Professor Derk Loorbach

Expert on energy transition and sustainability

Professor Derk Loorbach is professor of transition science and director of the research institute DRIFT. He focuses in research on transitions, on complex societal challenges and a more sustainable future. How do transitions work? And to where should the transition lead?

The corona crisis could be a reason for making the aviation industry more sustainable, according to Loorbach. He says: “We are in a process of transition. Transitions take a very long time. It is often translated into: everything has to change now, or: everything remains the same. But people now see that not changing is no longer an option. A transition is about discovering the change in daily practice.”

He advocates institutional experimentation: “A different kind of cooperation is needed between enterprising governments, citizens and businesses. We need to experiment in order to ‘stumble forward’.”

"I plead for small-scaled sustainable transitions."

Derk Loorbach on poverty in Rotterdam

"I draw my optimism from the fact that for years now I have been seeing people everywhere intrinsically motivated to work with alternatives. It's happening everywhere already."

You're studying the transition from one system to another?

“We're actually studying how a transition could happen, how we get away from the current, unsustainable equilibrium. And where that transition should lead.

In science, that's a contentious position. We have an idea of where we should stay away from. We translate that into hypotheses, which are the starting point for experiments in and with practice. If you look at the state of nature, or at the climate debate: for fifty years there has been overwhelming evidence that we are working with an economic development model that does not work well, in the sense that it leads to a major negative impact on the planet and also to socio-economic inequality.”

Were you at DRIFT better equipped for a crisis situation like corona, because change is your job?

“In our conversations at DRIFT, the concept of ‘stumbling forward’ came up. In a sense, we used corona as a kind of retrospective validation of what we've been working on for years. Transition management, thinking ahead to build transformative competence. Being prepared for the unpredictable. We have been working with low carbon lectures for much longer - not flying somewhere. Part of our education was already online. Together with the City of Rotterdam, we are working on sustainable mobility. One of the experiments was: converting parking spaces to create more public space for pedestrians and cyclists. Entrepreneurs could voluntarily set up a terrace or plant trough on parking decks. Then came corona: in no time the project could be scaled up because it had already been practiced with.”

Sustainability | transition | energy transition | circular economy | Rotterdam | poverty | experiment | future

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