Climate change

Complexity and collaboration between the sciences

Authored by: Ian Welsh

Routledge Handbook of Climate Change and Society

Print publication date:  July  2010
Online publication date:  July  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415544764
eBook ISBN: 9780203876213
Adobe ISBN: 9781135998509




This chapter approaches climate change as a dynamic process, driven by the interaction of natural and social systems that operate in complex, non-linear ways. After decades of dispute, it is now widely accepted that humanity is acting like a force of nature in contributing to climate change. Over several decades the political, scientific, social and cultural domains have all contributed to this recognition, yet Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions have continued to rise. The idea of Modernity as a reflexive project (Beck 1992; Giddens 1990,1991), with the capacity to utilise knowledge and aesthetic resources (Beck et al. 1994) to meet the challenges of globalisation, is confronted by the prospect of a systemic planetary crisis that is human in origin.

 Add to shortlist  Cite

Climate change


This chapter approaches climate change as a dynamic process, driven by the interaction of natural and social systems that operate in complex, non-linear ways. After decades of dispute, it is now widely accepted that humanity is acting like a force of nature in contributing to climate change. Over several decades the political, scientific, social and cultural domains have all contributed to this recognition, yet Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions have continued to rise. The idea of Modernity as a reflexive project (Beck 1992; Giddens 1990,1991), with the capacity to utilise knowledge and aesthetic resources (Beck et al. 1994) to meet the challenges of globalisation, is confronted by the prospect of a systemic planetary crisis that is human in origin.

Despite the attention to risk and risk management, the potential to reflexively sleepwalk into a planetary crisis becomes increasingly possible. After decades as an arcane scientific and technical debate, climate change has moved centre stage within political and policy processes. This move brings into focus both the effectiveness and limitations of key institutions associated with Modernity and enlightenment rationality. The adequacy of the nation state and of dominant forms of scientific knowledge and the primacy of free market economics are all challenged by the dynamics of climate change.

Through the 1960s and 1970s these contemporary challenges received an early formalisation within human systems ecology, which included humankind within natural systems in a non-reductive way (Odum 2003; Rose 1981). Systems approaches were also influential within anthropology, particularly through the work of Gregory Bateson (1973). 1 Writing as 1970s environmentalism foregrounded the issues to be confronted in material terms today, Bateson warned against key habits of mind associated with the Modernist project. These included the notion of us, against the environment and other people, in pursuit of national economic and/or technological dominance. Against this, he posed an ‘ecological habit of mind’, recognising the human subject in relation to both social and natural realms, declaring that ‘we should trust no policy decisions’ on the environment from those ‘who do not have that habit’ (1973: 437). For Bateson, the Modernist habits of mind had failed to recognise that ‘The unit of survival is organism plus environment…The organism which destroys its environment destroys itself’ (Bateson 1973: 459).

Writers drawing on these traditions approach the world economic system as a dissipative structure, 2 exchanging energy with the biosphere in the production of goods and services. The world economy, operating through large corporations, markets and nations, becomes the major mediating mechanism between human populations and planetary ecosystems (Rose 1981: 26–29). This work attempted to formalise a model of reflexivity that could engage with transitions from one energy system to another in the context of global climate change (MIT 1971).

To critical ecological thinking, approaching climate change as part of an environmental crisis is a category error. Irrespective of human action or inaction on climate change there will be an environment but whether it will support the social, economic and political systems that prevail today is less clear-cut. In this sense the crisis lies in prevailing social, economic and political systems (Welsh 1996). From this perspective there is no purely scientific or technological solution to global environmental deterioration, as the problem and solutions lie across all disciplines (Odum 2003). In other words, climate change has become a focus through which the natural and social sciences are confronted by common problems which need to be formalised through complexity theory.

Following a brief account of the significance of complexity theory for the natural and social sciences’ engagement with climate change, this chapter traces the importance of complexity effects for the development of climate change debates. Starting from a consideration of the knowledge stakes ranged around these debates, the chapter considers the role of computer-based models for the prediction of climate change at global and geo-regional levels. The systemic linkages between knowledge and policy formulation hinge on the translation of scientific work into political programmes of intervention. Within this process it is easy to lose sight of the ways in which particular configurations and forms of knowledge exert structuring influences at a number of levels. It has been argued that the forms of modelling prioritised and adopted within climate change debates shape the anatomy of the resultant epistemic communities, 3 the prioritisation of strategies of intervention and the relative neglect of social dimensions of complexity (Shackley et al. 1998). 4

The consideration of modelling lays the foundations for a discussion of three major approaches that have structured the climate change area. The initial emphasis was on the importance of mitigation strategies, expressed in the Kyoto Protocol of 2005, and involving reduced emissions of significant climate change gases. Mitigation may also include reduced consumption or more efficient use of energy and also technological changes to develop new, non-emitting forms of energy generation. More recently, increasing attention has been paid to adaptation to the consequences of climate change. Adaptation approaches include monitoring and warning systems, protective measures such as coastal defences and the resettlement of populations from threatened areas. Large-scale, geo-engineering proposals that might mitigate the warming process are increasingly prominent. These include blocking the sun’s heat from reaching Earth, and removing CO2 from coal-burning power stations or from the atmosphere. Each of these is dealt with in turn and each is addressed in terms of complexity effects.

Since this book was commissioned, the economic and political climate, within which climate change policy will be framed in Copenhagen in December 2009, has been transformed by the onset of a worldwide recession. The election of Barack Obama as President of the USA heralded the arrival of a US administration with a proactive orientation towards climate change. This event was described as a ‘political tipping point’ in the prospects for effective climate change action by Al Gore (Hickman 2009). The chapter concludes with an examination of this emergent terrain, which is addressed in terms of issues of agency, as state regulation and innovation seem resurgent after decades of free market ascendancy (Giddens 2009a).

The complexity turn

Complexity theory emerged within mathematics as a means of working with non-linear relationships and, since the 1970s, has been a major influence in a disparate range of disciplines from computer modelling, to systems biology, to sociology and anthropology (Nowotny 2005). A review of this area is obviously beyond my present means (see Byrne 1998; Cilliers 1998; Delanda 1997, 2002; Eve et al. 1997; Urry 2003), but the important point is the increasing recognition that both the natural and social sciences are analytically engaged with complexity.

For present purposes complexity is understood as being situated in open systems, where natural and social processes are interactive and co-causative and capable of generating new emergent properties. This process of emergence includes the potential for irreversible systemic changes involving novel processes that cannot be reduced to ‘sum of the parts’ analysis. Complexity theory has been particularly influential through postulates such as far from equilibrium 5 systems, within which disproportionate transformative effects can arise from small inputs, through positive feedback which remains undiminished. It is increasingly influential as a source of metaphors useful in theorising the novel phenomena associated with globalisation (Chesters and Welsh 2006; Urry 2003). Complexity theory decentres the notion that science involves certainty and certain knowledge, and reaffirms the importance of contingency and the inescapable necessity of including social logics within decision-making processes.

Complexity and climate change

Complexity and climate change have led to the increasing recognition of the Earth as an open system in both geophysical and social terms. This is methodologically challenging across the sciences, confounding established habits of mind and established conceptual repertoires. Debates within the geo-sciences about the current volume of water on the Earth, for example, suggest that a significant proportion has come from outer space (Davis 1996). Clark thus argues that it is important to recognise the ‘earth as an open system’ (2005: 174). The importance of the sun in terms of the Earth’s climate regime underlines the importance of accepting the unavoidable complexity involved in addressing climate change.

Planetary dynamics unfold across timescales that dwarf human registers, but contain tipping points where significant climatic transitions have taken place rapidly, perhaps within a single human generation. The relationship between tipping points and incremental, ubiquitous human activities that release greenhouse gases raises issues of long-term consequences which are problematic in terms of individual and societal attention spans. It is estimated that it takes 300 years for atmospheric CO2 to be absorbed, with 25 per cent effectively remaining forever (Archer 2005).

This makes significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions an important short-to medium-term priority, if the risks of amplified climate change are to be reduced. As the consequences of climate change become increasingly evident, 6 the capacity for individuals and institutions to change established practices and norms, to avoid consequences lying decades in the future, remains an open question. Given the tendency for people to operate in relation to short-term goals and discount temporally distant events (Meadows et al. 1972: 24), this is an area that requires innovative initiatives.

Decades of intensifying globalisation compound the social complexity surrounding the question of reflexive agency in the face of climate change. The question of agency includes issues of appropriate scale and place as well as appropriate timescales and means of intervention. Agency in relation to all these factors is set in the context of the neo-liberal globalisation of the 1990s, which was rolled out through state action, but which asserted the greater effectiveness of free markets, as an allocative device, over all forms of state planning. America and the UK were prominent in securing the uptake of these approaches within key global agencies, particularly the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. At a global level the United Nations was central in shaping climate change initiatives through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Regulatory goals cascade down from international fora to governments for codification, consultation, legislation and enactment, passing through an array of lobby groups, vested interests, citizen groups and public appraisals. Economic and regulatory globalisation and their political and social implications, for once discrete nation states, have contributed to the contemporary hiatus around agency and climate change policy.

Issues of trust, transparency and accountability, and the global dynamics of diminished public engagement with government and the state, are part of the social complexity confronting attempts to create a climate for climate change policy (Hay 2007). Hay’s earlier (1996) scepticism about the state as an environmental actor is apparently contradicted by the passage of ambitious programmes of environmental legislation by states and supra-state institutions like the EU. Despite this, advocates of deliberative democratic forms continue to argue that certain environmental goals may be better achieved through the application of external pressure rather than participation within established democratic fora (Dryzek et al. 2003). While prominent sociological figures, like Anthony Giddens (2008, 2009a), argue that climate change heralds an end to the end of history and a return for ‘the state’, the anatomy of this return remains to be defined. Creating a social climate which can address climate change dynamics requires an understanding of the social complexity associated with globalisation.

Globalisation has been accompanied by increasing attention to issues of governance, as the avenues of policy formulation and interest representation have diversified. Attention to multi-layered governance, extending from the global to regional, national, subnational and local levels, is widely acknowledged as necessary to policy initiatives in general, and to climate change initiatives in particular. Despite this, there remain significant debates over where it is appropriate to vest agency and accountability in the pursuit of climate change objectives. Within these debates there is a major emphasis on transparency, which is seen as a necessary component of securing trust and participation by citizens. In complexity terms this involves multiple forms of agency exercising widely differing resources directed towards the negotiation of a common goal that will embody a range of different aims and preferences.

Globalisation has impacted upon the way citizens situate themselves in relation to these governance stakes. Vertovec notes the growth in ‘a global consciousness of connections’ that recognises the ‘complex relationships linking local conditions across the planet’ (Vertovec and Posey 2003: 2–3). Other work shows how the micro-level framing 7 of the national by citizens is increasingly set in a global context (Essary 2007). Climate change is an area where the intensity of global framing by local and substate actors is a prominent feature guiding social action (Moser and Dilling 2007). In complexity terms this is consistent with the process of emergence, which can lead to systemic transformation via bifurcation points in systems that are far from equilibrium. As previously mentioned, the notion of a political tipping point in the momentum behind climate change initiatives has enjoyed some prominence.

In what follows I will offer an overview of this postulated tipping point in terms of the intersection of natural and social scientific insights and stakes surrounding climate change. This will require an overview of a range of areas, many of which are dealt with in more detail elsewhere in this volume. My aim throughout is to provide a framework for thinking through the relationships between the diverse range of natural and social factors involved in the generation of, mediation of, and adaptation to the process of climate change that is unfolding now and is set to intensify throughout the twenty-first century.

The trajectory to climate change recognition: modelling the climate

The prominence of climate change owes much to political figureheads acting as issue entrepreneurs. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was important in establishing the issue within the international community during the 1980s, and Al Gore’s advocacy has contributed to the public momentum behind the issue. In many respects climate change appears to illustrate the process of societal and individual reflexivity advanced within theories of modernity. In the theory of reflexive modernisation, the formulation of knowledge plays a pivotal role in framing both programmes of action and relevant forms of agency. This is particularly evident in the determination of global risks, such as climate change, which become formalised in ways which establish overarching, smooth definitions and practices that subordinate or marginalise local physical and social factors (McKechnie and Welsh 2002: 286).

Given the centrality of computer modelling in declaring the stakes associated with climate change, it is important to consider the implications of these practices for political and policy processes. In the face of uncertainty and complexity, computer modelling has proved to be a powerful tool. Increasingly sophisticated climate modelling has been central in successive Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that have established regulatory targets. Writing as sociologists of science, Shackley et al. (1998) rehearsed some arguments about how and why now familiar regulatory climate change targets have been arrived at. The issues formalised remain as important today as when they were written, and the following summary is tailored to current purposes. At the heart of their argument lies the proposition that the pre-existing social commitments of scientific and policy communities frame what counts as best science, and that this best science leads to strategic agendas with implications for the control of ‘environment and society’ (Shackley et al. 1998: 161). The authors argue that the modelling process implicitly contains notions of human subjects and human agency with wide-ranging social, political and economic implications.

This argument is advanced through an examination of the ascendancy of General Circulation Models (GCMs) within the IPCC process. General Circulation Models are complex, incorporating many systems influencing climate dynamics, through a process of ‘parameterisation’. This involves the attribution of significance to a diverse range of factors for modelling purposes (Sundberg 2007). The authors question the ‘central dogma’ that more complex models are universally superior to simpler ones because they yield greater realism, which ‘equals greater policy-utility’ (166). Shackley et al. argue that the addition of more and more subsystems inadvertently introduces a tendency towards reductionism, as the assumptions underpinning the interrelationships between subsystems become submerged. The attempt to model complexity thus paradoxically overlooks a key tenet of complexity theory, namely that large-scale processes are not reducible to the sum of their parts (174–76).

At least three important points flow from this. First, when communicating their science to sceptical non-specialist audiences practitioners draw attention ‘to the fundamental physical laws underpinning GCMs’ (165). Second, that the prioritisation of complex models pre-empts the use of simpler models to demonstrate specific features of climate change. Simpler models often offer ‘greater transparency to the outside observer’ in terms of the key assumptions and relations between scientific disciplines involved (172). Third, the paper cautions against the assumption that scientists can ever write computer models capable of representing open, dynamic systems, particularly those far from equilibrium.

Irrespective of this, the General Circulation Model project becomes a key node in a network of communities that effectively orchestrates the resultant assemblage 8 of disciplines. These disciplines include the policy community at all levels, the climate impact community and surrounding sciences contributing refinements and detail to the General Circulation Model. The model thus becomes a central reference point which shapes the activities of other sciences such as agriculture, economics (Stern 2006) and field biology (Parmesan and Yohe 2003). While recognising the value of General Circulation Models, particularly through the ability to generate geo-regional impacts scenarios for climate change, Shackley et al. (1998) stress that the ‘GCM community’ is one particular configuration of an international epistemic community. The ‘implicit political and value judgements, assumptions and commitments’ (1998: 195) of this community become unconsciously incorporated into complex, and thus opaque, models.

Despite this opacity, the models are presented in ways which suggest that they have predictive capacity, with the implication that climate change can be controlled. This is ‘not only misleading’ but ‘could also have negative repercussions’, including a ‘failure to develop policies which encourage societal resilience to unpredicted change’ (Shackley et al. 1998: 94). The focus on targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions within the Kyoto process arguably reflects such a stance, as discussed below. The paper also warned of

the danger that policy authorities will appear to others to have ‘solved the problem’…[inhibiting] the emergence of, and support for, creative social, policy and economic responses to the challenge of coping with a possibly inherently unpredictable [climate system].

(Shackley et al. 1998: 94) The technocratic focus on modelling, as a representation of natural laws, is argued to exclude social and meta-scientific issues from legitimate debate, in the pursuit of consensus. The focus on scientific consensus risks creating the appearance of successfully modelling climate change dynamics and identifying global domain regulatory targets but may reduce the capacity to influence ‘change in individual and collective perceptions and behaviour to – inter alia – reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce energy use, change consumption patterns and so forth’ (Shackley et al. 1998: 196).

Modelling established a notionally acceptable greenhouse gas threshold of 550 ppm 9 which became a dominant objective of the extended epistemic community negotiating climate change conventions within the Kyoto process. The arrival of this target occurred within intense international negotiating cycles, with their unique social and cultural dynamics, far removed from wider policy communities and publics. The concerns over social agency, as formalised by Shackley et al., may be seen in the growing importance now attached to understanding how climate change is perceived and responded to by all the other policy actors, institutions and publics whose participation is necessary for effective engagement. There is an implicit recognition here of the need for a dialogical negotiation of an appropriate ‘ecology of action’ capable of embracing technical, economic, political and social elements, in the full recognition of indeterminacy (Chesters and Welsh 2006).

Contemporary debates are taking place as other, more direct forms of observational data, suggesting an intensification of climate change dynamics, are accumulating. The unexpected rapidity of ice loss at the polar caps is one example, leading to upward revisions of projected sea-level rises. The impacts of climate change from both models and observation are increasingly circulated as graphic images within societies where the visual is a particularly powerful mode of communication and ‘fast framing’ (Goffman 1974/1986). The initial sense-making of these global domain images performed through fast framing represents an initial orientation of individuals and institutions leading to an exercise of judgement about lines of action or inaction. The social complexity of this sense-making and subsequent orientations is central to action on climate change and will involve counter-intuitive non-linear dynamics.

Climate modelling was central to the formation of a consensus around anthropogenic climate change, and combined with international political and policy processes to produce an emphasis on emission reduction. A primary focus on mitigation strategies is widely associated with the Kyoto process to which I now turn. Interestingly, as consensus grows around a significant anthropogenic contribution to climate change, debate about the most appropriate responses is intensifying in the run-up to the negotiation of a successor treaty.

Mitigation 10

Targets and markets

Mitigation strategies aim to avoid irreversible climate change, associated with an average temperature increase of more than 2 degrees, by limiting releases of key gases. Using carbon dioxide as a benchmark of equivalence, mitigation has aimed to stabilise greenhouse gases at around the 550 ppm level. An emphasis on mitigation is widely associated with the UN Climate Change Convention agreed in 1992, leading to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which came into effect in 2005. The initial measures required the industrialised countries of the world to make modest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the period up to 2012. The USA and Australia did not sign, on the grounds that developing nations like China and India should be included because their exclusion represented an unfair advantage.

Different countries signed up to Kyoto with different targets. The European Union overall target was 8 per cent, while the UK signed up for a 12.5 per cent reduction by 2012. This was increased to a 20 per cent reduction, by 2010, in a manifesto pledge by the Labour Party. The UK Climate Change Bill introduced a legislative commitment to achieve an 80 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. This UK move reflects the limited ambition of Kyoto, which was always predicated upon further and deeper mediation measures being in place for the mid-twenty-first century. Following the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009, American policy shifted radically to include a commitment to a carbon cap and 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050. Delivering on this commitment may prove challenging, given the balance of power within the US system and the mobilisation of lobbying interests following Obama’s election (see Chapter 25, this volume).

Like so many areas of the climate change debate, mitigation has proved controversial. To some commentators, as the Kyoto process gathered momentum, adaptation was increasingly sidelined and dismissed on the grounds of pessimism (Thompson and Rayner 1998). However, the question of striking a balance between mitigation and adaptation remained a significant issue (King 2004). By the time an action plan for the 2009 agreement on climate change began to be drafted in 2007, the adequacy of mitigation as a sole or dominant approach was being questioned (Pielke et al. 2007). The relative standing of mitigation and adaptation strategies reflects the recurrent tensions in the definition of problems and risks, which stem, in part, from global modelling approaches. The global determination of risk tends to dominate the variable local impacts and changes associated with climate change. The issue is not how to choose between mitigation and adaptation or whether to ditch Kyoto (Prins and Rayner 2007) but to accept that both are necessary (Stern 2006).

Mitigation raises complex issues of intergenerational equity, across extended spatial and temporal scales, which underpin Stern’s strong advocacy of this approach. 11 The case for mitigation made by Stern is compelling, inasmuch as he emphasises the cumulative consequences of abandoning mitigation and permitting business as usual. The economic costs are compared to a 5–20 per cent loss in consumption, equivalent to a significant recession but ‘actually more like an adverse supply-side shock than a large contraction in demand. And they are much more difficult to reverse’ (Stern 2006: 651). Stern’s measured optimism, that effective mitigation strategies can be developed, requires some caution however.

The Executive Summary of the electronic version of the Stern report famously describes climate change as ‘the greatest and widest ranging market failure ever seen’. The policy challenge in overcoming this systemic failure (i.e. to price greenhouse gases) is seen as promoting sound market signals and overcoming market failures, while placing equity and risk mitigation at the heart of the agenda (Stern 2006: i). Stern’s report acknowledges the diverse range of actors involved in the creation of a carbon price, whichever route is taken towards achieving this. For Stern, mitigation must be advanced within a global context, which recognises global goals, milestones and targets while permitting variation between economic sectors and political constituencies at global, state, substate, local and individual levels.

The market envisaged by Stern will thus be socially constructed and negotiated at multiple levels, involving the agency and habits of mind of all actors. Given the all-encompassing nature of work to be done by pricing mechanisms, this effectively includes all citizens. The debates over mitigation involve multiple approaches, with Cap and Trade being one prominent component. This approach establishes a cap on greenhouse gas emissions on the basis of the best available science and then allocates national emission permits which can be traded. There are advocates of constitutional rights allocations based on size of population, and market-based approaches with permits being sold to the highest bidder. In the UK there are prominent advocates for personal, tradable carbon allowances, suggesting that marketisation is seen as a central part of a systemic form of mediation.

The EU Emission Trading Scheme is one of the most developed trading approaches applied to key industrial sectors, and is often used as a model that could be applied more widely. As Stern notes, under phase one of this scheme the permitted allocation was just 1 per cent below business as usual. (Stern 2006: 374; Grubb and Neuhoff 2006). The second phase of the scheme was the subject of intense lobbying by EU member states to achieve generous allocations of tradable permits. Despite Stern (2006) and Giddens’ (2009a) confidence in the extension of the pricing and market mechanism to tackle climate change through trading, some caution is required.

The complexity of market trading in permits, in the context of offsetting and fluctuating prices, within and presumably between trading schemes, would require stringent regulation. It is not clear how either the political will or the authority to adopt the necessary regulatory institutions would manifest itself. Nor is it clear how the knowledge necessary for effective regulation would be obtained. In an area where the potential for ‘bundling’, similar to the practices that resulted in the ‘credit crunch’, remain to be established, issues of regulatory oversight will be very testing.

At the micro-level, delivering mitigation depends upon the modification of the mundane, daily practices of citizens. The proposed schemes rely implicitly or explicitly on price signals in areas where it is far from clear whether behaviour follows such messages. In countries like the UK, where electricity privatisation based on price signals and consumer choice was established decades ago, the effectiveness of the strategy in influencing consumer behaviour remains far from clear. The introduction of low-energy light bulbs in the 1990s emphasised clear cost savings over incandescent bulbs. Despite sustained falls in the price of low-energy bulbs the purchasing habits of consumers did not displace incandescent bulbs. Government and EU intervention was necessary to establish a date of 2011 for the removal of the old products. 12 This example suggests that the uptake of mitigation behaviours is more than a matter of price signals and marketisation.

Established agendas for mitigation through pricing will prove challenging and reveal a range of responses, requiring the introduction of regulatory oversight and intervention if they are to be effective. This is particularly important if the envisaged time-scales for significant reductions in greenhouse emissions are to be achieved. As mitigation agendas expand to include sectors not previously covered, these challenges are likely to intensify. The inclusion of transport is likely to meet particular resistance, given the contemporary importance of and attachment to mobility (Urry 2007). The complexity of the climate change-related choices, confronted by citizens, can be disem-powering or confounding, resulting in inchoate and contradictory responses.

Despite this, the UK government continues to rely on both advertisements and price signals, for example, through variable road tax, to encourage consumers to buy fuel-efficient vehicles. Giddens’ (2008, 2009a) argument, that the state is back in terms of environment and climate change issues, awaits an accompanying policy agenda that will establish sound environmental transport practices, within the boundary where a UK state could act. Identifying the appropriate boundaries for specific forms of policy action is one of the remaining challenges confronting the climate change policy communities. Political leadership, not focus group-following behaviour, will be vital in terms of implementation. The absence of such measures underlines Giddens’ argument that we do not yet have a politics of climate change (Giddens 2008).

Mitigating technological fixes

In the face of climate change, fresh calls have emerged for renewed faith in technological solutions. Prins and Rayner (2007), for example, call for a major scientific effort comparable to the Los Alamos atomic bomb project of World War II. While Los Alamos was remarkable in drawing together a diverse range of scientific and technical specialists, their success was achieved in the pursuit of a clearly defined goal, which permitted a highly interventionist form of project management. The scientific and technical challenges associated with climate change are unlikely to be resolved through a single silver bullet solution. Irrespective of this, advocates of technologies are frequently enthusiasts advancing their cause with gusto, and there have been many stirring announcements of initiatives in this area.

Technological fixes combine with deeply embedded Modernist habits of mind, linking scientific progress with a frontier mentality and the continual pushing of boundaries and of human potential (Welsh 2000: 6–12). The heroic Modernist tradition has tended to valorise cutting-edge developments, and elements of this tradition may be seen in the context of climate change. The complexity of this issue requires a careful reflection upon the range of problems where technical intervention is possible and the range of technical options available for each problem domain. Within this, it is important not to lose sight of mundane measures, lacking the symbolic glamour of the cutting edge. For technological fixes to play a major part, particularly in terms of mitigation approaches, established habits of mind associated with the commercial introduction of new technologies will also have to be revisited. An even greater challenge raised by complexity thinking is the recognition that the critical technological developments may not yet exist (Giddens 2009b). Given the plethora of technological options being advocated, a systemic audit and identification of guiding criteria is an urgent priority which is now receiving attention (see MacKay 2009). A consideration of some selected key areas underlines the importance of elements of complexity approaches in deciding between technical systems in the face of climate change.

Transportation. Personal mobility is an area where individuals are resistant to the imposition of limits and politicians are particularly sensitive to public responses. Competition between different systems is intense across the global car industry. While hydrogen fuel cells hold out the prospect of zero-emission vehicles, battery and hybrid vehicles are much closer to market. Advances in battery technology appear set to create a market for battery cars by 2012 but this leaves supply-chain and infrastructure issues to be resolved. 13 Charging battery-powered cars from the grid creates a carbon footprint unless sourced from renewables. Entrenched habits of mind within the US automotive sector resulted in a failure to innovate in this area, despite significant federally funded R & D initiatives following the adoption of sustainable development initiatives at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit (Welsh 2007). The credit crunch of 2008 created a crisis for the sector, which has enabled Barack Obama’s administration to entrench fuel-efficiency targets within the regulatory powers of the state in 2009. This is a clear example of the legislative use of an extreme event, envisaged by Compston and Bailey (2008), as part of the necessary state repertoires to politically intervene in climate change dynamics.

Energy systems. Electricity supply systems are an axiomatic element of contemporary societies. National grids were portrayed as technological expressions of national unification in the postwar era within the UK. Super-grids spanning national borders represent a continuation of this supply-side approach, which remains substantively based on fossil fuel use. Climate change, concerns over security of supply and the prospect of peak oil being reached have fuelled competition between advocates of different energy systems to unprecedented levels.

America appears set to embark on collaboration with China and other major coal-using nations to develop carbon sequestration technology. Given that coal will remain a significant source of power in many parts of the world for many decades, and a significant proportion of world coal-burn will take place in rapidly developing nations like China and India, the technology needs to be made available as soon as it is viable. A process of licensing linked to the cost of carbon credits would be one way of dealing with key technology transfer issues relating to cost.

Given the timescale within which significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are required, to avoid the potential for irrecoverable climate change, technologies have to be available where they are most needed in the short term (as well as ones with very wide scope in the longer term). This means that a return to nuclear power (see Chapter 19, this volume) cannot be in place in time to fulfil this criterion. This also militates against premature commitments to a range of other ‘hard’ technological avenues such as nuclear fusion power.

Against such base load generation approaches are ranged the gamut of renewable energy sources utilising solar, wind, wave, tidal, hydroelectric and biomass approaches. Smart and direct current grids are an essential if such technologies are to be developed. In moving towards grids suitable for renewables, the need for base load generation using fossil or nuclear fuel should be reduced as far as possible. There are no easy technical solutions but to many it is clear that the energy plateau of mass generation systems based on burning things is limited in terms of both climatic impacts and dwindling reserves.


Geo-engineering approaches involve technologies aimed at large-scale engineered solutions extending up to a planetary scale. Key examples include mitigating climate change by reflecting more of the sun’s light back into space. Proposals include the injection of dust or manufactured mirror particles into space, either from spacecraft or one of the space elevator systems currently being explored. A pioneer of wave energy, Stephen Salter, proposes vessels with high-pressure systems to seed clouds by injecting water droplets into the atmosphere. Another oceanic approach envisages seeding the oceans with biota to increase the amount of energy absorbed and transferred to the ocean floor, as they die off. Mundane variants of these ideas include painting the upper surfaces of all buildings white and planting appropriately reflective plant species. Given the complexity of climate dynamics, and the possibility/probability of previously undiscovered or inactive feedback loops, flexibility and reversibility suggest themselves as important criteria in this area. 14

Carbon capture and sequestration may be regarded as a geo-engineering approach as the long-term storage of captured carbon involves using deep geological formations, including depleted oilfields. This is an area where state/private sector collaboration is an urgent priority. There is evidence that technological interventions such as carbon capture enjoy more public support than direct or indirect taxation (Shackley et al. 2004).

Given the inescapable complexity and indeterminacy associated with climate change, technological interventions need to be priorities in terms of appropriate time frames and scale. Advances in scientific and technical knowledge, even when embodied in prototypes, are slow to displace established products within large corporate sectors with long-established product lines, supply chains and organisational cultures. It is thus important to make effective use of the diverse range of existing low carbon technologies utilising solar, tidal, hydro and geo-thermal sources. Generating electricity as close to the point of use is another principle that needs to be entrenched within distributed generating systems. Technologies of remediation, capable of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, represent a further sector with potential. However, the most important challenge remains the alignment of state and private sector initiatives to achieve a phase shift away from the internal combustion engine and carbon-based electricity-generating systems.


When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 the world possibly witnessed the first inundation of a Western world city due to global climate change. While Katrina cannot be firmly attributed to increasing sea temperatures, the context of the event certainly demonstrated that this was no simple ‘natural disaster’ (Hartman and Gregory 2006). Control of water was a defining feature of civilisation for Freud (1930/1963), and US federal efforts to canalise the Mississippi and build levees to ‘protect’ New Orleans were entirely consistent with Freud’s notion. In doing so, the shape of New Orleans and its hinterlands was changed, with previously unusable areas being built on and the coastal swamps and lagoons, which broke incoming storms, diminished. (See also Box 7.3, this volume.) In 2005, in the aftermath of Katrina, US President George W. Bush declared that America without New Orleans was unthinkable and that the great city would rise again. It remains unclear precisely how much of New Orleans will rise again, as the dynamics of weather systems and the anatomy of the terrestrial eco-systems combine to make strategic withdrawal attractive to Federal authorities. This dilemma is one which is likely to be repeated in many different locations and in many different forms (Bijker 2007).

Global sea-level rises will require locally specific adaptation strategies across the planet but, in the developed nations in particular, centuries-old habits of mind will need to be replaced. Extreme weather events and storm surges associated with climate change will necessarily require rethinking established practices. The timescales associated with climate change dynamics figure prominently in debates on adaptation and raise profoundly difficult social, economic and political issues. Advocates of adaptation stress the short-to medium-term (i.e. up to 2100) focus of the climate modelling and policy communities. Their scepticism about the effectiveness of mitigation strategies leads to an emphasis on the importance of engaging with long lead times necessary to prepare physical infrastructure to withstand climate change.

A UK Institute of Mechanical Engineers (2009) study simulated long-term trends over the next 200 years, with an estimate of trajectories up to the year 3000. 15 The study evaluates the implications of a 7m sea-level rise in the UK, China and Botswana to assess impacts in a developed, developing and underdeveloped country. The consequences closely resemble Stern’s ‘business as usual’ scenario and are used to emphasise the need for investment in engineered solutions. The difficulty of maintaining a clear-cut boundary between mitigation and adaptation strategies is underlined in the report which emphasises investment in carbon capture and sequestration technologies. Agriculture is another area where this sort of boundary problem may be seen, as differing approaches to agricultural production, under conditions of climate change, can increase the capacity of land to absorb carbon dioxide. Similarly, the insulation of buildings serves both to protect against rising temperatures and to reduce the emissions involved in heating and cooling systems.

Adaptation clearly raises issues of social, economic and political complexity for established habits of mind. Climate change-related migration is an obvious case as the significant economic and political migration accompanying neo-liberal globalisation has proved problematic for national polities. The notion that countries should accommodate a proportion of climate change migrants in relation to their contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions has been advanced as one approach to this issue (see Chapter 27, this volume). Low-lying and island states are already exploring resettlement agreements with potential host nations, in the event of their native lands becoming unviable due to rising sea levels. On the other hand, national governments will find their relationship with citizens, resident in areas where strategic retreat is adopted, politically challenging (Butler 2008).

The social, political and cultural dynamics of these processes are likely to be nonlinear and dynamic, as long-established geographic certainties of place, deeply sedimented in cultural registers and practices, are transformed. Much has been written on the malleability of public expectations and sentiments but this has always been a process requiring active management (Middlemas 1979). The contemporary conjuncture is one where established approaches in this area are configured in ways which undermine the ready renegotiation of ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson 1989). The multiplication of press and broadcast media formats, combined with the growing dominance of computer-mediated communication systems, is fragmenting audiences and complicating the process of expectation-leading. Identifying the appropriate boundaries for specific forms of communication, aimed at encouraging the necessary forms of social adaptation, is a significant challenge for government agencies the world over.

Credit crunch: climate crunch – the contemporary conjuncture

The credit crunch

As the normative standing of anthropogenic climate change has consolidated, it has become increasingly linked to a range of other issues. In terms of risk, climate change has been compared to the terrorist threat and to the epidemic of obesity in developed nations, and has been described (in a study reported in The Lancet, 14 May 2009) as ‘the biggest global threat confronting health in the 21st century’. This range of discursive linkages is now set in the context of a global crisis in prevailing modes of capitalist circulation and exchange with significant implications for future forms of production. The global economy tipped from being a complex system far from equilibrium into a period of sustained recession in December 2008. The ‘credit crunch’ has reconfigured the climate crunch in ways which complicate sociological claims about the return of the state (Giddens 2008, 2009a). The post-neo-liberal state is discussed by Giddens (2009a: 68–70) as an interventionist, enabling state, stimulating action by others, and as an ensuring state. The crucial distinction between the two state forms is that the ensuring state both enables and ensures that defined outcomes are achieved. The ensuring state can thus influence issues of equity in outcomes.

Coordinated state action to limit or reverse economic recession has been explicitly linked to a ‘green new deal’ aimed at securing both economic recovery and climate change objectives (see Chapter 15, this volume). State action in the face of complexity is, in effect, undertaken in relation to both the economic and climate change dynamics simultaneously. Perhaps most fundamentally, state action occurs in a climate where the state is effectively the banker of last resort and, in the midst of a credit squeeze, one of the few available sources of capital. Rather than just enabling action by others, the state becomes a major actor in restructuring economic activity and orientating it towards climate change agendas. This is particularly clear in the case of the USA where President Obama’s advisers’ emphasis on ‘never underusing a good crisis’ contributes to a significant repositioning of the US state.

Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress, at the launch of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, contained key elements of this strategy. The speech pledged $15 billion per annum to stimulate key sectors of the economy, with climate change and energy as central strategic concerns.

To truly transform our economy, to protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean renewable energy the profitable kind of energy…the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century.

(Obama 2009: 8) A US market-based cap on carbon pollution was declared necessary to drive the transition, alongside the development of wind, solar, clean coal and US-built fuel-efficient vehicles. The power to curb carbon dioxide emissions from cars and other sources was vested in the US Environmental Protection Agency in April 2009. The recession-hit US car industry subsequently accepted a timetable for the introduction of conventional vehicles with a fuel efficiency of at least 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 (Goldenburg 2009). Other elements of the recovery plan include doubling the supply of renewable energy over three years and rebuilding the electricity supply grid.

The American case underlines the potential for change that political leadership can manifest, but within it lay elements of continuity in terms of US foreign policy. The Obama administration has grasped the opportunity of an economic crisis to use the federal state in an attempt to reposition the US, in relation to China, South Korea, Germany and Japan, in the energy economy of the mid-twenty-first century. Similar strategies emerged at the G20 summit, hosted by Gordon Brown in London, with the competitor economies of South Korea and China making significantly greater commitments to green growth sectors as a percentage of their fiscal stimulus packages than the USA (see Figure 2.1).

Environmentally targeted component of fiscal stimulus packages

Figure 2.1   Environmentally targeted component of fiscal stimulus packages

China, America, the UK and Germany are thus all seeking to be ‘world leaders’ in areas such as carbon capture and sequestration and potentially seeking bi-and multilateral partnerships in this quest. State competition in the midst of collective negotiations over climate change agreements will be a feature of the unfolding dynamics. Competition for the control of significant areas of oceanic sea floors, and the resources lying beneath them at both poles, suggests a continuation of business as usual, however. The US National Intelligence Council report, Global Trends 2025: A World Transformed (2008), identifies Canada and Russia as significant climate change winners. The engagement of intelligence and military communities with climate change underlines the potential for geo-political conflict to develop.

This short consideration suggests that the state is back but remains confronted by the twin horns of the global/national dilemma implicit in Bateson’s formulation, outlined at the start of this chapter. The limits of state action include issues of political agency and viability in the face of electorates which have, in Hay’s terms, come to hate politics (Hay 2007). This brings us back to the issues of agency outlined earlier in this chapter.

Action, agency and creating a climate for change

As important as the state is in responding to climate change, complexity thinking highlights the importance of multiple vectors of influence. These include historically significant acts by free individuals and apparently marginal social forces (Chesters and Welsh 2006; Eve et al. 1997). Multiple social, as well as technological, trajectories are necessary to an engagement with climate change that fulfils multiple obligations to present and future generations. States are confronted by the challenge of remaining sufficiently open to the diverse range of climate change-related agency that unfold from this process. Sociological engagement with complexity is particularly important, and Melucci’s (1996) emphasis on personal and planetary integrity is a useful starting point in formal-ising some of the relevant concerns. Melucci’s approach to complex societies emphasised the role of social movement actors in declaring societal stakes through individual and collective acts. Such an approach reveals an exceedingly rich pool of social force (Welsh 2000: 189–90) experimenting with appropriate ‘ecologies of action’, consistent with Bateson’s ‘ecology of mind’. This is an area no longer confined to committed social movement actors, however.

Elite scepticism, about the political commitment of states to act on climate change, is becoming more visible within the public sphere. A prominent exemplar of this kind of activity may be seen in James Hansen’s participation in a climate change day of action in the UK. Hansen is Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the first senior US scientific figures to declare that climate change was taking place. He reportedly called on scientists to fulfil ‘a moral obligation to become politically active’ as ‘politicians and business twist and ignore science’ (Leake 2009). Hansen’s critical public stance is not an isolated case, with Nicholas Stern also criticising political leaders for their inaction in the face of climate change. The public intervention of prominent scientific communities adds to the sense of stress within complex societies, which claim to respect knowledge-based claims. The closing statement of the Copenhagen conference prior to the UN Climate Convention, scheduled for December 2009, reflected this. The statement emphasised that climate systems were already beyond patterns of natural variability consistent with the continuation of ‘our society and economy’. The conference underlined the significant risk of ‘abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts’, arguing that there ‘is no excuse for inaction’ as we ‘have many tools and approaches – economic, technological, behavioural, management – to deal effectively with the climate change challenge’ (Adam 2009: 1–2).

The conference statement is notable for both its urgency and the way it formulates a singular, inclusive ‘our society and economy’ when there is a global economic system within which a variety of approaches exist. The quote underlines the importance of recognising difference in terms of political, social and cultural factors (Carvalho 2008), as well as economics, in any consideration of climate change.

Expert calls for action represent a potential source of legitimation for measures by political elites facing sceptical electorates. The multi-layered approach to climate change, noted in the introduction to this chapter, ultimately depends upon the translation of these debates into policy instruments, leading to effective action at all levels of the nested, complex systems of governance involved. This is the nexus within which the complexities of climate change science and social science need a symbiotic relationship if knowledge is to be translated into practice. The inescapable complexity, in both the natural and social domains, means that decisions and actions have to be taken in the face of uncertainty about their technical and social viability (Melucci 1996: esp. ch. 9). This elevates trust and transparency to a pivotal position in effectively responding to climate change risks irrespective of the associated uncertainties. As Pollack argues, ‘decisions about the future, big and small, must always be made in the absence of certainty’ (2003: 3).

Stern’s translation of climate change debates into the language of economics is significant in this respect. Economics is a language understood by all political elites. Importantly, Stern adopts a specific stance in relation to risk and climate change (Pidgeon and Butler 2009), explicitly weighing the consequences of investing 1 per cent of GDP 16 for a few decades against the possibility that the science is in fact wrong. In the event of the science being wrong, the outcome would be a range of technologies offering energy security, insulation against other risks – such as the end of oil – and other forms of pollution (Stern 2006: 653 et seq.). Ethically, this investment also meets the potential obligations to both developing nations and future generations and is consistent with a precautionary approach. With the world economy entering into recession, delivering on these obligations requires an inter-state commitment to the collective action called for by Stern.

Collective forms of agency are obviously pivotal for climate change engagement. It is significant that Stern’s account of agency starts from public pressure, local initiatives, community groups and the business community which need ‘international mechanisms that build on and support national objectives’ (Stern 2006: 656). In America the actions of key states and cities, in declaring climate change targets and agendas, suggest that public support for action was running ahead of federal government stances prior to the election of President Obama (Du Vair et al. 2007; Tennis 2007). Variants of such local initiatives may be found in most developed countries and raise important issues of trust and agency.

At the local level, the widely acknowledged disengagement from formal politics, prevalent within the developed nations, is absent. Engagement at a local level results in a tangible process, distinct from involvement in centrally driven consultation processes where the relationship between voice and effective choice is less clear. Community involvement in such top-down processes is typically selective and conditional, with exit strategies being exercised at the point where continued engagement is seen as dysfunctional (Davies 2007). Perhaps more importantly, the self-organising local initiatives – such as the transition towns movement in the UK ( – create appropriate agendas for action that are consistent with and sensitive to local conditions. Such initiatives may be aligned with local government programmes and these reveal in microcosm how effective collective action can be in meeting climate change goals. 17

While there are significant debates about the adequacy of initiatives like the transition towns to resolve some of the deeper, underlying systemic aspects of climate change, they are important social experiments. The vigorous growth of the transition towns initiative demonstrates that awareness of the possible consequences of climate change does not necessarily militate against positive engagement. Computer-mediated communications mean that local initiatives are networked with counterparts around the world, constituting a network of networks (Melucci 1996).

In terms of complexity approaches this is part of the process of emergence, through which local processes forge global networks (Robins et al. 2005). This is a critical element in constituting ‘ecologies of action’, which pursue common goals through diverse means with a capacity for critical reflexivity that recognises the importance of open boundary conditions and the iterative realignment of objectives (Chesters and Welsh 2005, 2006). The weak ties (Granovetter 1973) central to such ecologies of action are markedly different from the strong ties that characterise formal global/international and nation state structures and processes.


State and supra-state agencies have been central in formalising the knowledge base which has shaped collective responses to climate change. The initial emphasis on mitigation, embodied within Kyoto, is increasingly recognised as inadequate as the necessity of adaptation becomes more clearly defined. These challenges are set in the context of complexity thinking which removes the possibility of certainty for policy-makers and politicians alike.

Governments’ wariness of engagement with climate change is widely attributed to ‘fear of electoral protest, close relationship with industry, a focus on economic growth, and the short-term priorities of government’ reflecting electoral cycles (Lorenzoni et al. 2007: 446). Climate change appears as a global form of risk which will create winners and losers at multiple levels, including industrial sectors. In the UK, Gordon Brown’s emphasis on taking difficult decisions, like the one on nuclear power, reflects an activist state opting for an old, top-down, supply-side solution. The restructuring of economic activity around the goal of a carbon-neutral balance between economic and ecological systems will be a long, iterative process. The length of time needed to develop the knowledge for energy futures, based on symbiosis rather than on linear resource exploitation, should not be underestimated. The social negotiation necessary to transform such knowledge into practices that transform work, leisure and notions of the good society will be longer.

Given the time frames associated with climate change, collective action needs to prioritise available, mundane measures, like insulation and insulation standards. It is always cheaper to save a unit of energy than to generate one. States will be pivotal in developing carbon capture and sequestration, smart and direct current grids and integrated sources of sustainable energy. These measures are necessary, irrespective of climate change, owing to the successes of globalisation. The UK government’s chief scientific adviser has dubbed this a ‘perfect storm’ (Sample 2009) as the rising levels of prosperity and population lead to unprecedented demand on energy, resources and food crops in the next 20 years. These challenges make Giddens’ (2009a: 54–57) dismissal of green political principles premature, as cooperation and a rejection of violence will be essential if effective collective responses are to be mounted. A political tipping point may have been reached in relation to climate change but acknowledging the principles of operating in open social as well as natural systems will be vital in the coming transitions. Respect for difference and diversity is among the principles that will become increasingly important.


Bateson’s work has influenced a significant number of prominent writers, including Goffman, Deleuze and Guattari, and Melucci, and marks him out as one of the earliest social theorists to be influenced by complexity theory (Chesters and Welsh 2005).

A dissipative structure is a term used within complexity theory to denote a structure in which energy is constantly lost through a process of systemic degradation. Within the natural sciences useful energy becomes degraded into lower-grade energy. Urry’s (2003) work on global complexity emphasises the importance of recognising that, despite the apparent social disorder accompanying globalisation, dissipation gives rise to pockets of new organisational forms capable of constituting emergent organising processes. I have argued that the alternative globalisation movement is an example of such an emergent actor (Chesters and Welsh 2006).

The notion of an epistemic community is used within a number of disciplines including international relations, where it has been used extensively in discussions of environmental policy formation. An epistemic community denotes a professional population with a broadly shared definition of a problem, the relevant knowledge stakes and practices necessary to formalise possible solutions.

The authors of this paper emphasise the importance of claims that climate change models are based on and reflect the laws of physics, in establishing the authority of models and modellers within the policy process. Despite the passage of time and increased sophistication of climate models since the paper was written this is still an important insight. Stern’s consideration of climate models starts from the view that they ‘follow basic physical laws’, for example (Stern 2006: 9).

Complexity theory seems far from equilibrium systems as possessing the appearance of order, while being configured in such a way that a radical, non-linear reconfiguration can take place over a short period of time. Systems like this generate emergent properties which can trigger tipping points and introduce new organisational forms and principles (Urry 2003: 53). The global climate system is an example of a system that is far from equilibrium.

Excess deaths during hot summers in Europe, North America and elsewhere are examples of visible effects on human populations while the dramatic shrinking of summer ice in the Arctic and Antarctic are visible eco-system impacts. The UN think-tank, the Global Humanitarian Forum, reported that global warming was killing 300,000 people per annum and causing economic losses of $125bn p.a. in 2009 (reported in the Guardian, 30 May 2009, p.17).

Framing and frame analysis have been widely applied to environmental problems. Bateson (1973) used the term frame to denote an individual’s ‘sense-making device’ of any given situation. Goffman (1974/1986) subsequently developed the notion. Advances in global communications systems have increased the resources available to frame issues and events since the 1970s, giving rise to increasingly ‘reflexive’ framing (Chesters and Welsh 2006: 9–16).

Assemblage is a term derived from Deleuze and Guattari and has been used by Irwin and Michael (2003) within the sociology of science to denote a broader constituency than that normally associated with an epistemic community. It is not a term used by the authors of the cited paper.

It is far from clear that 550 ppm represents a ‘safe’ or manageable threshold which will prevent the envisaged severe and possibly irreversible destabilisation of the planetary climate system. However, in terms of what is currently considered feasible the figure is increasingly an optimistic outcome of mitigation efforts.

For a succinct formalisation of the Kyoto Protocol in comparison to key alternative mediation strategies see ‘Mark Linas’s Green Grid’, New Statesman, 17 December 2007 to 3 January 2008, pp. 56–7.

To Stern, ‘unless the interests of future generations are heavily disregarded there is a very powerful case for strong mitigation’ (Stern 2006: 651).

Aesthetic factors were prominent in the reluctance to change consumption patterns with issues such as the shape of the bulb playing a part. Other issues included the quality of the light and also of risk associated with the gas used in the bulbs. Traditional bulbs will remain available for special devices and needs.

Supplies of lithium required for battery manufacture are one key example. Bolivian salt flats are estimated to contain almost half of the world’s known reserves and are the subject of negotiations between multinationals and the Bolivian government.

Deploying nano-engineered mirrors in space to reflect sunlight would be difficult to reverse. The introduction of biota into oceans to absorb carbon dioxide would be an intervention in an open biological system. Reversibility would be one assessment criterion for all such initiatives.

An intermediate complexity earth systems model (GENIE-1) and a full complexity climate model (HadCM3l) were used to prepare the report.

Stern subsequently increased this estimate to at least 2 per cent of global GDP.

The Yorkshire town of Barnsley has systematically replaced coal-burning boilers in municipal housing stock with wood-burning equipment fuelled from sustainable sources. The costs of heating for tenants have fallen and Barnsley will meet the UK government climate change target of an 80 per cent reduction on 1990 levels 20 years ahead of schedule. Other councils have focused on systematic insulation programmes.


Adam, D. (2009) ‘Stern attacks politicians over climate “devastation”’, Guardian, 13 March: 1–2.
Anderson, B. (1989) Imagined Communities, London: Verso.
Archer, D. (2005) ‘Fate of fossil fuel CO2 in geologic time’, Geophysical Research Letters, 10 May: 1–6.
Bateson, G. (1973) Steps to an Ecology of Mind, London: Paladin.
Beck, U. (1992) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, London: Sage.
Beck, U. , Giddens, A. and Lash, S. (1994) Reflexive Modernization: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bijker, W.E. (2007) ‘American and Dutch coastal engineering: differences in risk conception and differences in technological culture’, Social Studies of Science, 37: 143–151.
Butler, C. (2008) ‘Risk and the future: floods in a changing climate’, Twenty-First Century Society, 3: 159–171.
Byrne, D. (1998) Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences: An Introduction, London: Routledge.
Carvalho, A. (ed.) (2008) Communicating Climate Change: Discourses, Mediations and Perceptions, Braga: Universidade do Minho. Online. Available HTTP <>
Chesters, G. and Welsh, I. (2005) ‘Complexity and social movement: process and emergence in planetary action systems’, Theory, Culture and Society, 22: 187–211.
Chesters, G. and Welsh, I. (2006) Complexity and Social Movement(s): Multitudes at the Edge of Chaos, London: Routledge.
Cilliers, P. (1998) Complexity and Postmodernism, London: Routledge.
Clark, N. (2005) ‘Ex-orbitant globality’, Theory, Culture and Society Special Issue on Complexity, 22: 165–185.
Compston, H. and Bailey, I. (eds) (2008) Turning Down the Heat: The Politics of Climate Policy in Affluent Democracies, Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Davies, J.S. (2007) ‘The limits of partnership: an exit action strategy for democratic inclusion’, Political Studies, 55: 779–800.
Davis, M. (1996) ‘Cosmic dancers on history’s stage? The permanent revolution in the earth sciences’, New Left Review, 217: 48–84.
Delanda, M. (1997) A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, New York: Swerve.
Delanda, M. (2002) Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, London: Continuum.
Dryzek, J.S. , Downes, D. , Hunold, C. , Schlosberg, D. and Hernes, H-K. (2003) Green States and Social Movements: Environmentalism in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Norway, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Du Vair, P. , Sadler, S. , Usibelli, A. and Anderson, S. (2007) ‘West Coast Governors’ global warming initiative: using regional partnerships to co-ordinate climate action’, in S.C. Moser and L. Dilling (eds) Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Essary, E. H. (2007) ‘Speaking globalization – Frame Analysis and the world society’, International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 48: 509–525.
Eve, R.A. , Horsfall, S. and Lee, M.E. (1997) Chaos, Complexity and Sociology: Myths, Models and Theories, London: Sage.
Freud, S. (1930/1963) Civilization and its Discontents, London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psychoanalysis.
Giddens, A. (1990) The Consequences of Modernity, Oxford: Polity Press.
Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and Self Identity, Oxford: Polity Press.
Giddens, A. (2008) The Politics of Climate Change: National Responses to the Challenge of Global Warming, London, Policy Network Paper. Online. Available HTTP <> (accessed 30 March 2009 ).
Giddens, A. (2009a) The Politics of Climate Change, Oxford: Polity Press.
Giddens, A. (2009b) ‘This climate crunch heralds the end of the end of history’, Guardian, 11 March. Online. Available HTTP <> (accessed 23 March 2009 ).
Goffman, E. (1974/1986) Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience, Boston, MA: Northeastern Press.
Goldenburg, S. (2009) ‘America’s gas guzzlers on road to extinction as Obama sets strict exhaust emission limits’, Guardian, 20 May: 18.
Granovetter, M.S. (1973) ‘The strength of weak ties’, American Journal of Sociology, 78: 1360–1380.
Grubb, M. and Neuhoff, K. (2006) ‘Allocation and competitiveness in the EU emissions trading scheme: policy overview’, Climate Policy, 6: 7–30.
Hartman, C. and Gregory, D. (eds) (2006) There is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster: Race, Class and Hurricane Katrina, London: Routledge.
Hay, C. (1996) ‘From crisis to catastrophe? The ecological pathologies of the liberal-democratic state form’, Innovation, 9: 421–434.
Hay, C. (2007) Why We Hate Politics, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Hickman, L. (2009) ‘World will agree new climate deal, says Al Gore’, Guardian, 14 March:1.
Institute of Mechanical Engineers (2009) Climate Change: Adapting to the Inevitable? London. Online. Available HTTP <> (accessed 20 March 2009 ).
Irwin, A. and Michael, M. (2003) Science, Social Theory and Public Knowledge, Maidenhead: Open University Press.
King, D.A. (2004) ‘Climate change science: adapt, mitigate, or ignore?’, Science, 303: 176–177.
Leake, J. (2009) ‘Plan B: scientists get radical in bid to halt global warming catastrophe’, The Sunday Times, 15 March. Online. Available HTTP <> (accessed 25 March 2009 ).
Lorenzoni, I. , Niocholson-Cole, S. and Whitmarsh, L. (2007) ‘Barriers perceived to engaging with climate change among the UK public and their policy implications’, Global Environmental Change, 17: 445–459.
MacKay, D.J.C. (2009) Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air, Cambridge: UIT. Online. Available HTTP <>
McKechnie, R. and Welsh, I. (2002) ‘When the global meets the local: critical reflections on reflexive modernisation’, in F. Buttel , P. Dickens , R. Dunlap and A. Gijswijt (eds) Sociological Theory and the Environment: Classical Foundations, Contemporary Insights, Boulder, CO: Rowan & Littlefield.
Meadows, D. , Meadows, D. , Randers, J. and Behrens, W. (1972) The Limits to Growth – A Report for the Club of Rome on the Predicament of Mankind, London: Pan Books.
Melucci, A. (1996) The Playing Self: Person and Meaning in the Planetary Society, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Middlemas, M. (1979) Politics in Industrial Society, London: André Deutsch.
MIT (1971) Inadvertent Climate Change, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Moser, S.C. and Dilling, L. (eds) (2007) Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
National Intelligence Council (2008) Global Trends 2025: A World Transformed, Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. Online. Available HTTP <>
Nowotny, H. (2005) ‘The increase of complexity and its reduction: emergent influences between the natural sciences, humanities and social sciences’, Theory, Culture and Society, 22: 15–31.
Obama, B. (2009) Address to Joint Session of Congress, 25 February. Available at Accessed 14 January 2010 .
Odum, E.P. (2003) ‘How ecology has changed’, in S. Vertovec and D.A. Posey (eds) Globalization, Globalism, Environments and Environmentalism: Consciousness of Connections, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Parmesan, C. and Yohe, G. (2003) ‘A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems’, Nature, 421: 37–42.
Pidgeon, N. and Butler, C. (2009) ‘Risk analysis and climate change’, Environmental Politics, 18 (5): 670–688.
Pielke, R. , Prins, G. , Rayner, S. and Sarewitz, D. (2007) ‘Lifting the taboo on adaptation’, Nature, 445: 597–598.
Pollack, H.N. (2003) Uncertain Science – Uncertain World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Prins, G. and Rayner, S. (2007) ‘Time to ditch Kyoto’, Nature, 449: 973–975
Robins, G. , Pattinson, P. and Woolcock, J. (2005) ‘Small and other worlds: global network structures from local processes’, AJS, 110: 894–936.
Rose, D. (1981) Energy Transitions and the Local Community: A Theory of Society Applied to Hazelton, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA: University of Philadelphia Press.
Sample, I. (2009) ‘Perfect storm of scarcity will unleash global turmoil’, Guardian, 19 March: 14.
Shackley, S. , Young, P. , Parkinson, S. and Wynne, B. (1998) ‘Uncertainty, complexity and concepts of good science in climate change modelling: are GCMs the best tool?’, Climate Change, 38: 159–205.
Shackley, S. , McLachlan, C. and Gough, C. (2004) The Public Perceptions of Carbon Capture and Storage, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, Research Working Paper 44, Manchester: UMIST.
Stern, N. (2006) The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Online. Available HTTP <>
Sundberg, M. (2007) ‘Parameterizations as boundary objects on the climate arena’, Social Studies of Science, 37: 473–488.
Tennis, A. (2007) ‘States leading the way on climate change action: the view from the Northeast’, in S.C. Moser and L. Dilling (eds) Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thompson, M. and Rayner, S. (1998) Cultural Discourses in Human Choice and Climate Change, Vol. 1, Columbus: Battelle Press.
Urry, J. (2003) Global Complexity, London: Routledge.
Urry, J. (2007) Mobilities, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Vertovec, S. and Posey, D.A. (eds) (2003) Globalization, Globalism, Environments and Environmentalism: Consciousness of Connections, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Welsh, I. (1996) ‘Risk, global governance and environmental politics’, Innovation, 9: 407–420.
Welsh, I. (2000) Mobilising Modernity: The Nuclear Moment, London: Routledge.
Welsh, I. (2007) ‘In defence of civilisation: terrorism and environmental politics in the 21st century’, Environmental Politics, 16: 359–378.
Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.