Peak Oil at IEC in Budapest

Next week the first Integral European Conference takes place in Budapest, where I will make two presentations: one about Adult development and one about Peak Oil: Here is the abstract. This post will focus on the second and introduce the crossing of an energy perspective with an Integral or AQAL perspective. I have been engaging in Integral theory for almost ten years (here is an introduction in Swedish), I was introduced to the issue of Peak Oil almost five years ago and now seems to be the time to aim for a synthesis between them.

I have written a few earlier blog posts on Peak Oil and its relation to Integral theory and worldviews: Here is an introduction to Peak oil, here I give some Adult development perspectives on Peak oil and here I reflect on the difficulties on integrating Peak oil (or Collapse) perspectives into Integral theory.

The conference paper and work is the fruit of a joint effort together with Svein Horn from Norway, who was first on the integral scene to give perspectives on Peak Oil in an own book chapter in 2009. Although we wish that we’d have a lot more time and energy (!) to put into the work, we think that can give a significant contribution to introducing energy perspectives in integral contexts and into integral theory.

The preliminary outline of the presentation, which will follow the outline of the paper, is as follows:

First Peak oil will be introduced. This is outlined in the recent blog post. This can be seen as the engineering and scientific part of the presentation. Next we move to the historical part where we review the human history from an energy perspective and its importance and necessity for human evolution. This is a perspective that up till now has been omitted in Integral theory and AQAL according to theorists, such as Ken Wilber and Sean Esbjörn-Hargens.

But why is it so? Why hasn’t the Peak oil issue gained more attention in integral contexts and by Integral theorists? First it can be said that they are not alone. The energy perspective is often overlooked by economists, historians and anthropologists (although they seldom claim to be integral and all-embracing), although the issue seems to gain in attention now that we are facing problems and disturbances in our energy supply.

Here we turn to the more philosophical or meta-theoretical part of our work. When we try to assimilate an energy perspective to the AQAL theory and the quadrants we face two problems. The first is that it simply doesn’t seem to fit into any quadrant. Intuitively, it would perhaps fit into the lower right structural quadrant, but that is not how Wilber describes tetra-evolution in this quote from Excerpt A:

“With regard to the LR social system and its techno-economic base, what generally happens is that a technological innovation begins in the mind of some creative individual (UL)–James Watt and the steam engine, for example. This novel idea is communicated to others through the inventor’s verbal and cognitive behavior (UR), until a small group of individuals eventually understands the idea (LL). If the idea is compelling enough, it is eventually translated into concrete forms (e.g. the building of actual steam engines), which now become part of the socio-economic base (LR).”

Thus, the lower right quadrant according to Wilber’s description of evolution and human development is the structural or techno-socio-economic aspect of that which is developing. Tetra-evolution in this sense is the interplay between the four quadrants’ development. And of course, we could see the different systems for extracting energy as significant for a certain stage of development. But not energy itself. Energy comes from the sun (except for nuclear and geothermal), we don’t produce it – we harvest it from our surrounding environment.

It is interesting that Wilber uses the industrial revolution as an example without addressing the influence of energy and that industrialization would not have taken place hadn’t we found coal and then oil and gas to burn in large scale. We conclude that the quadrants given by the AQAL theory do indeed include many useful perspectives, but also limit our view on evolution so that we can overlook important aspects such as our energy dependence.

When we discuss the consequences of peak oil with an integral lens, and an “energy addendum” so to speak, we come into the issue of possible decoupling. Decoupling between energy and the lower right quadrant and between the lower right and the other quadrants.

And we also go one step further and investigate the view on the future according to the integral and the energy perspective. What is the direction of the universe according to these two perspectives? And here we find some conflicting conclusions, to say the least.

But that can be left as a cliff-hanger and reason for joining our presentation, session and discussion. See you there!

Oil platform Holly

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3 Responses to Peak Oil at IEC in Budapest

  1. Hello Kristian,
    Congrats on the “Best Paper” award! I hope to have the opportunity to read it at some point. It’s nice to find another ‘peak oil aware’ integral thinker.
    I think it’s important to include energy/ecology in the LR quadrant – I believe you are correct to note the deficiency of focusing only on the techno-economic base.
    I’ve written a number of posts attempting to correlate thinking on energy/peak oil with integral thought. For me, the connecting thinkers are Howard Odum and David Holmgren (and of course Tim Winton).

    Here are some of my related blog posts:
    The Wave/Pulse of Human History

    Principles for the Pulse that is Peak Oil
    Lessons From the Ages for 2013, Part 1
    Lessons From the Ages for 2013, Part 2

  2. admin says:

    Hi David!

    Thank you! And thanks for the links! I found your site when googling integral+peak oil. I will check out your writing and references more in detail. We are on a big quest on integrating energy/peak oil with integral theory and thought, and I think we are only scratching the surface so far. So great to hear from you and let’s keep in contact!

  3. Kristian,
    I’d like to communicate about your IEC paper. Please contact me at miles58 at yahoo dot com.