Episode 19: An integral approach to the creation of a sustainable future

In this episode I speak with Professor Karen O´Brien from the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at Oslo University. Karen is influenced by the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber and works to apply different perspectives in researching and understanding the many facets of environmental change. She´s specifically interested in how our values and worldviews create barriers and opportunities in relation to how we respond and adapt to climate change, and how working with our inner dimension is both challenging and necessary if we want to create a sustainable future. Towards the end Karen O´Brien presents the cChange project; an initiative to create a Center of Excellence focusing on trance-disciplinary approaches to sustainable development.

If you feel inspired or provoked by our conversation feel free to add your comments after the interview. You can also send in a written piece of work and get it published together with this episode. Further details can be found here.

Episode links:

Karen O´Brien
A Brief History of Everything, by Ken Wilber
Lines in the Sand, by Michael Simpson
Robert Kegan

James Alexander Arnfinsen (redaktør)
James Alexander Arnfinsen (34) er lærer og arbeider i Osloskolen. Han har bred erfaring innenfor dialogbasert prosessledelse, nærværstrening og konflikthåndtering. Ta kontakt med James på følgende adresse: james.arnfinsen @ gmail.com
James Alexander Arnfinsen (redaktør)
James Alexander Arnfinsen (34) is a teacher, his subjects being geography, religious studies and sports science. He is currently working as a teacher in Oslo, Norway. In his spare time he practices Aikido, a Japanese martial art.
  • James Arnfinsen

    Here is a brief summary written by Dennis Wittrock of O¨Brien’s contribution at the lastes Integral Theory Conference (2015):

    Karen O’Brien is Professor of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo and member of the renowned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Her keynote presentation started out with the facts around man-made climate change. We’re clearly in the decade that matters in terms of which of the various scenarios of global warming will play out in the future. That global warming is already happening is an undisputed fact among the scientific community. Accordingly, future conversations will have a lot to do with adapting to a changing climate. In this complex climate odyssey, an integral map can be incredibly helpful, because it can inform us about the role that human interiors and values play in this journey towards sustainability.

    O’Brien pointed out that the major part of the discourse is circling around systemic considerations (LR quadrant) like scientific projections on temperature changes, degree of sea level rises, CO2 concentration (ppm) in the air, etc. All of this leaves out the domain of ethics, values, and worldviews, a.k.a. human interiority. She seems to see her role as sort of an integral messenger who is pointing to this neglected part of the discourse. As a co-author of the global IPPC report with her own chapter about adaptation to climate change, she struggled hard to inject a different vocabulary into the report. Clearly, adaptation to climate change will require personal, political, and practical transformations of various kinds. Yet trying to bring in the term “transformation” into the report proved to be a laborious process, since “transformation” turned out to be a politically charged term for many countries that were “transformed” violently in the past and not always according to the political will of the majority.

    O’Brien tried to reframe climate change as an “adaptive challenge,” not just touching on technical but also political dimensions. When trying to measure “risks” that climate change presents us with, we are implicitly always making a statement about what is valuable according to our view of the world. So ultimately, adaptation to climate change has to come from the inside out. Despite its clear relevance to the realities of the “lifeworld”(Habermas), this very notion challenges the mainstream scientific assumption which views consciousness and interiority merely as an “epi-phenomenon” popping out on the top of complex enough (grey) matter. Oh dear, welcome to flatland reductionism in the face of epic planetary challenges…

    In closing, she mentioned the emerging discipline of “Quantum Social Theory” as an inspiring body of work which points to the potential of increasing our collaborative power in the face of this challenge. O’Brien ended on a hopeful note, reminding us of the vision and juice of the younger generations that grow up globally connected due to the internet. She is convinced that integral approaches to climate change will make a difference. “Be impact!” ( Also read Jeremy Johnson’s summary here.)

    Read the rest here: https://medium.com/@dennis.wittrock/itc-2015-notes-from-the-field-e5e3eaf6d129

  • James Arnfinsen

    Karen O`Brien has just published a new book that explores the ways in which climate change serves as an adaptive challenge.https://cchange.no/2015/10/new-book-climate-change-as-an-adaptive-challenge/

  • James Arnfinsen

    Here is a fresh podcast (08.12.15) with Karen O¨Brien from The Naked Scientist podcast series.