EnergyCultures - Science and the Knowledge Intensive Governance of Global Change
Modern industrialized societies rely to a large extent on the availability and the use of energy. The complex systems to produce energy are among the central and most important infrastructures of modern societies. Their structures and cultures rely to a considerable extent on the fact that energy (mostly in the areas of electricity, heat, mobility) is available at any time, at almost any place, and for all groups of society. This is because energy is not simply a physical or technical entity, but is always produced, traded, regulated, used or saved by people and organizations. The production and use of energy permeates all levels and parts of our society and thus is always in a recursive relationship to social activity and culture.
It is exactly their enormous need for energy that poses huge challenges for modern societies. The fact that global warming is mainly driven by the use of fossil fuels is beyond doubt these days. Independent of climate change, these fuels are getting scarcer and scarcer, or are controlled by unreliable regimes. Especially in Germany, nuclear power is seen as an incalculable and expensive risk - not only after the catastrophe in the power station Fukushima Daiichi.
Germany is not the only country where the complete energy supply is to be altered by means of an energy turnaround, the so called “Energiewende” - and which has now started the long and difficult search for new ways to produce, distribute, store, and save energy. The European Union as well has set itself three 20% goals for the year 2020: 20% fewer greenhouse gases (compared to 1990), 20% of the total amount of energy to be produced by renewable energy sources, 20% of energy savings by means of an increase in efficiency.
Yet: Just because energy permeates all areas of society and because our culture depends on it to such a large extent, everybody - from politics to the daily practice of citizens, from the law to the market - is affected by a comprehensive energy transformation. Consequently, the development paths, reactions, expectations, and conflicts that can arise in the course of such a transformational process are multi-faceted. For example, at one place citizens may form a cooperative because they want to take their energy supply into their own hands by means of a wind park. At some other place, wind turbines are met with heavy resistance by the population that considers them to be a destruction of the landscape.
Each attempt to steer change under such conditions requires multi-faceted and comprehensive knowledge. This knowledge, however, must not be limited to technological innovations or new market tools, but also has to consider the socio-cultural basics of the production and use of energy in a given society, i.e. its energy culture. To design the mutual linking of energy, society, and culture in an innovative way, knowledge about conflict potentials and their renegotiation, as well as the innovation of alternative forms of organization, practices, and interpretative frameworks play a central role.
Science is the institution that is to make complex situations comprehensible and more manageable for any given society. The role of science in the context of sustainable energy transformations is thus a central topic of the work of the EnergyCultures research group. Additionally, the group studies further social players - ranging from environmental activists to companies - that develop their own concepts, suggestions for solutions, and interpretative patterns. In doing this, the group of young academics addresses the question whether in the context of searching for more sustainable energy cultures the social role of science also changes or has to change.
Dr. Thomas Pfister
Am Seemooser Horn 20
Tel. +49 7541 6009 1348