What does a transition have to do with sustainability?


This is the second post of our transitions basic series, if you want to check out what this series is all about click here.

Last time, we explored what a transition is and learned that it occurs when we replace one way of doing things with another. This is important because currently our way of doing things is causing climate chance. So, a transition, at least the one that many environmentalists, community-based initiatives, and others hope for, would ideally lead us away from this current way of doing things. This way of doing this would be replaced by a more sustainable way of doing things so that we can alleviate the worst outcomes of climate change.

What is so wrong with how we currently do things?

I think this will be unsurprising to most of you, but our current way of doing things is producing a lot of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions (to learn about reducing greenhouse gases click here). At the moment, many countries still subsidize oil, dirty coal is still used in power plants, and in general we still eat a lot of meat and dairy (to learn about diets and climate change click here). Our current system also prioritizes profit while recognizing little value in the benefit of green space. This is just to name a few of the things that put our climate at risk.

If we continue to do things as we do currently, we can expect climate change to bring all kinds of nasty outcomes both for our environment and ourselves such as more persistence weather extremes (Petoukhov, Petri, Rahmstorf, Coumou, Kornhuber and Schellnhuber 2016) and increased armed conflict (Schleussner, Donges, Donner and Schellnhuber 2016) to name a few. If you are interested in a long list of all of the horrible things that could happen under climate change, I suggest checking out some of the work of the IPCC.

Okay, so how do we have this transition?

So, now that we know we need a transition- how do we make this happen? This is where there is a lot of debate. Past transitions were often motivated by self-interested individuals trying to make money or gain power. This is not as easy to see with sustainability transitions. So, while those who study sustainability transitions often look to past transition for an idea of how a sustainability transition will occur, there are some real differences. Nevertheless, using past transitions as a guideline, researchers have developed some concepts for how a transition would occur, such as those we previously explored. Governments have made some attempts to transition to a more sustainable society. However, thus far, it has been a slow process and current government pledges are not enough (Christoff, 2016). Moreover community-based initiatives such as Transitions Towns and community gardens have developed their own their theories on how they will lead to sustainability transitions.

What will be the outcome of this transition?

The outcome of a sustainability transition is a more sustainable society. However, while there are some educated guesses, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it will look like. For example, we have seen wind power become increasingly popular and it could be that at the end of a sustainability transition we get all of our energy from wind, some of our energy from wind, or maybe wind becomes less popular and we get all of our energy from solar power. On top of this, the transition must deal with issues such as social justice because those who will be most impacted by climate change are the most vulnerable among us: the poor, children, refugees, etc.

So, we need to keep working towards this sustainability transition to deal with climate change- but we don’t know exactly how this sustainability transition will occur or what the outcome will be. Nevertheless, we have to keep working towards it because if we allow the status quo to continue bad things will definitely happen.

I hope you have enjoyed this second post in the transitions basics series. The next post in this series will cover “What is a regime?” so check back soon.