Shocks such as wars, financial crises, and environmental disasters, play an important role in influencing the direction of sociotechnical systems such as energy, food, and mobility. We develop understandings of the effects of shocks on systems through the concept of imprinting, which looks at how the different conditions of a time-restricted period of a shock can bring about rapid changes in sociotechnical systems with long-lasting changes. We explore this concept through analysing two shocks and effects on the energy system: World War II and the 1973 Oil crisis. Prospective sustainability transitions will be effected by shocks such as climate change impacts and conflicts and thus understanding the long-term effects of shocks through imprinting will be a useful additional perspective.
Learning from the past to shape the future
Deep Transitions thinking uses the notion of socio-technical systems to understand the nature of system change. Systems provide basic needs, such as energy, mobility, and food. As such, they dictate everyday behaviour, from our modes of transport to the food we consume and the values we hold.
System change is therefore not just about technological change, it also has strong political, economic, social and cultural aspects. We apply the notion of socio-technical systems when talking about systems change. Our current socio-technical systems are based on a series of unsustainable practices (or 'rules' in Deep Transitions thinking), such as fossil fuel dependency, globalisation, linear mass production and mass consumption.
System optimisation can generate short-term positive effects. However, in the long run it preserves the unsustainable configuration of the system and reinforces the underlying rules of the existing system. It cannot bring the fundamental shift needed to address the interrelated challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and growing inequality.
Instead, system change enables a fundamental reconfiguration of the system. It fosters the emergence of new sustainable rules in niches that can, in time, provide viable alternatives to the unsustainable practices of the First Deep Transition.
Deep Transitions thinking moves beyond the lure of systems optimisation, to achieve fundamental and lasting systems change, which comes about when alternative practices developing in niches become strong enough to compete with and replace a dominant regime practice.
and possible emergence of Second Deep Transition.
The unsustainable systems of the First Deep Transition are strongly interconnected. Their underlying rules reinforce each other and form the backbone of everyday life. For instance, our energy system heavily relies on gas and coal; our mobility depends upon oil, and the food system uses nitrogen fertiliser produced with natural gas.
Changing one system in isolation will not bring about a Second Deep Transition. For a sustainability revolution to take root, a focus on transforming multiple systems is needed.
Deep Transitions thinking is geared towards multiple systems changes that can challenge and disrupt current unsustainable systems and replace them with sustainable alternatives.