Long-Term Transitions and Social-Ecological Transformations – Integrating Different Spatial and Temporal Scales

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Christoph GORG, University of Klagenfurt, Austria
Willi HAAS, Institute of Social Ecology, Alpen Adria Universitaet, Austria
Transformation has become a buzzword in environmental policy and sustainability research. Current debates about transformations towards sustainability, however, are shaped by a normative bias and tends to emphasize transformation needs while socioeconomic crises and power relations are often masked. Moreover, they fail to integrate long-term and global trends at the one side and short-term policy making in a certain area (at regional or national scale) at the other. As a result, challenges of political shaping for complex societal change are underestimated or even ignored. This is in particular relevant concerning the energetic and material basis of contemporary societies. The presentation will introduce and elaborate on the concept of metabolic transitions, dealing with long-term trends in the energetic-material foundations, and link these analysis to the concept of social-ecological transformation, which addresses the crisis driven development of global societies and the power relations involved. The relevance of both concepts are illustrated by focusing on examples from bioenergy and on labour.

Bioenergy and in particular biofuels are often mentioned as an alternative for fossil fuels. Current research, however, clearly reveals both the negative biophysical and socioeconomic side effects of such transformation strategies, resulting in multi-scalar resource conflicts. In the case of labour we assume that the transition towards a low carbon society will have as many and equally far reaching implications for human labour as the transition towards the fossil fuels based industrial society has had. To analyse these transitions, the presentation will discuss the interrelation between socio-metabolic regimes and the amount of human lifetime spent on labour, the respective critical qualitative capacities of human labour power, and the institutional forms in which labour is employed. Both examples indicate the relevance of long-term trends in the energetic-material basis of societies and the need to investigate socioeconomic conflicts and power relations carefully.