Saturday, July 15, 2006

What Is Integral Environmentalism?

One reader of this blog has taken issue with my Spiritual Environmentalism post. He claims that I am merely presently a liberal Green (sensitive self) viewpoint, perhaps even a Mean Green Meme (narcissistic sensitive self) viewpoint. This is his view of the post:


Your post sounds like liberal do-gooderism: Hippies buying hybrid cars; a family raising squash in their backyard; a call for stoicism.
I'd like present a synthesis of my several replies to his comments (with a few additions) as the foundation for a discussion of what an Integral Environmentalism might look like. As I mentioned in the comments of the previous post, I am not second tier, so I don't presume to have second-tier answers. I try to think as integrally as I am capable, but being centered pretty much in the pluralistic, sensitive self stage, I am limited.

So, without further blather, here is my basic stance on environmentalism:

Einstein once said that we can never solve a problem with the same consciousness that created the problem -- with that truism in mind, inventing our way out of global warming will never work.

Certainly we need an integral solution, and if I had one, I'd be shouting it the world.

We need to employ Spiral thinking for sure, since it will be countries that are lowest on the spiral who will be contributing the most to the crisis in the coming years (third world countries are exempt from the Kyoto protocals, which is the reason Bush once gave for not signing on -- though we know he had other motives as well).

Spiral Dynamics is clear on a couple of points: first and foremost, if you want to change people, you must change the conditions in which they live. For example, if we really want to help Islamo-fascists in the Middle East to evolve, get them some I-Pods and some computers, and we'll see a higher level of thinking that access to the world can provide. The second point is that we cannot impose on lower memes the values of higher memes--it never works. This holds true in the US as well.

If we want conservatives (and I think [my critic] is talking mostly about the scientific-rational meme, although conservatives fall along the entire Spiral), to embrace the environment, we must find a way to help them feel that their way of life is at stake if they do not. Al Gore's film cuts across political values in that regard, if the viewer is willing to listen to the facts.

The problem is that there are a lot of people like
Michael Crichton who argue that global warming is a load of crap perpetuated by the liberal, pluralistic meme (cultural version of the sensitive self). All the sceintists in the world can shout him down, and most do, but he and a handful of others provide enough cover for egocentric, self-seeking people who do not want to believe it's happening that they can choose to ignore it -- unfortunately, these people tend to be politicians and business leaders.

As much as it sucks, right now the best solution is to create a grassroots movement that spans the Spiral, from environmental Christians, to rational-scientific self-seekers with only their own interests at heart, to sensitive-self, pluralistic tree huggers, and the handful of integral thinking folks out there who feel that the chaotic flexflow is managable.

We can vote with our dollars, too, choosing to support energy companies that are forward thinking (BP rather than Exxon), buy cars that are good on fuel use, and a million other choices -- check out the
BuyBlue web site I posted about. This even goes as far as choosing not to shop at Walmart, or giving up soda because of the environmental impact created by making soda.

Yeah, that sounds like a liberal, sensitive-self approach, but it doesn't require anyone to believe that all views are relative, it does not reject hierarchies of value (in fact, it embraces them), and it does not need to change lower memes to match anyone's values -- what it does is place responsibility for change with each of us. And that's where it needs to begin.

And if I were standing on a narrow liberal ledge [as my critic clams], I'd be arguing that we pass new laws to enforce environmental protection, or that we tax the hell out of polluters -- both of which are not bad ideas. Certainly we need some intervention by government to regulate industry. Clinton had improved things in this area, Bush has undone all of that.

Perhaps, rather than punishments, what is needed is economic incentives for green, environmentally safe industry. This would certainly motivate the rational, self-interest folks running businesses to think about switching over to environmentally friendly technology.

But what I am really arguing for is personal responsibility, one of the hallmarks of the conservative agenda. Rather than blaming everyone else for my problems, or for the problems in this nation or on this planet -- which is surely part of the equation, since I can't have done it all on my own -- I contend that it is up to you and me and everyone else to take personal responsibility for the world in which we live.

Philosophically speaking, liberalism places responsibility in government and the social structures, while conservatism places responsibility with individuals.
Wilber argues this distinction and I agree with it (as does the Oxford Companion to Philosophy).

The middle way is to inspire everyone to take responsibility for the planet, from grassroots people who want to do their part to big business and government leaders who have the most power to effect change. Part of being a responsible citizen is leaving a smaller environmental footprint, voting for politicians who will work for that agenda, and supporting businesses who will as well.

So, that is my argument as much as I have one (all of which was formulated last night in response to my critic -- so I am thankful for his prodding, since I may not have articulated anything on this topic otherwise). I don't pretend that this is an integral approach. But I would like to have a discussion of what an integral model for environmentalism might look like. How do we move beyond the sensitive-self stage that I and so many others who care about the future of the planet seem to be stuck in?

I look forward to hearing what all of you have to say.


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