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Transitions: Pathways to a Post-Carbon Future

NOMIS Project 2020

— 2025

One of the most urgent challenges facing the human species—and the planet—is the need to transition to a carbon-neutral economy. To some, this seems an impossible task. Yet human society, ever resilient and adaptive, has undergone comparable paradigmatic changes multiple times in the past with the shift to agriculture, urbanization, the Industrial Revolution and globalization. Even more rapid transformations are associated with the digital economy, many of which are being accelerated by the current global pandemic.

Like these other transitions, efforts to limit global climate change take place at many levels of society. There are agreements and directives promoted by the institutions of global governance and states. Civil society actors and social movements actively push for change as well. Corporations and industries are beginning to acknowledge their responsibilities to reduce their carbon footprints and see opportunities to gain strategic advantages over peers that lag behind. Cities, too, are often moving ahead of slow-moving or recalcitrant states, providing real-time experiments from which others can learn. New values and ethics are being articulated and embraced. The COVID-19 pandemic signals the need to pay greater attention to the relationship between humans and the environment, and states have displayed an unanticipated capacity to respond to large-scale problems at breakneck speed.

Transitions: Pathways to a Post-Carbon Future is combining insights from the deep history of social transformation, the literature on technological change and a multi-sited ethnography to investigate the range of responses to climate change. It involves research and collaboration at institutions of global governance, climate change think tanks, and sites of innovation and design within specific sectors of the economy.

The project is being led by Stuart Kirsch at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (US).

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Project Insights

Abstract: Fifteen years ago, Jane Guyer (2007) argued that the near future had largely disappeared from collective imaginaries, replaced by longer-term horizons associated with evangelical Christianity and free market capitalism. While not seeking to repudiate Guyer, this article argues that recent developments have radically altered relationships to the future. It points