Climate breakdown: A call for socio-ecological imagination and change

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Climate change - no other phenomena exemplifies the global interconnectedness of societies. Arguably the most pressing and complex challenge facing our world (Slevin, 2018), climate change or, more accurately, climate breakdown (Monbiot, 2013) is the culmination of multifaceted socio-economic and environmental relations and complex ecological changes at macro, meso and micro levels (Buttel and Taylor, 1994).

This paper examines drivers of anthropogenic climate change which range from patterns of production and consumption responsible for climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions to dominant ideologies and powerful interest groups concerned with maintaining the status quo despite socio-ecological consequences. Projected impacts of climate breakdown include increased temperatures, risks of flooding, extreme weather events, water shortages and other wide-ranging threats to human and non-human species (EPA, 2013). Climate risks also deepen inequalities between countries in the Global North and South and within societies, for example, the UK Government (2017) acknowledges that ‘climate risks will affect people differently, depending on their social, economic and cultural environment … low-income households are particularly susceptible to climate change impacts.’

Connecting sociological presents, pasts and futures in the context of climate breakdown, this paper prompts contemplation of ‘unsupportable [environmental] burdens for the planet’ created by industrialisation (Cahill, 2007) and the ‘ecological rift’ between humans and the earth upon which we depend (Bellamy Foster et al., 2010). Globally, societies are experiencing a climate emergency, resulting from internal conflicts and contradictions (ibid.; Goodman, 2018) which transcend territorial borders, and this paper urges consideration of ‘rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities’ needed by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5°C (IPCC, 2018). This paper calls for a ‘socio-ecological imagination’ to deepen understandings of intersections between social relations and climate breakdown, empirically and theoretically, and advocates far-reaching changes which are necessary for ecologically sustainable communities and societies (Barry, 2012).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted - 30 Mar 2019
EventSociological Association of Ireland Annual Conference 2019: Connecting Sociologies - NUI Galway, Galway, Ireland
Duration: 10 May 201911 May 2019


ConferenceSociological Association of Ireland Annual Conference 2019
Internet address


  • Climate breakdown
  • Energy
  • Anthropogenic climate change
  • Climate risks
  • Inequalities
  • Sociological presents, pasts and futures
  • Ecological rift
  • Climate emergency
  • Socio-ecological imagination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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