INNOVATING LOW
CARBON MOBILITY
FUTURES
John Urry
Director, Centre for Mobilities Research,
Lancaster University
The problem of energy
Schumacher: ‘There is no substitute for energy. The
whole edifice of modern society is built upon it...
C20th ‘lock in’ to oil-based systems
• Oil provides over 95% of transportation energy in the modern
world – so making poss...
Oil descent
The US peaking of oil in 1970 - now imports 75%; UK peaked 1999;
China just peaked
Global peaking of oil per c...
Peak oil discovery
Limits of economics in thinking alternatives
First, economic institutions are important often because of their social and
...
Theories
• ‘socio-technical systems transitions’. This ‘multi-level
perspective’ interrogates innovation through focusing
...
High carbon social practices
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•

Overseas holidays
Driving to the shops
Showering daily
The school run
...
Complex systems

• Systems are dynamic, processual and unpredictable, open rather
than closed, with energy and matter flow...
Mobility-systems
Habits and systems
Habits derive from systems lying outside ‘individuals’
There is no tendency for systems to move towards...
Clustering
David Nye on the USA: a ‘high-energy
regime touched every aspect of daily life.
It promised a future of miracle...
Finding reverse gear
Moving to a low carbon economy-and-society involves ‘reversing’
most systems/practices/habits set in ...
Length of system change
US National Intelligence Council: ‘an energy transition, for
example, is inevitable...An energy tr...
Complex character of system change
What systems might be coming into being? How would we know what is
a system change and ...
A low carbon cluster
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•

‘well being’ beyond GDP
less inequality
reengineering success
post-suburban
‘frien...
A ‘POST CAR’ SYSTEM?
• shifts in transport policy in cities away from predict
and provide
• new fuel systems for cars, van...
New Fuel
Systems
‘Disruptive’
New Materials

innovation

New Leisure/work
practices

New post-car
Smart vehicles

system

...
Synchronisation?
• The key issue is how synchronisation gets to be effected between many
different elements, generating a ...
Cracks in high mobility systems
‘travel activity has reached a plateau in all eight
industrialized countries’.
societies s...
Vehicle miles travelled in the US 19922011 (billions per day)
Or will oil/resource wars and
MAD MAX 2 be the future?
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John Urry: Innovating Low Carbon Mobility Futures

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A presentation given by Professor John Urry, Director, Centre for Mobilities Research, Lancaster University, at the IN-EAST conference, University of Duisberg-Essen, November 2013. The presentation draws on Prof. Urry's 2013 book, Societies Beyond Oil: Oil Dregs and Social Futures. It is also relevant for his project: Low Carbon Innovation in China - Prospects, Politics and Pratice. Find out more: http://steps-centre.org/project/low-carbon-china

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John Urry: Innovating Low Carbon Mobility Futures

  1. 1. INNOVATING LOW CARBON MOBILITY FUTURES John Urry Director, Centre for Mobilities Research, Lancaster University
  2. 2. The problem of energy Schumacher: ‘There is no substitute for energy. The whole edifice of modern society is built upon it….it is not “just another commodity” but the precondition of all commodities, a basic factor equal with air, water, and earth’ McNeill notes that: ‘We have deployed more energy since 1900 than all of human history before 1900’ Stern: climate change is ‘the world’s greatest ever market failure’ – and ‘peak oil’ is maybe the world’s second greatest market failure
  3. 3. C20th ‘lock in’ to oil-based systems • Oil provides over 95% of transportation energy in the modern world – so making possible mobile social practices - collegial, family and friendship miles • Also fuels the world’s ships that transport most oil, components, commodities and food from afar • Is an element of most manufactured goods (95%) • Is crucial to at least 95% of food production for a rapidly rising world population through irrigation, transport, pesticides, fertilisers • Provides back-up power and lighting
  4. 4. Oil descent The US peaking of oil in 1970 - now imports 75%; UK peaked 1999; China just peaked Global peaking of oil per capita in 1999 HSBC's Chief Economist ‘there could be as little as 49 years of oil left’ CEO of Royal Dutch Shell: ‘My view is that “easy” oil has probably passed its peak’ Fatih Birol, Chief Economist of the IEA: crude oil production has already peaked in 2006 Two trillion barrels of conventional oil; about half now used. 4 barrels consumed for every new one discovered; may soon go up to 10:1. The largest oilfields were discovered in the 1960s
  5. 5. Peak oil discovery
  6. 6. Limits of economics in thinking alternatives First, economic institutions are important often because of their social and political consequences. Large global corporations have huge interests in the ‘business as usual’ of ‘carbon capitalism’. Second, economists regard energy as generating about 5% of the GDP of an economy because this is roughly what it costs. But carbon–based energy is a unique bundle of non-renewable commodities. Energy is not any commodity. Third, most of the time people do not behave as individually rational economic consumers. People are creatures of social habituation. And habits can spread within a society through media and advertising. These habits become widespread and embodied ‘social practices’ which are hard to reverse Fourth, changes in habits do occur and they can occur rapidly, such as mobile telephony. Fixed routines may pass thresholds and turn into their opposite. Fifth, low carbon systems and lives will only become significant if they become matters of new fashion ultimately spreading on a global scale – hence a matter of ‘changing cultures’
  7. 7. Theories • ‘socio-technical systems transitions’. This ‘multi-level perspective’ interrogates innovation through focusing upon niches, socio-technical regimes and socio-technical landscapes whose interactions are crucial. This perspective examines how to move beyond lock-ins by developing niches that may turn into new regimes. • ‘social practices’ situate everyday practices, the specific elements of these practices – materialities, meanings and competencies – and well as the interconnectedness between them at the centre of developing low-carbon transitions. It is necessary to transform or replace these very social practices and thereby to reduce energy ‘demand’
  8. 8. High carbon social practices • • • • • • • • • • • Overseas holidays Driving to the shops Showering daily The school run Drinking foreign beers/wines Second homes Climate control rather than clothing control Driving through well lit streets Dining out rather than in the home/collective canteens Global friendships Working on projects with a global team
  9. 9. Complex systems • Systems are dynamic, processual and unpredictable, open rather than closed, with energy and matter flowing in and out. Complexity involves studying the consequences of interactions between the elements of each system. Systems are characterised by a lack of proportionality or ‘non-linearity’. The ‘normal’ state is not one of balance; there are positive feedbacks which take systems away from equilibrium points. New kinds of order may emerge • So while certain systems are stabilised for long periods through various ‘lock-ins’, small causes can prompt or tip the emergence of a new ‘path’. Movement from one state to another may be rapid • Complexity economist Arthur: innovation typically involves a new combination of existing elements of machinery, text, technology, materials and organization (2009). Innovation stems from combining elements over lengthy periods that are assembled as a new sociotechnical system. • Innovation processes are thus not like the linear notions often deployed by policy makers. Innovation is more combinatory, nonlinear, systemic and often unpredictable.
  10. 10. Mobility-systems
  11. 11. Habits and systems Habits derive from systems lying outside ‘individuals’ There is no tendency for systems to move towards equilibrium Systems significant in the contemporary world are simultaneously economic, physical, technological, political and social – sociotechnical There is increased linking of system components through software, cybernetic architecture and networking There is an unpredictability of systems with ‘non-linear’ relations between ‘causes’ and ‘effects’ Systems once established can get ‘locked in’ over decades in relationship to each other Habits are elements of social practices Systems are clustered
  12. 12. Clustering David Nye on the USA: a ‘high-energy regime touched every aspect of daily life. It promised a future of miracle fabrics, inexpensive food, larger suburban houses, faster travel, cheaper fuels, climate control, and limitless growth. Even the music of the emerging counterculture was plugged in’
  13. 13. Finding reverse gear Moving to a low carbon economy-and-society involves ‘reversing’ most systems/practices/habits set in motion during the C20th. Such a reversal comes up against: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. systemic carbon interests who themselves are causing the rising GHG emissions – a wicked problem the long term path dependencies of existing systems including habits the ways that low carbon will reduce short term levels of income and consumption the difficulty of orchestrating a global polity to reset global agendas general slowness of societal change – the enduring late C19 car system states are rarely able to bring about change from the top partly because of resistance and opposition lack of time available to make a seismic shift or system reversal since the atmospheric changes are already ‘in the system’ the need to develop multiple systems simultaneously to generate a new low carbon cluster
  14. 14. Length of system change US National Intelligence Council: ‘an energy transition, for example, is inevitable...An energy transition from one type of fuel (fossil fuels) to another (alternative) is an event that historically has only happened once a century at most with momentous consequences’. Buckminster Fuller ‘You never change anything by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete’. Innovations at least presuppose the combining of isolated islands of an archipelago into a different system. According to Brian Arthur this takes three to four decades . There may well not be enough time before different climate, economic, social and political consequences unfold (see The Nature of Technology)
  15. 15. Complex character of system change What systems might be coming into being? How would we know what is a system change and what is a blip? Central to many future scenarios are new technologies BUT technologies do not develop for endogenous reasons NOR do they simply transform the economic and social landscape in their own image since there are many unexpected and perverse consequences Technologies are always embedded in economic, social and political life and depend upon business and sociological models for development. Especially consumer-related systems depend upon fun and fashion Mobile communications shows how systems and habits can change extremely rapidly but often this is not through a simple substitution What might be new models emerging alongside oil-based systems that in the C21st would lock in populations to new post oil social practices and habits?
  16. 16. A low carbon cluster • • • • • • • • • ‘well being’ beyond GDP less inequality reengineering success post-suburban ‘friendships’ and ‘families’ post-oil agriculture localising work and education democratising low carbon innovation social debts not financialized debts
  17. 17. A ‘POST CAR’ SYSTEM? • shifts in transport policy in cities away from predict and provide • new fuel systems for cars, vans and buses • new materials for constructing ‘car’ bodies • smart vehicles • deprivatise cars through city-wide car-sharing, cooperative car clubs and smart car-hire schemes • ‘smart-card’ technology to transfer information from car to home, to bus, to train, to workplace, to web site • new social practices • disruptive innovation
  18. 18. New Fuel Systems ‘Disruptive’ New Materials innovation New Leisure/work practices New post-car Smart vehicles system De-privatising vehicles Digitisation New Transport Policies
  19. 19. Synchronisation? • The key issue is how synchronisation gets to be effected between many different elements, generating a new order out of apparent chaos. Synchronisation and the combination of otherwise disparate elements occur between different kinds of agents and entities located at varied positions within an international division of innovative labour. What is important are the processes which over time synchronise innovations being generated within different ‘industries’ across various cities/societies. • New systems form, often deriving from apparently unconnected innovations initiated within geographically distant locations. A set of changes happens so that the actions of both producers and consumers come over time and space to be ‘beating to the same drum’. • Systems are thus not reducible to, nor explained by, ‘new technologies’ in themselves. There are crucial ‘instabilities’ or ‘ambivalences’ of technologies • Strogatz maintains how a: ‘network appears highly stable and resistant to outside disturbances. Then another seed comes along, seemingly indistinguishable from the others before it, yet this one triggers a massive cascade. In other words, near this second tipping point, fads are rare but gigantic when they do occur’ (2003: 33).
  20. 20. Cracks in high mobility systems ‘travel activity has reached a plateau in all eight industrialized countries’. societies seem to have reached or even are passing ‘peak travel’. this is being brought about by high oil prices, stagnating economic growth, an ageing population and a renaissance of walking and cycling Adam Millard-Ball, Lee Schipper, ‘Are we reaching peak travel? Trends in Passenger Transport in Eight Industrialized Countries’, Transport Reviews, 2011, 31: 357-78, pp. 373-4.
  21. 21. Vehicle miles travelled in the US 19922011 (billions per day)
  22. 22. Or will oil/resource wars and MAD MAX 2 be the future?

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