of laboratory settings, and often faces competing political and ethical agendas of stakeholders. As Tainter, Allen, and Hoekstra put it in their essay, "Energy transformations and post-normal science": "In post-normal science […] data are insufficient, time is short, and because the stakes are high there is keen public interest and conflicting values. The findings of post-normal sciences are embedded in a larger social [and cultural] framework, in which the audiences consists of contending interest groups, and in which issues more have more than one plausible solution."

Integral ecology is one way of theorizing what post-normal science is pointing at in regard to inherently complex, politically charged environmental problems.

The Development Agent’s Toolkit, review

On November 6, 2007, a CU Boulder undergraduate political science major, Brendan Snow, defended his honors thesis before several CU professors, including me. The thesis, The Development Agent’s Toolkit: An Integrated Approach to Development, was one of the very best honors’ theses that I have ever read in 32 years of college teaching, and was certainly the longest, at 342 pages, including footnotes and bibliography. Brendan’s thesis uses Ken Wilber’s work to provide a conceptual framework necessary to help development agents and agencies take note of “blind spots” in their approach to a particular country or problem within a country. Typical blinds spots for agents/agencies working within social science methods are the interior domains of individuals and communities, that is, the first-person experience of individuals and the shared world-space of cultures. Economists and political scientists typically focus on phenomena in the right-hand quadrants, that is, the publicly observable behaviors of individuals and social systems. Without an adequate understanding of the culture for which a development agency proposes a particular intervention, or of the personality structure of the individuals with whom agents will be dealing, however, chances for success will go down. People will at times walk away from opportunity if they feel misunderstood or even insulted.

A full account of Brendan’s highly ambitious and largely successful thesis cannot be undertaken here, but here are some observations. Brendan’s excellent literature review includes works by noted scholars in the development field, such as Eric Beinocker, William Easterly, Ronald Inglehart, Christian Welzel, Jeffrey Sachs, Amartya Sen, and Joseph Sitlitz. Brendan singled out Inglehart, who has written two books that overlap in important ways with Wilber’s three-stage developmental model: traditional/premodern, modern, and postmodern. See Inglehart, Modernization and Postmodernization, and Inglehart and Welzel, Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence. See also Scott M. Thomas, The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations.

In addition to providing a toolkit based on the AQAL model, Brendan also attempts to develop integral theory by bringing it into productive dialogue with complex adaptive systems, especially as studied by economists. According to Brendan, it is important to see that complex adaptive pressures are at work in all quadrants, not merely in the LR (social systems). See Samir Rahini, Complex Systems Theory and Development Practice.

Although focusing on development work of the kind undertaken by the UN, International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, Brendan’s thesis would be highly useful to integral ecologists, and to anyone working within an integral framework. Given growing environmental problems, especially global warming, economic development must be carried out with constant attention to limiting use of carbon fuel, perhaps especially coal.

You can reach Brendan Snow at:

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Review of Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage, by Daniel C. Esty and Andrew S. Winston (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006)

In recent years, many useful books have been published promoting the greening of business. I think immediately of Natural Capitalism (2000) by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins. The strength of Green and Gold lies in its extensive reference to case histories of what authors, Daniel C. Esty and Andrew S. Winston dub the top fifty “Green Wave Riding” corporations, 25 American, 25 International, including Johnson & Johnson, Baxter, DuPont, and 3M in the US, and BP, Shell, Toyota, and Lafarge outside the US. The authors spent years researching Waver Rider corporations and interviewing key environmental managers and top executives. Waver Riders are leading the way toward environmentally sustainable products and production processes. I learned a great deal from the many examples, which include several instances of green initiatives that failed, for one reason or another. The authors emphasize that trade offs are always necessary on the market, and that when it comes to so-called “green” products, marketing may work best when the green advantage comes third after price and performance. It is impossible to summarize the many angles that the authors discovered are being pursued by companies that have discovered that “no” is not an answer when it comes to doing things the right way, environmentally.

As I mentioned in my brief review of this book on, at times I lost sight of the overall structure of the book, so I often had to refer to the table of contents to remind me of the main focus of a given chapter. This problem might have been corrected if the authors had utilized a user-friendly conceptual framework, such as the quadrant model and development scheme at work in Integral Ecology.

Although not mentioning "integral ecology," the book's perspective is consistent with key integral themes. For example, on p. 193 there is a bullet list of "Lessons from the corporate trenches for NGO's." One bullet states: "Don't expect success if you equate all business with evil. Anti-market or anti-capitalist approaches don't provide a good foundation for corporate engagement." This is an important insight, which took me a long time to accept. Like many in the environmental movement in the 1970s, I began with the attitude that business is bad and wrong, and so is the modernity associated with it. Likewise, I had little patience with standard religious attitudes, which were even more problematic than modern organizations. Obviously, trying to get my environmental interests over to people in these two worlds met with little success. Ken Wilber's work in particular has helped me to honor and integrate (rather than to “diss” and dissociate) both modern and premodern attitudes, as embodied in institutions and individuals. Where would any of us be without the religious traditions that called for respect for all individuals, thereby laying the groundwork for democratic institiutions? And where would we be without the wealth made possible by modern economic institutions? That premodern religion and modern economic institutions have dark sides goes without saying, but their important and enduring contribuitlons must be understood and respected.
That Esty and Winston are promoting something like an integral agenda is clear from their statement on p. 284:
Strategy no longer rests in the hands of narrowly focused planning systems. Today, every company’s financial future depends on executives who possess the ability for integrated thinking. [….] They work with a dynamic and holistic vision of how a company operates and engage the full range of stakeholders who can shape the company’s future. They create enduring Eco-Advantage by thinking differently, adopting tools to understand their companies’ environmental challenges and opportunities, and embedding attention to stewardship in their corporate values.

In this paragraph, reference is made to all four quadrants: UL (first person, singular) is represented by executives who can think integrally; LL (we, constituted by first-second person dialogue) is represented by shared corporate values as well as those of stakeholders; UR (third person, singular), represented by using tools to solve particular problems; and LR (third person, plural), represented by planning and financial systems. In other words, Green to Gold is integral, because it takes into account the major perspectives from which to assess and to make proposals for resolving environmentally-destructive corporate practices.

Another area in which the book could have benefited from using the Integral model has to do with its call for “building a corporate culture that promotes environmental thinking and intervention.” (295) Although the authors make some excellent recommendations for such culture-building, Integral Ecology would also recommend using a developmental model to characterize the developmental “centers of gravity” of various employees. Some employees, for instance, may have modernist centers of gravity, whereas others may be green or postmodern; still others may be relatively premodern in important respects. How to speak most effectively to employees whose developmental centers of gravity are rather different? The same question would apply to stakeholders: What centers of gravity characterize major stakeholder groups, and individuals? How to tailor the corporate message such that it speaks in a way that people at different levels can best understand, without compromising the major ideals that are being broadcast and promulgated?
Green and Gold stands on its own as a fine greening-the-corporation book, but I would like to see another such high-quality work informed by Integral theory.

Check out the authors' website for further information.
Reviewed by Michael E. Zimmerman