Tag: climate change

Polity podcasts: John Urry – Climate Change and Society

John Urry Climate Change and SocietyJohn Urry is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University. His many publications include Sociology Beyond Society and After the Car.

I met him recently in Lancaster to talk to him about his latest book, Climate Change and Society, which explores the significance of human behaviour for understanding the causes and impacts of changing climates and responding to those impacts.

1. I began by asking him about his central thesis, that sociology ought to replace economics as the main discourse for understanding anthropogenic climate change. [Click here]

2. Next I asked about whether understanding how complex systems functioned in the past and present can provide any guidance to the future. [Click here]

“Sociology can bring out the enduring social and economic conflicts which inhibit change…”

3. John Urry reflects on how sociology can sharpen our understanding the vested interests of the “carbon military-industrial complex” and how those interests constrain responses to climate change. [Click here]

4. In Climate Change and Society, John Urry writes that we shall all have to become futurologists by necessity. I asked him about the difficulty of this, given that we are dealing with two highly complex systems: the climate and human societies. [Click here]

“There is a very good reason why no future is good…”

5. John Urry on the “narrowed range of possibilities” that the twentieth century bequeathed the twenty-first. [Click here]

To watch a short video about the book, click here.

To listen to the complete interview, click here.

34. After we’ve gone

Earth after Us coverWhat would a race of space-travelling aliens 100 million years in the future make of the Earth?

“One can imagine that they’ll be sufficiently scientifically curious to look on the world as extraordinary – because the Earth is extraordinary by comparison with all the other planets.

“And then to investigate its future present, as it were, and try to work out how this future present arose and how it survived for so long.

And to do that they’ll have to play the particular kind of history game that we call geology… they’ll have to become fossil detectives…”

My guest this week is Jan Zalasiewicz, who is a senior lecturer in the department of geology at the University of Leicester. The first ever edition of Podularity featured a geology title, Ted Nield‘s Supercontinent, so it’s fitting that we return to that subject as the programme approaches its second birthday.

Jan ZalasiewiczIn his new book, The Earth after Us, Jan decided to conduct a thought experiment on a grand scale – what would happen if you imagined applying the same techniques as we apply to the study of dinosaurs and other fossils to our own species in some far distant future epoch?

What kind of fossils will humans leave behind? What will happen to cities, cars, and plastic cups? How thick a layer will the “human stratum” be? And will it be obvious that our species once dominated the planet?

The answers are quite sobering…

16. “Our sweaty ape hands on the thermostat”

Mark Lynas“The chemistry of this is more than a century old… The basic physics of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has been known for a very long time. In fact some back-of-the-envelope calculations were made then which more or less stand the test of time a century later.”

A few weeks back I met Mark Lynas in Oxford to talk about his book, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, shortly before the book won this year’s Royal Society Science Book Prize. The book looks degree by degree at the consequences for the Earth, its biodiversity and its inhabitants, as average global temperatures continue to rise throughout this century. The book is alarming without being alarmist, sobering without being defeatist. As the Royal Society recognized, the book represents a magnificent achievement on Mark’s part, who sifted through a huge amount of scientific data in order to construct such readable and readily comprehensible scenarios.

Six Degrees coverSix Degrees coverAverage rises in global temperature of up to two degrees have serious consequences; above that, the consequences range from the dramatic to the catastrophic. The latest projections from the Met Office Hadley Centre, which Mark wrote about in the Guardian the week we met, suggest that if we make a step change soon in our carbon emissions, we may limit warming to under 3°C. If we continue on our current path – the scenario called “agree and ignore” – the level of warming is likely to be 4.85°C by 2100.

As Six Degrees makes clear, a world nearly 5°C warmer than our present one would begin to resemble an entirely new planet: no ice sheets, massive loss of biodiversity, flooded cities, our “prosperous interlude” nourished on fossil fuel a “lucky aberration”.

Publishers talk all too glibly of books being “necessary” when all they really mean is worthy of attention. In my view, Mark’s is a rare example of a truly necessary book and I do enjoin you to read it. In the book he talks of the “awesome responsibility” of “our sweaty ape hands resting on the climatic thermostat”. Our time to turn that thermostat down is rapidly running out…

The price of gas