I was at a seminar this week looking at the impact of population changes on the future of the countryside (Chatham House rules, if not Rule, so that’s probably all I can say on the event itself) where it became clear that some of those involved in the discussion hadn’t really had the opportunity to imagine the scale of social change that’s likely to be wrought by any level of carbon reduction which will be effective in holding temperature increases below the 2 degrees which is generally regarded as critical.

The government’s official view is that it will take a 60% reduction, and climare change scientists now seems to think it’s more likely to be somewhere between 80% and 90%. (George Monbiot takes the 90% figure as his yardstick in Heat, and explains why in the book, which is recently out in paperback).

I think my view of this is that it we’ll get somewhere towards this through incremental technological improvements, and a bit further through behavioural change. But even getting to 60% will require some kind of intervention – and much more if the scientists turn out to more right than the policy makers. But understanding this – and thereby creating the ability to act – will need a better quality of imagination about the future than we’re getting at the moment.

There is a serious issue here. If we don’t have intervention we run the risk of getting our carbon reduction the hard way – through economic slump. This possibility was explored in the scenarios we did on the Future of Intelligent Infrastructure Systems for the UK government’s Foresight programme. Of the two scenarios which assumed that technology or design innovation would not solve the carbon problem, one involved intervention to restrict transport use, and one involved economic depression (a version of ‘overshoot and collapse‘[opens pdf]). The depression scenario was by far the most depressing,

Some of the policy implications of all of this have been explored in other books: Mayer Hillman’s How to Save the Planet and Andrew Simms’ Ecological Debt are both relevant.

On which note. more or less, worth noting John Thackara’s recent blog on three lines (written on request) on reducing mobility:

“Reducing the movement of matter – whether goods, or people – is a main challenge in the transition to sustainability. Technology, in this context, can help us use resources in a radically more efficient way – and by ‘resources’ I do not just mean matter and energy, but also space, and time.”