In Climate Change and Society the ‘social’ is positioned at the heart of the analysis of why climates are changing and of assessing and developing alternative futures. This book especially demonstrates the importance of social practices that over time are organised into powerful ‘socio-technical’ systems. In the fateful twentieth century, various high carbon social practices, increased income, wealth and movement, engendered huge population growth, increased greenhouse gas emissions and used up maybe half of the world’s oil that had made this world go round. Especially important in stabilising these high carbon systems was the ‘carbon military-industrial complex’, the most powerful of set of interests operating worldwide.
In this new century it is such systems that have to change, to move from growing high carbon systems to a cluster of those that are low carbon. It is clear that such a transition has to happen fast so as to create positive feedbacks of each low carbon system upon each other. How can we change such systems and practices, and how can they be changed in time? The urbanist Mike Davis concludes that such a Plan B is unlikely to have been realised by 2030 and the convergent effects of climate change, peak oil, peak water, and an additional 1.5 billion people will produce negative synergies beyond our current imagination.
John Urry is professor of sociology at the University of Lancaster.