Trajectories of Social Metabolism and Land Use
Advances in Ecological Economics series
Edited by Marina Fischer-Kowalski and Helmut Haberl
Chapter 1: Conceptualizing, Observing and Comparing Socioecological Transitions
Marina Fischer-Kowalski and Helmut Haberl 1.1 INTRODUCTION A transition to a more sustainable state of society and the environment, a perspective that envisages attractive human futures on a hospitable planet Earth – this is a vision that nowadays inspires much research and policymaking. The notion of transition implies a major change – not incremental adjustments or improvements, but a qualitatively new state of the system. Transitions of a diﬀerent kind may well be under way already, however. Do we not experience a rapid, even increasing pace of change in our working lives, our families, many of our institutions, our technologies and our everyday culture? Do we not perceive rapid transformations of landscapes in industrial centres as well as in holiday resorts at the periphery? And do we not have the impression that the weather has changed compared with our childhood, invalidating old rules of thumb? On the timescale of human lives, which is the common timescale for comparing experiences, time does not stand still at all. It seems rather the case that people are ﬁnding it diﬃcult to move as fast as the world around them. The environmental historian, John McNeill (2000), addressed this phenomenon in the ironically titled publication, Something New Under the Sun, a review of the 20th century. According to the statistics he assembled, there is barely any dimension of human social life and interference with the environment that has not undergone a rapid expansion worldwide during this one century, an expansion that has exceeded the factor...
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