by Judith Curry
I (and others) have characterized climate change as a ‘wicked problem’ – systemic, self-fuelling tangles, which are multidimensional, hard to define and generate new problems when one tries to solve the old ones.
The UNFCCC, President Obama, etc have been treating climate change as a ‘tame problem’ – whereby the source of the problem is understood and the solution is clear and widely agreed upon.
The failure of the UNFCCC policies is about to come to a head: New Security Beat states that “If Paris witnesses scenes of discord and high drama anything like those of 2009, and if there is no clear outcome, it is hard to see that faith in the UN’s ability to hold nations together on this issue could survive.”
A way forward through the morass of wicked environmental problems is suggested by integral theory as applied to integral ecology.
The Integral Ecology Center has an article World Leadership Crisis: Exhibit A – Climate Change. Excerpts:
You can probably feel the difficulty of the whole situation. Time is short, uncertainty is high, and the stakes may be even higher. Competing business and political interests collide every day. The tensions run deep, driven by conflicting values and differing needs. This is the nature of the hard problems of our time: they are densely interconnected, emotionally-charged and complex. They also change rapidly, often without warning. In effect, these are what scientists call “adaptive problems” (or “wicked problems”), where the problems may actually evolve by the day. Climate change is immensely difficult because it is an adaptive problem, and requires adaptive leadership to address. Confronting an adaptive problem takes more than a bag of tricks, it takes a whole new way of being with a broader and more complex mindset on the world—a way of being that is naturally able to:
- Step outside one’s ideology and value system in order to re-craft a more complete view of a situation
- Understand the evolutionary nature of the people, culture, behavior and systems that contribute to complex problems
- Quickly grasp the complexity of a situation
- Build trust between diverse interest groups
- Stay grounded amidst the constant demands for change
- Find the confidence necessary for courageous action
An Overview of Integral Theory is provided by Sean Esbjorn Hargens [link]
Professor Michael Zimmerman at the University of Colorado is one of the leading thinkers on Integral Ecology, particularly in its application to climate change. From the Integral Ecology Center article:
According to Dr. Zimmerman, there is an untold story behind climate science that we ignore at our own peril. His years of research have lead him to an urgent concern that climate science is falling under the sway of political forces and is not being recognized as the adaptive problem that it is. Michael critiques the fairness of its peer review processes and the low diversity of viewpoints it publicizes, leading us to a disturbing question: has the scientific community’s focus on funding and influence compromised the pursuit of truth?
Zimmerman has an article on Integral Ecology: A Perspectival, Developmental and Coordinating Approach to Environmental Problems [link].
An integral approach to climate change
The main focus of this post is Zimmerman’s paper Including and differentiating among perspectives: An integral approach to climate change [link].
Abstract. Among the principles of Integral Ecology, two are parcularly important: 1) include mul- ple perspecves not only in regard to characterizing and proposing remedies for environmental problems, but also in regard to determining what counts as a serious problem in the first place, and 2) differenate from one another the domains studied by various methods (e.g., natural science vs. policy formaon). I use these features of Integral Ecology to examine crically the contemporary debate about climate change. Even if Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios about rising global temperatures are plausible, an important issue remains: should resources be directed to adapng to coming climate change, or should they be directed to efforts to cut drama- cally anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, especially C02? How are we to know how billions of different people with many different perspecves would answer this queson?
From the introduction:
In part one of this essay, I examine whether the consensus view of climate change has been sufficiently inclusive of alternative scientific views, including skeptical ones. In part two, I examine an instance of how Left- Hand perspectives, especially values, worldviews, and beliefs, are often elided or ignored in climate change discourse. Scientific facts about climate change—the way things “are”—are routinely used to justify eliminating political discussion about what ought to be done by people faced with climate change. Failure adequately to differentiate between is and ought, fact and value, is a characteristic tendency of modernity, which often tends toward technocracy, in which “experts” are invited to devise binding public policy. Even some environmentalists who are otherwise critical of techno-industrial modernity, have embraced technocratic attitudes when it comes to climate change. In part three, I address another question pertaining to inclusiveness: Who had a seat at the table when it was decided that the defining issue of the 21st century is climate change? Why must there be only one defining issue? What competitors are there for urgent issues? Finally, in part four, I discuss briefly how an integral ecologist might answer the question, “What ought to be done in the face of global warming?”
Part I Is the Current Scientific “Consensus” Sufficiently Inclusive?
When I began research for this article, I initially assumed that AGW was largely validated, but the more I read, the more I began to conclude that something was amiss. Too many credible scientists strongly object to the AGW hypothesis and to the IPCC as the agency responsible for promulgating evidence in its favor. Knowing that a minority of scientists can disprove a view favored even by a large majority, I began investigating in more detail the ideas of those critical of AGW, the IPCC, and related proposals about what to do about climate change.
Scientists are not immune to downplaying findings that contradict the hypothesis that they have spent years investigating. An integral scientist, however, would insist that such findings be included in the debate, even at the high cost of having one’s own work superseded.
Part II: Differentiating Between Science and Politics
So far, I have argued that—according to Integral Ecology—climate science should include as many substantial and plausible perspectives as possible, develop the protocol needed to show what would invalidate aspects or all of AGW, and remain open-minded about the validity of alternative, data-supported hypotheses and explanations. Because of the stakes involved in the consequences of climate change, however, the debate has become increasingly politicized, in a way that threatens the very integrity of science.
In the context of post-normal science, however, a question arises: “When do scientists become so involved in politics that they end up undermining science as a neutral source of information and options for policy makers?” In The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics (2007), Roger Pielke, Jr., offers what amounts to an integral view of science and science policy. Scientists can provide important information about what a particular problem is, but go astray when suggesting that such information dictates what policies ought to be promulgated to deal with the problem.
Part III: Who decided that AGW Is the Central Issue of the 21st Century?
Many environmentalists proclaim that climate change in coming decades is the central issue of the 21st century. I question this proclamation, not so as to dismiss the potentially destructive and/or expensive consequences of climate change, but rather to call to mind enormous problems currently facing humankind and the biosphere on which we all depend. Integral Ecology maintains that many different perspectives are needed to identify an environmental problem, much less to characterize it and to propose remedies for it. What counts as an environmental problem depends on the perspective that frames the issue that is under consideration. Moreover, even if people operating from several different perspectives can agree that there is an environmental problem, they may nevertheless disagree about how to rank that problem in comparison with other pressing needs.
Part IV What is to be done?
If the AGW hypothesis were to prove invalid, that is, if human C02 production turns out not to be driving global warming or is playing a relatively insignificant role in that process, such a development would not be a permission slip for business as usual. There are major social and environmental problems that will become only more pressing as population increases, habitats come under pressure, and ever scarcer resources become trigger points for political tensions and warfare. Moreover, even if AGW were to be proven invalid, planet Earth may continue to warm, with the current halt to warming possibly turning out to be a 20- to 30-year lull akin to the cooling period that took place from the 1950s to about 1980. What, then, is to be done?
Today, the economic-political establishments in developed nations propose to introduce costly cap-and-trade schemes and/or carbon taxes with the aim of dramatically lowering anthropogenic C02 production.
Bjørn Lomborg (2007) has gone so far as to compare the close ties among regulatory agencies, private equity firms, and many corporations as akin to what President Eisenhower once warned against, namely the untoward influence of the military-industrial complex. Lomborg is not alone in arguing that the “climate-industrial complex” has in effect co-opted the climate change debate, with the aim of representing the only possible solution as one that happens to be compatible with the interests of the organizations who stand to benefit from costly and still-speculative schemes to reduce carbon emissions.
Coping with climate change (whatever the cause) and energy needs requires comprehensive, integrative strategies that pay attention to a host of different, but interrelated, issues ranging from the personal to the technological, from humanity to habitat. Focusing on a single issue, such as AWG, fails to grasp the magnitude and complexity of the problems that confront us, including the fact that what inhabitants of wealthy countries regard as “problems” may not even show up as problems for people trying to eke out a living in difficult circumstances. I conclude with a passage from New York Times blogger Andrew Revkin, who has for decades offered some of the most thoughtful and even-handed commentaries pertaining to energy needs and climate change. In 2008, he made the following comments at Columbia University upon accepting the John Chancellor Award for Sustained Achievement in Journalism:
Climate change is not the story of our time. Climate change is a subset of the story of our time, which is that we are coming of age on a finite planet and only just now recognizing that it is finite. So how we mesh infinite aspirations of a species that’s been on this explosive trajectory—not just of population growth but of consumptive appetite—and transition to a sort of stabilized and still prosperous relationship with the Earth and each other is the story of our time.
Integral ecology seems to be a framework that is well suited for dealing with complex environmental problems/challenges. The ideas put forward here seem roughly consistent with the so-called eco-modernists – Shellenberger, Nordhaus, Pielke Jr., Revkin, Hulme, Nesbit – many of whom are cited in Williams’ article.
Williams’ article takes a first step at applying these ideas to climate change. While I agree with much of what he says, I don’t see a concrete way forward here. Maybe that is just reflective of the wicked nature of the climate change problem, which needs to be more fully acknowledged with a broader and more complex mindset.
I think these ideas are worth examining and developing, I look forward to your comments.