Defining the Transition to a Post-Carbon Economy: Complexity, Urgency, and Effective Action.

Monday, 16 July 2018: 18:15
Oral Presentation
Mihai SARBU, University of Ottawa, Canada
The transition to a post-carbon economy is generally conceived as gradual and linear: It is assumed that the green energy sector will continue to develop until it will eliminate the use of fossil fuels, and that any eventual obstacles along this way will be manageable. However, the emissions of greenhouse gases continue to grow, and recent research indicates that keeping the global temperature increase below 2°C, as stipulated by the Paris Agreement, is unlikely. We may need to change many of our social and economic arrangements, while at the same time facing the increasingly serious consequences of climate change. For these reasons, I think it is unrealistic to envision a gradual and uncomplicated transition to a post-oil era. I will therefore analyze this transition using a theoretical framework based on complexity, with the purpose of defining what could inspire our society to abandon the comforts offered by fossil fuels, and muster the courage to deal with an uncertain future.

Using a framework based on complexity could allow us to better understand how entities that function on different timescales influence one another, which can be useful when analyzing the interactions between natural systems and man-made ones. Also, by using the concept of threshold, complexity theory can help us understand the transitions between different system configurations; these transitions can be characterized by periods of nonlinear behavior, when small stimuli can lead to very large effects—something that can be relevant in the context of climate change.

The urgency to act effectively on these matters cannot be emphasized strongly enough, and the social dynamics that could help our society transition to a post-carbon economy are likely to be defined outside the current structural arrangements defined by economic growth—in the domains of morals and culture.