08/23/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Perspectives on Integral Ecology: A Dialogue

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a feature story for EnlightenNext magazine about a cutting-edge perspective on environmentalism known as "bright green." When I first discovered the term--and the emerging movement it represents--at the internet's bright green mothership, Worldchanging, it completely transformed my outlook on nature, on human society, on our ecological crisis, and most importantly, on what to do about it all.

Ever since that time, it's never stopped amazing me just how radical, and how subtle, this change in my own thinking about humanity's role in the biosphere has been. I'm endlessly fascinated by the fall line where many of our most cherished assumptions about nature and our proper place in it bump up against the urgent realities of a world evolving so fast it's hard to keep up with--and against our own very natural impulse to push forward irrepressibly into an unknown future. Every time I share the bright green perspective with others (most recently, for example, in some workshops I gave to college students at an American Institute of Chemical Engineers conference at UMass Amherst), I'm equally amazed by how little-known it still is, how provocative it always tends to be, and simply how much sense it makes of where we are and where we're going in these perilous and promising times we live in.

As I wrote in the article, the edgiest dimension of bright green has to do with its passionate embrace of modernity, and of many of environmentalism's traditional enemies: technology, creativity & industry; capitalism; globalization; the propulsive force of science; even the very notion of progress. Its big Achilles heel, on the other hand, is its tendency to get lost in a worldview defined by scientific materialism, a value sphere which emphatically denies the reality of consciousness and casts a blind eye to its undeniable relevance for any and all questions of social and cultural evolution.


In the article, I also referred to another emerging perspective on the environment, Integral Ecology, which is noteworthy in part because it refuses to make that same mistake, boldly defending the existence and importance of interiors for the science and study of the natural world. Like the broader integral theory of philosopher Ken Wilber on which it is based, integral ecology is an intricate meta-perspective designed to help orient and make sense of environmental questions big and small within a vast, inclusive framework gleaned from many different fields of human knowledge:

Integral Ecology transcends many of the problems that have assailed contemporary partial approaches to the environment and moves toward a developmentally informed understanding of individuals, communities, and systems. As a result, Integral Ecology draws on the expertise of many disciplines and offers extremely comprehensive, far-sighted, and flexible solutions for the environment -- solutions that honor the interiors of animals and people and that can carry us into right relationship, at multiple scales, with the Earth.

If you're not entirely sure yet what that means, don't worry. I'm here to announce two recent developments that can help you, me, and hopefully many, many people start to understand and appreciate this illuminating lens on many of the most pressing environmental questions of the 21st century:
  1. This year's publication of the new 800-page integral ecology Bible by the two most prominent thinkers in this nascent field, Michael Zimmerman and Sean Esbjörn-Hargens; and
  2. A new series of blog dialogues (blogalogues?) on the EnlightenNext Editor's Blog in which I explore the integral eco-Bible, and discuss its ins, outs, lefts, rights, ups, and downs directly with one of these pioneering environmental philosophers.
  3. Indeed, of all the people I've spoken with about these issues over the last few years, CU Boulder philosophy professor Michael Zimmerman is easily one of the most fascinating. I don't know how he does it, but he always seems to have an intriguing and surprising angle on just about every subject under the sun. So I was thrilled when he agreed to participate in an online back-and-forth (inspired by this one here between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan) about his new book over the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned!

    And to whet your appetite in the meantime, you might want to take a look at My Way to Integral Thinking, an article written by Zimmerman for our inaugural issue of EnlightenNext magazine last December.

    Read blog entries from other EnlightenNext magazine editors.