January 19, 2022

Applied vertical thinking.

How does one apply vertical thinking to the problem of climate change? An essay in applied vertical thinking.

Applied vertical thinking.

In this essay I will be demonstrating how to think about climate change vertically, i.e., procedurally. If you are not familiar with this kind of thinking, you may find the essay explaining it here.

Vertical thinking always starts with accepting some maxim or axiom, i.e., some basic preposition. It is not in the business of critique or assessment. Therefore, we need to form a sentence that explains the problem. It would preferably adhere to Ockham’s razor, namely that it should not be described with any more complexity than necessary. Thus, I propose the following maxim:

Climate change is the phenomenon of changes in the climate that are big enough to impact and modify the climate as a whole, so much so that it could become unsuitable for humanity.

This maxim does not limit us to a global warming or global cooling, but rather reflects our wish to keep the climate in a certain balance which is fruitful for us. After all, the earth cares not about the climate: it will persist regardless. It is our fate that hangs in the balance.

From this maxim we can now move on by asking: In what way is the climate being affected? Studies show that the climate is experiencing an increase of gases like CO2 and methane (Henson, 2006). Ok, so the process goes on: What effect does this have on the climate? The effect of having CO2 in the atmosphere is that it traps some of the sun’s heat. Thus, the more CO2 in the atmosphere, the more heat it will trap. Methane on the other hand does not trap heat, but rather reacts with the atmosphere so that it lets in more radiation from the sun than it would otherwise (Marini-Bettòlo et al., 1986). The expected effect of an increase of either of these two gases is a warmer climate.

Isolated, these two gases are a problem. Combined, they are a bigger problem: Methane lets in more heat, while CO2 traps it. The result is a powerful greenhouse effect, which is why we often refer to these gases as greenhouse gases.

A greenhouse is a house of glass made to let in sunlight and trap it, usually for growing plants. If the earth was a greenhouse, then methane would be cleaning the glass so as to let in more sunlight, while CO2 would be more insulative glass which better traps the heat. The result is a more powerful effect, which is not necessarily a problem for a greenhouse. For the earth on the other hand, it is a different story.

The product of vertical thinking is the process: Vertical thinking unveils the process from a given maxim. Thus, given that we would want to counteract it, the solution offered by vertical thinking is simple: Reverse the process. Increased CO2 and methane lead to a warmer climate, which leads to unsuitable conditions for humans. Thus, to have suitable conditions one would like to cool the climate back in balance by decreasing the amount of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere. I.e., not bring about a new ice age, but to bring about the conditions that suit humans.

This is one brief example of applied vertical thinking. We have first set a maxim that describes climate change, and then worked from there. The maxim could be more specific, but the language of very specific maxims often becomes strange, so I chose a simpler wording.

Notice that for this example we have not looked at what causes the increase of greenhouse gases, because what causes it does not really matter. Even if they were caused by natural events, it would still be in humanity’s interest to counteract it. Why? Because we depend on a suitable climate. It does not need us, but we need it. We rely on a climate in which we can exist. And our list of demands is long: clean air, stable temperatures, non-toxic waters, etc.

This concludes a brief application of vertical thinking on the problem of climate change. It helped us chart out a process. By doing so we saw that if the process was not desirable, we could reverse it by negating its means: Instead of more greenhouse gases, we could have less greenhouse gases.

In the next essay, deep thinking will try to build on this process to reveal something about the problem itself. Although deep thinking does not have to build on vertical thinking, it often helps.


Henson, R. (2006). The rough guide to climate change. Rough Guides.

Marini-Bettòlo, G. B. (Giovanni B., Bettòlo, G. B. M., Pontificia Accademia delle scienze, Pontificia accademia delle scienze - i nuovi Lincei, & Study Week on: Chemical Events in the Atmosphere and Their Impact on the Environment. (1986). Chemical events in the atmosphere and their impact on the environment: Proceedings of a study week at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, November 7-11, 1983 (Vol. 26). Elsevier.


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