chapter  4
16 Pages

Complex Systems and Multiple Crises of Energy

ByJohn Urry

This chapter examines multiple interdependent processes in environ-ment, economy, climate, food, water, and energy (for more detail, see Urry 2011, 2013b). In particular it considers how late 20th-century neoliberalism, enabled by oil, ratcheted up the global scale of movement within the global North. This travel of people and goods became essential to most social practices that depend on and reinforce a high-carbon society, but it came to a shuddering halt when oil prices increased in the early years of the 21st century. Suburban houses could not be sold, especially those that were in far-fl ung oil-dependent locations. Financial products and institutions were rendered worthless. This story of oil in the United States portrays a bleak future as “easy oil” is scheduled to run out by the middle of this century. Herein I fi rst develop a broad analysis of these issues to argue how complex energy systems and energy crises can bite back with interest and may portend some bleak futures. I do so by exploring a new trend in thinking about the future of societies-the “new catastrophism”—and also by considering how various analysts, scientists, and commentators are examining and advocating accounts of various futures characterized by an astonishing array of emergent risks. I then highlight how 20th-century social sciences mostly ignored issues of resource use and overuse, thereby replicating and reproducing a world where resources were unimportant for deciphering change and development, whereas now, in an era of resource depletion, contestation and collapse call the social sciences to attention in the context of interconnecting systems of oil, money, and property.