Societal Transition Needed to Address Climate Change

Jan 16, 2013, 08:00 ET from American Academy of Arts & Sciences

New Daedalus issue examines the Alternative Energy Future

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Jan. 16, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Limiting the effects of climate change will require a substantial transformation of the energy infrastructure. The Winter 2013 issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, explores an equally important but less appreciated requirement for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions:  the societal transition that must accompany these technological changes.

This volume, "On the Alternative Energy Future," provides insights on topics such as public acceptance of new technologies, the factors that influence governmental support for clean energy, and strategies for gaining international cooperation to achieve energy policy goals. The essays stress the need both to apply what is already known and to develop new knowledge to address the societal transition.

For example, authors highlight public trust, consumer choice, risk aversion, and policy/program design as areas where existing social science research can help design new energy programs. "Much of this understanding exists," write Thomas Dietz, Paul C. Stern, and Elke U. Weber. "Our current challenge is to put existing theory and methods to use for more effective design and implementation of policies targeting fossil energy use."

On the other hand, there are many issues that require more attention from researchers.  "Powerful industrial enterprises exist to produce, transport, and use energy ... and large government bureaucracies at local, state, national, and supranational levels have evolved to monitor the system's operation and regulate its behavior," writes guest co-editor Robert W. Fri. "If the energy system itself changes, then all these individual and institutional links to it will have to change too."  The social sciences will be especially important for understanding how to address these and other societal changes.  The volume concludes with an essay that frames a social science research agenda focused on six broad topics that are important for future energy policy.

The volume is a companion to the Spring 2012 issue of Daedalus, which examined the nation's history of underpricing energy relative to its societal costs. Essays in that issue recommended focusing on local benefits and employing regulatory rather than pricing strategies to build public support for cleaner energy. The issues are part of the American Academy's ongoing project on the Alternative Energy Future, which is exploring how the social sciences can help to overcome behavioral and regulatory obstacles to the introduction of clean energy technologies. The Academy published a report on this topic, Beyond Technology: Strengthening Energy Policy through Social Science, in 2011.

Essays in the new Daedalus volume include: 

Robert W. Fri (Resources for the Future): The Scope of the Transition

Hal Harvey (Energy Innovation; University of Chicago), Franklin M. Orr, Jr. (Stanford University) & Clara Vondrich (ClimateWorks Foundation): A Trillion Tons

Jon A. Krosnick (Stanford University) & Bo MacInnis (Stanford University): Does the American Public Support Legislation to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Naomi Oreskes (University of California, San Diego) & Erik M. Conway (Pasadena, California): The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

Kelly Sims Gallagher (Tufts University): Why & How Governments Support Renewable Energy

Thomas Dietz (Michigan State University), Paul C. Stern (National Research Council) & Elke U. Weber (Columbia University): Reducing Carbon-Based Energy Consumption through Changes in Household Behavior

Roger E. Kasperson (Clark University) & Bonnie J. Ram (Ram Power LLC): The Public Acceptance of New Energy Technologies

Robert O. Keohane (Princeton University) & David G. Victor (University of California, San Diego): The Transnational Politics of Energy

Dallas Burtraw (Resources for the Future): The Institutional Blind Spot in Environmental Economics

Ann E. Carlson (University of California, Los Angeles) & Robert W. Fri (Resources for the Future): Designing a Durable Energy Policy

Michael Dworkin (Vermont Law School), Roman Sidortsov (Vermont Law School) & Benjamin K. Sovacool (Vermont Law School): Rethinking the Scale, Structure & Scope of U.S. Energy Institutions

Rosina M. Bierbaum (University of Michigan) & Pamela A. Matson (Stanford University): Energy in the Context of Sustainability

Stephen Ansolabehere (Harvard University) & Robert W. Fri (Resources for the Future): Social Sciences & the Alternative Energy Future

Print and Kindle copies of the Winter 2013 issue of Daedalus "On the Alternative Energy Future," vol. 2 can be ordered at:

Copies of the Spring 2012 issue of Daedalus "On the Alternative Energy Future," vol. 1 can be ordered at:

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SOURCE American Academy of Arts & Sciences