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Habits, Systems, Futures John Urry Director, Centre for Mobilities Research, Lancaster University.

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1 Habits, Systems, Futures John Urry Director, Centre for Mobilities Research, Lancaster University


3 Most of the time people do not behave as individually rational economic consumers. People are creatures of social habituation. And habits can spread within a society through media and advertising. These habits become widespread and locked in to social practices. These routine practices are hard to reverse and depend upon often huge energy systems

4 HIGH CARBON HABITS AND SYSTEMS Overseas holidays Driving to the shops Showering daily The school run Drinking foreign beers/wines Second homes Climate control rather than clothing control Driving through well lit streets Dining out Global friendships Working on projects with a global team


6 HABITS AND SYSTEMS Habits derive from systems lying outside individuals There is no tendency for systems to move towards equilibrium. There is an unpredictability of systems with non-linear relations between causes and effects Systems once established can get locked in over decades in relationship to each other Systems are clustered. David Nye on the USA: a high-energy regime touched every aspect of daily life. It promised a future of miracle fabrics, inexpensive food, larger suburban houses, faster travel, cheaper fuels, climate control, and limitless growth. Even the music of the emerging counterculture was plugged in

7 C20th LOCK IN TO OIL-BASED SYSTEMS Oil provides over 95% of transportation energy in the modern world – so making possible mobile social practices - collegial, family and friendship miles Also fuels the worlds ships that transport most oil, components, commodities and food from afar Is an element of most manufactured goods (95%) Is crucial to at least 95% of food production for a rapidly rising world population through irrigation, transport, pesticides, fertilisers Provides back-up power and lighting

8 OIL DESCENT The US peaking of oil in 1970 - now imports 75%; UK peaked 1999; China just peaked Global peaking of oil per capita in 1999 HSBC's Chief Economist there could be as little as 49 years of oil left CEO of Royal Dutch Shell: My view is that easy oil has probably passed its peak Fatih Birol, Chief Economist of the IEA: crude oil production has already peaked in 2006 Two trillion barrels of conventional oil; about half now used. 4 barrels consumed for every new one discovered; may soon go up to 10:1. The largest oilfields were discovered in the 1960s



11 PEAK TRAVEL? Travel activity has reached a plateau in all eight countries (Millard-ball and Schipper 2011) Caused by high oil prices and seemingly fixed supply, as well as austerity, ageing population and some renaissance of walking, cycling and public transport Young people less likely to have a car licence, less likely to own or have access to a car, and more favour owning smartphones over cars in recent surveys

12 SOCIAL GLOBALIZATION ACROSS THE WORLD, 1970-2008 (measured by personal contacts, information flows and cultural proximity between people living within different societies: ETH 2011)

13 PEAK STUFF Recent UK research on Material Flow Accounts shows peak year for consuming goods and services was 2001. Since then rate of consumption fallen. By 2009 overall material consumption reduced to match 1970s. Since 2001 British people use fewer materials and generate less waste. Shown in consuming of paper and cardboard, heat, power, household waste, purchases of new cars, household energy and food. Peak oil in 1999. Overall although the UK still uses two billion tons of stuff each year, this has not increased although income and population risen. Can prosperity be generated without consuming more goods and services?

14 FUTURES Is there a reversal from oil-based system and habits at least in the rich North? If so what systems might be coming into being? How would we know what is a system change and what is a blip? Central to many future scenarios are new technologies BUT technologies do not develop for endogenous reasons NOR do they simply transform the economic and social landscape in their own image since there are many unexpected and perverse consequences Technologies are always embedded in economic, social and political life and depend upon business and sociological models for development. Especially consumer-related systems depend upon fun and fashion Mobile communications shows how systems and habits can change extremely rapidly but often this is not through a simple substitution. Buckminster Fuller, the futurist, once wrote: You never change anything by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete What might be new models emerging alongside oil-based systems that in the C21st would lock in populations to new post oil social practices and habits? new high tech hydrogen worlds digital worlds low carbon worlds

15 Or will oil/resource wars and MAD MAX 2 be the future?

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