Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences

    This paper examines various aspects of moving from high carbon economies and societies to a cluster of low carbon systems. First, some historical material is considered from the Second World War and the 1970s, periods with some lessons for the contemporary ‘powering down’ of whole societies. Second, analysis is provided of some green shoots of a powering down of existing systems identifiable in the contemporary developed world. Third, analysis is provided of the array of systems, social practices and innovations that would have to develop in order to effect powering down on a sufficient scale and within an appropriate time period. Most examples are drawn from transport and mobility. Finally, the paper demonstrates just why developing new systems is so hard, especially as this must involve a transformed cluster of systems. The forces that make a new cluster unlikely are exceptionally powerful and make this a very difficult but not impossible outcome.


    One contribution of 15 to a Discussion Meeting Issue ‘Material efficiency: providing material services with less material production’.


    • 1
      Rubin J. 2009 Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller. London, UK: Virgin. Google Scholar
    • 2
      Stern N. 2007 The economics of climate change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
    • 3
      Urry J. 2011 Climate change and society. Cambridge, UK: Polity. Google Scholar
    • 4
      Urry J. 2013 Societies beyond oil. London, UK: Zed. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
    • 5
      Kirk G. 1982 Schumacher on energy, pp. 1–2. London, UK: Jonathan Cape. Google Scholar
    • 6
      Morrison B. 2008 It was the cathedral of modern times, but the car is now a menace. The Guardian, 26 July 2008. Google Scholar
    • 7
      Clark D. 2011 The only way is down. The Guardian G2, 1 November 2011. Google Scholar
    • 8
      Jackson T. 2009 Prosperity without growth. London, UK: Earthscan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
    • 9
      Allwood J& Cullen J. 2012 Sustainable materials. Cambridge, UK: UIT. Google Scholar
    • 10
      Hansen J. 2011 Storms of my grandchildren, p. 178. London, UK: Bloomsbury. Google Scholar
    • 11
      Ruppert MC. 2009 Confronting collapse, pp. 54–55. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. Google Scholar
    • 12
      Millard-Ball A& Schipper L. 2011 Are we reaching peak travel?: Trends in passenger transport in eight industrialized countries. Transp. Rev. 31, 357–378.doi:10.1080/01441647.2010.518291 (doi:10.1080/01441647.2010.518291). Crossref, Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar
    • 13
      Li M. 2007 Peak oil, the rise of China and India, and the global energy crisis. J. Contemp. Asia 37, 449–471.doi:10.1080/00472330701654451 (doi:10.1080/00472330701654451). Crossref, Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar
    • 14
      Davis M. 2010 Who will build the ark?. New Left Rev. 61, 29–46. Google Scholar
    • 15
      Klare M. 2008 Rising powers, shrinking planet. Oxford, UK: Oneworld. Google Scholar
    • 16
      Anderson K, et al. 2006 Decarbonising modern societies. Manchester, UK: Tyndall Centre. Google Scholar
    • 17
      Greer JM. 2009 The ecotechnic future. Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society Publishers. Google Scholar
    • 18
      Latouche S. 2009 Farewell to growth. Cambridge, UK: Polity. Google Scholar
    • 19
      Holmgren D. 2009 Future scenarios, Totnes, UK: Green Books. Google Scholar
    • 20
      Heinberg R& Lerch D (eds) 2010 The post-carbon reader. Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media. Google Scholar
    • 21
      Forum for the Future. 2010 Megacities on the move. London, UK: Forum for the Future. Google Scholar
    • 22
      Grin J, et al. 2011 Transitions to sustainable development. New York, NY: Routledge. Google Scholar
    • 23
      Hopkins R. 2011 The transition companion. Totnes, UK: Green Books. Google Scholar
    • 24
      Halpern D. 2010 The hidden wealth of nations. Cambridge, UK: Polity. Google Scholar
    • 25
      Dienst R. 2011 The bonds of debt. London, UK: Verso. Google Scholar
    • 26
      Shove E, Chappells H& Lutzenhiser L (eds) 2009 Comfort in a lower carbon society. London, UK: Routledge. Google Scholar
    • 27
      Offner A. 2006 The challenge of affluence. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
    • 28
      Wilkinson R& Pickett K. 2009 The spirit level: why more equal societies almost always do better. London, UK: Allen Lane. Google Scholar
    • 29
      Morrell G, Scott S, McNeish D& Webster S. 2011 The August riots in England. London, UK: Cabinet Office. Google Scholar
    • 30
      Peters M, Fudge S& Jackson T (eds) 2010 Low carbon communities. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
    • 31
      Owen D. 2011 Green metropolis: why living smaller, living closer, and driving less are the keys to sustainability. London, UK: Penguin. Google Scholar
    • 32
      Pfeiffer D. 2006 Eating fossil fuels. Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society Publishers. Google Scholar
    • 33
      von Hippel R. 2006 Democratizing innovation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Google Scholar
    • 34
      Thrift N. 2008 Non-representational theory, pp. 41, 54. London, UK: Routledge. Google Scholar
    • 35
      Birtchnell T& Urry J. In press Transporting objects and fabricated futures. Mobilities. Google Scholar
    • 36
      Dennis K& Urry J. 2009 After the car. Cambridge, UK: Polity. Google Scholar
    • 37
      Mitchell W, Borroni-Bird C& Burns L. 2010 Reinventing the automobile. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
    • 38
      Reed J. 2010 Carmakers put the mobile into automobile. Financial Times, 7 May 2010. Google Scholar
    • 39
      Worldwide Fund for Nature. 2008 Plugged in. The end of the oil age. Summary report, p. 6, WWF, Brussels, Belgium. Google Scholar
    • 40
      Royal Academy of Engineering. 2010 Electric vehicles: charged with potential. London, UK: RAE. Google Scholar
    • 41
      Gross M. 2010 Ignorance and surprise, p. 5. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Google Scholar
    • 42
      Shaxson N. 2011 Treasure islands: tax havens and the men who stole the world. London, UK: Bodley. Google Scholar
    • 43
      Harvey D. 2005 A brief history of neo-liberalism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
    • 44
      Crouch C. 2011 The strange non-death of neo-liberalism. Cambridge, UK: Polity. Google Scholar