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Transformation from “Carbon Valley” to a “Post-Carbon Society” in a Climate Change Hot Spot: the Coalfields of the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia

Geoffrey R. Evans, University of Newcastle (Australia), Ecosystem Health Research Group

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Abstract

This paper examines the possibilities for transformation of a climate-change hot spot—the coal-producing Hunter Region of New South Wales, Australia—using complex adaptive systems (CAS) theory. It uses CAS theory to understand the role of coal in the region’s history and efforts to strengthen the ecological, economic, and social resilience of the region’s coal industry in the face of demands for a shift from fossil fuel dependency to clean, renewable energy and genuine resilience and sustainability. It uses CAS theory to understand ways in which the resilience of two alternative futures, labeled “Carbon Valley” and “Post-Carbon Society” (Heinberg 2004), might evolve.

The paper discusses ways in which changes implemented through the efforts of local communities at local, smaller scales of the nested systems seek to influence the evolution of adaptive cycles of the system at the local, national, and global scales. It identifies the influences of “attractors,” defined as factors driving the evolution of the system, that are influential across the panarchy. These include climate change threats, markets, regulatory regimes, political alliances, and local concerns about the environmental and social impacts of the Hunter’s coal dependency. These factors are weakening the apparent resilience of the coal industry, which is being propped up by the coal industry corporations, labor unions, and governments to maintain coal dependency in the Carbon Valley. Moreover, they are creating an alternative basin of attraction in which a Post-Carbon Society might emerge from the system’s evolutionary processes.

Key words

climate change; coal; complex adaptive systems; Hunter Valley, Australia; panarchy; resilience; sustainability; transition
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087